Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: Doorstop interview regarding changes to the Income Compliance Program

29 May 2020

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services
E&OE

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, good afternoon. The Government has always taken its responsibility for income compliance in the welfare system sensibly and appropriately and seriously. It's important that the Government provides the right amount of money to the right people at the right time, and that is the purpose for the Government's Income Compliance Program. In November last year, I announced a further refinement to that program. I announced a pause on all debt recovery because of the insufficiency of information surrounding debts raised through ATO income averaging, and I announce that we'd be doing a count of the affected Australians involved.

Well, today I'm announcing that we have finished that process and will be refunding $721 million to 373,000 individual Australians for 470,000 debts, noting that some Australians have a number of debts. We're doing that because the best advice we have is that raising a debt wholly or partly on the basis of ATO incomed average, or averaged income, is not sufficient under law. So therefore, we will return that money and move forward with our Income Compliance Program with further proof points to ensure it remains sufficient.

Australians don't need to do anything in terms of getting a refund. From 1 July, we will be actively contacting those Australians impacted. We'll be paying some 190,000 from the 1 July whose details we have, and the remainder, we'll be contacting to update their details to ensure we have their details, and will be proactively rectifying the record we have with them.

Importantly, the Government will continue its income compliance framework going forward but with further proof points. It's also important to acknowledge this does not impact other areas where we seek to ensure that funds provided to the Commonwealth are up-to-date and that debts are appropriately collected through family tax benefits and other areas. So, that's the refinement, that's the update to the Government's Income Compliance Program which we announced the pause and the refinement from November last year.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

The Government started this program over half a decade ago based on the best information at the time. The information presented to me saw a change in November, I acted swiftly on behalf of the Government to pause debt recovery and to refine the system. So again, we're moving forward with the best information we have.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, when it became clear that new information about the sufficiency of using averaged - or income averaged data, the first thing Government did was to pause debt recovery and to announce a refinement of the scheme. We acted quickly in November, I updated Parliament in the House of Representatives, and now that we have the full set of data, the number of Australians who are receiving a refund and the amount of money, we're announcing that today.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's an update that the information we have to date tells us what is sufficient and what's not, which is a further update to the information the Government had at hand when the program was started five years ago.

QUESTION:

How do you justify [inaudible]…

MINISTER ROBERT:

The use of debt collectors is a long-standing practice for government over many, many, many years where debt is validly raised and details aren't available, or the Australian citizen is not engaging with the Government. It is a long-standing practice of government.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

The reason why it's taken since November when I updated that we were refining the program and that we would be pausing all debts is that it has taken a while to identify all of the 373,000 Australians. We wanted to get that right. We wanted to also build out the platforms needed to do a large-scale refund, something that the Government has not generally done in the past. And all of that work is completed and now at the earliest opportunity, I'm updating the country about the numbers involved and the quantum.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, we have advice now that shows that when the program started five years ago, the information for the use of averaged ATO income was not sufficient and further proof points are needed. Now that I have that information, that is how the program will move forward now.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's a long-standing practice of governments not to comment on anything before the court, and as you quite rightly outlined, there is a class action before the courts on this matter. And I think we will leave it at that.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, this is a program that started five years ago based on the best information at the time. I've been the responsible minister for 12 months. As soon as information came to light to show there was a lack of sufficiency, I moved quickly to pause all debts and refine the program. As you would expect, I promised I would come back to the Australian people with updated information which I am doing openly and transparently today.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's a case of informing the Australian people when information has come to light, when the number of Australians we've identified has been finalised and when we are ready to announce that from 1 July, we will be repaying them back again. So, I'm confident I have the right numbers and I'm confident I've got the right systems to do the refund.

Page last updated: 29 May 2020