The scheme used Tax Office annual income data and averaged it over 26 fortnights, presuming income was the same across each, and put the onus on welfare recipients to prove they didn’t owe the government money.
The Coalition settled a class action lawsuit over the scheme for $1.8 billion in 2020.
Miller told the commission that her initial reaction to hearing about the pilot in late 2016 was positive. “I took one look at it and thought ‘there’s a good story here’,” Miller said, adding it complemented the Coalition’s narrative of saving money.
However, she said it began to generate a lot of negative publicity, particularly from the “left-wing” media camp, but wasn’t overly concerned as “it wasn’t unusual for the left-wing media to be attacking us over social policy”.
She said while Tudge was concerned about the publicity, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office was pleased as the program was well received by voters in marginal seats, including western Sydney.
In November 2020, Miller told the ABC’s Four Corners she had an affair with Tudge while he was her boss.
Tudge was stood down from the front bench in December 2021 after Miller publicly alleged he was emotionally abusive and on one occasion physically abusive while the pair were travelling together for work.
Tudge denies the allegations and was subjected to two inquiries. The first, conducted by law firm Sparke Helmore, was commissioned by the Morrison government but did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
The second inquiry, by Vivienne Thom, a former inspector-general of intelligence, found Tudge had not breached ministerial standards, but Miller did not participate in that inquiry.
Last year, the Commonwealth reached a deal with Miller, represented by Gordon Legal, to pay her $650,000 for loss of earning capacity, medical expenses and costs but did not admit liability for her claims of disability discrimination, sex discrimination and an unsafe workplace.
Miller told the inquiry no thought was given to the people receiving the debt notices, sometimes worth tens of thousands of dollars.
“There was a distinct lack of empathy,” she said, adding “that was the culture of the place.”
“You would think that working in human services, social services, the first person you would think about is the recipient, but that wasn’t the case throughout the Coalition government,” she said.
Alan Tudge will appear before the commission on Wednesday, February 1 and Christian Porter will appear on Thursday, February 2.
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