Monday, 10 February 2020
For many years, along with my colleagues, I have raised in this place our concerns over the debt notices many in my community received from Centrelink. This became the infamous robodebt saga. While much has been said about the robodebt disaster administered by the government, the facts are simple: the government sent debt collectors to harass honest Australians. In many cases, these Australians did nothing wrong and owed the government nothing. It was morally bankrupt. As we found out in recent months, they, the government, those opposite, knew it was also not legal.
My office and I heard from too many innocent locals who were struggling with responding to finding they had a debt notice. Many of them had been in and out of secure work over many years. Some were caring for ageing parents or disabled children. Many were students who were given a notice for years previous. These hardworking locals, in many cases years later, were told they had a debt, the implication being that they had defrauded the Commonwealth. There is absolutely no argument here: you get this notice and you are basically being accused of defrauding the Commonwealth. And, let's remember, some of these letters went out with an AFP logo on them as well, in the original iterations. Receiving these unlawful notices was detrimental. It was time-consuming and it was financially strangling, and I know because I sat with many in my office to assist them navigate a way to have their debt, which didn't exist, wiped.
Hearing the trembling fear in their voice would have been hard for all members in this place. The fact that members opposite would have heard those voices too, in their own electorates—and, if they didn't, they heard our voices in this place—and that, as we now believe, they knew this was not a legal process is appalling. Leaving aside the questions of the morality of the actions of the minister and the government, the biggest questions remain: for the innocent Australians who owed the Commonwealth nothing and assumed the government wouldn't falsely send in the debt collectors, where is the money they paid up? Where is their apology? In a scheme based on the principle that money was wrongly payed to the recipient, when will this government pay back the debt they owe these people?
Following the announcement of the independent Commissioner for Defence and Veterans Suicide Prevention, I was pleased to meet with Nikki, a former Navy officer, on Friday morning at her request, so quickly in response after the government's announcement. While Labor would have preferred an open and transparent royal commission to shine a light on the problems for our young veterans, we welcome the government's announcements nevertheless. We will watch closely to ensure that the commissioner has the powers promised and that veterans and their families are heard.
Nikki was able to provide a fresh insight into the struggle that many modern ex-service personnel face while trying to re-establish themselves in civilian life. She spoke to me about the mental side effects that the military's culture can place on young people and the innovative ways young veterans use an app called REDSIX to look out and care for their mates. It's quite remarkable seeing modern technology being used in such an innovative and supportive way by our modern veterans. Social media often gets a bad rap, and so do apps, but in this case it was great to see them being used in such a positive way.
Many of our modern veterans don't find traditional veteran organisations a place where they fit in, and they don't necessarily find it provides the support that they need. That's why I am happy to hear Nikki will spearhead a way for veterans who have served more recently to connect with one another in our community. None of us can identify from any source where our veterans live, but I assume in our affordable suburbs we'll find plenty. These veterans have served our country, and we need to do more to support them in their life post-service.
I want to congratulate Nikki and thank her for taking the time, responding so quickly, and for taking on this task. I stand ready to help her in whatever way I can.