The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has sought to distance itself from Centrelink's controversial debt recovery program, telling a Senate inquiry it cannot be held accountable for how its data is used.
When not just the Courier-Mail, but also other News Limited publications and A Current Affair are criticising the government for being too harsh on social security recipients, perhaps it’s time the government acknowledged how dangerous this Centrelink issue has become, and responded.
The onus is on citizens to disprove the debt at short notice, over summer holidays, using materials such as pay slips and doctor’s certificates they were never previously asked to keep. Often it’s material they’d submitted to Centrelink previously. The system by which people must register their objections and responses is completely overloaded, with phone lines jammed and IT systems groaning or simply incapable of coping with the task at hand.
While apparent flaws in the Centrelink welfare crackdown have been a focus of public discussion, the controversy has rightly prompted indignation at a policy targeting members of our community who are struggling to make ends meet, while at the same time, more than one in three large corporations paid no Australian tax in the past financial year.
The debate provides a timely opportunity to look at the top end of town, where wealth is concentrated in Australia.
What stops most middle class people from committing fraud – say, by claiming false expenses, making dodgy tax claims or exaggerating their assets to a bank – is thought to be a calculus of the risk of being caught and the extent of public disgrace if one is caught. By contrast, politicians seem to assume that underclass and working class fraud, like other crimes, including violence, being committed by them is deterred only by the severity of jail sentences.
The theory might be wrong, at least as far as welfare fraud is concerned.
This is how the Turnbull Government says “Merry Christmas” to some vulnerable Australians.
The computer errors may be the result of bungling but the vilification and denigration of poorer Australians is a deliberate political tactic.
Labor has called on the National Audit Office to investigate Centrelink's controversial debt recovery scheme that has been criticised for mistakenly targeting vulnerable Australians.
The Government has defended the scheme — which cross references employment data from the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink — despite the Opposition claiming it was brutal and poorly designed.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter has defended Centrelink’s unpopular debt-recovery system, arguing it was “about as reasonable a process as you could possibly derive”.