DHS won’t rule out targeting age pensioners next

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The Department of Human Services (DHS) has not ruled out expanding the robo-debt program to target age pensioners and vulnerable Australians currently on the ‘safe list’.

DHS department secretary Renee Leon said that while the department had no current plans to target age pensioners, any decision to expand the scheme to meet budget targets would happen “further down the track”.

Leaked government documents seen by Guardian Australia revealed how the DHS recommended the cabinet sign on off on 350,000 online debt compliance reviews of older and vulnerable Australians over the next three years in order to meet “estimated savings over the forward estimates [that] cannot be achieved without undertaking sensitive cohort reviews”.

The submission proposed phasing in robo-debt reviews of older Australians, which would have begun with a small number of reviews early next year.

The government appears to have shelved that idea – at least for the short term.

When Greens senator Rachel Siewert asked Ms Leon at senate estimates whether the government would expand the scheme to include older Australians and the vulnerable, Ms Leon replied: “The government has no plans to recommence those.”

When Ms Siewert pressed on, asking “that doesn’t answer my question, have you provided advice?”

Ms Leon replied: “We discuss the operation of the program with government from time to time and in the course of that, the government has indicated that it has no intention to recommence the reviews of those cohorts.”

When asked by Labor’s Claire Moore if the government could make its estimated targets while still excluding sensitive cohorts, Ms Leon said a decision could be made in future, but maintained that there was no “current” proposal or “immediate fiscal need” to make this decision while the scheme was on track to meet its targets.

“Whether we will need to go to government and seek their views about putting them back in is a matter that we’ll come to further down the track depending on the progress of the program,” said Ms Leon.

The robo-debt scheme has been heavily criticised since its inception, with multiple examples of incorrect debt notices and bullying tactics of vulnerable Australians.

During estimates, the department conceded that a “manual staff error” led to 10,000 incorrect debt notices sent in April, and that Centrelink had issued debts to 169 welfare recipients who were already dead, and also approached representatives of “deceased customers” in 515 cases. Almost all the debts were waived.

The scheme is the subject of a second Senate inquiry, a federal court challenge and a potential class action.

Labor’s Kimberley Kitching also questioned Ms Leon on the legality of the scheme, asking if the department had “any concerns about the lack of legal foundation for the scheme, particularly its reverse onus of proof”.

“We don’t accept that there’s a reverse onus of proof, Senator,” said Ms Leon.

Would you be surprised if the scheme was expanded to include older Australians? Do you think age pensioners should be included?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?

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117 Comments

Total Comments: 117
  1. 0
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    Centerlink’s conduct is just as criminal as that of the banks.

    • 0
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      Nothing criminal about the banks at all. Thanks to the banks I enjoy the life I do today.

    • 0
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      VeryCaringBigBear, you obviously are self-funded. I hope your shares didn’t support wars, mining, and anything that harmed others for profit.

    • 0
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      .. and that’s criminal …

    • 0
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      I have no problem with mining shares, oil and coal shares at all. We all use them in our every day lives.

    • 0
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      VCBB has $400k in his SMSF. He gloats about it all the time. He has changed his handle from Old Geezer. There is nothing worse than a smug self appraising SA when it comes to discussing the less fortunate people in this world that through no fault of there own, find themselves struggling to make ends meet. But pontificate all you like VCBB, I for one will not be requesting an autograph or joining the “aren’t I great” VCCB club.

    • 0
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      jackie – why the hell are you always soooo negative? The Govt is not right, neither is the other mob. Share owners are not OK either as some shares are with companies you don’t like. Not everybody wants to go thru life with zilch.

    • 0
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      Where did you get the idea I have $400,000 in a SMSF? Would I be on the full OAP if I did?

    • 0
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      Her, Here Cowboy Jim. I know that she also benefits from mining, and things that make a profit.

    • 0
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      If you have an income you make either a profit or collect welfare.

    • 0
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      First time you’ve mentioned being on the OAP.

    • 0
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      Verycaring, I too have the same feeling when it comes to shares, love them at dividend time, especially when fully franked, something like xmas every 3 months, I don’t receive anything off centrelink.

  2. 0
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    This is a futile exercise in scaremongering. The truth is that there is no current plan to increase the robo-debt scheme to target age pensioners nor has a decision been made to expand the scheme. Further, the government has no plans to expand the scheme.

    What we see year after year by government departments is their budget being put to government to justify their spending. Included in these budget plans are methods to either cut costs or increase revenue. Just because a department is putting ideas forward doesn’t mean that they will be accepted. Whereas the existing robo-debt can identify those who may be defrauding the system through taxation returns, most age pensioners do not submit a tax return so that avenue is closed.

    Answering questions on current or future plans by politicians are fraught with danger. We can go back and quote politicians who made promises before an election but who later broke them because circumstances changed. There is a saying that may be more applicable and it’s the “I never rule anything or out” answer that doesn’t answer a direct question but won’t get anyone into trouble for lying.

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      Horrie, I would not call this “futile scaremongering”. Bringing the issue to attention has a clear purpose – to influence the Government to change its mind, or perhaps to not change its mind – either way to influence the Government to not put the robo-debt dogs on to pensioners. BTW I am not a pensioner so no self interest in the matter.

      The tactic you label “scaremongering” works. Remember the Liberals’ screaming about Mediscare? Well there is no doubt the Liberals are ideologically opposed to Medicare and they had ideas of making major changes. However, after they labelled the warnings from Labor as “Mediscare” they were politically unable to make the changes that their ideology and their cheer squad, the IPA, wanted to make. So “scaremongering” works. Another example the recent Liberal election campaign based on Death Tax and franking credit distortion. The Libs are skilled in scaremongering and misinformation.

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      Horrie, I would not call this “futile scaremongering”. Bringing the issue to attention has a clear purpose – to influence the Government to change its mind, or perhaps to not change its mind – either way to influence the Government to not put the robo-debt dogs on to pensioners. BTW I am not a pensioner so no self interest in the matter.

      The tactic you label “scaremongering” works. Remember the Liberals’ screaming about Mediscare? Well there is no doubt the Liberals are ideologically opposed to Medicare and they had ideas of making major changes. However, after they labelled the warnings from Labor as “Mediscare” they were politically unable to make the changes that their ideology and their cheer squad, the IPA, wanted to make. So “scaremongering” works. Another example the recent Liberal election campaign based on Death Tax and franking credit distortion. The Libs are skilled in scaremongering and misinformation.

    • 0
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      Horace Cope’
      For your information; when the scheme started and Scomo was the minister, I was hit with a demand for 600plus dollars with the claim I’d ben overpaid on my age pension; I was in my 80’s then. I don’t use tax returns but the excuse by DSS was information received from the Tax office??? Old trusting fool me, I didn’t query and simply paid-up. I cannot find the paper-work relating to the demand; the hullaballoo on the subject matter hadn’t then started

    • 0
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      The price of liberty from Centrelink Invasion is Eternal Vigilance…. and the way things look – we sure need a Vigilance Committee right there…

      Never let the bastards sneak up on you – do not Endeavour to Persevere… and while we’re at it – what is it they are distracting us from with all this guff about Ayers Rock, Murray Water, and attacks on pensioners and unemployed?

    • 0
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      Just a minor correction to your post, Sen.Cit.90, the scheme to recover overpayments from welfare recipients was started by Labor and was jointly announced by Plibersek and Shorten so as Morrison was in opposition he couldn’t have been the minister.

    • 0
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      Hi Horace Cope, Thanks for pointing that out; I do believe that Scomo had the job when I was hit with the payment recovery, must have been when the LNP came to power?? and they continued with the scourge.

  3. 0
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    Anyone with a sense of fairness condemns this government for using the robodebt system, but rest assured age pensioners will ‘revolt’ if it used against them…LNP beware..

    • 0
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      I have a sense of fairness and do not condemn the use of robodebt for recovering overpayments. I do have an issue with the language used in the process of clarifying the debt however that is easily addressed. There is no reason to junk a system that simply automates a manual process that has been in place for more than a decade.

    • 0
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      You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about Farside. To issue a ROBODEBT without ensuring the credentials are correct is unethical and unconscionable to say the least. If a business for example issues you with a debt notice with a threat to sue, you are entitled to ask arhat business for “further and better particulars” relating to that debt. But Centrelink doesn’t do that. They just say pay up or be damned.
      Procedural fairness is absent in the debt collection process used by Centrelink and it must be forced to change, just like any other business enterprise.

    • 0
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      Totally agree thommo
      this ROBODEBT is nothing short of criminal
      But the politicians dont care. Innocent people being issued with false debts and no way of proving that they are innocent. The government is a joke!
      People are dying in the streets, no food, no shelter!
      And this is supposed to be the “lucky” country? yeah maybe once upon a time it was, but not now. People complain about Scumbo and co but they are the idiots who voted for him to win!!! Makes me so angry that people are so goddam stupid

  4. 0
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    The elderly should only be included if they are retired parliamentarians.

  5. 0
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    The govt is very happy to spend millions on dole bludgers, refugees, migrants, pollies’ rich pensions n foreign aid, and do not mind taking money from older aussies to fund the former.
    How does this make sense????

  6. 0
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    This is the reason I ask for a copy of any Centre Link correspondence even if I visit them to ensure if they come “A” knocking I have their provided information to answer their question. Do not rely upon your records as C/L will give some other info.
    Have a copy of their info.
    Would you trust a Poly.? If their lips are moving he/she is lying

    • 0
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      bobm – the same here. I keep record of every single contact with CL. I have been caught out once already when they incorrectly cancelled my Aged Pension when they took my fortnightly pension as my weekly wage. This was despite very clear records provided. Took months to sort out, and their back payment was grossly underpaid. But as usual – they don’t have to give a breakdown, or summary of how they reached their figures.
      In the end, the constant mistakes – and ignorance and lies – saw me chuck in the job. I simply don’t trust them, and the constant worry of them constantly getting it wrong, made me decide to NOT work in my senior years.
      Very easy to target those in their senior years, not as computer and finance savvy, many still who barely use an ATM, and aren’t registered with MyGov. (as my aunt that I helped care for, was). They put her through hell when my uncle went into final care (so both went on the single aged pension). Again, the mistakes CL made were a joke. I spent hours, days – and losing allot of hair – trying to sort it out, No way could my aunt manage this.

    • 0
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      good tip bobm, though the last comment adds no value to the advice given.

  7. 0
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    When are they going to rename the Department of Human Services to the Department of Inhuman Services.

    • 0
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      the Department of Inhuman Services.
      file:///var/folders/q4/rjpty2cx2h56zrz407zw_5sc0000gn/T/com.apple.mail/com.apple.mail.drag-T0x60000007e980.tmp.FrUWp4/CENT%20copy.mp4

      This one is inhumane, by the Juice factory, – the Internet seems to have censored that video, not surprising as our rich masters hate humour.
      If this link doesn’t open for you look fot CENT4 – I got it but the link above seemed funny, – whatever they claim to be the department of inhumane services and it is a classic.
      With the above link. just copy it and paste or drag it into your browser.
      Please tell me if you were able to get it.

  8. 0
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    Get rid of the asset test etc etc and government save millions in costs. just have universal age pension and all aged covered by taxation normal levels

    • 0
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      Good idea as long as it is all paid back from your estate when you die.

    • 0
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      Oh what a clever bear you are, caring bear. So all the folk who spent, spent, spent all their working lives would go onto the universal pension with no estate to pay back at the end and the folk who have gone without in order to have a bit put by for a few luxuries have the balance of their savings stolen by government at their end. No logic in that.

    • 0
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      As a matter of interest, carebear, you do realise that as it’s a universal pension your estate will be subject to governmental greedy fingers. After the fiasco of robodebt do you trust them with your estate?

    • 0
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      VCBB, nice to welcome a convert. to my view, previously offered to this forum, that all this aggravation could be avoided if any Social Security payments received by individuals should be considered an interest free loan from the Government to be repaid from your estate (with some exceptions). We already have HECS levied on tertiary education, why not extend it to Social Security payments.

    • 0
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      Surely that would be a violation of their human rights. No other pensioner section in Australia is subject to that. There are politicians who left parliament on a huge pension with perks in their 30’s and couldn’t have couldn’t have amassed anything like enough super for sixty years. Taxpayers will be funding them totally for forty years. Like I’ve pointed out before everyone targets the poorest and sees the biggest rorters as people to look up to.

    • 0
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      Oh Triss, how can you be so bitter. Most people who are on the OAP are normal hardworking people who have not had the opportunities that others have had or luck has not smiled on them. True there are those who are spendthrift, but a only a small minority. A few of us who are well off were hardworking and denied themselves a life but most were just plain lucky. In my case I was extremely lucky, I inadvertently chose the right career and in the end it paid off handsomely. I know I was lucky not smart, nor did I deprive myself, or my family, of good times but I do not like to sneer those who have not been as fortunate as myself.

    • 0
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      what human rights are being violated Triss?

    • 0
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      I’ve read through my posts again and can’t find anything bitter in them. I assert and always will that, wealthy or not, people should be treated fairly.

    • 0
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      Triss it is already happening in that those who spend, spend get welfare but those who save get nothing.

    • 0
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      VCBB, you said above that you get a full pension. I think you may contradict yourself.

    • 0
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      Sorry Triss but you sound bitter to me. Suggesting that anyone who has no estate is because they were spendthrift is not only untrue but it is demeaning to those who ae less fortunate than ourselves. As for politicians, my understanding of the current paliamentry pension scheme (post 2004) is that they have to be at preservation age (ie 60) before they can receive a pension, they cannot get a parliamentary pension in their 30s. Not so in the pre 2004 scheme but few politicians could qualify (ie be elected at 3 elections) in their 30s. This is what conservative governments would call the ‘politics of envy”.

  9. 0
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    Get rid of the asset test etc etc and government save millions in costs. just have universal age pension and all aged covered by taxation normal levels

    • 0
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      Quite correct, john, and sack Hank Jongen who continues to defend the indefensible, badly designed robo-debt system. We won’t need such high-paid, useless, bumbling idiots if we had universal age pension as the Dept will be much smaller and they can pay lesser for running it.

  10. 0
    0

    Once again, only negative comments, biting the hand that feeds you. I personally am not in favour of the robo system, however if you wrought the system, whatever age you are, you should pay the penalty. Seems only fair to me. Once again it is taxpayers money that supports all the social services. A lot of them I don’t agree with but unfortunately that’s the way it is in a democracy. It’s akin to surveillance cameras and speed cameras. If you don’t commit a crime, you don’t have anything to worry about. Society these days seems to be so much in favour of the perpetrator and not the everyday Joe doing the right thing or the protectors who oversee the various systems. A time capsule back to the 50s may be the way to go. Cheers Jacka.

    • 0
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      Not all negative, as to be expected Horace Cope manages to defend the government stance and projected money grab.

    • 0
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      Who says people are rorting, Jacka? Social Security – as opposed to ‘welfare’ and social services – is paid for via a tax levy unending…. has been since Menzies wore knee pants…

    • 0
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      I agree with you, Jacks, up to a point, but the first people to be targeted are always at the poor end of town. Politicians who charge the taxpayers $300 a night for staying in a house owned by their spouses or themselves seem to be above reproach…and that’s only one rort, there are dozens of others.

    • 0
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      Jacka.
      We are complaining about the large amount of innocent people who were “targeted”, then C/L admitting a mistake and (by the figures above), not all paid back fully. Not to mention the stress and bewilderment unnecessarily inflicted on the very people we have to protect – the aged AND infirm. Why target them? Surely it couldn’t be that C/L consider them easy targets could it?
      I am a part time carer and the people I see day to day would all be horrified if they received some of the correspondence that has been sent out – but most of the affected people would just say “Pay it, then its done with”. Its the only avenue they have of ridding themselves of the stress. That’s the ones that can afford it. Luckily for some that can’t a carer will sometimes just quietly pay up, and not mention it.

    • 0
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      Jacka, again we come up against this lie that pensioners, etc do not ‘deserve’ whatever, yet there was a (8%?) tax on all workers way back when, the which is still being levied, to pay for our old age.
      You did not pay that money only if you have cheated your Tax, and there it lies, the ordinary folk have been paying that “age tax’ for all their lives, the rich almost never pay tax so feel that everyone else is stupid to have paid that tax, so we are not entitled to our old age pension because we were so stupid we paid for it.
      That attitude is sick and wrong, and there has got to be an accounting for that thieving deceit.

    • 0
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      It was, and is, 7.5% of tax rate still included in Individual tax rates which pays for this. Nonsensical comment from ignorant Jacka as the key issue is that the robo-debt software is badly designed and produces incorrect results which are used to hound vulnerable people, many of whom cannot fight back, without even giving the details how they arrived at the so-called debt.
      Any system which is 100% accurate (as technology can ensure it) is welcome to stop rorts, not this garbage of a system.
      Why doesn’t the ATO use it instead to rake in Billions from tax evaders instead? Because those tax evaders WILL fight back, and politicians will lose their jobs!

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