Why stop digging when we've only just started?
Australia's Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has finally weighed in on the country's Centrelink debacle, having returned from holidays with a sheet full of talking points.
Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the minister denied there was any problem, said he wasn't aware of the system creating any false debts, and denied that anybody has been asked to pay back debts they don't owe.
Why stop digging when we've only just started?
Given the current furore over the Centrelink debt-recovery debacle, this is a fascinating reminder of how far politics has shifted since then. Despite exploiting fears about Labor's supposed "socialist objective", Menzies expanded social welfare to introduce the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, increased support for age pensioners and increased unemployment and other benefits.
The government decided to ditch it’s hard-working employers at the Department of Human Services who managed debts owed to Centrelink, despite their warnings that switching to an automated computer system would end in disaster.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Centrelink was sending out letters and hounding people for money they simply did not have thanks to a glitch in the system.
The St Vincent de Paul Society has called on the government to ensure that Centrelink is kept in public hands and properly resourced to support people rather than punish them, after a debt recovery scheme aimed at returning nearly $4 billion to the budget left thousands of clients with miscalculated bills.
“Centrelink is letting me die,” reads graffiti scrawled on the wall of the disabled toilet at a branch in Sydney’s inner west.
That’s the perception of some Australians trying to negotiate a benefits system that appears seriously flawed, where letters slamming people with bogus debts of thousands of dollars were widely distributed over the Christmas period.
Centrelink has been slamming thousands of Australians with inaccurate debt letters for months now, so here’s what to do if you are contacted by the agency.
The National Foundation for Australian Women is profoundly concerned by the Ministerially approved processes for so-called debt-recovery from Centrelink clients, and calls on the Government to cease using the process pending receipt of a report from the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
Centrelink has removed advice telling welfare recipients they only needed to keep payslips for six months, which conflicted with the government’s efforts to claw back debts from up to six years ago.
Staff inside the Centrelink unit responsible for income reviews and eligibility assessments warned officials from the Department of Human Services that automated data matching would lead to incorrect debts being issued to low-income and vulnerable Australians, an insider has revealed.
Centrelink staff will not be able to cope in an expected “perfect storm” of customer enquiries arising out of the debt data-matching scandal, the union representing public service workers has warned.
The Community & Public Sector Union has demanded the federal government immediately suspend the automated big data system, which in the past week has been hammered for its lack of accuracy in determining debts.
“This scheme is an absolute nightmare for thousands of Centrelink customers who’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, and the staff who are bearing the brunt of this mess,” said CPSU assistant national secretary Michael Tull.
There is nothing fair about the Turnbull Government's pension cuts and Centrelink crackdowns, no matter how they spin it.
The public sector union is calling on the federal government to suspend its controversial Centrelink debt recovery system, warning the public will suffer as staff struggle to cope.
Melbourne barrister and spokesperson for Australian Lawyers Alliance Greg Barns told Daily Mail Australia in some cases Centrelink may have breached its duty of care to customers.
People who have been unfairly targeted with inaccurate Centrelink debts could have grounds to sue the government, according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
The social services minister, Christian Porter, continued to defend the automated system on Monday, saying the debts being issued were “fairly and legitimately calculated after a very staged and methodical process”.
The commonwealth ombudsman confirmed to Guardian Australia it had initiated its own investigation of the debt recovery system.
The main public service union has warned Centrelink and Medicare staff are "desperately overstretched" and struggling to cope with the public backlash over a flawed debt recovery scheme.
The warning comes after the man hand-picked by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to lead digital projects said the public services needed "radical upskilling" to deliver services.
Centrelink's controversial debt recovery system must be urgently suspended, according to the public sector union which has warned staff are already struggling to cope.
The CPSU says service standards have already dropped to “unacceptable levels” following thousands of job cuts in the Department of Human Services, and now the latest scandal is piling on more pressure.
The federal government continues to back its highly controversial automated Centrelink debt recovery system despite heavy criticism and digital transformation heavyweight Paul Shetler labelling it “appalling”.
A social media campaign #notmydebt is sharing stories of individual’s debt letters and the effect it has had on them.
What stops most middle class people from committing fraud – say, by claiming false expenses, making dodgy tax claims or exaggerating their assets to a bank – is thought to be a calculus of the risk of being caught and the extent of public disgrace if one is caught. By contrast, politicians seem to assume that underclass and working class fraud, like other crimes, including violence, being committed by them is deterred only by the severity of jail sentences.
The theory might be wrong, at least as far as welfare fraud is concerned.
An extortion racket is punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people in Australia. But far from being a criminal enterprise run by a mafia gang, it’s the Australian government running the racket.
Senate documents show the agency doesn't keep data on underpayments.
The Australian Greens are calling for the Government’s automated debt recovery system to be scrapped and investigated through a senate inquiry.
There is a dark irony in the fact that many of those who have been hit by Centrelink's automated debt recovery debacle are on benefits in the first place because automation is dramatically changing the face of work, making it harder for many people to find secure, paid employment.
While the still-unfolding event is a political mess for the Turnbull government, and a personal tragedy for those caught up in it, it's important that we reflect on what it means for how our politics deals with welfare and work.
I write with regard to the local impact if the deeply flawed Centrelink data matching and debt recovery program.
Over the past few weeks my office has been inundated with calls from my constituents over matters related to this problem.
If Centrelink is found to have breached its duty of care, those people wrongly issued debt notices have grounds to sue the social service, Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesperson Greg Barns told Guardian Australia.