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Technology can be a weapon against the nation’s most vulnerable

14 May 2019 at 4:29 pm
Wendy Williams
Digital transformation has the power to harm some of the most vulnerable people in the community, warns the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.

Wendy Williams | 14 May 2019 at 4:29 pm


Technology can be a weapon against the nation’s most vulnerable
14 May 2019 at 4:29 pm

Digital transformation has the power to harm some of the most vulnerable people in the community, warns the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.

Speaking at the Transform Conference in Melbourne, Dr Cassandra Goldie told the audience that technology was being used as a weapon against people on low incomes in order to achieve budget savings.

Her keynote speech drew attention to the issues surrounding the now infamous “robo-debt” scandal, which Goldie referred to as “one of the nastiest things that has been unleashed on some of the most vulnerable people in Australia”.

“It has caused extensive distress and human suffering,” she said.

She explained that while robo-debt was “meant to be a good thing”, and had set out to solve a real problem with overpayment, it had stripped all human interaction from the process and was causing significant harm.

“It was not actually malevolence, it was just tech people who thought they had a good idea,” Goldie said.

She criticised the lack of engagement in the design stages with either people directly affected by the policies or with social policy experts.

She said instead the government had relied on “out the back private consultants who came up with smart stuff that they thought would work”.

Goldie also pointed to Jobactive and ParentsNext as further examples of where automation and technology was harming the most vulnerable.

She said the cashless debit card showed how technology was being used to underpin the system.

“In the end your basic needs will not be met if you can’t access the basic technology which underpins the system,” she said.

“If you’re on a cashless debit card, unlike everyone else, you don’t have the ability to go to the bank and get out some cash, you are tied into the technology required.”

She raised concerns over the inclusion in this year’s federal budget of a further $2 billion in savings to be made through more data matching.

“It is not over,” she said.

Goldie issued a clarion call to the sector to get ready to answer questions of what was missing from existing policies and think about what needed to be done differently and how systems could be designed in a way that supports human relationships.

“If we get a door opening, and the door may open quicker depending on the outcome of the election on 18 May, I really say we need to be ready,” she said.

“How would we design the governments arrangements over these big programs that are so crucial for us to get right?”

Goldie said data and technology did not need to be the enemy.

She highlighted how data can be used to improve the capacity of community services to deliver better long-term outcomes; for research and policy development; to help target prevention and early intervention; to help with service planning and design; to tackle complex and entrenched disadvantage and inequality; and for advocacy and to amplify the voices of people experiencing poverty and disadvantage.

She said the key was to include the social in the design.

“What we see a lot in our sector is a mismatch in that moment where we know we want to use technology better but we haven’t quite worked out the best way to work with the technical experts in a primarily human relationship sector environment,” Goldie said.

But she said it was fantastic to see the community sector taking these issues seriously.

“We see it as one of the core policy areas to resource ourselves better, into the future,” she said.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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