Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 June 2020


Pensions and Benefits

7:58 pm

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

Where's the apology for robo-debt? That's what hundreds of thousands of Australians want to know. Where's the apology for 470,000 unlawful demands for money? Where's the apology for the reportedly $1.5 billion illegally demanded from the pockets of Australians? Where's the apology for the stress, the anxiety and the hurt that these so-called debts caused to thousands of people? Where's the apology for the lack of honesty, the lack of accountability and the lack of leadership? Where's the apology from the government for letting down so many Australians? Sometimes by saying nothing you really do say it all. Let's face it: the government are only paying back this money because they had a court date coming up. It's not because they've realised that they were wrong. It's not because they suddenly become more compassionate. This government won't even rule out trying to reboot their failed robodebt scheme. It almost leaves you speechless.

The only reason they've been forced into repaying these debts is because thousands of brave Australians stood up and spoke out about the injustice of being so wrongly targeted by their own government. The government has been dragged, kicking and screaming, to do the right thing by the Australians they ripped off—and good!—but it really doesn't need to be like this. We could have a government that saw its role as building people up rather than trying to tear them down; a government that puts its efforts into providing opportunities for people, into treating them with respect and into actually providing good and secure jobs for people in the first place so that fewer people have to access Centrelink payments—rather than punishing, pounding and harassing those who have.

The botched robodebt scheme draws into focus two of this government's major failings. The first is their inability to roll out any of the programs that they announce effectively, and second is their rotten attitude towards Australians who have fallen on hard times. If those opposite think I'm wrong then let's take a look at their track record, because it's mistake after mistake, blunder after blunder and decisions that constantly fall short of supporting those who really need help.

First off, only four per cent of bushfire victims who were promised immediate help back in the summer have so far received any help. Then they allowed the Ruby Princess to dock in Sydney; it was linked to over 600 coronavirus infections across Australia, and they proceeded to point the finger at everyone other than themselves. Next, they set up a system which has allowed criminals to steal people's superannuation in this crisis. And JobKeeper: now, that is an excellent idea but it's one that has been so badly implemented by this government. Not only did they make the biggest budget blunder in Australia's history, with a costing that was out by $60 billion, but now they're out ripping it away from workers way too soon. That threatens jobs and businesses in Australia's first recession for almost 30 years.

People are doing it tough and they need this support. They need a government that is looking out for them, that has their backs during this difficult economic period. So many Australians are doing it tough right now. They need a government that has their backs. They don't need a government that refuses to rule out restarting their dodgy and hurtful robodebt scheme. The government has to commit that people will not be wrongly hounded and harassed by them ever again. They must apologise.

The government has been forced to pay back the money they wrongly took from Australians, so now is the time to let Australians know that they accept they were wrong. Now is the time to apologise to the people who were hurt—the people who suffered—and to the families of those who took their own lives. And now is the time to commit to scrapping this botched and failed robodebt scheme for good.

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Walsh. I will remind senators to respect other senators who might be speaking in the chamber at the time, to try to keep the noise to a dull roar.