Mark Dreyfus MP

Member for Isaacs
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Robodebt Constituency Statement 2019

28 November 2019

The more we learn about this venomous scheme, the more we learn about how it is hurting people in my electorate and across our nation.

Constituency Statements - Robodebt

I rise today to condemn the Morrison Government for the robodebt scheme. It's an outrageous abuse of power from a callous and arrogant government.

The more we learn about this venomous scheme, the more we learn about how it is hurting people in my electorate and across our nation.

In many ways, the robodebt scheme is like an internet scam developed by the Morrison government to extort money from the vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands of letters have been sent out, to vulnerable Australians, demanding payment for debts the government claims are owed, with the onus on the recipient to disprove that debt. This forces anyone who wants to dispute their debt to obtain documentary proof of payments stretching back for years. These demands are sent despite the Morrison government knowing that one in five of these claims are wrong. That's one in five false demands.

If a bank or financial institution did this to their customers they'd be in court. Through robodebt, this government set out to use fear to try to prop up its budget, demanding money from those who could least afford to pay it, whether they owed it or not. The government has caused terrible harm in this process. As journalist Alex McKinnon wrote, in The Saturday Paper, in March this year:

Revelations that more than 2000 people died after receiving a Centrelink robodebt notice highlight the failings of an already flawed system that continues to target the vulnerable.

Earlier this year a single mother of two contacted my office, desperate for help because she had received a
computer generated robodebt notice of demand. Two years ago, she tragically lost her partner to suicide. After
this heartbreaking loss, she returned to full-time work to keep a roof over her children's heads. She relied on
support from Centrelink and let them know when her hours and pay increased.

At the end of the 2017-18 financial year Centrelink applied its robodebt algorithm, to average her increased
earnings across the whole year. This fraudulent and discredited process claimed she owed a debt of $6,000, which is an extraordinary amount for anyone, particularly a single parent trying to make ends meet to support their family. She spent months appealing the debt, but the government still forced her to pay it back in instalments, even though the appeal was not resolved.

I condemn the Morrison government for the despicable robodebt scheme, which has caused untold suffering
to thousands of Australians. The robodebt scheme is a brutal, unethical and almost certainly unlawful grab for cash. The Prime Minister should be apologising to the nation for this atrocious failure of policy and decency.