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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 832


Mr HOWARTH (Petrie) (12:28): I totally reject this motion from the opposition that has been brought to this House today. It is absolute rubbish. It is untrue and I reject it outright and completely. We have a responsibility to taxpayers to ensure that we are spending their earnings appropriately. The $400 billion that we, as a government, receive each year in income tax and company tax must be spent appropriately. If overpayments have been made, either by accident or as a result of people claiming moneys that they are not eligible for, then they need to be repaid. The system will not be suspended, because we have a duty of care.

I agree with the member for Shortland on a couple of issues. He was the first opposition member to actually say that, if overpayments have been made, they need to be repaid. Even the shadow minister could not bring herself to say that. He also thanked his local Centrelink branches and the Department of Human Services. I also wish to do that. Centrelink offices in Deception Bay and Margate do a wonderful job helping the community. We have seen some great results locally in Petrie, including youth unemployment coming down in the last three years from some 19 per cent to about 10 per cent. So I put on the record my thanks to the Centrelink offices locally.

The opposition's claims are merely self-serving propaganda. It fits with their agenda of reckless spending, of wanting to keep people down and reliant on the department and on government, and of self-relevance, by making up lies against the Australian government like they did in the 2016 federal election in relation to Medicare.

My office has been able to help every single person who has called my office in relation to a debt inquiry—every single person. The member for Shortland said that members opposite have been inundated. That is where I disagree with him. We have not been inundated. In my office we have had 29 inquiries, including those from the GetUp! campaign that was done via email, and I have been able to help every single one of those 29 people. It is very important to note that some of these calls are from people who have received letters who do not necessarily owe a debt but who have not responded to contact over three weeks—for example, they have not uploaded a payslip, or they have not provided additional information to Centrelink that would sort out their debt. An example of this would be a young guy under the age of 25 who has not opened or read his mail within three weeks.

There are also serious non-compliance issues to be dealt with. In the Department of Human Services at Centrelink there is a serious non-compliance team that has been investigating people who have a record of giving inaccurate information to Centrelink. Some of these people now think they can get out of debt because of what those in the opposition are saying. But I want to make it very clear: if you do owe money, if you have a debt, you will be required to repay the debt.

As federal members of parliament we have a duty of care to help people who may need Newstart or disability payments, which is very important. They should be paid every single cent they are entitled to—not one cent more, not one cent less. But we also have a duty of care to those taxpayers who fund the $400 billion a year that we receive in income to make sure that every cent is spent well. Given that over the last 10 years—ever since John Howard left office—we have been spending $440 billion a year rather than the $400 billion we receive, it is even more important that we do so now.

I want to quickly touch on how out of touch the member for Barton, the shadow minister, is. Her scare campaign is absolutely outrageous. She comes into this place and makes a joke about the 'Porter and Tudge debt collectors'. We are spending $170 billion on social services. We need to make sure, and taxpayers expect, that we are not paying one cent more than we need to, and yet the shadow minister comes in here and makes jokes. She says they have a right to rely on Centrelink. I absolutely agree. She says it is impossible to get things done in 21 days. How outrageous is that statement? She is totally out of touch. (Time expired)