You have a new message in your MyGov inbox – Robdodebt and the culture of fear that governs welfare recipients in Australia.

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.

Current DSP breakdown totalling $950 a fortnight

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.

'Didn't turn my mind to it' When questioned over their knowledge of Robodebt's lawfulness, one particular turn of phrase was heavily leaned on by politicians and public servants alike: "I did not turn my mind to the legality of the program." - Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull "I didn't turn my mind to it." - Former DHS and DSS secretary Kathryn Campbell "I'm not sure my mind turned to that." - Top government lawyer Paul Menzies-McVey "It had not crossed my mind until I read about it in the newspaper, I think, following the Federal Court case." - Former Human Services Minister Alan Tudge

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.

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.

Ah, this Royal Commission is the result of a Labor government getting elected and following through with its commitment. The report has only been handed down a few hours ago. Why the rush to score political points? BTW the crimes committed by the Liberals under Robodebt are in no way related to the level of social security payments. Raising centrelink payments should certainly be on the agenda. Some patience to support a supposed political ally in this matter would be productive. Attacking Labor aggressively can only assist the Liberals in inching toward eventual regaining of government. What chance of getting a Green agenda if this happens? Reply1 dEdited Fiona Moore The level of welfare payments was a factor in how vulnerable people were to a threat of having their payments docked for supposed debt, and raising it for all was recommended alongside direct compensation in the report. Raising the rate was also recommended by Labor's committee set up after a deal by David Pocock to get something passed, but they ignored that recommendation. And Labor's done plenty of point scoring yesterday while still issuing unfounded debt notices to the vulnerable.

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.