Contributed by Ben Wilson
No matter how much evidence piles up to show that Centrelink is mistreating those who go to is for help, change does not come.
Now it comes to light that for the first 10 months of this financial year 42 million calls had received an engaged signal. This is up from 29 million in the previous year and 223 million in the year before that. Instead of getting better, it is getting worse. The information was released to a Senate estimates hearing.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewart suggested that the Centrelink system is “broken”. This is an understatement.
The astronomical number of calls going unanswered, is a very good indicator that this is no accident. If there was a will to bring about change, there has been plenty of time to reverse the direction. This is policy and no excuse will get away from this. The Turnbull government is hell bent on reducing the numbers and they don’t care who they hurt along the way.
People ring up Centrelink to get access, receive information and report their circumstances. Failure to get through means barriers against applying for payments, and for those on payments, the prospect of being breached and denied payment is real.
The failure of the system means that some Australians end up going without food, risk homelessness and may even suffer physical and mental health issues. By any definition this is abuse. It is known that some have felt their situation so hopeless that they have taken their own lives. Children are also being affected. The architects of this shameful policy deserve to be held to account for what they have done.
A society that does this to its own citizens shows that it has still has a long way to go to discover its humanity. A government that presides over this reveals its moral bankruptcy.
To make matters worse, the government is now going to hire 250 contract staff to help manage the calls. At best these are likely to lack adequate training to deal with complex issues and insufficient to make but a small dent in the problem and it is no more than a cosmetic exercise to cover a bad public image.
There is also the fear that there will be shift towards tendering this work out to private companies on a commission basis, along the lines of new government and therefore department policy. Commissions are already being paid to debt collector companies.