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Centrelink debacle: Billionaires get more leeway than vulnerable citizens. It’s obscene

The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss comments in The Guardian (4.1.17) on the debacle involving Centrelink and government ministers, where some welfare recipients have been incorrectly pursued for alleged overpayments: ‘The decision to demean welfare recipients was supposed to attract attention but the Coalition’s tin-ear means it is slow to realise it’s gone too far.’

The commentary continues: ‘When politicians spend taxpayers’ money flying themselves to fundraising parties or flying to their own weddings, we leave it up to the politician to decide if their claim is “outside of entitlement”.

‘But there is no such leeway, nor respect, shown to those people the parliament has deemed worthy of welfare support. Centrelink has sent tens of thousands of letters of demand to citizens based on a computer algorithm that suggests they might have been overpaid. In the lead up to Christmas some of the most vulnerable Australians have been forced to choose between wasting days looking for six-year-old pay slips, spending days on the phone to Centrelink, which is notorious for not answering, or to succumb to enormous pressure from their own government and repay hundreds or thousands of dollars that they might not even owe. It’s obscene.

‘Like the economic modelling used to argue that a $50bn tax cut for big business is the best way to boost the wages of low paid workers, the data matching algorithm used by Centrelink to identify “overpayment” is only as accurate as the assumptions and data it relies on. As the old adage says: garbage in, garbage out.’

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