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.
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.
“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.