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Living in Australia's social credit dystopia

  • 08 October 2019


For some time, media in the liberal west have been looking on aghast at the apparent dystopian reality of surveillance happening in China through its 'social credit score'. Reports describe a government-run system that processes individuals' data — the data that we all produce through our online lives, and through ubiquitous CCTV.

Using this data as a proxy of people's activities, the program apparently awards each person a 'score' based on whether their activities are socially approved or not. This score can apparently affect access to employment, transport and public benefits, and in doing so, seeks to engineer social behaviour.

Despite some concerning examples of the social credit score in action, the program is not due to be rolled out until mid 2020. Presently, versions of it are being trialled in various locations. And these are apparently not the panopticon version portrayed in the Western media but are often public 'blacklists' of the 'worst offenders' in various regulatory agencies.

This is not to say that surveillance and censorship do not occur in China. But the response in the west assumes that this method of state control is already entrenched. And our obsession with the potential for human rights abuses in China masks the fact that we here in Australia are experiencing our own social credit score.

It is not news that the Australian government is relentless in its pursuit of those on social security payments. The robodebt program is evidence of that. But there are other concerning pointers to an active government agenda of social control.

One of these is the roll out of the Indue card. Trialled in Indigenous communities as a means of controlling spending — limiting it to the 'basics' — the card is being rolled out to other communities also. Ostensibly to stop spending on alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling, it also limits recipients' ability to pay for goods by cash and limits where recipients can spend. 

A second is the control over activities by mothers receiving parenting payments through the 'Parents Next' program. The overwhelming majority of recipients are women, and there is a significant proportion of those who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians. To continue to qualify for the payment, recipients must verify weekly that they have undertaken nominated activities with their children. Failure to do so without receiving an exemption results in losing their payment.


"The programs are couched in terms of mutual obligation, namely that the recipient has