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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 39


Senator MOORE (2:54 PM) —My question is to Senator Patterson, the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services. I refer to the Auditor-General's Report No. 15, which uncovers massive financial bungling by a wide range of government departments. Why did Centrelink not require its client agencies to estimate funding requirements and instead rely on an overdraft facility with an average daily debit balance of $250 million in order to make income support and family assistance payments? Did the minister know of or approve such an arrangement? Why did Centrelink fail over a number of years to obtain the required legal authority to operate such an overdraft?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Issues) —I thank the honourable senator for her question. As honourable senators on the other side will know, there has been a change in arrangements and Minister Hockey now has responsibility for the service delivery of Centrelink, HIC, hearing services and a range of other services. This is in order to ensure that we deliver services to, for example in Centrelink's case, six million customers in an orderly and appropriate fashion and can concentrate on that. The delivery of services by Centrelink is a complex task. In fact, this gives me the opportunity to talk about the $600 one-off payment that went to families in June this year. Because of strong financial management, we have been able to increase payments to families by $600 per child. The other side is still trying to decide whether that $600 per child is real or not real. Let me tell you that it is real. When it went into people's bank accounts and when it covered any overpayment they might have had, people realised it was real. It was a $600 per child increase in family benefit for each and every family eligible for family tax benefit A. We saw Centrelink undertake what was a huge task in delivering that payment to those families.

The honourable senator raises a number of issues. I do not have any information on those in my briefing and I will get back to her with the details as soon as I possibly can.


Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Thank you, Minister, for taking that part of the question on notice. I further ask: what was the interest rate payable and the total interest bill on the $250 million illegal overdraft over its years of operation? Further, why was such an expensive funding operation entered into so that the Commonwealth could continue to make basic payments to entitled recipients?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Issues) —I can tell the honourable senator that the interest rate was significantly less than the interest rate on the $96 billion of debt we inherited. The interest on that was about $6 billion a year. The interest rate was significantly less than the interest rate on the overseas debt that the Labor Party left us with, which we have now repaid. On the details of that question, I will get any information I can for the honourable senator. I do not have that level of detail here; I will obtain it. But that interest was significantly less than any interest that was paid—billions of dollars—on the $96 billion of debt they left us with.