Cuts to private providers must come with increased social security funding

Photo by Julian Smith/AAP

Contributed from Victoria

Datacom, Probe, Concentrix, and Serco have each pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars handed over by Services Australia over recent years. This is money syphoned off from provided much needed help for those needing help form Centrelink, to create an arm’s length social security system to punish those who come within its orbit.

The job of the contracted private firms was never to provide jobs for the unemployed and ensure they had enough income for basic needs. It was to create hoops and manufacture non-compliance to throw people out of the system. Services Australia and the government above it benefited by being supplied with figures to make it look like they were finding jobs. Those forced out of the system were deemed to be no longer in need of work. The jobs problem was falsely said to have been successfully tackled.

This was not only applied to job seekers. Single parents and those with disabilities were forced into the system through rules, tightening eligibility criteria, and pressure. Government could claim that making headway in these areas too.

But it was really defunding Australia’s social security protection. Experienced staff were shed and replaced with inadequately trained and experienced casuals and the quality of service cut to the bone. A good example of this has been the expansion of the private call centre.

The decision by the new Albanese government to cut the finding of the private providers by 30 percent is a positive development. Cutting the lot would have been better. But at least, a third is a good start. The negative side to this coin is that the pretence is a fall in demand for services, since a substantial number of those prevented from going to work during the pandemic lockdowns are now back a t work. This is true.

There has been no mention about repairing the past harm made to Centrelink service provision and ensuring those needing its services and that they are provided fairly. Nothing has been said about restoring the staffing shortfall and ensuring the working conditions necessary for proper functioning. This is a problem.

Record numbers are living rough. The gap between those in a decent job and those who are not is widening. More children are growing up in poverty. Millions are in precarious work and just one step away from disaster. Australia’s social security system is inadequate and incapable of meeting the need. Only a major boost in funding can turn this around.

When Services Australia turns around and says that some of what it is taking away from the private providers will be used to take in more causal labour in the new financial year, it involves itself in one of the causes of the need for social security the casualisation of work to replace secure and permanent jobs, which means, the destruction of more of the jobs of those who provide the help. Services Australia should not be involved in this. It should put its attention to the creation of real jobs.

It’s hardly surprising that the Community and Public Sector Union, which represents those working at Services Australia and providing the Centrelink services has attacked the destruction of jobs. The union is right to do so. Their members are directly affected, and they know the suffering inflicted on those in need of urgent service provision.

This is a good time to call on the new government to do much better.

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