The government drastically reduced human oversight of Centrelink’s data-matching system despite holding internal analysis showing that 15% of detected discrepancies were not debts owed by people.
Linda Burney is the Opposition's human services spokeswoman and she joins me on the line.
Linda Burney, good morning.
AUDIO with full transcript
It would surprise the federal Coalition government — that assumes we dislike welfare recipients as much as it does — that one of its biggest problems at the start of 2017 is the Centrelink debt fiasco.
Shadow Human Services minister Linda Burney has accused the Minister responsible for the Centrelink debt recovery debacle of “going into hiding” over the issue as an independent investigation into the process has been announced.
Ms Burney says that Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge has returned from holidays but has not addressed the issue, leaving it to the department to respond to the barrage of public criticism.
Centrelink’s controversial data-matching program will be “refined”, as the Turnbull government tries to deflect mounting political pressure from welfare groups and Labor for it to be suspended.
The Australian Council of Social Service yesterday joined the federal opposition in calling for a halt to the scheme and an independent review, declaring that the automated debt-recovery program was treating current and past Centrelink recipients “like second-class citizens”.
Centrelink’s new automated data-matching system is a source of ongoing controversy. It has resulted in a significant increase in the number of current and former welfare recipients assessed as having been overpaid and required to repay debts.
But debt problems do not really appear to be the fault of IT failure or the inappropriate use of big data. Rather, they appear to reflect an over-simplistic application of policy to the complexity of workers’ lives in a flexible labour market.
Today I have joined with victims from my electorate of Grayndler to speak out about of the Turnbull Government’s Centrelink debt debacle.
Over the Christmas and New Year period I have been inundated with calls from constituents distressed because they have been issued debt notices and threats of debt recovery action for debts that they never incurred.
Thousands of people with disability, students, pensioners and people recovering from life threatening illnesses are being told by the Turnbull Government that the onus is on them to prove that they have not acted fraudulently.
The federal government is standing by its controversial Centrelink debt recovery system despite widespread criticism.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge insists the automated process is not flawed, saying more than $300 million worth of overpayments has been recouped.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge says the continuation of the error-prone Centrelink debt recovery scheme was necessary to maintain the "integrity” of Australia’s welfare system.
Mr Tudge said the system is working and that the government had no plan to discontinue its operation.
Doctors from top Australian universities say they too were hit with erroneous Centrelink debt notices — and even they can’t seem to fix the mistakes.
Darren O’Connell, who has a PhD in economics and lectured at Curtin University, told news.com.au he has tried eight times since November to get his inaccurate debt removed from the system, but the letters keep coming.