Home Government Tech Policy Centrelink bungle claimed to hit Turnbull popularity

Centrelink bungle claimed to hit Turnbull popularity

A ReachTEL poll of 2126 Australians taken on 12 January shows that the ongoing Centrelink debt repayment bungle has delivered the government its worst poll result, according to the activist organisation GetUp.

The two-party preferred outcome of the poll showed that 46% would vote for the Coalition, with 54% preferring Labor. Half of those polled said they were less likely to vote for the government.

The Centrelink office sent tens of thousands of letters to people before Christmas, telling them that their earnings were at variance with what they had declared to the Australian Taxation Office.

They were given up to three weeks to explain, or face an adverse assessment and have to pay a recovery fee of 10%.

A large proportion of these letters turned out to be wrong because they were sent by an automated system that had not calculated the amounts correctly.

The ReachTEL poll showed that many more Australians backed a cancellation of the Centrelink programme with 77% saying that when there were errors with the system, the onus should be on Centrelink to correct them.

GetUp campaigns director Mark Connelly said this should come as no surprise for the Turnbull government.

“This is what happens when Government ministers book chartered flights and go to polo matches with public money, while sending tens of thousands of false debt-threat letters to everyday Australians," he said.

“Treating Australians like crap is going to get you crap poll results

“Centrelink staff used to check and correct these errors, before sending out threatening letters. Now thanks to the Turnbull Government’s incompetence and heartlessness, everyday Australians are being forced to find years-old employment records, or get handed over to ruthless, private-sector debt collectors.

“Australians are telling the Turnbull Government to get their priorities straight. A whopping 82% of Australians think the government should crack down on corporate tax dodgers, instead of focusing on recovering dubious Centrelink overpayments from years ago. Instead, the government’s main priority is a $48 billion tax cut for corporations who don’t even pay what they owe now.

“This government has an abacus where its soul should be, and for all that, they still can’t count. They should be chasing billions in lost tax revenue from giant corporate tax cheats, not bullying a man living with autism for $3000 he doesn’t even owe.

“When these government ministers are living such a lavish life on the public purse, they can’t possibly understand how a false $3000 debt can send your whole world crashing down. But that’s what’s happening to thousands of Australians each week: From a man with autism, to a single mother at Christmas, to a school teacher taking time off to care for her sick father.

“But if they’re so out of touch with the lives of everyday Australians, hopefully they’ll wake up to the political reality of these poll results and end this flawed, fraudulent and bullying debt-threat system now."

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.