Linda Poulton - Senate Candidate, Tasmania

Linda Poulton - Senate Candidate, Tasmania

For the past two and a half years, I have been part of a campaign opposing the State government’s proposal to build a 270-bed maximum security prison near Westbury.

That experience has proven to me beyond doubt that the rule of law has been significantly eroded at all levels of government in Tasmania.

The rule of law really matters because it delivers a level playing field. It is the bulwark against the unfair exercise of power by government against the individual. With its erosion, the odds become increasingly stacked against us. The government deals itself the better hand, and even cheats with the cards that it has, at our expense.

Throughout the prison campaign, I tested a range of legislative mechanisms ostensibly designed to hold the government and public service to account. I tested the Right to Information Act and its appeal mechanisms. I tested the Integrity Commission Act and the Local Government Code of Conduct Complaint process.

Depressingly, I discovered that each of these processes was fatally compromised. Like gambling at the Casino, the government had a “house edge”: the odds were stacked in its favour, sometimes corruptly so.

But it’s not just Tasmanian government agencies that are increasingly biased towards pro-government outcomes. One of the most culpable in the Commonwealth arena is the dreaded Centrelink, which I refer to as the “agency of despair”.

The most harrowing of Centrelink experiences recently played out publicly in the repugnant Robo-debt scheme. Robo-debt saw vulnerable people hounded by the government for fabricated debts, some to the detriment of their health and some even to their death.

But as many people who have had the misfortune of dealing with Centrelink know, the rot is far more widespread than that.

In the past year I have experienced firsthand the appalling impact of Centrelink’s misadministration on one of the most vulnerable cohorts in our society: the frail elderly.

In July last year, my 82-year-old mother was informed, out of the blue, that her aged care pension would cease unless she produced her passport or birth certificate. This was utter madness. My mother had been receiving the aged care pension for over 20 years. Had she been alone, she would have struggled to understand the reason for this request, let alone deal with it. Her pension would have been stopped.

Just prior to this, Centrelink had cut off my carer’s allowance without notice and refused to reinstate it unless I subjected my mother to a repeat physical assessment by her GP. Clearly, they needed proof that she was not ageing backwards and was in fact still aged and frail.

To top if off, since February last year my mother has been trying to have her home care package raised from a level 2 to a level 4. She received belated approval in September last year but is still waiting for the change to kick in so she can get the specialised care she needs.

It might be cynical on my part, but it seems that Centrelink’s approach is to disrupt, disempower and delay because this saves money and in the long game perhaps avoids the need to pay out at all.

I have spent hours on the phone listening to elevator music, only to be fobbed off and on occasion hung up on. I have dragged my frail mother to doctors’ appointments that she should not have needed to attend. My professional training was of no use to me as my mother and I ran this gauntlet. This agency had us on our hands and knees.

And if it did this to us, what of other elderly people attempting to navigate this all on their own?

I strongly believe that there is not just casual neglect at play here, but maladministration. Government has broken its contract with the elderly.

In such a climate, it should not come as a shock to many who love and care for the elderly that the Commonwealth government has overseen the deaths of so many in aged care from COVID-19.

The erosion of the rule of law has been accompanied on its journey by the waning of compassion. We desperately need to stem and reverse both tides to make Australia the truly lucky country again.

I have joined the Local Party Senate ticket to lend my voice to these and other issues which place equity and compassion front and centre as we step forward into this fraught century.