Showing posts with label class warfare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label class warfare. Show all posts

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

One doesn't have to look very hard to see where Turnbull & Co's budgetary spending money is coming from


Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison is waxing lyrical about the state of government finances ahead of next week's 2017-18 Budget announcements. 

Tax cuts for low and middle income earners, company tax cuts, increased infrastructure spending and no increase in the Medicare Levy - all on the back of increased taxation revenue.

But that is not quite the whole truth. The Abbott and Turnbull governments have been steadily reducing the safety-net income and living conditions of welfare recipients for years in order to increase the budget bottom line.

It has been reported Scott Morrison has found over $8 billion in savings in the forthcoming Budget and one can guess where a significant portion of those 'savings' have been found given past history.

A walk down memory lane.......

Exhibit One


The 2014­–15 Budget proposes to change indexation arrangements for the Age Pension, veterans’ pensions, Carer Payment, Disability Support Pension and Parenting Payment (Single) so that payment rates are only adjusted by movements in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The measure will save $449.0 million over five years…

The budget savings from this measure arise from lower growth in the rate of payment provided to pensioners. Effectively, pensioners will receive a lower payment over time than they would have had the indexation method not been changed. Lower payments also affect the impact of the pension means test with less people likely to qualify for a payment under the income and assets test over time…

The Government estimates that $1.5 billion will be saved over four years through a freeze on the income and asset test threshold for all Australian Government payments. The thresholds for Family Tax Benefit, Child Care Benefit, Child Care Rebate, Newstart Allowance, Parenting Payment (Single and Partnered) and Youth Allowance will not be subject to annual CPI indexation for three years from 1 July 2014…

A further change to the pension means test, lowering the deeming thresholds, will accrue minor savings of $32.7 million for one year of operation (in 2017–18) but significant savings in the years beyond the forward estimates.....

Exhibit Two

The Australian, 5 December 2016:

The Turnbull government is ramping up efforts to claw back $4 billion believed to have been ­incorrectly paid to welfare recipients, issuing debt notices worth $4.5 million every day in a bid to rein in the ballooning welfare bill.

The Australian has learned a new automated system that matches a welfare recipient’s ­details with information from the Australian Taxation Office is generating 20,000 “compliance interventions” a week, up from 20,000 a year before the crackdown came into effect in July.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said the new system, which is expected to generate 1.7 million compliance notices to welfare recipients over the next three years, was helping to meet the government’s debt recovery targets.
“Our aim is to ensure that ­people get what they are entitled to — no more and no less. And to crack down hard when people ­deliberately defraud the system,” he told The Australian…..

In the 2015-16 budget and midyear budget update, the government estimated $4bn in welfare benefit overpayments were likely between 2010 and 2018. Budget papers forecast that the government will achieve savings of $1.7bn over five years through debt recovery….

In March 2015 the Reserve Bank cut its cash rate and cut it twice more by December 2016 and the big banks had followed suit. However, the Turnbull Government cut deeming rates for pensioners once only. The base deeming rate continues to date at 1.75% while CBA pensioner security account interest ranges from 0.50% to 1.10% for a good many age pensioners - giving the government a sly and petty saving over time.

Exhibit Three

In 2017 the waiting period for new claimants of New Start AllowanceYouth Allowance and Special Benefit was increased to a minimum of four weeks for those aged under 25 years and Youth Allowance age eligibility restricted in a  federal government omnibus bill.

This bill also applied further eligibility restrictions to Family Tax Benefit payments, removed the pensioner education supplement,  the annual education entry payment assisting with education expenses for eligible recipients, and and the requirement for employers to provide Government-funded parental leave pay to their eligible long-term employees and other measures. 

Total savings were est. $2.37 billion over six years.

The Department of Social Services has confirmed about 86,600 part-rate age pensioners had their pension cancelled as a result of the assets test changes that came into effect on January 1, 2017

Exhibit Four

In the 2016-17 financial year previous changes to the Disability Support Pension resulted in est. $1.5 billion in government savings. Further savings are expected in projections out to 2027-28.

The Guardian, 27 April 2018:

The federal government has created a “false economy” by restoring the budget bottom line through cuts to the disability support pension and potentially pushing more people into homelessness, a leading economist has said.

Speaking at a budget preview forum hosted by Industry Super Australia in Melbourne on Thursday, the Industry Super chief economist, Stephen Anthony, said the federal budget position had improved due to business receipts and cuts to personal benefit payments, particularly the disability support pension.

“The problem here of course is we’re seeing this spill out on to our streets in terms of homelessness,” Anthony said. “I’d say there’s a bit of a false economy occurring there and I’d ask the tax office to consider the models that they’re using and their reliability because the flipside of what they’re doing is causing a lot of social damage and social harm.”

The Turnbull government has tightened the eligibility criteria for the disability support pension, which the Australian Council of Social Services (Acoss) says resulted in a 63% drop in successful claims for the the pension between 2010 and 20116.

People who are not successful in claiming the disability support pension but are still unable to work have been pushed on to unemployment benefit Newstart, which pays $170 less per week…..

He said even a modest surplus was dependent on the government resisting the temptation to spend money in what is likely to be the last budget before the next federal election, saying “we don’t want to see tax cuts … we need tax reform, not necessarily tax cuts”.

The treasurer, Scott Morrison, this week announced he had scrapped a planned $8.2bn increase to the Medicare levy to fund the national disability insurance scheme, saying strong economic growth in the past 18 months meant it was no longer necessary.

The government has also telegraphed a personal income tax cut to address cost-of-living pressures in an environment of stagnant wage growth.

Anthony said the current budget parametres anticipate that annual wages growth will return to more than 3%, a projection that he said is unlikely to be met.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

The only Australians who do not recognise the cruel farce that is 'robo-debt' are right-wing politicians, ideologues and the just plain ignorant


“It is trite maths that statistical averages (whether means or medians) tell nothing about the variability or otherwise of the underlying numbers from which averages are calculated. Only if those underlying numbers do not vary at all is it possible to extrapolate from the average a figure for any one of the component periods to which the average relates. Otherwise the true underlying pattern may be as diverse as the experience of Australia’s highly variable drought/flood pattern in the face of knowledge of ‘average’ yearly rainfall figures. Yet precisely such a mathematical fault lies at the heart of the introduction from July 2016 of the OCI machine-learning method for raising and recovering social security overpayment debts. This extrapolates Australian Taxation Office (‘ATO’) data matching information about the total amount and period over which employment income was earned, and applies that average to each and every separate fortnightly rate calculation period for working-age payments.”  [Terry Carney AO, UNSW Law Journal, Vol 42 No 2, THE NEW DIGITAL FUTURE FOR WELFARE: DEBTS WITHOUT LEGAL PROOFS OR MORAL AUTHORITY?, p2]

The Canberra Times, 5 April 2018:

The Coalition government's "robo-debt" program has been unlawfully raising debts with welfare recipients, wreaking "legal and moral injustice", a former administrative appeals tribunal member has said.

Emeritus professor of law at the University of Sydney Terry Carney, who was on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for 40 years and was its longest serving member until finishing in September, has weighed into the debate over the controversial debt collection method saying the Department of Human Services has no legal basis to raise debts when a client fails to ‘disprove’ they owe money.

While Professor Carney urged it be made to comply with the law, the DHS rejected his comments, saying its Online Compliance Intervention program was consistent with legislation.

"Robo-debt" - the subject of a Commonwealth Ombudsman report and a Senate inquiry recommending sweeping reforms to the program - was at the centre of a maelstrom of controversy last year and remains loathed by critics calling for change….

Writing in the UNSW Law Journal last month, he said that despite the DHS' stance it remained responsible for calculating debts based on actual earnings, not assumed averages.

“Centrelink’s OCI radically changed the way overpayment debts are raised  by purporting to absolve Centrelink from its legal obligation to obtain sufficient information to found a debt in the event that its ‘first instance’ contact with the recipient is unable to unearth information about actual fortnightly earnings. As noted by the Ombudsman, the major change was that Centrelink would ‘no longer’ exercise its statutory powers to obtain wage records and that the ‘responsibility’ to obtain such information now lies with applicants seeking to challenge a debt. Writing a little later, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee challenged this, contending that
6.13 It is a basic legal principle that in order to claim a debt, a debt must be proven to be owed. The onus of proving a debt must remain with the department. This would include verifying income data in order to calculate a debt. Where appropriate, verification can be done with the assistance of income support payment recipients, but the final responsibility must lie with the department. This would also preclude the practice of averaging income data to manufacture a fortnightly income for the purposes of retrospectively calculating a debt. …”  [Terry Carney AO, UNSW Law Journal, Vol 42 No 2, THE NEW DIGITAL FUTURE FOR WELFARE: DEBTS WITHOUT LEGAL PROOFS OR MORAL AUTHORITY?, pp3-4]

Friday, 23 February 2018

There's something worse than a cashless welfare card out there in the darkness


What could possibly be worse than the Turnbull Government's Cashless Debit Card which will eventually cover all government cash transfers to individuals except Age and Veterans' Affairs pensions?

The answer is - welfare payments being converted into 50 per cent Cashless Debit Card and 50 per cent a generic low grade, nutritionally suspect, weekly or fortnightly processed, tinned & dry goods food parcel.

Such as this proposed program......


Vibe, 13 February 2018:
In Donald Trump's budget proposal, America's poor is hit the hardest, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. The plan proposes a $17.2 billion-cut to the program by 2019 and will replace monthly cash benefits with a food box delivery program, according to reports.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney compared the program to Blue Apron, an ingredient-and-recipe meal kit service. The Chicago Tribune notes SNAP provides roughly $125 per month to 42.2 million Americans, and the Agriculture Department would use part of those benefits to buy and deliver boxes of "homegrown" food. It's called "America's Harvest Box."
The Harvest Box would contain things like shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meat, poultry or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables. Since the boxes are valued at half of SNAP recipients monthly benefit, the remainder of their benefits would be put on electronic benefit cards, CNN Money reports.
The existing US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program offers about 46 million low-income Americans an allowance to buy from grocery stores and farmers markets a wide range of breads, cereals, rice, pasta, dairy products, fresh fruits & vegetables, meats, fish and poultry, as well as seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat. Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items. Seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are also food items and are therefore eligible items.
Trump intends to change this program as a government cost-cutting measure saving up to a reported US$127 billion over ten years and, have the private sector under contract give out shelf-stable food bought in bulk. No choice of food parcel content appears to be allowed - it will be one-size-fits-all.
What could possibly go wrong? So many things if private contractors of the type the Trump Regime will pick were to attempt regular food delivery to est. 46 million people.
Given the love affair that those right-wing warriors in the Liberal and National parties have with the political extremes of US Republican politics, it won't be long before the likes of Minister for Human Services Michael Keenan and Minister for Social Services DanTehan start suggesting similar food parcels as a component of the bulk Centrelink welfare payments here in Australia.  

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

CENTRELINK ROBO-DEBT: the nightmare continues


Given that the Turnbull Government continues to apply a faulty algorithm to Centrelink debt collection in 2018, private debt collectors remain financially incentivised to aggressively chase debts which may not actually exist, former welfare recipients may still receive debt recovery fee demands and government intends to expand collection to other groups/forms of declared income, while Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge is yet to fix the problems with ‘phone wait times, perhaps a reminder of what the title Online Compliance Intervention actually hides and what the alternative term robo-debt  describes……..

Cory Doctorow writing in Boing Boing, 1 February 2018:

In a textbook example of the use of big data to create a digital poorhouse, as described in Virginia Eubanks's excellent new book Automating Inequality, the Australian government created an algorithmic, semi-privatised system to mine the financial records of people receiving means-tested benefits and accuse them of fraud on the basis of its findings, bringing in private contractors to build and maintain the system and collect the penalties it ascribed, paying them a commission on the basis of how much money they extracted from poor Australians.

The result was a predictable kafkaesque nightmare in which an unaccountable black box accused poor people, students, pensioners, disabled people and others receiving benefits of owing huge sums, sending abusive, threatening debt collectors after them, and placing all information about the accusations of fraud at the other end of a bureaucratic nightmare system of overseas phone-bank operators with insane wait-times.

GillianTerzis writing in Logic, a magazine about technology, 2017:

Automation is dehumanizing in a literal sense: it removes human experience from the equation. In the case of the robo-debt scandal, automation also stripped humans of their narrative power. The algorithm that generated these debt notices presented welfare recipients with contrasting stories: the recipients claimed they’d followed the rules, but the computer said otherwise.

There were few official ways to explain one’s circumstances: twenty-nine million calls to Centrelink went unanswered in 2016, and Centrelink’s Twitter account seems explicitly designed to discourage conversational exchange. One source of narrative resistance is notmydebt.com.au, a website run entirely by volunteers that gathers false debt stories from ordinary Australians so that the “scandal can't be plausibly minimised or denied.”

Over time it was revealed that many of these debts were miscalculated or, in some cases, non-existent. One man I’d read about was on a government pension and saddled with a $4,500 bill, which was revised down months later to $65. Another recipient, who was on disability as a result of mental illness, had a debt notice of $80,000 that was later recalled. A small proportion of recipients were exclusively in contact with private debt collectors and received no official notice from Centrelink at all.

Soon it emerged that social services were a lucrative avenue for corporate interests: this year’s Senate inquiry revealed that some private agencies tasked with recouping debts were working on a commission basis, pocketing a percentage of the debts they had recovered for the government regardless of their validity. (All debt notices issued by private agencies were eventually rescinded after government review in February 2017.)

The methodology of the algorithm itself was riddled with flaws. It calculates the average of an individual’s annual income reported to the Australian Tax Office …..and compares it with the fortnightly earnings reported to Centrelink by the welfare recipient. All welfare recipients are required to declare their gross earnings (income accrued before tax and other deductions) within this fourteen-day period. Any discrepancy between the two figures is interpreted by the algorithm as proof of undeclared or underreported income, from which a notice of debt is automatically generated.

Previously, these inconsistencies would be handled by Centrelink staff, who would call up your employer, confirm the amount you received in fortnightly payments, and cross-index that figure with the one calculated in the system. But the automation of the debt recovery process has outsourced authority from humans to the algorithm itself.

It’s certainly efficient: it takes the algorithm one week to generate 20,000 debt notices, a process that would take up to a year if done manually. But it’s not a reliable method of fraud detection. It’s blunt, unwieldy, and error-prone. It assumes that variations in the data sets are deliberate, and that recipients have received more than what they are entitled to. What’s more, the onus is on the welfare recipient to prove their income has been reported correctly and that the entitlements they have received are commensurate within twenty-one days.

Yet, as many critics have noted, this income-averaging method is porous. It fails to accurately account for the fluctuating fortunes of casual or contract workers, which often results in variations between the two figures. There’s also no way for the algorithm to correct for basic errors in the system’s database. It cannot yet discern whether an employer’s legal name has been used instead of its various business names—it treats them as separate entities, and therefore separate sources of income—or whether conflicting reports are caused by basic mistakes, such as spelling errors or typos. These seemingly small distinctions are ones that only a human could make. It’s no wonder, then, that conservative estimates of its error rate hover at 20 percent……

Yet the irony of stigmatizing welfare recipients is that better-off Australians are major beneficiaries of social spending. The Australian writer Tim Winton notes that the country’s middle class has “an increasing sense of entitlement to welfare,” which is “duly disbursed largely at the expense of the poor, the sick, and the unemployed.” These include tax concessions on contributions to “superannuation,” which are funds designed to help Australians save for their retirement. Such concessions are distortionary: they’re levied at a flat rate of 15 percent, rather than at a progressive rate according to one’s income, which means their benefits are reaped overwhelmingly by the rich.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics calculates that nearly one third of these concessions are claimed by the top 10 percent of income earners in Australia. Then there are policies like negative gearing, a tax concession that allows you to claim a deduction against your wage income for losses generated by any rental properties you own. (Australia and New Zealand are the only countries in the world to hold such a policy.) In addition, Australian homeowners are entitled to a capital gains tax discount of 50 percent once the property is sold.

Critics have argued that the combination of these two policies only serves to fuel investor speculation, entrench housing unaffordability, and lock first-time home buyers out of the market. But it’s easier to attack the poor than to tax the rich.


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In July 2016 the Department of Human Services (DHS) - Centrelink launched a new online compliance intervention (OCI) system for raising and recovering debts. The OCI matches the earnings recorded on a customer’s Centrelink record with historical employer-reported income data from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Parts of the debt raising process previously done manually by compliance officers within DHS are now done using this automated process. Customers are asked to confirm or update their income using the online system. If the customer does not engage with DHS either online or in person, or if there are gaps in the information provided by the customer, the system will fill the gaps with a fortnightly income figure derived from the ATO income data for the relevant employment period (‘averaged’ data). 

Since the initial rollout of the OCI, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office has received many complaints from people who have incurred debts under the OCI. This report examines our concerns with the implementation of the OCI, using complaints we investigated as case study examples. 

We acknowledge the changes DHS has made to the OCI since its initial rollout. The changes have been positive and have improved the usability and accessibility of the system. However, we consider there are several areas where further improvements could be made, particularly before use of the OCI is expanded. We have made several recommendations to address these areas......

Planning and risk management

In our view, many of the OCI’s implementation problems could have been mitigated through better project planning and risk management at the outset. This includes more rigorous user testing with customers and service delivery staff, a more incremental rollout, and better communication to staff and stakeholders. DHS’ project planning did not ensure all relevant external stakeholders were consulted during key planning stages and after the full rollout of the OCI. This is evidenced by the extent of confusion and inaccuracy in public statements made by key non-government stakeholders, journalists and individuals.

A key lesson for agencies and policy makers when proposing to rollout large scale measures which require people to engage in a new way with new digital channels, is for agencies to engage with stakeholders and provide resources for adequate manual support during transition periods. We have recommended DHS undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the OCI in its current form before it is implemented further and any future rollout should be done incrementally.

Centrelink website, 5 February 2018:

If you don’t pay your debt by the due date, we may ask the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to send us your tax refund. If we do we’ll send you a Recovery of your Centrelink debt letter.

If you aren’t repaying your debt over time or if we haven’t agreed to extend the payment time, we may also:

* add an interest charge to your debt

* refer your debt to an external collection agency

* reduce your income support payments to help pay the amount owing

* recover the amount from your wages, other income and assets, including money you may hold in a bank account

* refer your case to our solicitors for legal action

* issue a Departure Prohibition Order to stop you from travelling overseas....

The rate of interest we apply to your debt is consistent with the current rate applied by the ATO to tax debts. 

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Australian Labor Party will not support Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 in its current form


Labor MP for Jagajaga and Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Jenny Macklin, media release. 5 December 2017:

CASHLESS DEBIT CARD

Federal Labor will support the continuation of the existing cashless debit card trial sites in Ceduna and the East Kimberley. 

However Labor will not support the rollout of the cashless debit card to the two new proposed sites of Bundaberg and the Goldfields due to insufficient consultation with these communities, and the widespread criticism of the evaluation and the effectiveness of the card.

After conducting our own consultations with people in Bundaberg and the Goldfields and hearing evidence from the Senate Inquiry, it has become clear that Labor cannot support Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 in its current form. 

Labor believes that there is insufficient credible evidence at this point to support the establishment of further trials of the cashless debit card. 

The flawed Orima Evaluation of the existing trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley was inconclusive.

The Orima evaluation was subject to detailed criticism from leading academics, including Dr Janet Hunt from ANU, who said the evaluation does: “not present adequate evidence of the trial leading to successful outcomes for participants…. it is impossible to have confidence that the trial actually succeeded.”

Given the significant cost of the trials, an accrued cost of around $25.5 million or about $12,000 per participant, we must be sure that the cashless card can deliver its stated objectives. 

We have consistently said that we will take a community-by-community approach to the further rollout of the cashless debit card. 

Labor also has concerns that two years is not long enough for communities to determine whether there has been any real benefit from the introduction of the cashless debit card.

We are hearing that the communities in the existing trial sites want to continue using the card, and see the trial through.  

We will continue to support the continuation of the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley for these reasons. 

Labor will move amendments to the Bill to extend the end date for the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley to 30 June 2019 so that a proper evaluation can take place over a longer trial period. 

We have always said that we are supportive of community driven initiatives designed to tackle chronic alcohol abuse. But they must be genuinely community driven and not be part of a top-down approach. 

Labor understands that entrenched disadvantage cannot, and will not, be solved by income management alone. That’s why we have always advocated for the Government to provide additional wraparound supports to participating communities. 

We are calling on the Senate to support our amendment that funding for these vital wraparound service be guaranteed in the legislation. 

In future, Labor will only consider the introduction of any new trial sites if the Government can show that the community have agreed through a formal consultation process with the community, as well as an agreed definition of consent, and have established an evidence base through a robust and credible evaluation.

The Turnbull Government’s Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 progressed as far as it second reading and was referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report.

The final report has a single line recommendation and also contains two dissenting opinions by Labor and the Australian Greens.

The bill returns to the House of Representatives in the new year.

Labor has now baulked but is unlikely to prevail given it doesn’t have the numbers in the lower house.

Friday, 15 December 2017

"Inequality is neither a personal choice nor a national tragedy. It is a choice governments make"


Chief executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society national council Dr John Falzon, writing in The Guardian on 13 December 2017:

In 1952 a Catholic newspaper in Ireland proclaimed: “The welfare state is diluted socialism and socialism is disguised communism.”

Extreme? Yes. Dated? No. When you listen to the dying declarations of the spear-carriers for neoliberalism, it’s hard not to hear the same alarmist codswallop.

The logic goes like this: being unemployed and poor is bad because people choose to be unemployed or poor. If you receive income support, it is because you are unemployed and poor. Therefore, receiving income support is bad. Therefore, removing income support is good. Coincidentally, this means more money for the rich and less for the poor.

Social services minister Christian Porter’s recent National Press Club address was replete with denunciations of the “politics of envy” associated with redistributionist policies, as well as the “morally unacceptable” nature of social expenditure because it means placing a debt burden on the children of today to pay off as the adults of tomorrow.

These are old tropes. Joe Hockey used them regularly when he was treasurer. The intergenerational framework is always going to be a useful means of distracting from the uncomfortable reality of class inequality in the current generation.

A false divide is constructed between those who have a job (and pay taxes) and those who don’t.

It is time that we did away with this fictitious divide. It was always false. It implied that the low-paid cleaner had more in common with the mining magnate than with the person who is locked out of the labour market.

But now, especially as we try to understand the future of work and the massive changes to the structure of the labour market, it is time we consigned this nonsense to the rubbish bin of ideological history.

People who are low paid, casually employed, underemployed, unemployed, informally employed, on dodgy contracts, women who work as unpaid or low-paid carers, students who take whatever work they can get and remain silent about the indefinite training wages, sole parents, people with a disability, aged pensioners, veterans; all have more in common with each other and with other members of the working class than we dare admit.

By recognising this commonality, we can begin to reframe the way in which so-called welfare dependency and the “injustice” and “immorality” of social expenditure is presented. This is crucial at a time when the government has ruled out increasing the woefully inadequate Newstart payment, which has not seen an increase in real terms since 1994 .

The discussion needs some perspective. We have a minimum wage that sits at around 40% of the average weekly earnings and a Newstart payment that sits at around 40% of the minimum wage. The minimum wage is not a living wage and the unemployment benefit is not even a pale shadow of a living wage. And we see the consequences at the St Vincent de Paul Society every day, where topping up from charitable assistance has become the norm for many people simply to survive.

We need a solid jobs plan, and full employment should be a policy priority. Instead we keep getting served up a putting-the-boot-into-the-unemployed-plan and a slashing-social-expenditure-plan. Behavioural approaches won’t fix structural problems. The government can blame people all they like but this won’t address the inequality many are burdened with, as wages are suppressed and profits soar, buttressed by tax cuts, wage cuts and social expenditure cuts….

Our social security system was built in very different structural circumstances. The labour market is different. Work is different. We should be embarking on a serious reframing of how we can, collectively and with common resources, achieve social and economic security for everyone. We need, for example, to explore how government might play a leading role in achieving full employment instead of harassing the people who have been structurally excluded from jobs.

There is nothing innovative about marginalising people who are already made to feel that they have been stigmatised through drug-testing and cashless welfare cards.

There is nothing smart about a program like Path that uses young people for six months as cheap labour and then discards them.

We need to build a way forward that ensures that no one misses out on the essentials of life: a place to live, a place to work (or income adequacy for those who cannot engage in paid work), a place to learn (from early childhood through to university and TAFE), and a place to heal.

This means not just leaving these essentials to the whims of the market but actively ensuring that no one is excluded. This is an economic as well as a social imperative.

Inequality is buttressed and boosted by unfair rules that must be changed. We need to imagine a future predicated not on the perpetuation of inequality but the provision of social and economic security.

Inequality is neither a personal choice nor a national tragedy. It is a choice governments make.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Turnbull Government's gift to welfare recipients this Christmas? More pain....


Nothing like receiving bad news in the lead up to the festive season......

News.com.au, 6 December 2017:

CONTROVERSIAL plans to drug test unemployed welfare recipients will be suspended indefinitely after the Senate refused to endorse the idea.

The Turnbull government had hoped to drug test 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients across three trial sites in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia from January.
But Social Services Minister Christian Porter indicated this morning provisions for the pilot will be stripped from an omnibus welfare bill and dealt with separately, so other measures can be signed off by Christmas.

“There are some difficulties that are going to be presented in getting that part of the bill through the Senate, but that does not mean that we are abandoning drug testing,” Mr Porter told Sky News.

“No one can be perfectly certain with these things but my best assessment is the rest of it, everything other than drug testing, will likely succeed through the Senate.”

Minister Porter stood by the trial last month but indicated it might be split from other reforms that were crucial to overhaul the “near to dysfunctional” welfare system.

“The bulk of that bill, which reforms the compliance system, is so critical to what we are trying to achieve that I wouldn’t want to sacrifice the bulk of that in terms of timeliness while we are still negotiating around drug testing,” Mr Porter said at a National Press Club speech in November.

One reform the government wants to pass as a priority is the new “three strike” demerit point system for welfare recipients that would mean those who continually skipped appointments or job interviews would eventually lose their payments.

Another will fold seven welfare payments into one to become the main payment for people of working age.

That is slated to begin in March 2020.

According to the Australian Council Of Social Services (ACOSS) this bill:

* Sets a dangerous precedent that allows governments to determine who is covered by social security rights and protections and who is not, without legislation;

* Would make it more difficult for people to access payments;

* Will make applicants wait much longer for first payments and, in certain cases this could be as long as 26 weeks;

* Cuts payments to people seeking work by removing back-pay provisions;

* Cuts $478m from social security payments over the forward estimates, with most losses incurred by people who are unemployed and single parents;

* Rolls Wife and Widow B pensions & allowances (including the Bereavement Allowance) into the Jobseeker Payment which will leave pension recipients worse off unless they are transferred to another pension;

* Ensures that the Jobseeker Payment keeps recipients living well below the poverty line so that they will be unable to meet essential costs; and

* The new mutual obligation requirements and breach schedule indicates that annually an est. 80,000 people will lose at least one week’s payment and an unknown number up to four week’s payment.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Quotes of the Week


"We truly hadn't ever considered that people could just be really evil." [Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince in Gizmodo on 1 December 2017, on why this service provider company protects virulent neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer]

"Some families, some communities, some cultures breed strife. Governments cannot always fix it. Compulsory contraception for those on benefits would help crack intergenerational reproduction of strife." [NewsCorp journalist and newly appointed  head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Gary Johns, in BuzzFeed, 19 May 2015]

Monday, 13 November 2017

Pauline Hanson - bad taste personified


As part of One Nation’s 2017 Queensland state election campaign the tin-eared Pauline Hanson (who consistently supports Turnbull Government punitive social & economic policies in the Senate) has a so-called 'battler bus' on the road…..

Friday, 10 November 2017

Cashless Debit Card problems ignored by Turnbull Government


“For example, data is provided which shows that 55% oftransactions on the cards failed due to insufficient funds (Orima 2017: pA6). That is nearly 21,000 transactions,where people were unable to purchase what they wanted.However, only 1% of failed transactions related to trying to use the card for prohibited purchases. This indicates some hardships and poverty and/or the problem that people did not know what their card balance was, indicating the challenge of money management using this card. Another reported problem related to the need to access phones and internet to find card balances, which can cause many problems for those without phones, phone credit, internet access, or not being in a mobile phone or internet server area.” [Hunt, J, T h e  C a s h l ess  D e b i t  C a r d  Tr i a l  E va l u at i o n : A  S h o r t  Re v i e w]

Yet another voice expressing concerns that the Turnbull Government is ignoring problems with the Cashless Debit Card system.

Opening remarks in Dr Janet Hunt’s (Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, Canberra) submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017, 2 November 2017:

Thank you for the opportunity to make this submission. I write as an experienced social science researcher with over 30 years of experience in the fields of international and Indigenous development. I am as concerned about the situation of Indigenous people in Ceduna and the East Kimberley as anyone, and very much want to see their lives improve. I am also very much driven by evidence about what works, and as a social science researcher am concerned that the evidence provided for policy making is the most robust and credible as possible. This is both in order to get the best outcomes, but also to ensure the greatest efficiency in public expenditure.

The proposed legislation seeks to make possible the extension of the Cashless Debit Card trial in Ceduna and the East Kimberley and facilitate the expansion of this program geographically. My concern is whether the evidence of the trial evaluation supports this continuation and expansion, and whether the considerable cost of this program is reaping commensurate benefits. In public policy there are always opportunity costs of any expenditure. In other words, my concern is whether this program is the best way to spend limited public funds to reach a desired outcome or if there are more cost efficient and effective alternatives.

My interest in this was sparked when the Wave 1 Report was released in March this year, and I decided to look at what the evaluation said. I was shocked when I read the report, as the Minister had already announced that the trial was a success and would be continued indefinitely. When I read the report, I discovered that it was extremely flawed and did not provide adequate evidence to draw the conclusions that had clearly been drawn. As I was extremely concerned at the poor quality of the evidence on which the Minister had made his decision, I wrote a critique of the Wave 1 Report, which was peer-reviewed and published by CAEPR. It is this Wave 1 evidence which the Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights relating to this Legislation uses to justify the proposed legislation. I argue that this evidence is flawed, and does not provide a sound basis for continuing the Cashless Debit Card Trial (CDCT) program. Whilst superficially appealing, a careful analysis of the evaluation reveals many problems with the purported findings.

Given my concerns about the quality of the Wave 1 Report and the Minister’s interpretation of data from it, I was naturally interested to read the Wave 2 Report. Just before the report was released, the Minister issued a Press Release which hailed the success of the trial without qualification. But once the Report was public it was clear that the Report’s authors had in fact qualified their positive findings with many caveats which have been completely ignored by the Minister in his public statements about the evaluation. So while I have serious problems with the evaluation design and the data presented, I am also aware that the Minister has ignored important reservations about some of the findings that the Report’s authors did make clear.
This submission outlines many of the shortcomings of the evaluation, both Wave 1 and Wave 2.

Read the full submission here with attachment.

Friday, 3 November 2017

So how much Centrelink client debt was not debt at all in 2015-16 & 2016-17?


Australian Minister for Social Services Christian Porter is quick to point the finger but often very slow with concrete answers, so it is always a boon when annual departmental reports are published.

In September 2017 the latest DSS annual report was published.

Although carefully disguised in the wording "waived or written off"; by adding the 2016-17 annual report's financial statements together with the previous year’s annual report, one finds that the admitted amount of false client debt generated by Centrelink’s disastrous attempt to match Australian Taxation Office data with its own client records could possibly be as high as $264.645 million over a two financial year period.

As challenging a Centrelink debt letter was a distressing and often extremely difficult obstacle course for many welfare recipients, these hundreds of millions of dollars represent the determination of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians to fight back against false claims made on their wallets by government and the besmirching of their reputations.

On 26 October 2017 The Canberra Times reported that; Human Services official Jason McNamara told a Senate estimates hearing that in 202,000 cases where the department finalised the debt amount, 49,000 welfare recipients who received letters since the 'robo-debt' program started in July 2016 were found to owe nothing.

That means that 25.25% of these 202,000 debt notices were false claims as the Centrelink client was found to owe nothing.

In July and August this year Centrelink sent out a total of 114,000 debt letters.

At least est. 28,785 of these letters will probably represent a false claim of debt.

I hope all Centrelink clients who received one of these letters are querying each and every one.

BACKGROUND