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Senate Committee Calls for Royal Commission into Robodebt

Report shows significant harm and trauma from the horrific Robodebt scheme

Robodebt, the illegal use of income averaging to generate false debts, cost over a billion dollars and caused devastating emotional and psychological harm to people across the country. 

report tabled by the Greens-chaired Senate Committee today outlines the impact of the estimated $1.73 billion in illegitimate debts that were raised against approximately 433,000 people, and calls for a Royal commission into Robodebt.

The report shows that warnings were issued within months of the automated debt generation in 2016, but claims for unlawful debts were allowed to continue for well over three years, until a federal court case left the Government with little option but to “pause” debt recovery. 

Absurdly, even after the federal court found the program was illegal, the government dragged its feet for six months before rectifying the harm caused by committing to repay the money it had already collected and cancel remaining debts. 

Evidence indicates that this program should never have started, and the debt recovery should have been stopped as soon as the scale of the harm caused by Robodebt was apparent. 

The Government’s choice to continue to withhold critical information about the Income Compliance Program has corroded public trust and leaves many in the dark, wondering what their Government is trying to hide from them. 

The report calls for a Royal Commission to understand how this horrendous program came to be and why it was allowed to continue for so long despite its dire impacts. The Australian public and victims of Robodebt deserve to know what advice was provided to the Government and how this advice informed decision making.    

Quotes attributable to Senator Janet Rice, Australian Greens Senator for Victoria and Community Affairs Spokesperson:

Senator Rice chairs the Community Affairs References Committee whose three year Inquiry into robodebt has been completed with this report.

“This report shows just how devastating the Robodebt scheme was for hundreds of thousands of people. The worst part is that the Government knew about it all along and willingly allowed it to continue. This tremendous hurt and trauma could have been avoided.

“The Government knew of the scale of the harm caused by Robodebt, yet they chose to continue debt collection. They must be held accountable for inflicting unnecessary pain on thousands of Australians.

“It took a federal court case to stop this mess. And even after the program was found illegal, the government dragged its feet for six months before rectifying the harm caused by committing to repay the money it had already collected and cancel remaining debts.

“Scott Morrison is the architect of this horrific program. He drew up the blueprints when he was the Minister for Social Services, oversaw its expansion as the Treasurer and continued it as Prime Minister until the courts found it unlawful. Despite that, he refuses to be held accountable.

“Scott Morrison and his Ministers still haven’t explained when they first learnt Robodebt was illegal, and why they continued until the courts stopped them, despite the clear evidence of the harm they were inflicting.

“Since Robodebt was busted by the courts, we’ve only seen weak non-apologies and endless blame shifting from our Prime Minister. We need justice and accountability for 433,000 people across Australia who suffered devastating emotional and psychological harm.

“With Services Australia debt repayments resuming in many areas from 1 July after COVID pauses, how can we trust a Prime Minister who refuses to take responsibility for the pain and anguish he’s already caused?

“From bushfires to floods, pandemics to Robodebt - when it comes to refusing to take responsibility for his mistakes and shifting the blame, Scott Morrison has form.

“We need a Royal Commission to get to the bottom of this shameful scheme and make sure this can never happen again. The Australian public deserves to know the truth.

“If the Greens are successful in kicking the Liberals out and holding a balance of power with a future Labor government, we will push Labor to make good on their promises. We look forward to working together to take swift action on setting up the Royal Commission within the first 6 months of a new parliament.”

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