Email to Suicide Prevention Australia

Submission 287 to the Anti-Terrorism Bill #2 inquiry in November 2005 was secretly classified as confidential. Titled "Who are the real terrorists?", this 40 page submission reported on the link between DSS/Centrelink breaching practices and policies that over a period of two decades had resulted in approximately 5,000 breaching triggered deaths.

Not all of the deaths were suicides. Hyper-tension is a common complaint amongst welfare recipients and consequently, when some welfare recipients had discovered that they had been breached, they suffered a fatal hypertensive event, e.g. a heart attack or a stroke. Others, especially those without support mechanisms such as caring family or friends, responded by taking their own lives.

A former Job Club manager and Job Network recruitment consultant, I only had to put DNA (Did Not Attend) in a client’s file or report and that would initiate the breaching process. However, after I discovered that some CES staff were engaging in breaching competitions, I took the effort to contact clients and find out why they did not attend a scheduled meeting or interview. Sadly, breaching legislation was misused not only by CES staff.

When the Job Network was established, breaching legislation was misused for financial gain. Sign up an Intensive Assistance client, take the up front IA payments of up to $3,000 and then breach the client so that another IA client could be signed up. Breaching was easy to do. In Tasmania a person was breached for refusing to accept a job as a prostitute in a brothel. Although the Job Network rules were quite explicit that clients could not be referred to the sex industry, Centrelink automatically processed the DNA "breach".

The worst case of the misuse of breaching legislation occurred when the Howard Government started enforcing breaching quotas. Despite a rising death toll, Post-Breaching Terminal Outcomes, the Howard Government attempted to increase the breaching penalty from 13 weeks to 26 weeks as the "savings" from breaching welfare recipients were staggering. By June 30 2007, these "savings" amounted to approximately $10 BILLION.

I would suggest that it is in your organization’s interest to do some fairly extensive but basic research into the link between breaching and suicide.

Breaching statistics are contained in DSS and Centrelink annual reports to parliament. I recommend that you look at the last 25 years of breaching statistics and then plot them on a graph against suicides. I am sure that you will find the same trend that I found. A trend that in November 2005 was secretly classified as confidential. If you can persuade Centrelink to provide the age profile breakdown of the raw breaching statistics, you will find that there is a disturbing pattern in the data.

DEFINITIONS.

What is "Breaching"?

Using paragraph 47 of the 2002 Welfare Reform Discussion Paper as the basis for defining breaching, it is:

"The targeted, and therefore deliberate, partial or total removal of the support from people who have no other means of support in meeting their basic costs of living, so that they are unable to to meet their basic living costs".

Felony Murder.

A person is guilty of Felony Murder when, under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, (s)he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person.

Manslaughter.

Recklessly causing the death of an individual.

The problem for the Legal & Constitutional Affairs Committee was that the breaching definition defines breaching as a serious crime. Breaching was about deliberately depriving people of the minimum material resources needed to survive, e.g. it was (and still is) "a depraved indifference to human life.

I hope that you find that information is useful in identifying a preventable reason for suicide. Whilst these days the minimum breaching penalty is 1 day’s reduction of the welfare allowance per "offense", the 8 week penalty still exists.  If you have access to a friendly lawyer who provides off-the-cuff (pro bono) advice, you may discover that breaching is actually the prerogative of the High Court and not the prerogative of Centrelink clerical staff.

Ron Medlicott GDA, Dip T (sec) Cert. FLM.

(Christian welfare justice activist.)

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