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Transcript of doorstop interview of Shadow Minister for Family & Community Services, Wayne Swan MP: Sydney : 29 June 2004: Family payment debts. \n\n

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Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services




SWAN: Well, today the Prime Minister has been caught out buying votes. This morning Senator Patterson said that overpayments would not be recovered. And a Government directive went out to Centrelink for the non-

recovery of those payments. The Prime Minister today pretended that he had overruled Senator Patterson. He did no such thing. He does not intend to take any action at all. He wants people to believe that he’s honest John. Well, I think the Prime Minister has been caught out today, and he’s not honest John any more. He’s just being liberal with the truth. This Government has pursued overpayments in the family payment area, in the youth allowance area, age pensions, with a vengeance and it has hunted down people for the money.

Suddenly, on the eve of the election, a directive goes out that the election bribe should not be recovered from people who’ve been paid it twice. There are numerous examples around this country of people receiving the money and trying to give it back - the honest approach. The memo from the Government says that if people go into Centrelink and try to return the money, they are to be turned away. If you like, thrown out of Centrelink for being honest. What this episode really demonstrates is the double standards of the Howard Government, and the fact that it will do anything, say anything, and spend any amount of money to buy a vote.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government being hypocritical?

SWAN: Well, the Government is absolutely hypocritical. Because you see there are [inaudible]

JOURNALIST: Is the Government being hypocritical?

SWAN: Over the last three years up to two million Australians have been pursued by the Government to repay overpayments, because people really should have what they’re entitled to. The Government has had in place a family

payments system which delivers debts to one in three people and it’s refused to change the system. Now, on the eve of the election, when it wants to buy a vote, it says it doesn’t matter if people have been overpaid. This Government is simply dishonest and cynical, and the Prime Minister today confirmed it was a vote-buying exercise and said he wasn’t going to overrule Senator Patterson. So the vote-buying exercise continues. The other sad thing is that one in three families receiving this $600 payment will already owe Senator Patterson and Mr Howard $1000. So whilst they may receive the money now, Senator Patterson will be back with the bill after September.

JOURNALIST: Does the Opposition have any reports - there were claims today from some families receiving the family assistance that the $600 - because they’re going to get the baby bonus, the $600, that their family assistance is actually going to be cut, and in fact they’re going to be worse off. Does the Opposition have any thoughts about that?

SWAN: Well, absolutely. Some people will be worse off, because there is a debt trap built into the family payments system which means that up to one in three families will already owe the Government $1000. You see, that’s the great trick in what the Government’s trying to do. It wants to put $600 per child on the table now, not tell families how much they’ll owe until after September, and have the election in the middle. That’s why this directive, issued by Centrelink, is a vote-buying exercise, because the Government doesn’t want people to know what happens next in September when the debts come out.

JOURNALIST: How do you explain, though, the apparent conflict between the Prime Minister and Senator Patterson?

SWAN: Well, we have asked Senator Patterson and Mr Howard about this on numerous occasions. We first revealed this last Wednesday in the House. And at no stage between last Wednesday and today has Mr Howard had

anything to say. Today he did not overrule Senator Patterson. Mr Howard is very slippery with the use of words. If you look at the words that he used today, he said “Oh, well, people should be encouraged to give the money back.” He didn’t say “We are going to adopt the normal debt recovery processes that apply.” He didn’t say that at all. What Mr Howard was really saying is “Oh, well, I might distance myself a little bit from Senator Patterson, but the payments will go ahead and people won’t have to return them.” There are people out there who want to return these payments, and until Mr Howard rescinds that directive, they will not be returned. If Mr Howard is serious he will rescind the directive of Senator Patterson and give it explicit instructions to Centrelink to take the money when it is returned from people who have been innocently overpaid. Failure to

do that will just be a continuance of what Senator - Mr Howard has continued to do. Mr Howard has stripped the tax return of families who have been overpaid through no fault of their own. When we have asked him about it in the Parliament, he’s implied that oh, we mightn’t do that, and continued to do it. You

see, Mr Howard always says one thing before the election and another thing after the election.

JOURNALIST: The Democrats Leader Andrew Bartlett has accused Labor of being politically irresponsible. Why is it Labor decided not to support an Estimates inquiry into the legislation before it was passed?

SWAN: There is one party in this country, and, I might say, one person, who has constantly raised the problems in the family payments system, and that’s me. I’ve been talking about it constantly for three years. I think Senator Bartlett discovered it a couple of months ago, but he has no credibility in this issue. We have pursued the Government the length and breadth of the country, through every Estimates committee that there has been, where the Democrats have been absolutely silent, and we did that about three weeks ago in the Senate Estimates hearings. So Senator Bartlett seems pretty confused, and that’s fairly normal. Thanks.

ENDS Tues 29 May 04 Web:

Contact: Wayne Swan on 0418 795 329 Matthew Linden on 0407430 613