If you go to the website #notmydebt you’ll find fifteen pages of stories written by people who’ve received demands from Centrelink to repay debts the department has falsely raised against them. It’s a harrowing read.
Depending on which explanation you prefer, the aggressive efforts to extract monies from people who do not owe them has been caused by faults in the department’s new automatic compliance system; a malevolent attack by the LNP government on welfare recipients, or a combination of both.
Centrelink has advised some punters that their best course of action is to begin repaying the alleged debt while the review process is underway, that is, before it has been established that they actually owe anything. This places punters in a Kafkaesque bind: repaying a debt is an acknowledgement that you accept its validity. Punters are also threatened that if they don’t agree to a repayment scheme, their alleged debt will be referred to debt collectors, and their credit rating affected.
Regardless of acknowledged systemic faults, and an own-motion investigation launched by the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office, the robo-debt collection scheme is set to widen its net to include pensioners and disabled people in the coming months.
The latest information from Centrelink whistleblowers (who have, by the way, been threatened with prosecution and imprisonment by their overlords, as have welfare recipients accused of fraudulently obtaining benefits) indicates that there are indeed serious faults in the system AND that Centrelink authorities have ordered officers to proceed regardless of these faults. Indeed, officers have been instructed to refrain from acknowledging any errors they discover unless the citizen in their sights spots the error first, causing a crisis of conscience for some Centrelink employees who are obliged to refrain from identifying systems errors to distraught punters.
How any of this can be consistent with legal process is beyond me: it’s beginning to sound very much like the Turnbull government illegally obtaining money from citizens by deception.
Even Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz has expressed his disapproval of Centrelink’s methods after a member of his extended family received a debt notice.
At the same time, a report from the Australian National Audit Office into the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s payments for the management of contracts for security and welfare services on Manus Island and Nauru reveals:
…$2.3 billion in payments made between September 2012 and April 2016, which it stated were not authorised or recorded correctly.
“$1.1 billion was approved by DIBP officers who did not have the required authorisation and for the remaining $1.1 billion there was no departmental record of who authorised the payments,” it stated.
The report further stated that contract variations totalling more than $1 billion were made without a documented assessment of value for money. (emphasis mine)
Is there any venture on the planet in which $2.3 billion dollars is spent without proper authorisation and record of authorisation, other than the Australian DIBP? Why is Immigration Minister Peter Dutton still in the portfolio, given that his department has apparently gone rogue?
Add to this the ongoing politicians’ expenses scandals exposing levels of rort (travel expenses being the least of it, it’s the office expenses we ought to be worried about) that if politicians themselves hadn’t written the rules would be criminal, and you have a grim picture of rampant abuse of public money, with minimum accountability.
You also have an exceedingly grim picture of the powerful and privileged attacking the most vulnerable. There is as well the abhorrent spectacle of greedy politicians refusing to take responsibility for their own indulgence and wastage, and instead accusing those least able to defend themselves of fraudulent behaviour.
Prime Minister Turnbull has promised action on politicians “entitlements.” Perhaps if it is made more difficult for MPs to get their entire upper bodies into the trough and wallow, politics will in time become less attractive to those amongst us with the least integrity. One can only hope.
News just in: Get Up has set up a website “Fraudstop” that advises people affected by Centrelink’s false debt claims of their options.