Friday, 14 June 2019 12:01

Rights body calls for govt to put people, not cost savings, first

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Rights body calls for govt to put people, not cost savings, first Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

The Federal Government is putting cost savings first and people second through its increasing use of technology and algorithms to control the lives of Australians who are in need and seeking income support, the Human Rights Law Centre says.

Tech developments should not be at the cost of human rights, the HRLC said in a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on poverty.

Monique Hurley, a Lawyer at the Centre, said computer-automated penalties and robo-debt were causing distress and risked driving struggling families deeper into poverty.

“Computers making decisions about peoples’ livelihoods can be the difference between a child having food or going hungry,” said Hurley.

“Single mothers with pre-school aged children have been left stranded and have had to turn to charities for food vouchers. The robo-debt debacle has seen the government bully people into paying debts they do not owe, in an attempt prioritise efficiency over human rights."

Last month, the Australian Greens called on the government to immediately halt the recovery of money claimed to be owed to Centrelink and calculated through the use of data, after the Department of Human Services wiped a $4000 debt that was at the heart of a Federal Court challenge to the recovery scheme.

The digital rights group, Electronic Frontiers Australia, also called for the new government to rewind what it described as "the infamous Centrelink data-matching program known as robo-debt".

Hurley said: "This is a government program that threatens to leave a struggling mother without money just because she hasn’t completed a task or reported it, and computers are taking human compassion out of the equation. A program that leaves even one child hungry or cold has no place in Australia."

She said social security was a human right and should not depend on where one lives, who one is or the colour of one's skin.

"Digital technologies, while bringing some benefits, can seriously threaten human rights. For such technologies to do good, ending inequality must be central to their design," she added.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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