Representatives of the community sector have told the Senate inquiry into Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system that the program is unfair, inhumane and an abuse of government power that is undermining confidence in public administration.
Chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service (Acoss), Cassandra Goldie, told the inquiry that poor treatment of welfare recipients has scared individuals away from claiming income support they otherwise would have a right to access.
“It is really important to understand the power dynamic here,” said Ms Goldie. “The Department of Human Services plays such a critical, powerful role in Australian society. We call it a safety net, let’s not forget the importance of that.”
Ms Goldie believes that Centrelink should be creating a supportive environment to help the nation’s most vulnerable people.
Chairing this inquiry is Greens Senator Rachel Siewert. Yesterday, Ms Siewert expressed her concern with some of the practices that were in-place, as well as how seriously the system had affected welfare recipients.
“Acoss [is] right in pointing out the absurdity of recipients having to investigate their own debt and prove their innocence,” said Ms Siewert. “That job belongs to the department, the department should clearly point out the nature and details of the debt.”
Ms Siewert was also troubled by the 8500 debts that had been waived or reduced to zero between July and December of last year, and that Centrelink had not kept a record of how many were caused by errors with the system, rather than the recipient.
Should the inquiry recommend the closure of the automated debt recovery system? Should there be a full review of the Human Services department and its mandate? Should Minister Tudge stand down?