I didn’t get a Robodebt. I’ve had Centrelink debts before – the main one was when my stepdaughter went back their mother after attempting to live with us for a year – $500 or so of Family Tax benefit that they’d paid to me after Phoebe had moved back out. Most of it was paid out of my meagre tax return that year. I’d just lost my job and was on JobSeeker with the Covid supplement (bless that), so that $500 was a lot to me. I’ve had advances from Centrelink too, where you get $x in advance and pay it back over a number of payments. It’s a tough decision to make to take that loan, the $20 less a fortnight while you’re repaying it stretches you a LOT.
So I can’t imagine having a message to check my inbox and there being a debt notice for thousands of dollars. For payments possibly from years ago. Money you were sure you’d reported correctly at the time, double and triple checking before you submit your reporting each fortnight so they can pay you the right amount less on JobSeeker or Youth Allowance because you earned something, not much, in your casual job that gives you minimum wages to be on call between school, caring and fulfilling mutual obligations.
I’ve had that SMS many times over the last few years, since losing my job, being unwell, applying for and being rejected for DSP and getting approved on appeal. Having my partner telling my I “won” Centrelink by getting DSP and him encouraging me to limit my interactions with JSPs and so on. He’s also a little wary of my time spent on Twitter and in political circles – concerned I’ll be targeted for auditing or a reassessment of my capacity to work. Don’t wanna be that guy being stalked by ACA being accused of faking your back injury. Or the Daily Mail with the cheers of Per Capita, as it is these days for Australian unemployed Workers Union members and office bearers.
So, I got DSP – Partner rate because I have a common law hubby with a low income job, who is expected to look after his neurodivergent missus when she’s not going so well. I get a grand total of $950 a fortnight form that, which include rent assistance. I regularly get people replying to my fortnightly pension day tweet surprised at how little it is.
It’s little, so I live a little life. Bruce covers his expenses, I cover mine. My parents help with rent, and we help out his adult kids how we can. I take advantage of owning a car and shop around at Aldi and the local foodbanks, fulfilling my needs as a old school food blogger with whatever’s on offer there each week. I get extra bread for the kids and load them up on muesli bars and noodles every few weeks – nutrition for my soon to be grandbaby, We get by, but there’s nothing left at the end of the fortnight and there’s plenty we’d love to or used to do when there was more money around, but I limit myself to buying sims expansions with my recycling money and loving any gifts from the internet people. The inter people I’m so scared of losing with the downfall of Twitter.
Twitter was where I learned about Robodebt, its victims, like Phoebe, and the advocates working to bring it to light, like Asher and the NotMyDebt crew, and the few politicians who cared, Rachel Siewart we miss you! It’s where people came to share their debt notices and people rallied around to support them to attempt to get a resolution, so very often unsuccessfully in those days, but still now, when people are still posting recent debt letters that are in dispute, having to prove their innocence or agree to pay back from money they don’t have – JobSeeker is half the poverty line and Youth allowance is worse, and $20 a week in September will NOT make an impact on people’s lives.
Twitter was where we followed along the actual Royal Commission – it’s where I gained a visceral reaction to the phrase “I didn’t turn my mind to it” so much so, that an article talking about the use of that so obviously coached phrase had me flushed and ready to smack something.
Not the fear of the message in my MyGov Inbox though. That one deserves a special place in hell, as do the architects of Robodebt, from Tanya touting the data matching scheme in 2011, to Roberts and Campbell and Morrison, to whoever’s not advocating for the debt collection system to be CHANGED NOW, for welfare recipients to not have their meagre accidental payments garnished until they having more money coming in each week than the poverty line, for errors caused by the Service Australia systems to be forgiven, for the poorest not to be held financially responsible to such a broken system. For the poorest to given a fucking break every now and then.
Curious statement from Greens about robodebt noting "lack of accountability from the [unnamed] prime minister on down" – then only criticism of Labor & Shorten (who weren't responsible).
I seem to remember a lot of other names that cropped up in the royal commission report!!! pic.twitter.com/dmad2SeqiF
— Paul Karp (@Paul_Karp) July 7, 2023
Critics and Labor Stans were criticising the Greens and welfare advocates for responding to the finding being handed down with calls for welfare above the poverty line (as recommended by the commissioner). Because we’ve seen already this year Labor ignore the recommendations of their own Economic inclusion committee stacked with Laborites and people who live off the poverty machine. They recommended substatial increases to all welfare payments, and we saw how that went.
So, forgive us for being skeptical that much will happen for the reality, day-to-day, for welfare recipients. That we’ll still live in fear that we’ll have a message in our MyGov inbox that will ruin our lives, whether justified or not. That an app will be down and we won’t be able to report our income and won’t get paid, through no fault of our own. That we’ll be too sick to attend a mutual obligation – say work for the dole or a DES appointment, and can’t afford the doctor’s appointment to get an official medical certificate and end up getting breached and not be able to pay the rent.
Robodebt was one (horrific) chapter in Australian Welfare history, and it cost lives and caused a lot of pain, but the Centrelink system as it stands is continuing to cause pain and suffering, drive people to suicide and to attack Services Australia staff, and ruin people’s lives at the click of a button.
The welfare state isn’t fit for purpose. Please make the changes needed Labor, and prove me wrong.
"I fear much won't change and the government will brush away the recommendations like they seem to do when welfare and the unemployed are brought up"@Artistaffame shared a post on Ko-fi. https://t.co/mAx5yQFeTs
— 💜 phonakins 🎂 birthday month 💜 (@phonakins) July 9, 2023