Calls for an End to Centrelink Debt Policy Despite Changes
15 February 2017 at 4:49 pm
The social sector is calling for the government to “shut down” the Centrelink “robo-debt policy” despite the announcement that Centrelink will no longer demand immediate payment for debts that are under review.
Human Service Minister Alan Tudge announced a number of amendments on Tuesday evening designed to improve the fairness of the controversial automated recovery system, including a move away from demanding immediate payment for debts.
“I’ve recently made the decision to say that, well, if you ask for a review then you don’t have to enter into a repayment schedule,” Tudge said.
“It’s only after the review is completed and you still owe the debt that you’ll have to enter into that repayment schedule.”
Other changes to the process included making it easier to contact Centrelink, allowing individuals to use bank statements rather than payslips to prove their income, and allowing people to by-pass the MyGov portal to review their debt.
However the move was greeted by protest from unions, community groups, Labor, the Greens and the campaigning group GetUp who claimed the changes failed to address fundamental issues of the system.
Speaking outside Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the system had made people feel “afraid, distressed and deeply unsafe” and called on the government to “shut this system down”.
“The announcements made by the government overnight do not address the fundamental problem in this system,” Goldie said.
“The government is avoiding the reality of this, [but] it cannot avoid the deep distress of the voices of people in the Australian community.”
Goldie said hundreds of thousands people had had this auto debt recovery system “unleashed upon them”.
“We are talking about people who are in many cases on very low incomes who do not have thousands of dollars in the bank just waiting to be paid to a debt, even when that debt is owed,” she said.
“The kind of approach this government has taken to debt recovery is unprecedented and would not be tolerated by any private corporation in Australia.”
Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the government’s announcement of “improvements” to the debt recovery system were “fiddling around the edges”.
“Making an awful clunky system that lacks proper human oversight slightly more user friendly is not going to stop the fact that thousands of struggling Australians are being issued with debts that they do not have,” Siewert said.
“Why should people have to navigate a slightly improved system when they shouldn’t be navigating it at all?
“We know many people do not have the debts at all but are having to prove their innocence, which is reversing the onus of proof. This in itself shows a fundamental flaw in policy.
“I urge the government to scrap the automated debt recovery system entirely. Let’s inject ‘human’ back into the Department of Human Services”.
The latest changes follow months of complaints that the system is wrongly issuing debts.
The system faces inquiries by the commonwealth ombudsman and a Senate committee.