Law-abiding Age Pensioners are the vulnerable people now targeted by Centrelink in what I can only describe as a new low. Rather than recouping the billions of dollars in JobKeeper pocketed by profitable businesses, the Federal Government is instead targeting older Australians in a cruel and mindless attempt to claw back money. And again, just like robodebt, they’re doing it with useless automated systems that cost a bundle to create, but achieve nothing but terrorise the most vulnerable in the community.
Deputy Speaker, computer-generated letters are being fired off to older Australians in a barely comprehensible form, demanding financial records dating back years with the deadline often only one week away. Moreover each carries the threat of cancelling payments, which we saw just recently in media reports of an 80-year-old man living in a nursing home with advanced dementia whose pension was cancelled because he didn’t provide requested documentation.
“Shocked, bullied and panicked” … that’s how another octogenarian felt after opening a three-page letter from Centrelink demanding she supply financial records dating back a startling 17 years.
“I’m just so stressed, I don’t understand why they’re doing this – the pension is the only income we have” … yet another 83-year-old woman told my office last week. Both she and her husband suffer serious health issues, her husband needing assistance simply to breathe.
Indeed since commenting publicly about this issue I’ve received correspondence from Age Pensioners right across Australia sharing their stories. And overwhelmingly people feel offended by the way Centrelink questions their integrity, and fearful that by inadvertently doing the wrong thing they may be accused of fraud.
And then there’s the worry of having pension payments cut when they rely on that money to live. Deputy Speaker these are good people who have always paid their bills on time, paid their taxes and done what they can to be good citizens. So receiving a letter from a federal government agency suggesting otherwise is obviously deeply distressing.
Of course Deputy Speaker the explanation given by the Department and Minister is that these letters protect Age Pensioners from debt. What nonsense. What they actually do is create more work for already over-burdened and under-resourced Centrelink staff, and force older Australians to jump through unnecessary hoops.
So Deputy Speaker how about we start treating older Australians with respect and provide them with a service that assists and supports them like our social security system was designed to do, starting with ditching these crappy automated systems.
Yes, that would require more staff and better training. Yes, that would require more face-to-face services and better ways of communicating with people. But that’s exactly what’s required Deputy Speaker, exactly what’s required if we are to start treating older Australians fairly, and with respect.