Nothing sweet about Tudge fudge

The Talking Point (January 25) by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge reminds me of a stubborn child with their eyes screwed shut and fingers in their ears, refusing to listen to a word that is said.

 

The Centrelink debt recovery process is a disaster and must be suspended until the faults are fixed.

Mr Tudge cannot expect to simply ride this out in the hope the caravan will move on.

 

We have recently seen the focus of the attacks move to people on aged and disability pensions.  The 2016 – 2017 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook that was sold to us by Morrison in December, then released formally a few weeks ago confirmed there is no chance the government can afford to stop this process. They’ve based most of their economic cost savings around welfare payments, data matching and ‘increasing the integrity of social welfare payments.’

 

Shouldn’t we make sure the system works properly before we subject thousands more vulnerable Tasmanians to unwarranted frustration and stress?

 

It is right for Centrelink to seek to recover money that is legitimately owed from overpayments.

And it is fair enough that Centrelink utilises data-matching with ATO records.

But that should be the beginning and not the end of the process.

 

Where inconsistency is suggested, surely the next step is to find out whether income has been earned in the same weeks that Centrelink claims have been made.

 

It is only at this stage that a “please explain” or “please repay” letter should be issued.

 

Unfortunately, Mr Tudge seems relaxed about Centrelink issuing demands for payments from people who do not actually owe any money. This isn’t the case for the people on the receiving end of the letters. Our office has been overwhelmed by distressed calls from Lyon’s residents who are shattered at the huge debt that has landed on their doorstep.

 

We are all familiar with mail scams, where thousands of demands for payments are sent out in the hope that a mere handful will pay up without question, rendering a tidy profit for the scammers.

How is this any different?

 

Now, startling new claims by a Centrelink whistleblower suggest there is an even darker side to this debacle than ham-fisted blundering.

 

We are now told that Centrelink staff are being instructed not to fix known errors in debt demands, to in effect continue to demand payment even when they know the demand has no merit.

This elevates this issue from blundering to fraud.

 

These allegations require immediate independent investigation. If found to be true, such instructions are at best deeply unethical and at worst criminally fraudulent.

 

This entire debt recovery process has been a debacle. Mr Tudge should take his fingers out of his ears, open his eyes, and start again.