Thursday, 25 December 2008


Inevitably, Australia's interpretation of the 'welfare state' has evolved - in some ways for the better.
If you think about it, the philosophy of 'mutual obligation' has a lot of nett benefits … as long as it applies to everyone!
It never has. It never will.

It's long been my contention that the ¿service? I term 'Clink' - the sound made by a single dried-out brain cell rattling around an empty skull - needs a bloody good reaming out.
In fact, it needs a Senate enquiry followed by an overhaul.
Somewhere over the past 20 years Australian society - the collective 'we' (comprising taxpayers, 'leaders' / legislators and administrators) - has lost sight of the original intent of 'welfare' as a safety-net.
Clink has become exclusivist, obstructionist and adversarial rather than inclusive and helpful.

In achieving this sorry political ideal Clink has devolved into a sanctuary for incompetence.
(As with education and health, alas, too many good operators have given up and moved on.)

Clink imposes the strictest of requirements on its 'clients' while failing to meet the lowest standards of professionalism.
Too much power, too little accountability. It's as simple as that.

If I ran my business the way they ran theirs, I'd disappear up my own backside (just like them).

My evidence is merely anecdotal: I know eight or ten Clink 'clients' fairly well; I've heard depressingly familiar stories from many more.
Most of them simply can't get consistently accurate (honest) information or consistent responses out of these bozos.
Here's a typical scenario:
1. 'Client' X calls on Monday and (after waiting in a queue indefinitely) receives 'advice A'.
This information usually doesn't tally with Clink's documentation, so …
2. She calls again on Tuesday and receives 'advice B', which invariably contradicts A.
3. Then she sacrifices other commitments and turns up to an appointment on Thursday with sufficient documentation to cover the requirements of both A and B.
Guess what?
4. Advice C both contradicts and supercedes the earlier advice. Trip wasted. In total, hours wasted. Clink accountability? Zero.
5. And so the cycle continues.
These days, one of Clink's core functions is to break people's spirits.
They'll never own up. They'll never tell the truth. Stuff the lot of 'em!

Without a doubt, it's a political thing. It's a policy thing.
Driven by the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the market agenda: Labor and Liberal.

Don't get me started on 'Work for the Dole' (still operating under a different title). Suffice it to say, WFTD was never about getting anyone 'working' - and even less concerned with building better (more employable) citizens.
Don't get me started on Clink's role in cooking the books to help successive governments publish favourable employment stats.

If mutual obligation had an ounce of validity, any number of dysfunctional, agenda-serving ministers from the Howard and Rudd governments (Reith, Andrews, Ruddock, Downer - plus Conroy and possibly Garrett for starters) would be out on their arses.
(A couple of the former might even be serving prison time.)

That's enough ranting for now.
I've got a lot more to say about where the unemployed, the disabled, aged pensioners, single parents (etc.) fit into the global economy - in terms of their generally small enviro-footprint AND the Return on Investment they offer in terms of a more sustainable future - but will postpone this argument to ensure my key point is made …
Clink is f*cked. Clink needs fixing.

To close this particular attack, I'm going to cite, completely unedited (and with permission), a post I read the other day about how Clink 'functions'.
It was part of an online discussion pursuant to Kevin 747's Umpteenth Plan: to reduce homelessness in Australia by 50% by 2020.
(We all know - and most people (by now) hope - Kev'll be long gone by then.
I'll be happy to bet he'll be chairing that Nirvana of Inaction, the UN - prattling on smugly, happily and bi-lingually.)

To put the following into context, Y asks a question - "What changes would you suggest?" - and Z responds in beautiful detail …

What changes would you suggest?

Wow, where to begin?

Okay, to start with they can stop referring to the people using a Centrelink-provided service as "clients" and "customers". Its a ridiculous, politically correct waste of time that I (personally) find insulting to my intelligence. If I was a "customer" of Centrelink, I'd be taking my business elsewhere because their "customer service" sucks. But you can't go elsewhere, so they can drop the pretense of being like other large institutions (banks, shops and other businesses). I don't care what they refer to those people as, so long as it doesn't give the impression that they have any kind of choice in the matter.

Second, they can fix their computer systems. Centrelink's system doesn't (currently) interface properly with the system used by Job Providers. Job Providers log someone in as having turned up for job training and it doesn't show up on Centrelink's system, so they cut off your payments.

Third, they need to recognize that mentally ill people are mentally ill. They might not remember they have an appointment (Alzheimer's), they might be aggressive to staff (paranoid schizophrenia) and they might not even understand WTF you're saying to them (impaired cognitive function i.e. brain damage). The mentally ill person also can't help that they're flapped in the head.

Forth, the Income and Assets test needs to be reversed. Instead of you having to prove you don't have any money, they should have to prove you do before refusing payment especially in cases where the mentally ill are involved.

Fifth, I've also discovered that up to one third of the social services sector consists of people employed solely to inform members of the public that they can't actually help them and to distribute lists of other organizations that might be able to.

Sixth, if the people who work at Centrelink are supposed to be professionals, they need to be able to exercise some level of discretion if, in their professional opinion, a situation warrants a non-check box response. I know adding some flexibility opens the system up for cheating, but you can cheat it easily already just by knowing which boxes to tick on the forms. End result is that you still have a system that can be abused, but that can actually function for non-standard cases as well.

Here's my own personal scenario from earlier in the year:

What should have happened:

[Dad] Apply for Aged Pension, granted.
[Me] apply for Carer's Payment, granted.
What actually happened:

[Dad] Applied for Aged Pension, rejected, appealed rejection, rejection upheld, appealed again, gave up appeal in frustration, applied for Disability Support Pension, rejected, appealed, rejection upheld, applied for Newstart Allowance, granted, applied for exemption from looking for work due to sickness, exemption granted, applied for Disability Support Pension again, granted.
[Me] Applied for Carer's Payment, rejected, appealed, rejection upheld, appealed, rejection upheld again, applied for Newstart Allowance, granted, applied for exemption from looking for work due to sickness, granted, exemption expired, applied again for exemption, granted, applied for councelling session with psychologist due to impending mental breakdown, attended sessions with psychologist and bitched about Centrelink, psychologist diagnosed severe depression, anxiety, hypertension, grief, asked how I was still standing...exemption expired, applied again for exemption, granted, got Dad some money, made a few calls, got a new job, called Centrelink manager and suggested they attempt auto-copulation for making the whole saga stretch out for six and a half months.
Yeah, I lied and cheated the system and my Dad (who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease) would be on the streets if I hadn't, so I did what I needed to do and make absolutely no apologies for it.

You know what I needed? Some bloody time off to get my Dad's affairs sorted out and find him a nice nursing home to spend the next few years in while he turns into a vegetable. Knowing that he'd be flapped if I just handed everything over to the social welfare system, how could I do that and still sleep at night? I don't even particularly like my father, but I wouldn't wish Centrelink on my worst enemy.

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