Centrelink: A Failure For Students

In the light of recent revelations about the enormous taxpayer-funded expenses politicians are claiming, the Government’s mismanagement of the Centrelink debacle is even more ridiculous and unnecessary. UMSU stands in support with all those who have been affected by this and calls on the Government to fix the Centrelink debt debacle and stop toying with students’ livelihoods.

According to data obtained from news.com.au, politicians spent over $500 million in expenses between January 2011 and December 2015. However, the ones being made to shoulder the burden of restoring Australia’s economy has fallen to society’s most vulnerable, as the Government continues to try to recover a largely fictitious welfare debt.

The Centrelink Debt claw back has left many students alarmed and anxious that they owe thousands of dollars to the Government.

We’re all aware that Centrelink is slow, bureaucratic and an endless parade of hoops to jump through. But it has always fundamentally existed to take care of those most vulnerable in our society.

So why, all of a sudden, are students’ livelihoods threatened?

Centrelink’s debt recovery scheme is a broken system, the Government is using data and fluid algorithms to automatically formulate, often incorrect, debt notices. These notices are overwhelmingly targeted at vulnerable students, the elderly and people living with disabilities.

The Government has quite obviously made a grievous mistake. And every additional day it refuses to engage with the issue, every additional day it places the onus on those who’ve been wronged to correct its mistakes, is another day it continues to make a mockery of our social security system.

Recently, Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Education, appallingly attributed a rise in non-completion rates of University students to them having not thought their choices through. However, rather than blaming students, perhaps he would be more prudent to examine the dearth of efforts his own administration has made to ensure that students are sufficiently supported so that they can complete their degrees. It is exactly because of incidents like the Centrelink debacle, incidents which put unnecessary pressure on already struggling students, that students are likely to drop out of university.  

For all those that received Centrelink Debt Recovery correspondence, know that your Student Union is behind you in this period of injustice.

As the semester draws nearer, we at UMSU want to let you know what the future looks like for issues like this. We are committed to ensuring that students are not disadvantaged by the Government’s failings. We hope to implement a new campaign around Centrelink as a whole, to better educate students of their rights and responsibilities when conversing with the organization. In addition, we hope to provide more on-campus support for students struggling financially, including more resources on taxes and finances.

We also extend our sympathy to the workers at Centrelink who, while not being responsible for this mess, are the ones who are required to deal it, often while seriously under-resourced and underfunded. As a union, we reiterate that as much as the everyone’s anger is justified, it should not be directed at these workers, who deserve to be treated fairly and with respect.

If you’re feeling distressed upon receiving a debt recovery notice, UMSU offers a free legal service that can assist you with the process, which can be reached here: https://umsu.unimelb.edu.au/legal.

Furthermore, the University offers a free counseling service to students, which you can find information about here: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/counsel/about/contact.

Yan Zhuang
UMSU President