Centrelink to face federal court over flawed robo-debt system

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Centrelink is facing a landmark court case after Victorian Legal Aid (VLA) filed papers in the federal court on Tuesday challenging the legality of the infamous robo-debt system.

VLA says that the algorithm which averages a person’s yearly tax office income and automatically issues a debt-recovery notice if it doesn’t match fortnightly income reporting to Centrelink, is flawed.

It says that debts to Centrelink should not be imposed based on those numbers because they are unlawful.

The case is not about helping people avoid debt, but at paving the way for a fairer system, says VLA executive director of civil justice Rowan McRae.

“The way robo-debt averages people’s income assumes that they work neat, regular hours throughout a year. In reality, we know people work part time or sporadically throughout the year, because they’re studying, can’t get regular work, have multiple jobs or are unwell. This means the calculation of alleged ‘overpayments’ is often inaccurate,” said Ms McRae.

“Centrelink should create a system that encourages accurate reporting and fairly investigates overpayments. What we can’t accept is a system that is so clearly not working, that has been proven to be causing overwhelming hardship.”

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) supports the motion, describing the ‘disastrous’ Centrelink automated debt recovery system as a “devastating abuse” of government power.

“Robo-debt has unleashed thousands of debt notices in error to parents, people with disabilities, carers, students and people seeking paid work, resulting in people slapped with Centrelink debts they do not owe or debts higher than what they owe,” said ACOSS chief Dr Cassandra Goldie.

Kasey Chambers, executive director of Anglicare Australia, told Pro Bono News she hoped the robo-debt program would finally be shut down.

“We certainly hope whichever colour of government we end up with is looking carefully at this, because we really need to get rid of a system harming people who are coming into contact with it,” said Ms Chambers.

However, Ms McRae said the government should embrace technology but do it in a smarter way.

“We hope the court will ultimately find that robo-debt is unlawful and that a system with integrity will follow,” she said.

The Australian Greens are backing the court challenge and have again called for the suspension of the program during the court case.

“The human consequences of robo-debt are gobsmacking in the brazen way the government threw out fairness to pick on some of the most vulnerable people in Australia,” said Greens Senator Rachel Siewert.

“We should not be subjecting people on income support to a system which has such a huge rate of error. It just wouldn’t fly in any other industry but the government thinks they can get away with it because in many cases people on income support just don’t have the means to question their debt notices.” 

YourLifeChoices has repeatedly reported on the injustices wrought by the robo-debt program, and also supports the court challenge.

“The Government aims to save money by using automated services, but those savings have repeatedly come at the expense of older Australians’ dignity and peace of mind,” says YourLifeChoices publisher Kaye Fallick.

“Hopefully this court case will shine a light on the program’s legal flaws and, as a result, the Government will create a fairer, more accurate system that protects its bottom line but, more importantly, vulnerable Australians who are already struggling. Robo-debt certainly has its benefits. We don’t believe in people rorting the system, but the program needs to be fixed.”

The court case has also revived calls for increases to inadequate payments.

“Instead of making life harder for people with damaging policies like robo-debt, the Cashless Debit Card and ParentsNext, a good government would increase the grossly inadequate Newstart and Youth Allowance payments to ensure our social safety net does not trap people in poverty,” said Dr Goldie.

“Our social security safety net should provide people with the support and dignity they need to escape the poverty.”

Are you surprised at this court case? Do you think more cases will follow? Should the Government take robo-debt offline until the problems are fixed?

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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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128 Comments

Total Comments: 128
  1. 0
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    What was wrong with the old system that compared their annual income to their taxable income? I don’t understand how this robo-debt comparison could have ever been considered fair???

    • 0
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      It’s calculated on a fortnightly income basis – not annual. I’ve given the example of someone leaving uni with an engineering degree during a mining slump, going on the dole for six months while seeking work, and then finding a job at $150,000 p.a. for six months…

      Postulating that this means that they earned $75,000 during a period of unemployment is absurd. What it MAY do is indicate a possibility that there MAY have been an overpayment – but such things can be verified in five minutes by a competent Centrelink operator.

      Which leads us to two things:-

      a) Centrelink operators in the main are NOT competent.

      b) It appears that Centrelink operators are under orders to impose a penalty first and then wait for any reaction.

      Neither of these is good business practice (recall that movie ‘The Rain Maker’?), and most particularly it is not a suitable approach for a public service.

    • 0
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      b) It appears that Centrelink operators are under orders to impose a penalty first and then wait for any reaction.

      This is a time-honoured practice in unscrupulous businesses (and government departments now falsely viewed as ‘businesses’ and extensions/branches/subsidiaries of GovCo).. slam ’em first, then force them to go through a lengthy, tedious and costly appeals process in a game loaded against them – that way only the very determined will win in the end, or even get a fair hearing.

      All the rest you can then automatically classify as ‘rorters’ and ‘bludgers’ – as is clearly the intention of this LNP government.

      This is the equivalent of the fat cat tax rorters being heavily lawyered up, thus avoiding any close scrutiny.

      Not a good look for any government of this nation .

    • 0
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      The Liberal Government has been determined to destroy our Social Security system. The continuous Liberal cutbacks, privatisation, hiring very expensive corporate casual workers and the $10,000 per person cashless corporate welfare card. Robo debt is a scam to drive Australians away from Social Security.They are driven to create Centrelink an expensive elephant.

      Privatisation allows corporations to run the system and governments to be their puppets. That’s why all in Parliament are rich imbeciles. Nothing will happen to the banks and tax payer money will foot that bill too while the corporations will pay $0 tax. No robo debt for them.

    • 0
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      Oh – I have to add the the calculated move to creating of an annual income something that covers the whole financial year, when the individual may have had an extensive period of unem0loyment, converts the current system into one of a LOAN to the unemployed person.

      Taking my example above – if Jo D’Zyner is slugged for the six months unemployed payments because she has been employed for six months in twelve months, earning $75k – and that $75k is deemed to be income for the whole year – that is the same as demanding that the subsistence money paid for the unemployed six months is to be repaid – making it a loan.

      They must think we were born yesterday…….. plain as the nose on my face, which was bigger than my Maltese girl-friend’s nose was…

    • 0
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      An engineer who claims six month on Newstart and then gets a job for over $200,000 a year needs to be investigated.

    • 0
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      OG. Why? That sort of scenario is quite realistic. No rorts there. Certainly not compared with the snouts-in-the-trough mentality of your rorting Lieberal politician mates.

    • 0
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      OG, that engineer isn’t doing anything wrong. I agree the system is wrong to allow this. I know a fellow who did seasonal work for 25 years, earning over $200,000 a year but claiming unemployment and a host of family benefits for the months he wasn’t working – months when he was enjoying a wonderful holiday! But it’s a bad system that’s allowing that. The solution isn’t to persecute genuine claimants who had fluctuating incomes.

    • 0
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      Just what I wanted to say Bob but you said it better. As I see it, there is not a lot wrong with the robo shit system per se but any large anomalies should be investigated by a person. As well, any complaints should also be tossed to a person as a machine should be a tool to get things started, not used to be the final arbiter.

    • 0
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      Great minds think…. errr… ahhh.. what was that word now… ummmm….

      (you know my sense of humour)….

    • 0
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      I didn’t say the engineer did anything wrong. I used it as an example of what should be investigated.

      Whole reporting system is flawed in many ways. I know people who only work until they use up their work credits so they don’t have their welfare reduced. Then when they build up more work credits they get a job for awhile and so on.

      Obviously if your taxable income is greater than you have told Centrelink then you need a please explain. If you ignore it then you get a debt. Nothing wrong with that at all.

    • 0
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      Sometimes leaving a word off a platitude makes it better, Bob. “Great minds think” is a better saying like that as perhaps “familiarity breeds” is.

    • 0
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      Genius is 90% perspiration……

    • 0
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      Coolbreeze, you are right, the Robo-debt system was never designed to be fair, just a quick poorly designed attack on people weakened by their circumstances, declaring them guilty until proved innocent, expecting them to bear the burden of proof when many of them did not do anything wrong!

      A RC would have held the Management responsible (and possibly the Liberal Minister responsible), with people like Hank Jongen, who justified it, asked to pack their bags immediately. Great that finally somebody (VLA) has stepped up to fight it legally.
      Also, note that Labor seems to be very quiet about this – part of the same Tag Team who runs this country!
      Good comments from all above, except OG as usual.

  2. 0
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    Well if they designed the system with false parameters they deserve to cop a hefty punishment.

    • 0
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      You fail to understand Centrelink is a Govt. Institution, it does not have any money, it’s OUR Money, the Govt. does not have any Money, IT’s OUR MONEY. Punishment will only be effective if Heads Role. Just like the banking inquiry, Fines imposed on the NAB means clients are penalised. The only penalty that will be effective is if those responsible are charged and penalised either financially or imprisoned. If I get caught speeding in my car, does the the car get the fine or me?

    • 0
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      I’m well aware of all that…… you expect a book every time I comment? Got enough trouble writing my books now….. with time pressures etc from caring role…

    • 0
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      It is actually a very good way of sorting out those doing the wrong thing. Success rate was over 95 %.

    • 0
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      Bollocks OG! Plenty of innocent Centrelink customers have been unjustly persecuted by this heartless robotic system, instigated by your cronies in government.

    • 0
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      “I’m well aware of all that.” if you are well aware of that, why post crap?
      Tell us WHO THEY ARE, that deserve to be punished.

    • 0
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      The designers and managers of the system – and anyone shown to have ordered it… Yamashita Decision…

      Do I need to explain every detail in a simple post? **rolls eyes**

    • 0
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      Dream on, Program Designers worked to a specification, Managers managed to a manifesto, the guys responsible are the Bureaucrats, the faceless guys operating behind the scenes.
      Roll your eyes if you like, you know you made a stupid statement, man up and admit it.

    • 0
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      SFR – good luck trying to have an intellectual conversation with Trebor
      The boy deals in childish platitudes and worse he thinks by adding in in his eyes “smart arse” quotations , it makes him sound intelligent .
      Deluded childish wannabe

    • 0
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      Well – part of my CV is programming…and you may well be right about the designers…. however, a competent systems analyst would have said this does not meet the bill.

      As for managers working to a manifesto – guilty.

      Faceless bureaucrats – same thing…

      Those who ordered it in the political sphere – guilty.

      Open your eyes..

      Loathsome – grow up – you are the only child on this forum. Are you still here?

    • 0
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      **depraved indifference**

    • 0
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      You get one more chance to tighten up your act, Loathsome, and start acting like an adult – or it’s adios muchacho.

      Fair warning. Even my patience runs out at some time.

    • 0
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      O.G, I would not say that putting people under pressure by falsely accusing them of fraud is a successful outcome. Claiming this system as a success is tantamount to stating,we put twenty people in gaol who were innocent, but that is a good result because we got 80 people who were guilty.
      We can not allow the government to reverse our system of law and require the burden of proof to be placed on the accused rather than the accuser.
      The whole scheme is a scam, a bit like criminals sending out bogus invoices hoping that 10% of the recipients will pay rather than investigate the bill. That is the same strategy that this government is applying, they are no better than common criminals.

  3. 0
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    This government will do anything to make life miserable for any person receiving benefits of any sort

    • 0
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      If you do the right thing you have nothing to worry about.

    • 0
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      More bullshit, OG. People doing the right thing are being slapped with unwarranted debts and the attendant stress by a cruel and mindless robo-system.

    • 0
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      I agree this government is wrong to hurt innocent people. But how come Labor supporters condone Labor persecuting honest hard workers and ripping them off with cruel and unfair overtaxing, while affording pensioners – wealthy ones included – extreme privilege.

      Why doesn’t the law of ‘fair’ apply across the board, instead of conditional upon which party is being unfair?

    • 0
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      ….and right on cue here comes Rainey backing self interest.

    • 0
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      No, Sundays, NATIONAL INTEREST. It is not in anyone’s interests to make the tax system unfair and punitive such that it discourages work and saving. Labor supporters are the ones pushing self-interest. Totally selfish, disgustingly unfair, and totally illogical. They are somehow dumb enough to think tax can be tax when paid by a wealthy man but something else entirely when taken from a poor man’s income – unless of course that ‘poor’ man (or the man pretending to be poor) is one of the pensioner elite, in which case they are ENTITLED to TRIPLE handouts, while screaming that the self-funded shouldn’t even get a fair tax refund.

    • 0
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      Sundays – Hahaha, now look what you’ve done.

    • 0
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      Given I am self funded and seem to be your biggest critic while everyone else is clever eneough to ignore your self interested posts, who are these pensioner elites screaming you shouldn’t get a (very unfair) tax refund. Do you mean part pensioners, or maybe full pensioners whose only asset is their family home which has gone up in value over 40 years. Don’t give me made up stories of fictional people living in mansions and cruising the world on the OAP.

    • 0
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      They are NOT fictional stories, Sundays. There have even been huge boasts on here by millionaires who manipulated to claim a pension. And you may be self-funded, but clearly you either have a very large asset base, a secure income stream, or high returns that don’t rely on franked dividends. Good luck to you. Only the most selfish and arrogant would condone hurt to others while they party because they are not impacted. You should be ashamed of your selfishness.

      Plenty of part pensioners are VERY well off. And full pensioners who have expensive homes have, in many cases, bought them recently to reduce their assessable assets. In my suburb, almost every retiree has traded up to a very expensive home to qualify for the pension. And most of my relatives have done the same. I have relatives who have taken up to a dozen costly cruises prior to retirement to reduce their assets. One did so specifically because her brother is living in fear of a Labor Govt. demolishing his income. He has a $400,000 house, $120,000 in cash and personal assets, and $750,000 invested earning just $37500 LESS administration costs to support himself and his wife. Labor will leave them with a net income of just $25,000 a year. His sister worked out that she was better off with less than $500,000 and is ensuring she and her husband spend down to that level.

      My posts are NOT self-interested, Sundays. They are in EVERYONE’S interests. Lying to the public can never be condoned, and clearly what Labor plans will hurt the majority -otherwise they would not need to lie about their policy.

      I stand for FAIR tax that benefits the nation. And that means tax taken from income is TAX – to be retained, credited or refunded according to personal situation, not mythically and dishonestly reclassified and stolen because it is taken from the income of a poor shareholder who isn’t supported by the taxpayer.

    • 0
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      Well if you don’t manage your affairs under Labor to get the old age pension you will be barking mad unless you have over $2 million in assets.

    • 0
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      Well if you don’t manage your affairs under any government to get the old age pension you will be barking mad unless you have over $2 million in assets.

      Fixed for you…. no fee this time… but watch it.

      Depending on the assets – if they are income bearing assets – no dice. Accumulated assets for self use without bearing income – they are yours and not the property of the state.

    • 0
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      None of these people should have SMSF. Some adviser has set it up for them putting all the money in Australian shares. Told them they can live off the refund of franking credits. Keep the capital for their estate. I know I went to a seminar. People who dont know how to invest on their own. Credible financial advisers will tell you that unless you have close to $2M or know how to invest wisely in a diversified portfolio save the fees and all the compliance paperwork. Put your money in a large super fund (preferably industry). Save the stress, enjoy the fruits of your labour, live off your income stream and if you qualify for a small part pension at some point
      then that is your right

    • 0
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      O.G, ” if you do the right thing you have nothing to worry about?” Not proven in this case, many people who have been doing the right thing have been subject to bureaucratic thuggery instigated by a government with no ideas of natural justice.

  4. 0
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    Main issue with Centrelink is that they believe they are always right & don’t have to give reasons or even a breakdown of how anything is calculated. The biggest rorter of the system is Centrelink themselves are they have no transparency.
    Robo Debt should be a tool only to highlight a possible discrepancy, after that it should be investigated by a staffer who informs the recipient & asks them for all relevant information & books an interview.

    • 0
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      When you have so many rorting the system it is not practical to do that.

    • 0
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      Zero-evidence assertion, OG.

    • 0
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      OG, I suspect it’s more a case of it being expensive for Centrelink to be constantly checking on and trying to rectify errors by its staff and its computer systems. I’ve seen evidence of some horrendous errors – errors that suggest gross incompetence and negligence on the part of assessors.

    • 0
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      The fact that they apply affirmative action and employ countless casuals and part-timers might have a lot to do with it…..

    • 0
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      Centrelink is clearly an out of control behemoth, and such bureaucratic behemoths will make lots of mistakes. Their complex rules and processes are now beyond them to understand and apply fairly. It is time their size and role is severely curtailed – one area is the Old Age Pension – if they make it Universal (subject only to Age & Residency), a large part of Centrelink can be shut down, maybe with some of them diverted to other areas suffering from overload. A severe restructuring is now needed – starting with changes from the top. More accountability is needed for their stuff-ups, just like the Banks.

    • 0
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      The Social Security Act permits Centrelink to convert any deemed overpayment to a debt in the way it does. It’s called the insolence of office…..

      Clearly the Social Security Act is in need of revamping………..

      Where is the Opposition on this? Asleep at the wheel again, or too busy chasing unicorns for their feminist, gay, ethnic, and Indigenous masters and mistresses?

  5. 0
    0

    Thanks Trebor. That has made it clearer. And I agree with all of your other comments re the current government and their processes. They have made it very, very obvious where their alliances lie and that they don’t give a ….. about the common man.

  6. 0
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    What happened to innocent until proved guilty? actually that’s where they broke the law, – for eg, https://www.facebook.com/1termtony/videos/1052683561503448/

    • 0
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      Hence my dissertation elsewhere on the functionings of and differences between Law, law as approved by legislators, law as practiced in courts… and then regulation which often functions outside the Rule of Law – that last a kind of shadow government with a divine right to make its own rules.

      Hence my opposition to Star Chambers/commissions/tribunals of various kinds, and of certain legislative thrusts over the past near thirty years or perhaps more.

  7. 0
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    Where welfare is concerned a lot of people cheat and I know of many so the system needs to weed them out and prosecute as much as possible

    • 0
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      Robbodebt? (snuckles)**

    • 0
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      Sorry?? Did you spell your login name incorrectly? Should be Robo? Yes, the system needs to weed our the rorters but to throw a blanket approach over it and then make it very difficult to object or prove it incorrect (some of these debts go back years. Not everyone keeps details of their income for that long), is wrong and unfair. The government are increasingly making it more difficult to deal with Centrelink to the point where most people will throw up their hands and say too hard. Mission accomplished. I have an elderly friend who is on a pension and is literally terrified of having to deal with centrelink. It shouldn’t be like that!

    • 0
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      Its not a system to weed out cheaters. It’s a system which as Trebor has explained uses false parameters accusing genuine people of cheating and causing undue hardship and stress

    • 0
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      Pay the pension to everyone of pension age, regardless of assets, employment or income.

      Then close down centrelink, save $millions,

    • 0
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      Also not fair. Why should people with millions of dollars in assets receive a pension? Those funds would be better increasing the Newstart allowance.

    • 0
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      And what % is a lot Robbo, 1% 2%. A lot says nothing & your comment doesn’t address the original post of an automated robo debt having major issues.

    • 0
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      Robbo, I know that what you wrote is what you are paid to write, but that doesn’t exclude you from having to provide proof.
      In fact it is very difficult to cheat on welfare except in minor trivial ways, – Computers record our every transaction, how did you justify your petty little transaction for what you said?

    • 0
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      Dead right, Robbo – and just ignore the moaning and groaning from the permanently outraged – as usual, they are just wrong.

    • 0
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      Robbo and not a bludger both idiots

    • 0
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      That’s from 1984 a leftie who probably went from the dole to the pension and whose family are probably all bludgers and on welfare?

    • 0
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      Lookfar – you silly ostrich
      Centerlink rorters are getting away with millions of our tax dollars every year
      Many thousands have been robbing us blind to the tune of hundreds of thousands each over many many years

    • 0
      0

      I agree and robodebt did such a great job.

    • 0
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      The Rightard trolls like Robbo, Lothario and OG are out in force in this thread, and making typically stupid, sneering stereotypical characterizations of the Left (as usual).

    • 0
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      Scarcely a genuine ‘leftie’ to be found in Australia – most are comfortably in the middle with varying views either ‘way’. Quite a few rabid righties though….

    • 0
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      trolls like Robbo, Lothario and OG are all idiots.
      Robbo, you are full of it mate, you don’t know me AT ALL, laugh a minute you are ROFLMFHO like the rest of your rightie LNP paid troll mates.
      You need to get a real life lol,lol,lol, lol,

    • 0
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      Quite a few rapid lefties here, Trebor, and seemingly not capable of intelligent comment that doesn’t insult anyone who happens to disagree with them, and classify them – WITHOUT EVIDENCE – as ‘trolls’.

      I find words like ‘Rightard troll’ far more offensive than anything OG or Lothario have to say, despite the fact that I mostly vehemently disagree with them – and I certainly disagree with them strongly on this particular topic.

    • 0
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      Oh, I dunno- Loathsome has called people ‘the village idiot’ and such and any number of insulting and disparaging things, as well as using disparaging terms to describe their argument instead of actually arguing the point.

      He sowed the breeze and now is beginning to reap the righteous whirlwind….. OG, as I said, simply lives in a well and imagines that the world is the wall of the well and all he can see and touch.

    • 0
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      Don’t fall of that high horse of yours OGR. If memory serves me correctly as it always does the name calling, belittling etc started with the LNP trolls especially that fw Robbo who attacks anyone that isn’t rightwing with name calling, false claims & accusations.
      You OGR have also become nasty with name calling & angry comments etc, I would stronly suggest you diversify all you financials that generate FC to something else that won’t totally comsume your everyday life that makes you the nasty person you are because it doesn’t matter what the topic is you always bring up the issue with the ALP concerning your FC.
      Life is to short for anger, smile and be happy
      And until YLC admin start removing those posts that some deem offensive it will only get worse.
      Have a nice evening

    • 0
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      Robbo, just as many in business ” cheat”, shall we apply the same rule of you are guilty until we decide you are not to them?
      I think the Department and the government have acted illegally, many on this site have had the same view from the start. It is time that the process is tested and that compensation is paid if due.
      This government has cost the taxpayer billions with its haste to bring in untested and irrational policy and regulation, time for it to pay for its incompetence both financially and in the Ballot Box.

  8. 0
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    It is just not legal, simple really.

  9. 0
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    I am absolutely sick and tired of these same old leftie lawyers (who are paid from my taxpayer coin, entirely without my consent) protecting people who are rorting our generous social benefits system.
    Centrelink must not waver in its attempts to weed out these rorters and bring them to account.

  10. 0
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    My own experience with CL can only agree. At the same time that I went on the OAP, I started a very casual job. I went in and advised CL that I would be working full time for the first week for training, then going to 2 days a week. A few weeks later, checked to see my part-pension, and nothing. Went and saw them. The reporting period on my form showed 7 days of work over the fortnight, they looked at the total amount and decided that I earned too much for the OAP! So stopped it. NO contact with me.
    Trying to sort it out was an absolute nightmare. I think I went in their office 6 times. Staff were totally and completely ignorant and non understanding of my situation, and I had to show THEM how to calculate figures, taking into account the earning rate and the Work Bonus. They were completely and utterly blank when I gave them a full break down of what the figures should be. In the end I had to complain higher up the chain, and then they had to work out a back payment.
    The figure they worked out was absolutely no-where near what it should have been as calculated by both myself and my accountant. But try and get a break down from CL? – IMPOSSIBLE. They absolutely refused, saying they did not have to give a break down.
    No wonder there are Robo-debts. I too am now scared that in a few years time I will be hit with one, with not a single way of checking it. With CL, it is ‘guilty until you prove your innocence’ – but how can you prove a negative or something that did not transpire?

    A few years ago, I cared for an elderly aunt who was still living in her marital home, whilst husband was in a nursing home. She too received a Robo-Debt letter and for a lady in her early 80’s, this was most distressing, saying she owed nearly $2,600. Oh my God! – the hassle of trying to get an answer on this was laughable! It really was a case of persisting, CL are just hoping elderly people will just be trusting and pay up. (which my aunt wanted to do). After months of fighting, we WERE vindicated. Somehow the form the Nursing Home needed to complete, was not ticked correctly. They were both entitled to the Single OAP – CL – we are sure – still had them as a couple.
    No apology, final letter we received simply said something like -‘we have adjusted your file to reflect nil amount owed’.
    There HAS to be an independent that can oversee specific CL concerns. And staff need to be better trained. One person we spoke to had recently moved here from South Africa, and neither my aunt or I could understand her at all, her accent was so broad and words rolled in to one. we had to ask for someone else to speak to.
    Will be interesting to see the result of this court action.

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Age Pension

Age Pension payments in 2021 – what you need to know

World heavyweight boxing champion, Olympian, ordained minister and successful entrepreneur George Foreman returned to the ring at the age of...

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