The government has been accused of “backflipping” over Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program after it decided to give the system a facelift, as Labor demands improvements be made retrospective to include all affected welfare recipients.
Labor frontbencher Linda Burney declared Human Services Minister Alan Tudge had made a “stunning admission” after The Australian revealed he had directed his department to introduce a number of “refinements” as he attempts to deal with the political fallout.
Ms Burney, Labor’s human services spokeswoman, said Mr Tudge and Social Services Minister Christian Porter had previously denied issues with the program despite Centrelink recipients coming forward “to tell their stories of being chased for debt which they do not owe”.
“After weeks of denial the minster has finally admitted what everyone else already knows, there are serious problems with the robo-debt program,” Ms Burney said.
“If the minister is going to make changes it is only fair that those apply to people who have already been target by his incredibly flawed robo-debt system.
“The system must be suspended until changes to make it fair are applied to everyone – that means those currently paying disputed debts should have the review completed before they are forced to pay.”
Bill Shorten said he had watched “with some disbelief” the “mess” over the Centrelink program while he was on leave.
So far, 169,000 of an estimated 1.7 million debt recovery letters have been sent out and the next batch is due to be delivered this week.
The government wants to claw back $4 billion over four years through the debt-recovery process to rein in the $150bn annual welfare bill.