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An open letter to the Morrison Government: I can't stop being disabled

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(Image by Andrew Neel via Pexels - modified)

Luke Hinsley writes an open letter to the Federal Government detailing his distress and frustration after Centrelink refused financial support because his disability is permanent, rather than temporary.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses depression and mental illness

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

My name is Luke Hinsley, I am 36 years old and I live in the Federal Electorate of Corio. I am currently experiencing a very difficult time in my life and I am struggling to get help.

I understand that a lot of Australians are struggling right now with the COVID-19 pandemic and many of us are having issues getting help. I also understand that my problem is not unique but rather another symptom of a government failing in its duty to provide for its citizens the services they cannot provide for themselves.

Please understand that I do not want to do this. I don't want to become a spectacle. I have a face for radio and a voice that sounds better in writing. The attention I may potentially receive from writing this letter absolutely terrifies me, but I've reached my desperation point.

I need help with Centrelink. Of course I do, everyone does, right? Centrelink is awful — we all know it.

A government agency is essentially telling a disabled citizen that needs help, to stop being disabled if they want to get that help.

But understand that Centrelink is a social safety net, it's intended purpose is to help those Australians that are the most in need of help, to help those among us that have the least. We all seem to just accept that it doesn't. I understand that we can do better.

So what is my actual problem with Centrelink? First, you must understand that I have a disability — this is the "X" factor of my problem. I will attach a letter that I have received from Centrelink, it is relatively short and I encourage you to read it now. Re-read it. Re-read it again. See if you can make sense of it. Then please continue this letter.

Centrelink agrees that I have a disability. Centrelink acknowledges my disability is not temporary (that it is permanent) and that it prevents me from working a job or doing a similar activity (such as a Mutual Obligation Agreement, Job Plan, job search and so on).

However, due to the technicality that the support I'm receiving is meant to be temporary, Centrelink can ignore my permanent disability. Centrelink is forcing me to somehowovercome my disability, to do tasks it is fully aware I am unable to do, or, risk having my support cut. Take a moment to let the reality of that situation sink in. A government agency is essentially telling a disabled citizen that needs help, to stop being disabled if they want to get that help.

I am currently trying to get the Disability Support Pension (DSP). The reason I haven't tried until now? Every counsellor, social worker and even Centrelink employee I've ever spoken to about it is dismissive of any chance of success. It takes a long time to process and people even needier than myself get denied. There's [seemingly] always a technicality that makes you ineligible.

At every step of the way, our Federal Government has a built-in excuse not to help us. I understand that our system isn't broken though — this is by design, it's working exactly as it's intended to work, which is not for us.

You may be wondering what my disability is, well it's something that I keep very private. Close friends and family may suspect it but I typically don't confirm it. Please understand that It's incredibly personal for me. I have depression. More specifically, dysthymia. A persistent depressive state, with periods of major depression.

Right now, the only motivation I have to do the bare necessities of keeping my physical being alive is to not hurt the people I know who care about me. I have no desire of my own to live. I am constantly living what is the hardest time of my life. And to get the bare minimum of help, to get the government to provide for me what I cannot provide for myself, the government has put in place a system designed to make the whole process as difficult, as painful, as traumatic as it possibly can.

It does this to dissuade us from seeking their help, to shirk its responsibility to us. If we can't work and pay taxes, and our only contribution to society is as a consumer, our government would rather us kill ourselves? We as a nation, as a people, can sure as hell do better than that.

For the government to send a rejection letter to someone on their birthday, when they've asked for help with a mental health issue, seemed to me to be unusually callous and cruel.

Now I'm no genius at all but I have an interest in politics and a generally good understanding of how things actually work. I don't have all the answers, but I know there are answers. There are effective actions we can take for our problems. I understand that debts and deficits don't mean the same thing for a government as for a household.

For a government like ours with its own sovereign currency, debts and deficits are largely meaningless. We have the money to make the changes we all know we need to make. We can take action on climate change. We can build a solar power infrastructure right now.

We in Australia have the potential to produce so much clean, renewable solar electricity that we could export it to the world. Australia could be a solar power plant for the globe. Electricity would be so abundant that we could provide it for every single household and business in the country, for free, forever.

We can expand Medicare to include mental and dental health. We have the capability of providing a universal basic income for all Australian adults, giving all of our people the freedom to choose if and how they work. It would protect our people from losing their jobs to automation, or to dying industries, or the next pandemic. We could end homelessness and poverty, virtually instantly. We have the money to do this.

We could legalise, regulate and tax recreational cannabis. End the harmful war on drugs, treat drug abuse as a health issue instead of a criminal one and redirect police resources towards more socially harmful crimes.

We could have a government that values us, that works with us for the betterment of all.

That may seem like fanciful, pie-in-the-sky dreaming but just look to Victoria and how we handled our pandemic second wave. Premier Daniel Andrews made the tough choices that circumstances required and the Victorian people made the sacrifices to make those tough choices count. We worked together, to be better, for ourselves and our community and we prevailed.

When the Federal Government and the Australian people work together, we can do what we need to do to overcome any challenge. We have the means right now, we just need the political will to do it. We can do better.

Thank you for your time,

Luke Hinsley

POSTSCRIPT

Since writing the above letter, I received a phone call from Services Australia, who was referred to me by the Office of the Prime Minister (to whom I had to resubmit the letter, as the email provided by the Liberal Party website is no longer monitored). Centrelink's legislation prevented Services Australia from being able to "fix" anything. However, the department suggested that the Disability Support Pension (DSP) would be a better option for me. I applied for the DSP and had my Job Capacity Assessment via a phone interview. 

Around this time, I was contacted by staff members representing the office of Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Richard Marles, my local Federal MP. I have had ongoing contact with them as they have offered me their support, although they have been upfront about the limits of what they can do to help, they have been remarkably willing to help.

I received a text message on January the 25 from Centrelink saying my claim had been assessed, and another saying that an officer from Services Australia would be calling me. I logged in to MyGov to find a letter informing me that my claim for DSP had been rejected, due to not meeting the "point system" requirements (see below). I was quite upset by it. I must note, January 25 is my birthday. For the government to send a rejection letter to someone on their birthday, when they've asked for help with a mental health issue, seemed to me to be unusually callous and cruel.

I've been informed that I have 13 weeks to ask for a review of the decision but unless I provide more information and/or documentation, the decision will likely not change. 

For help or information about depression or mental illness call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit beyondblue.org.au.

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An open letter to the Morrison Government: I can't stop being disabled

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