The government's robodebt scheme is harsh, inaccurate and so dysfunctional that it must be scrapped. It is part of the cruel and punitive approach to social welfare by this government. Next week, in this place, there will be five bills, including the cashless debit card and drug testing bill, designed to isolate and stigmatise welfare recipients. These are not measures designed to build capacity or confidence to give a helping hand. They are measures, as is robodebt, designed to harass and discourage. Of course, Labor recognises the right of government to recoup legitimate debts that are owed but only with proper human oversight and only with appropriate warning and proper consultation. Labor is not convinced that the tactics used by this government have a solid legal foundation. The Liberals must act urgently to address the problems at the heart of this scheme, but, unfortunately, this issue has been around for many months and no action has been taken.
The government is using crude accounting techniques that match ATO and Human Services data with no human oversight to check if an error has been made. Even cruder assumptions are made about income and the timing of that income, which force vulnerable people to retrieve ancient or non-existing income records with a reverse onus of proof. And it isn't just a couple of errors or even a couple of hundred errors; the accounting comparison using ATO data is alleging false debt that, when challenged, has led to more than 100,000 allegations of debt being changed. I note that, when Stuart Robert was asked about how many robodebt notices had turned out to be wrong, he responded by saying:
Of the 800,000 income compliance reviews since 1 July 2016 that have been finalised, 80 per cent have resulted in a debt being collected.
Of Stuart Robert, Mr Shorten said:
He would not say how many of that 80 per cent had erroneous debt claims reduced. But that still leaves … 160,000 debts … that the Minister has confirmed the Government got wrong.
Recently, I was contacted by Dave, now 65 years old, from Grovedale in my electorate. Dave is still working. He says:
During 2011-12 I received a "New Start" allowance as a result of being out of work.
At the time I decided to develop my own business as the best way of keeping employed, long term.
During this period I reported to Centrelink with income and profit and loss statements.
My allowance was reduced as I obtained more work…on a periodic basis. This meant that there was never a constant income but one that was acquired over time.
My allowance was reduced to about $50 a period, and then, when I finally was deemed to be earning enough, the allowance stopped.
A while back I received a notice from Centrelink claiming that I had been overpaid.
More notices came and I asked for a review and finally I received demand notices via text from a debt collection service. I again disputed the claim and asked for a review. The demands stopped but I received no outcome. This was done around Christmas 2018.
Last week, 3rd of September, I received another letter from Centrelink, again claiming I owed them $3019, including a quite substantial amount of interest.
I have complied with all reporting procedures asked of me by Centrelink. During the time, I used an Accountant to make sure all was done correctly.
I feel Centrelink has treated my case without reference to the specifics, basically casting me into a broad net without thought.
Dave has tried to do everything correctly. Dave is just one of the thousands of Australian who are puzzled and stressed by the nature of the process and what they see as the errors of calculation. Worse than that, thousands of these quiet Australians would have been so scared that they would have unknowingly paid false debts.
Minister Robert keeps misleading Australians. We've been told many furphies, including that the hounding of historical debts before the 2013-14 financial year would not occur. Well, Dave's debt is from 2011-12, Minister. We now understand from leaked cabinet documents prepared for Mr Robert that cases like Dave's will only be the beginning if he decides to go ahead with this sick plan.Share Tweet