The federal government has doubled down on its support for the Department of Human Services’ controversial ‘robodebt’ program, rejecting the findings of senate inquiry to stop using the online compliance intervention (OCI) system.
The community affairs committee report into the data matching and debt notice program from June recommended that the system should immediately be put on hold until all its procedural issues were addressed and 21 recommendations were implemented.
The committee’s Labor, Greens and independent contingent - who made up the majority of senators - were particularly critical of the program.
However, the committee’s four government senators argued DHS had already made tweaks to the system since with complaints had started last September, and denied that it “lacked procedural fairness”.
At the time the government senators did not commit to any changes to the robodebt program.
Now in its response to the report, the government has formally rejected the conclusions and 21 recommendations citing inaccuracy with “a significant proportion of the statements [the report] relied upon”.
It also said the report had failed to take into account information provided by DHS and the findings of the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s report from April.
“On this basis, the government rejects the central conclusions and recommendations of the chair’s report, especially the conclusion that the online system lacked procedural fairness,” the government said.
It said there was “no evidence to support the recommendation to put on hold the online system”, using the Ombudsman’s review as political cover.
The Ombudsman's report found that the technology underpinning the program was sound, but that the department had been "deficient" in its delivery and communication of the crackdown effort, which the government has acknowledged.
“The government’s clear position, supported by the independent Commonwealth Ombudsman report, is that it is appropriate to ask people for information when there are difference between their income details held by the Department of Human Services and other third parties such as the Australian Taxation Office," the government said.
“This principle has been in place under successive governments and has not changed.”
The government said DHS had now “largely implemented” the recommendations agreed in the Ombudsman's report.