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Wednesday, 29 November 2000
Page: 20082


Senator CHRIS EVANS (10:29 AM) —by leave—I move opposition amendments Nos 9 and 10:

(9) Schedule 1, item 16, page 13 (line 4), omit "A debt", substitute "Subject to subsection (2), a debt".

(10) Schedule 1, item 16, page 13 (after line 16), at the end of section 1230C, add:

(2) Subject to subsection (3), a debt due to the Commonwealth under this Act is recoverable by means of a method mentioned in paragraph (1)(d) or (e) only if the Commonwealth:

(a) has first sought to recover the debt by means of a method mentioned in paragraph (1)(a), (b) or (c); and

(b) can establish that the person who owes the debt has failed to enter into a reasonable arrangement to repay the debt.

(3) If the Secretary determines that recovery of the debt by means of a method mentioned in paragraph (1)(a), (b) or (c) is not appropriate, having regard to the circumstances of the case, paragraph (2)(a) does not apply.

These amendments seek to codify the circumstances where legal proceedings and garnisheeing action may be commenced to ensure such action does not take place in inappropriate circumstances. Senators would be aware that this year's Ombudsman's report outlined circumstances where there had been overzealous action in terms of garnisheeing, particularly the incidence of garnisheeing of a child's bank account.

Without reducing the necessity for flexibility in the most appropriate debt recovery method, Labor's amendments set out clearly the methods, such as repayment by instalment, that must be considered before rash decisions to garnishee or implement legal proceedings. Basically, we are seeking to codify steps to ensure that action in seeking to deal with debts is not overzealous or overharsh. The government's bill sets out a means by which the debt may be recovered, and our amendments seek to ensure that they give priority to those less harsh measures and those measures which deal with encouraging repayment by instalments under an agreement rather than those that go straight down the path of legal proceedings or garnishee notices. We do not seek to prevent that happening when it is warranted, but we want to try to make sure that we do not get overzealous action in pursuing debts, which we have seen on some occasions—sometimes even in circumstances where the debt proved not to be of the same amount first claimed by Centrelink. We think this is an important protection. It codifies procedures which make legal proceedings the last step and which encourage Centrelink to pursue more reasonable endeavours in the first place, particularly with regard to entering into arrangements with the client. We think it is an improvement to the bill, and we hope it is supported by the Senate.