As the Centrelink debt recovery scandal grew and grew and grew over the holiday period, the responsible politician -- human services minister Alan Tudge -- was nowhere to be seen. He was on holiday, and certainly didn't rush back to work when all hell was breaking loose as people were issued with thousands of dollars in debts they claimed they didn't owe, Centrelink's phone services were swamped, and huge questions were raised over the fairness and accuracy of the new automated system.
Well, Tudge is back at work, and went on ABC Radio National on Wednesday morning to talk about the drama. His response can be summed up thusly:
Despite pressure from Labor, the crossbench, legal groups, welfare experts and more, Tudge told host Hamish McDonald that the government would not be stopping the automated debt recovery program. This comes despite widespread claims that incorrect debts are being issued, people are being forced to begin paying back thousands in debts that they dispute, and that legal experts claim the government could be sued over the program.
"The system is working and we will continue with that system," Tudge said.
"I'm not aware of individuals who are completely convinced that they don't owe money but have been given a debt notice."
I'm not aware of individuals who are convinced that they have been issued with a debt notice without owing money - @AlanTudgeMP— RN Breakfast (@RNBreakfast) January 10, 2017
Tudge also denied claims reported by the Huffington Post Australia that Centrelink phone lines had been so jammed that some people had called up to 350 times before connecting with a call operator.
"I'm very surprised by that figure. I know the call wait times at Centrelink can be long at times. The average call wait time at present is about 12 minutes," Tudge said.
The minister urged clients to be "patient" when contacting Centrelink.
Check out Radio National's website to hear the full interview.
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