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We reap what the Morrison Government sowed

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Thousands of people lined up at Centrelink offices around Australia as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (Screenshot via YouTube)

The Morrison Government has the task of assisting thousands of people left struggling after job losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

THOUSANDS OF AUSTRALIANS suddenly found themselves jobless on Monday as businesses closed down or reduced staff because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Understandably, many of those affected turned immediately to Centrelink for advice and assistance and to register for benefits promised by the Federal Government to support those who will be out of work in the coming months.

Unsurprisingly, the MyGov website crashed as it was entirely unprepared (why, we might well ask) for the unprecedented traffic. Government Services Minister Stuart Robert claimed the crash was due to a cyber-attack.

Robert said:

“Unfortunately, this morning we also suffered a distributed server attack on our main channels, which highlights other threats are still there.”

Robert had no grounds for this claim and later withdrew it, telling Parliament that there was no evidence of an attack and the website crashed due to excessive demand.

What this illustrates yet again is that obfuscation and downright deceit is the default position not just for Prime Minister Scott Morrison but for members of his cabinet as well. Unfortunately, this is the calibre of individuals we are now dependent upon to steer us through the coming months of crisis and tragedy. Now, more than ever, we need to be able to trust the Government and yet we continue to see examples of knee-jerk dishonesty such as Robert’s that do nothing to inspire confidence.

Centrelink has been under attack by coalition governments for several years now. In May 2019, the Community and Public Sector Union issued a joint statement on the crisis in Centrelink and Medicare, urging the Coalition Government to cease privatisation of services and to restore staff numbers and budgets.

In 2017-2018, nearly 48 million calls to the Department of Human Services went unanswered. A further 5.3 million calls were abandoned as frustrated customers gave up on getting through to speak to the right person. Australians are waiting longer to have their claims assessed and processed and there has been a blowout in processing times for the aged pension, with the standard processing time already 49 days and nearly 10,000 claims taking even longer than that.

There is no doubt that Centrelink will struggle to deal with the many thousands of claims that can be expected. When you consider that the agency was already struggling to deal with “normal” circumstances, the heart sinks at what is in store for people already traumatised by a life change that no one could have prepared for. It did not have to be this way. Coalition governments wedded to neoliberal ideology have ensured that it is and will continue to be this way.

Then there is the question of when eligible people will actually receive promised monies. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has called on the Government to start rolling out the promised cash payments of $750 to welfare recipients immediately, instead of from 31 March. This initial package was announced on 12 March 2020.

On Friday, Albanese said:

 “I said very clearly, to make an announcement of $750 and to say it will take place on March 31, that’s a political decision, not one that’s an economic decision.”

In other words, the money needs to be flowing through the economy as soon as possible. People need that money as soon as possible. Coalition politics, it would seem, is preventing that.

What are the politics in play? Is the Morrison Government putting its own interests before those of citizens and the economy?

Does the Morrison Government want the June quarter’s figures to show as good an economic performance as possible? Because it is two consecutive quarters that are assessed when it comes to defining a technical recession. Is this what Albanese means by the decision being about politics and not the economy and certainly not about the needs of people struggling with the effects of a crippling pandemic?

Does the Morrison Government’s self-interest trump every other consideration?

While these are valid questions, it is what underlies them – or rather, the asking of them – that should most seriously disturb us. Questions such as these only come from a deep sense of mistrust of government. Our most recent experiences with the Morrison Government include its tardy and cavalier response to last summer’s catastrophic bushfires and the breathtaking pork-barrelling revealed in the sports rorts scandal, to speak only of the first three months of this year.

These examples have shown that the Government cannot be trusted to either take adequate and timely care of citizens caught up in disasters, or to keep its grubby hands off public money. Faced now with a global catastrophe that profoundly affects our health and our economic wellbeing, we must find our way through the next months with a government we cannot trust.

What the Government has sowed it will reap — however, so will its unfortunate citizens.

 You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog 'No Place for Sheep' or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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