Howard’s ministries: social welfare at the “very limits of acceptable conduct”

Harsh.

Australia’a poorest people have been pursued in an unprecedented and aggressive legal campaign over welfare payments – and the workplace relations department is under fire for running up lawyers’ bills chasing small amounts of money or cases so weak they never reach court.

The number of cases pushed through the courts by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has soared almost 20-fold over three years in one court alone, as pension payments are challenged and moves made to recover amounts as low $1300.

The aggressive pursuit of welfare recipients dates from 2004, when the Howard government handed the department control of a $20 billion social security budget. As secretary, Dr Boxall oversaw a significant culture change, with the number of appeals by the department to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal soaring from just 17 in 2004-05 to 202 the following year, and to 321 last year.

A lawyer who has worked closely with the department said it had pursued social security recipients to the “nth degree” – whatever the legal merits of the case. The department was “ruthless in the pursuit of any and every case” where a social security recipient may have received a small overpayment – even when it had been given wrong and misleading advice by Centrelink.

“In my experience, [the department] operated at the very, very limit of acceptable conduct,” he said.

Actually, Australia’s poorest people have nothing like that sort of thing to contend with. Our poorest people have to deal with this sort of thing:

An international student assessment reveals there’s been little improvement in Indigenous performance over the last six years.

The results of the OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development international student test shows a big gap between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Australia’s northern Aboriginal communities will bear the brunt of climate change, with increases in water-borne diseases and loss of traditional food sources, an international report says.

In the Torres Strait Islands, at least 8000 people will lose their homes if sea levels rise by 1m.

… more than 100,000 people in remote Aboriginal communities across northern Australia face serious health risks from malaria, dengue fever and heat stress, as well as loss of food sources from floods, drought and more intense bushfires.

In the remote areas of the Northern Territory, where high unemployment is rampant, the government’s main jobs program has been abolished, forcing thousands more onto welfare. Welfare payments for all Aborigines living on Aboriginal land are now controlled by government bureaucrats. Federally appointed administrators with wide powers have been imposed. The permit system, by which Aboriginal communities in the Territory controlled entry onto their land and settlements, has been abolished.

Olga Havnen, a leader of the National Aboriginal Alliance, said in a message to the protesters in Sydney that the “only visible change in most communities has been the construction of housing for government business managers.”

Doctors from across Australia have launched a high-profile attack on the Northern Territory intervention, saying it is failing indigenous people.

Writing in The Medical Journal of Australia today, the doctors criticise the intervention as disrespectful and badly thought through.

Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders will not achieve equal health outcomes with non-Indigenous Australians until all governments properly fund and resource accessible health services and programs, and their economic, educational and social disadvantages have been eliminated.

Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders have the poorest health of any group living in this country.

Indigenous standardised mortality ratios are more than three times the expected rate, and death rates between 25-54 years of age are 5-8 times that seen in non-Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous infant mortality rates are three times higher than for non-Indigenous infants.

The 17-year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and the rest of the Australian population must be closed. It is not acceptable in 2007 for any Australian to have a 1920s’ life expectancy. The gap in life expectancy must be closed within 25 years.

I’m just saying Prime Minister Rudd has a lot of work to do. A lot can be left behind in 11 years of government by a neo-colonialist tit like John Howard.

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