Robodebts are killing our poor

 On the 18th February 2019 the ABC’s Shalailah Mendhora told the Hack that:

“More than 2030 people died after receiving a Centrelink debt notice, also known as robodebt, according to new data released by the Department of Human Services.
Of those, 429 – roughly one-fifth – were aged under 35. The figures cover a period from July 2016 to October 2018.
To give you a comparison, there were 3139 deaths of people aged between 15 and 35 in 2016 overall, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

While the department does not collect data on the cause for death in these cases, nearly a third – 663 people – were classified as “vulnerable”, which means they had complex needs like mental illness, drug use or were victims of domestic violence.”

As the Saturday Paper’s Briefing 19th. February 2019 puts it:
“More than 2000 people died after receiving an automated debt notice from Centrelink in one 27-month period, according to new figures from the department of human services. A total of 663 of those were classified as “vulnerable”, indicating complicating factors such as alcohol or drug abuse, mental health issues, or domestic violence. Greens senator Rachel Siewert said“these numbers are disturbing, and it indicates to me that the department should investigate further”. Earlier this month, Victoria Legal Aid filed a court challengeto Centrelink’s “robodebt” system, which issued more than 70,000 notices for inaccurate or non-existent debts from July 2016 to October 2018.”

Back to the ABC:
” More than 500 people who died were receiving Newstart payments, and a further 520 were on the Disability Support Pension.
Men were twice as likely to die than women. Minister says there’s no link.
A spokesperson for Human Services Minister, Michael Keenan, told Hack the automatic debt notice process is “reasonable, lawful and fair”.”

……”The number of days that elapsed between customers receiving a debt letter and their death was 222 days, or almost eight months.”…..

The Department went on to claim that nearly a million debt letters had been sent out and the number of deaths resulting constituted only “0.21” of a percent when the Department had experienced an overall death total of 3.64%.

Such a spurious claim is a total statistical nonsense when most of the people on their books who died were Aged Pensioners, the very group least affected by robodebt. Age pensioners die as a result of diseases associated with growing old.”

“Centrelink has raised nearly 410,000 debt notices since the automated system began in July 2016, but 70,000 have been written off or reduced already.”

“Robodebt has unleashed thousands of debt notices in error to parents, people with disabilities, carers, students and people seeking paid work, resulting in people slapped with Centrelink debts they do not owe or debts higher than they owe,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.”

The people most likely to be adversely affected by the robodebt system are amongst the poorest, most isolated and least bureaucratically sophisticated in the nation.

I worked for the Department of Social Security in the 1960s and 70s. Then, it was a Department whose officers obeyed the law and generally cared about the people they served. The Ministers I worked under, whilst I may not have agreed with every decision they made, were honourable men. The best was Bill Hayden who said he’d prefer that someone who was not entitled to a payment got it than have someone who was entitled denied a payment. I pity the public servants who work for the likes of Michael Keenan. Kennan claims the Department’s actions are “reasonable, lawful and fair”.

There are a multitude of lawyers who are on the record as not agreeing with him. Among them is Professor Terry Carney a long serving member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Somebody should draw Keenan’s attention to the Geneva War Crimes Tribunal rulings which found that just following superiors’ orders did not absolve people from war crimes.

If the Morrison government is not murdering some or all of the 2,030 people who died, then they are acting in callous disregard or wilful indifference for the lives of those sent robodebt letters. They are, at least, guilty of manslaughter.

Given that it is taking 222 days for people who receive a robodebt notice to die it is hardly an efficient process. May be Keenan should ensure that Human Services opens up Euthanasia Clinics right around the country and includes contact details of the closest one in the robodebt notice.

Maybe we should wait for a change of government and hope that they set up a Royal Commission into the robodebt scandal. However, part of me is attracted to the idea of contacting Blair Cottrell and his gang of ultraright nationalists and give them the names of Michael Keenan and the senior members of his Department who are pushing the robodebt program. Once they get to Canberra I’m sure that, with the aid of baseball bats, Cottrell and the others be able to sort out these miscreants who are killing our fellow Australians.