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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 137


Mr MARLES (Corio) (16:30): Daniel, a constituent of mine from Central Geelong, received in September last year a $5,600 debt issued to him by Centrelink. He was already under financial strain and about to get married. He was contacted by a debt collector who informed him of the debt. He asked the debt collector why he was being issued this one as he had not had a dealing with Centrelink for two years.

It is important to understand that prior to the debt collector contacting Daniel there had been no contact between Centrelink and Daniel, directly, other than the letter that he received. Centrelink was then contacted by Daniel. When he spoke to Centrelink they said the case had been referred to the debt collector as they did not have the capacity to handle the current load of debt collection cases and they were not even in a position to inform Daniel of exactly what the debt related to.

This is just one example of many that has been received by me in our constituent office over the last few months, and this has been an issue of as much concern as any local issue that I have dealt with since my time of being an MP. What we now understand is that since July of last year the Turnbull government has been sending out 20,000 letters, which have been accusing—in many cases, falsely accusing—people, in relation to income that is allegedly owed to Centrelink.

What we now understand is that previously data matching was carried out with human supervision but now that scrutiny is not occurring by Centrelink employees and, as a result, these letters are going out anyway. We have a situation where the Minister for Social Services has now accepted the fact that one in five of these letters is understood to be incorrect—and yet it is intended to send out another 1.7 million of these letters over the next three years.

The government tells us that many debt notices that have been sent out are now, clearly, incorrect. According to the Minister for Human Services, 40 per cent of those who raise their issue publicly are found to have owed no debt. We have seen ACOSS, Disabled People's Organisations Australia, People with Disability Australia, the Welfare Rights Alliance, the Unemployed Workers Union, come and speak out against this. Indeed, even Senator Eric Abetz, a government senator, has spoken out about this.

This has been a disaster from the start. Too many people in Geelong have been hurt by a government when they have done nothing wrong. Government ministers simply cannot be allowed to keep saying the system is working fine. Clearly, it is not. It is a total debacle. (Time expired)