Inside the system

Centrelink stuff up hits thousands of students

Federal government sources have told Fairfax that tens of thousands of low-income students have been denied the opportunity to attend university or TAFE after their claims for student payments were “auto-rejected”. The debacle unfolded after Centrelink’s computer software crashed, causing a backlog of payment claims that peaked at 90,000 in March. By this time the first semester of university was well under way.

Under-staffing exacerbated the crisis as Centrelink bosses drafted in at least 650 extra staff to help clear the backlog. According to sources inside the department, the staff brought in were casuals with minimal training who “auto-rejected” claims without checking them properly. “Quality-checking” was turned off to clear the backlog more quickly, they say. This led to a massive number of unfair and arbitrary rejections. Centrelink boss Alan Tudge has blamed the crisis on “unprecedented demand” for student payments. However, departmental sources are adamant that accurate forecasts of demand were on-hand and that the bugs in the ironically named “Customer First” software were well known.

NSW cops abandon 8-year-old in wagon

An Aboriginal woman in Caraki in Northern NSW found her son struggling to breathe after he was left forgotten in a police wagon for three hours in April.

Jane Williams’ son was picked up by police with a group of other boys for allegedly throwing rocks and eggs at a council vehicle. After getting a phone call saying her son was in custody Ms Williams said, “I went round to the police station and was talking to a different police officer who was on duty there and I said to him, ‘where is my son?’ He then got on the phone to talk to the other police officer to ask where my son was and the officer realised he was still locked in the back of the truck.

“He’s taken off and left my son locked in the back of the bull wagon for nearly three hours.” He was apparently only able to breathe through a small hole in the bottom of the police wagon.

16-year-old terror suspect egged on by cops

The 16-year-old arrested last month on terrorism offences was lured into making statements online that led to his arrest by police posing as extremists.

The boy, charged in connection with an alleged Anzac Day terror plot, discussed obtaining a firearm online with undercover police, according to The Guardian. There is no indication that the boy had obtained a weapon. The revelation throws into question police claims that the boy was planning an imminent attack and that, as NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione claimed, “Officers were forced to act… We had to do that in order to ensure the safety of the community”.

The Guardian also revealed that the boy was actually participating in a police run de-radicalisation program at the same time as the cops were egging him on while posing online as extremists. Ann Aly, a specialist who has advised police on de-radicalisation programs, said their actions were “like putting someone in drug rehabilitation and then putting drugs in front of them”.

Student study exposes racist cops

A group of US students from Seton Hall University recently did their own study to test whether cops were disproportionately targeting black and Latino drivers. While racially targeted stops and tickets for traffic offences are notorious in the state, police were failing to record the racial background of drivers handed tickets. The students decided to gather the data themselves by sitting in on traffic court hearings.

The students sat through around 70 hours of hearings and recorded the ethnicity, age, gender, and area of residence for each person who appeared in a court in Bloomfield, a suburb in New Jersey. Bloomfield is an affluent, predominantly white suburb that sits between two poorer, mainly black and Latino areas. Black and Latino drivers accounted for 78 per cent of court appearances for traffic violations, but only make up 43 per cent of Bloomfield’s population.

According to the research the average traffic ticket cost $137. According to the students’ calculations black and Latino drivers coughed up over $1 million to the Bloomfield Municipal Court between 2014 and 2015. Following the embarrassing study the Bloomfield police department has started collecting a racial breakdown of their traffic stops.

Rich to skip airport queues under new plan

The Liberals have used the 2016 budget to announce special queues for the rich at Australia’s airport terminals. This “premium” airport experience would include a fast track passage through border clearance or possibly even separate terminals. An Immigration Department spokesperson claimed the user-pays “premium traveller facilitation services” could boost traveller numbers to Australia.

An Executive from Tourism and Transport Forum Australia, Margy Osmond, said such a “premium service” could include fast tracked passage through arrivals and departures and “seamless” disembarkation and immigration clearing processes. Special treatment was increasingly expected by “high yield” travellers with plenty of money, she said.

Major Liberal donor caught in Panama papers

The Panama papers have linked a major Liberal Party donor and former Reserve Bank board member to a British Virgin Islands (BVI) company which tried to hide the fact he was its beneficial owner for four years.

Robert Gerard resigned from the RBA board in disgrace after it was revealed that he was fighting the Tax Office over charges of evading tax at the time of his appointment in 2003. Gerard has donated $1.9 million to the Liberal party since 1999, including a $96,000 donation in 2014.

The recently leaked e-mails show that he has continued to actively use tax havens while making great effort to conceal his beneficial ownership of the BVI company involved. After the BVI introduced its Anti-Money Laundering and Financial Terrorism Code in 2008, requests for the passports of all company directors were made, but were ignored for four years in an attempt to maintain secrecy.

Research and writing by Adam Adelpour
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