By Ben Wilson
A test case against Centrelink’s robo-debt recovery system is being pursued by Legal aid Victoria.
The stepped up action in the Federal Court, is based on a claim that more than 500,000 people on Newstart, Youth allowance, sickness benefits or a pension, were ordered to pay debts that could be incorrect, if not false.
In a previous test case last month, the Department of Human Services (DHS) ended up preventing it from being heard, by suddenly wiping out the $4,000 debt served on Melbourne nurse Madeleine Masterton. She had been receiving a Youth allowance while studying. The Department did not only impose a fine. It garnisheed her tax return, without proper advice or giving her a chance to prove the invalidity of the debt.
There is a considerable body of opinion that the robo-debt system may have a question mark over its legality, and that the Australian government may be wary of any court action.
The legal issues may be important. But they are not what is most important. Even if the robo-dept is strictly is legal, it remains, that thousands of individuals are being put into enormous hardship. A caring government and society would see this as wrong and something that should never be tolerated.
Australia must put on the top of its to do list, correcting the failure to live up to this standard. We have an obligation to make this land more humane than it currently is. It means putting the real interests of those who are going to be impacted by policy in the first place.
Using this yardstick, it is crystal clear, the robo-debt system fails abysmally. It must therefore be scrapped. No if or buts.
Not doing this amounts to sanctioning a situation, where those who find themselves in circumstances where they forced to turn to Centrelink, are being treated as fodder, to demean and deliberately impoverish, just to create a tool of desperate people, willing to accept anything and become a bettering ram to pull down wages across the board.
This is what the current policy is really all about. The robo-debt system fits within it nicely, and one can’t be understood without the other.
Legal Aid Victoria’s new case may help expose just what is going on. It is worthwhile. But in the end, Australia must bury the unfair robo-debt and the policy that it was spawned from.