The Government Just Said There’s Absolutely No Problem With Centrelink

"The system is working."

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The federal government minister responsible for the most recent Centrelink debacle has finally returned from his summer holiday to declare that “the system is working.”

Alan Tudge, the human services minister, hasn’t been very keen to address the media over the past couple of weeks as story after story emerged of former welfare recipients being hit up with false debt notices.

Centrelink staff are reportedly “overstretched” and struggling to deal with the high number of complaints associated with the tens of thousands of debt letters that have been issued. A federal government oversight agency has now launched an investigation into the whole mess.

Tudge finally emerged this morning for an interview with ABC Radio National where he denied there were any flaws with the new automated debt recovery system. When asked by the ABC’s Hamish Macdonald whether the government would consider scrapping or suspending the scheme given its “large scale problems” Tudge simply replied “No, we won’t be.”

He also said that he was “not aware of individuals who are completely convinced that they don’t owe money but have been given a debt notice.” Really mate? There’s quite literally hundreds of examples all over the internet and dozens of case studies in the media.

Tudge justified the debt recovery system by pointing out it had “recovered” more than $300 million. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce made a similar point last week, implying that all the criticism was meaningless because the system was raising money

It’s a completely bizarre defence. Who cares how much money the system has raised if people are paying back completely incorrect amounts of debt, and in some instances being chased by debt collection agencies when they don’t actually owe anything? The government seems to think that if just keeps talking about “welfare fraud” and the “integrity of the system” they can ride out this debacle.

Given the growing expenses scandal that seems very unlikely. The public isn’t going to be impressed with a government that’s happy to waste taxpayer money while simultaneously harassing former welfare recipients.

Tudge’s comments today suggest the government has buried its head in the sand. It’s time they acknowledged the issue and fixed it.

Feature image via KC Green