Kim Carr cuts costs

Ever realised how far the Nanny State has reached into your pocket as taxpayer?

It was with a considerable shock that I brought up the website of the Department of Human Services, the home of a spider web of activities grouped loosely under Centrelink, Child Support and Medicare. This is a Department with an actual available appropriation for the 2012-13 year of $6.7 billion. 

Under those categories there are 41 services ranging from Having a baby to Looking for work, Getting help to study, Prescription medicines, Support for new arrivals to [sic] Australia and Managing Your Money. Under these 41 headings nestle hundreds of systems, services, payments, allowances, registers, connections, pensions, programmes, assistances, supplements, cards, trusts, subsidies and schemes. There is a Continence Aids Payment Scheme, a Bereavement Allowance, an Indigenous Wage Subsidy, a Healthcare Identifiers Service, ABSTUDY and Austudy, an External Breast Prostheses Reimbursement Programme, Centrepay and Double Orphan Pension, and the very latest – Clean Energy Supplement and Clean Energy Advance. Not one of these services existed when I was growing up! How did my parents survive to breed, nurture and educate four children? 

What sent me to that website was the arrival in the post of the latest issue of one of the helpful but basically unnecessary services of the Department, News for Seniors. Well meaning, I suppose, and containing some helpful information about those services, but basically condescending and patronising – as if we couldn’t exist without them. And there’s more promised, in the Message from the Minister (Senator Kim Carr, fresh from playing Santa Claus to the motor car industry). 

“I know there are many challenges for our society in the years ahead,” he wrote. “We will need to support more people and we will need to do it in tough budgetary conditions. That does not mean we need to compromise the compact that has sustained our nation for generations.” Not my parents’ generation, Senator! 

But lest you imagine we seniors are getting away with something for nothing, page 22 had a stern warning: “If you have investments, the department may call to help you understand your reporting obligations and update your record to reduce the risk of receiving an incorrect payment.” Then the sting: “During the phone call we may talk to you about any investments you may have such as bank accounts, term deposits, managed investments, foreign investments or shares. We may ask you to confirm details such as balances of your bank accounts, details of shares that you own or other investment accounts in your name.” 

That paragraph is BureauSpeak for an audit of your wealth – by telephone. Where payments are means-tested or income-based, there is an obligation to report changes in circumstances which could alter or remove entitlements. That’s fair enough – it’s the taxpayers’ money after all – but are the elderly now to be hounded to prove their honesty and their incomes? What conclusion could be drawn from a portfolio of shares for example? And how competent to judge     could these telephone interrogators be? Many elderly people might well be intimidated and frightened to receive such a call. 

Perhaps anticipating that reaction, and the suspicion that the caller might really be a scammer in Nigeria, the Department blandly says, twice: “If you are concerned about the authenticity of the caller at any time, you should call the Older Australians Line on 132 300.” And how would that help? When I talk to my bank by phone, I must identify myself by name, address, telephone number, age, PIN code and for shares, the Chess HIN. How exactly could the call centre operator at 132 300 authenticate another person calling me? 

But not to worry. “We will respect your privacy,” News for Seniors assures us. “We will not ask for personal security information related to your investments such as passwords or your PIN. Under no circumstances will you be asked to transfer or deposit money into another person’s account.” So that’s OK then?

Not really. 

This is a ham-fisted bureaucratic response to a growing mountain of welfare costs, now obviously alarming even a give-away government. The list of benefits and allowances is testimony to generations being trained to put out their hands for the succour of subsidy for every affliction, disability or setback. The more that is given, the greater the scope for fraud, deception and evasion. Worse, there breeds a culture of entitlement, with every group within the citizenry expecting financial crutches to help them through life. There must be an economic limit to political largesse, but is this brutish and probably illegal approach the answer? Is it either necessary or right?   

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