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Thursday, 25 June 1998
Page: 4105

Senator MURPHY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security. Is the minister aware of cases where, because of Centrelink computer stuff-ups, payments have not registered in people's bank accounts, and some banks are charging people extra fees as a result? Can the minister guarantee that, where this occurs as a result of Centrelink error—and the minister has admitted that there have been many errors—Centrelink will compensate people for the full value of the extra bank fees and charges they incur as a result of those Centrelink errors?

Senator NEWMAN (Social Security) —I do not take very kindly to that question. Senators might like to why I object to the tone of the question.

Senator Carr —Too hard!

Senator NEWMAN —No, it is not because it is too hard, Senator. It is because you are not being considerate of the people who are working in Centrelink to introduce a new and better system. You are very ready to go out and run the CPSU's campaign. The way in which questions have been coming from the opposition over the last few days may have served the interests of the CPSU. But they do not serve the majority of the staff who have been working under difficult circumstances over the last month to get a new system—and you did not introduce it; you had a decrepit system—that will be very much better for the customers of Centrelink. Eventually it also will be very much better for the staff. But many of them have been working long hours, overtime, to get the glitches out of the IT system and make sure that the customers who have not had optimal service do get it.

As far as the detail of what has been paid into bank accounts or not paid, I cannot answer that specifically here, but I have certainly already told the Senate that there have been some people who have not been paid and there were some people who have been overpaid. That is the situation. I cannot give you more detail than that.

Senator Patterson —You've been telling them since Monday.

Senator NEWMAN —Thank you, Senator Patterson. I have been telling you since Monday. Maybe Senator Murphy was not in the chamber or he was not paying attention. You are canvassing old ground, Senator, and I think that, really, the worst part of your question is that you are slurring really good, decent Australians who are working hard to look after and improve customer service in Centrelink, and I say shame on you.

Senator MURPHY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister, in answer to an earlier question, I think, said that, with the new system, people had to fill out forms and have them back in time, otherwise they would not get their payments. Minister, what I asked you was: why shouldn't those people who suffer new fees and charges as a result of errors in the system be compensated? Why shouldn't they receive those costs back as a compensation from Centrelink and from the government? If you are not aware of those matters, would you at least undertake to investigate them?

Senator NEWMAN (Social Security) —I already said that. The law will be applied exactly as it was when your government was applying it—no worse, no better.