House debates

Tuesday, 8 August 2023

Questions without Notice

Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme

2:27 pm

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

My question is to the Minister for Government Services. How will the royal commission into robodebt improve the Public Service, and how does the minister respond to associated commentary about this?

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

Concerning the robodebt royal commission, aside from the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Cook has been short on defenders in recent weeks. But fear not! The cavalry has come. It came yesterday in no other form than the member for Bradfield. Channelling his well-known spell as the minister for arts, he put all his creative juices into a speech criticising the royal commission. It's a masterpiece! He said:

A clear risk of this royal commission is that it will make the Public Service … more risk adverse and less likely to think creatively and ambitiously … High-performing organisations in the private and public sectors encourage their people to generate ideas and to take risks.

Under the member for Bradfield we could enter a new creative revolution for the Public Service and let a thousand unlawful robodebt schemes bloom.

But seriously, it is a false binary to argues that on one hand creativity, ambition, risk-taking and idea-generation are jeopardised by obeying the law, listening to the victims and not treating welfare recipients as second-class citizens. It was an intellectually dishonest and flaccid proposition to promote the argument that the royal commission is discredited because you sacrifice a creative Public Service by having a royal commission into a shameful chapter of public administration. It is dishonest to say that you either have a creative, innovative Public Service or you have an honest Public Service not doing robodebt for its cabinet masters. But he did say that he found something deeply regrettable—not the lives ruined, not the people's reputations trashed and not the laws broken, but he thinks it's deeply regrettable that the government wants to hold the perpetrators to account. The royal commission's findings are not a threat to innovation and creativity, but they are an overdue call to arms to re-instil ethics in the Public Service. The member for Bradfield continued. He said, 'We should emulate best practice in the private sector,' but every self-respecting board member knows that you don't take risks with other people's lives, and if it did, a self-respecting board in the private sector would have resigned in shame because of robodebt—not that you did.

The tone from the top, especially promoting ethics—old-fashioned ethics—is crucial. The royal commission revealed a sick culture in the former government, a culture of 'don't ask, don't tell; because we don't care'. Just how dumb does the coalition think the Australian people are that they would swallow the argument that you either have a creative public service or an honest public service? Under Labor, you can have both. The coalition show no lessons have been learnt. There has been no learning from the robodebt lessons at all.