Calls to halt Centrelink’s controversial robo-debt program

Stock image.
Stock image.

THERE are calls for the Government to halt the robo-debt program immediately, following the revelation that the Department of Human Services has dropped the debt at the heart of the court challenge to the program.

The decision to erase the entire $4000 debt incurred by Melbourne nurse Madeleine Masterton was the centre of test case launched by Victoria Legal Aid in February amid claims that thousands of former welfare recipients had been coerced into paying debts that were incorrect, or not owed at all.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said dropping the debt at the eleventh hour was a last ditch effort by the Federal Government to prevent the whole system being found to be invalid.

“The Department’s magic recalculation of this debt shows just what a farce this program is,” she said.

“The Department simply cannot explain how debts are calculated through its deeply flawed process.

“Following the dropping of Ms Masterton’s debt the obvious question is – how can we believe any of the calculations?

“Robo-debt has caused harm to thousands and thousands of Australians.

“Many people are repaying debts they do not believe they owe but cannot easily disprove, and cannot afford to fight the system any further.

“We now face the prospect of hundreds if not thousands of court challenges until the program is invalidated or dropped.

“I am calling on the Government to cease the program now and rescind all debt notices to provide justice and fair play to some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Department of Human Services General Manager, Hank Jongen said they could not discuss individual customer’s circumstances, and it was not appropriate to discuss the details of a matter that is presently before the Court.“Most people engage with our personalised online compliance review process, which allows people to provide additional information at any time,” he said.

“If a person chooses not to engage with us, we need to make a decision based on information they have previously given us and information from the Australian Taxation Office.

“Even after a debt is raised, people can update their details or provide more information to have a debt reassessed.

“The Commonwealth Ombudsman, in reviewing our processes, found that it is reasonable and appropriate to ask people to explain discrepancies in data.

“The Ombudsman noted that allowing customers to provide information at any stage of their review, potentially reducing the debt amount, reflects a reassessment process functioning as it should.”