House debates

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Pensions and Benefits

4:00 pm

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I apologise to the member for Petrie. It was one of your other colleagues though. Haven't those talking points aged well? I'm glad the member for Petrie didn't use them.

In contrast, I raised the case of a constituent of mine. The mother of a person with an intellectual disability had undergone a review of past income by Centrelink through the robodebt catastrophe. After receiving a threatening letter demanding a debt be paid the daughter passed the letter to her mum. Luckily, her mother appealed the decision on her behalf and demanded that Services Australia review all payments. I can update the House that the outcome of that stressful review was that Services Australia actually owed her. As this devoted mum said, her daughter was very lucky because she had parents who could appeal the case for her. I know that other cases have ended disastrously for the individuals involved.

To focus only on the Liberal members in the last debate lets the real architect off the hook for what has been described as the worst example of maladministration and callous indifference to vulnerable Australians. It was the member for Cook himself who instituted this process to collect what the government hoped would be billions of dollars of overpayments. It was this government that attempted to justify the practice by claiming that Labor had done similar in the past—a claim we hear again and again from the minister. A lie repeated remains a lie.

For years this government has been in denial about robodebt's fairness and legality, and its obfuscation does not end there. This week we even had the blocking of the tabling of a simple and saddening note from a mother of a victim of this scheme. I had hoped Mr Robert provided some more humble and sincere talking points for today's debate, but I was sadly disappointed. Since the last MPI the government has made a last-minute pretrial admission conceding that it owes robodebt victims their money back plus compensation. It is likely that the government owes victims of the robodebt scheme more than $1.2 billion. The settlement is some level of justice for victims who have been treated terribly by this government. The robodebt scheme has wreaked untold damage and harm to hundreds of thousands of people. As has been noted by many, the ministers responsible, all of whom are still in cabinet, and the public sector chiefs who oversaw it should be held to account and shouldn't remain in their positions. They shouldn't be simply reshuffled in coming weeks. This whole episode is a shameful moment in Australian history. We need a royal commission into this failed and damaging scheme to get the answers the victims, the parliament and the Australian community deserve.


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