Monday, 25 November 2019
Questions without Notice
Pensions and Benefits
My question is to the Minister for Government Services. Given that the government has now suspended robodebt after three years of operation, is it because the coalition government, at the time of creating it, either (a) didn't seek legal advice, (b) had inaccurate legal advice or (c) received legal advice but just didn't think that Australians would notice the government unjustly enriching itself at the expense of the most vulnerable in Australian society?
I thank the member for his question. Let me say very categorically: this government does not apologise for its efforts to protect the integrity of the welfare system. We will not apologise for collecting $5½ billion worth of debt—
Dr Chalmers interjecting—
from 950,000 Australians that we are lawfully required to do.
Just last week we made a refinement to the income compliance project. Refinements have been made over time. For example, on 15 June 2010 the then Minister for Human Services, the member for McMahon, said:
It is important that the Government explores different means of debt recovery to ensure that those who have received more money than they are entitled to repay their debt.
That was from a press release outlining the tax garnishee project. Then, of course, that fateful media release—
On relevance: my question specifically went to the period of this government and the robodebt scheme that the now Prime Minister, then Treasurer, promised Australians in 2015-16.
I will say to the minister that he is entitled to a preamble, but the entire answer can't be that. There were three specific aspects to the question. The minister will need to bring himself to at least one of those, and move away from the preamble. He's already been going about a minute.
As we know, the current income compliance program started on 29 June 2011 and has continued from that day. Refinements have been made to that program since that time. The refinement that was made last week has strengthened the program whereby debts raised solely based on income matching will now require greater proof points.
Before the election the member for Maribyrnong made it very clear in his interview on 9 May:
We want to make sure that people aren't receiving welfare to which they're not entitled to. And no one gets a leave pass on that.
The member for Maribyrnong said that. This government agrees 100 per cent with the former Leader of the Opposition that no-one gets a leave pass—no-one at all. We have an absolute legal responsibility to collect debts owed to the Commonwealth. The refinement that has now been made—
Ms Burney interjecting—