Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: ABC Radio Melbourne and ABC Statewide Victoria Drive interview with Nicole Chvastek

6 April 2020

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services
Topics: 
Online Compliance System
E&OE


NICOLE CHVASTEK: 

The Morrison Government's been rolling out this massive stimulus package to try and stop the Australian economy from tanking. But what happens to the doubled Newstart Allowance when signs of recovery emerge. The Prime Minister’s been talking about something called the ‘snap back’ when systems suddenly return to normal, is it as simple as that. And at the same time Services Australia quietly issued a notice on Friday, that it intends to use Medicare data for a data matching program to include detecting overpayments and recovering debt, after this is all passed. Stuart Robert is the Member for Fadden and the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and also for Government Services, Stuart Robert. Good afternoon.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Good afternoon. How are you?

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

Good. Thank you. Are you still robodebt calling people on job seeker allowances?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We made the decision in the last week, and of course communicated over the weekend, that we've paused all debt recovery across the Commonwealth during this period of pandemic.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

Are you really intending to start then after this so called ‘snap back’?

MINISTER ROBERT:

In terms of the income compliance, as you call it "robodebt", the decision was made that we would be pausing that a number of months ago, as we work through the next steps and as you know, it's in front of the court so best to leave that there. And of course, for the wider debt recovery, so reconciliation for Family Tax Benefit and the like, that's what we announced on the weekend that that will all be paused during this period.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

The question is, though, because a pause suggests that it's a temporary action. Are you intending after the so called ‘snap back’ to start robo-calling people again and asking them for money back that you've paid them?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well let's separate the two issues so that your listeners don't get confused the income compliance, that we announced a number of months ago, that has been paused or we work through it is currently before the court. That will remain in that case. The other issue is that there are 960,000 Australians that currently owe the Commonwealth a bit over $5 billion. And this is overpayments of family tax and child care, and these types of payments. That's what's been paused during the pandemic [interrupted].

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

You don't, I mean, this is a, this is a scheme which has been called an illegal scam by some of our most eminent legal minds, you've already been forced to mediate a class action. So after this pandemic is over, you're just going to launch back into this program again are you?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No I've just said to you there are two separate issues. The first is the income compliance or “robodebt” that has been paused whilst government works through it, a decision made many months ago. And that's before the courts, and therefore, we won’t address it. The wider issue of what we paused on the weekend is the debt recovery for over payments on Family Tax benefits and [interrupted].

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

What I'm trying to understand Minister is you're talking about pauses and you're talking about not pursuing these debts while there is a pandemic being managed and the suggestion, a pause means that you're going to start it up again after a period of time. And so the question is, will you claim back money that you have alleged has been overpaid to you under [interrupted].

MINISTER ROBERT:

For a third time we’ve a number of months ago paused “robodebt”, and it's currently before the courts, so we'll leave it there. On the weekend, we announced will pause the collection of debts which come not from income compliance, not from “robodebt” but from overpayments of Family Tax Benefits and child care. Therefore until after the pandemic and yes the Commonwealth will continue our legislative responsibility to collect those reconciled debts after the pandemic is finished.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

So all of this is going to start up again, this debt recovery?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well the law requires up where someone has been overpaid funds from the Family Tax Benefits for child care or [inaudible], which are reconciled annually because citizens determine what they're going to earn and tell that the Commonwealth and if they earn, of course, too much or too little they get a refund or indeed a debt generated that will go back to the standard process after the pandemic is finished.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

I’m speaking to the Member of Fadden and the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Government Services, Stuart Robert. Stuart Robert, can you tell us about how the systems are dealing with the JobKeeper, and the JobSeeker enquiries and can you tell me if you're now going to use Medicare data also to recover overpayments has been reported in The Guardian?

MINISTER ROBERT:

As I said, we've paused, all recovery of debt so we won't be using any data now to recover debts because we're not doing it.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

But into, into the future you will be using Medicare data.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Once the pandemic is finished, and we get back to a normal state of affairs we will recover debt in the usual manner. None of those decisions are being made, the last decision made and was announced on Saturday was to assist Australians by pausing all debt recovery. So 960,000 Australians that would have a debt, don't have to worry about that at this time.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

But it’s only a matter of time before you go back to that sort of behaviour?

MINISTER ROBERT:

If Australians have underestimated their income and been paid too much Family Tax Benefit and then on the reconciliation once a year if there is indeed a debt occurred as has been the case for decades and decades and decades, the Commonwealth has a lawful obligation to ensure the right people get paid the right amount of money at the right time. So that process will continue when the pandemic is finished.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

Minister, the NDIS providers are, have written to the Prime Minister say, they say that industry leaders in the disability care sector are pleading for help, to keep their doors open, for protective personal equipment, for carers. They are warning that highly vulnerable disabled Australians are at risk of losing their critical care services and they want to know why you are treating the disability sector in a different way than you would the aged care sector, because a group of leading disability sector chief executives have written to the Prime Minister warning that many of their organisation's will simply go under.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well a group of advocates have certainly written to the Prime Minister and to me. When the Disability Reform Council, the gathering of all the State and Territory and Federal ministers for Disability gathered, almost a month ago on the 18th of March we made decisions to put over a billion dollars of support into the provider segments, which included 10 per cent loading on some supports and core supports massive changes to cancellation policies allowing all providers to claim a month worth of the invoicing in advance for cash flow purposes, extending plans for by 24 months and the list goes on to say [interrupted].

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

They say that they are going to go broke.

MINISTER ROBERT:

[continues] of support that we have provided to the provider sector. All providers are required if there are any substantial changes to their operating model to inform the Quality and Safeguards Commission about any potential changes to work force or indeed the capacity to keep on going. And at present we've seen no indication of what you're suggesting.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

Well they say what you're offering is manifestly inadequate. They say that aged workers have been granted priority for Covid testing, there'll be given specialist preventative training for the virus, they will be paid a retention bonus, access to protective clothing. They say you wouldn't shut an aged care residential home but if we can’t provide for the most vulnerable or stay financially viable. That's what many residential care facilities are facing in the sector.

MINISTER ROBERT:

So the letter came from advocates, not from providers and that's not what I'm hearing from the provider market.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

So you think that the advocates are misleading you.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I'm just suggesting that the provider market has responded very favourably to the billion dollar package, we announced on top of the $18 billion we'll spend this year in the in the NDIS space. Now that package was announced on the 21st of March, the first half a billion dollars of one month billing in advance has gone out and of course the updates by 10 per cent to the core support payments are now in place and people are billing against it.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

Minister you've announced a service that will be launching with the supermarkets delivery for vulnerable Australians - how is this going to work.

MINISTER ROBERT:

From today, in fact, as we speak, the NDIA, the National Disability Insurance Agency will be sending all 340,000 participants, a code by email or SMS, and they'll be able to use that for online shopping orders so they get priority. So when they do a shopping request online and it gets delivered to them that code will give them priority above all other Australians.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

Minister, how is the online system coping now with the JobKeeper applications we saw when this pandemic hit, and people losing their jobs in waves across the country. Thousands of people lining up outside the Centrelink facilities complaining that they couldn't get through your online system crashed in the first few days, you usually had 5000 people, logging on you've got 98,000, I think you said that they'd been a cyber-attack in the first couple of days on your website and then withdrew that. What's the system doing now, how is it coping now?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We regularly now have 170,000 concurrent users and growing and the system is well managed. The week before the 23rd of March, we were getting about 6,000 concurrent users, we increased capacity to 50,000 anticipating that there would be demand growing, and then of course the unprecedented decisions by National Cabinet on the 22nd, on the Sunday, saw hundreds of thousands of Australians who have never ever had any contact with the social security system, seek support from Centrelink, but all of that is well and truly stabilised. Systems have been massively upgraded to now handle upwards of 170,000 concurrent users. And people are getting the contact, and getting the capacity to lodge their claims, which I think is really good.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

Minister, just before I let you go before all of these hits the Murdoch press was regularly running leaks apparently from your Government, which suggested that those who were on the dole were bludgers, and they were rorting the system. We now have vast quantities of Australians who are seeking welfare assistance, because of circumstances to the Murdoch press, which seem to paint unemployed people and demonise and unemployed people, when all of a sudden, so many of us are without a job.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well clearly I reject your assertion that Government Ministers or Members were making any disparaging comments about Australians and that they are objective completely. And I reject the assertion that you've added to us, there are a lot of very decent Australians now, who through no fault of their own find themselves in very difficult circumstances. And it's real privilege for Government to seek to serve them through Services Australia and that's what we’ve been doing seven days a week, and we'll continue to process claims seven days a week so Australians can get the services and support they really need in a very difficult period they’re now.

NICOLE CHVASTEK:

Thank you for your time.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk to you.

[ENDS]

 

Page last updated: 7 April 2020