Tuesday, 10 August 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Income Support Payments
My question is to the Minister for Government Services, Minister Reynolds. Minister, the government has issued 11,771 people with a debt notice after review of their income support payments and any JobKeeper income that was paid to them by their employer. Have people in lockdown in New South Wales, Victoria and, recently, Queensland received these debt notices? And when did they receive them?
I thank the senator for her question. As those in this chamber know, it is the longstanding principle of Australia's social security system that people should be paid correctly, according to their individual circumstances. The process ensures that our social security system is sustainable into the future, because it means that taxpayers only pay recipients what they're eligible for—no more and no less.
It's the responsibility of people receiving the JobSeeker payment, or other related social security payments, to report their employment income correctly and accurately to Services Australia, and that includes if they were also receiving JobKeeper in addition to JobSeeker. Services Australia communicated widely, including through the agency websites and social media channels, to inform customers of their obligation to report JobKeeper income as income, and how it could impact the remainder of their income support. Around 79,000 individuals, identified as being at risk of incurring an overpayment as they were declaring minimal income, were contacted by Services Australia from July last year—that is, 2020. When a person is overpaid, my agencies will always write to them to let them know how much they were overpaid and explain why they owe money.
You've reminded the minister of that part of the question. I have been listening carefully, and until this point I do consider the information being provided to be directly relevant to the subject of the question. You've reminded the minister, though, of that part of the question. I call the minister to continue.
In this case, given the complexity and the importance of this issue, I think that the context is vitally important. If someone was in receipt of both JobKeeper payment and an income support payment, they needed to report the JobKeeper payment amount like any other employment income, and this was always very clear to recipients.
I'll just make it very clear also that no individual has had to pay back JobKeeper, whereas, as Senator Birmingham has already clarified, $296 million has been identified as being overpaid to businesses.
I still don't know how many people in lockdown have these notices. Did the government give any consideration to the fact that people who received these payments may now be unemployed and continuing to experience financial distress?
I presume what you're talking about is last year, during JobKeeper—when that was active—because obviously we have improved the system of payments from the COVID disaster payment process. If that is the case, Senator Siewert, as at 30 April this year, 11,771 customers had a debt raised after completion of their JobKeeper compliance review, which totals around $32.8 million, and this work is ongoing. As always, if clients are in financial distress or have other problems, they can always talk to Services Australia to seek some relief.
The government claims that both the JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs have strong compliance frameworks, yet you have gone after those on income support as usual and let billionaires, like Gerry Harvey, off the hook. When will you issue billionaires like Gerry Harvey with debt notices?
I just completely reject the premise of that question. It's been very interesting. Labor have been deliberately conflating the repayment of JobKeeper payments that were due back from businesses, in terms of compliance activities, with those for individuals. The fact is, as I've just said, $296 million has been identified in overpayments to businesses, and $185 million has been recovered from businesses so far.
While I'm at it, you might like to also ask Labor. Unions received $22 million worth of JobKeeper, and I bet you not a single cent of that has been repaid. In fact, $7.4 million of the unions' JobKeeper money went straight to the Labor Party. How about asking them about the unions and their payments that they would have received from JobKeeper?
Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper. I acknowledge that the last question came from Senator Siewert, who had a notable announcement today. We will all have an appropriate time to farewell Senator Siewert. In the meantime, no doubt she'll keep holding us all to account.