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Centrelink debt: agency defends monitoring welfare complaints on social media

2 March 2017
Eryk Bagshaw
Barossa Herald

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge is getting regular updates from his department on welfare recipients who are "criticising or unhappy with the system", a senate estimates committee has been told, as Centrelink staff trawl social media to keep an eye on people complaining about their treatment by the agency.

On Monday, department chiefs were interrogated about the decision to release the personal financial information of a Centrelink recipient to a journalist for an article published in The Canberra Times.

Department of Human Services secretary Kathryn Campbell defended the practice, saying it was a "standard operation".

"We are allowed to publicly correct the record," said Ms Campbell. "We have had this capacity for many years."

The committee was also told the department actively monitors social media for people's criticisms and complaints, and "anybody that makes a statement about their treatment by Centrelink."

"We look at it as being about service delivery," said Ms Campbell.

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"We deal very constructively with the complaints we receive," she said. "We are a big organisation with 35,000 staff, we make mistakes and we admit to that."

The statement comes despite previous claims by the department that welfare recipients who had been issued with a debt notice, some worth tens of thousands of dollars, had multiple opportunities to appeal their notices before debt collection agencies began pursuing them.