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Robo debt: Centrelink staff write protest material in response to debt recovery program

Centrelink public servants have stepped up their internal resistance to the welfare agency's controversial "robo-debt" program, with union officials handing out protest material to clients at offices around Australia on Wednesday.

The move came as the welfare agency lashed out, again, at "unsubstantiated claims from anonymous staff" about the debt recovery program.

Centrelink offices in all states and territories were being targeted by the staff-written pamphlets, which are being handed out by members of the Community and Public Sector Union, on Wednesday. Visitors were told Australia's welfare agency is in crisis and that it is getting worse.

In New South Wales, Centrelink shopfronts at Liverpool and Penrith were being targeted for the action.

In Melbourne, the effort was concentrated on the agency's sites in Frankston and Brunswick, while Hobart central in Tasmania, Beenleigh and Townsville in Queensland, Vic Park and Midland in the West Australian capital, Darwin, Palmerston and Casuarina in the Northern Territory, Oaklands Park in South Australia and Queanbeyan, outside of Canberra, were all being targeted for action.

"As Centrelink employees, we put ourselves at risk by speaking to the media or commenting in public about what is happening at our workplace," the pamphlets read.

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"But it's been a difficult year and there's some things we need to tell you. We need to tell you that we see your pain and acknowledge your fear.

"We know you are angry and we are too. We know that the people of Australia deserve better.

"We know that the automated debt notices are unfair, unjust and callous. We acknowledge that in a great many cases, they are not your debts.

"Many of us warned the Department of Human Services that the debt system wouldn't work. Despite our combined hundreds of years' experience in welfare systems, the Department is still not listening."

Centrelink spokesman Hank Jongen alleged on Wednesday that media reports were "misrepresenting' how the system worked, including the often-cited 20 per cent error rate on the letters generated by the "data matching" program."The Australian community keeps hearing that 20 per cent of these review letters are sent out in error," Mr Jongen said.

"This is just wrong. What the system does is generate a letter that tells welfare recipients we have information from the Australian Taxation Office about their earnings which is different to what is on their Centrelink payment records."This notice asks people to confirm or update their employment earning details.

"This is not a debt letter – it is seeking information which people who receive a Centrelink payment are required by law to provide."We then use this to make an assessment about whether people have received the right entitlement."

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