Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


ACOSS letter to Malcolm Turnbull on the Centrelink disaster …

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull
Prime Minister
PO Box 6022
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Prime Minister,

I write to you on an urgent basis to call on you to immediately halt the automated recovery of Centrelink debts to prevent further harm being caused to potentially hundreds of thousands of people who have received a Centrelink payment. The automated program is issuing tens of thousands of incorrect discrepancy notices, which are in many cases leading to inaccurate debt notices. We are deeply concerned that people are paying debts they do not owe or paying a debt higher than what they owe.

We are also alarmed by the ongoing deep human distress and financial pressure being
caused to a significant proportion of the Australian population.

I first raised these concerns formally with the Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge in a letter dated 21 December 2016. I raised these issues again in a meeting with the Minister on 18 January 2017 and in a subsequent letter to the Minister sent 19 January 2017. I attach our correspondence. The Minister is yet to respond to the matters and questions raised in our initial and subsequent letters and is yet to address the core concerns that ACOSS as well as a host of individuals, community and legal organisations have with the automated debt recovery program. The minor changes made to the program by Minister Tudge on 16 January 2017 fail to address these core concerns and we made this clear to the Minister in our meeting. The Minister undertook to respond to our request for an urgent stakeholder meeting but has failed to do so.

As Prime Minister, we are now seeking your urgent intervention, in light of the lack of action by the responsible Minister.

Our request for action is clear. We ask that you:

䀁¸ Immediately end the automated data-matching program of debt detection and recovery, including existing debt recovery action that has arisen under this program. Planned automated debt-recovery programs for pensioners should also be halted.

䀁¸ Convene a roundtable of key stakeholders and experts in social security to design a fair and humane approach to debt recovery.

䀁¸ Establish an independent investigation into the auto-debt recovery program, including into allegations made by Centrelink staff about the problems with the program.

䀁¸ Adequately resource Centrelink and community legal assistance services helping people with social security issues. Staffing cuts at Centrelink must be reversed.

䀁¸ Provide whistle-blower protections for Centrelink staff reporting poor administrative practices.

ACOSS has said from the outset that we are not opposed to Centrelink recovering overpayments where they have been made and the recovery of legitimate debts is conducted in a fair and humane manner.

However, Centrelink has a duty of care to ensure it provides and acts upon correct information and the automated debt recovery program is breaching this duty. It shifts the burden onto individuals to prove they do not have a Centrelink debt without proper internal investigation or verification. This is an abuse of government power. Previously, human beings at Centrelink would check and verify whether a debt was owed before contacting an individual. This must be reinstated to ensure Centrelink only contacts people about legitimate debts and does not cause unnecessary harm and distress to potentially hundreds of thousands of people.

It is critical that the process of recovering a legitimate debt is fair and humane. This includes ensuring an appropriate exercise of human discretion which takes into account the individual and family circumstances, putting a reasonable time limit on how far back Centrelink can go in seeking overpayments, ensuring that people can have flexibility with any repayment arrangements, and guaranteeing zero tolerance for aggressive debt collection practices. The Commonwealth has a special responsibility to protect people against the abuse of power, including government powers, and must place a high priority on supporting the health and wellbeing of people in the community who rely on its services, including social security recipients.

Most of us will access a Centrelink payment at some stage in our lives and we must be able to have confidence in the Department of Human Services and Centrelink as key institutions that provide essential supports. The automated debt recovery program, however, is undermining trust in Centrelink and trust that government will act in good faith. ACOSS and the sector stand ready to work with you to create a fair system of debt recovery. However, there must be an immediate end to the current automated program and any debt recovery action arising from it.

You will be aware that we have previously written to seek a meeting with you, and my office will follow up again in this regard. However, we urge you to take immediate action in relation to the issues set out in this letter.

*Yours sincerely,
Dr Cassandra Goldie
Copy to the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter
Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge

Watch the YouTube (absurdist) video …

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Chris

    February 1, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Like calling Trump we all know its smoke and mirrors and believe what you may.
    Turnguts has discovered clean coal and the fried Hamburger has said emissions can be reduced by 90% with new coal techniques, its all Bill’s fault and we believe the Malcontent will f(ix).ck centrelink’s thefts and false invoices.

  2. Kim Peart

    February 1, 2017 at 1:45 am

    Where is the campaign to deliver real work with real pay for all able workers?

    If we value a Fair Go, that should be the essence of what it means.

    If we ran with real full-employment, there would be no Centrelink debt claw-back and more taxes would be paid, so there would be no black hole in the Federal budget.

    With over 10% of Australians trapped in poverty, including 730,000 children, we have drifted a long way from a Fair Go for all citizens.

    With the robot revolution set to eliminate half of current paid work over the next couple of decades, we can expect our current national strife, today with Centrelink, to escalate.

    The cruel functioning of the Centrelink robot is exactly how the robot revolution is being slammed upon our heads, eliminating paid work and then delivering services on the cheap, like the self-serve checkouts at the supermarkets.

    Meanwhile, the well-off and the rich are treated with endless ways to increase their wealth, but no claw-back is happening there.

    How many companies pay little to no tax, including global corporations? No claw-back there.

    How many miners manage to avoid paying tax on our resources that make them super-rich? No sign of a claw-back there.

    We now know the reality of what we have collectively allowed by permitting around 5% unemployment to keep the wheels of growth turning, which shifts the bounty of the nation from the poor to the rich.

    The current economic system actually manipulates people into poverty, driving over-work by those in work, expectations of unpaid work, under-employment, unemployment, poverty and homelessness.

    If politicians are starting to look like mafia crime bosses, running scams like the Centrelink debt claw-back, then it is our own fault for allowing this rip-off approach to an economy to grind on, as if it is the only way.

    It is not the only way, but until we all wake up and get serious about where this nation is going, we will get a lot worse than what is being dished out now with Centrelink.

  3. TGC

    January 31, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Substantial compensation should be paid to any who feel they have been mistreated by this scheme- no questions asked- a Labor government would ensure these sort of practices never occur again.

  4. John Biggs

    January 31, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    The video nails it! brilliant.

  5. john hayward

    January 31, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Appealing to the sympathies or sense of fairness of right-wing politicians in pursuit of wounded prey is probably not very productive.

    Their gratuitously cruel and insanely expensive torment of refugees suggests that the motives for their characteristic mistreatment of the powerless is based in part on the satisfactions of sadism, as well as the obvious allure of avarice.

    The recent emergence of a strikingly primitive conservative chieftain in the US has no doubt inflamed the predatory frenzy of similar types here.

    Here, as there, no one seems to know where it will end.

    John Hayward

  6. Chris

    January 31, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    The whole country owes a debt to our Wonderful Prime Minister , he after all helped when the GFC was happening and he did not benefit from it at all ?and most of all he invented the internet…

    and he knows Bernadi will not get back in…he hopes.

  7. Mike Bolan

    January 31, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Well put Cassandra. It should be noted that from an organisational governance perspective, when the organisation makes errors it is up to them to correct them. If the errors are due to malevolent disinformation by clients, then act against those clients but when the action is created by management policies/practices/systems then it is the responsibility of management to correct them. That does not include charging innocent debt fees, or disrupting their credit ratings, or wasting their time.

  8. John Biggs

    January 31, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    An excellent letter. I wonder if the PM will reply to it or do a Tudge. It is clear that Tudge should be sacked.

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