Human Services Robo-debt Servicing Debt or Welfare?

This quote below is extracted from the article below, it is a core statement and drives to the heart of the problem.

DHS acting deputy secretary of Integrity and Information Jason McNamara told the Finance and Public Administration References Committee on Friday the data-matching program went well.   “The department’s view would be, we wouldn’t agree with the proposition that it didn’t go that well,” McNamara said with no hesitation.

“Yeah … We’ve made it quite clear that we think the project has gone quite well. We’ve delivered lots of savings. We have quite a number of reviews already undertaken and we have changed some aspects of the system, we’ve improved aspects of the system but I don’t think we’d agree with the proposition that the project hasn’t gone well.

Committee chair Senator Jenny McAllister was gobsmacked and gave McNamara an opportunity to correct his response.  “Mr. McNamara, it was a disaster. It produced incredible anxiety for a very large number of citizens,” McAllister explained.

The focus on robodebt is savings and it is clear there is a disconnect as to the emotional and financial impact on Centrelink recipients. Thus making money out of the poor.

I’ve had a robodebt applied when I was evicted in June 2017 and became homeless. I notified the Job Provider within a week and experienced a delay from Centrelink. They were not responsive for a month. This apparently was assessed by an officer in August 2017 and the debt removed.  However, the same debt was reapplied later in the year. I contemplated whether this happened as I became a ‘conscientious objector’ to the corruption in the job provider system. I had written a letter critiquing the way job seekers are treated, the use of surveillance which seems to be triggered by the imposition of robodebt.  I asked many questions and sought answers to my rights, why an appeal did not uphold my right to say no to corruption.  I personally believe the debt is used to probe people who are deemed ‘Person of Interest’ (POI).  It is no wonder the private debt collector is actually called the Probe Group and this private company is not accountable to the public as it is sub-contracted by Human Services. I cannot get a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to find out what they did as their activities are under non-disclosure.  I had a person in a car in my friend’s drive filming.  I was homeless and what I required was not harassment to recover a (reinstated) debt ($200).  What I required was not Human Services to send a debt collector after me, given I had been suicidal, but to use the resources to assist me as is their duty of care and purpose under their own charter.

The emotional disconnect in my view, is the core problem and it highlights inequality on the basis of dependency on welfare and perceptions about unemployment with underlying perceptions of a person being of less value. Welfare recipients are considered unequal, I was told this by a Centrelink officer (not in equal partnership whilst in the system, outside equal). Thus rights appear to be revoked when one’s status is without a job, this seems to me like a vote.  Without money I have no vote, with money I have a vote and influence, is substantial funds. This is how capitalism creeps into democracy.  Capitalism is a trading system democracy is a social system that gives people the right to speak up, not discriminate, to share, be fair and equality before the law.  It was access to all public facilities, but as these are overtly and covertly sold off or transferred to the private sector, citizens rights are eroded, as they don’t own the asset, or even know.

I certainly did not have the right to say no to corruption.  That for me was deeply concerning as Job Providers are making money from unemployment, gaining credit for jobs they didn’t get, falsifying signatures in order to get Government welfare (for them) and changing their statistics to ensure they have more unemployed directed to their catchment.

In respect of communications between Centrelink, job providers and recipients there is no meaningful dialogue, Centrelink do not communicate in writing (all is via phone) so there is no email trail or accountability.

If a person on Centrelink doesn’t report an overpayment in respect of payments (below the poverty line) they suffer consequences of a breach or repayment. When income you depend on is cut then this targets a person’s sense of survival and security, it sends fear and anxiety into people, as they worry about not being able to pay rent, food or other necessities. The real fear is homelessness.

Is this how a government that believes in social security as a right should behaviour?  Or is it an ideological position that believes those on income support are bludges, entitled, not self reliant, and should be coerced to leave the system which they have a right to under the Australian Constitution.  Where can a homeless or unemployed person go for redress when the Government is causing hardship or has prejudicial beliefs about the right to welfare or indeed a belief the system should be abolished?  The jobless language has come from the United States. When I was there I saw tent cities in San Diego, I saw people living in tents in parks in Hawaii, and I knew this was not because the US had no money it was an ideology where winners are grinners and the poor can eat cake. Their own fault, this is victim blaming in bullying.  Clearly there is less than full employment, a condition that will never change as globalisation means other countries can produce products more cheaply. The digital revolution means people will purchase form overseas and this will collapse small to medium size business. Ironically the welfare recipients spend in local communities and this is what can sustain small business. It pump primes the economy.

Digital Transformation is about surveillance in my view not efficiency.  Although clearly there are efficiencies and if used wisely statistics can be used to understand attitudes and behaviours in order to serve the public.  The test ground for punitive coercive and compliance based approaches are targeted at the most vulnerable, as they will be ignorant and feel they have no power to say no.  So this is the place where changes are made and rights removed to evaluate how they respond.  These approaches will be rolled out into the community without debate and under the guise of drugs, alcohol and some other social harm.  Drugs are caused by suppressed emotions and low self esteem.  People sooth themselves by drugs to fend off the deep unhappiness and feelings of failure they feel.  Cashless cards are not the answer, peace education and personal inquiry are approaches that will enable self empowerment and self understanding to transform negative thoughts into an acceptance that life is a teacher and to learn from the experience.  My work was to revalue people in their own eyes and learn that negativity is when we lie to ourselves, self love is acceptance of self under all conditions. truth always feels good, naturally. No one fails, quite often we are failed, or not seen, or we have patterns that are self defeating perhaps taught by society or family.  We can rewire this for empowerment to remember our strengths, our positive moments and sense of gratitude for life itself.  It is to heal past hurts where we believe we are of lower worth.  Those hurts often are embedded in childhood but can be triggered over the course of a life.  Society typically mirrors this pain or shows up how we believe.

The digital and compliance changes are far reaching and intrusive into the lives of citizens.  When we move online we have to tick boxes of compliance, this is learning to say ‘yes’, sound familiar?  There is no box (or right) to say ‘no’, no means no access.  So it is coercive and privatised.  YOu have to tick the box which has a long page of legal terms no-one understands that essentially absolves the company of any responsiblity or accountability.  They can also state via access that permission to share data is a given. It is deceptive and dangerous as I have seen only too clearly when accountability is not enforced, people will take advantage of a globalised world, where legal interventions are only applicable in the nation you are in. A global company would be hard to hold to account as they are not citizens. Thus international courts become more important today.

I believe we are moving into a compliance global society (aka Brave New World – Aldus Huxley) away from a democratic rights based system to a control paradigm where rights are all but removed. The US and Israel moved out of the Human Rights Council which sent alarm bells ringing. The United Nations UNESCO program is substantially weakened and as a global body, they appear to not have any ability to pull countries into line who are committing crimes, particularly those with military power, resources and political power.

Global Democracy or systems of social empowerment are extremely important as they de-escalates grievances when rights are respected and resolved with dignity.  Conflict occurs when people feel threatened or that they have no right to defend themselves, no right to equal access, not right to land or excluded given income or no right to speak up about something that is not in their interests or it maybe toxic to health and safety.  Even the collapsing ecological situation is clearly not addressed by governments and business-as-usual has not changed to put the planet before profit.  Thus the onus is on citizens to speak up but in a compliance based world society this becomes difficult and criminalised.

Turning to the poorest people.  Self determination is empowerment and critical to mental health and wellbeing.  This is what the homeless and unemployed need in order to do the best they can to come out of dependency which the system creates. They do not ‘need’ dependency as it is used as a tool to force compliance and people into activities that are akin to slave labour.  Working for welfare not income at x4 the rate. They need to feel they can empower their lives to belong in society, enjoy a standard of living that is dignified rather than excluded, punished and criminalised for poverty.

I recall thinking at a Job Provider that skilled people need entrepreneurial hubs to bring people with compatible skills into clustered environments to develop ideas, products, services and businesses. Waiting for work is soul destroying given sluggish employment market conditions.  I note that there is an explosion of IT start ups that are nurtured, mentored and have access to funding by industry partners. I noted some are based at community TAFE colleges, thus showing me this is possible with political and business backing (Smart Cities agenda). The reason these IT hub start ups are happening is because those in IT see huge profits and they need to constantly innovate, so they encourage the young to get involved and they support this for their own ends, not the young people with their own talents, skills and visions.  The IT revolution is being orchestrated as data and information is considered ‘gold’ or a high value currency. Those with IT skills are believed to be the future workforce that is valued in this last boom. Those with different skills and interests are treated as if irrelevant.  The funding, interest is directed elsewhere and their lives redundant unless they comply or offer something a specific group consider is of ‘value’.  I would like to know who makes those decisions – Silicon Valley, the Government or Industry?  Or all of them together.  What do the people want?  Who cares?

How does the industry that sells computers, IT products, apps become genuinely sustainable in a world where clearly the climate has changed. Moreover, real sustainability is balance with nature, it is peace within ourselves in balance.  For the inner world reflects the outer world, that is a truism most don’t know.  We are what we see.  What we believe we will see, therefore thoughts are powerful.  We are producing items that are not ‘needs’ but addictive ‘wants’ to keep the profits coming. The products in the manufacturing process are produced with chemicals, componentry, raw materials, electronics, additives, genetic modification and pollutants as by-products, that in the end are thrown out through built in obsolescence. The waste is inconceivable.

How is digital going to rebuilt an economic collapse? How are cyber experts going to calm panic?  How will IT ensure food for people when 3/4 are today without food and potable water?

Hunger stats refer:


  • Globally 150 million under-five-year olds were estimated to be stunted in 2017. (UNICEF, WHO, & The World Bank, 2018).
  • The global trend in stunting prevalence and numbers affected is decreasing. Between 2000 and 2017 stunting prevalence declined from 33 percent to 22 percent and numbers declined from 198 million to 150 million (UNICEF, WHO, & The World Bank, 2018).
  • In 2017, about half of all stunted children under five years of age lived in Asia and over one-third in Africa (UNICEF, WHO, & The World Bank, 2018).

Top 20 Poverty Facts

I am homeless yet when I’ve made contact with those digitally savvy, what I found was that there was no empathy for my situation as I was not on Centrelink and there was no money to be made out of my situation, I was ignored. So I opted out as it was clear no-one cared.  I requested not a handout but empowerment and those who could facilitate this did not as judgement was there as it appeared they want dependency.  I can’t see IT fixing this or even comprehending it no matter cross tabulations and analysis (I am a former analyst). Without a comprehensive understanding of qualitative data (feelings, depth) real analysis cannot happen.  By all means data analytics will gather, group, classify and count data but the real investigative analysis won’t happen as profit is not there. I noted some are helping the poor to feel good about themselves or to be seen to be providing help for the homeless, good corporate citizens.  I found it fake. Real help is empowerment not databases, emails, reports, endless data without real contact with people.  This is the psychological distancing that happens through technology.  I have found technology facilitates disconnection not connection.  It is the opposite.  We have to be able to translate statistics into learning and growing rather than knowledge as power without wisdom.  Wisdom in truth is knowledge applied (practicalised with balanced emotional intelligence and values).  This is an integrated human who problem solves but with a clear feeling for the other, not in a stance of superiority (knowledge power) or profit maximisation but in a space of service to humanity, meeting real needs as the ultimate outcome. This is what it means to feel good about what you are doing rather than thinking it is the bottom line of a balance sheet. Money never bought anyone happiness, pleasure yes but real meaning, no. That comes from human to human service that cannot be priced, as it is invaluable.  When you want to end your life or are hungry or struggling no one wants to know the facts, they are interested in a kind word that is genuine, a sense they are not alone and really heard and of value as a human being rather than valuing by statistics in respect of compliance and economic activity as human worth.  It is not.

How does IT build functional happy families as the social fabric disintegrates? How does IT balance the left and right hemisphere when STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) favours logic argued as generating economic growth in a infinite growth paradigm that is sinking the natural system?  The real life support is the planet it is not a resource, it is the very foundation of life itself.  This is lost in statistics that blind us to the reality around us.  We can’t see the wood for the trees, they say.

How does disconnected logic open the heart of compassion or say the words needed to be heard to resolve conflict personally and use dialogue to de-escalate misunderstanding globally?  I regard uncontrolled IT as a digital disruption in respect of rewiring our brain (neural networks, children) to no longer notice each other, to not witness a crime (looking down), to not feel empathy (unaware of person crying), to believe what we see on screens is reality without critical thinking or feeling a shared sense of humanity.

We become atomised, lonely, isolated, fearful, anxious, disconnected from our meaning, passion and unable to feel or follow our dreams and if we dare to express ourselves in this brave new world, in my view, technology will shut us down as there is a zero tolerance to diverse views. If we affect profits of some multinational company, we can go to jail for raising issues of abuse or potential harm. We don’t even look at people as we walk past. We plug in and switch off.

Is this the type of world that creates a culture of peace and social order?  The violence we witness on violent video games, movies and events around the world are not going to create peace and understanding.  There is a wise saying about a grandfather and two wolves. He tells his grand child that one wolf is compassionate, kind, loving, friendly, sharing and caring the other is cruel, aggressive, controlling, detached and abusive.  He tells the child the wolves are having a fight.  He asks the child – which one do you think will win?  The child doesn’t know.  He says – the one you feed.  This is the reality.

Digital transformation if it is used to track and profile people, to take money as punishment for non compliance without any emotional response to real life (not real time) circumstances.   If a person is cut off due to concerns about corruption and a decision to live in integrity, this renders the homeless person outside of the system without any support or access to help.  If  we move to a cashless society (currently tested on indigenous groups, cashless card), then this means every activity is recorded, tracked, archived in profiles as government is not small but increasingly controlling the lives of people. Those who do not comply are outside.  If universal basic income is brought in to create mainstream dependency and the economy collapses, then they will be in the same situation.  In China this brave new world future is manifesting as they can wear digital glasses and bring up a profile of a person and decide if they social credits or have them deducted or cut off.  A person who complies they receive social credits, if they do not comply they lose social credits (or we could replace that with demerit points).  The State dictates what you should think, say and do to be approved of or not.

Therefore, is digital transformation about surveillance or efficiency?

This is a very important question.

The answer will be reflected in the treatment of people and whether rights are respected or not. This is basic equality.

Until you walk a mile in my moccasins you cannot know the reality I experience.  I now regard the homeless as my people and I feel a connection to them. Until I became homeless I didn’t realise how they are indeed the mirror of society.  How you respond to them speaks more about you then them.  They are me in reality. No IT program can see that, humanity’s spark is not an algorithm.

The article below speaks about robodebt and attitudes within Human Services.  It is insightful.  It is time to wake up. I send love to all.

The Australian government and the loose definition of IT projects ‘working well’

Straight-faced, a Department of Human Services representative told a Senate committee its data-matching ‘robodebt’ project went well, because it produced savings.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) found itself in the spotlight last year after kicking off a data-matching program of work that saw it automatically issue debt notices to those in receipt of welfare payments through the country’s Centrelink scheme.

The Online Compliance Intervention (OCI) program had automatically compared the income people declared to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) against income declared to Centrelink, and the debt notice — along with a 10 percent recovery fee — was subsequently issued when a disparity in government data was detected.

One large error in the system was that it was incorrectly calculating a recipient’s income, basing a recipient’s fortnightly pay on their annual salary rather than taking a cumulative 26-week snapshot of what an individual was paid.

Read more: Senate Committee recommends Centrelink reassess previous robo-debts

Between November 2016 and March 2017, at least 200,000 people were affected by the system. During this period, the department sent approximately 20,000 letters per week generated by an automated system that came to be known colloquially as “robodebt”.

The response from the Australian public was less than pleasant. Halting the system had been requested at length by the federal opposition, and a Senate Community Affairs References Committee reported to the government in June it had repeatedly heard from individuals that the OCI system had caused them feelings of anxiety, fear, and humiliation, and dealing with the system had been an incredibly stressful period of their lives.

But all of that aside, DHS acting deputy secretary of Integrity and Information Jason McNamara told the Finance and Public Administration References Committee on Friday the data-matching program went well.

“The department’s view would be, we wouldn’t agree with the proposition that it didn’t go that well,” McNamara said with no hesitation.

“Yeah … We’ve made it quite clear that we think the project has gone quite well. We’ve delivered lots of savings. We have quite a number of reviews already undertaken and we have changed some aspects of the system, we’ve improved aspects of the system but I don’t think we’d agree with the proposition that the project hasn’t gone well.”

Committee chair Senator Jenny McAllister was gobsmacked and gave McNamara an opportunity to correct his response.

“Mr. McNamara, it was a disaster. It produced incredible anxiety for a very large number of citizens,” McAllister explained.

To McNamara, the most important metric the committee should use in determining the success of the data-matching program is the cost savings.

“People are always being required to tell us [of a] change in circumstances. That’s always been the case. The fact that some people have not, and the fact that our data-matching has shown that, and that is some period of after which they didn’t tell us, we still have a responsibility to assess that and understand that,” he continued.

According to McNamara, AU$900 million has been recognised as “due” through income matching, with DHS having recovered AU$270 million to-date.

In recent times Australia has seen the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) unprepared to fend-off the smallest definition of a DDoS attack, resulting in shutting down the 2016 Census; and a string of outages experienced by the ATO, from “one-of-a-kind” SAN outages to mainframe reboots.

The Australian Electoral Commission also recontracted Fuji Xerox to deliver a “similar” ballot scanning system for the next federal election to the one the Australian National Audit Office recently called out for lacking on the security front.

The same committee also heard last week that 54 Australian government websites were pulled for maintenance on one 2017 weekend, without an interim solution put in place.

There’s also been newly shaped entities such as the Department of Home Affairs that has a range of IT problems as a result of a “mish-mash” merger and a lack of understanding of the “cyber” in cybersecurity; departments killing IT projects after spending the cash; and those holding critical citizen information happy to fend off cyber attacks by themselves.

But it’s going to be fine because the Australian government has a Digital Transformation Agency that can provide assistance to departments on IT-related projects if they’re called upon.

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Mohandas Gandhi

“My life is my message.”