House debates

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Pensions and Benefits

3:51 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The Online Compliance Intervention scheme—it sounds harmless, but it is what we now know as robodebt. This heartless, illegal scheme has resulted in the most costly and biggest class action and settlement in the history of Australia—$1.2 billion in repayments and compensation to victims of this disgraceful, nasty scheme. This government's Online Compliance Intervention scheme has driven untold anguish into the hearts of countless innocent Australians. It has led to innocent Australians self-harming and tragically taking their own lives. This disgraceful scheme has happened under this government's watch. It is their responsibility.

The Morrison government has made a pretrial admission. It has admitted in this country's justice system that it was wrong and that it owes robodebt victims their money back and compensation. That is the Morrison government's legal position. But its talking points are a bit different. The government's first law officer offered these callous words to victims:

At the moment those moneys have been refunded. There will be an argument as to whether or not we undertake to try and recoup any debts using other methodologies. Such uncaring words, with no recognition of the carnage the Morrison government has caused.

The government's position is that they don't need to talk about robodebt anymore, that they don't need to talk about the current Prime Minister being the social services minister who hatched this nasty plan, that they don't need to talk about the current Prime Minister being the Treasurer who reached into people's lives and illegally demanded their cash, and that they don't need to talk about the current Prime Minister being the candidate who sold himself to the Australian public as the only economic manager strong enough to run a program like this.

The government hoped this automated payment collection system would collect billions of dollars from the poorest Australians. That was the expectation. When asked to defend the automisation, they claimed that Labor governments have used similar programs in the past. That is a lie. This government is the first government ever to introduce an automated system that shattered the presumption of innocence, and this government has maintained a delusional lie for years now that the robodebt program was fair, appropriate and legal. But robodebt is none of these things. It is an absolute disgrace that has hurt too many Australians.

About one in 60 Australians were part of the successful class action against the Morrison government, receiving a total of more than $1 billion in repayments and compensation. I've heard harrowing stories from my constituents in Corangamite—constituents that can't afford necessities because the government has thrown their finances in the gutter and constituents that hate their federal government for what it's done to their lives. Many find it extremely offensive that no-one in the Morrison government is taking real responsibility for this $1.2 billion scam—not the Minister for Families and Social Services, not the Treasurer, not the Prime Minister. So what we need is a royal commission to expose the truth. When did the government know robodebt was illegal, and why didn't they stop it instantly? Who is responsible, and what consequences will they face for this mass robbery of the Australian people?

This Morrison government must immediately enable an independent inquiry, a royal commission, into this robodebt scandal. We must move on. We must ensure the Australian people are never again exposed to such a callus, illegal scam overseen by its own government, the Morrison government.


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