By Joe Montero
The personal stories of mistreatment by Centrelink just keep on coming out, as the current system continues along in just the same way, mistreating perhaps hundreds of thousands of Australians.
This is one of the worst injustices in existing in Australia, and it needs urgent attention.
Instead of acting with due care, Centrelink operates under government policy,. this means more than sitting on its hands and doing nothing. Mistreatment is systematic and the vilification of its victims is a central to applying the policy. This is what must change.
Vilification has the objective of dehumanising the target, taking away dignity, and marketing the idea that some are less deserving than the rest of us. It justifies putting them down, depriving them of a livable income and hurting them in other ways. Unemployed, single parents, people with disability, and even older people are the human side of this.
All are painted as lazy scammers out to get something for nothing and living well at everyone else’s expense. All else is overlooked. They are made out to be deserving of punishment.
The extent of the hurt is best seen through the eyes of individuals forced to go through the hardship. Peerhaps those only too ready to run down Centrelink recipients, may, if they are capable of standing in someone else’s shoes for a moment. see it differently.
Imagine how they would feel if this was happening to them. They would soon join those calling for a big change.
Here are some very recent examples.
At 64 years of age Marie Jentner, who had been looking after her husband dying of prostate cancer for two years, was suddenly forced onto Newstart. Her Carers Support was cancelled. She had been in the workforce for 45 years and paid her share of taxes. She is not going to find a job at 64.
Now her modest income has been reduced drastically, putting her in serious financial distress, to add to the heartbreak of losing her husband. Losing $200 week from what was a meager income to start with, is a major blow.
The humane response would be that older people who have little chance of getting a job should not be penalised for the circumstances they find themselves in. Those between 55 and 64 are the biggest group of long term unemployed. They deserve a livable income and to be treated with respect.
Deanna Amato is a 33-year old government employee. A little while back she was on Austudy to get a diploma. she did manage to get some work over a period. Then Centrelink sent her a robo debt notice for $2750. Not because she had mistated her income. The system routinely calculates income from casual work as ongoing. Deana has joined others in a class action, which is taking Centrelink to court over the operation of the robo debt.
Struggling Shepparton single mother Deb Hay had to rely on family and friends to pull her through. Her benefit had been cut, after being targeted and having to jump through hoops and fill countless forms. Why? Because, she says, there is a toxic attitude towards single parents. The person is treated as if they were doing something wrong, and the slightest error will cause a slashing of income.
Melbourne man Owen Bennett had his Newstart payment suspended for 6 weeks. He makes do by juggling time between part-time work and caring for his young son. He says that his suspension was caused by ‘glaring errors” provided by his employment service provider. He has put in the effort to correct this, and he believe Centrelink is “bullying” him for for it.
The suspension was for not attending a scheduled appointment. He had been texted details about appointment only hours before. Another text later on the same day, told him about the cancellation..
These are not isolated cases. Collectively. More than half a million suspensions in a year, a flood of unjustified robo debts and putting people in insecurity and financial stress by other means is applied. There are endless hoops designed to trip up applicants. This is a system designed to do these things.
It must be scrapped and replaced by a system that is founded on the fundamental principles that everyone has a right to a livable income and be treated as a human being.
The kinds of payment made by Centrelink are not charity. They are a basic right that we are all entitled to, if we find ourselves in circumstances in which we need them.
Our leaders are not on board, and how we treat those who are less fortunate, is a measure of the humanity in this nation.