/ 14 November 2023

Robodebt recommendations to be rolled out

Image source: Getty
Image source: Getty

The Squiz

The Albanese Government has accepted all 56 recommendations made by Commissioner Catherine Holmes in the Robodebt Royal Commission final report, which was handed over in July. It means more social workers will be available to Centrelink customers, face-to-face service options will be on offer, and an oversight body to monitor automated decisions on debts will be established. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the changes will help to prevent anything like Robodebt from happening again. “The Robodebt scheme was wrong. The Robodebt scheme was unlawful. The Robodebt scheme destroyed the lives of many innocent Australians,” he said yesterday.

Remind me what happened…

We’ve got you. The Robodebt scheme was an automated debt recovery program that was established and ramped up by the Coalition when they were in government between 2015-19. It incorrectly calculated the money that was owed to Centrelink by 443,000 welfare recipients using the unlawful income averaging method. The system sent each person letters and made automated phone calls to recover the debts, leading many to take out loans and sell personal effects to make payments. Commissioner Holmes’ damning 990-page report found it led to 3 people taking their own lives – she added she was confident they “were not the only tragedies of the kind”. And it also cost the government (aka taxpayers…) big bucks. In 2021, the Federal Court approved a $1.8 billion settlement between the Commonwealth and victims of the scheme.

So it’s all wrapped up now?

Not quite… Public Service Commissioner Dr Gordon de Brouwer is investigating 16 bureaucrats who were referred by the Royal Commission. Their names haven’t been made public – the key figures Commissioner Holmes recommended for criminal prosecution were listed in a sealed section of the report. And there’s no word on how/when those names will be released, but Albanese Government ministers have previously said it won’t be possible to keep it quiet forever. Government Services Minister Bill Shorten has also called on the Coalition to provide its response to the report, given that Robodebt happened on their watch. That didn’t happen yesterday – Coalition leader Peter Dutton has previously said “mistakes” were made by “individuals” who were involved in the scheme and apologised to the victims.

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