Centrelink

The Newstart Allowance received by Australia’s jobless (if they are lucky enough to get it) stands at $273 a week. The last time it was raised, relative to the Consumer Price Index, was in 1994. Last year, the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research calculated the poverty line for a single adult was at around $510 a week (including housing costs). That corresponds to a present figure of about $521. This means Newstart is now $248 a week below that miserably low poverty line.

Ever tried to book a flight online, made a mistake and then found that either there was no one available to help you fix it or that it was just going to cost you more anyway? I have, while experiencing the fury that everyone feels at the helplessness and injustice of it all.

I would consider myself to be relatively computer and internet literate. However this era of new technology and electronic media excludes vast numbers of people and disadvantages them terribly.

The City of Port Adelaide Enfield, in Adelaide's northern suburbs, made history on August 8 when it became the first local government in Australia to publicly advocate for the Newstart Allowance to be raised.

The motion, calling on Port Adelaide Enfield Council to lobby the federal government to raise Newstart, as well as produce a report into how council can assist local unemployed residents who are struggling, was sponsored by Councillor Michelle Hogan, and seconded by Councillor Peter Jamieson. It was passed by 11 votes to 2.

On April 19, the first anniversary of the tragic death of Josh Park-Fing at his Work for the Dole site in Toowoomba, the Australian Unemployed Workers' Union held rallies in Sydney and Melbourne to demand Justice For Josh and that the dangerous, discriminatory and exploitative Work for the Dole and Community Development Program be shut down. 

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members in the federal Department of Human Services (DHS) have launched six days of rolling industrial action over the stalled enterprise bargaining process and the Centrelink robo-debt crisis.

Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support workers will strike and take other forms of industrial action over February 13 to 24.

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.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to immediately halt Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system, protect government whistleblowers and end an ongoing “abuse of government power” that is causing distress and financial hardship to some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.

ACOSS joined a wide range of charities, welfare groups, legal bodies, unions and advocacy services, which have all expressed serious reservations about the accuracy and fairness of the debt recovery system.

The government has not made a mistake with the Centrelink robo-debt notices. It knows it is sending out incorrect notices.

Centrelink staff warned management the notices would be wrong and the new debt recovery system would incorrectly claim overpayments.

I became aware that Centrelink were trying to pin a cooked-up “robo-debt” of $5558 on me through a text message from the aptly named Probe group debt collection agency.

There resources about how to dispute a Centrelink debt letter, including GetUp! which has a page that sends a bunch of letters to key places in one go. 

It would surprise the federal Coalition government — that assumes we dislike welfare recipients as much as it does — that one of its biggest problems at the start of the year is the Centrelink debt fiasco.

Over the past six months, 170,000 people received debt notices from Centrelink, with the number gradually rising to 20,000 a week.

By comparison, only 20,000 debt notices were issued for the whole of 2015.

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