Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


Centrelink's Compliance Program; Order for the Production of Documents

3:09 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I'm sad to see that the minister has chosen to avoid scrutiny, transparency and accountability and has instead just sent another letter. That is not going to cut it. The committee did not lightly make this further request for documents. It is essential that we get to the bottom of what went on with the appalling, failed robodebt scheme that caused such damage and such harm. It is essential that the Senate sees this information. The legal advice goes to the heart of what the government knew about robodebt, what it knew about illegality and what it knew about the impact it was having on innocent Australians—this illegal robodebt, which has now been acknowledged.

I spoke yesterday, as we gave the Senate Community Affairs References Committee's fifth interim report on the robodebt debacle, about the damage it has caused so many innocent Australians. Yes, it was the fifth interim report. We are pursuing this. We are pursuing our claim and our desire to see this core information because it matters. It's important to remember why it matters. It matters because it affects people's lives. I will quote from a powerful piece on the ABC today, in which a Port Lincoln woman is calling for a royal commission into the government's unlawful robodebt bungle, in response to her brother's suicide after he repaid Centrelink payments while also experiencing financial hardship:

Jessica Webb said their mother was contacted by Centrelink this year, trying to locate Mr Webb in order to repay the Centrelink payments he made in 2017 — with the department not knowing Corey had died a few months after the repayments.

"Mum was confused, and had to go through that process to explain he'd passed away," Ms Webb said.

She said the Centrelink staff member explained that Corey had been given an illegal robodebt, and he can now be given compensation through a class action.

To Jessica Webb and her family I want to say how sorry we are to hear about your story. It is awful. It is unacceptable. It is wrong. The government must be held accountable for this. We are pursuing the government over the robodebt bungle because it matters. Ms Webb said:

"I cannot highlight it enough, it is not about money: It does not matter how much money you give us, no amount of money is going to bring my brother back," she said.

…   …   …

"Compared to some of the other significant amounts, the robodebt probably wasn't that much, but several thousand dollars when you have other debts is significant.

The government must be held accountable. Robodebt was appalling Liberal Party policy, and it has damaged people across Australia. That's why we are demanding answers. The minister's answer is not acceptable. It's just continuing, profound, callous and cruel indifference about the impact that robodebt had on innocent Australians.

Given that we are not able to get the information that the Senate deserves and the Australian public deserves, the Greens feel that, clearly, the only way to get to the bottom of robodebt is to have a royal commission. It seems as though a royal commission is the only way that we are going to ensure a full and independent review of the robodebt program and a forensic audit of the mess, because the government is refusing to cough up the information that we in the Senate should be able to see. Clearly, a royal commission is going to be the only way to get to the bottom of how it happened and to make sure it doesn't happen again.

This lack of transparency and lack of accountability must stop. Yet again this government is hiding information about its failures, denying the harm that its programs have caused, denying reality, covering up, trying to deceive and mislead the public and covering up the legacy of disaster and lies. We've seen this covering up over and over again in this government's operations, this ducking and weaving, this unwilling to be upfront, honest and straight with the truth. We saw it in sports rorts and in the car park rorts, the hiding of information about their corrupt misuse of taxpayers' funds and refusing to hand over information that we deserve to see. This must stop.

We will continue to try to get to the bottom of what went on with this robodebt debacle. But, critically, we need to kick out this callous, uncaring, dishonest government. We need a government that's going to support people, not a government that is just doing the business of billionaires and big corporations. We need a federal ICAC with teeth to get to the bottom of this deception. We need a government that cares for people and that gives people the ability to live meaningful lives. We need a government that's willing to support people, not attack them and then, after they do, try and cover it up and pretend that that awful cruelty that happened and that led to people's deaths was not their fault—because it was. We need change.


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