Independent Member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie, delivered the following speech to Federal Parliament to urge the Government to introduce much-needed systemic reforms to Centrelink. See above video for full speech.
“Deputy Speaker we’re six months into the Robodebt Royal Commission and I share the fury of the many Australians who are watching the inquiry unfold.
“But I also applaud the brave Centrelink recipients who’ve taken the stand to share how the dodgy data-matching system destroyed their lives. Like the pensioner who said the trauma of receiving a $65,000 debt notice will stay with her forever. And another, a single mum, who gave evidence she was so sleep deprived from the stress of receiving a debt notice that she contemplated driving her car into a tree.
“Sadly Deputy Speaker these stories are all too familiar to me, as my office took hundreds of calls and emails from people who’d received threatening letters demanding they repay Centrelink or face prosecution. Repeatedly people recounted their futile attempts to seek an explanation of their alleged debt, despite spending countless hours on the phone to Centrelink.
“Deputy Speaker we now understand that most Services Australia staff didn’t know themselves how the income averaging system worked. And some staff who knew the scheme wasn’t working properly were silenced by senior staff.
“But thankfully the Royal Commission has confirmed where the responsibility for this disastrous scheme lies, that Centrelink staff were taking their instructions from the top, directed by the Department to do whatever it took to claw back money from clients. And in turn senior staff were taking instructions from the Government. Frankly, this was loan shark behaviour from our elected officials and some of the highest paid bureaucrats in Australia.
“Deputy Speaker evidence from the hearings has also established that senior management, and former Government Ministers, dodged warnings the scheme could be illegal, making this one of the worst cases of maladministration in our history.
“And yet, shockingly, very little remorse has been expressed for the suffering caused. It’s no wonder the Australian public has so little faith in government nowadays.
“And Deputy Speaker, even more shockingly, I continue to be contacted by constituents who have received irregular debt notices from Centrelink. Indeed one constituent tells me she recently received a $6,000 debt notice in her MyGov account with no explanation as to how the debt was calculated. And an older couple in my electorate tell me they couldn’t get a simple question about their Age Pension answered for months, despite visiting a Centrelink office several times.
“Deputy Speaker Australians must have access to an effective income support system, and be treated with respect and dignity when accessing government services. The Royal Commission presents an opportunity for the Government to reset the social services system and introduce much-needed systemic reforms to Centrelink. I urge the Minister to continue to do whatever it takes to achieve this.”