by Valerie Farfalla, Vice president AUWU
‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.’
Yet the Coalition government continues to ignore facts by fabricating stories about hundreds of thousands of dole bludgers skipping job interviews and failing to accept jobs. But where is the evidence? Facts are that in 2015, only 589 unemployed workers were financially penalised for refusing work. The tabloid press laps up the lies about ‘welfare cheats’ who are ‘rorting the system’and ‘becoming fat and lazy on the public purse’ – on $250 a week. This type of demonisation of unemployed workers has appeared in Australian tabloid newspapers around Christmas time for the past few years. Why? A slow news day? Or Government propaganda? To quote Huxley again: ‘The propagandists’ purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human’.
According to a recent article in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail, ‘every week, some 20,000 ‘compliance interventions’ are coming to light, a startling increase from 20,000 a year before the introduction of the new automated Centrelink debt collection system which links personal data to Australian Taxation Office data. The Government hopes to recoup $4 billion from the debt recovery program.
So let’s get this straight with some factual information.
Centrelink’s automated system is in gross disrepair, generating debt notices in error. Over Christmas the AUWU heard of dozens of complaints from welfare recipients sent debt notices from six years ago and asked to produce payslips to contest ‘online’ the alleged debt, which in one case was more than $10,000. Centrelink has no evidence or written record of the alleged debts but its Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transportation (WPIT) system has delivered a large batch of incorrect data matches with the ATO and the recipients are apparently guilty until proven innocent.
Some outraged politicians and welfare groups have called on Centrelink to suspend the compliance system.
I was in a Centrelink office this morning but there were few staff to attend the queues. ‘Sorry, just drop in your papers. There’s no Medicare officer or Financial officer today. We’re going on strike for two days starting tomorrow,’ we were told.
After Christmas, many families have lean pickings. Let’s hope they have enough food and rent money to last into January 2017.