Contributed by Joe Montero
The Morrison government has agreed to an out of court settlement and agreed to pay back $721 million to more than 370,000 people who were wrongly pursued. This is a major win for those receiving the compensation. Another bonus is that $398 million worth of further debts will no longer be pursued. The settlement is worth $1.2 billion in total.
But let there be no mistake. the only reason for the government to want this settlement, was to keep it out of the court. The likely motives? The lack of evidence and a probable political scandal coming out of revelations made public.
Forcing the issue was a class action brought by Gordon Lawyers and representing 400,000 Robodebt victims.
Robodebt, as the automated debt recovery system used by Centrelink became known, was no accident. It used an averaging system was port of a range of measures purposely meant to punish and discourage registration with Centrelink.
If Robodebt had been an error in the system, it would have been stopped as soon as the avalanche of false debts appeared. Instead of doing this, the government kept it up for another four years. no one can say that they didn’t know.
The payout is an exercise in damage control by the government.
Behind Robodebt, is the comprehensive policy to villainise the unemployed as shirkers and cheats, and to send out the message that being out of work is one’s own fault. This is wedge politics designed to divide the employed and unemployed. Single parents, those on disability, and recipients of other benefits are also targets.
This all revolves around the creation of a cheap labour force to service an increasingly casualised labour market. Measures have been applied, to make being registered at Centrelink as difficult as possible and systematically stop payments on the flimsiest excuse.
Was it not for this, the Robodebt system would not have appeared in the first place?
The real issue is the attitude and policy that caused Robodebt. Unless they are done away with, new forms of injustice will come, and Robodebt could reappear in another guise.
Changing this means a shift. One which recognises that unemployment is not the fault of the unemployed, and puts in place, the principle that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and to a decent life.
Only this way, will Centrelink become an agency that practices the duty of care it has to those that depend on its services.
To ensure this, the economic strategy of creating a cheap labour force out of the most vulnerable citizens must no longer be regarded as legitimate and consigned to history. It has no part in a civilised society.
The Morrison government chose not to go to court to keep attention off this deeper reality. The rest of us must ensure that this doesn’t happen.