Dignity Not Debt: End Centrelink Debt Debacle rally
Today's rally, at lunch-time outside the State Library of Victoria, was hosted by the Unemployed Workers' Union which is protesting the Federal Governments' outrageous changes to Centrelink. As they put it: We work hard and pay tax our entire lives - so when we or our families hit hard times there is a safety net. But this blue tie government wants to rip away our safety net - so it can gift multinationals tax free profits and fearful workers.
The Union's demands are 4-fold: 1 Abolish Debt Recovery Scheme; 2 Dignity for social security recipients; 3 Restore adequate funding to Centrelink; 4 Lift payments above the poverty line.
A word about the Debt Recovery Scheme: Passed into law in December 2016, it ensured that last Christmas was a particularly harsh and scary one for many already-marginalized people across Australia. Centrelink staff had warned their management that the new system was fatally flawed - that people with no debt would inevitably be falsely accused. In many cases that is exactly what has happened. And challenging or attempting to reverse Centrelink decisions is proving a harrowing, humiliating and time-consuming experience for thousands of our fellow citizens.
|Centrelink staff member at protest|
That this experience has echoes world-wide was captured in a must-see British film, 'I Daniel Blake', which coincidentally was released in Australia also late last year. Below is a letter from my friend Francine McCabe, published in The Age, which eloquently makes the link:
I have recently seen the excellent and hard hitting Ken Loach film: I Daniel Blake. Primarily, this film concerns the struggles of a widowed middle aged carpenter and a young single mother who meet at government offices in England when seeking state welfare and income support.
We see an inordinate number of hurdles, some rigid staff and complex processes to navigate as they desperately seek a listening ear and assistance - very similar to the nightmarish experiences of many people seeking income support in Australia. 'Clients' may believe a primary function of Centrelink is to minimise the number of people receiving or seeking assistance.
I would recommend that this movie be used for mandatory orientation and on going development activities for policy makers, management and staff of the Commonwealth Department of Human Services (Centrelink) and contracted Job Services Agencies.
Considering and discussing issues raised would be beneficial for staff - most of whom are trying to do a good job in a difficult and complex environment.
The great thing about the protest was that so many of the unions have endorsed it - the Electrical Trades Union of Australia, Victoria Branch and the National Tertiary Education Union to name just two.
|Unions, unions everywhere|
There were some inspiring speakers, including the Federal Leader of the Greens Richard di Natale.
|Richard di Natale|
But the show stealer for me was Willing Older Workers' Marilyn King, who spoke from experience and from the heart about the plight of older unsuccessful job seekers.
Daniel Blake, frustrated and impotent in the face of heartless bureaucracy, eventually in defiance scrawled his name in huge letters on the wall of his local Centrelink-equivalent building. Passing strangers shouted their support as he was pulled away by the police. Today's rally is a demonstration that, here in Australia, people in Daniel Blake's situation need no longer stand alone. They have numerous supporters who will march with them until this unjust situation is rectified.