Auditor-general won't look at Centrelink debt recovery

By Stephen Easton

January 18, 2017

Commonwealth auditor-general Grant Hehir has declined to conduct an audit of Centrelink’s expanded debt recovery program, as requested by shadow minister for human services Linda Burney, at least not until the Commonwealth Ombudsman has had a look.

Hehir told Burney today he has decided not to audit “the use of automated data matching in Centrelink debt recovery and welfare integrity programs, with a focus on risk management and planning by the Department of Human Services; the value of savings derived from the programs to date; and the efficiency of future budget allocations for the programs” as she requested.

He explains:

“As you will be aware, the Commonwealth Ombudsman has recently commenced an investigation into the Centrelink debt recovery scheme. This investigation may result in an issues paper or public report issued under section 15 of the Ombudsman Act 1976.

“I have consulted with the Ombudsman regarding the scope of his own motion investigation and do not intend to commence an audit while the Ombudsman’s investigation is underway. Nonetheless, I will consider the inclusion of an audit in the development of my 2017–18 Audit Work Program.”

Burney said today the opposition would support a Senate inquiry in the matter, so it looks like there is enough support for it to go ahead.

Meanwhile, after indications that Centrelink staff are increasingly supporting public criticisms of the agency, the ABC reports employees have been warned against leaking internal documents — based on an all-staff email that was leaked to the national broadcaster. The message reminds staff:

“As public servants, we’re well-placed to make a significant contribution to public life through our work. But what we say and do comes with boundaries and responsibilities.”

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