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Robo Debt Announcement A Minor Improvement But Not A Solution

15 February 2017
Community and Public Sector Union

The CPSU says the Turnbull Government has made minor improvements to its Centrelink robo-debt system, but has not addressed the fundamental flaws in the system.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has confirmed minor changes he says will make it easier to question debts and ensure people receiving automated debt letters are not required to repay prematurely.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood spoke on the robo-debt crisis in Canberra this morning, alongside other union and community leaders, Parliamentarians and an affected client. Ms Flood said the overnight announcement from the Turnbull Government is welcome but won’t fix the problem.

Ms Flood  said: “This system has been a disaster for Australians, for clients, but also for the workers who’ve had to implement it. What we’ve seen is a system designed to minimise human oversight, reflecting  the Government’s decisions to slash resourcing out of Centrelink and these services.”

“The Turnbull Government has finally stopped pretending there’s nothing wrong with the hundreds of thousands of these dodgy debt letters that have been sent out to vulnerable Australians, but the changes announced by Minister Alan Tudge ignore the real problems with this system.”

“The reality is that Minister Tudge has fiddled around the edges of a scheme that’s fundamentally broken. The main problems with robo-debt remain, with thousands of threatening letters still being sent to people who owe nothing and the onus remaining on innocent people to prove they’ve done nothing wrong.”

“Government cuts have stripped 5,000 jobs out of this agency, which is why they’re using robots and algorithms to chase non-existent debts, and 36 million calls to DHS went unanswered last year.”

“We expect DHS staff to utilise the legal protections  provided through the Senate inquiry into this mess to ensure their experiences of the system’s deficiencies and the terrible impacts on staff and customers are formally put on the record.“

“Centrelink staff have told us they know what’s being done to customers through the robo-debt process is wrong, but the department has ignored them and won’t let them stop these letters going out or properly fixing the problems as they come back in. The Government has got to address the problems with robo-debt and more broadly, by putting funding and jobs back into a department in crisis.”