Australia is fortunate to have a strong social security safety net to support those who are down on their luck. It is one of the defining features of our society.
However, it is a disappointing reality that some people abuse the welfare system and get payments they are not entitled to. Others may have inadvertently not properly reported to Centrelink and consequently also received an overpayment.
When this occurs, the taxpayers who support the welfare system are ripped off.
The Government is doing everything it can to ensure there is integrity in the welfare system: that people get the welfare payment they are entitled to and no more and no less.
Our main method for doing this is to compare the income that a person self-reported to Centrelink with the income that the Tax Office says they received. When there is a discrepancy, we ask the recipient to explain it.
Given that people have typically received thousands of dollars in welfare payments, I think it is perfectly reasonable that they take a bit of time, check their records, and explain if there is a discrepancy. If they cannot explain it, then they will receive a debt notice.
Hundreds of millions of dollars has been recouped for the taxpayer over many years through this process. It is a long-standing practice. We are making improvements to the system to make it easier for people to explain a discrepancy and give them more opportunities to do so. We want to make sure that we have valid addresses.
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of media stories about people who say they were unfairly targeted under this system. No one is sent an initial request-for-information letter unless there is a discrepancy that has been identified between the Centrelink self-reported data and the Tax Office data.
We are identifying cases every day where people have failed to declare that they had a job or under-reported their earnings from that job, and are consequently getting thousands of dollars more welfare than they are entitled to, but the Labor Party is calling for us to stop asking these people to explain.
If a person believes that Centrelink got it wrong in their calculations, they can ask for a review and can supply new information in the process. Even after that, they can then appeal to a tribunal. All these options are free.
People who owe a debt to the Government can enter into a repayment plan, which can be as little as $5 per week for present recipients.
The Labor Party wants us to stop doing this work. We will continue to refine the system, but ensuring there is integrity in welfare payments (which constitutes a third of the federal budget) is core business that will continue.
The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Human Services