Turnbull government ought to be shut down for fraud

 

amanda-and-dog

Former Howard Liberal government Minister for Social Services and other portfolios, Amanda Vanstone with  pup, Gus, a Weimaraner, who went on to bite the Pakistani ambassador.

 

Australia is way ahead of the game in terms of using government policies and processes to punish and isolate our most disadvantaged citizens so the Government can reduce its welfare spending a few million. We now allow our Government to implement the work of sociopaths and threaten poor citizens with imprisonment on the basis of half-cocked ‘automatic computer-matching’ algorithms that are allegedly tracking welfare fraud.

Bill Mitchell Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

 

“Bill Shorten’s skin is so thick it puts a rhinoceros to shame”, snipes Liberal hit-squad reservist, retired SA senator Amanda Vanstone who is rostered on this week to kick off the government’s perpetual rubbishing of the Labor leader.

She would know. Her own political style was brutal: “Let me put my dancing shoes on, ” she said on learning of the death, from stomach cancer, of fugitive Christopher Skase in 2001. At the time, she was the minister responsible for pursuing the fugitive. More recently, on Nine ‘s election eve commentary, she thrust her hand in Maxine McKew’s face.

“Talk to the hand, the face doesn’t want to listen.” The hand was almost as controversial as Turnbull’s victory speech.

She’s got her hand up again this week. Handy Mandy’s attack is a bid to help a government in crisis over its Centrelink debt collection disaster  while continuing the line that its policy failures are always Labor’s fault. Shorten and Tanya Plibersek invented the scheme, Vanstone writes, so they have no grounds, whatsoever, to criticise it.

Centrelink “does an outstanding job,” she dashes off, in pursuit of a red herring, because it is so big and complex and deals with 4.5 million (sic) “mindboggling permutations”. She reckons she knows. She once “had the welfare portfolio.”

Someone else can tell her it’s now more like 7 million. If they can get past the hand.

Vanstone and Welfare? Now there’s an winning double. It must be Liberal policy to choose the worst possible fit, like Greg Hunt, the Minister for killing the environment, for Health. Dutton for refugees. Who would have thought, Alan Tudge, another MP, like Ms Vanstone, with an empathy bypass, whose robotic delivery so perfectly suits an automated debt recovery system, would be Human Services Minister today?

Who would have thought a government could be so utterly out of touch that it would follow its debacle, this week, by extending Robo-debt to age and disability pensioners?

Vanstone’s bull-dozing joins Alan Tudge’s verbal sludge. The system is working perfectly, he crows. It’s meant to have a twenty per cent failure. That’s how it works. Fear and surprise worked for the Spanish Inquisition, too. Who knows how much more harm is yet to be done when the scheme is unleashed on age pensioners and the disabled?

Apart from its gratuitous cruelty, Centrelink’s “outstanding job” has public servants pitted against each other by managers, competing for the highest daily quota of debt notices, according to Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie.

There’s a lot of “talk to the hand”, moreover, as thousands of Centrelink clients report, as their attempts to seek help or appeal mistakes and miscalculations are brusquely pushed aside. Fobbed off. Threats to seize or garnish bank savings have been reported. The “outstanding job” clearly includes extortion and obtaining advantage by deception.

“If the government was a private company it would go out of business or be shut down by regulators for fraud over the Centrelink debacle,” says former Digital Transformation Office head Paul Shetler. Talk to the hand, says Vanstone.

Vanstone is an expert in the straw man.

“What is it about us”, she writes, “what kind of bongo juice are we on when we fall for some schmaltzy rubbish suggesting that everyone should be allowed to keep overpayments?”

But no-one is making that suggestion. Liberal MPs caught in travel rorts defend rorting, it is true. Look at Steve Ciobo’s absurd claim that a Grand Final is a business meeting if you are an MP . Sussan Ley says she’s broken no rules. But that doesn’t mean everyone tries to cheat.

Keep overpayments? It’s a tactic to blur the issue, divert criticism. It’s a low ploy that can only increase suffering; further harden the dehumanising nurtured openly by Joe Hockey. the prejudice that the poor are leaners. Take away their humanity: take away their human rights. Scapegoat. Its demonisation of the poor is a domestic version of a cruel government’s denial that asylum-seekers are “legal” – have human rights, are entitled to care and compassion. Vanstone’s mob  helped start that with babies overboard in 2003.

Scapegoating helps bury the hoax of broken promises. When authoritarian structures or figures can’t keep their promises to their constituency, they scapegoat, Noam Chomsky warns. “Let’s blame it on people who are even more vulnerable and who are suffering even more than you are. Let’s make it their fault.”

At issue is an employment data matching system between ATO and Centrelink which crudely calculates client’s fortnightly earnings by assuming annual income is earned regularly over a year and generates letters demanding repayment of debt when it discovers or it miscalculates a discrepancy between the two agencies’ records.

Twenty per cent of demands from Centrelink are wrong. Yet many recipients are bluffed or frightened into paying up. 200, 000 letters have been sent since September. The pain and suffering is unprecedented.

In a reversal of natural justice, you are deemed guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Proof may be hard because the Robo-debt claw-back system can search back six years. Workers may not keep their records that long; ATO rules do not require it. Most don’t and the government is counting on it. Yet in contempt of reciprocity, fairness and good faith, if Centrelink owes you money, however, you have only two years to claim it.

Being bullied is the first approach many report. A threatening letter demands debt repayment with a ten per cent processing fee. Alan Tudge, appears elsewhere, to make it clear that defaulters could go to gaol. Attempts to clarify or rectify mistakes are often met with delays. In brief, Robo-debt claw-back is a flawed system, a wrong system, an illegal system before we even begin to consider the social or economic effects.

Bill Mitchell warns that the letters violate recipients’ human rights. Ben Eltham sums up.

Like the government’s last data debacle, the 2016 Census, it’s clear that there are massive IT failures here. This is not just a few glitches and bugs. A government department is sending out tens of thousands of erroneous communications accusing welfare recipients of over-payment. The government is falsely accusing some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Cruelly and irresponsibly, Vanstone misrepresents the issue, smears welfare recipients as cheats, parodying Shorten’s case for an inquiry as “We don’t give a hoot if you get overpaid, by accident or design; it doesn’t matter. Keep the lot. You’ve figured out how to get more than your neighbour? Good on you. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

How to get more than your neighbour? The pernicious lie of widespread deliberate welfare fraud is lightly tossed into the mix. It’s an assumption which underlies the whole clawback policy yet it is egregiously, wilfully wrong. Your prejudices are showing Ms Vanstone. DHS reports show a decline over the years in cases brought for fraud. In 2008-9, it recovered $113.4 million out of $87 billion in payments – 0.13 per cent.

There is no evidence to support $4.5 billion is available to claw back. That pot of gold your government is chasing just doesn’t exist, Ms Vanstone. But you can frighten people into paying anyway. Nowhere is there evidence of widespread rorting – for that you would have to look at politicians and their travel allowances.

Familiar also is her emotive plea that welfare is a burden on the taxpayer, yet Vanstone can add a loopy twist. “Take a $3000 Centrelink debt, she says. A person who pays about $26,000 a year in tax has to work for about six weeks to give the taxman that $3000 to dish out in the first place and certainly wants it paid out according to the rules.”

Yet only half of government revenue comes from PAYE tax. The rules? A tax system is part of a fair society it is not about resenting responsibility – “giving the tax man” but a way those who can work are able to help those who can’t. A real drain on the system, on the other hand, is the third of big businesses who pay tax. Yet Vanstone’s mob will give companies a $50 billion tax break.

Putting in the boot comes naturally to Vanstone who holds her own in a Coalition stable which boasts such feral attack dogs as Tony Junkyard Abbott or Senator Ian Macdonald or Peter “Nutso” Dutton. Indeed, her prowess in sinking the slipper once caused a mild-mannered Wayne Swan to call her a political hyena who takes delight in attacking society’s most vulnerable”.[4] Swannie’s too much of gentleman to tell us what he really thinks. Nor does he need to remind us that hyenas hunt in packs.

While she is unlikely to get under his skin, Amanda knows full well that Kill Bill is the only strategy the Coalition has going for it. OK it may well be derivative, out of date and increasingly ineffectual – like the Turnbull government itself but, hey, it’s fun and why debate the issue when you can play the man? Or all that you know.

Vanstone’s attack on Shorten, is a crude bid to redeem Clawback; to rehabilitate the Coalition’s automated debt-collecting process, a process which is part of its war on the poor and allied to its demonisation of welfare recipients – a process which is so wrong on so many levels that it has already done incalculable harm to thousands of Australians .

Vanstone’s chief tactic is to pretend that the only alternative to clawback is to leave overpayments alone entirely. You don’t pay the money back at all. Showing she’s all class – ruling class, the former Howard government minister charmingly manages to combine this misrepresentation with a dishonest slur of dishonesty on all Centrelink beneficiaries.

Yet Amanda is a welfare recipient herself. After retiring from the senate in 2007, she spent three years on the nation’s tit as Australia’s Ambassador to Rome. The job comes with a few perks such as subsidised accommodation, utilities and travel. Taxpayers lavish on the incumbent a multi-storey Italian mansion perched in the hills above Rome’s Piazza del Popolo.

This is not about Amanda, primarily, but the thick-skinned, wrong-headed, morally bankrupt government she represents. Never in Australia’s history has there been such utter heartlessness by the government department cruelly, ironically entitled, Human Services. Never has it been clearer to the Australian public that their government, unwilling and unable to chase revenue from company tax defaulters is prepared to go to war on the poor.

Most victims of Centrelink’s abuse in its Robo-debt-scam-the-poor-the-weak-and-helpless scheme have nowhere to go to get legal help. The basic legal help available from Centrelink will be axed in July. is Last year 150,000 of those who asked for help though community legal centres were turned away. Centres have had their funding cut.

Spare us the barracking, Ms Vanstone. Spare us the lie that the poor are worthless, lazy, dishonest and underserving. Save us your talk-to-the-hand endorsement. No need to put your own boot in. Your government is doing enough of that already. If you are worried about overpayment, how about refunding your government pension for the three years you were Ambassador to Rome. Remove the grounds for accusations of double-dipping.

The money could fund a legal aid centre for poor people falsely accused of fraud because Centrelink has made a mistake and that they are guilty until they prove themselves innocent. Call that an outstanding job all you like Amanda but it’s illegal, it’s immoral and it’s dangerous. Best of all you could back off with your attacks on the poor and turn your journalistic pen to ending rorts in your own political party. Reform is so badly overdue, they are about to undo themselves entirely.

 

16 thoughts on “Turnbull government ought to be shut down for fraud

  1. Very poor dog identification, that is in fact a Weimaraner puppy which looks nothing like a Rottweiler. Amanda was / is a patron of the South Australian Weimaraner Club having had them as pets for many years, I imagine the dog had a good reason to bite the ambassador.

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  2. On Q&A last October, Tony Jones tried unsuccessfully to caution Amanda for comparing asylum-seekers to ants but it was like using a pea-shooter against a rhinoceros. A glance at her history would have told him not to take it personally.

    A former Immigration Minister, Vanstone defended the babies overboard demonisation of boat people. This was a fake news hoax run by John Howard to help win the 2001 election which has paid huge dividends in helping governments treat asylum-seekers and refugees as less than human – and therefore undeserving as well as unwanted and unentitled to respect, compassion or human rights.

    She also lied in 2003 that a boat turn-back from Melville Island, 80 km from Australian and well inside Australian waters was no change of policy.

    When you tell lie in politics, it pays to make it a big one. It was claimed at the time that the fourteen Kurds on board had not claimed asylum! The government also moved swiftly to excise Melville and 300 other islands from Australia’s migration zone.

    Asked on ABC radio if the group had asked for asylum, Vanstone replied “I don t have any advice on that,”. Yet report soon reached Australia testifying to the opposite:

    “Thousands of times, thousands,” said Abuzer Goles, one of the refugees. “I begged them, I pleaded down on my knees. They sent a Turkish interpreter and I pleaded with him saying I’ll do anything not to be sent back. We spent four days on the water, 10 days without sleep, it nearly killed us. I’m human, I m a human being. I’m a refugee.”

    He then broke down, crying. The government was forced to acknowledge the truth but insisted it had no bearing on its turn-back. In this and in many other moments in her career, Vanstone demonstrated a thick hide herself.

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  3. I was there in the Torres Strait when Vanstone flew up with news hound dogs (and a night of drinkies) to hand over 5 sub standard and faulty boats. One sank a month later with the loss of 5 people but it was alright as they were only Islanders. That’s when the Libs got her out of the country as an ambassador.

    If anyone wants details google ” Malu Sara”

    It beats me that whenever she opens her big trap that no one reminds her of this disgraceful episode.

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    1. Wonderful contribution, Cliff. Unbelievable. Sadly, all too believable. A monster. Vanstone et alia cannot expect all of us to have amnesia, surely. Thank you for supplying vital detail. Urban

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  4. Poor dear, the ex Senator from where again. The sojourn ended, the pet acqired. Drifting backwards toward the the only filler Amanda knows. Belligerent, bellicose, self-righteous bellowing. Too lazy to go beyond the hate that remains largely her only companion. The pup and the husband will surely benefit fron the hours to be spent outside, away from the corrosive obsession Amanda maintains with each missive courtesy of friendly press eager to find enough mindless rubbish to publish.
    A portrait of the jealous step sister no less, in time with the repugnant relevations within the rorting and misuse of public funds by her colleagues and just enough puff left to fire off another miserable barrage of abuse toward the less well off and unfortunate.
    The parody, a member of Howard’s leftovers, a grotesque parody at that.

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    1. Deeply, puzzled, Golly, also, BTW why any self-respecting newspaper would publish Vanstone’s stuff. Or why the ABC has a show for her to present right wing nut jobs and other socially divisive guests’ untrue, unsubstantiated views reinforcing simple prejudices about the lazy poor and the virtuous ruling class – about anything but the truth. The truth that Ms Vanstone and her cheer squad have squandered the proceeds of the mining boom and promoted inequality – boosting the rapid transfer of wealth from the worker to their own class of people. Now that’s not working so well, they all back on a few handy scapegoats.

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  5. Poor dear, the ex Senator from where again. The sojourn ended, the pet acquired. Drifting backwards toward the the only filler Amanda knows. Belligerent, bellicose, self-righteous bellowing. Too lazy to go beyond the hate that remains largely her only companion. The pup and the husband will surely benefit fron the hours to be spent outside, away from the corrosive obsession Amanda maintains with each missive courtesy of friendly press eager to find enough mindless rubbish to publish.
    A portrait of the jealous step sister no less, in time with the repugnant relevations within the rorting and misuse of public funds by her colleagues and just enough puff left to fire off another miserable barrage of abuse toward the less well off and unfortunate.
    The parody, a member of Howard’s leftovers, a grotesque parody at that.

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  6. I’d like a look at all Amanda’s expenses from her time in government and beyond. Where have these monsters come from and why are they in power? How long until the next election?……

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    1. Agree. Thanks, Sargasso. Not sure how the PM can commission a review into Sussan Ley’s spending and then not publish the result – surely we have a right to know – and if he won’t isn’t that an admission that there’s something compromising?

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  7. Thanks for your writing

    The government admits to 20% incorrect sums being recovered. I think it’s much, much more. There have been debt notices published for 2 cents and for $138k. I can’t see how Centrelink payment regime has all of a sudden tightened up,

    Now that Centrelink has targeted Aged pensioners, this is affecting the natural constituency of Pauline Hanson One Nation, hence the party support for a Senate enquiry

    I wonder if people hit with these notices wouldn’t do better to say “Take me to court” where the DPP would have to provide access to all the info used in the calculations

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    1. Appreciate your support, thank you billie11. You raise a very interesting point. I have no doubt it is a vastly more than %20 error rate. We will never know. Nor will we know how many people have already paid in confusion or just to get Centrelink off their backs – or the debt collector. A few test court cases could be very useful in getting the government to scrap this dreadful abuse of its power. Abuse of its poor.

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  8. My enduring memory of Veranda Sandstone’s many claims to fame is her lecture on how she persuaded her dogs to “kiss” her.

    She smeared honey on her cheeks (no, don’t ask, – and that’s exactly what I thought).

    However, it’s sad that anyone, let alone a senator, should apparently be driven to such straits.

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    1. When I heard the term “a big girl’s blouse”, I thought people were referring to our Mandy’s rather large floral shirts… until Urban dictionary put me right:

      “A derogatory phrase used in jest to insult a man who other men believe is behaving in a weak or effeminate manner.”

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      1. I believed the “lipstick on a Rottweiler” was a Vanstone soubriquet, until I discovered it was a name for Bronwyn Bishop. Incredible hide, the pair of them. Bishop a monster in Senate Committee. Unforgivable abuse of authority. Unconscionable bully.

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