Government problems that have been overshadowed by the budget
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Government problems that have been overshadowed by the budget

In these days of 24-hour social media cycles, it's hard to follow a single story for too long. After all, the central question all media outlets are now forced to confront can be summed up as "is this story as interesting as a picture of a cat in a bow tie?", and 98 per cent of the time the answer is that Mr Tiddles is adorable.

So when you have a situation that is genuinely terrible it's easy to assume the reason you haven't heard anything about it is that it's all been all taken care of – you know, like the Great Barrier Reef presumably is! – rather than because nothing is resolved and the whole thing is still a baffling nightmare.

Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop have had plenty to get on with, OK?

Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop have had plenty to get on with, OK?

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

With that in mind, let's look at a few big dramas that faced our nation, and which are perhaps not as dealt-with as you might have assumed.

The Centrelink 'robodebt' debacle

In all the recent drama about global ransomware attacks it's easy to forget that Australia had it's own issue – only it began last year and is still ongoing.

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To recap: late last year the government began an initiative to stop people on benefits from claiming more than they were entitled to by combining different government data about individuals – most significantly data from the Australian Taxation Office – to see if there were any discrepancies.

The problems with this system turned out to be legion, but one huge one is that Centrelink's determination as to whether someone deserves a payment is whether they've earned anything in the last fortnight, whereas the ATO data was averaged out from an entire year. So someone who was on the dole for a few months before getting a job would be slugged for having claimed undeserved benefits, despite having been earning nothing at the time of the actual claim.

Even the Commonwealth Ombudsman ruled that the debt collection system was "neither reasonable nor fair" earlier this year, which Human Services Minister Alan Tudge optimistically chose to interpret as an endorsement of the program.

And those affected can fight a debt letter, obviously: provided they have all their financial and official correspondence for up to seven years conveniently on hand, can understand complex bureaucratese, and have entire mornings available to spend waiting on hold at the horrendously understaffed Centrelink helpline.

The marriage equality plebiscite

There was a brief furore a few weeks ago when two government backbenchers and a national brewery tut-tutted about how disrespectful and nasty the whole should-we-give-equal-civil-rights-to-all-Australian-adults debate had become, what with people provocatively displaying flags and business leaders expressing opinions when they should apparently be knitting.

Fortunately, the discussion has now become far more civilised and respectful, as evidenced by devout Christian Tony Overheu smashing a pie in Qantas chief Alan Joyce's face for being so shockingly non-straight and non-silent about wanting to be able to marry his partner.

In any case, you'll be glad to know the plebiscite is still a live option. In fact, there's $170 million in the budget for it, despite that funding having seemingly been removed from the MYEFO in December.

Presumably the government is just waiting for that moment when Australia discovers a fresh enthusiasm for non-binding voluntary public votes regarding the freedoms of their fellow citizens. Can't wait!

The Northern Territory intervention

You might vaguely recall that the basis for the intervention – the supposed epidemic of child abuse and paedophilia in remote Indigenous communities – turned out to be a fabrication, but by the time that was discovered the Northern Territory Emergency Response was already in place and taking it apart would have been such a hassle.

Anyway, not only is it still ongoing, central concepts around it like "cashless welfare cards" are being expanded to other unlikely-to-matter constituencies. Sure, the cashless welfare card already seems $10,000-a-person more expensive to supply than cash, but complaining about the size of the welfare budget only applies to what those who need it receive, not what expensive punishments those who run it think recipients deserve.

After all, it plays nicely into the popular idea that the reason that historically marginalised people living in poorly serviced places where they've been denied things like decent education or running water have failed to create tech start-ups and multinational conglomerates is that they lack European levels of gumption.

Heck, if we can stop people in remote communities buying cigarettes they'll ... um, create the next Candy Crush? Develop a successful fast-food franchise? Become the new Elon Musk? All those things, probably.

Loads of others!

How's the NBN shaping up? (Complaints are up by 110 per cent!) What happened with the accusation Attorney-General George Brandis acted improperly over the collapse of the Bell Group? (Still unfolding, and there seem to be plans to move him on) And now that we've passed the anniversary of being forced to close the Manus Island detention centre, how's that going? (Looks like local armed forces are firing on detainees.)

But look, the government's had a lot to get on with. And hey, at least they fixed up the Great Barrier Reef's devastating coral bleaching problem, right? (Um …)

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