Like the economic modelling used to argue that a $50bn tax cut for big business is the best way to boost the wages of low paid workers, the data matching algorithm used by Centrelink to identify “overpayment” is only as accurate as the assumptions and data it relies on. As the old adage says: garbage in, garbage out.
As anyone who has ever tried to describe it knows, the Australian welfare system is exceedingly complex. Indeed, over the past three decades there have been repeated attempts to build computerised “expert systems” to help Centrelink staff get a clear understanding of exactly who is eligible for what. All attempts have failed. Tens of millions of dollars have been wasted on the futile effort to clearly define eligibility.
But the impossibility of accurately defining eligibility has not stopped the Turnbull government from using crude data matching to justify sending intimidating letters to large numbers of Australians, an estimated 20% of which are in error.