1. Christian Porter, it is unethical to extort money from people with information that is just f**king wrong!
Richard Dennis says that the government should be a model litigant, but if a company did what it is doing to recover Centrelink ‘overpayments’ it would be fraud.
Andrew Griffin gives nuts and bolts of how it works.
There are estimates that 20% to 37% of the letters sent out are wrong, but I can’t see how any can be right. They take from the ATO what you earned for a financial year, divide by 26, and then infer that is the amount you earned every single fortnight, including those when you were receiving benefits, when you may have not been earning anything.
You are invited to go onto their computer site, where the only thing you can do is confirm the total of how much you earned. Then instantly, without human intervention, you are hit with a letter of demand.
For some who have changged their address, the first they know is when a debt collector appears at their door.
Labor has referred the whole thing to the Auditor-General.
- Australian information and privacy commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, also issued a statement on Friday, saying his office was in contact with the Department of Human Services.
The Commonwealth ombudsman is on the case.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights say “The whole procedure is quite unethical and a complete abuse of legal process.”
Albo turned up with Tony Barber:
- a cancer survivor who Centrelink issued with a $4,500 debt from 2010.
Barber had been recovering from chemotherapy at the time he claimed welfare – the first and only time he has received benefits – before recovering and returning to work in early 2011.
Andrew Wilkie told the 7.30 Report on Wednesday that he’d had four people in his office suicidal.
Worse still, the Murdoch press and A Current Affair have been criticising the government. Time to act, Malcolm, it’s an extortion racket.
It seems that if you get your face on television, you get instant service.
Centrelink staff will soon receive “Advanced Customer Aggression Training”. Not a surprise.
2. Sawatdi pi mai khrab!
After that rant, I believe that the Thai words above, from Mark’s Facebook, mean:
- May you find compassion, loving kindness and equanimity along your paths over the next year!
Seems like not enough words, but I’ll take it as given. I think it is lovely.
While we are at it here are 99 reasons why 2016 was a good year.
It’s good to know, for example, that:
Life expectancy in Africa has increased by 9.4 years since 2000, thanks to improvements in child survival, progress in malaria control and expanded access to ARVs. Quartz
Mobile phones made significant inroads in the fight against rabies, a disease which kills more people annually than all terrorists combined. Ars Technica
3. Ructions in The Greens continue
- The Greens are facing more factional turmoil, as the partner of Greens senator Lee Rhiannon [Geoff Ash] publicly attacks the federal party and party room, and defends a new hard-left faction that is openly antagonistic towards the leader, Richard Di Natale.
It’s a shame.
4. Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption final report
The final report of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption (TURC) was released into the dead news zone between Christmas and New Year.
In all, 45 individuals and companies to police, prosecutors and regulators. Paul Karp says:
- Referrals ranged from alleged criminal matters such as corruption offences and perjury down to alleged civil breaches such as industrial coercion and breach of trade union officials’ duties.
Karp says that many recommendations would interfere with day-to-day running of unions, and that unions are being held to a more onerous standard than corporate Australia.
That’s probably because there are so many ‘louts, thugs, bullies, thieves’ among unionists, according to TURC, and the government’s continued rhetoric. Van Badham says that female union bosses are destroying the thug image forever. Union leaders are now more representative of Australians than the LNP front bench.
She details 13 female union leaders, from Australian Council of Trade Unions president, Ged Kearney to Sharon Burrow, arguably the most influential trade unionist in the world as president of the International Trade Union Confederation representing 180 million people in 163 countries.
5. Extra second
2016 was a leap year, but an extra day was not enough to synchronise us with the planet’s movement, so an extra second was added. I hope you made good use of it!
Introduction to Saturday salon
Because of the way the blog currently presents posts on the home page I think it’s better to remove the introductory material to a different place. For new readers, here’s the rationale for this space.
An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.
For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.
The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.
Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.
The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:
The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.
40 thoughts on “Saturday salon 7/1”
Shouldn’t we be investigating the ‘louts, thugs, bullies, thieves’ within the Human Services Department?
Na, just put women in charge of the Bikie Gangs, Mafia and ISIS.
Improve their image.
if a company did what it is doing to recover Centrelink ‘overpayments’ it would be fraud.
There are many types of fraud.
* Individuals can commit fraud = ‘con man’, ‘con person’
* small groups, e.g. ‘internet scam’
Then there are dodgy builders, etc.
Then there is the current Federal Government; ill-advised once again, seemingly innumerate… Governments can commit fraud, theft. We can wait to see if the Govt can be prosecuted over this.
Some of the defrauded may be owed compensation??
(Thinking of Cornelia Rau and others.) Let’s wait and see.
Good to hear that a number of competent authorities and office-holders are looking into it.
You don’t have to be a company to commit fraud; just saying.
Companies always get harsh laws that Governments and individuals don’t, always.
I hadn’t twigged that centerlink was sending letters out based on the earnings per fortnight calculated from average earnings for year. I wonder how many letter receivers are scared into suicide even though the centerlink debt was wrong and exaggerated?
John, not from ‘average’ earnings, it’s from actual annual earnings, which are then averaged and assumed to apply to every fortnight of the year. But I think that’s what you meant.
I have heard that a legal challenge was being considered, but I can’t find a link.
(Fairfax online) has a cutting and clear article.
He links it to a book “Weapons of Maths Destruction” which has many examples of foolish software.
He also says (about the Centrelink fiasco)
Humans didn’t issue debt notices unless they had evidence a debt existed. To do so without evidence would be to break the law.
I think that’s the key point. Centrelink, with many of these letters, has broken the law!
Kudos to your mathematician son, Brian, for identifying the key flaw; and to you for exposing it here.
The sooner it’s FIXED, the better.
Wider question: is it OK to have a Federal Treasurer who would seem [from this case] to be innumerate????
Ambigulous, I believe the minister who is actually responsible is Alan Tudge, whon is and remains on holidays. I think Christian Porter is just subbing for him.
I was just listening to a conversation between my two sons, which I’m not sure I fully understood. I think young son, the mathematician currently working mainly as a software developer. was saying that for many cases an algorithm would actually be difficult if not impossible.
I think it’s relevant that standard advice from Centrelink is that recipients of benefits only have to keep records for six months.
How Centrelink unleashed a weapon of math destruction
Centrelink’s robo-debacle is a litany of inhuman errors
Australian Lawyers for Human rights
The current attacks upon past and present pension payment recipients by Centrelink and the Minister for Social Services are “wrong at so many legal levels that it’s hard to know where to begin,”, ALHR President Benedict Coyne said.
“At the most basic level, no entity should be issuing legal demands for money unless they are absolutely certain the money is owed and can substantiate this in court. It is for the creditor to prove any debt. It is also up to the creditor to ensure the alleged debtor receives the repayment demand. It is entirely wrong for Centrelink to put alleged debts in the hands of debt recovery agents when the debts are not proved and/or the alleged debtor never received the original claim, or to claim interest or process fees on money that is very probably not owing at all.”
“The whole procedure is quite unethical and a complete abuse of legal process,” he said
“In this case it appears clear from numerous reports that the computer software the Minister is relying on is flawed. Legally, it is for Centrelink as purported creditor to substantiate its calculations, not for individuals as alleged debtors to prove that Centrelink is wrong. But of course Centrelink threatens to cut off recipients if they don’t pay, putting them in a terrifying situation. This could well be described as ‘demanding money with menaces.’”
Judging by the last couple it seems to have become obligatory.
I’d love this kind of support for thousands of folk that are over taxed by Government.
Source for your “thousands of folk who are over taxed” please Jumpy.
I know of no-one who has paid more tax than they were obliged to, except for perhaps Dick Smith.
Better still Jumpy, taking the first topic header as a guide, maybe you could explain to us just how the ATO is extorting money from people with information that is just f**king wrong.
That is what you meant by “over taxed” isn’t it? People being forced to pay tax on income they haven’t received, pay duty on cigarettes they didn’t buy, pay excise on alcoholic drinks they never purchased etc etc
Or is this just another complaint about having to pay for a civil society?
Just because the tax burden, in your opinion, is correct or too low, millions disagree zoot.
My own Father got a $20,000 tax demand that was quashed with a single letter if you want one example.
I’m taxed on annual income, welfare income should be annualised too right ?
Annualising tax means that you pay less tax.
Using income for the last 12 months to calculate unemployment benefits means that a lot of people would starve before unemployment benefits would start.
Jumpy, you a bringing up a red herring.
The government does not have a leg to stand on with this one, and it remains to be seen whether they will persist and how the whole matter is resolved. There seems no graceful backdown p[ossible.
Meanwhile some hundreds of thousands of people, many of them vulnerable, are being threatened.
On another level, if something bad happens I believe people on average tell 11 other people. If something good, only three. It surprise if LNP recovered in the opinion polls in the next little while.
Analogies aren’t your strong suit, are they? That’s not an example of your father (or anyone else) being “over taxed”.
Unless he paid the bill after it had been quashed.
“Thousands are overtaxed” and “millions disagree”.
That would be the Australian Bureau of Statistics you’re quoting would it?
Other Minister primarily responsible, but Peter Martin says the announcement was made by two Ministers, the second being the Treasurer.
There are many cases of “averaging” vs fortnight-by-fortnight.
* Actual annual income rather than (lumpy, irregular, non-steady) fortnightly income for income tax; though PAYE is extracted at the tax rate applying to that pay period’s income, so if you had lots of overtime, for example, your tax percentage will be higher than usual for that fortnight.
* Farmers allowed to “average” farm income over several years, to recognise production variations which can be very large.
Those are from income taxation which I’d expect the Treasurer to know about, or be advised on.
Aged pension: person applies, and states “income for previous 8 weeks”. If income is ‘lumpy’, you can carefully choose the 8 weeks. But they know about all your income streams, including term deposits, share ownership, full ATO data; and you declare any cash gifts to relatives in last 5 years. So you can’t squirrel money away by passing to rellies who secretly repay you some. (Probably they average out, fortnightly any income that comes in regular lumps, e.g. an investment that pays you quarterly).
They also ‘impute’ income at some standard rate, if you have money hidden under a mattress.
So persons eligible for age pension, senior health care card, veteran’s card etc. are well accounted for by Centrelink.
[To their credit, once you’ve dredged up documents for the initial 40 page form, they usually don’t ask for the docs again. Usually. They have them on file.]
+ + + + $ + + + +
I think the Treasurer, who has allowed this cruel hoax on benefit recipients to continue, must be innumerate. Or perhaps he’s just cruel and vindictive??
on another matter, with full apologies to the Nobel laureate:
Lay Lady Lay
Lay, Lady Ley, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Why wait any longer for the world to begin
You can have your cake and eat it too
Let them have their cake
Love your Noble price winning humour Ambi.
I woke up this morning when on Radio National interview was the guy, hand picked by Turnbull when communications minister, who was suppose to drag the Commonwealth IT approach into the 21st century but bailed out recently, for good reason. He reckons Centrelink would be shut down for fraud for its conduct in the recent botched “debt” recovery efforts if it were a private company.
Now if clawing back $4 billion debt from the lowest rung in our society has resulted in such a tragic shamozzle, imagine the fall out when the government will try to snatch $19 billion in overdue tax including a staggering $13 billion by small businesses with turnover up to $2 million.
Sorry stuffed up the second link, just google this mornings article “Australian Taxation Office move threatens small business bankruptcies” by Gottliebsen in The Australian Business Review.
““In today’s environment any government that unfairly (and I emphasise the word “unfairly”) persecutes small business will be decimated in the polls.” Seasonal workers and those working while managing a disability, students who also work… well guffaw they exist in a bubble and surely do not cause any grief on election day.
“The Turnbull and Morrison confirmed in the midyear economic statement that the tax office is owed some $19 billion in overdue tax including a staggering $13 billion by small businesses with turnover up to $2 million.
The Turnbull and Morrison confirmed in the midyear economic statement that the tax office is owed some $19 billion in overdue tax including a staggering $13 billion by small businesses with turnover up to $2 million.
The government plans to allow the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to disclose to credit reporting bureaus the names of those who owe the money unless they have “effectively engaged with the ATO to manage these debts”.
The reality is that the moment those names are published all bank and supplier credit will be withdrawn — that’s what happens in the small business community. And as soon as bank and supplier credit is withdrawn almost all the businesses will fold.
Accordingly, Turnbull and Morrison must know they are taking a step that will send broke tens of thousands of businesses. Taking such a draconian step requires a structure that is clear and fair to all.”
Ummmmm yep…. on past record that will surely happen.
So all those teen workers hoovering up the six years worth of pay slips…. tell the past employer to get his affairs in order.
Don’t ya just love big powerful Government ?
So many ” experts ” tasked with running our affairs.
But we should try to find a bright side out of The States recent activities, at least the Gender Corruption Gap ( GCG ) is closing.
I’m having a lot of internet interruptions, which is annoying.
Ambigulous, you are right, ScoMo is innumerate. Probably all the real work done in that area is done by Matthias Cormann, which makes me shudder.
We had my two sons here on Monday night. It seems the only time the computer program can be right is if someone received continuous income and benefits for the whole 12 months. Then there was probably no problem anyway.
The word is now if you say “boo” they back off and do a manual check, which is what they were doing formerly.
The question is, why did this thing ever see the light of day. Anyone at the work-face of in the immediate supervisory role would have known that it wouldn’t work.
The answer is that senior management these days on the basis that they know and deliver what their political masters want, but don’t always understand anything about what they are managing. It’s the latest manifestation of stuffing over the public service.
Very good question and analysis Brian. It would appear that the centrelink digital fiasco is only symptom of a overall problem within the Commonwealth. According to Paul Shetler (whom I referred to above) the Commonwealth only has to deal with the digital load comparable with a small to medium size bank or half an hour of twitter transaction in a year. Yet there has been successive breakdowns or major problems with Commonwealth digital management, at a scale which no similar size private enterprise could afford to let happen. So it would appear that Cetrelink fiasco is just the tip of the iceberg.
Paul Shetler lists three major points to get the commonwealth into 21st century.
– radical up skilling of public service so that they are comfortable with 21st century technology, as every other enterprise is expected to do. (I suspect he is not talking about the data operators on the floor, rather than management responsible to implement and manage digital platforms).
– Government needs to put the needs of the users first. (No good implementing programs with flawed algorithms when threatening with debt collector. Hence my point on previous comment about governments chances to get $13 billion of outstanding taxes from small business with a beta version debt recovery program).
– Government has to get rid of that anomalous split between policy and delivery. No good dreaming up a policy for political purpose that is not conducive to implementation.
It must be bad when even Murdoch flagship weighs in with the headline “Even doctors are getting screwed by Centrelink”
Re Alan Tudge’s RN interview this morning and a bit more background to the Centrelink fiasco from Innovationaus. Centrelink knew well before about the flawed algorithms and up till September engaged in manually checking cases before letters were sent out. In September the manual check stopped and letters got sent out with them well knowing the rate of false positives.
Ootz, thanks for your work on this, and the story about taxes owed by small business is astonishing.
Yes, Tudge is back and spewing lies with enthusiasm. He said on RN that the average wait on the phone to Centrelink was 12 minutes, and then the ABC interviewed an actual worker who said this was not so.
I remeber earlier last year (about August) on talkback one woman said she was something like 18 hours on the phone over four days and still didn’t get through.
Also it was said that you could go to a Centrelink office and see someone within 10 minutes. What he didn’t say is that person would only direct you to ring up or go online, but give no tangible help whatsoever.
When people make legitimate contact it seems there are barriers and difficulties in actually providing the correct information and getting Centrelink to respond appropriately.
In this Triple J piece the personal email of Hank Jongen who runs the show is given. If you scroll down you get this comment from David Jongen (any relation?):
I think you have to take the 20% figure with a grain of salt. It seems a lot of people are paying the debt through fear of debt collectors, and then trying to get it back.
Andrew Wilkie says he’s had 100 complaints, and not everyone complains to their local MP.
Anyway, apparently some of the people affected were law students at the time. I’d be surprised if there aren’t some class actions being cooked up.
You can listen to Hank Jongen here if you want. I don’t have 51 minutes and 41 seconds to spare.
Ben Eltham has an excellent piece at New Matilda.
He says morale within Centrelink is at rock bottom.
From the Bendigo Advertiser, They don’t care about average Australians’: Centrelink staffer speaks out about debt controversy
This correlates with Shetler’s account of events. It really pinpoints to failure of policy and implementation process. Anyone who ever had to chase up overdue library book knows how delicate and complex these situations can be. And there is also a break even point in the extent of its pursue. Some public libraries resort to debt collectors. Now they come at a considerable cost and you want to make dammed sure that you have your facts right, for it could have serious repercussions throughout the community. So I am not surprised about Gottliebsen freaking out about the plans of the government to publicly ‘name and shame’ outstanding tax in the small business community.
Thing is, Ootz, it’s not a failure of policy. The policy is to paint welfare recipients as rorters and bludgers and to screw them. Pauline H was calling for jail sentences.
Now this fits the story and provides a larger picture of the forces at play. It would appear the finance dept is singing from the IPA songbook and pushing for outsourcing, while the prime ministers office hired a shot shot who dragged the UK finance department into the digital age and wanted to conduct a systemic overhaul of the whole system. From todays Canberra Times
This roughly played out at the time when Centrelink went from sending manually checked debt notices to the flawed algorithms.
Our Judeo-Christian Heritage at work.
How so zoot? Judaism is an old exclusive franchise of the original Egyptian monotheistic thinking. By the original teaching to be
Christianity is an off shoot of Judaism, a subfranchise of the original monotheistic thinking, actively promoting it to engage new members. At the core of Christian teaching is compassion, to do the right thing, particularly with underprivileged members of society. The very logo Christians pray to represents suffering and compassion and Christians physically share these embodiments in their main ritual of eating bread and drinking wine.
There is a bunch of other religious and spiritual thinking, all of which more or less display the same abilities or lack for compassion and doing the right thing to other humans.
I am with Brian, this looks like deliberate awful politics, which happen all the time either way. But more concerning is the fault line it exposes, the professionally inadequate departmental mandarins and the government wide total lack of understanding of the digital revolution we are in.
Forget about the algorithms, it was widely known within the government system that the fortnightly does not match the yearly. That they went ahead with a fundamentally flawed system without understanding the repercussions to everyone, including to the mandarins and politicians themselves is the really concerning part. Underlying this is a mix of not being digital literate and a lack of professional integrity from the top down. In that context too, ask yourself why apparently centrelink ‘overpaid’ $4billion to it’s clients. Perhaps because we have such an unaware minister in charge.
Following the links, Christopher Knaus has an article in the Guardian which says that the government tested the automated system, and found that 15% of the time it detected discrepancies that were not debts, but went ahead anyway.
I’d be surprised if it was as accurate as that.
Ootz, I was being sarcastic, given that the ministers administering most of the gratuitously cruel policies of our current govt claim to be Christians.
They obviously follow a different Jesus to the one I was introduced to as a lad, and they also like to burble on about our “Judeo-Christian” heritage (apparently the Greeks and Romans left us nothing).
Mind you, there’s a long history of people committing atrocities in the name of their Lord and Saviour (one of the reasons I grew out of belief).
Leaked Centrelink memo showed staff ordered not to process debt disputes.
The Centrelink fraud and cover-up is getting worse and worse.
Look, they are just giving people the run-around, hoping they’ll give up and pay.
I’ve been to the Centrelink office in Toowong. I actually took in a medical bill when I couldn’t find the claim form online. There is a big open foyer and a queue to the door, which moved quite quickly. It was a Human Services facility, not just Medicare or Centrelink. I was just given a form to fill out. There would be a single person there giving “help” who would redirect you somewhere else. That’s what you get in 10 minutes.
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