By Ben Wilson
Responding to an ongoing community campaign and a landmark class action on behalf of Australians being seriously disadvantage by the Robo Debt system, and after years of refusing to budge, The Morrison government has finally been pushed to give some way.
Back in April, former Administrative Appeals Tribunal senior member Terry Carney has come out and publicly warned that alleged debts generated through the system are unlawful.
Worried about the consequences, the Department of Human services, which manages Centrelink and Robo Debt, has now said that it will form now on seek more data to make decisions on alleged debts. Debt recovery will be frozen for those who are in communication with Centrelink, and a process of further investigation will begin.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t remove the owner being of the accuse to prove incense. Accusations will still be made without being backed by proper evidence about alleged over payments. A fair system would generate the accusation based on evidence. It should be innocent until proven guilty. The fact that this is not the case guarantees that abuses will continue.
Even the minor changes that have been announced would not have taken place, were it not that the Morrison government had been boxed into a corner by the fallout.
But this small step forward is far from enough. The abuse that is now public, could revert to hidden abuse, and there is the danger that the compromise could be used, to pull attention away from the bigger problem that the whole Centrelink system is rotten.
For a start, the whole Robo Debt system must be scrapped. Then the real problem lying behind it must be tackled. Centrelink must be transformed from being a punitive arm of government, to a body for actually helping those in need.
Unless this is done, the abuse will continue in one form or another.
People dealing with Centrelink must be treated with respect. There must be an end to the policy of discrimination. People on benefits must be provided with enough to participate in society, and not left on its fringes and in perpetual poverty.
An adequate income must be regarded as a right. Those needing work must be helped to find work. In conditions where there is not enough work to go around, those who do not make it or cannot work for some reason, stiull have a right to a decent life.
This means getting rid of the neoliberal thought bubble, and discovering compassion for fellow human beings.
Until such a change comes about, the abuse of the unemployed will continue, attempts to push the retired back into the work force and reduce their income will go on. Disabled will still find their support dwindling. Single parents will be forced onto lower paying unemployment payments, although they still have children to look after.