Statement on Centrelink Auto-Debt Recovery Program: Govt must abandon program to prevent further harm

19 January 2017:  In a statement today, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said: “This error-riddled Auto-Debt Recovery Program must be stopped without further delay. The tweaks announced by the Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge do not address the fundamental problems and serious concerns expressed by us and a broad range of stakeholders.

“ACOSS met with Minister Tudge yesterday and again urged him to immediately halt Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program, which is operating as an aggressive abuse of government power, causing extensive stress, anxiety and harm amongst thousands of people caught up in the process. We also repeated our call for the Minister to convene a roundtable of key stakeholders and experts as soon as possible to design a humane and fair approach to debt recovery. Further disturbing allegations have been released today detailing glaring mistakes generated by the automated system. ACOSS also calls for an independent investigation into these allegations.”

Read more here


Information on Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program

ACOSS has raised our deep concerns in the media and with Government about Centrelink’s new automated debt collection system in which 20,000 people a week are sent letters asking them to confirm details of wages they received up to six years ago. ACOSS is calling for the immediate suspension of the program and for it to be independently reviewed.

We support the purpose of ensuring that people receive the right payments but the process is needlessly causing anxiety among people who have done the right thing and reported their earnings. Overpayments are being raised and people are being asked to repay ‘debt’ without the proper checks to make sure that money is actually owed.

The income support system is very complex and it is hard for people to recall how and when they were paid by employers years ago. We advise people who are asked to provide information to Centrelink on-line about their past income to take care to check your income details first before completing this form, as your response may determine whether or not a debt is raised.

Read more here


Pension changes

From 1 January 2017, the asset test for the pensions has been tightened, meaning that some part-pensioners with assets of more than $291,000 (single homeowner) or $453,500 (couple homeowner) will lose some of their part pension. Non-homeowners with assets above $539,500 (single) and $702,000 (couple) will lose some of their part pension.

The pension will no longer be paid to people with single people with assets of $542,500 (homeowner) and $742,500 (non-homeowner) and couples with assets of $816,000 (homeowner) and $1,016,000 (non-homeowner).

Read more here


Centrelink debt fiasco must end immediately

11 January 2017: ACOSS today called on the Australian Government to immediately suspend the automated Centrelink debt recovery program that is treating current and past Centrelink recipients like second-class citizens. ACOSS also called for the program to be independently reviewed.

Acting ACOSS CEO Peter Davidson said: “Centrelink has demonstrably failed in its duty of care to ensure accurate information is provided to recipients of income support and this failure is causing undue stress, anxiety and harm to some of our most vulnerable people.”

Read the media release here


MYEFO must end ‘zombie’ budget strategy which rips $7B from the poorest

ACOSS has urged the Federal Government to halt relentless attacks on people on low incomes, and use next week’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) to chart a fair and realistic Budget reform path and abandon $7 billion of harsh ‘zombie’ social security cuts that have already been rejected by Parliament.

“Low-income families, people struggling to find a job, and anyone who relies on social security payments to survive, need certainty in the Budget as much as business and the ratings agencies do. It is unacceptable for Government to continue its attacks on low income people, holding over their heads the threat of large cuts to their incomes, as it has since May 2014,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

Read the media release here


KPMG repeats its call for an increase to Newstart

Dr Cassandra Goldie has welcomed KPMG’s repeated call for an increase to the $38-per-day Newstart Allowance by $50 per week in its latest Reform Agenda for Australia.

“KPMG has described the paucity of Newstart as the largest hole in our social safety-net and has listed an increase to the payment in its top two priorities for reform”, said Dr Goldie.

“KPMG is not alone. The Business Council of Australia and the OECD have expressed concern that the low rate of payment is acting as a barrier to work and risks entrenching people in poverty.

Read the media release here


By asking wrong questions, PC Inquiry distracts from the big challenges facing human services

ACOSS has cautioned against proceeding with attempts to improve competition and contestability in human services , in response to the release of the Productivity Commission’s Study Report on competition policy and human services.

“We have said from the beginning of this process that the Government’s terms of reference pose the wrong questions, in the wrong order. The Productivity Commission has been asked to consider which sectors should be priorities for competition reform and how should this be done. The right first question should instead be, how can we improve access to quality, affordable services which improve people’s lives?” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

Read the media release here


ACOSS welcomes ‘first big step’ towards superannuation reform

ACOSS welcomes today’s passage of legislation that will rein in the most excessive superannuation tax breaks for wealthy retirees but much more needs to be done to make super fair and sustainable.

“The Government’s superannuation changes that passed the Senate today are the first big step towards a fairer and sustainable super system that works for all, not just a wealthy minority,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

Read the media release here


We’ve abandoned gender equality and child welfare in the name of cost-cutting

Opinion article by ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie published in The Guardian on Friday 4 November 2016.

Low-income parents will feel the financial squeeze at every stage of childhood if the government pushes through cuts to family payments and paid parental leave.

What was once an effective family payments system – redesigned by the Hawke government to achieve a 30% reduction in child poverty – has been cut to the bone in recent years. Since 2009 alone, more than $12bn has been ripped out of the family payments system.

Read full opinion piece here


Claims in The Australian that sole parents are financially better off out of paid work are wrong

The front page of The Australian newspaper of Friday 28th October 2016 features an article: ‘Welfare pays more than work.’ (The Australian, 28/10/16). The article claims that a sole parent with four children would be better off relying on social security than taking on a fulltime job at a ‘median’ wage. This is not correct, since the article ignores over $30,000 in Family Tax Benefits the family would receive while on the median wage. The article compares ‘apples with oranges’. This family would in fact be at least $20,000 a year better off in fulltime paid work.

Find out more here 


Child poverty on the rise

ACOSS today released a new report showing that 731,300 children or 17.4% of all children in Australia are living in poverty, an increase of 2 percentage points over the past 10 years (from 2004-2014).

The report finds that nearly three million people were living in poverty in Australia in 2014, or 13.3% of the general population.

“The overall picture from the last decade is one of persistent and entrenched poverty across the community with an increase in child poverty.  It is a national shame that after 25 years of economic growth, we have not done better at changing this trajectory and ensuring our most precious national resource, our children, are given the best possible start in life,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

Read the full media release | Read the report


Reprieve for Newstart recipients but the budget threat remains

Responding to the Government and Labor’s renegotiated Omnibus Bill, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie says that while the retention of the Energy Supplement for those receiving social security payments is welcome news, the threat of further cuts to people who are unemployed and families on low incomes remains. “It is unfortunate we have had to debate whether or not to cut the $38-per-day Newstart Allowance by removing the Energy Supplement. We should be focussing on how to increase the payment so people can live with dignity while looking for work.

Read full media release here


Joint statement of concern regarding Australia’s social security system

ACOSS, along with the ACTU, the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, the Anti-Poverty Network (South Australia), the Centre of Full Employment and Equity, the Fair Go for Pensioners Coalition and columnist Van Badham have released an open letter to the Government expressing concern at the stigma surrounding the unemployed and social security recipients, leading tot he criminalisation of poor Australians.

Read the full statement here


Unemployed and pensioners “collateral damage” in budget fight

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said the budget fight looming at the start 45th Parliament threatens to hurt those on the lowest incomes.

“The Government has announced this week that the first order of business for the new Parliament will be to cut the Newstart Allowance, pensions and family payments through removal of the energy supplement,” said Dr Goldie.

ACOSS, Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, Australian Youth Affairs Coalition, Carers Australia, Jobs Australia, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, National Welfare Rights Network, People with Disability, and Welfare Rights Centre have jointly written to both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition calling on them to retain the energy supplement.

Read the letter to the Prime Minister and the letter to the Leader of the Opposition.

Read full media release


Inequality in Australia: watch and share the video!