House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Questions without Notice

Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme

2:35 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

r FREELANDER () (): My question is to the Minister for Government Services. What has the royal commission into robodebt revealed about the harm the former government's unlawful robodebt scheme inflicted upon the most vulnerable Australians?

2:37 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 his question. Analysis of data provided to the royal commission into robodebt reveals that a majority of robodebt victims were women. In fact, at least 226,780 Australian women were served unlawful debt notices over 4½ years by the former coalition government. These are their stories.

Angelica says that, soon after she had a robodebt debt raised against her, she had to deal with the grief of her father passing away. She said she did haven't money in the bank and had her daughter to think of. 'My depression became very bad while dealing with the robodebt. I wanted to kill myself. I started drinking heavily—a couple of bottles of wine each day. It caused liver problems. I had to go to hospital, and my doctor wasn't happy with me. I started seeing a psychologist. To this day, I still get anxiety when I think about my robodebt. The government should care about people who are struggling, people who have depression or money troubles. They shouldn't make their lives worse.'

Then there's Isabella. She received a robodebt at a particularly difficult point in her life. 'I was living day to day when I was hit with the robodebt. I was homeless due to fleeing from family violence. What little money I was receiving from Centrelink payments went towards my food and my medication. Then one day there was less money in my account when I was expecting my Newstart allowance. I thought it had been a mistake. I called Centrelink. I was not met with concern for my wellbeing. Instead they told me I had a debt and needed to prove I didn't owe money.'

In a submission to the royal commission by a woman who wishes to remain anonymous, she explains how she was a young single parent, working, when she received her robodebt. 'I cried myself to sleep for two weeks, thinking about where my daughter would go if I went to jail. I contacted her father for help financially, after never receiving child support from him while she was fully in my care. He then decided to take me to court and obtained shared custody of my daughter. Robodebt caused myself depression, anxiety and financial stress, which resulted in me having my daughter taken from my full care. To say robodebt ruined my life is a complete understatement.'

These are stories that were never heard by the coalition when they were in government. Like a lot of members on this side, I've represented people who have been injured at work. Compensation is important, as expected, but it is never the full story. Accountability matters too. The royal commission cannot reverse the pain of these brave witnesses. It can't bring back loved ones. But it can make sure that those who did the wrong thing answer for it. It can and it must make sure that no government ever unlawfully bullies vulnerable Australians ever again.