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Centrelink boss denies higher staff stress

A senior bureaucrat insists Centrelink's widely criticised automated debt recovery program has not led to an increase in mental health issues for staff, nor increased customer aggression, despite evidence to the contrary.

A Senate inquiry into the so-called robo-debt recovery saga has been told more than 200,000 people were affected and at least one in five debt notices issued were incorrect.

Marc Mowbray-D'Arbela, a Department of Human Services national manager, fronted the inquiry in Sydney on Wednesday and played down the impact of the saga on Centrelink staff.

"There's been no increase in incidents or injuries reported by staff related to mental stress," Mr Mowbray-D'Arbela said.

"I guess the proposition we're hearing ... is that there's a significant increase in stress and I don't think that's necessarily borne out by the facts."

DHS Sydney zone service leader Scott Chant called the impact on service centre staff "negligible".

The Community and Public Sector Union's submission, however, lamented the "shambolic" process, and suggested staff had endured increased stress levels and customer aggression, including threats.

It quoted one concerned employee as saying: "I was left wondering if they could follow through with the threats made, including slitting my mother's throat."

Such was the rage generated by the data-matching program, according to the union, that the department sought private contractors to provide "advanced customer aggression training services".

In an anonymous submission to the inquiry, one DHS employee said staff were "suffering greatly" at the hands of systems that weren't fit for purpose.

"The staff are barely getting by, and the system is structurally broken and has been designed such that no officer can end-to-end help a member of the public," they wrote.

"Piles of policy and piles of legislation all added together to make an unworkable mess. Please help."

Mr Mowbray-D'Arbela said the agency closely monitored all instances of stress and potential aggression, which was "properly reported and addressed on a daily basis".

"Perhaps contrary to perceptions, there hasn't been a significantly marked increase.... The experience of the department has been the matters have settled to some extent," he told the inquiry.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said her members were under pressure from DHS bosses not to report incidents.

"It's the same game plan that has management finessing call wait times so they look first class, when in reality 36 million calls weren't answered at all last year," she said in a statement.

The inquiry will continue in Perth on Friday.

© AAP 2017

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