The government is calling it a “new online compliance system.” I prefer the catchy phrase “robo-debt.”
In the week before Christmas, thousands of Australians received letters or communications from Centrelink, or its appointed debt collectors.
Some received scary letters, informing them of debts in the thousands of dollars. Some logged into MyGov, the government’s creaking online information portal, to try and make a Medicare claim, only to discover a message that they owed thousands.
For others, the news came in a more threatening form: dozens of missed phone calls, culminating in threatening answering machine messages from debt collectors. Once again, the message was terrifying: they owed Centrelink thousands for an over-payment they knew nothing about.
For many, the debts that they owed to Centrelink were utterly mysterious. They had reported their income correctly at the time. There was simply no evidence that they had ever been over-paid.