I live in a welfare state

Illustration: Michelle Baginski

I live in a welfare state.

This, at least, is what I was taught at school. I live in a society that looks after its poor, infirm, disabled and disadvantaged.

I willingly work hard and pay my taxes so that those who cannot care for themselves are cared for. And I always believed that the welfare dollars were distributed equitably amongst these needy.

I was wrong.

I have slowly experienced a gnawing sense of unease as I have come to realise that our government has gone berserk with its welfare purse, misdirecting its funds irrationally and illogically through the ubiquitous body known as Centrelink.

Before I am labelled a right-wing fascist by breast-beating idealists, let me clearly state one fact.

As mentioned above, I am totally committed to helping those less fortunate than myself. I am not criticising helping these people.

My criticism is aimed at the anomalies and illogical rationale of Centrelink benefits, and the ease with which an unscrupulous few can milk the system.

Centrelink benefits should be redistributed in favour of those truly in need and deserving, namely Aged Pensioners, Returned Service men and women, the truly disabled, carers of the disabled and the truly unemployed.

The first two groups have worked and paid taxes all their lives and thus are entitled to support when they can no longer support themselves.

And there can be little doubt that the disabled and those who care for them require support.

The last category, the unemployed, should not be supported indefinitely, and any support they receive should be contingent upon real attempts at finding employment. When it comes to the Disability Pension, this should be allocated to those whose disability prevents them from working. Compare this to the numerous patients I have seen whose disabilities are stated to be alcohol abuse. The pension is paid to them indefinitely, with no onus on them to try and remedy the problem. They are free from any obligation to find gainful employment, while Centrelink finances their continued drinking. Ultimately we, the taxpayers, bear the further financial burden resulting from their inevitable alcohol-related morbidity. One can then extrapolate the related costs relating to motor vehicle accidents, domestic violence and foetal alcohol syndrome.

Another ‘disability category’ I struggle with is ‘morbid obesity’. This is where the government effectively pays an overweight person so that he or she doesn’t have to work and can just go on eating more. Surely it would make more sense to have him out there labouring to work off those kilojoules?

Then there’s the occasional patient who has had his disability pension application refused due to ‘inadequate points’ on his form. In other words, he is not disabled enough to warrant a pension.

So what does the Centrelink case worker do?

Sends him back to the doctor to redo the form!

Does the Centrelink worker really think that some more form filling out will make the client just a tad more disabled?

In terms of the ‘Carer’s Pension/Allowance’, for those truly caring for a disabled person this allowance is essential and, if anything, should be increased. However, I’m bemused by the number of would-be-carers requesting their forms signed as they painstakingly describe the woeful disabilities of ‘Auntie Joan’, who is, apparently, incontinent, unable to feed herself and virtually bedridden, thus needing full-time care. My written assessment rarely makes the grade when, more often than not, I have seen Auntie Joan sauntering down to the TAB the previous evening.

So, Auntie Joan’s ‘carer’ simply visits a less observant doctor who fills out the form more to Centrelink’s liking, hence scoring a carer’s payment!

To prove my point, I’m actually aware of two people, living together and each receiving a carer’s allowance for caring for each other!

How does that work?

Sickness Benefits medical forms puzzle me. The form states that for the person to qualify for sickness benefits he or she must be unable to work at his usual occupation, or ANY other occupation, for any more than eight hours per week. If anything, these rules are too restrictive. Recently I saw a young manual labourer who had developed severe inflammatory arthritis, hence preventing his employment in any physical work. His sickness benefits application was rejected because he was capable of performing sedentary work. However he was in too much pain to drive to job interviews, and had no clerical or office skills. There is no public transport in our town. The Centrelink officer suggested instead that he apply for a Disability Pension, thus ensuring a long-term drain on the public purse. He refused, as he hopes to recover and resume employment as soon as possible. He now has no income. How odd that as he only wanted temporary assistance, he is now being penalised.

Many people receiving Centrelink benefits have realised that two people living together receive less money than two people living separately. I know of an entire street in which half the occupants provide Centrelink with false addresses in order to boost their payments dishonestly. I still recall an occasion when two police officers came to a door looking for a crime suspect, only to be told ‘Oh, he only uses this address for Centrelink’.

Nothing was ever done.

Not long ago, one of John Howard’s election gimmicks was giving a lump sum of a few hundred dollars to anyone under a certain income, ostensibly to help with the increased cost of living. In my town, the most noticeable outcome was the immediate increase in poker machine and pub takings. The pubs and clubs will certainly mourn their profit losses once the ‘baby bonus’ is scrapped. This is not to say that there aren’t many families whose children reap all the benefits of these payments. Unfortunately, though, it leaves too many opportunities for the unscrupulous.

To qualify for Newstart payments, one must either be attending job interviews or be engaged in an educational course that can lead to employment. I am aware of many people who enrol repeatedly in ‘literacy and numeracy’ courses, despite the fact that they completed most of secondary school and are perfectly literate and numerate! But the Newstart money keeps rolling in.

I propose a radical analysis and redistribution of welfare payments, with greater accountability. We are creating a nation of the ‘entitled’ – people who believe that Australia owes them a living without any personal responsibility to contribute meaningfully to productivity.

Eventually the pot will be empty, and economic and social chaos will result.


Rastas is a rural GP who lives on a farm with a dog, thirteen hens, numerous goannas, one cow, two heifers, five steers, five fish, two water dragons and one long suffering spouse. When not writing controversial blogs, she heals the sick, follows the footy, casts out a fishing line, sings soprano, reads voraciously and obsesses about her numerous children and grandchildren.

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  • CaptCluster

    “Eventually the pot will be empty, and economic and social chaos will result.”
    It’s already happened in the UK and it keeps getting worse.

  • The humanist

    Outstanding article Rastas. I thoroughly agree with your analysis regarding this topic, indeed you have essentially said it all. I also applaud your courage in writing it. I am also not afraid to apply my skills and knowledge to resist and overcome the comparative incompetence and ignorance of others. Nice picture by the way.

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  • Paul Bugeja

    Interesting discussion here – more interesting given the article in SMH today about people not going to see health professionals due to cost

    READ – http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/survey-shows-millions-of-australians-are-putting-off-visits-to-the-doctor-or-dentist-because-of-the-cost-20131121-2xyqo.html

  • rabblerouser

    Don’t like being questioned do you? I’ve got my facts straight, thanks. I’m not a five-year-old who needs to be lectured. The way you’re responding from such a moral high-ground doesn’t in any way do any justice to someone who I thought I could engage in a reasonable discussion about this with.

  • Rastas

    Without Medicare your paltry $16 for a professional visit would have been $35! You’d be complaining then! By the way my husband is a secondary school teacher who firstly earns a salary similar to mine (certainly no less!) and whose unpaid work hours, substantial though they are, begin at 3.30, not at 6.30 like mine! Get your facts straight! I, like many of my colleagues, bulk bill anyone in financial need. Find me a lawyer, plumber or dentist who does this!

  • rabblerouser

    I beg to differ. Medicare is part and parcel with welfare: whether a clinic bulk-bills or not is irrelevant. A recent study also showed that professionals are doing on average 7 hours unpaid work per week (http://www.theage.com.au/small-business/finance/blogs/the-venture/why-dont-professionals-get-overtime-20131001-2upwp.html). Go have a chat to a teacher in secondary school – most I know average anywhere up to 14 hours of unpaid work a week and they earn a pittance compared to GP’s. Don’t mistake my argument – I’m not saying GP’s don’t necessarily work hard or deserve to be paid according to their learning /knowledge /skills Neither am I saying GP’s rort the system as a common practice. I know many who are hard-working individuals, as I’m sure you yourself are. I’m just a leftie who doesn’t like the massive disparity in incomes that is occurring in our supposed ‘land of the fair go’…in the case of GP’s, it’s being aided by the existence of medicare.

  • Rastas

    The fact that you attended a non bulk billing doctor in no way minimizes or even relates to the welfare debate. I don’t agree that you were overcharged.That was a “short consult” plus a standard gap. Most consultations are alot longer and attract a slightly higher rebate. Your out of pocket gap would probably be the same. But bear in mind the many hours of unpaid paper and phone work that we do – for me a minimum of around two hours of unpaid work daily. Factor that in to your calculations. I don’t know of any other profession that does so much unpaid work regularly. Try calling out a plumber for a short job. Mate, you’ll be out of pocket for alot more than $16, I assure you.

  • Richard Farrell

    What a brilliant article – and devastating in its honesty!

  • rabblerouser

    Interesting article Rastas. I’d be interested on how you feel about doctors rorting the system. I went for a GP appointment last week – it lasted 3 minutes and I was billed $35, $19 of which I got back on Medicare. If a doctor did 3 minutes appointments all day and did a 7 hour day that equates to $4900 a day, or an annual wage of $1,176,000. If they just charged the medicare scheduled fee, that wage would only be $127 680. Big difference. Let’s talk about rorting shall we?

  • Richard Farrell

    Haha, I love your articles Rastas! More please