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Wednesday, 29 November 2000
Page: 20089

Senator CHRIS EVANS (11:01 AM) —I want to reiterate our point. We were at cross-purposes with the minister earlier. What we are saying is that we accept the history of this. We say that it has been applied too tightly. We are trying to find a way of making it less restrictive. We are quite up-front about that. We accept the argument about a proportion of a debt that is attributable to administrative error. Our amendment seeks to reflect that practice, which is that only that proportion ought to be waived, not any other, and the amendment specifically includes that. We find in our experience and in our feedback from clients that this definition of `solely responsible' is being used in such a way that basically nobody can escape because they are being caught in that trap.

We say that where people have incurred debts through no fault of their own, through an administrative error by the Commonwealth, there has to be some provision that those people have acted in good faith and reasonably do not incur debts. We just do not think that has currently been applied fairly enough. We think it has been too restrictive. I am sure it is certain and I am sure it suits the department, but we have clients saying to us that they—and we have examples—have been treated harshly and unfairly as a result of that definition. We are trying to loosen that to provide for the secretary to waive that proportion of the debt where someone has acted in good faith and the debt has been incurred through the error of the Commonwealth.

Nothing the minister has said has convinced me that we ought not pursue that. I think what the minister is effectively saying is that we have current systems in place and we are happy with them. That is fine; that is the government's view. What we are saying is that we have a view that they are acting too harshly and too restrictively. We are seeking to use this method to provide a bit more leeway for those people who we think should not be caught up in that definition.