About 200 people rallied in Melbourne on January 31 against the Turnbull Government's new practice of sending computer-generated debt notices to people who have received or are receiving Centrelink payments.
Up to 90% of these debt notices are false. Many people have received debt notices demanding they repay thousands of dollars that they dispute owing. Centrelink staff have been instructed not to fix any obvious errors unless the person complains.
Many people are paying the debts, even though they do not owe the money, rather than wait hours on the phone for a Centrelink officer, or because they are intimidated, or because they don't have pay slips from six years ago.
One of the rally organisers, Sue Bolton said many people told her they would have joined the rally but they were working.
The rally, which was initiated by the Australian Unemployed Workers Union, with the support of Socialist Alliance, attracted broad support with endorsement from Fair Go for Pensioners; Homeless Persons Union; Council of Single Mothers and their Children; National Union of Workers; Community Radio 3CR; the Melbourne Unitarian Church; Electrical Trades Union; Victorian Council of Social Service; United Firefighters Union, Willing Older Workers; and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
It was significant that the Community and Public Sector Union deputy national president Rupert Evans spoke at the rally. He called for an end to staff cuts and increased funding for welfare and warned that staff were being threatened for trying to help people with debt notices.
Owen Bennett, President of the Australian Unemployed Workers Union said that 90% of the notices are false. Zach Brady from Centrelink Class Action said there is a 36-year-old single woman who had been served with a massive debt notice, who may face 5 years in prison.
Other speakers on the day included Greens leader Richard Di Natali and anti-poverty activist Duncan Storrar
Speakers were briefly interrupted by a Centrelink Dalek trying to collect debts from rally participants.
The protest marched to the Liberal Party headquarters chanting "Who’s the rorter? Christian Porter" and then tore up their debt notices.
Moreland Councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sue Bolton ended the rally by saying: “These attacks are part of a plan by the government to dismantle the welfare system in Australia and privatise Centrelink. That means that we need to continue the campaign to abolish the Centrelink debt recovery scheme.”
In Adelaide about 50 people joined a snap protest on the steps of the South Australian Parliament on January 31 in solidarity with Melbourne’s "Dignity, Not Debt" rally.
Nijole Naujokus, from the Anti-Poverty Network, chaired and speakers included state Greens MP Mark Parnell, Federal Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young, Dignity Party (formerly Dignity for Disability) MLC Kelly Vincent, Liz Temple, CPSU state secretary, Lyndsey Jackson from #NotMyDebt and Grace, who has experienced false Centrelink debt and had successfully appealed it.
More actions against the debt fiasco are being planned.