The Guardian December 6, 2000


Government powers to raid bank accounts of unemployed

by Andrew Jackson

John Howard and Jocelyn Newman's slash and grab welfare rampage is 
continuing unabated, with Government plans to raid bank accounts and 
introduce a new $100 fine on benefit recipients. Meanwhile the Government's 
"work for the dole" scheme has been denounced as a resounding failure.

Under legislation introduced in the Senate this week, Centrelink will have 
the power to access the bank accounts of welfare recipients to recover 
over-payments and debts, even if Centrelink were at fault.

The ominously titled "Social Security and Veterans' Debt Recovery Bill" 
will also add a $100 "administration fee" to the wide range of fines 
already used to terrorise benefit recipients.

"Centrelink should not be allowed to make errors, and then get back from 
the person concerned more than was overpaid in the first place", said 
Senator Andrew Bartlett, the Democrat's welfare spokesperson.

"Even though people on social security incomes might make an offer to repay 
the debt in instalments from their pensions or allowances, Centrelink could 
simply withdraw money from their bank account.

"Frighteningly, Centrelink is under no obligation to tell customers first", 
Senator Bartlett said.

Meanwhile an Australian Council for Social Services (ACOSS) report 
analysing the "Work for the Dole" program shows that the Government's $105 
million "mutual obligation" flagship is performing poorly.

It reveals how only 33 per cent of unemployed people who completed a "Work 
for the Dole" program were in work three months later.

This is an appalling outcome in comparison to the 59 per cent employment 
rate achieved by the axed Jobstart program offered under Labor.

The Jobstart program offered the unemployed full-time work with wages 
subsidised by the Federal Government.

"The missing ingredients in `Work for the Dole' are substantial employment 
experience in mainstream jobs, relevant vocational training, and ongoing 
personal support", said ACOSS President Michael Raper.

"Although many community organisations running `Work for the Dole' projects 
do provide at least some of these services, they must largely pay for these 
`extras' out of their own resources. This is not good enough."

Mr Raper argued that "Work for the Dole" was "more of a political gimmick 
than a well-designed employment program".

The CEO of the Catholic Social Welfare Commission, Toby O'Connor, added his 
voice to those horrified by the Government's actions.

"The Government's version of mutual obligation in this appalling, 
regionally divided labour market sends the unemployed to seek out non-
existent jobs, punishes them when they fail and then statistically denies 
their very existence", said Mr Connor.

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