Machine gunning the welfare lifeboat Part B Pages 1 to 4

(The postings in this Blog are a memorial to the more than 3 million Aussie Battlers have been Breached. It is especially a memorial to the (estimated) 5,000+ Aussie Battlers who did not survive being breached. Please, help to spread the word about this humanitarian disaster by using the “Share with a friend “link in the right hand column.)

Overview: Lies, Damned Lies, and Centrelink Statistics.

“Centrelink does not collect ‘Post Breaching Terminal Outcome Statistics’ and is therefore unable to assist with your request for this information”.

Centrelink Letter C10/1866 dated 18th May 2010 Written by Neil Skill, Assistant Secretary  Portfolio Coordination and Parliamentary.

This is part 2 of a two part submission to the review panel.

Part 1, sub-titled, “Compliance is a two way street”, focussed upon the failure of public servants to report mission critical data that would have enabled both Federal Parliament and the public to make informed decisions about the wisdom and merits of penalties that were applied to welfare recipients who were deemed to have been in breach of their contracted job search compliance obligations.

Part 2 is sub-titled “Lies, damned Lies and Centrelink Statistics because it is focussed upon a sub-set of the data included in Centrelink annual reports. The focus of Centrelink management in using this data is to present a positive perception of their performance. My focus is to use sub-sets of this data to challenge their interpretation and to highlight the way in which the data may have been used to present a biased and misleading report.

Another aspect considered are some of the statements and data in annual reports may provide the basis for class action torts against the Crown. The introduction of new consumer laws on July 1st 2010 may also provide a Persuasive Precedent in any legal challenge to the validity of compliance measures penalties.

Term of Reference #3: Any other matters.

Introduction.

Statistics have a unique characteristic that makes them a valuable tool for politicians, bureaucrats, con artists and anyone else who may have a vested or partisan interest in deceiving people. Needless to say, people who use statistics in submissions to parliamentary inquires can also be included in this category.

This unique characteristic is the fact that it is possible for the empirical and objective data to be 100% accurate whilst the interpretation of this data may be 100% misleading.

Statistics:- The Casino Royale game of Crap.

If you understand the ‘dark art’ known as Statistical Analysis, you can skip this section. For those who are not familiar with how statistics can be both true and false at the same time, in this section, the following information is a ‘beginners-guide’ into this murky field of Truth and Deception. I have use the dice game Crap to illustrate how statistics can be manipulated to present viewpoints that favour the analyst’s viewpoint.

When the Crap player throws the dice, the two sets of dots visible on the top surfaces of the dice when they stop rolling represent a Data Set that can be a winning set or a loosing set. The number of dots visible on the top surfaces represents the data, the Empirical Evidence that can be seen and counted, whilst the observers standing the Crap table provide Objectivity, i.e. they all agree that they see the same number of dots. The player and casino staff are biased or Partisan in that they would prefer a desired result rather than a random outcome, i.e. the player wants winning data sets whilst the casino operators want loosing data sets. The observers who are not playing the game are passively involved because they are the impartial “referees”. Every throw of the two dice by the player can randomly produce one of 36 possible data sets on the two visible top surfaces; those that add up to either 7 or 11 are winners (Positive Outcomes). Any other numbers are loosing data sets (Negative Outcomes).

Since the two dice used have 6 sides and only the dots on the ‘face-up’ top surfaces are counted, the other 5 surfaces are ignored. That means that 5 other data sets are ignored. In all, the ignored sides of the dice can produce another 180 different data sets. That means that in total, one pair of dice can produce 216 data sets.

Image the problem if only the dots on the “front” of the dice were counted instead of the dots on the top. With 4 sides to the table, there are 4 different ‘front’ views depending upon where the viewer is standing. That also means 4 different ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘back’ views that depend upon the Viewpoint of the observers standing around the table. That is a total of 16 different viewpoints.

If the Crap-table had a glass top, by looking under the table we would have yet another viewpoint, which, together with the top view would provide a total of 18 possible viewpoints.

So far, the two dice provide 216 possible datasets with 18 different ways to view the data. If the rules were changed and top/bottom, front/back or leftside/rightside combinations could be arbitrarily chosen by either the player or the casino operators then a whole new range of possible combinations of successful datasets would be created.

The number of datasets that can be produced by just a pair of dice is staggering. Yahtzee is a game that uses 5 dice on the first throw, with 1 to 4 dice on the second and third throws. Can you imagine how many data sets that can be produced from this complex combination of three throws? Then imagine how many datasets were produced from Centrelink’s 2000-01 database; it contained data about 6.3 million people who eligible for 9.3 million individual entitlements. The number of potential datasets from that data is literally astronomical.

Whilst neither the Crap player nor the casino operator can pick, choose or create the viewpoints that will produce a winning dataset, it is important realize that those who operate a database can do precisely that. Check out the following statement:

Centrelink does not collect ‘Post Breaching Terminal Outcome Statistics’ and is therefore unable to assist with your request for this information”.

Centrelink Letter C10/1866 dated 18th May 2010

Written by Neil Skill, Assistant Secretary

Portfolio Coordination and Parliamentary.

This statement highlights a viewpoint not mentioned previously, i.e. ‘The Blind Eye’ viewpoint. In this instance, the viewpoint is to not view the data at all. Whilst the data, i.e. the number of Post Breaching Fatalities may be in the database (perhaps under another data set name), it is not collected and thus is made into a data set. Without the Post Breaching Fatalities data set, there is one less Negative Outcome that can be reported to Federal Parliament.

The bottom line is that the way the data is viewed, or not viewed, determines the data sets that can be used to express a particular viewpoint. Whilst the data set may be 100% Truth, the viewpoint presented by those who manipulate the data may be 100% deceptive.

Politicians, bureaucrats, advertising professionals and people who write submissions, e.g. this submission, may not have free access to a specific database and therefore cannot manipulate the data sets quite so easily. However, once reports contained numerous data sets are published, it is possible for anyone to pick and choose from data sets that can be used to express a particular viewpoint. That is precisely what I am doing, so please remember the old adage “Caveat emptor” (Buyer beware) when you read the rest of this submission.

Caveat Emptor :- Three Data Sets from Centrelink published data.

(A) Annual Report – Financial Year 2000-2001

Number of job seekers Breached: 346,078

As data sets go, nothing could be simpler than this one statistic. In this instance, 346,078 vulnerable, at-risk welfare recipients had their Newstart Allowance suspended for allegedly “breaching” their Newstart job search contractual obligations.

To understand the humanitarian impact of that figure, it is first of essential to understand why the Newstart Allowance was being paid to 346,078 people.

Paragraph 47 of the 2002 Welfare Reform Discussion Paper clearly sets out the reason for these Newstart payments:

“An adequate safety net: Assistance is targeted to those most in need. People with no other means of support are assisted with their basic costs of living”.

As the above quotation makes quite clear, the Newstart Allowance is a humanitarian safety net; a payment paid to people who are unable to meet even the most basic and essential costs of living.

It is common sense that if you withdraw a financial safety net for 13 weeks from people who are unable to meet “their basic costs of living”, then it naturally follows that during this 13 week period, some people will cease to live! For example, one Australian in ten may suffer from some form of Asthma problem. If an Asthma sufferer is Breached and cannot purchase an Asthma “puffer”, the possibility of a fatal Asthma attack is dangerously high. This logic applies to every breached welfare recipient who suffered from a potentially fatal disease that required constant medication.

Since fatalities were a logical and easily foreseen consequence of Breaching, risk assessment and close monitoring of breached clients, and the prompt reporting of breaching triggered fatalities, should have been an integral part of the Breaching process. However, as Assistant Secretary Neil Skill has indicated, no such data is available for the simple reason that it was not collected.

The fact that data on breaching triggered fatalities was not “collected” does not mean that Centrelink management was unaware of these fatalities. When breached welfare recipients died, relatives or friends would notify Centrelink of these deaths and as a consequence the file on these clients would be closed off with no restarting of Newstart payments once the period of payment suspension had expired.

Note: I am aware of two instances where aged pensioners died and the deaths were not reported to Centrelink and as a result, automatic payments continued for two or more years until such as Centrelink was informed of these deaths. It is therefore quite possible that Centrelink is still making payments to deceased welfare recipients who died as a consequence of being breached.

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