Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


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?


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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?


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.


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?


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.


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?


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]


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.


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 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.


[1] New ReachTel poll shows Turnbull popularity slammed over Centrelink, entitlements saga
Claire Bickers, 16 January 2017, The Mercury

[2] Family of refugee who took her own life calls for improved access to disability pension
Katherine Gregory, 18 January 2017, ABC News Online

[3] Centrelink Fail – Honest Government Advert

The Juice Media

[4] Universal Declaration of Human Rights
United Nations

[5] 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

[7] How the unemployed ‘disappear’ and why it matters
Rose-Marie Stampe & David Fryer, The Conversation, 12 January 2015

NAIRU ~ non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment

[8] Automation to fundamentally change the job market within 20 years, says Oxford professor
Matt Eaton & Nance Haxton, 23 March 2015, ABC News Online

[9] Universal Basic Income: What If the Problem Isn’t Automation but Work Itself?
Dom Galeon, 13 January 2017, The Conversation

[10] Why a universal basic income is a poor substitute for a guaranteed job
Claire Connelly, 19 January 2017, ABC News Online

[11] Employee Ownership

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 ~ kimpeart@iinet.net.au

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

Liberating Australia from an Addiction to Unemployment

Help! Saving Australia

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?



  1. Mike Bolan

    January 21, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Well put Kim. There’s plenty of work to go around but the government insists on ‘regulating’ it with rules that require taxes to be paid, regulations to be met (OH&S,insurance etc) and a whole load of other requirements that prevent free enterprise.

    In fact we’re not free at all unless we have so many resources that we can stay clear of government and defend ourselves successfully when attacked by them.

    The Centrelink debacle is an attempt by government to shift ALL responsibility for any errors and for proofs onto the client, who is least able to do those things. That frees the government up to do pretty much what it likes until such time as it is forced to correct problems.

    If our courts worked that way, we’d be taken into custody, charged and jailed until such time as we could prove ourselves innocent. The lack of any means to appeal or gain legal assistance means that the poor will suffer the most, while the wealthy will transfer some of their wealth to legal and similar pockets.

    And you’re right, we’ll have to act because the trajectory of government in this country is towards failure through excessive expenses, errors and policy/practice failures.

  2. Birdz

    January 21, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    I received a letter from Aurora the other day because I forgot to pay my power bill.

    If a private enterprise was so quick off the mark and rude with debt letters as Aurora it would lose its customers.

    But Aurora can be as rude as it wants and get away with it.

    Likewise, almost every time I go to Hobart I get a parking ticket because of those one-hour bays.

    So I avoid going to Hobart.

    And I am saving to have off-grid power so I don’t have to deal with any more f….g quangos.

    Governments today are as good as the mafia. Paying tax feels like paying “protection money”.

  3. Kelvin Jones

    January 21, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    It would be interesting to know how this computer alogorithym works. It seem that from the pattern emerging every one one who has had centreink pay Kent will be eventually be target. Even those not yet targeted in the current sector.

    The law I believe allows Centre link to claim back any overpayments.

    However, it would seem to me that, that if false claims are being made based on no evidence from the data provided by the tax office and Centre links own records. Then Centrelink could be in breach of the law.

    That is if matching data has no anomalies but access to bank records of clients could possibly reveal a dept. Then if the software generates a false claim the Centrelink may be breaching the act under which it operates by generating such a false claim to gain access to information it is not entitled. This may be a criminal act too.

  4. Tim Upston

    January 21, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    The sooner we change the attitude to unemployment the better off our society will be. This conservative rabble we have in Canberra have been a little surprised, I am sure, by the backlash to their attack on the unemployed because Australians have for years fallen for the vindictive aimed at the underprivileged and under employed by not only the conservatives but also their promotions outlets News Limited and the various right wing shock jocks that infect our airways.
    It is obvious that this government has tried to reverse the onus of innocent until proven guilty and have decided millions are guilty..full stop…

  5. Pete Godfrey

    January 21, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks for the outline of how this fraud works Kim.
    It must be nearly time to get rid of money all together.
    To each his or her needs would be a better way to run a society. It would get rid of many social ills.
    The centrelink robot appears to be a very scary dude, lets hope some clever hacker deletes it.

  6. Luigi

    January 21, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    I have some semi-personal experience of this. My daughter has a several-thousand dollar debt to repay. Her partner got a pay rise, which was not declared to Centrelink, causing an enduring overpayment of family allowance supplement. She acknowledges her mistake.

    Reports I have heard on ABC radio suggest that the debt notices are correct about 80% of the time. My daughter is part of that 80%.

    It seems to me therefore that only 20% of the notices require active personal management and correction. The rest just require debt repayment.

  7. lola moth

    January 21, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    I have seen the way Centrelink treats our most vulnerable citizens and this latest fake invoice scam does not surprise me. We are being manipulated into thinking that everyone in receipt of any Centrelink payment is a thief. Being poor is not punishment enough it seems so now the poor are branded as criminals as well. I also have a personal Centrelink horror story which left me so emotionally scarred that when I became unemployed I sold most of my assets to be able to live without contact with them until I can access my superannuation. Poverty on my own terms beats the hell Centrelink would inflict on me.

  8. Christopher Eastman-Nagle

    January 21, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    We live in a culture of entitlement, and everyone, rich and poor alike, are into the rip off trough big time.

    Now I know it is ideologically fashionable to talk about the dodgy shenanigans of the rich and powerful when it comes to not paying their fair share.

    “We disapprove of rich parasites, don’t we children?”

    “Yes Miss!”

    “But people on welfare payments are poor things and if they ‘take a little more’ than what they are strictly entitled to, we so understand, don’t we children?”

    Yes Miss!”

    the trouble is of course that when lots of people are taking ‘a little more’ it actually mounts up to quite a lot. Welfare expenditure already takes up a whacking great 35.4% of the Commonwealth budget, and growing.

    The fact is not many of us are rich enough to run money through related entity loan or product transfer pricing arrangements, into sunny and very private overseas tax havens. For ordinary tax paying schmucks like me, the local taxation authorities can see, cross check and analyse all public data relating to a wide range of my financial dealings across numerous institutions with which I have had some financial interaction in any given year.

    It is called data matching and computers make it a breeze.

    If I do not declare interest on deposits in any of my bank accounts, it will pop up as discrepancy on my return and I will get a notice from the taxation department demanding the appropriate tax, plus a penalty. And I shouldn’t have any problem finding out whether they are correct, because I have to keep tax records for at least 7 years, which will include all my bank statements.

    And even if I earned under the limit for being required to submit a taxation return, I would still keep records, just in case I needed them one day, as a matter of basic prudence, wouldn’t I? And if I haven’t done that, well it will be a bit of extra homework getting my records in order and a good lesson in the virtues of prudent conduct, I would have thought.

    The Department of Social Services has done the same thing as the taxperson. The most usual over-payment ‘problem’ comes from not declaring income from periods of employment. And unless it is under the table cash money, it is really easy to spot and track.

    I know that there is a lot wailing and gnashing teeth going on about this. And one of the things about the welfare sector is that there is one area where its productive output is brilliantly conceived and elegantly conducted; the most elaborate, convincing and heart rending excuses you have ever heard. If some of the recipients put a fraction of the effort and creativity into doing something productive as they do on excuses, they would be as rich Croesus.

    And of course, these jewels of welfare sector publicrelationsspeak are tailor made for the prejudices and consumption of do-gooding petty bourgeois who rarely actually meet and get to know their ‘oppressed’ clients, but soak up their sufferings and injustices like mother’s milk.

    All the angst over this is pure malarkey. We cannot afford to overpay by three and half billion dollars. Think of all the asylum seekers we could bring in with all that money…..or the luxurious prison apartments we could build for the poor old Dylan Vollers and his friends to smash up. Very nice….

  9. Kim Peart

    January 22, 2017 at 9:07 am

    Re: 8 ~ Real criminals, who also claim a Centrelink payment, will remain invisible, because they do not declare their ill-gotten gains to the Tax Department and work in the black economy.

    The first offense of the Centrelink robot, programmed by the Turnbull government to claw back as much money as possible, is to see that Joe Blow was on a Centrelink payment for 3 months to 2011, see that he was employed for 9 months in 2011, spread the employment wage over 12 months and then declare that Joe Blow owes the government money for those three months of unemployment.

    That, and a whole range of extremmely sneaky manipulations of money and time data, is what is slamming thousands of Australians every week with a debt.

    If the Tax department opperated like this, the nation would go into toital chaos, which would likely lead to violence, from property damage to full-on revolution.

    The Centrelink regime is set up so people are terrified and will likely pay a false debt, rather than die fighting the Turnbull government, via Centrelink.

    This is a terror regime, extorting money from honest Australians.

    If there is a real debt, just as with Tax, there is a liability and a bill to be paid.

    The level of fraud with the Centrelink robot, set up to claw money from the poor, is so high, we can wonder if all debt notices are shonky to a degree.

    To declare that there is $4.5 billion dollars out there to be claws back, is declaring that millions of Australians are criminals.

    Is that OK?

    Is that really OK?

    Joe Blow may now be working as a lawyer, and at least one person defrauded by the Centrelink robot is a working lawyer, has paid the fraud debt rather than fight Centrelink, and is now preparing legal action, which could become a class action.

    A class action of this scale could end up costing the Australian government billions of dollars, which the tax-payer will have to ultimately pay.

    This is what happens when we allow a political cutlure to evolve that relies on unemployment of around 5% to drive growth, so the well-off can grab a larger share of the national pie, and the super-rich make an absolut killing.

    We need to ask why the Turnbull government was not as thorough with Centrelink management as the Tax Department is required to be.

    We have two choices.

    We can run with a mafia approach, or build an honest society.

    What will we choose.

    Currently we have chosen the mafia approach, which will lead to an increase in crime.

    This will make Australia a more dangerous place for everyone.

  10. Kim Peart

    January 22, 2017 at 9:30 am

    I have examined what seems like hundreds of articles on the Centrelink robot from across Australia.

    In one article I read that Centrelink is ~ “preparing to roll out front-line virtual assistants.” ~

    Virtual assistants are on-line robots, which could also be a physical robot in a Centrelink office.

    Physical robots are used in many work places around the world now, and will soon look like people.

    This is one way the Turnbull government will reduce costs, by replacing humans with machines at Centrelink.

    I see grounds for a follow-up article. ~ Observations and or suggestions will be welcome ~

    On the one hand there is the need to be a fair and just society.

    On the other hand there is the question of how we shift gear to be a fair and just society, with real full-employment, with poverty sent into history, and with no more homeless people, which for many will be the ultimate price of a Centrelink debt.

    Why is homelessness such a huge problem in Australia, the land of a Fair Go?

    Current approaches are failing.

    In one article I read ~ “Authorities and service providers are struggling to find long-term solutions to Melbourne’s homelessness crisis,”

    The simple solution is to build a nation that includes real work with real pay for all able workers.

    All else would fall into place, including solutions to under-employment, unemployment, poverty and homelessness.

    Until we get serious about building a fair and just nation, we will remain a hopeless country, drifting into banana republic status, that a nation like China could easily take over and make work.

  11. Chris

    January 22, 2017 at 9:57 am

    If ya are Dutch then ya entitled ta geta pension as you have contributed to it over the years.
    Fudge the Judge and MT along with Morriscum believe otherwise.

  12. lola moth

    January 22, 2017 at 11:00 am

    #8 Christopher, I don’t think you understand the problem with the Centrelink robot. It is not a matter of people not declaring income to Centrelink but of the computer distributing that income evenly over 26 fortnights instead of over the period of paid employment only. The people the system is targeting are the ones who managed to find employment not the ones who are living the good life on your tax dollar. Every case of Centrelink computer generated debt I have personally come across is either 100% incorrect or an overpayment of one or two days that was not the fault of the client but of the Centrelink computer.

  13. Christopher Eastman-Nagle

    January 22, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you for the feedback Iola #12.

    There is nothing necessarily wrong with the Centrelink method of calculating income on an annualised sum divided by 26 basis.

    If I am a mid/upper level executive on $250,000 a year and as a result of an unexpected 6 weeks of unemployment I claim benefits, but at the end of which I go back to work elsewhere, on say $200,000 a year, it would be absurd to expect to keep the unemployment benefit.

    The fact that I hadn’t earned anything for 3 fortnights out of 26 would be irrelevant, if my overall income for the year was way above the annualized eligibility level for any sort of Centrelink benefit.

    And when my tax return crystallized the annual income, I should pay back the benefit because the reason for it being there is to ensure an annual minimum income. And that is fair, I would have thought.

    There has been a lot of huff ‘n puff over this in the welfare sector, but given how under the pump the Centrelink staff are, one would think that automating some of the work would be a really good idea. They haven’t got the staff to manually go after debt on the scale that an automated system can do.

    And they are doing no more than what the taxation office does. Why the should welfare beneficiaries be treated differently? Why do we have to be empathetic and hold peoples’ hands?

    I can tell you withstanding a tax audit is pretty stressful and expensive, even when one’s returns all stack up. But I did have the benefit afterwards of a couple of days of joyous relief and euphoria, and a ringing sense of confirmation that honesty is the best policy, especially with the tax department.

    Withstanding that kind of stress test is part and parcel of being an adult and meeting your responsibilities in a modern society. Get used to it. Be prepared for it.

    There are a number of inquiries in prospect on this one, and we will likely get the benefit of a more objective assessment of whether or not the Centrelink automated parameters and criteria were correctly applied. But my guess is that it will end up being a slugfest between a ‘heartless’ rules based system and helpless poor thingism.

    And it goes without saying that that would be execrable baloney.

  14. lola moth

    January 22, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    #13 Christopher, I would expect someone on a salary of over $200,000 a year would probably have some saving to live on between jobs and you have to exhaust your savings before you are eligible for Newstart payments. However if your living expenses take all your pay every week and you lose your job and have no savings you can apply to Centrelink for a payment. This payment is not a loan to be paid back once you get on your feet again. There is a mutual obligation with this payment that you will attend a job network provider regularly and apply for a certain number of [non-existent] jobs per fortnight and give any and all information to Centrelink that they ask for. With so many people only able to find casual work their payments from Centrelink vary each fortnight from no payment to full payment. If you were unemployed for half the year and employed full time for the other half, the computer averages out your income for the full year and sends you a debt notice. This system would make your Centrelink payment a loan and that is not the purpose of the payment. The government knows it is giving wrongful debt notices to the unemployed, underemployed, disabled, elderly and the mentally ill but it does not care who it maims in it’s quest for a buck.

  15. Kim Peart

    January 22, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    Excellent and well researched article on the Centrelink robot by Melanie McCartney, also exploring what is planned to happen next ~

  16. Christopher Nagle

    January 23, 2017 at 7:24 am

    Lola #!4, you are conflating several arguments. Is the robotic system enforcing the Centrelink rules, or not? That is quite separate question from whether they are ‘fair’, overly tough, or not.

    Is a debt to Centrelink less valid because it was contracted 6 years ago, or not? Does the inconvenience of that make it less owable? Do debts disappear merely by the efflux of time, or do they attract compound interest?

    Do the rules of the system not apply to people because they are ‘poor helpless things’, or not?

    The reason I chose a high income example in #12 was to establish a principle of whether our welfare system is a minimalist backstop, or more than that, a top up.

    And underneath that is the question of whether this argument is about ‘justice’ or just plain old sectional interest.

    Like all humanist wets, you bring a certain set assumptions to the table. For you, a digital system that enables Centrelink to catch up with its overpaid ‘clients’ in ways that they could not possibly do manually with the staff they have, is by definition a social and economic hand grenade.

    40 years ago I was in the Communist Party of Australia, so nothing you are telling me is unfamiliar. And then, I would have enthusiastically agreed with you.

    While I and the comrades warbled on about international justice and the class struggle, we ourselves lived on the smell of an oily rag as exemplars of the alternative lifestyle movement that abhorred consumerism. Living on unemployment benefits was a breeze, because we understood and embraced frugality and a disciplined life.

    I have lived for some months in a jakarta slum and the people there, who are poor and devout Muslims, right on the margins of life and death, extract every last drop of value out of any resource that comes their way. Absolutely nothing is wasted. They would live like kings on our welfare system.

    My Greek wife, whose peasant family came out here in the early fifties, when she was two and a half, with nothing but what they stood up in, lived in a single bedroom in a shared house until the daughters, who slept in one bed from head to toe, were 13 and fifteen. And they managed it with almost no toys, other than their own imaginations.

    Dad drank his wages and Mum, who was a presser in a laundry that in the summer used to reach 47 degrees Celsius, secretly saved money for a house. They didn’t have a car, or a television or even a washing machine. And on one occasion when there was a small financial crisis in the family, my ten year old wife-to-be saved the day because she had saved her lunch money over several years, and bailed them out.

    For the last dozen years, my wife and I have owned and run a coastal residential caravan park. We inherited a substantial welfare population and subsequently took on families in crisis. Almost all of them were into substance abuse. For us, the young children were the most distressing to deal with. We would take them and look after them sometimes. They so loved being treated decently. But they were doomed…They didn’t have a prayer.

    We eventually got rid of that cohort and turned the place into a retirement village, because by 55, most of the clients have grasped the basics, and it is a very nice little community…

    I am telling you all this dear Iola, to put your sunny but absurd to me petty bourgeois assumptions into some sort of perspective.

    late capitalism is so profitable that despite its absurdly skewed distribution of wealth, there are still plenty of crumbs to go round, much in the same way as in Rome, with its free distributions of grain and entertainment for the mob. In that sense, Nothing much has changed.

    The only difference is that late capitalism is so voracious, it eats absolutely everything; the environment, rational economic allocation and the social software that keeps body and soul together.

    We aren’t talking about poverty and disadvantage any more. the culture we live in has had its entrails eaten out. Falling over is just a matter of time.

  17. phill Parsons

    January 23, 2017 at 9:29 am

    Alt 2 and 3 will be in the mix as automation/robots grows.

    Nagle has failed to grasp the key problem with the automated debt recovery system, lack of a human check on the data and the person being approached thus feeding the horror stories and the inherent unfairness of an unbalanced process.

    I remember my mother sorting out a debt with the tax office. She received a letter to pay the 2 cents they assessed as owing. Suffice to say the cost of the letter was greater then the 2 cents.

    On a trip to Sydney she made time to see the tax officers in their den, The debt was cancelled. How much did that cost the taxpayer.

    A human failed here, not cancelling all debts less than the cost of sending the letter. The cost of recovery may have fallen with automation but still the point remains. if the cost of recovery exceeds the debt write it off.

  18. lola moth

    January 23, 2017 at 9:58 am

    Christopher #16. I’m sorry I did not make my meaning as clear as I wished to. Is the Centrelink robot enforcing the Centrelink rules? The answer is no. The Centrelink rules are clear and fairly easy to follow for most clients but the robot seems to have a problem with following them because of it’s program. Centrelink works on 26 fortnightly pay periods but the robot has to work with other computers from other departments so it works on a pay period of one financial year. The systems do not mesh together at all thus causing problems for Centrelink clients.

    Do debts disappear merely by the efflux of time? No they don’t but they have to have existed in reality for them to be actual debts. A robot should not be able to use a faulty program to create a debt out of thin air and expect that debt to be paid when it is false.

    Do the rules not apply to people because they are “poor helpless things”? The rules apply to everyone but we need to acknowledge that a great many Centrelink clients have special needs that put them at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with a robotic department that is supposed to be there to help them but that they can’t communicate with.
    Generational unemployment and disadvantage are real problems but in order to help the “deserving poor” we must also help the “undeserving poor” as well but luckily they are a minority. I used to live next door to a caravan park full of the type of people you describe and it is heartbreaking to watch the next generation ground down by the people who should be raising them up. My sunny assumptions may seem absurd to you but that does not mean my perspective is skewed.

  19. Ian Cunliffe

    January 23, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Obviously quite deliberately, Centrelink makes it as difficult as possible to contact them by email – or by any other convenient means.

    I am helping various clients pro bono and have divined some email addresses.

    The owner of one such has phoned my client and said that “we no longer reply to emails”!

  20. Mick Kenny

    January 23, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Putting aside rational debates over a living income for all and the provision of basic rights of all to clean water, housing, health, education and economic participation within a healthy social and cultural environment for a moment and wading into the current discussion of the Centrelink campaign against the supposed billions of dollars being nibbled away by devious means.

    Firstly, a comment on the very premise that those receiving some sort of income support should be subject to techniques and technologies employing multiple data sets collected across various public and private institutions.

    Part time work is positive and beneficial to all, although full time employment often eludes many today. Those in full time employment enjoy various potential deductions, tax benefits and home-owner orientated subsidies for things like solar hot water or as a first time home buyer. As for corporations, the subsidies and accommodations only grow exponentially, by comparison. This sits on the back of astoundingly low tax figures for large corporations globally.

    Ideologically, it is simpler to target economically disadvantaged groups, who lack the battalions of legal and lobby troops ever ready to receive orders from the top end of town in defense of any movement that threatens their complex taxation and policy arrangements. To assume that the current status quo is fair and just, a pure market capitalist system that affords all equal access and opportunity, is one myth justifying the Turnbull Government’s quite deliberate and considered decision to generate social division and present the poor or disadvantaged (or simply elderly) as the supposed problem.

  21. Leonard Colquhoun

    January 23, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    “To each his or her needs would be a better way to run a society” – fine, but it depends on who’re running it, wouldn’t it?

    Look at the 20th century’s two Marxist giants: one became the home of “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us” and is now, mercifully, extinct; the other realised that USSR-style Marxism simply and literally did not work, and set about lifting 500,000,000 out of dire poverty (while remaining a Communist Party dictatorship).

    (BTW, this classic Marxist-Leninist saying may have its origin in the biblical Acts of the Apostles 4:32 to 35:32!)

    “The simple solution is to build a nation that includes real work with real pay for all able workers” – and what exactly is, and isn’t, “real” work? (And, yes, I’ve used this now common expression too.)

  22. Pete Godfrey

    January 23, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    #21 Leonard, I understand your premise. Yes it may have been better if I had advocated for a living wage for all. That leaves those who believe that they need more, the space to earn as much as they want above the living wage.
    The problem with providing “real work for all” was aptly demonstrated to me today.
    We visited K Mart in Launceston, and found only one isle of checkouts that served customers with real people. The rest were self serve.
    Then to Coles where most of the customers were sent through the self serve checkouts as well.
    Technology is deleting jobs much faster than any job creation scheme could create them.
    Driving home from Launceston, we had to pull over to allow two extremely large agricultural harvesters to pass. My comment to my partner was that they were amazing pieces of machinery but what about all the real jobs for crop pickers that they were taking.
    Computers did away with millions of clerical jobs worldwide, bulldozers, excavators, trench diggers, all these machines have deleted millions of jobs.
    In the end only those servicing the machines will have jobs.
    So people will end up unemployed and unemployable as they will not be able to do the work at a comparable rate, or economically.
    The only solution I can see is to tax the machinery that is replacing human labour, tax the resources that are removed from the earth and actually charge tax to all companies that make a profit.(no matter how large). Then we would have the money to pay our people to live.
    If we need 5% of our population to be unemployed for the economy to operate we cannot in good conscience then beat up on those who are unemployed.

  23. Christopher Nagle

    January 23, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    Well lola I suppose one should never under-estimate the capacity for bureaucratic incompetence. We do deal with local government here which seems bent on fruitless data flows, tick boxing fictional outcomes and self generating makework to keep empires growing at the expense of and as an alternative to real activity by departments that actually do stuff and co-ordinate with each other while they are at it.

    But I always assumed (assumptions assumptions) that local governments were just bottom feeders and that federal agencies wouldn’t do something like make an egregiously silly, obvious and eventually politically costly mistake that anyone with a half a brain should have been been able to see long before the roll out of the project….if indeed what you say turns out to be true.

    If you are right, it seems a great pity, because properly designed automation would enable better use of human beings to actually answer phones and properly staff Centrelink service booths, to reduce service wait times.

    If it were done right, it would also deliver much quicker response times to over and under-payments, as now happens with the taxation department, which is extensively automated.

    According to the ABC 4/1/17, the system process does not seem on the face of it, unfair. I quote:

    “How the debt recovery system works:

    The system sends you a letter advising you of a potential welfare debt and asks you to review its figures online. It also sends an SMS.

    When you log on you can update the information. You have 21 days from the date of the letter to go online and update.

    If you don’t log on, Centrelink will make a default judgement its information is accurate. You will then be issued with a debt notice.

    If you do update the information, Centrelink may ask you to provide supporting documentation. This can include bank statements, letters from an employer, or payslips.

    If you think the decision is wrong you can ask for a review.”

    It seems to be exactly the same sort of system the taxation department uses.

    I note that the ABC reports on 16/1/17 that after criticism from Andrew Wilkie, the ALP opposition and inquiries being made by the Ombusdman that a review and ‘some fine tuning’ by the Human Services Minister is going on, particularly in making sure that the letters of demand get to the right address, so that clients do not find out about their over-payment problem when the debt collector turns up.

    And if you are right Lola and the automated system is throwing erroneous claims, it will get quickly sorted.

    It will be fascinating to find out just how substantial the real claw backs of overpayment actually are.

    It is also interesting to note that throughout 2016, the ATO has been flagging a crackdown on multinational tax avoidance using related party ‘capital thinning’ and product transfer pricing. So welfare people are not the only ones on notice to ‘assist’ in budget repair.

  24. lola moth

    January 23, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    #23 Christopher. That ABC report states how it is supposed to work but unfortunately doesn’t. As an extreme example, imagine I was unemployed for 50 weeks in a row and received Newstart for all that time. Every fortnight I would be reporting my income details to Centrelink and they would decide how much benefit I would be given. As I would be reporting nil income I would be given the full benefit each fortnight. On week 51 I am given a job as an underwear model and the job only lasts two days but I am paid $1,000,000 for it. I report this income to Centrelink and the tax office and no longer receive Centrelink benefit. Two years go by and I receive a letter stating there is a discrepancy between Centrelink and the Taxation Department records and asks me to go to a website to update my details. The website tells me that the Tax Department has on record that I earned $1,000,000 in 2014 and wants to know if this is correct. Of course it is correct as I informed both Centrelink and the taxman about it at the time and paid my tax on my earnings so I press the “yes” button. The robot now spits out a debt notice because it has spread my $1,000,000 over the proceeding 50 weeks that I was not employed and therefor entitled to Centrelink benefit. I am now a welfare cheat and must pay back the entire 50 weeks worth of money within 21 days. I can appeal the decision but have to pay back the erroneous debt first. That is just one of the problems of the system but probably the most common one. When Centrelink had human staff they could see where the computer stuffed up and rectified the problem before it hurt anyone’s credit rating. Not so now. Now you have to find years worth of information that you have already given to both departments to prove your innocence because now you are guilty unless you prove otherwise. They will not show you any evidence of your debt existing, you have to show that it does not. It is frightening.

  25. Simon Warriner

    January 23, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    Christopher, the system used by Centrelink is that incompetent it cannot spit out a simple statement showing the transactions made on an individual’s account. I know this because a couple of years ago my partner had a debt sent to the debt collectors due to out tax returns being lodged late because we were preoccupied with her toxic workplace issues.

    In the process of trying to sort out the matter we attended a Centrelink office and asked nicely for a statement so we could track what had actually been paid to us, what had been repaid by us, and what was actually owing, as our bank statements were at odd with their claims against us as described in their letters.

    Our first contact left the field claiming “aggression” on my part because I insisted, using the words “listen to what I am saying”, on a statement of some, indeed, any description that listed the movement of liabilities step by step, sequentially.

    She passed the ball to her supervisor, doubtless after putting a note on our file, and the supervisor dug a little deeper and discovered the problem was a failure for a tax return file to pass over to Centrelink several years prior. Still not statement we could peruse though! We were expected to take it on trust that her interpretation of the various screens she was looking at was correct. And, NO, we did not get to see the screens!

    We fixed the problem by collecting our child welfare entitlements in arrears from that point onwards. I recommend that method to anyone wanting to minimise their contact with an agency that destroys time, effort and good humour like a gambling habit vapourises cash.

    re 22, Pete, how right you are about technology destroying opportunities for meaningful employment! Google Retropia, John Michael Greer, and you will track down an exploration of that issue in narrative form. It is an interesting read about a poorly understood aspect of what is misunderstood to be “progress”. And yes, there are tax write offs for investing in job destroying automation, but very little in the way of tax incentives to employ wage earners who actually do pay tax with bugger all to write off to reduce the burden.

  26. Christopher Nagle

    January 24, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Lola, we are going over old ground here. Remember the affluent executive?

    If it is the case that annual income is averaged over 26 fortnights, and that goes over the eligible annual limit, then in effect the Centrelink payments were money to just tide someone over and would have to be repaid, if indeed that is how the system works.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that as long as everyone understands the ground rules and therefore provisions accordingly. It isn’t meant to be an income maintenance system. It is a backstop, if indeed the income averaging system is the system.

  27. Kim Peart

    January 24, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Reading through the many articles about the debt claw-back, one writer nailed it precisely yesterday, called the robot approach a “fishing expedition” that maximizes the chances of anyone simply paying the debt presented by the robot.

    20% of the robo-debts are false.

    The rest may be faulty.

    Everyone is considered guilty until they can prove that they are innocent.

    This reversal of our accepted standards of justice by the Turnbull government using a robot is making a lot of people really angry.

    When the Newman government in Queensland introduced the mad VLAD laws that considered a person guilty until they proved that they were innocent, the LNP lost government at the next election.

    The gut reaction to being shafted by a government can be pretty basic.

    Worse is the long-term loss of Trust in government.

    Trust is hard won, but easily squandered.

    If this mad rush to automate ends up costing the Australian tax payer more than any debts clawed back, then the Turnbull government will have breached our trust at a really basic level.

    On top of their mad failure with the NBN, driven by some crazy political agenda, the Turnbull government may already be facing the electoral gallows.

  28. Kim Peart

    January 24, 2017 at 8:27 am

    An article in the Sydney Morning Herald today points out that the false debts could be 90%, or higher.

    If there is a class action against the demonic Centrelink robot and the mad Turnbull government, how many will join that?

    How many will not?

    Bunker down for a political maelstrom.

  29. lola moth

    January 24, 2017 at 9:01 am

    #26 Christopher. Centrelink benefit is not a loan. It is not a low-interest loan. It is not a no-interest loan. It is not a payment that you get until you get a job and then it turns into a loan. It is not a HECS type loan that is entered into by both parties that agree that it must be paid back. Because I am a rich and successful underwear model I have no problem paying back money that I don’t owe just to keep the peace. Other people who are not as fortunate as me cannot afford to pay non-existent debt.
    If Centrelink was set up as a loan until you came upon better times then no-one would take up the offer. Unemployment does not have a start and end date. Sickness end unemployment can be a blip on the radar or they can be life changing tragedies. If Centrelink was a loan company we would have a kill or be killed society and overflowing debtors prisons.
    If you want to know how the system is supposed to work you can go to the Centrelink website and read about the various benefits and the eligibility criteria.

  30. Jon Sumby

    January 24, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Let’s follow the money.
    The government says it has so far identified $300 million that the dreadful leaning poor have ripped from the hands of good tax paying Australians.

    Now, despite repeated requests from the media the government has refused to reveal how much they have actually recouped in cold hard cash from the leaners living in luxury on tax payers money. But we do have other numbers.

    The ABC has reported that the robo-debt program cost $33 million to set up, probably fully funded by the wages of the Centrelink staff sacked as the robot took over. Additionally, the debt collector’s contracts comes to $15 million p.a. plus the 10% commission on every bit of money they collect on behalf of Australia. This leaves $241 million to spend on bettering the Australian people.

    Now consider that Bronwyn Bishop gets a $255,000 pension p.a. for the rest of her life; Sussan Ley will get $160,000 for life when she leaves; and Joe Hockey gets $180,000 tax free pension p.a. for life as well*. All told, the Parliamentary Pension scheme currently costs $44 million p.a. (it will rise as the pension is linked to the base backbench salary, currently $199,040).

    So the money the government says it has identified (but only theoretically recouped as they won’t say the real amount), after costs will fund the Parliamentary Pension for the next 5 1/2 years.

    I say job well done Liberal Party. The money recovered from those dreadful leaning and bludging aged pensioners, disabled, and unemployed has saved Bronwyn Bishop and the rest of those retired politicians from living in penury.

    *Although its been reported that Joe Hockey gets a tax free $90,000 on top of his ambassador’s salary of $360,000, he actually is eligible for $180,000. However as he is currently in government service as US ambassador he can only claim half his pension as that is the rules of the pension scheme. As soon as leaves his post as ambassador he will receive the full $180,000 tax free every year for life.

    On that note, lets have a play with some other numbers. Joe Hockey is fifty-one years old and will get that $180,000 for life; ignoring the few years in the US job and assuming he lives to the age of 76 (about the average for a man his age), this means that Joe Hockey will get 4 million and 860 thousand dollars in tax free pension payments.

    Of course, he has worked hard for this. For example, a peek at his recent entitlements shows that he claims an average $1000 per week on business lunches at the finest restaurants in Washington, last year he billed taxpayers over $5000 for a babysitter as he and his wife left their mansion to attend consular dinners and the opera, wearing his $1000 tuxedo paid for by tax payers as those are his work clothes.

    Like all good Australians, but not those nasty poor people who pay no tax (like BHP-Billiton, Acer Computers, Toys ‘R’ Us, Yokohama Tyres, etc.), Joe sacrificed 11.5% of his annual salary into the Parliamentary Pension Scheme over the years he spent in Parliament.

    So if we crunch the numbers on that, it turns out that his personal contribution to his pension will fully fund the first 3 1/2 years of his pension payments. This means that the following 23 1/2 years at a tax free $180,000 p.a. is completely funded by the tax payer – all 4 million 230 thousand dollars of it.

    Same for Bronwyn Bishop, Sussan Ley, Phil Ruddock, Mal Brough, et al., their salary sacrifice will only fund the first few years of what is officially called a ‘retirement allowance’ in the Parliamentary superannuation scheme.

  31. MJF

    January 24, 2017 at 12:52 pm


    Agree with #26’s comments Lola. Why would you expect to keep your one-off big pay when whatever you’ve earned should be rightfully averaged over the financial year ?

    I assume you meant “preceeding” 50 weeks when you wrote “proceeding” 50 weeks in your example, on the basis you wouldn’t have received any benefits for weeks into the future.

    One query though, why would it take Centrelink 2 years to data match and send you an IOU (by which time you’ve blown what’s left of your big pay)?

    Would not the alarm bells be ringing @ Centrelink when you first reported the 1 mill in earnings
    2 years prior ? I imagine the clawback process might start right from reporting or at least should.

    In your example you call it an erroneous debt. I don’t see it that way. Refer to #26’s explanation. You were now overpaid in terms of benefit qualification for the year thanks to a big one-off pay packet at the end so pay the money back now that you can afford to. The country carried you for a while, now you’re back on your feet. Return the benefits received and move on. Happy days.

    Where’s the problem apart from needing to keep financial records and relevant correspondence in a sytematic form ?

    Surely not too much to ask.

  32. lola moth

    January 24, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    #31MJF. The qualification period for Cenrelink is not a year but a fortnight. If I qualified last fortnight I get a benefit. If I don’t qualify next fortnight I get no benefit but I do not have to pay back last fortnight’s benefit because I qualified for it. If I get one giant pay Centrelink will figure out how long that money should last and disqualify me from any further benefits until a date set by them. They do not require me to pay back previous benefits as my big pay must provide for me into the future not the past. Centrelink is not a payday loan company. No-one enters into a loan agreement with them.
    It is difficult to explain the system to people who have never experienced it so perhaps Kim can make it clearer than I am able to.
    I live off my savings now which gives me $144.00 per week. I have had no dealings with Centrelink for decades and this latest fiasco reinforces my aim of having nothing to do with them.

  33. Jean

    January 24, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Most of the lengthy responses here defending Centrelink appear to be largely from people who have never had to deal with them. One of the main points the article is making is about HOW people are treated by Centrelink, as much as whether the debt is erroneous. There are ways of going about things that are better than others and this is not one of them. Just because people may or may not owe money isn’t a license to treat them like criminals.

    I could write a book about the malfunctioning and callous treatment dished out by this organisation.

    We receive a small part age pension. About five years ago and, completely out of the blue, we received a letter stating we owed $13,000 and our part pension was immediately stopped. It took several stressful months to determine that, in fact, the Centrelink officer at the time of our retirement had omitted to enter my small life pension into their system. A few months later, we received another letter saying our part pension had been stopped again because our annual income had increased, which was complete rubbish. After another few stressful weeks it was once again determined that an officer had keyed in gross income instead of net.

    A couple of years ago, I had to get PoA for my 95 year old mother. When I couldn’t do some process for her at Centrelink, it turned out they had entered it the opposite way – that she had PoA for me.

    In retirement I was asked to do some part-time work at Hansard and over the seven years I have been there, it has been impossible for Centrelink to accommodate the spasmodic hours which parliament sits. The computer says NO, very loudly. It needs you to work to a regular pattern or the reporting program will simply switch itself off and each time it does I have to sit on the phone for up to an hour to get it switched back on. I think my IT graduate son-in-law could probably write a better program.

    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?

    An article published recently gauged that in the next 25 years jobs would reduce by 45%. Already, the work of 25 people a few years ago is being done by 5. Will those unemployed then still be castigated and treated like pariahs? And elderly people treated like a burden on society? And in this day and age why at least can’t we have a more reliable and accurate computer program?

  34. Kim Peart

    January 25, 2017 at 1:07 am

    To grasp the meanness of the Centrelink debt claw-back, it helps to remember that thousands of ex-military personnel find themselves homeless in this land.

    It also helps to remember that over 10% of the Australian population are trapped in poverty, including 730,000 children.

    The value of the Fair Go has been twisted into fair game, to shift the bounty of the nation from the poor to the rich.

    To run an economy that requires around 5% official unemployment to keep the wheels of growth turning is an absurdity that directly leads to those forced into poverty for the benefit of the economy being ridiculed and punished.

    This is why it is political sport to attack the poor, and use Centrelink to control, discipline and humiliate those who must pay the price for this kind of cruel growth.

    This is the vicious mind-set that has slid down the slope of a moral vacuum into the policies of robo-debt

    Now I read that 90% or more of the robo-debts may be fraudulent.

    What a mafia level scam this game is turning out to be.

    If the desire of politicians was to have real full-employment, then all that money squandered on punishing the victims of growth economics could be invested in creating work for all Australian citizens.

    How radical would that be?

    If politicians found their moral spine and demanded real full employment, then the big end of town would be expected to meet the needs of the nation, not fly off with the loot.

    By considering the economic strength of each citizen, the nation would be stronger.

    Norway figured this out, as have some other nations.

    Until we figure this out, we do not stand as a real nation.

    A real nation gives a damn about each citizen and does not allow any child to be left in poverty.

    If we will not be a real nation that fights for a Fair Go for all citizens, we really are a lost country.

    We may ask each other, who believes in Australia.

    At present we live in a nasty little fiscal pond better call Greedalia.

  35. Christopher Nagle

    January 25, 2017 at 8:31 am

    One of the key moments of my political education was the way the union movement treated the Kirner government during the big recession of 1991-2.

    The Victorian public sector had taken a series of very heavy hits on its balance sheets while simultaneously suffering big reductions of income. It was borrowing money to pay wages and forced to sell off assets at fire sale prices to stay solvent.

    This didn’t bother the unions who could only see their own immediate interests. One of my most vivid memories of that period was a long line of trams all the way up St Kilda road after the drivers walked off demanding higher wages and better conditions.

    Papers like ‘The Spartacist’ were talking about the Kirner government’s desperate attempts to stay solvent as ‘attacks on the working class’ by overpaid politicians and the bloated rich, even as Victoria Inc was palpably sinking…..

    Kirner wasn’t just pilloried by the representatives of the fat cats, but her own constituency as well. She and her government didn’t have a prayer and the election of 1992 was the only time in my life I have ever voted Liberal.

    Victoria got the dictator it had to have….and in some quarters, deserved.

    The situation we are now in isn’t as immediately desperate, but it isn’t sustainable. And while we are very fond of telling the fat cat corporates about sustainability and doing their bit for the common weal, “The welfare sector is off limits, isn’t children?”

    “Yes Miss!”

    Any inquiry at all into the projected expenditure profile (See Australian Commission of Audit report put out in 2013-14 of the Welfare and health sectors particularly are ‘concerning’, and that is assuming that business as usual keeps puttering along without too many hiccups.

    And yes, there are some fat cat parasites out there that need bringing into the tax system and even Turnbull and co and the ATO realize that that has to be fixed. And right now, the ATO is on the case.

    But even with the top companies pulling their weight, that isn’t going to pay down the debts we very properly contracted during the GFC; you know, paying down in the good times the deficit financing we contracted in the bad.

    Much of the argument here is about equity, which is only tangentially applicable because the real argument is about whether it is OK to make welfare recipients as accountable to Centrelink as the rest of us are to the Taxation office.

    If there were errors made in calculating liability for repayment or properly ensuring correct addressing, they need to be fixed and political pressure will ensure they will.

    Welfare recipients in my experience are very clued up on their rights, but clearly not nearly so much so when it comes to their obligations and what they need to do to be ready to meet them, like keep records in the same way as they have to with taxation, and keep aside some ‘shit happens’ money, so that if they contract an unexpected liability, they have got something in hand.

    The very poor people I stayed with in Jakarta kept money aside in a jar for emergencies, even if it meant they had to do without things, because if they didn’t and a kid got an infection, they would not be able to afford to buy the antibiotic that might save the child’s life. If Dad’s passenger tricycle (betchak) needed repair and there was no money to fix it, he couldn’t feed his family. Saving wasn’t optional. And they didn’t like to take charity from the Mosque because there were people who were even poorer than them who needed it more.

    Sure we have an unequal society. the top 20% of wealth owners own 71 times that of the lowest 20%. Income divergence is 12 times. But by the same token, the top 20% income distribution pay 10 times the tax of the bottom 20%. So it is not all one way.

    We are all going to have to pull more weight in regards to our commons. And that means everybody, from the richest to the poorest.

  36. Kim Peart

    January 25, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Re: 35 ~ There is a prime question.

    Why is this nation addicted to around 5% unemployment to keep the wheels of growth turning?

    The real percentage of unemployment is always higher.

    When the prime question is avoided, and many other details blown up as a smoke screen, the national addiction to unemployment is not being addressed.

    This addiction leads to a wide range of abuses, including over-work, people in work being expected to put in unpaid hours, poverty level wages, under-employment, unemployment and poverty, where too many end up sleeping rough on the street, where health suffers and death can follow, sometimes at the boot of a spoilt rich brat, or freezing to death.

    When a nation requires enforced poverty to keep the wheels of growth turning, those entrapped are controlled, disciplined, punished and humiliated.

    The Centrelink robot debt delivery system is simply another step into control, discipline, punishment and humiliation.

    Why do unemployment addicts, all who benefit financially from the abuse of the poor, so keenly go along with such a corrupt system?

    With the robot revolution set to remove half of current paid work over the next couple of decades, the cruel face of the national addiction will get worse.

    If we want a better way, a Fair Go, we have to rethink this system and design a better way, and fight for it.

    Do we have any fight in us.

    If we are a hopeless addict, probably not, blinded by the addiction and compliant with the political ways of pushing the addiction.

    Addiction is a health issue.

    If we want to kick the addiction, we need to figure out how to become a healthy nation that delivers a Fair Go for all citizens.

    The only way out of an institution, is to rebel and find your mind.

    Are there any rebels out there with a mind?

    I fear that too many once good people have rotted away from the inside out with unemployment addiction.

  37. Kim Peart

    January 25, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Why do we have a problem with leaners in this nation?
    Leaners are people who take from the poor to give to the rich, leaning on the poor to be well off or get rich.
    Anyone who hates being a leaner, can demand action for equality and fight for a Fair Go for all fellow citizens.
    No more leaning.
    No more allowing children to wilt in poverty.

    Why do we have a problem with thieving in this nation?
    Thieves are people who feel it is there right to take from the poor to give to the rich.
    Anyone who hates being a thief can demand honesty and fight for a Fair Go for all fellow citizens.
    No more thieving.
    No more depriving children of a life.

    Why do we have a problem with abuse in this nation?
    Abusers are people who despise the poor and blame them for their poverty.
    Anyone withdrawing from abuse can demand action in the fight for a Fair Go for all fellow citizens.
    No more abuse.
    No more abusing children with enforced poverty.

    Why do we have a problem with immorality in this nation?
    It takes a high level of collective immorality to maintain over 10% poverty in a wealthy nation.
    Anyone hating immorality can demand a Fair Go for all fellow citizens.
    No more immorality.
    No more taking from children to give to the rich.

    Why do we have a problem with stinginess in this nation?
    Stinginess is in plague proportions when so many people are condemned to poverty and humiliation.
    Anyone disliking stinginess can break the habit by seeking a Fair Go for all fellow citizens.
    No more stinginess.
    No more sitting on the poor like a picnic blanket.

    Why do we have such a high level of cruelty in this nation?
    Cruelty happens when people are forced into poverty so others can have a great life.
    Anyone giving up cruelty can begin being kind to all fellow citizens by practicing a Fair Go.
    No more cruelty.
    No more rich people kicking the poor because poverty is required for growth.

    Why do we have a problem with dishonesty in this nation?
    Dishonety happens when we allow a government to control, discipline, punish and humiliate people who are poor.
    Anyone deciding to be honest can invite fellow citizens to also be honest and deliver a Fair Go.
    No more dishonesty.
    No more bludging on the poor so others can have more.

    Why do so many people lack a spine in this nation?
    Spinelessness is seen when poverty is allowed and or ignored.
    Anyone suffering from the jellyfish syndrome can get a spine and extend a Fair Go of friendship to all citizens.
    No more spinelessness.
    No more pretending to be a helpless rich jellyfish in an ocean of sharks.

    Why do so many people lack a heart in this nation?
    When heartlessness is declared a crime against compassion, anyone can get a heart.
    It takes compassion to design a society that delivers a Fair Go for all citizens.
    No more heartlessness.
    No more taking the heart of the nation from the poor and pretending to have a heart.

    Why do so many people fail to feel anger in this nation?
    When anger rises like a tide, a higher level of honesty and compassion can be found.
    It takes anger to shift gear from a system that is dependent on poverty to a nation of a Fair Go.
    No more avoiding anger.
    No more riding the wave of fear when we should all be fighting for the freedom of fellow Australian citizens.

  38. Mick Kenny

    January 25, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    In an age where intensive personal and financial surveillance is becoming the norm, the question then becomes, who watches who and to what end?

  39. Simon Warriner

    January 25, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    re 38, perhaps Voltaire offers us a clue in this:

    “To find out who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

    Interesting to note that there is a real and increasingly obvious campaign underway globally to do away with cash money. ( put the phrase “getting rid of cash money” into the search engine of your choice and that becomes very very obvious) To my mind that is the wire mesh being strung up and strained on the fence posts of the perimeter fence of the prison compound.

  40. Jean

    January 25, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    I’m with you, Kim. All the way.

  41. Kim Peart

    January 26, 2017 at 9:55 am

    I wonder about what can be done.

    I see that GetUp has set up a website ~ FraudStop ~

    Could we go further and shift the national gears to real full employment?

    What would be wrong with that?

    If anyone would like to meet in Hobart, Ross, Launceston, Burnie or Queenstown to look at the problem and chart a way back to a Fair Go for all citizens in this nation, contact me ~ kimpeart@iinet.net.au

    I favour Ross as a relatively central location, where we could also examine practical action that can happen ~ how work could be created with actual projects.

    If one or more people contact me, we can book a meeting space, agree on an agenda, issue a media release, invite all Tasmanian politicians, and beat the tin pot with a wooden spoon for attention.

    No noise ~ no action.

    Venting hot air is great for the lungs, but action is needed.

    Change happens when one person decides to be different, to take a different tact, to stand up for that which they see as just and right, and then a wave begins that breaks onto the shore of justice.

    Then we can celebrate.

    Another way to meet is via avatars in the virtual worlds, including Second Life ~ saves heaps on time and petrol.

    Work with pay can also be created in the virtual worlds.

    Slavery only ended when a few people saw it as wrong and made noise for a different way.

    Now we find that slavery is creeping back in Australia, along with a reverse Convict system, where people are being expected to work for free.

    If we demand and get real full employment, the new slavery will be abolished ~ and we will be free.

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