Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Questions without Notice
Pensions and Benefits
My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston. The minister has on seven occasions assured the Senate that there has been no debt recovery undertaken in the Townsville area. Does the minister stand by her statements?
I thank Senator Green for her continuing questioning on this particular issue. As Senator Green would be aware, when the devastating floods hit Queensland in February this year the Department of Human Services put a postcode pause on debt recovery in the areas that were identified by those postcodes in recognition of the hardship that had occurred and would continue to occur to those people in that area. I can categorically state, as I stand here today, that the pause that was placed on those postcode areas in the Townsville area post the floods remains in place.
I have now been provided with a robo-debt notice for almost $2,000, issued on 8 July to a recipient in Townsville. How is this notice consistent with the minister's statement in question time last Tuesday that 'There has been no debt recovery undertaken in the Townsville area'? I seek leave to table that debt notice now.
On a point of order, there are longstanding bipartisan conventions in this place. The government will consider the leave request that was made at the end of the question, consistent with the usual conventions and courtesies in this place.
Can I just express my extreme disappointment. After repeated requests in this place, both privately and during question time, to Senator Green that, at any time Senator Green had, could she please provide that piece of information to me—
As I said, I'm tremendously disappointed, having repeatedly asked for this information to be made available. If Senator Green wished to make this information available through the question time process, she could have availed herself of the opportunity to provide us with a copy of the letter before—
There are only 14 seconds left and the minister hasn't answered the question, which is: how is that notice consistent with her previous statements that there has been no debt recovery undertaken in the Townsville area? That's the question.
Senator Watt, as I said, I was having difficulty hearing the minister. There was obviously some debate regarding the tabling of the document. I took it that the minister was actually referring to the document and that issue in her answer. Senator Ruston.
I am extremely disappointed that people in Townsville keep receiving debt notices even though, on seven occasions, you told the Senate that there has been no debt recovery undertaken in the Townsville area. Does the minister really expect the Senate to accept that a letter telling the recipient that they owe almost $2,000 does not count as debt recovery?
I will reiterate what I said for the senator to hear. In February, there was a pause placed on income compliance debt recovery. As we stand here today, that debt recovery pause remains in place. I have only just received this letter. I am more than happy to have a look at this letter and see what is actually in it. I have not had the privilege to do that as yet. Once I have had the opportunity to review what's in this letter, I will come back to this place and I will advise you of my response to it. But, as I said to you on several occasions in this chamber—and I'm glad that you've eventually provided a letter, which I now have the opportunity to review—I was always prepared, if you ever had an example or evidence of debt recovery that had recommenced in the Townsville area in relation to income compliance debt recovery, to address it. (Time expired)