Thursday, 3 December 2020
Matters of Public Importance
Pensions and Benefits
It's a pleasure to respond to the waffle that our comeback member for Maribyrnong, in his pitch for the centre of the front bench, has just delivered to the House, notwithstanding that Labor's own lawyers, Gordon Legal, have acknowledged that the settlement is not an admission of liability, does not reflect any acceptance of the allegations that the shadow minister has been rolling out and does not reflect any knowledge of unlawfulness.
However, the shadow minister does make one particularly good point: we should go back and understand the history of how we arrived at this point. That history is reflective. On 15 November 1990, the Hawke government introduced a piece of legislation into the other house: a data-matching bill. The minister at the desk, Senator McMullan, introduced the bill by saying:
We expect that by matching data it will be possible to detect where a person has provided inconsistent information to one or more agencies and is thereby receiving incorrect payments … The advantages of matching data on income, family structure and tax file numbers are enormous.
So who was the minister at the time in the Hawke government? Graham Richardson, the fixer himself. You can't make this up. Hawke and Richo began it. I've got Graham Richardson's media release from 30 years ago, and here's what it said:
The Federal Government tonight announced further measures to detect incorrect payments in the income support system.
It is planned that the changes will involve:
The press release continued:
"The Government has stopped hundreds of millions of dollars in incorrect payments. The level of voluntary compliance has also … improved," the Minister said.
The Government now plans to use newly developed technology to close … significant loopholes …
In the Senate, as the debate continued, going through to 18 December 1990, we find that Labor guillotined the debate, so quick they were to get this bill through parliament.
We then learn what the situation was in 1994 from letters I've tabled in the House previously—not just the letter from the ISIS computing system which shows it was drawn on as the base document but also a letter to an individual saying:
I am writing to you about your Newstart Allowance.
The Department of Social Security … compares its records with those of other government agencies under a program called the Data-matching Program.
It goes on to say the following:
If you do not reply we will use the Tax Office's information about your income and we will write to you about how much money you need to pay back.
Let's unpack that, because you can't deny the fact. Let's unpack it for a second. Here is the background. Let's unpack it.