Today the Senate will vote on a motion to establish a Senate inquiry into the maligned Centrelink automated debt recovery program – a move that could put the agency and Government under more pressure.
Labor’s Doug Cameron was yesterday joined by The Greens’ Rachel Siewert in giving notice of the motion, with the backing of the One Nation Party and Nick Xenophon’s group of independents likely to see the motion pass.
Senator Rachel Siewert said that the inquiry was needed as there was no proof that the system would improve. “It is bizarre that despite the rollout 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 program, nor have they committed to abandoning it,” she said in a media release.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and Special Minister of State Scott Ryan continue to defend the system, despite Labor citing instances of erroneous debt notices, sometimes to the value of tens of thousands of dollars. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who spoke in December of being contacted by constituents considering suicide over the issue, also told Parliament that the flawed system had taken a severe toll, both financially and emotionally on those affected and their families.
The inquiry would cover the impact of the automated debt recovery process on families, the elderly, those with a disability, students, and recipients of unemployment benefits, as well as the administration process implemented by the Department of Human Services, and the review process for those served with debt notices.
A remit of the inquiry would be to establish the error rate of the notices, which Centrelink staff are said to claim is about 80 per cent. The Department of Human Services, despite not yet providing an actual figure, refutes this claim.
The motion comes just days after the Department of Human Services was notified by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) that its members plan to hold rolling strikes following the backlash they have received due to the program.
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