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Stopping robo-debt notices is a workers' rights issue

3 February 2017
Sue Bolton
Green Left Weekly

The government has not made a mistake with the Centrelink robo-debt notices. It knows it is sending out incorrect notices.

Centrelink staff warned management the notices would be wrong and the new debt recovery system would incorrectly claim overpayments.

But management carried on with the system, regardless of the advice from staff. It had its marching orders from their political bosses in Canberra. Shockingly, management even instructed staff to not fix obvious errors in debt notices, unless the person complained.


Over the past five years, more than 5000 Centrelink staff has been sacked. The result is that Centrelink is unable to keep up with the rising demand for its services. Last year, 36 million calls to Centrelink went unanswered.

The government has an ulterior motive in sacking staff. It wants to make dealing with Centrelink so difficult that people would prefer to get any job, even if it is on the minimum wage, rather than have to deal with Centrelink.

There has always been a super-exploited group of workers who work below the minimum wage or just on the minimum wage, and in dangerous workplaces. The government wants to expand this super-exploited workforce to make it harder for unions to maintain decent wages and conditions.

The government is hoping it can get away with this massive attack because it has so demonised the unemployed. The corporate media is hunting for people on Centrelink who they describe as “dole bludgers” to smear who has ever received Centrelink payments.

In reality, about 92% of people will need to receive Centrelink payments at some stage of their life. This is what we pay our taxes for, so that when we lose a job, are old or sick there is a social security safety net.


This Centrelink debt scam has hit people so broadly that it is an opportunity to unite and fight back against the dismantling of the social security system and to abolish the debt recovery system.

We are all in this together: young and old, working and not working, women and men, single parents and couples, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal and Muslim and non-Muslim. We need to unite and fight to make sure the government does not get away with stripping away our rights.