Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


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

3:25 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I also rise to take note of Minister Reynolds's statement. This government is at it again, refusing to be transparent, refusing to own up to its own decisions, avoiding requests of this chamber—and I see the minister is leaving the chamber now—and avoiding accountability, including accountability for their illegal robodebt scheme, a scheme that caused hurt and despair, a scheme that caused so much misery that some people, tragically, took their own lives.

I remember the story of Miranda from Melbourne, who was in hospital receiving treatment for advanced spinal cancer when she received a $4,000 robodebt notice. She was unemployed and applying for disability allowance, but Centrelink still took $40 a week from her payments—when she was literally on her back in hospital. I also remember Nathan's story. He was served with two robodebts totalling more than $6,000. He had to move back home and work 50 hours a week to pay back those debts. I remember his words, and his words are relevant to this discussion today. He said: 'I wanted to know why those ministers felt that it was appropriate to use this illegal system and to target the most vulnerable people.' He wanted to ask this government: 'Why did you think it was okay? Why did you think it was okay to take money from the poorest people without giving them the chance to argue their case?'

Years later, here we are. We are still asking the same question: why did this government think it was okay? That is what the Senate is asking this minister today, and Australians, including all the victims of robodebt, deserve an answer. They deserve a real answer from this government. It is completely unbelievable that this question is still being asked. This robodebt scheme, this tragic scheme, is still being covered up by this government, and we still can't get the answers that people deserve. Despite the record of destruction and despair caused by this government's scheme, still today no-one has been held accountable—no-one—especially not the Prime Minister, who of course, as we all know, is the original architect of the robodebt scheme, a scheme that hounded and harassed some of our most vulnerable Australians.

This is the same Prime Minister who turned a blind eye to Australia's largest companies getting billions of dollars in JobKeeper despite making rising profits—that is $20 billion to companies that had rising profits during a global pandemic. Did Prime Minister Morrison or this government hound and harass them to pay back the money? Did they force these companies to deal with the same stress and the same anxiety that they forced on those vulnerable victims of the robodebt scheme? Of course they didn't—because the Morrison government have a blatant double standard. They aren't on the side of everyday Australians. They aren't on the side of vulnerable Australians. They are on the side of keeping their own jobs, not looking after the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable Australians.

Despite being the architect of this scheme, the Prime Minister is today saying that the role of government, apparently, is to get out of people's lives. Well, it's a bit too late for the victims of the illegal robodebt scheme. Get out of people's lives, he reckons. Can you believe it? It is hard to believe the Prime Minister when he says this, after hounding and harassing people with this illegal scheme. The architect of robodebt wants to see government out of people's lives—unless, of course, you are poor. This government are not on the side of everyday Australians; they are only on their own side, the side that avoids transparency, the side that avoids accountability, the side that avoids delivering answers to this chamber, properly requested. Australians cannot trust this Prime Minister or this government. They can't trust them to tell the truth, they can't trust them to take responsibility and they can't trust them to be on their side.


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