The St Vincent de Paul Society has called on the government to ensure that Centrelink is kept in public hands and properly resourced to support people rather than punish them, after a debt recovery scheme aimed at returning nearly $4 billion to the budget left thousands of clients with miscalculated bills.
National Council CEO Dr John Falzon believes the faulty system should be suspended while flaws are investigated.
“People should not be intimidated and hounded for money they do not owe,” he said.
“Centrelink should not be used by the government as a blunt weapon to achieve a deficit reduction on the backs of people who already carry the greatest burden of inequality.”
Compounding the problem, the axing of thousands of jobs from the Department of Human Services had led to service standards dropping to unacceptable levels.
“The Department of Human Services has been decimated by funding cuts and outsourcing to the private sector, eroding its capacity to deliver services,” Dr Falzon said.
He warned against the privatisation of human services as a means of fixing the mess.
“The government has a responsibility to provide social and economic security to its people,” Dr Falzon said.
“This should not be delivered as if it were charity and should never become a means of profit. Nor should it be overshadowed and accompanied by humiliation and shame.”
The debt recovery scheme is part of a broader assault on the social security system that includes more draconian compliance measures, reduced benefits for families and pensioners, and tightened eligibility requirements for the Disability Support Pension.
Dr Falzon further criticised the inadequacy of the Newstart Allowance, which has not increased in real terms since 1994. The Society believes the allowance should be increased by at least $50 a week and indexed appropriately.
Meanwhile there are large companies that continue to pay little or no corporate tax, and Australia’s superannuation system remains a tax minimisation vehicle for high income earners, contributing to the growing disparity between rich and poor.
“A failure to reduce inequality is a failure to govern”, Dr Falzon said.
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