Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed Labor’s calls for a senate inquiry into the government’s automated Centrelink debt recovery program, saying he believes the agency has been acting appropriately.
The Prime Minister said Centrelink had always sought explanations from recipients of Centrelink payments in circumstances where there was a discrepancy between the income reported by the recipient to Centrelink and the income reported by the employer.
“Centrelink has a responsibility where it identifies the discrepancy between what the recipient has reported and what the employer has reported to seek an explanation and that is being done,” Mr Turnbull said.
“The letters that go out in the first instance are simply saying there is a discrepancy.
“That is entirely responsible and appropriate.”
Mr Turnbull said Human Services Minister Alan Tudge had implemented measures to ensure the letters would be received.
Shadow Human Services Minister Linda Burney said the debt recovery system was an “ongoing disaster”.
“It is targeting thousands and thousands of Australians who do not have a debt with Centrelink, causing distress,” she told ABC TV.
Ms Burney said she was sure Labor would have sufficient support from the crossbenchers to establish a senate inquiry into the issue and reiterated calls for the system to be suspended until it could be fixed.
“For Alan Tudge, the minister, to constantly say there is not a problem is just ludicrous,” she said.
Ms Burney also hit out at Mr Tudge’s decision to send letters registered mail, so Centrelink would be aware if they had not been received.
“That is going to cost a fortune, and it’ll have the same fundamental mistakes that the system has now,” she said.
“We think that there is something like 20,000 to 25,000 people that have received a letter that is inaccurate.
“In anyone’s language, there is a serious problem with this system.”
Ms Burney called for the government to suspend plans to extend the debt recovery system to those on disability support and age pensions.