By Joe Montero
Robert Laughlin is seriously ill, suffering from with stage 3 bowel cancer. He is lying in hospital, because of complications arising from his chemotherapy. Surgery, where a large part of the bowel was removed, has left him wearing a colostomy bag.
But what has grabbed serious social media attention, is the treatment he has received under the hands of Centrelink. His payments were cut off at the end of last month.
Robert is a sole parent for two teenage sons. His wife died in 22016 from breast cancer. Robert’s illness and the treatment of him by Centrelink has an impact on the three of them.
The matter was raised on social media by Robert’s sister Sarah, who had contacted Centrelink on his behalf on 29 June. Frustrated over the negative response, she sent the following message in writing:
“Taker a good look and ask yourself. Do you think this man can call you every two weeks to maintain his Newstart allowance?
“Do you think this man is in a position to apply for work?
“Do you think anyone would employ this extremely hard worker with his present health issues?
“I would suggest the answer to each of these questions would be NO. So then ask yourself why would you stop his Newstart payment because he hasn’t called? Especially when one of your brains trust decided, knowing what condition Robert is suffering. Decided Newstart was the best option for him.”
To be fair, Centrelink staff are given no other option. Internal regulation and criteria for assessment are incredibly narrow and rigid. Cancer is not regarded as a condition that deserves disability support, primarily because, it is not seen as a permanent condition. Centerelink’s brief is not to consider whether someone is sick, or incapacitated, but whether they fit into the guidelines and its assessment table. The only option left for those who do not fit in is Newstart. If the person is too sick to report and carry out the mutual obligation activities set out, they are set up for automatic punishment.
I know this, because I went through similar treatment over the same disease. The only significant difference, I was lucky enough not to end up with a colostomy bag. In my battle, I unearthed much about how the decisions are made at Centrelink, and discovered that many others are in the same boat. Mistreatment like this is not limited to cancer sufferers. This is not about mishandling at the hands of individual Centrelink employee. It is the outcome of policy being applied by the organisation, which is ultimately, about government policy and legislation. In other words, it is incompetent and deliberate at worst. Given the ongoing failure to act and rectify the situation, the second option comes out as the best fit.
Sarah’s foray into social media confirms this. She attracted responses that revealed some other cases. One is a woman in Airlie Beach who, after having both legs amputated above the knee, was assessed as being fit to return to work. Another is the case of a man, was ordered to apply for work, while he was in ICU at the hospital, with only a few weeks left to live. A third had been involved in a car accident, received a serious back injury and got the same. This shows a consistent pattern.