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Government response to Centrelink Robo-Debt Inquiry shows contempt for the people affected

The Government response to the Centrelink robo-debt Inquiry report is grossly inadequate and shows contempt for the thousands of Australians affected by this debacle, Australian Greens spokesperson on Community Services Senator Rachel Siewert said today.

"It is frankly insulting to the people who gave evidence at the inquiry to be referred to in this response as third parties looking to score political points. The comments that the Chair's report relied on evidence that was inaccurate is insulting to those who gave evidence.

"The people who gave evidence at the Inquiry were vulnerable people, whose data had been automatically matched without oversight, people who had been harassed by debt collectors days before Christmas, people living below the poverty line wrongly told they only had a number of weeks to pay back thousands of dollars. This Inquiry was about the lives of vulnerable Australians.

"We know that this debt collection process impacted on the mental health of many people. This Government response shows a Government deeply out of touch with people dependent on our social safety net.

"The Government claims in their response that recipients were given a reasonable opportunity to provide information and explain discrepancies. Perhaps they need a better understanding of what reasonable means. Is it reasonable to ask people who have worked sporadically over ten years, moved countless times and escaped domestic violence to provide payslips from a job they had five years ago for three months?

"The Government also noted that review avenues are open to recipients. The report also notes that Human Services is in the process of writing to all recipients who had debt related to the online system to remind them of their review rights. Given that the Committee report was tabled almost six months ago it must be asked how long this "process" will take.

"It is frankly laughable that the Government states that the dedicated compliance phone number is  "adequately resourced with the aim of having wait times of less than a minute". I think there would be a struggle to find a person who has waited on the phone to Centrelink for less than a minute. Nearly 42 million calls went unanswered last financial year.

"While the Australian Greens welcome the Government addressing some issues by implementing the recommendations of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, these changes are not enough to improve an overburdened and understaffed system.

"Australians expect better from the Government. We must and can do better."

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