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Q&A: Brandis blames Centrelink debacle on Labor

21 February 2017
James Ried
The New Daily

Attorney-General George Brandis has blamed Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek and the Labor Party for discrepancies related to the Centrelink debt saga, after being confronted by a tearful pensioner dependent on welfare to support her family.

On Monday night’s Q&A, Mr Brandis turned the blame to the opposition for the initial welfare issues, after Fred, one of 90,000 disability pensioners, told him she had only $1.26 to her name when she received a debt notice.

“The introduction of automation so there’s an automatically generated letter if the data matches show a discrepancy isn’t all that long ago, it was introduced in 2011 when you, Tanya, were the Minister for Human Services,” he said.

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The two politicians sniped and battled throughout the episode, and Mr Brandis wouldn’t let up on the welfare debacle.

He made note of questioner Fred, a mother of three who is having her pension reviewed.

Fred was brought to tears during Mr Brandis’ discussion of the integrity measures when he cited a comment by current Australian ambassador to the US, former Treasurer Joe Hockey, who called average Australians “leaners” in 2014.

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“When a discrepancy emerges and a letter is issued, then the person to whom the letter is issued – and the letter is only issued where there is a discrepancy between the data they have lodged with Centrelink and the data against which it is matched – can have a conversation with Centrelink in order to sort out the problem.”

Host Tony Jones directed the debate to questioner Fred.

“The idea that you can just ring Centrelink and have a chat to them, how long did you wait on the phone the last time you called on Centrelink?” Mr Jones asked her.

Fred, who was a primary school teacher for 28 years before her disability, told the audience she was on the phone for 90 minutes every day for two weeks until she finally got a response.