Linda Burney, Labor's human services spokeswoman, has written to the Australian National Audit Office requesting they investigate Centrelink's controversial $4.5 billion debt clawback project amid ongoing accusations that it is unfairly targeting people and miscalculating bills.
The federal government has vowed to extend its program to recover $4 billion in welfare debts from almost two million Australians despite admitting to “small instances” where people are being asked to refund money they do not owe.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter declared the program to be working so well it would be ramped up over the next four years, as he ridiculed Labor demands to suspend it in order to stop the false claims for refunds.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has asked the Commonwealth Ombudsman to investigate faults with Centrelink's new automated data matching system after receiving more than 100 complaints to his electoral office about problems with the debt recovery process.
"The government has terrified countless people, ruined the Christmases of many and even driven some people to contemplate taking their own lives," Mr Wilkie said in a statement. [...] "You don't have to be a genius to tell that taking someone's yearly income and dividing by 26 is not always going to produce accurate results if only because people's circumstances change," he said.
"These are not debt letters. These are letters that use automated cross-referencing information from the ATO to information received at Centrelink, which shows there might be a discrepancy," he said.
"The complaint rate is running at 0.16 per cent. That's only 276 complaints from those 169,000 letters. That process has raised $300 million worth of money back to the taxpayer which was overpaid. From what we've seen in a high volume system it's actually working incredibly well."
Welfare recipients are tweeting criticism of the system under the hashtag #notmydebt.
Labor's spokeswoman on human services Linda Burney has called for the system to be suspended.
"Get it right before threatening people - not that hard," Ms Burney tweeted.
She said no MPs who checked the emails to their electorate office could possibly say the system was working.
Some recipients are required to supply paperwork from up to five years ago, but Mr Porter said that applied to a "very small number" of people.
He added that the system had recovered $300 million since the start of the financial year.
"What this system is doing is raising real debts around real overpayments based on real cross referencing of evidence," he said.
But Shadow Minister for Human Services Linda Burney said it should be suspended, citing "inherent problems right across the system".
[...]Ms Burney today tweeted that the system needed to "get it right before threatening people", referencing the #notmydebt social media campaign launched in response to Centrelink.
On Tuesday Labor’s human services spokeswoman, Linda Burney, wrote to the government asking for a suspension of Centrelink’s new automated compliance system, saying it must stop accusing people of serious wrongdoing and charging recovery fees until it could be certain the system was targeting the right people.