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'Unemployment benefits have become repayable loans. I don’t recall that new legislation or that amendment. Does anyone?'

~ Jennifer Wilson

THE TURNBULL GOVERNMENT plans to raise a windfall of $4.6 billion over the next four years and this is how they intend to do it.

Centrelink is averaging annual earnings over every fortnightly reporting period. This means that you are determined by them to have earned income at the same time as you received unemployment benefits. Therefore, you must pay those benefits back.

First, you receive a letter advising of discrepancies between Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and Centrelink records. You are asked to provide pay slips and other documentation, and declare your income for the year(s) in question. When you declare income, your problems can begin in earnest. Declared income is averaged out, Centrelink claims you’ve earned in every fortnightly reporting period, a debt is raised against you, you are threatened with debt collectors and, ultimately, gaol if you don’t comply.

In fact, you may have been unemployed for six months during which time you were entitled to benefits, then in work for six months. The government intends for you to repay the benefits to which you were absolutely entitled, by averaging out the income you received for six months work as fortnightly income over the entire 12 months.

More and more people are revealing this is exactly what has happened to them. It is the Government’s intention to continue this practice for the next four years in order to achieve its $4.6 billion goal.

It beggars belief that this is a systems error. If this is the case, those responsible for the design and implementation of the system are unbelievably, inconceivably incompetent. Centrelink’s Hank Jongen claims the methodology hasn’t changed, but no one has explained why, if nothing has changed, the system has begun averaging annual earnings over every reporting fortnight and raising debts as a result.

At the same time, Centrelink and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) announced the implementation of “Taskforce Integrity” to pursue fraudulent claims. As well, the government declared on Tuesday before the election that they’d discovered a brand new, unspecified way to raise $4.6 billion.

The government is falsely accusing people of fraud, by falsely declaring legitimate welfare benefits to be illegitimate. They are threatening people with debt collectors and gaol if the legitimately claimed welfare benefits are not repaid. In other words, unemployment benefits have become repayable loans. I don’t recall that new legislation or that amendment. Does anyone?

They are doing all this in partnership with the Australian Federal Police.

This is a situation out of a dystopian novel. Kafka comes to mind.

This is no systems error. This is deliberate policy. I hope there are lawyers out there all over this. Because we have to establish exactly who is obtaining financial advantage by deception. Increasingly, it sounds very much as if it is our government, by exploiting people at their most vulnerable.

If this mess is indeed an error and not deliberate policy, Centrelink and the relevant ministers have now been made thoroughly aware of it as such. So why do they continue to insist that nothing is amiss? And why do they not halt the distribution of letters until the error is fixed?

Of course, fixing the error may affect their $4.6 billion dollar goal.

Centrelink has now begun using its Twitter account to refer people to Lifeline if they are experiencing distress. Lifeline is a voluntary organisation whose support from the Federal Government has recently been decreased. The Government has also ripped millions from frontline services for domestic violence victims and community legal aid centres, and over a billion from aged services. You can bet that these outrageously underfunded services will be stretched to their limits by Turnbull’s latest attack on vulnerable citizens.

I cannot remember any time in this country when a government department has referred citizens to an emergency service because they are experiencing suicidal levels of distress as a consequence of that government’s policies.

Does anyone?

You can follow Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep. This article was republished with permission.

Anthony Albanese discusses Centrelink debacle. Source: @SkyNewsAust

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