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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 827

Mr MORTON (Tangney) (11:44): It may come as a surprise, but governments have a responsibility to spend taxpayers' money wisely. I am in this place to back hardworking aspirational Australians who want to apply their effort to get ahead. Part of this is to respect and remember that governments have no money—not one penny—because all of the funds that we have have been paid in taxes. In fact, we are the custodians of the taxes received from hardworking taxpayers. That is why it is our responsibility to respect their contribution by making sure that government funds, which taxpayers pay, are spent appropriately.

Welfare debt recovery is not something new, and the Labor Party should not pretend that it is. Let me take you through the process and away from all the political misinformation that the Labor Party has tried to put out on this issue. Centrelink receives information from other agencies, including the Australian Taxation Office. That information is analysed, and, where there appears to be a discrepancy between an individual's income data held at the ATO and their self-reported data at Centrelink, a letter is sent by Centrelink requesting an update, requesting clarification and asking for a bit more information.

The first letter simply notes the discrepancy and gives an opportunity for the individual to explain it. It asks people to 'confirm or update your employment information online'. It is not a debt letter. In fact, the letter actually says it is not a debt letter. The person who receives the letter has 21 days to respond. If they do not respond, another letter is sent. The second letter is also not a debt letter. It says, 'We would like some more information'—and it is right, on behalf of the taxpayer, to ask people to provide additional information to the government in relation to discrepancies between the ATO information and the Centrelink information.

If the person fails to respond again, a third letter is sent, which outlines money that has been overpaid according to Australian Taxation Office information. On 20 per cent of occasions the recipient is able to validly explain the discrepancy in the data. It shows the system is working. An opportunity is being provided for individuals to provide more information to the taxpayer via the government. Seeking information from welfare recipients when a discrepancy is identified is a longstanding practice undertaken by both Labor and coalition governments.

Through this whole process the person can request a review at any time; a re-assessment of the situation can be made to ensure that everything is correct; a review can be undertaken to ensure that current information is correct; and a review can be undertaken into any discrepancy between self-disclosed information and the ATO information. If people receive a debt notice, they can ask for an internal review and provide new information at any point. They can also appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. There is a dedicated 1800 number to assist people at any time. The government will continue to refine the process to ensure that people have received requests for information.

But the most important thing we have learned during all of this is that you cannot always believe what you are told by Labor. Let me draw your attention to a very interesting article on Australia Day—our national day of celebration—because we have seen the Labor Party roll out a whole range of people giving their personal examples:

An assessment of the 52 cases of people publicly claiming they were being harassed by Centrelink … has revealed that 18 had in fact been identified under a manual system set up by the former Labor government—

by you, by the Labor Party, by your government—

… a number of those who claimed to have been wrongly targeted had in fact accepted that the debt was owed, with some even having entered into repayment programs.

One person that you trotted out, publicised by Labor in a television program as a victim:

… was discovered to have been claiming the Youth Allowance while not studying and failing to declare income from several jobs, leading to a debt to the taxpayer of almost $12,000.

So when people contact my office saying that they have lost confidence in Centrelink, that loss of confidence can be directly attributed to the misinformation peddled by Labor, trying to seek nothing but political gain. It is about time the Labor Party respected the contribution being made by hardworking aspirational Australians who go to work each day, pay their taxes and make a contribution to make this country even better.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the member. Can I just remind members to address their remarks through the chair. The use of the word 'you' implies the chair's involvement in activities, so just refer them through the chair.