Centrelink staff are planning to use a Senate inquiry into the automated debt recovery system to highlight the level of dysfunction within the Department of Human Services, according to the Community and Public Sector Union.
A motion referring the controversial system to the Senate’s community affairs references committee passed on Wednesday afternoon, as expected, with the support of Labor, the Greens and the crossbench.
Immediately after the motion was passed, the CPSU issued a statement saying its members planned to use the inquiry to highlight serious flaws with the debt recovery system and the department more broadly.
Its national secretary, Nadine Flood, said the department had been more concerned with “gagging staff and fudging performance indicators” than responding to legitimate criticism of the system, which has been repeatedly criticised for wrongly issuing debts to Australia’s most vulnerable people.
“This is an important opportunity for staff to speak openly about how things have gone so wrong and their suggestions to maintain the integrity of our welfare system without the unnecessary collateral damage,” Flood said.
“Our members will participate in this inquiry but they’re also continuing to apply pressure through all other means available, including six days of industrial action beginning on Monday next week.”
The Greens senator Rachel Siewert issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying the inquiry would be “uncomfortable” for the government. She promised that “no stone will go unturned”.
“The inquiry will enable those who have been affected to have a voice and to tell us how they have been affected,” Siewert said. “This inquiry will assess the impact on Australians, and how much capacity was given to Centrelink services to cope with the program, we will look at advice given to Centrelink staff, how many debt notices were in error.
“I hope this provides answers to thousands of struggling Australians.”
The inquiry will have until May to report.