The above headline is true if you assume the sole purpose of Centrelink‘s much maligned automated debt recovery system is to mine unearned money from innocent people like an ageing mobster desperately clinging to old turf.

The welfare system, though grateful we all are that it exists, is a nightmarish MC Esher drawing of bureaucratic nonsense that barely works when it’s functional, and apparently keeps all the working hours of a country post office.

That it’s now been entrusted with an automated debt recovery system, which feeds ATO data into the Newstart system and spits out debt notices that are virtually incontestable unless you’ve kept pay slips from a decade ago, feels like the bureaucratic equivalent of getting a toddler fucked up on Red Bull and locking it in a room with a running chainsaw.

So it’s not even remotely a surprise that the Federal Government has today stood firmly behind the beleaguered system, claiming that not only is the debt recovery process chugging along swimmingly, but that virtually no one has been complaining about it. Or, to put it another way, the Government has officially decided to put its fingers in its ears and shout “EVERYTHING IS FINE AND NOTHING IS WRONG” at the top of its lungs.

Minister for Social Services Christian Porter appeared on ABC Radio National earlier today to back its automated debt collection system, and championed the very low rate of complaints that the process has received.

“Since the start of the financial year we’ve sent out 169,000 review letters. These are not debt letters. These are letters that use automated cross-referencing information from the ATO to information received at Centrelink, which shows there might be a discrepancy.”

“The complaint rate is running at .16 per cent. That’s only 276 complaints from those 169,000 letters. That process has raised $300 million worth of money back to the taxpayer which was overpaid.”

“From what we’ve seen in a high volume system it’s actually working incredibly well.”

But when host Hamish Macdonald pressed Porter on the difference between an actual “complaint” and people disputing the debt notices, Porter retreated to fumbling non-answers, refusing to acknowledge that any problems with the system are occurring, including difficulties in actually using and logging information with the Centrelink system; a hodge-podge arsehole of an online portal that has the documented reliability of a stoned sloth.

The debt recovery process aims to recoup some $4billion in so-called welfare debt from historic Newstart recipients. The internet has been awash with people complaining that the system is merely taking annual income figures from the ATO and assuming people were getting paid for the entire year, overlapping periods of spent on Newstart and erroneously generating these debt figures, for which the system seems fundamentally designed to repel dispute.

Labor has already called for the system to be suspended while these disputes, not complaints, are investigated.

Source: ABC Radio National.

Photo: Matt King/Getty.