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Senate sends robodebt to inquiry for the second time in three years

A Greens motion to send Centrelink’s compliance program including “robo-debt” to a Senate inquiry has been supported by the Senate today.
 
“It’s been more than two years since I chaired the first hearing of the Senate inquiry into the notorious robo-debt program”, Australian Greens spokesperson on Family and Community Services Senator Rachel Siewert said.
 
“We heard a lot of evidence. There were nine hearings across Australia, and what will always stick with me, is that at every hearing, we heard about the impacts of the program. 
 
“Despite all this, the Government failed to implement the key recommendation of the committee, which was to suspend the program.
 
“Instead, the Government ramped it up. To this day, people continue to be pursued.
 
“I hear from so many people that they have given up appealing their debt even though they know they don’t owe anything simply because they cannot  keep fighting such an opaque system.
 
"I welcome the Senate’s support for this inquiry."
 
The terms of reference read: 

I give notice that, on 31 July 2019, I shall move that the following matters be referred to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee for inquiry and report by 4 December 2019:
Centrelink’s compliance program, with specific reference to:

  1. the ongoing impact of the Government’s automated debt collection processes upon current and past income support recipients;
  2. data-matching techniques used by Centrelink, including limitations and uncertainties of data-matching techniques and error handling processes;
  3. the handling of under-payment errors, including the number of payments identified and made through data-matching following an under-payment error;
  4. the use of real-time wages data and other techniques to prevent overpayment;
  5. the capacity and adequacy of Centrelink and the Department of Human Services to deliver the program, including the use of contract staff and the impact of staff performance targets on the program;
  6. the error rates in the issuing of initial letters and debt notices, the causes of these errors and what steps are routinely taken when errors are identified;
  7. the procedures that have been put in place to prevent future errors;
  8. the number of initial letters and debt notices sent out and the number of debts that have been recovered;
  9. the review process and appeals process for debt notices, including the number of reviews and appeals undertaken;
  10. the use and legality of the debt collection processes used by Centrelink and the Department of Human Services;
  11. the use of debt collectors in the compliance program; and
  12. the cost of the compliance program to date, including the projected and actual amount raised from the program.

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Lucy Cowcher-Guthrie; 0418 401 180

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