Now that it’s “old news”, the articles about automated welfare debts (AWDs) have disappeared from the print and digital mass media.
Not that the policy oppression is any less: it’s just that the relatively sympathetic stories of harsh and unjust impacts have run their course of shock value.
The trouble was that they were presented as mistakes/clumsiness/unintended consequences – very few acknowledged that the policy was working exactly as intended, though the PR was badly handled.
The sector of welfare recipients it was aimed at are not the poorest in Australian society. The latter are not even on welfare. They are homeless people unable to register and some Indigenous people unwilling to put up with the humiliations of the “sequestered payments” system.
No, the target of AWDs is the growing group of Australians who slip in and out of Newstart due to intermittent, uncertain and variable income. This is because only that group generates real income to be brutally wrenched back by the federal government – it explicitly stated that the initial target was $4 billion.
The intention of the AWDs is both to discipline people on welfare in general, and to specifically claw back significant sums to government coffers so that corporate welfare and tax cuts to corporations can continue.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has just released acritical report into AWDs, but again it concentrates on injustices and mistakes rather than the system’s rationale. It states that up to 20 percent (possibly $3,075,503 worth) of demands to repay debt were incorrectly issued – but that in turn means 80% (possibly $12 billion) was correctly issued. On these figures, up to $15 billion in debt notices have already been issued. Even though some will be dropped and others reduced, this indicates that the federal government’s target of $4 billion is well on its way to being realised, if not more.
As more and more Australians have to rely on underemployment, more and more revenue can be squeezed from this large section of the working class. Under the cosh of both government and employers, only collective action can prevent ruthless and deepening exploitation of these workers.
Existing unions need to offer a better service to attract them, or new organisations must arise such as the new Retail and Fast Food Workers’ Union. Meanwhile, organisations such as the Anti-Poverty Network (South Australia) and the Unemployed Workers’ Union (national, but mainly Victoria) can help organise from the other end of the system.