Thursday, 3 December 2020
Matters of Public Importance
Pensions and Benefits
How pathetic is it in this parliament that, when a government bungles a scheme to the tune of $1.2 billion and 400,000 Australians are impacted through no fault of their own, a minister in that government cannot simply rise to his or her feet and apologise for that? How difficult is that? We know that, if it weren't for this MPI today and the hard work of the member for Maribyrnong and every single federal Labor member who stood up and sided with the victims, it would have been this minister who would still have been collecting Rolex watches and not paying his NBN bills. He is laughing as he leaves the chamber, to the disgust of the victims he has overseen.
We know it is the member for Maribyrnong who has led the charge on this issue from the minute he became the shadow minister in 2019. In August, he started the conversations with the victims. He started raising it in this parliament. It was Labor who uncovered this unholy mess made by this government. Time and time again, when it comes to the question of who was on your side, the answer is, 'Not Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his team.' So let's contrast that with the government and how the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the now minister have handled this issue.
I want to go to this outrageous claim that somehow this began under Gough Whitlam or Malcolm Fraser or some nonsense that this government is perpetrating. Let's look at the facts. When this scheme was introduced, there was an averaging tool to look for debts. Labor demanded secondary proof points. There was human intervention and human oversight. This government and this minister have used robodebt in an unchecked, out-of-control algorithm, with all the safety guards and human oversight removed and a guilty-until-proven-innocent burden of proof put on the person accused.
So what do you think it is? Yes, under Labor, around 20,000 debts a year were raised. What do you think that figure rose to when robodebt was unleashed? Was it 50,000 a year? Was it 60,000 a year? No, it was 20,000 debts unleashed a week. That's how this government made a mess of this scheme. Under persistent questioning by Labor, in and out of the parliament, the minister—even today, when given the chance—has still said, 'We will not apologise.' How insulting that is to the 400,000 Australians who did absolutely nothing wrong, who were in fear because they were falsely accused. I bet they won't have the guts today—all the speakers who drew the short straw to speak on today's motion. I bet none of them are going to get on their feet and apologise for this. They all had people coming into their electorate offices. I know they had the phone calls. They had the pensioners. They had the disability support pensioners. They had all of the vulnerable Australians contacting their electorate offices, worried about the thousands of dollars that they didn't owe. They would have secretly made the representation and got them off, but none of them are going to have the guts to get up in the parliament today and apologise. Not one single person has the decency to apologise to those Australians.
We need a royal commission into robodebt. The government must listen to what the victims and the advocates want for justice for their voice to be heard. The government must answer questions. When did they know robodebt was illegal and why didn't they stop it instantly? Who was responsible and what consequences will they face for this mass robbery of Australian people? What was the legal advice the government received and was it wrong, non-existent or simply ignored? We will not let this issue be swept under the carpet. It is a $1.2 billion national disgrace. You may think it hasn't happened, but out in the community people have been hurt as a result of this government's actions. Stop lying to them. Stop hiding from the truth. Start standing up for the victims and give them some justice.