Transcript: Sky News, Interview with Patricia Karvelas

12 February 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Cory Bernardi, Debt and compliance letters, Energy policy, One Nation
E&OE

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
My first guest tonight is Human Services Minister Alan Tudge. Welcome to the program.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Hi Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
I want to get straight to your portfolio. What percentage of Centrelink debts generated by automatic data matching have been changed on review now?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well, I think your question makes some assumptions about our process which aren’t quite correct, Patricia.

The way the process works is that in 100 percent of occasions that a person receives a letter requesting information because there is a discrepancy between the income information which the person has provided to Centrelink and the income information which is held at the Australian Taxation Office in relation to that person.

The person then gets the opportunity to update their information, to explain that discrepancy, and if they cannot or they do not, then a debt can be issued.

Of course, they always have the opportunity for a review after that and, indeed, for a further appeal after that as well but that’s the nature of the process. On 100 percent of occasions, a discrepancy’s identified.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] Can you give me the numbers? I understand the process pretty well. As you know, this is an area I wrote about for so long I don’t like to count the years, but what I ask you is very specific: what percentage of the debts generated have now been changed on review? I’m talking about review.

ALAN TUDGE:   
But again Patricia, every person has the opportunity to …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Interrupts] But there have been reviews. It’s a simple question.

ALAN TUDGE:   
There have been reviews, but sometimes those reviews occur after a person has updated their information.

They have updated their information, said that the information that they have provided is valid and then they might seek a review after that because they don’t like the outcome.

That actually occurred in one of the cases which was raised in Parliament last week where an elderly gentleman, he updated his information, said yes this is correct, didn’t like the answer, sought a review and provided further information.

He’s perfectly within his rights to do that. He still owed a debt, by the way, but the debt levels did come down in that situation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
Okay, so I just want to know what the percentage is. You must know that.

ALAN TUDGE:   
I don’t have that figure on me Patricia. I do know that on 80 percent of occasions, people when they receive a letter asking to explain why there’s a discrepancy, either do not explain or they provide information and they still owe a debt. On 20 percent of occasions they are able to provide a valid explanation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
Okay, I know that everybody working in this sector wants that number that I’m asking for so are you prepared to provide it to me?

You say you don’t have it on you so we’re not going to waste our time where I ask you over and over for a percentage figure that you don’t have on you, but will you provide it to me after the program?

Will your department provide it so that I can share that with many people who would like to know what the percentage is?

ALAN TUDGE:   
But the key thing, Patricia, is the way that the process works in ensuring that there is rigour in the process. Because by the very nature of the question, you imply something …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] Percentages.

ALAN TUDGE:
… by what the answer might be. Whereas, what I’m saying is that …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Interrupts] Well, there is. There’s a review process. People want to know what the percentage of the changes are. Could you provide it?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Sure. There is a review process and as I said, the way that the process works is that everybody gets the opportunity to update their information, if indeed there is a discrepancy.

Now, some people will provide - two or three times - they’ll provide new information along the way and it may change what their outcome is.

Sometimes the outcome goes up, by the way, where more debt is owed rather than less but that’s the way the process works, it’s the way the process, by the way, has always worked in terms of that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
Okay. But will you provide the figure of the percentage that have been changed, is what I’m asking, as a result of review?

ALAN TUDGE:   
And this is as a result of after people have updated their records and they may seek a review and provide further information.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] As a result of a review … will you provide that figure?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Listen, I’m sure that my department may have that figure. I don’t have that figure but I just want to press, Patricia, that the important thing …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] But this is what people are looking for.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Which people are looking for this? The critics of our process are looking for this, Patricia. Now, the critics of our pro- but many …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] The many people who are representing many vulnerable welfare recipients.

ALAN TUDGE:   
No, but many critics, Patricia, don’t want us to be doing any reviews at all. Now, this includes, by the way, the Labor Party who wants to scrap our reviews system and they say that despite the fact that our reviews are uncovering cases from the Labor years.

And one where a person had declared only $5,000 to Centrelink and yet the Australian Taxation Office records show that the person had earned $100,000.

And the Labor Party says that we should not even ask questions of such an individual, that it would be inappropriate to do so. We don’t think it’s inappropriate.

We think whenever there is a discrepancy that arises, it is appropriate to ask questions of that person. They get that opportunity to explain why there might be a discrepancy. They also get a chance to review and they also get a chance for further appeal.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] Sure, no one’s disputing that part. But I’m just looking to see how much has been changed. I’m looking to see how much has changed, you say you don’t have the figure.

As I say I don’t believe in wasting our viewers’ time but I will pursue it with you afterwards and you say your department will have it. If you can ask your department for it, I’ll pursue that.

On this other bill which is before the Parliament, this Omnibus Bill, Nick Xenophon is one of the Senate crossbenchers you need to convince on the Newstart changes specifically.

I just want to focus on those. Why would you put people under 25 years old, under more financial strain, given they get less than the dole? They’d be losing $45 a week; this is a huge amount of money to somebody who can barely afford their rent. Why would you do that?

ALAN TUDGE:   
So, in essence Patricia, just so that your viewers know, we’re basically aligning what the Youth Allowance rate is with effectively what Newstart is by saying that if you’re under 25, you get the same rate regardless of what you are doing.

Previously, there was an incentive, if you like, when you hit 22 to go onto Newstart rather than if you’re 22, you’ve finished studying and you don’t have a job, why don’t you go back and do a further course in order to fine tune your skills so that you have more opportunity to get work?

What we want to do at every single step of the way of the system is encourage people, particularly young people who’ve got skills, to take work when it is available.

That’s what this is about, providing that further incentive for people to, if you like, make their skills better, get that job, rather than going onto unemployment benefits.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
You don’t have the support to pass this and you risk your childcare reforms if you don’t peel it out of the bill. Looks to me like you’re going to have to pull it out of the bill, am I right?

ALAN TUDGE:   
We’ve put together a package which Christian Porter has been leading the negotiations with the crossbenchers and we hope that this package will be supported. Because it’s a very important package in terms of providing up to a million people …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] You’re not going to risk your whole package, are you, on these Newstart changes?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Patricia, we’ve got a package and that entire package we want to get through the Parliament. Because what it does is identify savings on the one hand …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] But you can’t get it through, you can’t get it through.

ALAN TUDGE:   
… to put into childcare. Now, this is where we are different to even some of the crossbenchers and certainly different to the Labor Party where when we’ve got new expenditure to make, we want to make sure we’ve made the savings first because we’re still in deficit and we want to get out of deficit and back into surplus as quickly as possible.

Therefore, you have to identify the savings in order to make the expenditure, that’s what we’ve done in this package as a whole, and that’s why we’re putting together as a package and seek the support of the Parliament for it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
Liberal Party defector Cory Bernardi was on Sky just this morning, he says he would like to halve Australia’s migrant intake, declaring the idea made economic sense. Is that the sort of direction you’d like to see the Coalition move to?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Patricia, Cory Bernardi is no longer a member of the Liberal Party and I’m not going to provide a running commentary on every single thing that he now says. What I will say is that our immigration program, as you know, is based on three pillars.

It’s based on a strong immigration intake, largely geared towards skilled migration; it’s based on a generous humanitarian intake where we choose the people that come into this country; and the third element, of course, is very strong borders, so that effectively the people who come into this country are the ones which we select rather than who select themselves.

They’re our three pillars and we’ll be maintaining those three.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] So, you don’t want to see it change? Okay, support for One Nation has jumped …

ALAN TUDGE:   
[Talks over] Patricia, they’re the three pillars of our policy. I’m not the Immigration Minister, we’re sticking by those policies, and I think they’ve served the country well.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
Support for One Nation has jumped and all of a sudden we see that there’s a deal done in WA so that there’s preferences to One Nation above the Nationals.

Do you really think, the party of John Howard- that the party of John Howard would’ve thought this was okay?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well, I think the Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos encapsulated it well this morning in saying that the party, the One Nation party today is quite a different beast to what it was 20 years ago. I think it’s a much more …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] How is it different? What are the differences?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well, I think it’s a much more mature policy. Well, you’re a media commentator and I’m sure …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] Where’s the maturity? Don’t they want a … Just, no, I have a specific question. They want a Royal Commission into a religion.

ALAN TUDGE:   
[Talks over] No, no, but … Patricia, I even think … we don’t agree with every single one of One Nation’s policies. I mean, I don’t personally agree with every single one of One Nation’s policies and that’s why I’m a member of the Liberal Party, not of One Nation, not of the Labor Party, the Greens, or any other party.

But it has matured as a party over the last 20 years. I think Pauline Hanson has matured as an individual leader and I think most journalists think that as well. They’re far less critical of One Nation today than they were 20 years ago.

But ultimately, preference deals are a matter for the administrative arm of that Western Australian jurisdiction in this instance. What they decide is up to them, what we ultimately decide will be …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] But you don’t find it alarming or concerning?

ALAN TUDGE:   
… will be up to us in a couple of years’ time.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
There are reports that it will happen in Victoria. This is your patch, so let loose, share your views. Should it happen in Victoria that One Nation is preferenced by the Liberal Party here?

ALAN TUDGE:   
I have not heard of such plans, Patricia, but ultimately that will be a decision for the Victorian arm of the adminis-…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] There’s a report today, actually, in a newspaper.

ALAN TUDGE:   
… but that will be a decision for Michael Kroger and the administrative arm of the Liberal Party as to what preference deals are done for the upcoming state election.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] But would it concern you, Alan Tudge? Would it concern you Alan Tudge?

ALAN TUDGE:   
I’m not going to make comment on what my state counterparts do for their election and I don’t expect them to make comment on what we do for our election and that’s just the way the system works. Now, again, I point out that I think …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] Okay, but Pauline Hanson has …

ALAN TUDGE:   
… One Nation is quite different to what it was 20 years ago.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
Pauline Hanson has shrugged off criticism of Russia’s alleged role in the death of 38 Australians on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 by commenting that, and I quote, everyone has done something. Is that a party you want to preference?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Again Patricia, because you preference a party does not mean that you agree with every single policy position. If you had exactly the same policy positions, you’d be the same party. Even the National Party and the Liberal Party have some subtle differences on the margins. We form a Coalition but we’re two different parties.

And certainly with the One Nation, it’s even further different from those two parties that I’ve just mentioned. In relation to MH17, as you know, there has been an investigation, an international one, into it and Australia was part of that and it found that Russia, indeed, was a contributing factor towards that plane coming down.

So, I don’t agree with what Pauline Hanson said in that instance. There’ll be many things I don’t agree with Pauline Hanson upon and that’s why I’m a member of the Liberal Party and not a member of One Nation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
Just a final question, and a very brief answer if you can, I know there are many people in business, in the energy sector, that are very concerned that energy policy has become a political football between Labor, the Government, I mean, the Treasurer brought in a piece of coal, for crying out loud, to Question Time the other day.

Coal was being carried around, I thought it was something I hadn’t seen before. Are you prepared to act in a bipartisan way to deal with this country’s energy problems, energy crisis some people have described it as, rather than score points off each other daily?

ALAN TUDGE:   
This is one of the biggest issues facing the country, Patricia. I mean, it is a national issue when you have an entire state frequently having blackouts and where they have some of the most expensive electricity prices in the world.

How we can do this on a bipartisan basis when the Labor Party has ideological objections against certain forms of energy, when they’ve got a 50 percent Renewable Energy Target which just has no analysis underpinning it, and which where we know what it leads to for the rest of the nation, it will lead to the similar things to what occurred in South Australia.

I can’t see how we can have that bipartisan agreement when they have such policies which will put electricity prices up, which will make electricity less secure, when our firm priority …

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
[Talks over] Okay, I’ll take that …

ALAN TUDGE:   
… is to make electricity price secure and also to get prices down. That’s what we want to do while, of course, committing to our targets as well.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     
Alan Tudge, I’ll take that that the politics will continue. Thank you for coming in on my program.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Thanks PK.

[ENDS]