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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 268


Mr HILL (Bruce) (13:30): Like all members of this House—if they are honest—over the break my office was deluged with complaints from ordinary citizens—families, pensioners, disability pensioners—

Ms Husar: Single mums.

Mr HILL: single mums and the unemployed—distraught at the government's flawed Centrelink robo-debt notice program. It is a flawed program, as we learned: 40 per cent of notices are incorrect. I would like to share with the House the story of Michelle, a single mother from the suburb of Dandenong. She received a notice saying she owed $700 from five years ago. She provided what paperwork she could find and Centrelink said, 'Oh well, you owe $281,' but could not, and would not, explain why. She appealed it but started repaying $5 per week, which is still a lot of money for her.

But that was not why Michelle came to my office. She came because she had no money to buy schoolbooks for her son to start school. Quite rightly, she had gone to Centrelink and said, 'Can I have an advance on my own money?' The answer was: 'No, because you owe a debt, which we won't explain and which you are appealing. You have started to repay it, but no.' So I advised her to go to the Herald Sun after writing a letter to the minister. Of course, one phone call from the Herald Sun and the minister's office waived the debt. We do not know why. No-one can explain. It is an unfair mess that feeds the government's cruel narrative. Perhaps they may see it as a success that Lifeline now has a dedicated section for call takers on these issues, yet the minister says, 'Call the 1800 number.'