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Andrew Wilkie speaks on Centrelink debt debacle

7 February 2017
Andrew Wilkie MP
Andrew Wilkie MP, Independent Member for Denison

The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, moved a motion in the House of Representatives shortly after midday today calling on the Minister for Human Services to acknowledge that the Centrelink debt recovery program has been a disaster and must be shut down immediately.

Mr Wilkie was responding to overwhelming community concern over the financial and emotional hardship the scheme has caused with about 4,000 incorrect debt notices being issued each week.

A copy of the motion follows in full.

MEMBER FOR DENISON: I move that this House:
1. Acknowledges that Centrelink has, since late 2016, been sending out numerous incorrect notices relating to debt recovery – by its estimation, at least 4,000 of the 20,000 debt notices sent each week are incorrect;
2. notes the severe financial and emotional toll that the debt recovery system has had on thousands of people, including some of the most vulnerable, with some going so far as to talk of suicide;
3. notes the many well-documented problems with the system, including:
a. Incorrect debts being raised by a crude data-matching of a person’s annual income as reported by the Australian Taxation Office with their fortnightly income reported to Centrelink;
b. alleged debts having been referred to debt collection agencies in a short amount of time, often when the person has not even been made aware of the alleged debt because they have not received adequate notice from Centrelink;
c. people being asked for payslips and other proof of income from periods or in circumstances where they could not reasonably be expected to provide such documentation; and
d. the Department of Human Services often refusing to explain how an alleged debt has been calculated, and in some cases recalculating the alleged debt seemingly at random.
4. notes that while the Minister for Human Services has indicated that some minor changes will be made, the program remains deeply flawed and must be shut down immediately;
5. condemns the Minister for not only refusing to admit that there is a problem with the system, but also for insisting that the system will continue to operate despite it incorrectly targeting thousands of innocent Australians and its failure to treat people fairly and humanely; and
6. calls on the Minister to
a. Ensure that all Centrelink debt recovery activities are timely and accurate, and are conducted in a fair and humane manner, and;
b. convene, as a matter of urgency, an expert stakeholder roundtable to design a fair and humane system of debt detection and recovery.