Monday, 30 November 2020
Questions without Notice
Pensions and Benefits
My question is to the Minister for Government Services and it relates to his government's $1.2 billion settlement with robodebt victims. Can the minister tell the House: who was the Minister for Social Services when robodebt was designed? Further, who was the Treasurer who bragged about robodebt? And further, who was the Prime Minister who agreed to pay $1.2 billion to victims of the illegal robodebt scheme?
Opposition members: He's behind you!
I'd just say to members on my left that their leader has asked a question which I presume he wants answered. I also point out that the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business have worked very hard to ensure more of you are here this week. I'm not sure how long it will last for some of you.
Can I first of all thank the hardworking men and women of Services Australia and join the member for Maribyrnong, whose motion today thanked them for all the work they've been doing in very difficult times. They've done 42 per cent more lifting in the last 12 months than they normally would.
I'm not going to point the Leader of the Opposition to Google, where he can get all his questions answered. When it comes to issues of when programs of debt recovery started, it's important to understand that this government didn't invent income averaging. Income averaging has been a program extant in our system for a long time. To assist the House—
Thanks, Mr Speaker. As I was saying, members on this side did not invent the concept of income averaging; it has been around for decades. In fact, I refer the Leader of the Opposition to a letter that was sent out in 1994. I'll read part of it—
No, the minister will resume his seat. Members on my left will resume their seats, and the Leader of the Opposition can resume his seat too. I'd just point out—I'm actually going to speak on the matter myself. But also, as the Leader of the Opposition well knows, unless he was going to move a point of order on a subject other than relevance—there can only be one such—
Well, I took it as on relevance.
Mr Burke interjecting—
No, there's no standing order there. It's your question time. The clock ticks, and I can talk, as you know! The minister needs to confine himself to the question that he was asked. It asked about something in the past but not back to 1994.
But, in terms of income compliance, it needs to be appreciated that this income compliance approach was not started by a minister back in 2015. It wasn't started by a Treasurer or a Prime Minister. It has been a longstanding part of our social security program. To understand why income averaging did not begin with the minister in 2015, that's where history becomes exceptionally important. I seek—in fact, I'll just table an example letter from a data-matching program from 1994. It says to this citizen, 'If you do not reply, we'll use the tax office's information about your income and we'll write to you about how much money you'll need to pay back.' That's what the letter says. It says, 'We'll use the tax office and we'll tell you.'
Under standing order 91 you gave a clear direction to the minister about reference to the question that he was asked. Where he is now is nowhere near the question that he was asked, and I ask you to rule under standing order 91 where he is persistently and wilfully disregarding your authority and the ruling you have given.
I ask the Manager of Opposition Business to resume his seat. The reason I haven't pulled the minister up is he is now relating the material to the question. That's the reason why. Where he started by going straight back to 1994, I believe he wasn't relating it to the question. I also have to point out that to elicit a very specific answer would require a specific question, not three questions with a preamble at the start. I'm going to keep listening to the minister.
The reason why a minister in 2015 didn't begin it is that it began back in 1994, and I table that. I further point out that I actually got the letter within the system that was used in all cases at that time, and I table that as well to show it's not a one-off. Building, of course, as to why it didn't begin in 2015, I'll also read from a press release here from the member for McMahon on 13 July 2010, where the member boasts, 'Centrelink conducted 3.8 million payment reviews, resulting in the reduction of 641,000 payments, saving $2.27 billion.' It began in 1994 and was built out by the member opposite in 2010.