House debates

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Pensions and Benefits

3:31 pm

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme) Share this | Hansard source

Swanny in 1998 said:

This Labor initiative—

Oh, it goes on, shadow minister opposite. Let's go to the budget paper 2009-10. Let's have a look at what it says.

The Government will increase the number of compliance reviews that Centrelink undertakes, using information obtained from existing data matching programs …

We know from 1994 that all of this is based on averaged income data, because that was the basis by which reviews were done.

Then we've got 13 July 2010: the member for McMahon, who was then Minister for Financial Services, releases a press release: 'Centrelink reviews recoup millions for taxpayers'. 'In the 2008-09 financial year, Centrelink conducted 3.8 million payment reviews resulting in the reduction of 641,000 payments.' It continues. 'These reviews saved taxpayers $87.4 million a fortnight'—Labor boasting about reducing outlays by $2.27 billion. Let's have a look at those 2008-09 payment reviews: 898,000 on age pensioners; 874,000 on Newstart, 500,089 reviews on disability support pensions. I'm just getting started, the little gobby member opposite; I'm just winding up.

On 29 June 2011 the member for Sydney and the member for Maribyrnong put out a media release: 'New data matching to recover millions in welfare'. It starts:

A new data matching initiative between Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office is expected to claw back millions of dollars from welfare recipients who have debts with the Australian Government.

Claw back—that's the member for Sydney and the member for Maribyrnong on 29 June 2011, building on the data-matching initiative.

Let's go to Budget Paper No. 2 2011-12, which says:

The measure will provide Centrelink and the Department of Veterans' Affairs with the capability to match customer data with Annual Income Investment Report data—

Annual; not fortnightly, annual. Even here it is annual. They're comparing it with annual. The issue at stake is the use of averaged income from the ATO, and every step along the way we find the Labor Party using annualised data. Why? Because that's how the process has been done since 1994. For 26 years averaged ATO data has been used—a quarter of a century. This government simply continued a process that had started in 1994. It's this government that called it to account, it's this government that stopped the use of averaged annual income from the ATO and it's this government that said, 'This is not sufficient.'

In 2012-13, when the demise of the then Labor government was taking place, they continued:

… providing $41.3 million over three years to increase the number of data-matching reviews—

to expand where the reviews sit. And, if you look at the number, they did. Just going back to the 2010-11 financial year—the year the member for Sydney was at the desk—we saw that 24.4 per cent of debts raised that year were solely or partially using an average. That's a fact. In 2009, 16.8 per cent of reviews were done solely using averaging or partially using averaging, using computing, using automatic data-matching. Remember the letter from 1994, because those opposite say a human was involved. Well, if that was the case, explain why it said:

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.

Explain that. This process has been going for 26 years. They know it, we know it and we stopped it.


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