SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dignity Not Debt: End Centrelink Debt Debacle rally

Today's rally, at lunch-time outside the State Library of Victoria, was hosted by the Unemployed Workers' Union which is protesting the Federal Governments' outrageous changes to Centrelink. As they put it: We work hard and pay tax our entire lives - so when we or our families hit hard times there is a safety net. But this blue tie government wants to rip away our safety net - so it can gift multinationals tax free profits and fearful workers.
The Union's demands are 4-fold: 1 Abolish Debt Recovery Scheme; 2 Dignity for social security recipients; 3 Restore adequate funding to Centrelink; 4 Lift payments above the poverty line.

A word about the Debt Recovery Scheme: Passed into law in December 2016, it ensured that last Christmas was a particularly harsh and scary one for many already-marginalized people across Australia. Centrelink staff had warned their management that the new system was fatally flawed - that people with no debt would inevitably be falsely accused. In many cases that is exactly what has happened. And challenging or attempting to reverse Centrelink decisions is proving a harrowing, humiliating and time-consuming experience for thousands of our fellow citizens.

Centrelink staff member at protest

That this experience has echoes world-wide was captured in a must-see British film, 'I Daniel Blake', which coincidentally was released in Australia also late last year. Below is a letter from my friend Francine McCabe, published in The Age, which eloquently makes the link:

I have recently seen the excellent and hard hitting Ken Loach film: I Daniel Blake. Primarily, this film concerns the struggles of a widowed middle aged carpenter and a young single mother who meet at government offices in England when seeking state welfare and income support.
We see an inordinate number of hurdles, some rigid staff and complex processes to navigate as they desperately seek a listening ear and assistance - very similar to the nightmarish experiences of many people seeking income support in Australia. 'Clients' may believe a primary function of Centrelink is to minimise the number of people receiving or seeking assistance.
I would recommend that this movie be used for mandatory orientation and on going development activities for policy makers, management and staff of the Commonwealth Department of Human Services (Centrelink) and contracted Job Services Agencies.
Considering and discussing issues raised would be beneficial for staff - most of whom are trying to do a good job in a difficult and complex environment.

The great thing about the protest was that so many of the unions have endorsed it - the Electrical Trades Union of Australia, Victoria Branch and the National Tertiary Education Union to name just two.

Unions, unions everywhere

There were some inspiring speakers, including the Federal Leader of the Greens Richard di Natale.

Richard di Natale

 But the show stealer for me was Willing Older Workers' Marilyn King, who spoke from experience and from the heart about the plight of older unsuccessful job seekers.

Marilyn King

Daniel Blake, frustrated and impotent in the face of heartless bureaucracy, eventually in defiance scrawled his name in huge letters on the wall of his local Centrelink-equivalent building. Passing strangers shouted their support as he was pulled away by the police. Today's rally is a demonstration that, here in Australia, people in Daniel Blake's situation need no longer stand alone. They have numerous supporters who will march with them until this unjust situation is rectified.



Blogger Luke C Jackson said...

It's terrific to keep this important issue in the public eye through protests and media coverage. Well done.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Lindab said...

Thanks Sue and Fran for doing this action. We have been talking Daniel Blake quite a bit at home as one of my kids tries to get some Centrelink help for finding employment. Its now shorthand for obscure, difficult online processes designed to remove people's ability to use their right to income support or employment support. Linda Bennett

10:54 PM  
Blogger Francine McCabe said...

Yes Linda, the frustration re the Centrelink processes and injustices continue - and new hurdles are astounding at times.
(These are usually even greater for those not computer savvy or not fluent in English.)
I have found that if the applicant (possibly plus support person), can obtain a face to face appointment with a social worker or psychologist some progress can be made.
Best wishes, Francine McCabe

10:47 PM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

Thanks Linda and Francine for your comments. It is heartbreaking to think, in the six months since this post first appeared, how much additional stress and grief has been suffered by Centrelink clients and those who love and/or support them.

11:09 PM  

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