Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Community Affairs References Committee
Referring this as a privileges matter was not something that our committee did lightly. We would have much preferred to have seen this critical information that is core to the Senate's inquiry into the Centrelink compliance program, otherwise known as robodebt. The Senate first ordered the production of the documents that we are seeking in February last year, February 2020. It's been almost two years. It was part of the first interim report into the Centrelink compliance program, when my predecessor, Senator Rachel Siewert, was chair. The information that we are seeking is absolutely key to the committee's inquiry into Centrelink's compliance program. It's an issue which has impacted thousands of people across Australia. Robodebt, the illegal placing of debts on people, has resulted in people taking their own lives because of the impact on them. It is a really, really significant issue.
As I said, in our fifth interim report, which we tabled last week, we once again rejected the government's previous claims of public interest immunity and said these documents that we're seeking are core. We've had a response from the relevant minister as to why they have continued to apply for public interest immunity. We the committee have rejected them, and the Senate has rejected those public interest immunity claims. These documents are absolutely critical to the Senate's inquiry, to be able to do our business. Taking action now really goes to the heart of the ability of the Senate and the committees to undertake our work and of the Senate to function as a chamber of review. The Senate has ordered the production of documents, and we have rejected the public interest immunity claim by the minister. It has occurred repeatedly, hence this referral to the Privileges Committee.