Tuesday, 1 December 2020
Questions without Notice
Pensions and Benefits
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Government Services, Senator Ruston. In question time yesterday the minister claimed, 'As soon as we became aware that the method of debt collection was not valid, the Morrison government immediately ceased the robodebt scheme.' When did the government first become aware that the Hon. Scott Morrison's robodebt scheme was not valid?
I will take the interjection from Senator Wong. I do not keep my diary with me; however, I can stand by the comments—
Senator Wong interjecting—
You are asking me for a specific date. I will take it on notice and I will provide to the chamber the exact date that I became aware that the method by which we were determining debts through the income compliance program was not valid.
I'm assuming they're two separate questions in relation to legal advice and the date at which we were advised that income compliance and income matching was not a valid means by which—
An opposition senator interjecting—
And I will stand by the assurance that I gave to the chamber, and I have taken on notice the exact date and I will provide that back to the chamber at my soonest convenience.
Senator Wong interjecting—
Senator Wong, as soon as I have the opportunity to find the exact date. I was not asked yesterday for the exact date, I would also like to put on the record, despite those interjecting opposite.
In relation to legal advice, as is the normal practice, Senator Gallacher—the practice that you undertook when you were in government—we do not provide advice. It is a longstanding practice of successive governments in this chamber and in the other chamber.
Senator Ruston claims the government was 'very, very quick and responsive'. When the government stubbornly persisted with the program in spite of 76 warnings from the AAT between 2017 and 2019 and losing hundreds of appeals, why should Australians believe this minister?
I stand by the comments that I made yesterday, Senator Gallacher. I said I will provide you with that advice. Once again I would point out, as I did yesterday, that each and every case that goes before the AAT is a unique case. Some of those cases found in one direction; some of the cases found an alternative outcome. So to come in here and suggest that the outcomes of an AAT form the basis of legal advice to government I think is a misrepresentation of what the AAT process actually does.
As I said yesterday, as soon as the government was aware that the income compliance program was not collecting or determining its debts on a valid basis, which was income matching, we acted very quickly—and I stand by that—to cease that program and put in place a program to enable the repayment of those debts.