I accept that we are limited for time so I will try and confine my remarks so other senators are able to make a contribution also. Picking up where Senator Siewert left off, I just want to comment on the conduct of the hearings, starting with the submitters and witnesses. I do thank all those Australians, individuals and organisations, that came forward to provide evidence to this committee.
A lot of people—as mentioned by Senator Siewert, the chair of the inquiry, and as I am sure other senators will mention—experienced a degree of confusion and stress over experiences they had. I am not sure if committees have done this previously, but we were able to offer a degree of anonymity to submitters and people who wanted to come to closed sessions of the committee. People were able to speak freely about their problems. So to my colleagues, particularly Senator Siewert and Senator Watt, thank you very much for your work on this—and the secretariat and all the submitters as well.
In terms of the starting point on this issue, I do not think anyone comes to this issue thinking that everything is done perfectly and everything is done right. One has to acknowledge where things go wrong. That is why we had this Senate inquiry. I have been very clear since—as Senator Siewert leaves I again I commend her on her work here. My personal position on this is that, as a representative of the Tasmanian community, I was contacted by many people with issues they experienced. So that was quite insightful. You have to acknowledge the issue. You cannot ignore it. You cannot pretend nothing is wrong. On that point, it is important to note the changes that were made before the inquiry commenced. Changes were implemented by the minister and the Department of Human Services. Additionally, recommendations were made by the Ombudsman and all of the recommendations have been accepted by the department. Implementation is underway, if not completed, on those recommendations. There are also ongoing areas of reform as well.
I want to briefly touch on my dissenting report, which is co-signed by Senator Reynolds, the other coalition senator. It is not a case of saying, ‘No, there’s nothing wrong and there are no lessons to be learnt here’. It is a case of putting our views on the record around the areas of improvement that are required. They go to three areas: improving data matching and case selection; enhancing communications and interactions with recipients, including simplification of language in letters; and improving debt management processes. All of these things go to the complex nature of our welfare system in this country, and how recipients in trying to interact with this complex system can find it difficult.
Senator Siewert touched on the point that Australians who receive correspondence from the government often think: ‘It’s from the government; it must be right.’ That is something we have to take into account. There are a number of recommendations we make ourselves as coalition senators about areas for improvement with regard to data and analysis of that data; about how to interact with recipients; how to make this a seamless and straightforward process as much as possible; and how to make it easy in terms of an entry point and providing data to assist recipients of any support on the way through the process.
All of those things being there, I would encourage people to read the report but also to read the dissenting report, because it is important, I think, to read as well the dissenting report, which I think is a very measured document. It is not a case of pretending there is nothing wrong and there are no lessons to be learnt; it is a case of applying a degree of composure, having a measured view to the way forward and accepting that, yes, it was not done properly, it was not perfect and there are lessons to be learnt but also acknowledging that there have been changes made. I accept that we have five minutes left, so I will conclude my remarks there.