Image for Dawn of the Centrelink Robot ...

*Pic: The new face of Centrelink ...

When Sussan Ley’s Gold Coast jaunts at public expense were exposed to public view recently, the Federal Health Minister was forced to resign.

Now that the Centrelink robot has been exposed to public view as a cheap and nasty grab for money, will the Turnbull government come tumbling down?

We have had a third rate NBN forced on us at the same cost as a World standard service, which will have to be upgraded later at even greater cost.

Then we endured the catastrophe of the national census grinding to a halt on-line, when the government computer systems failed.

Now we are shocked to find a Centrelink robot has been released without regard for honesty or justice, like being in some zombie horror movie.

Then we are told that same robot is about to be released onto a money clawback from pensioners and people with a disability.

Emperor Turnbull now stands exposed to public view, stripped of integrity, naked of trust.

How long before the Turnbull government, stripped naked, vanishes like its integrity?

CENTRELINK ROBOT DEMANDS THE MONEY

As if a lie repeated over and over will spin from nothing into an emperor’s new clothes, Federal Ministers and Centrelink bureaucrats have been repeatedly telling us, with a face as straight as a bank vault, that the Centrelink robot is working as intended, and that there is over $4 billion out there that has been overpaid to Centrelink recipients.

If that is true, why has no Minister yet explained how they know there is over $4 billion out there in overpayments that can be clawed back?

Without any proof of the claim being presented, the Centrelink robot has been comparing Centrelink forms with income declared to the Tax Department.

In their technical wisdom, or greed, the Centrelink robot has been told to conclude any income a person receives during the year, even if not receiving a Centrelink payment, be spread over the whole year.

This averaging over a year of personal income across periods of unemployment or illness is generating false debts for many thousands of Australian citizens.

Of the couple of hundred thousand robo-debt letters sent out so far, all spat out automatically to the brisk tune of 20,000 per week, government ministers have acknowledged that 20% are in error.

An additional problem for anyone receiving a shock debt bill from years gone by, is when an employer’s name on their Centrelink form differs from the name an employer uses with the Tax Department, leading to a doubling of the Centrelink debt.

To date most of the debts sent out by the Centrelink robot have by-passed human scrutiny.

The Government has been slashing back on thousands of Centrelink staff, so engaging a robot that never sleeps is another way for the Turnbull government to claw back money.

ENTER THE NIGHTMARE MAZE

The first that many have learnt of a Centrelink robo-debt, is when being harangued by a Centrelink debt collector.

They may have been employed for years and no longer have contact with Centrelink, so letters have been sent to the wrong address.

Many innocent people are simply paying the debt, to avoid the extended strife of fighting Centrelink.

Even when Centrelink staff can see that no debt is owing, they are forced to tell clients to start paying the debt, even while appealing the robot decision, or the debt will go to the debt collectors, with ten percent added to the debt, along with debt collector fees, and the threat of jail to boot.

Is this a new form of taxation by stealth, or simply a scam run by a criminal gang masquerading as our government?

So much for being innocent until proven guilty, even when the Government knows you are innocent.

When a government reverts to fraud to tax people by a robot, we have entered a very dark valley as a nation.

Now old age and disability pensioners are being threatened with similar treatment by the Centrelink robot in coming months.

VERY PERSONAL REACTIONS

To be called a thief and a liar is enough to make anyone’s neck hairs bristle.

To be accused of fraud by the government, even when Centrelink staff can see there is no fraud, is quite enough to send many people into a rage.

To be declared guilty by a robot, and having to then prove one’s innocence, is a reversal of basic justice that we expect in law.

Centrelink clients finding themselves accused of fraud, found guilty, forced to prove their innocence, hounded by a debt collector, expected to begin repaying the robo-debt while they are appealing a Centrelink debt that they and Centrelink can see is false, can be expected to blow their top.

This is not the Australia of the Eureka rebellion, when fairness became a foundation issue of the nation and the stars of the Southern Cross found their way onto our national flag.

Dr Janet Hammill, aged 76, a Queensland medical researcher who received a Centrelink debt notice for $7,600 from 2012 shared her story and said she struggled to contact anyone at Centrelink. ~ “You feel so helpless, I mean for heaven’s sakes, you can look through my CV and see that I’m not helpless, but this puts you into another category of disempowerment. I can just imagine somebody who is not computer literate or is just managing to get by day to day, it’s just been so terribly frustrating. They made me feel as though I’m some sort of cheat, and I haven’t had an income since April 2012.” [1]

Faced with this humiliating experience, piled on top of years of humiliation on the Centrelink treadmill, some people are getting very angry, being banned from Centrelink offices, and even sent suicidal by this robot-driven debt demand system.

The greatly reduced ranks of Centrelink employees must now face the perfect storm of dealing with robot driven debts, students seeking assistance and old age pensioners with incomes recently reduced or cut completely.

Centrelink counter staff are being given training to deal with aggression.

Centrelink clients are being referred to Lifeline.

COST OF A ROBO-DEBT SYSTEM

There will be a health cost for treating people so harshly and unjustly.

Trust is broken when the government feels free to behave fraudulently, because they think they can get away with it.

Left feeling that the nation is being run by a mafia crime gang, and left with too little to survive on, some people may learn from the government and turn to crime to survive.

With too little money left to pay rent, some may end up homeless and sleeping rough.

Some people already on the edge and with no hope left, may simply give up.

If this happens, the Turnbull government will have blood on its hands.

Consider the case of Gauri Adhikari, aged 62, a refugee who was extremely ill, but was harrassed by Centrelink to find employment. [2]

Gauri could take no more humiliation or harassment and committed suicide.

We are allowing a system of cruelty to exist that drives people mad, and drives some people over the edge.

Many more people who are old or ill, are about to meet the Centrelink robot.

Has Australia lost its heart, now replaced by a machine?

REAL CRIMINALS REMAIN INVISIBLE

Many people being entrapped by the Centrelink robot are honest working people, who were on Centrelink for a short time many years ago, before moving on into full-time employment.

Real criminals on a Centrelink payment will remain invisible, because they will be operating in the black economy and will not be lodging tax returns for any ill-gotten gains.

THE KICK-BACK WILL BE SAVAGE.

With the Ombudsman’s enquiry underway, and the Senate set to launch a parliamentary investigation into how Australian citizens could be treated so badly by their government, and the prospect of class action by those falsely targeted by the Centrelink robot, public and political anger is rising to boiling point.

The Turnbull government may find the cost of their robot-driven debt claw-back costing them far more than any money clawed back.

When the truth is revealed about an unexplained $4 billion waiting to be picked like ripe fruit from the tree, the billions may yet turn into bills for the Australian government.

The debt clawback may yet be revealed as no more than mad fantasies, better suited to inmates of a mental asylum.

What planet are Turnbull’s politicians living on?

As many of the people hit with Turnbull’s savage debt were Centerlink clients who had worked, and were now being punished for working, many people on a Centrelink payment may simply avoid work, so they will not be punished for working in the future.

Why would a government punish people for working?

REVIEW ALL CASES

With 20% of the first round of robot delivered debts being shown to be false, all robot generated debts need to be reviewed, to ensure the government is not committing fraud on a scale far more massive than any mafia organisation could dream of.

Anyone found to have been wrongly billed must be compensated, and with interest added.

Where trauma has been inflicted and harm done to people, they should be compensated for the abuse and the disadvantage suffered.

BLACK HUMOUR

Confronted by a Turnbull government indulgence darker than Black Adder, black humour must follow, as it has with The Juicy Media delivering a Centrelink infomercial to explain the great debt stuff-up. [3]

How do Turnbull’s politicians sleep at night? Suggestions anyone?

Have we got this whole robo-debt thing totally wrong. Is it really a form of live entertainment delivered by the government, a gothic horror show worthy of Hollywood. Is it really some reality TV show, like The Apprentice? Where are the cameras hidden?

Would it be fair to run an art competition depicting the Federal Department of Human Services general manager, Hank Jongen, as an evil clown?

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

British colonies were once founded in the Antipodes with a form of slavery, called the Convict System.

In part reacting against the tyranny of the whip, the chains and the work gang, ideas of a Fair Go emerged as a guiding value for a new nation.

After World War II Australia helped draft and signed up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in article 23 states ~
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. [4]

If Australia had lived up to those basic commitments, a Fair Go would have been maintained for all citizens, with real work with real pay being maintained for all able workers.

Those unable to work and the aged would be cared for.

Maintaining full employment with a proper basic wage would have ensured that no Australian citizen was ever unemployed or fell into poverty.

More tax would be paid, because all able people would be working.

In the 1960s automation began to replace workers and instead of ensuring that all citizens able to work could work, market forces were allowed to determine who would be allowed work and have an income.

This approach is referred to as the trickle-down effect, where there is an expectation that anyone who works hard enough will get work with a reasonable income.

In 1963 President John F. Kennedy used the aphorism, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” [5]

But, have all boats risen as more and more wealth has been generated through automation and the arrival of the world wide web?

The eight richest men in the World possess as much wealth as half the people of Earth on the poorer side of the line. [6]

To understand how the bounty of the nation, and the World, is being taken from the poor and given to the rich, we simply need to understand the economic fuel used to drive the engine of growth.

In an article in The Conversation in 2015, Rose-Marie Stampe and David Fryer point out ~ “The Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment is a term used by economists and politicians to refer to the level of unemployment, between 4% and 6%, considered necessary to prevent inflation taking off.” [7]

Who knew that the government needed, in fact required and demanded around 5 percent unemployment (official) to keep the wheels of growth turning, so the well-off can get a larger share of the national pie, and the super-rich make an absolute killing?

Australia is living a very nasty reality, where the unemployed and the poor are the grease for the wheels of growth.

To stop people starving to death in this crude approach to building a society, Centrelink exists.

As an arm of the Federal political system that is enforcing around 5 percent unemployment, though the real figure is higher, Centrelink has become the administrator of a reverse convict system, which cycles people through a regime that treats people badly.

The entrenched and maintained unemployment level results in overwork for people with work, significant levels of unpaid overtime, high levels of under-employment, which is currently rising, poverty and homelessness.

There are people in Australia who work, but do not earn enough to keep themselves in secure accommodation.

How did Australia come to have people who are working but are also trapped in poverty?

For the unemployed the experience is bitter, where they can face many years of control, discipline and humiliation in a system where hope can be minimal to non-existent.

Politicians use unemployment and poverty as an economic tool, to take the bounty of the nation from the poor and give it to the already well-off and the super rich.

In this system where a percentage of the population are manipulated into unemployment and poverty, the unemployed and the poor are ridiculed and abused by many politicians and many members of the public.

For many people it is a national sport to ridicule the unemployed and the poor.

Such ridicule helps to hide a national scam.

It is on top of this scam that the Centrelink robot has been set to work.

Who will fight this level of corruption in Australian society?

If we will not fight this corruption, we will get much worse later.

THE ROBOT REVOLUTION

We stand at the dawn of a robot revolution, which is set to remove half of current paid work over the next couple of decades. [8]

Australia is not preparing for the robot revolution, so we can expect the current situation with unemployment, poverty and homelessness to get a whole lot worse.

And getting worse it already has, as the Centrelink robot is a rather vile introduction to the robot revolution.

Is this our future?

WORKING ALTERNATIVES

There are alternatives to the current system.

ALT ONE ~  If politicians want to keep using unemployment to drive growth, then do so, by running a lottery, in which every citizen of working age is entered, even the Prime Minister, and if their name comes up, they will go into unemployment for a year. The numbers involved will be determined by the required percentage of unemployment that will best drive growth. If there is an objection to this approach, then let them create real work with real pay for all able citizens.

ALT TWO ~  One solution being kicked around is a Universal Basic Income for all citizens. [9]

ALT THREE ~  Another approach gaining traction is for the government to provide work for all able citizens who do not have work, with a basic wage that is above the poverty line. [10] This approach will connect people in society, end unemployment, generate more taxes, and also allow a person to save for their retirement, so they will not need a Centrelink pension. The role of a shrunken Centrelink would be to care for those unable to work.

ALT FOUR ~  If the government will not create real work with real pay for all able workers, then citizens in community could pick up the torch on this, and simply ensure that all citzens have real work with real pay. If direct action works, this could then become a national political policy. One way for communities to create work is to form cooperatives. [11]

CREATIVE PROTEST

Anyone objecting to being treated like a criminal when they are not, consider engaging in creative forms of protest to raise awareness of this whole government run scam.

Creative protest can lead to creating work.

GET POLITICAL TO GET POLITICIANS

Anyone who supports the need for real work with real pay for all able workers, then act until this happens.

Failing to act will mean the government run scams will continue, along with unemployment, poverty and homelessness.

If we hate and fear the Centrelink robot today, we will have more to hate and fear tomorrow, if we will not act.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Turnbull government is in a bind, seeking money to fill a black hole in the national budget. Turnbull also seeks to give more money to the well-off and the rich. Australia has been through a mining boom, but Federal governments have failed to ensure that the gains from mining were a benefit to the Australian people and invested for future generations. For far too long Antipodean citizens have tolerated political stupidity with an economy built on a foundation of cruelty to the poor. Only when the voter decides that the scam must end, will a Fair Go be found and delivered for all Australians.

REFERENCES ~

[1]  New ReachTel poll shows Turnbull popularity slammed over Centrelink, entitlements saga
Claire Bickers, 16 January 2017, The Mercury
http://www.themercury.com.au/new-reachtel-poll-shows-turnbull-popularity-slammed-over-centrelink-entitlements-saga/news-story/aaac16c68aa6b81f890fa08174158a52

[2]  Family of refugee who took her own life calls for improved access to disability pension
Katherine Gregory, 18 January 2017, ABC News Online
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-18/calls-for-improved-access-to-disability-pension/8192220

[3]  Centrelink Fail - Honest Government Advert
thejuicemedia
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoD0efoHzeA

The Juice Media
https://www.youtube.com/user/thejuicemedia

[4]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights
United Nations
http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

[5]  A rising tide lifts all boats
Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_rising_tide_lifts_all_boats

[6]  Eight men own same wealth as poorest half of world’s population, Oxfam reveals
Penny Timms, 16 January 2017, ABC News Online
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-16/eight-men-own-same-wealth-as-worlds-poorest-50-per-cent:-oxfam/8185172

[7]  How the unemployed ‘disappear’ and why it matters
Rose-Marie Stampe & David Fryer, The Conversation, 12 January 2015
https://theconversation.com/how-the-unemployed-disappear-and-why-it-matters-35850

NAIRU ~ non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment
Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAIRU

[8]  Automation to fundamentally change the job market within 20 years, says Oxford professor
Matt Eaton & Nance Haxton, 23 March 2015, ABC News Online
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-23/automation-will-fundamentally-change-the-job-market-in-20-years/6340512

[9]  Universal Basic Income: What If the Problem Isn’t Automation but Work Itself?
Dom Galeon, 13 January 2017, The Conversation
https://futurism.com/universal-basic-income-what-if-the-problem-isnt-automation-but-work-itself/

[10]  Why a universal basic income is a poor substitute for a guaranteed job
Claire Connelly, 19 January 2017, ABC News Online
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-19/universal-basic-income-vs-job-guarantee/8187688

[11]  Employee Ownership
http://www.employeeownership.com.au/worker-cooperatives/

ABOUT KIM PEART ~
I am aged 65, but I am not sure that I would step foot into a Centrelink office ever again, or use their phone line, or use their website, even though I am eligible for the old age pension. In around 1992 I was cut off Centrelink over Employer Contact Certificates, which I found to be stupid and designed to humiliate, not find work. I appealed and won the case, with back pay, but I suspect that I would not win a similar appeal now. I organised a conference on employment as a human right in the 1990s, as part of Human Rights Week in Hobart, but was bitterly disappointed that any follow-up was killed off by vested interests, as I hoped Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights might be honoured. I was automatically cut off Centrelink in 2007, because I objected to Work For The Dole. I moved to Brisbane and found work, but was also homeless for a time while paying off a credit card debt. I discovered how many people use self-storage. In 2015, after I had left Centrelink, I was contacted by their debt collector. I was expected to see a letter on their website, but I was not signed up for their web site. When a letter arrived for a small debt, I went straight to Centrelink and found it was about not having filled out a final form. Why had they not checked this detail in my final visit to a Centrelink office, just as when any employee would leave a business. That was quickly fixed with a form and the debt cancelled. I would not like to be dealing with Centrelink now. I am a visual artist and have engaged in diverse community activities over the years, and know that hard work does not always lead to income in a society that is dedicated to keeping a mean percentage of people poor. Anyone who would like to see real work with real pay for all able workers created in this nation, contact me. I live in Ross, Tasmania. Email ~ .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

In 2015 I researched and wrote three articles on the Unemployment problem ~

Liberating Australia from an Addiction to Unemployment
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/liberating-australia-from-an-addiction-to-unemployment/

Help! Saving Australia
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/help-saving-australia/

Creating a Future that Works
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/creating-a-future-that-works/

• Jean in Comments: I could write a book about the malfunctioning and callous treatment dished out by this organisation … With this error rate for one individual, it’s not hard to conclude the general error rate. There was never an apology and we were assumed guilty on all counts. This is not the way to treat retired people who like us have worked for half a century each. I am educated and computer literate but for people over 70 that is not always the case. Elderly people are being intimidated and terrified into submission by a malfunctioning computer program. Is that the Australian way? Do we believe that just because people, often through no fault of their own, are receiving Centrelink payments, they should be treated like criminals?