Centrelink Inquiry

Public Hearings | PrivacyBackground | What does ACOSS think? | Further information

If you have been affected by Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program, or know someone who has, your story can make a difference.

Right now, the Australian government is holding a Senate inquiry into Centrelink and their automated debt recovery system. 

“It’s vital for people to tell their stories.”

This Senate inquiry is travelling around Australia to ensure they hear as many stories as possible.

The Senate Committee members wants to hear your story about how you or your family or friends have been affected.

The Inquiry is accepting submissions (letters) up to 19 April, 2017.

Visit your local Senate inquiry | Write a letter to the Senate inquiry 

Public Hearings

Senate hearings begin Monday 10 April in South Australia.

 Date  Place  Venue Program
 10 April  Adelaide, SA Room 1.11AB, Education Development Centre, 4 Milner Street, Hindmarsh, Adelaide  Click here
 11 April  Melbourne, VIC  Auditorium, Monash University Law Chambers, 555 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne  Click here
 19 April  Sydney, NSW Room P1 Portside Centre, Level 5, 207 Kent Street, Sydney  Click here
 21 April  Perth, WA Anglesea 2 Room Mercure Hotel, 10 Irwin Street, Perth  Click here
 26 April  Hobart, TAS Merino Room Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel, 1 Macquarie Street, Hobart  Click here
 27 April  Launceston, TAS Tamar Valley Centre Albert Hall, 47 Tamar Street and Cimitiere Street, Launceston  Click here
 03 May  Townsville, QLD  Not yet available  N/A
 16 May  Wyong, NSW  Not yet available  N/A
 18 May  QLD  Not yet available  N/A
 18 May  Caboolture, QLD  Not yet available  N/A

There will be 3 minute spots for people to tell their stories. These can be *private* if requested.

People who want to talk to the Inquiry need to PRE-REGISTER for the Senate hearings.

If you, or someone you know, would like to speak to the Senate Inquiry, please email the following information to the committee as soon as possible to register your interest.

  • Preferred location: eg. Adelaide
  • Full Name:
  • Contact number:
  • Your email address:
  • Private Hearing?  Yes / No
  • Public Hearing? Yes / No

The Senate Committee has been very careful to note that your personal information will only be used to contact you in relation to the committee’s hearings. Your information will not be made public or provided to anyone other than members of the committee and its staff.

Please see their Media Release to learn more.

The Senate committee will allocate a time for each person on the day they requested.

If you are given a time to speak, you will receive an email advising the time and panel number that you have been allocated and confirming the hearing location.

The Senate Inquiry website also says you will be sent a witness form to complete, and you will receive information on the protection of witnesses and parliamentary privilege.

If there are too many requests, and you don’t get allocated a time to speak, you are still able to attend the Senate hearing and listen.

What to expect on the day of the hearing

Anyone can go the Senate hearings.

Private hearings will only include people giving evidence, committee members and secretariat staff. Transcripts of private sessions are not published.

Public hearings will be broadcast live at www.aph.gov.au/News_and_Events/Watch_Parliament. Transcripts of public hearings are published on the committee’s website.

For further information, please refer to the Senate website and media releases at http://bit.ly/2nyCslw

“The Senators approached the public hearing in the spirit of genuine inquiry.”

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The Senate committee is being very protective of people and their privacy. Your identity can remain private through a number of different ways:

  • Any submission you make to the Inquiry can be confidential – ie, it will not be made public. All you have to do is write ‘confidential’ clearly at the top of your submission. You should still include your name and contact information on a separate page of your submission. This also means that your story will not be included in the inquiry report.
  • You do not have to mention other people’s names in your submission.
  • If you are giving evidence, you can ask for an ‘in camera’ session. This means that only the senators and committee staff will be present while you tell your story, and there is no public transcript of your evidence. For more information on giving evidence, click here.
  • There are strict rules that protect people who write a submission or who tell their story at a hearing. Legally, witnesses cannot be interfered with.
  • More information on protecting your privacy is available here. 

“The Senate Committee members weren’t looking to trip people up, confuse them or misrepresent their stories.”

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Background information

centrelink photo_July 2014_colourRecently, Centrelink has been in the news due to the flawed debt recovery system introduced in late 2016 known as ‘RoboDebt’.

This system, the Online Compliance Intervention program, targets people who have in the past or who are currently receiving social security payments. It has generated large numbers of inaccurate debts, which has resulted in extreme distress for those targeted, and, in some cases, resulted in people paying a debt they do not owe, or one higher than that they do owe.

The flaws of the program include automated data matching between the Department of Social Services and the Australian Taxation Office, resulting in inaccurate debt notices; an expectation that the person receiving the debt notice should prove that they don’t have a debt; and limited options for people to contact the department to resolve problems.

“When we talked about evidence of what was happening to people in Canberra because of RoboDebt, the Senate Committee really took notice. It’s really important for the Senators to see there are real people affected by this process.”

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What does ACOSS think?

Every voice matters.

People affected by Centrelink, their families and their communities, need to have a better deal.

RoboDebt must go.

ACOSS wants the Australian government to immediately stop the flawed and unfair automated debt recovery system.

A fairer approach to debt recovery needs to be worked out.

We want the government to convene a roundtable of key stakeholders and experts as soon as possible to design a fair and humane approach to debt recovery.

Nearly everyone accesses Centrelink at some time in their life.

Principles of procedural fairness and reasonableness must be guaranteed.

People’s confidentiality and privacy must be protected.

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Further information

ACOSS resources

ACOSS media releases

Other resources

Recent media

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