Contributed from Queensland
The mistreatment of people by Centrelink is not changing, as those working the system continue to cling on to processes designed to dehumanise both receivers and applicants for benefits.
Once a human being is transformed into a case number and matched to a rigid and inflexible system, officials can them commit an act of inhumanity without being confronted with the impact of what they are doing. Not only that. The system lends itself to profiling, so that everyone belonging to a group is deemed guilty of a collective fault and therefore deserve what they are getting.
To be unemployed means that you too lazy to work. Never mind that there are fewer jobs than the number seeking work and that an individual may not have the qualifications to enter some occupations. The stereotype means that you deserve to be punished and within the Centrelink system there are those who are only too happy to do the kicking. Doing so is good for your career.
Of course, many working at Centrelink don’t like what they are forced to do and this is a major reason for the high level of staff turnover. Some people do have a conscience.
But the system churns on.
A most disturbing trend has involved the treatment of the disabled. To be on disability support is becoming more like being on Centrelink. Being disabled invites being labelled as a malingerer and Disability Support is increasingly being made like being on Newstart, having to jump through endless hoops and attend regular interviews, where pressure is applied to sign up to an agreement that transitions to work or Newstart payments, will little regard to real disability related capabilities and needs. The objective of the system is to get as many people off Disability Support as possible.
The reality that many of those on disabibility are not going to find work and risk being transitioned into Workchoices payments and a downward spiral on increasing poverty.
The number one assessment tool used by Centrelink is its disability table that is based on whole of body impairment. To quality for disability support, there must be a minimum 20 percent total disability. This has little relationship with capacity to work. For instance, if you lose an arm or a leg, or you lose sight, you will not reach the 20 percent. Nor if you are in serious chronic pain. The table does not allow for many conditions that impair capacity to work or will lock one out of the jobs market.
There is another condition. If there is a possibility of a change in the condition within 2 years a person will be rejected. This applies to new applicants and it applies to those already on disability Support, via the regular reviews.
If you are an applicant suffering from cancer, for example, you do not have a change and are expected to be in the job market.
There is the case of Cairns spearfisherman Glenn Dickson had his leg amputated in February after he was bitten by a bull shark near Hinchinbrook Island, who has been denied, on the grounds that people with amputations can eventually get a prosthesis.
Never mind that even in the best case scenario, people in Glen Dickson’s position still face some years in need of financial help. Centrelink’s response is that these people must sign up for Centrelink. But they cannot meet the job search requirements, there is the risk of not even getting this.
It means that a growing body of Australians are being set up to be exploited as a cheap source of labour, having to accept any abuse, because there is no other choice.
But those making the decisions can do so with a clear conscience, because the profiling says that these people are not deserving and the collective punishment serves them right.
Now, where has this sort of thinking happened before?
The law needs to be changed. In the first place, human decency needs to be put into Australia’s social security system and there needs to be accountability for decisions and actions that bring harm to those coming in for help.
Centrelink and the Department as a whole, must change operating systems and retrain those within that their job is to actually help people in need and not act as a punitive police force. And it goes without saying, those who cannot manage this should be working somewhere else. It is tempting to suggest that a spell on Newstart might be a good learning experience. But then again, one wouldn’t want to wish this on anyone.