Government Senators' Dissenting Comments

Government Senators do not support the Senate Community Affairs References Committee (committee) Interim Report into Centrelink’s Income Compliance Program (Program) as presented by the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens Senators.
Government Senators also note that this is now the fifth interim report tabled by the committee and that these comments should be reviewed in conjunction with the first four interim report dissenting comments.

The settlement of the class action

In November 2019, it was announced that Services Australia no longer raises debts by averaging ATO income information, without other information.
As stated in the Majority report overall, the reaction to the class action settlement has been positive. The proceedings enabled affected individuals to receive restitutionary damages for their financial loss.
Once it became clear the basis upon which the debts were being raised through the sole use of averaged ATO income data was insufficient, Services Australia paused in-scope debts as they were identified.
To date, over 98 per cent of refunds have been made.
Around 426 400 people have received a refund or had their debts zeroed. Almost all current Services Australia customers who are eligible for a refund have been refunded or had their debt zeroed.

Public interest immunity

Even though the class action has resolved, and as recognised by the Federal Court on 11 June 2021, not all potential claims arising out of the Program will be resolved though the class action. This is because a significant number of class members opted out of the class action and are free to bring their own individual claim, should they wish to.
Government Senators note that the Australian Federal Court has upheld claims of Public Interest Immunity in relation to documents such as Cabinet materials including the Executive Minute to the Minister for Social Services dated 12 February 2015.
On 4 August 2021, the Freedom of Information Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal found that the Minute which have been requested was properly the subject of a Cabinet exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.
As referenced in the previous dissenting comments it has always been the strong view of Government Senators that the claims of public interest immunity in regard to relevant Cabinet materials and legal advice provided with respect to the Income Compliance Program are valid.
Government Senators believe the recommendations of the majority Interim report should be rejected by the Senate.
Senator Wendy Askew Senator Hollie Hughes
Deputy Chair

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