POLITICS

Centrelink 'Monumental Mess' To Be Grilled In Senate Inquiry

Labor, Greens team up to investigate #NotMyDebt saga.

07/02/2017 5:26 PM AEDT | Updated 08/02/2017 10:28 AM AEDT

The controversial Centrelink automated data-matching debt collection program will be examined in a Senate inquiry, after Labor and the Greens teamed up to call for an investigation of the #NotMyDebt saga.

Thousands of Australians across the country have recently received correspondence from Centrelink claiming there is a discrepancy in their records, and asking for updates and clarification. People have received debt notices for many thousands of dollars, and many are claiming their debts received are incorrect, too high, or just plain false.

Blame has been levelled at the automated process, which allegedly sometimes counts income from the same job twice or incorrectly averages income across an entire year.

As The Huffington Post Australia, and many other media outlets, have reported many people are disputing their debts. Some have received debts for a time they weren't even on Centrelink; others have been told to pay the debt even if they dispute it; and despite the Commonwealth Ombudsman already launching an investigation, human services minister Alan Tudge, the MP in charge, maintains everything is working well.

On Monday, Greens senator Rachel Siewert and Labor senator Doug Cameron confirmed they would jointly call for a Senate inquiry into the Centrelink automated debt recovery system.

"In an attempt to claw back money from struggling Australians accessing our social safety net, the Government has caused a monumental mess that they refuse to back away from. This is just the tip of the iceberg as we know so many people are yet to receive the debt notice, it's only going to get worse," Siewert said.

The two parties are expected to table their call in the Senate on Tuesday, and are confident it will get the necessary support. Between the two parties, they have 35 votes in the Senate, needing just four more for a majority, and the crossbench parties have voiced their concern over the Centrelink furore. Nick Xenophon, who carries three votes with his NXT party, has spoken out about the automated debt recovery system, as has One Nation's Brian Burston.

The notice to be introduced by Siewert and Cameron calls for the inquiry to examine the error rate in debt notices, the capacity of Centrelink's online and phone services (which have been jammed at times in recent weeks), the data-matching process itself, and the government's response to concerns around the program.

"It is bizarre that despite the roll-out of the automated debt recovery system going so dismally wrong and at the expense of struggling Australians, the Government has offered no answers and next to no guarantee that they will improve the programme, nor have they committed to abandoning it," Siewert said.

"It is clear that the automated debt recovery system must be investigated by a senate inquiry so we can drill down and begin providing answers to the community that the Government won't."



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