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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 311

Mr DICK (Oxley) (16:22): If there was ever an example of this government losing touch with the community, the robo-debt debacle is it. If there was ever an example of this government losing faith with community, the robo-debt debacle is it. And if there was ever a way for a government to hurt the community, just as this government has done, the robo-debt debacle is it.

This government is in denial about the pain that they have caused the community. Every single one of the speakers today—and I do note they are in ultrasafe Liberal-held seats; they did not put up any marginal seat holders to debate this one today, did they, Mr Deputy Speaker?

Mrs Sudmalis: I'm next.

Mr DICK: Doesn't that say it all, member for Gilmore? Take the message perhaps about what they think of you. What I am saying today is: this minister and every single one of the speakers, you have got one shot—member for Gilmore, through you, Mr Deputy Speaker—to say one word, sorry, to apologise to the thousands of people that have been caused pain and stress. It is all very well for you to get up and lecture—through you, Mr Deputy Speaker—the member for Moore, talking about the history of Centrelink and what the 1800 number is that no-one can ring or no-one answers. What we want is an apology from this government for the pain and unnecessary harm that they have caused.

Every day that I walk through that chamber into this parliament, I am reminded of the duty that I have to speak for those people who do not have a voice, and thousands of those members of my community, just in the other 150 electorates right around Australia, were caused a summer of pain. What an outrage from the member for Mackellar, lecturing people about taxpayers' money while this Centrelink debacle was going on, with members of the government being exposed for some of the largest rorting that we have seen in travel expenses. What an absolute shame. I say: we, on this side, through the member for Barton and the Leader of the Opposition, have taken the fight up for those people who need a voice. Just today we have seen the Senate take action for an inquiry into this debacle.

I want to spend some time—and don't you love the buzzwords from the government: 'miscalculation', 'oversight'. It is a stuff-up; that is what they have done—'repurposing'. In the debate today we had the member for Murray: 'Oh, we've had some contradictions.' 'We've had some people go astray.' No, you haven't. You stuffed the system up and you have caused pain when people did not need that.

Let's talk about what is happening in the real world, as we are lectured by those opposite. I am going to read into the transcript a correspondence from a mother in my electorate. In October her son 'received notification of these alleged debts by text message from Centrelink. He contacted them to clarify their queries, explained he'd provided them with all the information they required at the time, including the letter of separation needed when his job had finished, which they had 'lost' in their data, and was assured that it was all fine and he owed nothing and to check the Centrelink account in 14 days. He did this. It didn't show zero dollars owing. He called again to sort it out and was told that for some reason the system hadn't changed it. They'd do it again and he could go in and reset it. He tried. It didn't work. He contacted them again. They tried while he was online. It didn't work. They said they would have to go to someone higher and check it in 14 days. It would then show zero dollars. It didn't, so he waited another week just in case. He then contacted Centrelink. Yet again he'd spent over five hours on the phone taking a day off work to do this'—this is someone who owes zero dollars—'all to go through it all over again. He was assured again that it would now be okay. In late November he received a text from Centrelink collection agency Dun & and Bradstreet demanding payment by 8 pm that evening or face legal action and possibly jail. He rang Centrelink and was told his review was not yet completed on the system. He owed zero, but it was out of their hands. Now it was with the collection agencies. He was then told to pay $200 for initial payment and then $20 per month, the lowest amount as advised. Just before Christmas, he received three letters from Centrelink on the same day. Two of the letters were statements on two different amounts in which he was informed he owed due to overpayment.'

On it goes and on it goes. For those opposite to lecture anyone about competence or arrogance is breathtaking. I do not know what is more shocking to me: the arrogance of those opposite or the sheer and utter incompetence that they have delivered onto the Australian people. We, on this side, will not be silent. We will continue to speak out against the cuts, the removal of the safety net that all of those opposite are trying to do, because Australians deserve much better than this government. (Time expired)