It's really not a great time to be busted in the entitlements cookie jar amidst stories of single parents, students, pensioners and people with disabilities being pursued for debts that, in many cases, they did not even owe. When even A Current Affair is sticking up for people on the dole, you're doing your scapegoat politics very badly.
I’ve been digging into the financial justifications for the automation effort, and it’s a convoluted beast. The numbers being bandied about sound good in a headline, but figuring out the real numbers has been surprisingly difficult. Little wonder that the stories containing any of the figures, particularly the ones used by Ministers Alan Tudge and Christian Porter, are confusing at best.
Here’s my attempt to unravel what’s really going on here. I’ll provide links to primary sources, rather than media reports, where I can.
As the pressure ramps up on Human Services Minister Allan Tudge over Centrelink’s most recent attempts to claw back billions paid out through the welfare system, the department is putting together a new procurement panel for “advanced customer aggression training” and preparing to roll out front-line virtual assistants.
It would surprise the federal Coalition government — that assumes we dislike welfare recipients as much as it does — that one of its biggest problems at the start of 2017 is the Centrelink debt fiasco.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave will investigate the government's controversial data matching-driven welfare debt collection system aimed at recouping as much as $4 billion in false payments.
In a classic operation, most commonly perpetrated by telephone conmen and door-knocking scammers, the Turnbull Government has hit the jackpot. Boasting of returns of over $300 million after hitting up only 169,000 Australians, someone deep in the murky depths of Government has clearly been taking lessons from the lowest of predatory scumbags.
Yesterday I watched, incredulous (I know, only a fool with no sense of the immediate past could continue to be startled by any action performed by this government) as Minister for Social Services Christian Porter claimed across the media that the Centrelink debt recovery process was working just fine, and the fact that a “few” citizens are being unfairly targeted was of no great consequence. If they’re upset, too bad, get over it, there’s nothing wrong with our process, was Porter’s basic message.
Here are some of the things that are wrong with the Centrelink process.
Doctors from top Australian universities say they too were hit with erroneous Centrelink debt notices — and even they can’t seem to fix the mistakes.
Darren O’Connell, who has a PhD in economics and lectured at Curtin University, told news.com.au he has tried eight times since November to get his inaccurate debt removed from the system, but the letters keep coming.
“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's automated system, which has ramped up since October, is now sending 20,000 review letters about supposed discrepancies each week, with scores of Australians - including people with cancer - telling news.com.au of the anxiety, stress and even suicidal thoughts prompted by the debt letters that dropped through their mailboxes just before the festive period.