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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1409


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (16:48): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This document should send shivers up people's spines about the way government programs have been implemented. But I must admit it does not surprise me or, I am sure, anybody who has been paying attention to the Centrelink robo-debt debacle that is currently going on. This document looks at a number of the program's Centrelink-related compliance measures which were announced in relevant budgets and implemented in 2012-13 through to 2015-16.

When you look at the department's findings, the government must have known about at least some of these findings about the failures of their department, because the departments have not been reporting properly. Then the government, basically, wildly go off on another 'let's grab money back from the most vulnerable members of our community' exercise, knowing full well that their past measures have not been working, knowing that they are not getting adequate reports, knowing that they have not been getting the savings from there and knowing that the department has not been monitoring and reporting back. The report says:

Monitoring and oversight arrangements in place between the Department of Human Services and the Department of Social Services for the compliance measures were not effective. Requirements set out under the Bilateral Management Arrangement between the two entities were not met. In addition, the Department of Social Services as the relevant policy entity did not take responsibility for monitoring the achievements of the measures. The Department of Human Services' monitoring of savings and expenses associated with compliance measures could be improved. In the Department of Human Services' advice to its Minister on implementation progress, the department used a methodology that did not provide reliable advice on the (gross fiscal balance) savings achieved from the measures.

The report also says that the advice on the underlying cash savings realised, including debt recovery for the majority of the compliance measures, are key outcomes expected from the measures. The department did not look at compliance cost measures and consider whether the benefits outweighed the cost of monitoring. Internal reporting on the progress of the measures has not provided a consistent and reliable indication of where the key performance outcomes, including expected savings and levels of activity, were on track nor were the key risks were being identified. You get the picture. This is a litany of failures from the department. Is anybody surprised, therefore, that we are getting the same sorts of failures coming through from Centrelink and the Department of Human Services when they are trying to apply their so-called auto-debt recovery process?

The conclusion of the report says that three measures have not been effectively implemented; two measures implemented were partially effective, with one measure achieving the expected savings but not the expected level of compliance activity and the other measure achieving the expected level of compliance activity but not the expected savings. Two measures of seven, they say, were effectively implemented. What was the minister's response to the comment that the savings were not achieved? It was: 'We do different calculations, and we reckon we saved heaps.' Who are you going to believe, the Auditor-General; the department, which has not even been reporting the savings; or the government, which says, 'Just trust us. We think it's okay. We've made the savings. It's all there.'? I am sorry, it is not all there. They have not made the savings. They cannot justify it, because the information simply has not been reported.

This agency has been running flawed programs for a significant period of time. That is evident from this report. Now, like Dracula in charge of the blood bank, they are in charge of the auto-debt recovery process that is sending people false debt notices. The litany of mistakes goes on and on. Of course, there is a Senate inquiry that will try to get to the bottom just what has happened and report on some of those processes. It is obvious from this report that there are big problems in Centrelink and in the Department of Human Services. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.