In a bid to recoup $800 million of debt, former welfare recipients who owe money to the federal government will face a travel ban until the funds are repaid.
So far 20 orders have been issued according to human services minister, Michael Keenan who says that over 150,000 people who no longer receive welfare owe money.
“If you received a payment you were not entitled to, you have an obligation to repay the money you owe and we will use every tool at our disposal to ensure it is recovered,” Mr Keenan said in a statement on Saturday 22 September.
Along with the travel ban, those who refuse to pay back their debt will also be charged interest. The rate at which they will have to make repayments will take into consideration each person’s circumstances, while those who are facing hardship have the chance to defer their returns.
The minister clarified that those who are currently receiving welfare, or who are making repayments towards their debt would not be impacted by the travel ban. Instead its focus is those with large debts consistently refusing to pay the money back.
“It’s very important people repay money to the Australian taxpayer,” said Mr Keenan.
“The money that funds the welfare system has been earned by hardworking Australians and they expect us to make sure that system operates with integrity, that people get the support that they need and that they’re not getting more out of the system than they’re entitled to.”
Labor’s shadow health spokesperson, Catherine King said more information was required on the matter. Referring to Centrelink’s robo-debt scandal, which saw some 20,000 people sent notices in 2017 falsely claiming they owed money to the government, she urged the government to tread very carefully.
“We had the robo-debt scandal where people in fact did not have debts at all and were absolutely hounded by this government,” said Ms King.
“The government would want to be very, very careful that it knows absolutely that these people do have debts, that this isn’t another debacle in the making.”