Tony Abbott and his pivotal role in the Breaching Triggered deaths issue.

Tony Abbott has a played a pivotal role in the issue of breaching triggered deaths; a fact that has been buck passed to a review panel set up by federal parliament last year. The following text is from a submission to that review panel titled’ “Part 3: Machine gunning the welfare lifeboat”.  The submission is sub-titled: “Buck Passing 101 – Guess where the buck stops?”

The legislation which gave effect to this new framework requires the Government to establish to establish an independent panel to review the impact of the new compliance arrangements after their first year of operation”. Centrelink Letter C10/3221. 22 July 2010 Neil Skill, Assistant Secretary

Buck passing has been around for a very long time. When God wanted to know why Adam had eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge, Adam buck passed the blame to Eve who in turn buck passed the blame to the Devil. When it comes to the issue of who is responsible for determining who is responsible for the inhumane, illegal and sometimes fatal consequences of ‘compliance measures”, politicians, public servants, and even the Federal Police have buck passed the issue for years. Twelve years after first raising the issue of welfare recipients being defrauded of legitimate welfare entitlements, Assistant Secretary Neil Skill has now buck passed the issue to the “Independent Review of the Job Seeker Compliance Framework”.

Like me, Assistant Secretary Neil Skill appears to be a very pedantic person who dots the “i” and crosses the “t”. According to Assistant Secretary Neil Skill, the responsibility for looking at the allegations that I have raised rests, by Act of Parliament, with three specific people:

  1. Professor Julian Disney AO;
  2. Ms. Anna Budulis;
  3. Mr. Peter Grant.

Apparently, to these three people goes the responsibility of reviewing the impact of the compliance measures that came into effect on 1st July 2009. Whilst Professor Disney and his review panel members could logically argue that events and incidents prior to 1st July 2009 are beyond the remit of the review panel’s terms of reference, I would counter this with the viewpoint that what happened prior to 1st July 2009 provides the essential core baseline against which to measure the merits and disadvantages of the current compliance measures.

As the author James Cobb so aptly put it, “To learn where you are going, you have to know where you have come from.”

It is quite simply impossible to identify and measure ‘improvements’ in the new compliance regime unless there is a clear and full, impartial understanding of the “old” compliance measures. That means that the issues mentioned in Parts 1 and 2 of my submission are legitimate factors for that the panel must factor in when establishing an objective baseline for measuring improvements in the new compliance measures.

In January 2006 and again in March 2006, politicians buck passed on these issues claiming that it was “outside the terms of reference. It is therefore appropriate to consider the terms of reference for professor Disney and his review panel. Below are some of the terms of reference which I believe are relevant to all of the “Machine gunning the welfare lifeboat” submissions:

(2)     The review must report on:

        (a)      the effectiveness of the compliance regime in:

        (i)     meeting job seeking requirements;

        (ii)    reducing financial hardship;

        (iii)   reducing compliance costs for job seekers, employment services providers and the Government; and

        (iv)    using the ‘no show, no pay’ provision to increase compliance with job seeking requirements;

(b)     the impact on vulnerable job seekers including Indigenous job seekers;

        (c)     the impact of the compliance regime on employment participation and long-term unemployment;

        (j)     the effectiveness and use of criteria such as hardship, vulnerability and reasonable exclusion within Comprehensive Compliance Assessments; and

(k) any other related matter.

(4) The Minister must provide the panel with adequate resources to undertake the review.

Clearly, benchmarking of the effects and consequences of the new compliance measures is required by these terms broad of reference. In particular, Term of Reference 2. (k), “any other related matter”, opens the door a careful scrutiny of both the unlawful misuse of compliance measures and the unlawful consequences of compliance misuse.

Another aspect of “any other related matter” is the politically sensitive legal issue of Tony Abbott’s suggestion that the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett”, be charged with “Industrial manslaughter” over the deaths of four ceiling insulation installers. Mr. Abbott later backed up this comment with a demand for an independent judicial inquiry into these deaths. In making those statements, Mr. Abbott unintentionally drew attention to the issue of ministerial accountability for compliance measures related deaths. Clearly, my insistence that the review panel conduct a forensic audit of Centrelink and the old DSS files to determine the number of Post Breaching Terminal Outcomes, i.e. Compliance Measures triggered fatalities, is not inappropriate. Readers should note that Term of Reference #4, which states that “The Minister must provide the panel with adequate resources to undertake the review”, gives the review panel both the authority and the resources needed to justify and undertake this long overdue evaluation of the impact of compliance measures.

On 28th July 2010, the West Australian government released details of compensation payments made to the family of an indigenous person who died in custody. This death involved a reckless disregard for the welfare and safety of a person who died as a direct consequence of being incarcerated in a vehicle that was not equipped with a functioning air-conditioning system. West Australian taxpayers have paid $3.2 Million in compensation for this fatal act of reckless indifference. That compensation serves as a valid benchmark for determining the appropriate amount of compensation that should be paid to the families of welfare victims who died as a consequence of being breached. If a court was to accept that viewpoint, Australian taxpayers could be faced with a compensation bill in the range $16-40 Billion. It should be noted that this amount does not include compensation to welfare victims who were defrauded of legitimate welfare entitlements due to actions such as, administrative convenience, breaching competitions, breaching for profit or the Howard Government’s breaching quotas.

It is quite clear that the compliance measures that existed before 1st July 2009 have exposed Australian taxpayers to a potential legal liability that may ultimately be measured in the hundreds of billions! Such a massive potential legal liability makes it quite clear that compliance measures have not represented “Sound Economic Management’” but are, like the Stolen Generation policy measures, actually a very risky practice based upon dangerously irresponsible and misguided political ideology.

For the review panel to ignore these issues on the basis that they are ‘outside the terms of reference” would be to do both Parliament and the public, especially welfare recipients, a grave disservice. For over seventy years, members of the Stolen Generation were ignored; they were quite literally “voices crying in the wilderness”. As a direct consequence of the Trevorrow Decision, state governments have set aside tens of millions of dollars and are now making payments to victims of the Stolen Generation policies. In 2010, the Internet is means of giving compliance measures victims a global voice. The Internet is a means of whereby victims can share their experiences and, if they so decide, co-ordinate political or legal action to seek justice. Whilst it took the stolen Generation seventy years to achieve justice, the Internet has the potential to significantly collapse that time frame.

It does not matter when compliance measures victims are finally successful in seeking justice. If the review panel ignores these past injustices, both the credibility of the report and the panel members will be seriously damaged. That is just one more way in which compliance measures can have unforseen and unintended consequences. The comment by Jesus Christ about not looking back is a spiritual principle, not an administrative principle and so it cannot be used to justify not raking up the coals of ancient history.

At the time of writing this document the liberal Party is 4% ahead in pre-election polling and it is quite possible that in three weeks time Tony Abbott will be Australia’s new Prime Minister. Since one of Tony Abbott’s policies is a return to “Breaching”, presumably the old 13-week ‘sudden death’ policy of the Howard Government, the impact of breaching quota compliance measures is no longer ancient history. It may well be future history as well unless the Australian people are provided with a full and impartial report of the consequences of compliance measures, past and present.

Ron Medlicott – Christian welfare justice activist.

Playford, South Australia

2nd August 2010

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