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Friday, 13 January 2017 12:01

Centrelink mess is what the government wants

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The mess created by the Australian Government's bid to automate the search for people who are cheating on their welfare entitlements shows no sign of disappearing, with ministers standing by the methods used.

These methods have been shown to be generating false positives by many media organisations but the government refuses to budge.

The view of many is that this is typical political behaviour: make a mistake and then refuse to own up to it.

But a different theory appears to be more logical: Malcolm Turnbull and his ministers are refusing to budge because they want a situation of this kind to exist.

Yes, this is not a cock-up, this is an intended outcome.

An examination of the news that has wiped the Centrelink bungle from the headlines provides some illumination: it is all about ministers shoving their snouts into the trough and spending public money as though it was going out of style.

One could argue that this is standard fare as far as Australian politicians are concerned. True, but additionally the recent news of this disgusting display of entitlement comes at a time when public funds are low and predicted to go even lower.

Hence the Centrelink bungle. It does one thing: it scares the bejesus out of anyone who is contemplating an application to Centrelink for welfare to which they are rightly entitled. The horror stories of people who have been forced to repay money in the latest bungle is enough to keep many others at bay.

And this is the reason why the government wanted such a system in place: less money for welfare bludgers means more money for government ministers to spend, spend, spend. The principle appears to be that all Australians are equal, but government ministers are more equal than others.

I have little experience of Centrelink, but a recent visit with my son, who wanted to put in an application for any allowances to which he was entitled, showed clearly that this is not the most efficient outfit in the country.

When the computer systems there could not be used to input his application, he was casually told to go back and do it at home. Back home, the form filling took the better part of two hours as the application repeatedly got stuck, each time offering the insane advice that one should try later as the system was experiencing some difficulties.

Such issues, plus the fact that one often has to wait four hours or more to speak to a human being at Centrelink, have served to keep many away from ever contacting the organisation.

But the government apparently is not content with stripping Centrelink of funds to make it incompetent to this extent. So it has devised an automated system that will put the fear of Moses into young and old who have been dealt a rough hand in life and ensure that they do not try to ever apply for welfare.

New applicants to Centrelink will thus be kept to a minimum. And there will be plenty in the trough for poor pollies to dip their snouts and keep foraging.

Just one more indication that the myth of public service is just that – a myth.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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