House debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Questions without Notice

Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme

3:05 pm

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

AVID SMITH (—) (): My question is to the Minister for Government Services. At the recent public hearings of the royal commission into robodebt, what have we learned about the inaccurate debts raised against innocent Australians?

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Leader of the Opposition, that is not appropriate.

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

I will update the House about how the robodebt royal commission has discovered that the previous government expended almost $1 million to commission a report reviewing robodebt in early 2017 for the former minister for human services and how this report simply disappeared.

Specifically, we've learned the following facts. Firstly, on 15 February 2017 PricewaterhouseCoopers was commissioned to do an independent review into robodebt to be completed by 30 June. Secondly, according to AusTender the contract allocated to PricewaterhouseCoopers to review robodebt was $939,244.90. It was paid. Thirdly, we've learned that engagements between PricewaterhouseCoopers and senior DHS officers occurred more than weekly. The minutes of one of those meetings on 10 March quote senior departmental representatives as saying: 'Political criticism has lost steam, and the ombudsman's report will say all aspects of the system are good. Further, the minister is interested in what we have to do now. What can we press accelerator on in terms of recovery?'

We further learn there was a visual presentation of this review provided to the former minister in mid-May 2017. It notes that the former minister's preference was to receive slides, as he was a former consultant. We further learn that a final draft report was prepared at the end of May. It's about 93 pages long. It was dated June and it was promised to be delivered on 2 June. Then, nothing—quite literally. I report to the House that nothing happened. This draft report was never sent. Apparently there was never any written request for it not to be sent or to be sent. It simply disappeared. The trail went cold. A million dollars was paid, but there was no report.

What we have, though, is that the royal commission has now found what a million-dollar report looks like—and I'll table it—but no-one can actually recall in the royal commission why the final report was never sent. A million dollars of taxpayers' money, and nothing—literally nothing. Because of the royal commission, we've got the report, but the question that I think Australians want answered is: why was the report really shelved?

I turn to the royal commission. They noted that, whilst the draft report employed neutral language, it was actually a very damning indictment of DHS's system of debt recovery. The report said that the promises of the money to be saved were overstated. Their report of the accuracy of the scheme was disastrous. It's a big shame that a million dollars was spent on a report that was never tabled, but it's a bigger shame that we missed the opportunity to stop robodebt five years ago.