Close Search
 
MEDIA, JOBS & RESOURCES for the COMMON GOOD
Opinion  |  PolicyWelfare

We need to invest in Services Australia and its workforce, not privatise it


31 January 2022 at 4:30 pm
John Falzon
You don’t build a strong economy by running down our social infrastructure, writes Dr John Falzon, who has joined with a number of civil society organisations to issue a Shared Statement for a Better Services Australia.  


John Falzon | 31 January 2022 at 4:30 pm


0 Comments


 Print
We need to invest in Services Australia and its workforce, not privatise it
31 January 2022 at 4:30 pm

You don’t build a strong economy by running down our social infrastructure, writes Dr John Falzon, who has joined with a number of civil society organisations to issue a Shared Statement for a Better Services Australia.  

The Morrison government, like all neoliberal governments, loves to genuflect before the mystical power of the market. It has become an article of faith, albeit contrary to the facts, that markets will simply not work if there is anything that lies outside them. 

Nothing illustrates this fantasy better than the prime minister’s disastrous refusal to make rapid antigen tests freely available to all who need them. The prohibitive cost of these tests at many outlets is due precisely to the market doing its normal thing. When it was put to the prime minister that not everyone can afford them, he responded, all but visibly shrugging his shoulders, with a glib recitation of the market-fundamentalist doxa that “some people can, some people can’t”.

Unlike private, for-profit service providers, Services Australia belongs not to the market and not to the neoliberals, but to us, and we need to defend it. 

Working people fought hard to build the institutional architecture for Medicare and social security. In doing so, we collectively asserted that there are some things that should not be dependent on the market, and that the nexus between individual purchasing power and access to essential health and social supports should be sundered. Think about when you got your COVID shots. How unconscionable would it have been if you had needed to reach for your credit card instead of your Medicare card! 

But the acolytes of neoliberalism loathe the public sphere. They see it as a stick in the spokes of their market-absolutism wheel. 

Which is why they have this red-hot longing to privatise and outsource as much of our social infrastructure as they can.  

Rather than accepting the trajectory of the Morrison government’s wrecking ball, with its lengthy telephone waiting-times, its handing over of the power to terminate payments to private providers and its ruthless Robodebt programme, an alliance of civil society organisations, including the Community and Public Sector Union, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Anglicare, Vinnies, Per Capita, ACOSS, People With Disability Australia, Bill Crews Foundation, Fr Bob Maguire Foundation, Wayside Chapel, Homelessness NSW, and Fair Go For Pensioners, has come together, issuing a Shared Statement for a Better Services Australia

As the statement points out: “Over 30 per cent of Services Australia workers are now outsourced or insecure… A secure, experienced and well trained workforce is key to a properly resourced Services Australia.”

“Services Australia needs to be properly resourced so that it can be there for all of us whenever we need it.”

The make-up of this group of signatory organisations is indicative not of an ideological bent but of a clear-eyed engagement with the realities of poverty, inequality and insecurity in prosperous Australia. The group includes faith-based charities, trade unions, and community sector organisations and peaks. Together, we have called for all political parties and candidates to commit to, among other things: developing a respectful and compassionate social security system, raising the rate of benefits that currently leave people struggling to survive below the poverty line; increasing resources for phone and face-to-face services; reinstating the statute of limitations for debt recovery; abolishing the cashless debit card and income quarantining methods; increasing staffing numbers for the Indigenous Services business line; hiring more social workers; and converting insecure workers to secure APS jobs, with proper training, where they can build up experience.

As CPSU national president, Alistair Waters recently explained: “What the government’s privatisation of Services Australia jobs means is less training and less security for workers, higher turnover, more errors, more time spent by permanent staff fixing those errors, and real delays for the community.” This in addition to a lower wage for the workers and a generous, publicly-funded, source of profit for the labour-hire firms that employ them. 

You don’t build a strong economy by running down our social infrastructure. You don’t build a respectful society by punishing people for not being in paid work or for being sick.

Services Australia needs to be properly resourced so that it can be there for all of us whenever we need it. Pensioners, older Australians, people with disability, people experiencing homelessness, carers, families, refugees and students all rely on the essential services that Services Australia workers provide, as do people who are looking for paid work, fleeing domestic violence or experiencing cyclones, bushfires or floods. 

It is time we completely rejected the damaging and offensive divide between the “deserving” and the “undeserving”. The stigma and shame that has become an ugly accretion to our social security system has no place in our lives. Which is why there is no place for programmes such as Robodebt, which uses Centrelink resources to hound and harass people rather than help them. We need a social services system where we know we will be treated with professionalism, dignity, compassion, and respect. 

We should be very proud of what we have achieved as a society by institutionally embedding Medicare and our social services system. We should also be highly critical of the way in which these services have been structurally denuded. And worried about the death by a thousand cuts that neoliberal governments, including the current one, are doing their utmost to inflict on them. They would love to see these pillars of our social infrastructure run-down and degraded so that they can sell them off and sell us out.

It is doubtless the neoliberal dream to one day completely residualise Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support, farming out as much as possible to the private sector, thereby putting profits well before the needs of people. 

You don’t build a nation by trashing and vandalising its public institutions. But you do help to keep a nation safe and well-supported by properly investing in these services and in their workers.


John Falzon  |  @ProBonoNews

Dr John Falzon is senior fellow, inequality and social justice at Per Capita. He was national CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society from 2006 to 2018. He is a member of the Australian Services Union.

PB Careers
Get your biweekly dose of news, opinion and analysis to keep you up to date with what’s happening and why it matters for you, sent every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Got a story to share?

Got a news tip or article idea for Pro Bono News? Or perhaps you would like to write an article and join a growing community of sector leaders sharing their thoughts and analysis with Pro Bono News readers? Get in touch at news@probonoaustralia.com.au or download our contributor guidelines.

Advertisement

Careers

Get more stories like this

FREE SOCIAL
SECTOR NEWS

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

National day of action to raise the rate

Cassandra Goldie

Tuesday, 26th April 2022 at 4:26 pm

Could you live on $46 a day?

Wendy Williams

Wednesday, 13th April 2022 at 2:28 pm

Welfare sector slams band-aid budget

Jonathan Alley

Wednesday, 30th March 2022 at 1:15 pm

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook
×