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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 95

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (18:11): The performance of the coalition on this issue today, both in question time and in this MPI, has been nothing short of pathetic. It shows why they are so incompetent. It certainly demonstrates how uncaring they are, and it shows what a cruel government they are. They really are pathetic. No-one in this Senate, no-one in the parliament, wants anyone to receive one cent that they are not entitled to, but you do not deal with that by incompetent management of the Centrelink system and by hounding innocent members of the public and making claims on them. If a private company had done this, that private company would be the ones engaged in fraud. It is Centrelink that is carrying out the fraudulent exercise here on behalf of an incompetent, uncaring and cruel government. That is the bottom line here.

This is about revenue raising at the expense of innocent Australians. Some of them do not owe the government one cent. For Senator Hume and Senator Paterson to stand up here and give us a couple of examples of where there has been fraudulent activity in the Centrelink system, in the welfare system, shows nothing. Fraud has been taking place for many years, and there have been strong checks and balances in place through any number of governments over a period of time to deal with this issue. But this is not about Minister Tudge coming in and saying, 'Here's a couple of examples of fraud,' and then trying to tar everyone else with that brush, but that is what Senator Paterson has done here this afternoon. He has been trying to tar everyone who has been wrongly accused of defrauding the system with the same brush as someone who has defrauded the Commonwealth. That is not acceptable and it shows why this government is so far out of touch.

You only have to look at what has happened to the government today to see how out of touch it is. It is in absolute crisis in the Senate, with a member of the Liberal Party, Senator Bernardi—who, I think, has been your national vice-president and state president of the party—resigning from the party because he does not want to be part of an incompetent government. He does not want to be part of a government that does not care about the real issues in this country.

You are so out of touch with Australians who are battling to maintain their living standards. You are so out of touch with the realities of Australians who fall on tough times and need the support from government in their time of need. To simply send out 20,000 letters a week—the government accepts that 20 per cent of them are not accurate. That is, it is sending out 4,000 letters a week that are not accurate. Is there any wonder that the polls are telling you that the Australian public have had a gutful of this incompetent government? This government will not have a royal commission into the fraudulent behaviour of the banks but want to crucify ordinary Australians when they are simply falling on hard times and are seeking the support from government when they need it.

You want to send them a letter. If a private company did that it would be seen as a fraudulent letter trying to extort money from an individual under false pretences. Yet all these great libertarians on the coalition side are arguing that is okay. It is not okay. These citizens are innocent. These citizens do not have a problem. The only problem they have is when they get letters threatening them with recovery for a debt that they do not owe.

The other situation was that you had a minister, Minister Tudge, who went to the media—talking about the media—on 5 December and said, 'We will find you. We will track you down. You will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison.' He was talking to something like 4,000 Australians a week, who were getting letters saying they had a debt but who had no debt, and threatening to put them in prison. What an incompetent minister this guy is. It is no wonder he disappeared off the scene soon after that. We then had Minister Porter come in on 3 January when this all blew up. He said he did not even know that there was a 10 per cent recovery fee. So we had one minister threatening with prison ordinary Australians who have done nothing wrong and another minister who did not even know that the government had set up a recovery fee. What an incompetent mob you really are.

I was on call during the early period when this blew up, and my office started getting phone calls from ordinary Australian citizens, who had done nothing wrong, saying, 'I've got this bill for a debt that I don't owe. What can I do?' I had people coming into my office in tears saying that they were being told they had a debt. They had no money to pay the debt. They did not think they had a debt but they could not get their local Centrelink office to answer the questions. They could not get their local Centrelink office to help them, because this dirty rotten government had told the Centrelink officers that you are not allowed to help these citizens who were under threat by your government. That is what you were doing. It is absolutely outrageous.

Is it any wonder you are going to lose the next election? Is it any wonder you have a weak Prime Minister? Is it any wonder you get chaos within the Liberal Party? Is it any wonder members of your party are leaving? You are so incompetent. You are so cruel.

You will not take on the banks. You will not take on the big end of town. But what you will do is attack the poor and defenceless in this country. You will attack them. You will come after them. You will threaten them with jail. But you will not go near the people who put the money in your pockets for your election campaigns. You will not go near them. What a hypocritical mob you are. It is absolutely outrageous behaviour—behaviour that the public know is unacceptable. That is why you are in the position you are in: with a Prime Minister with no credibility, a party with no credibility and a party with members deserting the sinking ship. That is where you are at the moment. It is absolutely outrageous. Your conduct is absolutely unacceptable.

I can go through example after example. A solicitor with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions contacted my office. He was previously a prosecutor and legal advisor with the New South Wales Police Force. He had a $3,400 debt reduced to zero, but he got a bill for $3,400. Ian, a disability worker, had an $8,000 debt reduced to $1,300 but he is still challenging the amount. Annabelle, a retired academic currently receiving treatment for cancer, had a debt of over $14,000 when she was doing casual university lecturing. It was being reviewed, and on and on we go.

This is a botched job from a botched government with ministers that do not deserve the title 'minister'. This is bad policy, bad implementation, from a bad government— (Time expired)