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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 91

Senator BURSTON (New South Wales) (17:57): I rise as well to debate this MPI on the debt recovery process. I have previously said that this debt recovery system is malicious and bordering on criminal, and I stand by that assessment. The daily disasters that we hear about this process are more than just a series of innocent mistakes. Of course, it is important that our welfare system is carefully administered and guarded to prevent rorting. One Nation has proudly been the strongest voice in terms of cracking down on the exploitation of the system by the lazy, greedy and dishonest. This system does not do that. It is a deliberate shakedown of the most vulnerable by a government that wants to squeeze every bit of blood it can out of people, with little regard to whether those payments are genuinely owed or not.

The people receiving these debt notices know that they are unjust and unfair. The people with the job of administering the system know it is unjust and unfair. The whole community knows this system is unjust and unfair. The government's refusal to back down on this process in the face of the obvious errors and the huge distress they have caused just goes to further prove the ugly indifference to injustice that they showed when they implemented it in the first place. The issue is that it does not matter if you are right. If the government insists you are wrong then you have a massive problem.

Every government program will have errors of some kind, but in this system the errors are the whole point. It is a system for generating debt claims and then harassing people into paying up, whether those claims are justified or not. In my view, this is deliberate. The reason I say that is that the system has been designed to frustrate attempts to clear up discrepancies. Centrelink staff have been prohibited from leaving file notes on individual cases, so every time a person calls to try to sort out their issue they have to start from square one and do it all over again. Why would this be the case if the goal was to reconcile debts to payments?

The new system ignores limiting points which were put in place to establish that all debts to payments had been reconciled. Instead, it trawls back through old data and throws up alerts based on issues that have already been dealt with, but these are often so long ago that people no longer have any of the records they need to prove it. Why would this be the case if the goal was to reconcile debts to payments?

Centrelink staff are required to direct complainants to an online form, despite the fact that these issues can be resolved without the manual help of a Centrelink officer. Why would this be the case if the goal was to reconcile debts to payments?

The truth of the matter is that the government simply wants more money, and it has set up a system to create false claims through the deliberate disregard of limiting points, and to frustrate attempts to correct those false claims. The goal is not to reconcile debts to payments. The goal is to harass people into paying what they do not owe. This so-called debt recovery process is a disgusting abuse of power, and it is one for which the government must be held to account.

One Nation will certainly support a Senate inquiry into this issue. If this process is as deliberate as I fear and believe, those responsible will definitely seek to hide their guilt. It is necessary for the sake of good governance and for justice that they are exposed and held to account. Thank you.