House debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022

Questions without Notice

Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme

3:09 pm

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Government Services. How will the Albanese Labor government's delivery of its election commitment to establish a royal commission into robodebt bring justice to robodebt victims?

3:10 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Canberra for her question. As Australians are aware, robodebt is probably one of the most shameful chapters in public administration in the nation's history. That isn't just the view of the current government; it's the view of the Federal Court and the view of hundreds of thousands of people.

Just to remind those opposite, robodebt occurred on their watch. Between July of 2015 and November of 2019, over 400,000 of our fellow Australian citizens who rely on the safety net were targeted by an unlawful scheme. The scheme was called out to be unlawful almost from when the first debt notices started going out, but unfortunately the current opposition, then in government, for 4½ years ignored the pleas of those who were unlawfully targeted; ignored the decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal; ignored the advice from the Australian Taxation Office; ignored whistleblowers; ignored the current government—then the opposition—when it was raising and advocating on this issue; and ignored the legal aid commissions around Australia.

It was only a class action—which Labor helped push for—that forced the government to admit the scheme was unlawful, and they only did so at the door of the court, because then the ministers and senior public servants overseeing this unlawful freight train of misery against hundreds of thousands of citizens might have had to give evidence in the class action. When faced with giving evidence, miraculously the government folded its tents, settled the claim for $1.7 billion and paid interest of $112 million. But the government has never, ever satisfactorily explained matters.

So it is left to a royal commission, to be chaired by Justice Catherine Holmes. It'll report on 18 April next year, and it'll get to the bottom of questions which, unfortunately, the previous government never answered—questions like: Who was responsible for its design, development and establishment? What were the advice and the processes that informed its design and implementation? Were any concerns at any stage ever raised about the legality of the scheme? The royal commission will also look at concerns raised about robodebt once it was initiated. Were the risks ever identified? Was there advice from the Australian Taxation Office and documentary proof that the government ignored? Was there advice from affected individuals and other agencies? What did the then government do in response to adverse decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal?

The old government, the current opposition, have said that this royal commission is unnecessary. Yet again they're short-changing the vulnerable. The victims of this scheme are owed the justice of the truth, and they should be able to find out why the last government treated them so illegally.