A Tasmanian Liberal senator says it is incorrect to link the deaths of welfare recipients to the controversial "robodebt" scheme.
In a dissenting report to an inquiry into Centrelink's compliance program - which is the subject of a class action lawsuit - Wendy Askew and her colleague Hollie Hughes, a New South Wales Liberal senator, dispute a number of assertions in an interim report from the Senate's community affairs reference committee.
Senators Askew and Hughes are themselves members of the committee.
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The interim report notes the affect the scheme has had on some welfare recipients' mental health.
"The Income Compliance Program has had an overwhelming and devastating impact on many people's emotional and financial wellbeing and willingness to engage with and trust government services," the report reads.
"Several individuals have described thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation as a very real consequence of being in these circumstances.
"Recognising that the issues around suicide causation are complex, the committee has received evidence of at least two suicides related to the Income Compliance Program and it is not clear how many more may also be linked to the program."
However, senators Askew and Hughes thoroughly rejected the committee's interim findings, saying it was "irresponsible" for members of the committee (made up of mostly Labor and Greens senators) to be making such claims.
"Government senators reject the repeated attempts by opposition senators to attempt to make these links, including in relation to cases where there is no allegation of exposure to procedural unfairness as part of the Program or the use of averaging of [Australian Tax Office] income data," the senators said.
Recognising the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII:
"This is misleading, irresponsible, and has the potential to cause harm to vulnerable people.
"Government senators note the clear and consistent evidence from Services Australia to the Committee that it is incorrect to interpret Centrelink customer death statistics as suicides, or to attribute media reporting around suicides to the Program."
The federal government has been forced to pay back $721 million worth of debts it recouped through the unlawful robodebt scheme, which saw an automated system match ATO data with the income welfare recipients reported to Centrelink.
Many debts were calculated incorrectly due to the flawed nature of the income averaging model, with some people who owed no money at all still being sent a debt notice.
The scheme began in 2015 and was suspended in November last year.
"Government senators note that there have been apologies from both the government and senior officials for any hurt or harm caused by income compliance," the Liberal senators said.
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