Being disabled is not a crime
Monday October 16th 2006, 11:12 am

I didn't give up my rights to privacy when I lost the ability to work!

When people are convicted of serious crimes, they can be jailed, placed on house arrest and their lives monitored in extreme detail by parole and probation officers. Rights to privacy are withdrawn; crims’ houses can be searched at the will of supervisory officers.

The Liberal Party now wants to give Centrelink the ability to obtain warrants to enter and search the homes of benefit recipients as though they were common criminals.

Misha Schubert writes in The Age:

The fraud detection regime would apply to the 2.2 million households on family tax benefits and those on the dole, student payments, disability benefits and aged pension.

[...]

Centrelink officers now do not have the power to enter people’s homes without an invitation unless they are accompanying police on a raid.

[...]

Centrelink general manager Hank Jongen told The Age the laws would improve the agency’s ability to investigate serious fraud. He said the powers were in line with those of other agencies, including the Child Support Agency, and would help simplify investigation processes that currently placed a heavy burden on the Australian Federal Police.

[...]

The proposal comes on top of existing covert surveillance, such as secret filming of home carers and people on age pensions. The Department of Families and Community Services has confirmed, in an answer to a question on notice from Labor’s Senate leader Chris Evans, that such work is even being done by private contractors.

I was in a near-fatal prang with a drunk on July 25, 1990. Got plowed off a motorcycle by a ‘first offender‘ who blew an astonishing .18% BAC. If you can find your keys at .18%, much less sucessfully pilot a car for about 20 blocks as did this gal, you’re a professional drunk- and have done this many, many times before being caught. This pisspot woman ran a red light in front of me and promptly fled the scene, only to be apprehended about an hour later.

I hit the drunk’s car squarely in the left front wheel at about 60km/h, separated from the bike and flew about 75 feet (22m), landing on my chest, which broke a few ribs and caused my heart to go into fibrillation from the impact. I bounced and rolled a few more times, sprained both ankles, left wrist and elbow and sustained two spinal injuries. Ironically, it was the same Bell Aerostar helmet which prevented certain death by skull fracture which almost certainly caused a neck injury by increasing the torque force on my spine at impact. You win some, you lose some.

Fortunately, the accident occurred just 3 minutes by ambulance away from a ‘level 1 trauma care centre,’ this particular L1 being highly skilled in treating severe motor vehicle accident victims. The fibrillation was sorted quickly by the best damn paramedics on earth (and I’ll always believe that, no matter what), but I still suffered several months of temporary paralysis on my left side, similar to a stroke.

In the few weeks after the accident, I had 6 knee surgeries (4 on the left, 2 on the right) one involving a bone graft from my right hip, installation of a couple of stainless steel plates and 10 very expensive looking stainless bone bolts in my right knee. If I had been billed by the bolt, each one would have set me back about $2000. After about a year in hospital, though followed several years of abuse by physioterrorists, I returned to work. Due to foot-dragging by the drunk’s insurance company in paying off my medical bills, I was sued for non-payment by the orthopaedic surgeon who repaired my knees (thanks, asshole).

I continued working until 2001 when due to arthritic complications of old injuries and limited disabled access facilites in Australia, my knees, neck and back needed a day off just to deal with commuting to work, much less working a full day. I applied for a Disability Support Pension (DSP), which after a medical exam lasting a bit under 3 minutes, was granted by Centrelink promptly and with no quibbles.

However, since I have been collecting a DSP, each time I have moved house with my housemate, I have been interrogated by Centrelink as to my relationship with this person. Yes, we’ve shared a house for the last 7 years, but it’s as simple as this- we’re very successful housemates. I can no longer do my own grocery shopping, but my housemate gets a free 24/7 onsite I/T support person in exchange for pushing a trolley once a week.

One particularly aggressive Centrelink investigation accused me of being the father of my housemate’s daughter, who was born in 1983; never you mind that I’d never visited Australia until 1996 and the child’s mother has not once visted my motherland, the United States. Centrelink sent more than 40 pages of questionnaires, 98% of which pertained to situations inapplicable to us, such as a separated couple still sharing the same house. The forms were returned to Centrelink with ‘N/A’ scrawled across most of the pages. After several letters from Centrelink which had threatened to halt my DSP payments, they finally saw the light and sent a determination letter indicating that Centrelink had concluded we were not in a de-facto relationship and that my payments would continue.

If my housemate were male, I’d have suffered absolutely no queries from Centrelink. However, simply because my housemate is female, we were subjected to invasive questioning such as ‘Do you have a sexual relationship with [Person A]?’ Centrelink can also solicit the opinions of our neighbours. If the neighbours (who really don’t know us very well) were to say that we ‘appear to be a couple,’ Centrelink would have a basis to discontinue my benefit. Centrelink can legally covertly film our house to obtain evidence to halt my benefits.

My DSP with rent assistance pays my end of the rent, buys some groceries and covers part of the utilities. It amounts to about $303 per week, around $16,000 per year. Whoo-ee, we’re in the money… not! mgk costs about $20 a month to run and I only pay half of that. Every once in a while I splash out and buy Tim Tams or Mint Slices. Damn you, Arnotts, for making them not only expensive but addictive as well… If I did not have a housemate with a full-time job, I’d be doing it much, much harder than I am.

I know a fellow, engaged as a private investigator, who says that you wouldn’t see much change out of $3000 for a week’s worth of 24 hour covert video surveillance. This is what Centrelink is spending to go after the estimated 0.5% (one-half of one percent) of benefit recipients rorting the system, which is among the lowest rates of fraud in countries with welfare systems.

Would someone please point out the part of this story where I became a criminal, deserving of no rights to privacy? I don’t recall one bit of the trial and I don’t know what I’ve been sentenced to, aside from public demonisation by John Howard and a continuing, daily threat to unhouse me with covert survillance.

Mind you, I’m a very lucky benefit recipient. I speak English as my first language and I’m well aware of my rights. I’m completely capable of dealing with challenges by Centrelink. Other benefit recipients won’t be so lucky, even if Howard’s draconian criminalisation of benefit recipients doesn’t pass muster in Parliament.

Another one of John Howard’s pet demonisations of benefit recipients appears in Welfare to Work.’ This scheme has got some serious flaws that are putting innocents in dire straits.

‘Welfare To Work’ now specifies that single or separated parents of school-age children no longer are granted the ‘Parenting Payment, Single’ (PPS) benefit, rather they are put on the ‘Newstart Allowance’ unemployment benefit and are required to look for 10 jobs per week. Any person will be hard-pressed to find any sort of employment if they have difficulty with English. ‘Welfare To Work’ contains new provisions which allow for a suspension of benefits for 8 weeks (yep, two months) if a Newstart recipient does not fulfill their ‘participation obligations’ of looking for work.

Mind you, none of this is the fault of Centrelink. It is all political bluster, fuelled by the misguided myths of widespread welfare fraud, spread by people who have never had to collect nor live on a benefit. This downward envy is all about the Howard Government and the Liberal Party levering a popular myth for political advantage, on the backs of those least able to fight back.

I won’t wear it.

Humans live in community for mutual support. Some can contribute to the support of others in addition to supporting themselves- as I did for many years before I lost the ability to work. Some folks can’t support themselves at all for various reasons.

Falling on hard times or losing the ability to work is NOT a crime… and it’s time we stopped treating benefit recipients like criminals.

-weez

hat tip to Lefty for this one.


8 Comments so far
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I have a friend who works for the Commonwealth Ombudsman that previously did volunteer work giving legal advice for a Welfare rights group. She told me similar stories to yours regarding Centrelink’s invasive attitude towards female/male cohabitation. Personally, having been unemployed for just over half a year when I was 18 and then trying to live on Auststudy for several years, I have no intention of having to do that again. Anyone who thinks that living in a major city on unemployment or DSP benefits is easy has two feet planted in an alternate universe to the one we’re living in.

Comment by dj 10.16.06 @ 3:02 pm

Why the smeg should someone’s sexual life have ANYTHING to do with Centrelink, anyway?

Two people share a house as housemates. Makes no difference to Centrelink (you’ve almost got to share a house to survive on NewStart, anyway).

Those two people are male and female and have sex?

Both their payments are cut.

Why? A tax on sex? “They’ve found happiness whilst on the dole! THIS MUST COST THEM!!!”

Centrelink assumes that having sex somehow lessens your basic living expenses. Er, somehow.

And people living together is the whole basis for why Centrelink feels it needs to break into people’s homes. How about saving all that enforcement money, and leave people’s sex lives alone, you prudish bastards!

Comment by MrLefty 10.16.06 @ 3:26 pm

Lefty, I think this idiocy starts from the ludicrous sexist bias against single mums. Apparently, when a single mum takes a new male partner, the bloke is obligated to ‘take her off the government’s hands.’

It really throws a wrench in the government’s gears when the roles are ‘reversed’- that is, the single mum is well employed but her new partner is on benefits. She’s clearly obligated to ‘take HIM off the government’s hands.’

Of course, this isn’t the case with me and my housemates, because of course, we’re merely housemates.

Misha Schubert tells me that Joe ‘Smartcard’ Hockey is in charge of this nonsense. Readers are strongly encouraged to give Hockey an earful.

Comment by weez 10.17.06 @ 8:19 am

Of course, the Govt needs to verify that my 6 year old is indeed special needs, has expressive/receptive language delays, which in turn affects his learning abilities along with his low muscle tone and toileting issues..all so they can substantiate the $$ they pay which; if I am lucky; is enough to cover his fortnightly private speech pathologists, O/T, and general medical expenses. Hey, here’s an idea…PROPERLY FUND THE EDUCATION SYSTEM for these kids. Then We would’nt need Carers Allowance..shitheels.

Comment by Supamum 10.19.06 @ 4:44 pm

[...] Every reason given by the Howard Gubmint justifying any real need for the Access Card has more holes than Jarlsberg. The primary excuse levers downward envy of single mums and disabled pensioners, claiming that the Access Card will reduce welfare fraud. Problem is, Australia has a rate of welfare fraud of around 0.5%- among the lowest in all countries with welfare systems. Presuming that the Access Card would eliminate ALL welfare fraud, the proposed $10 billion cost would spend the savings from fraud reduction many, many times over. Governments don’t throw cash around like that. There’s a benefit they’re seeking to obtain that J-Ho ain’t telling you about. [...]

Pingback by mgk: Machine Gun Keyboard 01.03.07 @ 3:10 pm

Since I have been on DSP, they have had private investigators rent the unit across from me and spy on me 24/7 and I have nothing to hide but it is a huge invasion of privacy and it should be against the law but there is nothing I can Do! So much for the Justice System of Australia!!!!

Comment by Linda 05.29.10 @ 2:05 pm

Linda, are you certain the people in the unit are Centrelink investigators? Remember, on a maximum benefit, a DSP recipient is costing the govt about $17,000/yr. Consider the roughly $20,000/yr cost of a lease and $45-50,000/yr salary of one investigator. Centrelink investigators don’t often lease a flat just to observe one person. They will tend to observe a subject sporadically and interview some people who may be in contact with you instead.

Comment by weez 05.29.10 @ 2:53 pm

Linda, as an afterthought, if you feel you are being victimised by Centrelink, get in touch with the folks at the National Welfare Rights Network.

Comment by weez 05.29.10 @ 3:46 pm



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