Machine Gunning the Welfare Life Boat: Pages 10 to 12. (Part 4 of 7 parts.)

Since the 1930s, suicide rates amongst the unemployed have been high. Being unemployed can undermine self worth to the point where even a ‘minor’ penalty imposed by Centrelink can push an at-risk welfare recipient over the edge and result in an attempt to commit suicide.

As a temporary relief teacher, I regularly receive class lists that identify at-risk students. These students have not been identified by teachers but by competent medical professionals. The level of training required by Centrelink staff to consistently identify people who are a potential suicide risks is the same level of training that is required by mental health professionals, i.e. a university degree. Every Centrelink staff member who is in a position to impose a penalty, be it a ‘minor’ penalty or the 8 week ‘serious non-compliance’ penalty, needs this minimum level of training if suicide prevention measures are to be maximized.

Professional level mental heath expertise is critical to the current compliance measures process; it must be provided. However, the best commonsense alternative is to abolish any penalties that de-link vulnerable people from their critical support base may trigger a raft of unintended consequences such as homelessness strokes or suicides.

Training: Participation Solutions Teams

Until the reckless de-linking financial penalties are abolished, rigorous professional training of the personnel who select and appoint staff to the Participation Solutions Teams is essential in order to avoid inappropriate persons being appointed to these quasi-legal teams.

Participation Solutions Teams carry out the actions required by the compliance framework. Teams are located ‘virtually’ across the country under a one-governance arrangement. The primary role of the teams is to assess cases when customers have not met their participation requirements.

Page 52, RTF Downloadable version of the 2008-09 Centrelink Annual Report.

Leaving aside for the moment critical issues such as the constitutional validity, legality and professional qualifications of these teams, it is imperative to consider the psychological profile, the attitudes and value systems of the members of these teams. The most painful and distressing ‘lesson’ of The Stolen Generation and The Lost Generation is the fact that people in positions of power were exploitive predators or power freaks who misused their powers to satisfy their own desires.

It is therefore a legitimate question to ask if Centrelink can provide a 100% guarantee that not one member of these Participation Solutions teams is in that administrative position because of the power that they have over defenseless, At-risk welfare recipients?

  1. Can Centrelink management be absolutely sure that none of the CES staff who may have engaged in either Administrative Breaching or had participated in Breaching Competitions are members of these Participation Solution Teams?
  2. Can Centrelink management be absolutely sure that no Centrelink staff who may have engaged in providing ‘insider assistance’ to Job Network agencies that were involved in Breaching for Profit activities, are members of these Participation Solution Teams?
  3. Can Centrelink management be absolutely sure that none of the Centrelink staff who may have enthusiastically engaged in Breaching Quota activities, are members of these Participation Solution Teams?
  4. Can Centrelink management be absolutely sure that not one of the Centrelink staff on the Participation Solutions Teams are ideologically biased welfare recipients in the same manner as Mr. Godwin Grech, the senior Treasury official who allegedly misused his position in a politically biased and motivated attempt to discredit the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd?
  5. As a trainee TDO in 1995, I attended a training session at which a senior CES case manager from the Adelaide office gave a talk to the group about dealing with unemployed people. Her attitude was evident in that she referred to unemployed people as on the garbage heap! Can Centrelink management be absolutely sure that none of the Centrelink staff on the Participation Solutions Teams are emotionally or socially biased against welfare recipients in a similar manner to the above mentioned CES senior case manager?

As a teacher, I try to avoid asking questions that I know cannot be answered.

In this case the answer to all of the above questions is a resounding NO! Centrelink management cannot give any such reassurance because, ‘officially’, there is no knowledge of these activities

T.o.R. 2. (k) “Any other matter”.

Issue #1: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

In 1998 when the Breaching for Profit activities were in full flight, Centrelink management imposed an administrative solution to this problem, a supposedly secret moratorium on Breaching, in an attempt to stem this illegal misuse of breaching legislation. I say supposedly secret because Job Network consultants talked about it with their management, their peers and/or former workmates. If, as the law requires, this fraudulent activity had been reported to law enforcement authorities by Centrelink management, then agencies and Centrelink staff involved in this criminal activity could have been identified and dealt with in accordance with Due Process of Law. By failing to alert relevant police authorities to this fraudulent activity, did Centrelink management Obstruct and/or Pervert the Course of Justice? Had this activity been reported, then welfare recipient’s who were defrauded of legitimate welfare entitlements would have been able to receive restitution as well as be able seek compensation for any “Injury” caused by this fraudulent activity. Failing to prosecute rorting Job Network recruitment consultants also has major long-term flow-on consequences. What will happen when an alleged welfare rorter requires the Crown Prosecutor to identify what is so uniquely different about their case when compared to the Job Network rorters who were not charged? Can such a criminal prosecution be justified?

Given the ease with which Breaching/Compliance Measures have been hi-jacked by numerous third parties for unintended purposes, legislation, policies and practices that deprive a targeted minority of the protection of courts is totally unacceptable. What makes this activity even more unacceptable is the dubious validity of the legislation that has for decades underpinned Compliance Measures.

Issue #2: Are “Compliance Measures” legally valid?

Many of the disastrous humanitarian consequences of compliance measures have been widely reported by community agencies, e.g. The Pearce Inquiry. It is imperative that this review examine the question, are Compliance Measures legally valid if they involve “a reckless disregard for human life”? Where Breaching/Compliance Measures have resulted in a death, regardless of the actual cause of death, these fatalities may be subject to legal appeals for re-classification as major crimes such as “Felony Murder” in South Australia and “Manslaughter by Criminal Negligence” in Victoria.

Clearly, any decision which, even as an unintended consequence, can turn out to be a death sentence, is not a decision for Centrelink clerks and administrators with no professionally accredited legal or mental health training. Since the judiciary can no longer issue a death sentence, is it appropriate to either give what are known to be life and death powers to Participation Solution Teams, or too continue to ignore compliance measures triggered deaths?

Both the Criminal Justice implications and Common Law Tort implications raise serious doubts that the current “Compliance Measures” are a reasonable approach to ensuring that welfare recipients comply with their “obligations’. The phrase “Compliance Measures” implies that there may be a legal or contractual obligation that has been deliberately and wilfully not complied with. The word “Measures” implies that a penalty has been unilaterally imposed by Centrelink for the alleged non-compliant breach of contract. In essence, “Compliance Measures” means that Centrelink staff have detected a perceived Breach of Contract and the Participation Solutions Teams have made a judgement about this alleged breach of contract and unilaterally imposed a “Breach of Contract” penalty.

From an administrative perspective, this process seems like a highly efficient system for dealing with hundreds of thousands of “contracted” welfare recipients. However, from a broader, real-world perspective, this system is flawed because it is inconsistent with issues such as Equality before the Law, Natural Justice, Due Process of Law, the Protection of the Courts and The Presumption of Innocence.

Paragraph 5 of the Australian Constitution contains the following statement:

This Act, and all laws made by the Parliament of the Commonwealth under the Constitution, shall be binding on the courts, judges, and people of every State and of every part of the Commonwealth,

  1. Note the underlined words. “…binding” means that compliance with the law is a binding responsibility for “courts”, “judges” and people of every State and of every part of the Commonwealth,
  2. “… the people of every state and every part of the commonwealth” was the unique Australian people’s comprise way of saying that, no exceptions, the law applied to everyone. One implied purpose was to prevent Parliament from legislating special or unique privileges that put politicians and/or the Public Service above the Law.
  3. Ensuring binding compliance is the responsibility of the courts, not politicians nor public servants who may have absolutely no legal training whatsoever. One former government politician, Pauline Hanson, only had a Year 10 high school education and, like many of her parliamentary peers, had no legal training.
  4. Ensuring that the courts function in accordance with Due Process of Law to ensure binding compliance with the Law and the Constitution is the responsibility of Judges. A critical part of this Due Process is The Presumption of Innocence.
  5. The phrase “Protection of the Courts” refers to the Presumption of Innocence and ensuring that Due Process of Law is correctly observed at all times. It is the impartial responsibility of the Judiciary, not Centrelink employees, to undertake this task.

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