Politics

Mothers whose sons took their lives after robodebts detail anguish in heartbreaking letters

The heartbreaking letters were submitted to a Senate inquiry. Source: AAP

Their emotional accounts detail how the young men, Jarrad Madgwick, 22, and Rhys Cauzzo, 28, died by suicide three years ago after being handed the debt notices.

This article contains references to suicide.

Mothers whose sons took their own lives after they received Centrelink debts have sent handwritten letters to the Senate accusing the government’s robodebt system of being a factor in their suicides.

Their emotional accounts detail how the young men, Jarrad Madgwick, 22, and Rhys Cauzzo, 28, died by suicide three years ago after being handed the debt notices.

In the letters, mothers Kath Madgwick and Jennifer Miller recognise their sons had existing difficulties with mental health but argue the debt recovery attempts contributed to their deaths.

“If it were not for the Automotive Compliance Letter & the threat of a debt … my son would be sitting next to me today,” Ms Madgwick wrote.

“Instead he was extremely distressed & it pushed him to make an impulsive decision.”

The automated welfare recovery scheme matched Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink data to attempt to reclaim what were considered overpaid welfare payments.

But it was ruled unlawful last year after the Federal Court determined Centrelink could not have been satisfied the debts were correct.

The mothers’ letters were read by Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill before a Senate committee on Monday explaining the anxiety experienced by their sons after receiving debt notices.

In her letter, Ms Miller documented several debt notices, totalling up to $17,000, that were received by her son before he died by suicide.

“The above notices and continued harassment, both written and phone, is clear,” she wrote.

“This continuing pressure ultimately caused my son Rhys to commit suicide on Australia Day 26th Jan 2017.”

Both letters also accuse a top bureaucrat of failing to recognise the debt recovery system’s role in their son’s death calling this scheme “disgusting” and saying this lack of empathy was “offensive”.

Department of Social Services secretary Kathryn Campbell at a Senate hearing last month stated claims people had died over the debt program could not be considered correct.

“We know that suicide is a very difficult subject, we know mental health issues are very difficult. We do not accept [there were deaths over robodebt]," she said.

Ms Campbell also once again recognised the scheme had caused hurt and harm, and stated it was "legally insufficient", before the Senate committee on Monday.

She said the department had apologised for any harm caused.

"I believe there were many people who felt uneasy, frustrated, had some difficulty managing through this system," she said.

"Of course we apologise for the hurt and harm caused to that family. That is a tragic story. No one wants that to happen ...  I'm sorry for any death."

The federal government committed to repaying all wrongly issued robodebts in May this year.

The scheme is also facing a class-action lawsuit with income averaging no longer used as the sole proof for a possible debt.

Centrelink's debt recovery system is also currently on pause until October.

Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au. Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 

LGBTIQ+ Australians seeking support with mental health can contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visitqlife.org.au. ReachOut.com also has a list of support services. 

With AAP. 

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