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Robo-debt: government plain wrong and misleading, says Andrew Wilkie

13 February 2017
Noel Towell
Wellington Times

The Coalition government has misled the Australian people about its conduct of the Centrelink "robo-debt" debacle, according to MP Andrew Wilkie.

The Tasmanian independent delivered a scathing blast to the Turnbull government in Parliament on Monday morning, accusing it of being "incompetent, cruel and uncaring" over the "terrible terrible episode".


Mr Wilkie has a private members bill before the House of Representatives which would ban the calling-in of commercial debt collectors to pursue Centrelink clients who are disputing debts raised by the controversial data-matching program.

During his speech to the house, Mr Wilkie rubbished the government's claim that anyone who received a  notice for debt they believed they did not owe, could simply get in touch with Centrelink and sort out the problem.

"The fact is that what the government has had to say so far has been plain wrong and sometimes misleading," Mr Wilkie said.

"The fact is that a great many people are struggling mightily to even get in touch with Centrelink, waiting for an hour, two hours.

"It is simply not the case that you can get on that 1800 number and someone will pick up the phone straight away."

The office of Human Services Minister Alan Tudge declined to respond on Monday to Mr Wilkie's attack.


"We know for a fact that great many people are unable to find the historic paperwork that is necessary to clear up the matter," Mr Wilkie said.

"Heavens, the ATO only expects you to keep the paperwork for five years.

"Many people are scared when they get these letters, no wonder so many people are scared deeply so they just pay the bill."

He said the government's response to individual examples of unfairness by dismissing demonising these people.

"This is a terrible terrible episode," Mr Wilkie said.

The member for Denison wants a "timely and an accurate and a fair debt recovery system."