Labor has referred Centrelink’s automated debt recovery failures to the auditor general, while information commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has “been in contact” with the department on the issue.
Labor MP Linda Burney wrote to the Australian National Audit Office on Thursday, urging it to investigate, citing significant public concern. “The number of complaints to my office and my colleagues’ offices has been overwhelming,” she wrote.
Burney said the budget implications of the program – designed to save the government $4bn over the forward estimates – were significant.
She asked auditor-general Grant Hehir to investigate how the government managed the risks associated with automating its debt recovery program, the savings it has delivered to date and the efficiency of budget allocations made for the program in the next two years.
“The acting minister says they’ve saved $300m but senior public servants contradict him – it is time for an independent audit,” Burney said in a media statement.
“Every week that the government refuses to fix this problem another 4,000 honest people receive letters which wrongly suggest they’ve been dishonest – that isn’t just unfair, it’s plain nasty,” she said. “The ANAO is an independent and widely respected body – the only reason the government would oppose this move is if it knows it’s got it wrong.”
Pilgrim also issued a statement on Friday, saying his office was in contact with the Department of Human Services.
He said no formal investigation had been opened, but that his office worked closely with the department and other government agencies “to ensure they understand their privacy obligations and adopt best practice when undertaking data-matching activities”.