Machine Gunning the Welfare Life Boat: Pages 15 to 18. (Part 6 of 7 parts)

T.o.R. 2. (a) 1. “…effectiveness… in meeting job seeking requirements.

As the Rudd Government’s Productivity Places Program has made very clear, it is a totally unreasonable presumption to assume that Compliance Measures that reduce job seekers allowance will somehow enable “non-compliant” people to be successful find a job Getting a job is definitely not easy and after 16 months of operations, 94,263 welfare recipients had been trained at a cost to taxpayers of $265 Million.

Only 5975 people had obtained jobs at a training cost per job outcome of approximately $44,378.55.

That amount is a direct cost to taxpayers and does not include other huge hidden costs such as the fixed and variable costs of operating Centrelink, the Job Network, disability support programs and health care costs. Therefore, the ‘Total Cost of Ownership’ in placing those 5,975 people in jobs may well exceed $150,000 per job placement! To believe that deliberately depriving welfare recipients of critical financial support will actually enhance their job prospects is totally inconsistent with this contradictory empirical evidence. The 18% indigenous unemployment rate that has resulted from the abolition of the indigenous community employment programs is additional empirical evidence of a simple but politically unacceptable truth; from a taxpayers perspective, the most cost effective Compliance Measure is to give unemployed people a minimum wage, public funded job.

Revisiting T.o.R 2. (a) 3. The Opportunity Cost of Machine gunning the welfare lifeboat’.

Given the well document harm caused by Compliance Measures legislation, whether intended or not, there is a huge Opportunity Cost that taxpayers are going to be called upon to fund.

“The Stolen Generation” legislation is an excellent example of earlier misguided and inept political ideological policy and as the $775,000 compensation awarded Bruce Trevorrow indicates, the potential Legal Liability-Opportunity Cost of decades of ‘machine gunning the welfare lifeboat’ with compliance measures could be very substantial. Compliance Measures legislation is proving to be much more harmful than either the Stolen Generation legislation or the Forgotten Generation policy. For starters, compliance legislation has directly had a negative impact upon a far greater number of people. Potential class action torts by as many as 3 million members of “The Breached Generation” represents a staggering legal liability that will sky rocket rapidly once one or more (former) welfare recipients wins legal redress for their inhumane treatment.

The Mabo case forced the High Court to recognize that misguided political policies could have completely unacceptable consequences of holocaust proportions. That decision paved the way for the Trevorrow Decision in the South Australian Supreme Court in 2007. In turn, the precedents laid down by the Trevorrow Decision are useful for both the Forgotten Generation and the Breached Generation.

Accountability for the inhumane and sometime deadly consequences of Compliance Measures, whether by tort or by criminal charges, will impact heavily upon those politicians and administrators who failed to appreciate that Compliance is a Two Way Street.

Final Observations:

  1. In 2002, Tony Abbott and Amanda Vanstone made it quite clear that job seekers on a welfare allowance are exceptionally vulnerable people. Centrelink’s arbitrary efforts in trying to differentiate between “vulnerable” and “exceptionally vulnerable” welfare recipients only serves to create comprehensive, and complex legal ‘issues’.
  2. Every financial penalty contains an element of reckless endangerment because every welfare recipient is made even more vulnerable. The problem is made worse because compliance measures uniquely and deliberately target vulnerable, at-risk victims.
  3. Job search is generally an expensive and demoralizing activity that can seriously undermine a conscientious job seekers sense of self worth. Compliance measures are counter-productive in that they can strongly reinforce negative feeling of self worth. Even worse, compliance measures can trigger suicides, heart attacks or strokes.
  4. When fatalities occur, “I was only following orders” is not a valid excuse for a reckless disregard for human life that results in the death of a person, i.e. implementing legislated compliance measures is not a valid excuse for causing the deaths of welfare recipients.
  5. Compliance measures legislation is inconsistent with international obligations set out in numerous human rights conventions that Australia is a signatory to, e.g. The Rights of a Child and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  6. Compliance measures legislation is inconsistent with the constitutional rights of welfare recipients who are entitled to have alleged non-compliance issues impartially resolved through the courts.
  7. The real world consequences of Compliance measures legislation, such as the failure of Centrelink administrators to monitor and report the deaths of breached welfare recipients, means that this legislation is totally inconsistent with State and Territory criminal law statutes that deal with a reckless disregard for human life that causes a death, e.g. Manslaughter and Felony Murder.
  8. No one can accurately predict how people will react to having their only means of support cut off. Several years ago the Salvation Army identified the grave problem of “Survivor Sex”, a shocking example of the extremes to which people were driven to survive Centrelink’s ‘Serious non-compliance’ 8-week no payments penalty. Readers should note that this is still the current ‘major’ penalty applied by Centrelink.
  9. Sexual predators surfing the Job Network is just one of many examples of how Centrelink management have zero control over the deliberate misuse of compliance measures whilst bearing massive legal liability for such misuse.
  10. The review panel needs to be recognize the simple fact that, following in the steps of The Stolen Generation, efforts are now underway to ensure that The Breached Generation are empowered by providing them with knowledge and evidence of the harshly unfair and unjust manner in which they have been treated.
  11. Members of the Breached Generation are entitled to seek both restitution and compensation for the injustices heaped upon them.
  12. The best independent legal minds that the government can afford should be appointed to careful scrutinize the legal ramifications of Assistant Secretary Skill’s admission that fatalities were not monitored and thus could not be reported.
  13. The legal implications of the March 2nd 2006 letter of notification by the Senate’s Employment, Workplace Relations & Education Committee in which breaching fatalities were fobbed off as “irrelevant”.
  14. That letter may constitute empirical evidence that this committee had a contemptuous and thoroughly reckless disregard for the lives of breached welfare recipients. Were these fatalities considered to be “irrelevant” because the EWRE Committee simply regarded them as an acceptable risk?
  15. There are legal ramifications caused by the use of Parliamentary Privilege to secretly classify these deaths as confidential and to then use suppression orders to prohibit the copying and distribution of documents expressing concerns about the often deadly consequences of compliance measures.
  16. The possibility that HREOC legislation was deliberately hobbled to prevent intervention in the Breaching/Compliance Measures process is of grave concern.
  17. The economic rationalist philosophy that ‘justifies’ compliance measures is firmly based upon recklessly dangerous false assumptions, e.g. depriving at-risk people of their only means of support guarantees that they will be successful in seeking employment, that vulnerable people can survive even a ‘minor’ 1- day penalty, or that compliance measures fatalities are of such insignificance that they do not even have to be counted and reported.
  18. Approximate3 million welfare recipients have been traumatized by breaching or compliance measures and the number is still rising. However, as Assistant Secretary Skill has made quite clear, Centrelink management are in not a position to deny that more 5,000 people have died after compliance measures were imposed.
  19. Compliance is a 2 way street. Assistant Secretary Skill’s letter makes it quite clear that Centrelink management are unaware of this fact. If they were, this letter would never have been written because it makes it quite that Centrelink has an ethos of callous indifference to compliance measures triggered fatalities. The very clear message to welfare recipients is that their deaths are not even worth counting!
  20. When dealing with welfare recipients, the key word is “Vulnerable”, not “Employment”. Politicians and Centrelink management also need to keep in mind that the primary function of the welfare system, the highest priority and the rationale for Centrelink’s existence, is “Protection”, not “De-linkage”. It is also most definitely not populist driven, politically motivated “Persecution”.
  21. The bottom line is that Compliance Measures are a callously simplistic political solution to an incredibly complex set of social and medical issues that, if not addressed in a compassionate manner will create enormous problems.

Recommendation #2

As a matter of urgency, the Minister should suspend all Compliance Measures policies and practices until such time as both the humanitarian consequences and the legal validity of this legislation can be fully appraised by an independent committee of eminent legal and medical experts.

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