Centrelink's 'robo-debt' effort should stop immediately, a Parliamentary committee says, after finding the program had a "profoundly negative impact on the lives of thousands of Australians."
Victoria Legal Aid
In Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate inquiry into Centrelink’s automated data-matching initiative, we called for the flawed scheme to be immediately abandoned.
Our Managing Director Bevan Warner said the scheme is "an abject failure. It is hurting people. It will continue to undermine the integrity of the social welfare system it is meant to be improving. It is arguably unlawful, and even if it is lawful, it shouldn’t be."
We are urging the Commonwealth Government to implement the findings of a Senate Committee report into Centrelink’s controversial ‘robo debt’ scheme.
This is the third feature in Ben Eltham’s 2017 investigation into Centrelink’s robo-debt program. The first article in the series was published in January, and the second article in March.
Centrelink’s sprawling data-matching empire is opaque, error-prone and almost completely impossible to understand, writes Ben Eltham. And it’s expanding across government programs and agencies.
After listening to weeks of harrowing testimony, Siewert has found the Senate Inquiry a draining experience.
“You come out of those hearings and you feel really drained. The evidence we hear is very distressing – hearing of people’s experiences and feeling their sense of powerlessness and despair.”
Scathing assessment comes as system again put under the microscope, this time by external auditors PwC Australia.
Victoria Legal Aid has described Centrelink’s robo-debt system as an “abject failure” which is an arguably unlawful response to the government’s self-inflicted budget problems.
The odds of a joint action against the federal government's Centrelink debt recovery program have narrowed, with lawyers saying it's considered highly unlikely such an action would succeed.
However, Slater and Gordon – and perhaps some of Australia's other leading class action law firms – are investigating Centrelink's handling of the scheme, and have not ruled out challenging the legality of its conduct under Commonwealth laws.
Centrelink is using debt collectors like never before and making snap decisions based on “limited information” since the introduction of a new automated debt recovery system, Victoria Legal Aid has said.
Collectors have been used by the government agency before but never based on such an “inaccurate and blunt” system, Civil Justice, Access and Equity executive director Dan Nicholson said.
Malcolm Turnbull and his ministers are playing with political fire in their hunt for $4 billion in savings from the welfare system by sending off letters to thousands of Australians with a clear warning that debt collectors will be called in to recover old payments.
The blowback from voters is already dangerous and is certain to get worse when the vast program grows across time. The vitriolic complaints about the exercise during the past few weeks have been based on the first batch of 169,000 letters from Centrelink that assume welfare recipients need to repay some of their benefits. It is a taste of things to come.
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.