Big Changes Are Coming to Centrelink — Here’s What We Know So Far

Centrelink is a government service that currently doesn’t have a slogan. This is surprising because there are so many good ones it could just pluck from the ether. For instance, there’s “Centrelink: Please Hold For Five Hours.” Or, “Centrelink: The Inventor of Robodebt.” And my personal favourite, “Centrelink: Famous For All the Wrong Reasons.”

Now, all of my proposed slogans are both unusable and cripplingly true, and this points to the fact that Centrelink could make some changes. Which is exactly what they’re doing. According to Yahoo Finance, this organisation is getting rid of its mutual-obligation system and replacing it with a points-based activation system (PBAS). This will be happening on July 1.

But what is PBAS? How does it work? Is it any good? And how do folks feel about this new system?

The Gamification of Welfare

Centrelink’s old system was based on doing specific tasks and meeting certain obligations in order to get paid. But its new system is a points-based game. Every month, each PBAS participant must score 100 points if they want to receive financial support from the government. They win points by doing specific activities. For instance, working for the dole part-time will score you 15 points each week, while attending a job interview will score you 20 points.

The aim of PBAS is that it’ll give some individuals a level of flexibility when they’re doing their Centrelink work. However, a bunch of welfare recipients and advocates are concerned about this new program.

Is the New Game Rigged?

There are a number of major issues with the PBAS system. One being that it doesn’t respect the user’s time. As ACOSS deputy CEO Edwina MacDonald explained, “Requiring people who are already working 20 hours per week, or doing full-time Work for the Dole, to continue to complete points for other tasks is unnecessarily onerous.”

Another issue is that it punishes people who aren’t that tech-savvy. If you don’t know how to use this new online system, then your options become severely limited. Jeremy Poxon from the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union stated, “It’s another sort of digital tool and a different algorithm that’s going to say whether they get to eat that week or not.” 

Moreover, a lot of people just don’t trust Centrelink’s online systems. Kristin O’Connell, an Antipoverty Centre spokesperson, expounded to the ABC, “Governments do not have a good track record of delivering digital services in this country.” She additionally said, “We don’t have great hope that people are going to understand their options or feel supported when they’re trying to navigate either the online system or the face-to-face one.”

How Will This Impact Everyday Aussies?

A lot of people are scared that they will not be able to easily get 100 PBAS points every month. Cherie Grant is a 47-year-old woman who has chronic back and neck pain. She’s also a university student. Grant is concerned that she’ll have to now give up her studies. She said, “I’m worried that if what I have to do for Centrelink becomes physically too demanding on me, will I have to drop out of study? I don’t know — I can’t find out because I can’t speak to them.”

A similar sentiment can be found in a tweet by a concerned citizen. They wrote, “I am on jobseeker and I am terrified about the new point system. I am not in a position to be able to come up with 100 points a month, I have multiple permanent illnesses and no fixed address. I am terrified of losing my payment, what will happen if I can’t make 100?”

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