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By Emma King.
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 31 January 2017.
We’ve all received one of those calls from somebody chasing money. Often it’s a landlord, a gas company or—back in the day—perhaps a video store. They tell you what you owe, why you owe it and how you can pay. Pretty simple.
But the Australian Government has recently turned this equation on its head. It’s forcing Centrelink to use a dodgy algorithm to identify people who have been paid too much money, and then chase them up for the cash.
The key word here is dodgy.
It’s important to remember we’re talking about welfare recipients. These are people who aren’t exactly rolling in cash. So when an angry letter says they owe $15,000 or $4,000 or even $300, that’s enough to send a shiver of fear through them.
Where are they going to get that money?
We’ve heard stories of people paying these fake debts with credit cards or going to payday lenders.
The Federal Government maintains people just need to prove they don’t owe the money and all will be forgiven. But hang on, that’s a reverse onus of proof. Australians should not be presumed guilty until they can prove their innocence.
This is a massive fiscal fishing expedition by the Federal Government. It has booked savings in the budget and now it need to find them. The refusal of senior ministers to even admit they’ve mucked this up just makes it all the worse.
Well, enough is enough.
The Federal Government must immediately stop its flawed debt recovery program.
It must apologise to those Australian’s it’s traumatised and to the Centrelink staff it made enact this unfair policy.
In short, it must fix this mess.
And if the government wants to clawback genuine Centrelink overpayments it must find a way to do so that is fair, transparent and that treats welfare recipients with the dignity they deserve.
EMMA KING is the CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Service.