Complaints soar against Australian government’s welfare agency
7 November 2017
More than 55 million phone calls to Centrelink, the Australian government welfare office, were met with a busy signal during the 2015–16 financial year—nearly double the 29 million a year before. A Senate estimates committee was belatedly told last month of this extraordinary rise, which had been hidden from public view.
Millions of welfare recipients were unable to get through to the agency that administers their payments, causing enormous frustration, anxiety and anger. Already struggling to survive on benefits that are far below the poverty line—single unemployed workers receive less than $40 a day—they were forced to spend hours waiting on phones.
This is another measure of the Liberal-National Coalition government’s contempt for those who depend on welfare, especially unemployed or disabled workers, and aged pensioners, as well as its determination to push them off benefits. In effect, the phone logjam is the latest in an endless series of moves by successive governments, both Coalition and Labor, to slash welfare spending at the expense of the working class.
Being unable to contact Centrelink can have serious consequences for some of society’s most impoverished and vulnerable members. This includes being cut off benefits for failing to report information, or being unable to complete applications for benefits. In the same year, the government accused tens of thousands of welfare recipients of falsely claiming payments worth $2.8 billion.
The government’s hostility toward social security dependents was further displayed at the Senate hearing. Department of Human Services official Renee Leon blamed automatic dialling apps for the sharp rise in failed…