Tuesday, 10 January 2017

#NotMyDebt: the electorate's face remains turned against the Turnbull Government's debt recovery policy

According to Appendix E – Data matching of the 2015-16 Annual Report, the Department of Human Services spent $19.5 million in 2013-14, $25.5 million in 2014-15 and $8.3 million last financial year on its data matching program. That is, our government has allocated over $50 million in the last three years to produce the outcomes reported in the first week of 2017: outcomes so appalling that a government agency is making blanket referrals to the suicide prevention service Lifeline for hardships caused by its own actions.
Let that sink in: Centrelink is using social media platform Twitter to refer income support recipients to Lifeline, because some ‘customers’ are suicidal after receiving letters sent by the agency demanding repayment of debts that people have not, in fact, incurred. This is the return on a $50 million investment of public moneys.
Many were letters stamped with the Australian Federal Police logo demanding information under the code name Operation Integrity.
It will surprise no one who has observed the Turnbull government that the operation has no integrity. The link above does not provide a breakdown of Operation Integrity costs. But it offers this:
“From 1 July 2016, $45.1 million will be invested in the myGov digital service over 4 years, to ensure people can continue to interact with the Australian Government online, ensuring access by all tiers of government. … the next phase of improvements to myGov. $5.4 million will be invested over 2 years to modernise this service and ensure it continues to deliver on the government’s commitment to make services simpler, clearer and faster.”
From what I can tell, and I may not be reading it correctly (the reporting methods are oblique at best), this amounts to an additional $50 million for a total of $100 million for the years 2013-20. Again, to use the government-preferred econospeak, this ‘investment’ has a return. In the first week of 2017, the dividend included driving some low-income Australians to suicidal despair. And causing incalculable hardship to other welfare recipients across the country.

The New Daily, 8 January 2017:

With a flagged $4 billion to be recovered over four years, Centrelink’s demand letters over alleged debts could be just the start.

The Turnbull government’s mass invoices – constructed from data matching to claim discrepancies exist with Centrelink’s casual, disabled and vulnerable income earners – are expected to be used across the entire pensioner and social security sector. New discrepancies can be created over a recipient’s claimed asset values to substantiate invoices for ‘over-payments’.

Data matching and garnishee was originally implemented by Labor in government, but it was the Turnbull government that devised the more aggressive, presumptive and system-wide invoicing strategy.

While a responsible government has every right on behalf of taxpayers to eliminate fraud and ensure financial control in a country under deficit distress, the anecdotal hypocrisy of MPs who are extended travel allowance indulgences under lax rules adds fuel to what is becoming an explosive backlash across Australian postcodes.

A crowdfunded court challenge to the legality of the alleged debt invoices is now expected…….

In the current clawback, Centrelink has repeated its customer risk protocol by referring any distressed recipients to Lifeline for psychological support. More petrol on the fire.

Centrelink’s response to one of the widespread complaints from distressed welfare recipients. 
Photo: Twitter

One Centrelink senior staffer, who asked not to be named, told The New Daily the anger and rage generated by the data matching strategy had placed counter staff under confronting pressure.

“They just want to spit on us,” he said.

He asked why DHS had not quarantined vulnerable recipients, many of whom were intellectually disabled, from the more able casual income earners.

If DHS had a genuine “customer focus” the entire casual income reporting process would be “bulletproof” for recipients so they could neither calculatedly defraud nor inadvertently fall into error. A department wanting to engender trust with Australians striving to earn sustaining incomes in a now highly casualised economy would act protectively towards them.

“One intellectually disabled bloke screamed, ‘I’ve had a go mate … I did some work’.”

Our informant said the Centrelink data matching strategy would soon be exposed as counter-productive, with recipients now likely to desist in seeking any paid work for fear of losing any of their welfare payments.

With a Newstart allowance at $34 a day and city rents now at extortionate levels, many vulnerable people had little money left with which to clothe and feed themselves.

“We are dealing with the most impoverished and vulnerable sectors of the community. This is cruelty.”

No Place For Sheep, 6 January 2017:

Centrelink has now begun using its Twitter account to refer people to Life Line if they are experiencing distress. Life Line is a voluntary organisation given little or no support by the federal government. The government has also ripped millions from frontline services for domestic violence victims, community legal aid centres, and over a billion from aged services. You can bet that these outrageously underfunded services will be stretched to their limits by Turnbull’s latest attack on vulnerable citizens.

I cannot remember anytime in this country when a government department has referred citizens to an emergency service because they are experiencing suicidal levels of distress as a consequence of that government’s policies.

Does anyone?

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