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Tuesday, 25 November 2003
Page: 17861


Senator MOORE (3:23 PM) —I also wish to take note of answers provided by Senator Patterson in question time this afternoon. When Senator Patterson responded she predicted that there would be a series of questions, case by case, this afternoon on the responses that she gave. Indeed, she was right. Senator Patterson also said that she was tired of people from this side of the house nitpicking about the details of the payments that were under question.

It is so disappointing that genuine questions being raised about ways the system can be better are defined as `nitpicking about the details'. The most important way to ensure that a system is accurate, right and fair is to get the details correct. The best way of making the family payments system work in Australia is to identify where it is going wrong, to identify how it can be done better and to ensure that there is an acceptance that families in Australia deserve to get accurate payments. They do not deserve to be dismissed as mere details when their circumstances indicate that they are receiving significant overpayments or underpayments. The whole process is determined by a system based on guesses.

As I have said, the real success of the system is making sure that the details are accurate. This is accepted by the people who work in the system. The people who work in the department and who are involved in developing the policies know that it is part of the job to ensure they develop a policy that works, so that the issues about which we have been questioning—not nitpicking, Minister, but questioning—are the ways to ensure that the system can be better.

The minister said that she had been able to meet with a number of people who have been the victims of overpayments through the Centrelink system. That is a really positive initiative. I bet those people with whom the minister spoke did not see themselves as `details'. They would have seen themselves as clients of a system who have suffered because the details of the payment are not working as well as they should. I hope the minister, through that series of consultations that she referred to this afternoon, has found out exactly where the system has failed people who in good faith have put in a claim to their department and have found through the year, and most particularly at the end of the year, that there has been a problem. That is not a dismissible detail; that is a problem in the system.

When we talk about stripping tax returns, it is not a semantic argument. We know that this particular family payment is linked to the tax system. We know that when people put in tax claims there is a possibility that they will either have to repay money to the government or, sometimes, get money back from the government. The issue we were talking about in question time this afternoon, and have talked about at length on previous occasions in this place, is when someone at the end of the financial year puts through their tax claim and expects to get money back but, as a result of the family tax system, has incurred an overpayment and, instead of being able to negotiate a repayment, has their proposed tax return stripped. Minister, that is stripping a tax return. It is not reconciliation and it is not balancing; it is having your money stripped away before it is returned to you.

Minister, we acknowledge there have been changes in the processing of family payments. There are advantages in the process of people being able to receive top-ups. But this system will not be effective and will not be fair until the details are fixed up and those people who receive overpayments and who are damaged by the system are recognised and respected.

Question agreed to.