The Australian Press Council upheld a complaint by the Department of Human Services about an article in The Canberra Times on March 30, 2017, headed “Another debt debacle” in print and “Centrelink hits 21,000 families with bogus FTB debts” online.
The article reported on Centrelink’s “Family Tax Benefit recovery effort” and in particular, the approximately “21,400 of the [65,000] families hit with the debt notices [who] were able to prove they owed Centrelink nothing”.
The department complained the article’s references to the FTB debt notices as “bogus”, being sent in “error” and a “debacle” were inaccurate and misleading.
The Council was satisfied the debts referred to did exist at the time the notices were issued and considered the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure accuracy by describing the approximately 21,000 debts as “bogus” and sent in “error”.
Accordingly, the Council concluded that General Principle 1 was breached. As to remedial action, the Council considered that the material was significantly inaccurate and misleading.
In not publishing a correction in this regard, or a letter to the editor from the complainant, the Council considered the publication failed to provide adequate remedial action. Accordingly, General Principle 2 was breached.
This adjudication outcome is available on the Press Council website.