Politics

ScoMo Says We Don’t Need A Royal Commission Into Robodebt Because They’re “Fixing The Problem”

"There must be a royal commission. What they did was illegal. What they did cost people their lives."

scott morrison talking points

Scott Morrison is dismissing calls for a royal commission into robodebt because the government is “fixing the problem”.

Better tell the 617,000 people who are eligible for the class action not to bother then! Nothing to see here!

But that’s probably going to be a tough sell to the friends and families of more than 2000 people who died after receiving a robodebt letter between July 2016 and October 2018.

At the end of May the government announced it would pay back 470,000 debts that were claimed under the dodgy scheme, at a cost of around $721 million.

Labor and the Greens say that isn’t enough, and are pushing for a royal commission.

But ScoMo says that’s not necessary.

“We’re aware of what the issue is and we’re fixing the problem, we’re getting the payments made,” he told reporters yesterday.

What Do People Want From A Royal Commission?

For four years, the people who were trying to tell people that robodebt was a fundamentally fucked up system were ignored.

Not only were they ignored, they were demonised — labelled dole bludgers, harassed by debt collectors, and burdened with the task of proving Centrelink wrong.

In a royal commission, finally the people in charge would have to listen.

The program has already faced Senate inquiries — the first, in 2017, recommended the system be suspended.

Another inquiry was due to submit its report by December last year, but that deadline has blown out until December this year after being extended three times.

However, it has already revealed the government received legal advice that the debts which were issued under the scheme were “not lawful debts”.

It’s not clear when the government received that advice. But we do know they were warned as far back as 2016 there was a major risk the automated debts could be inaccurate.

Labor wants the royal commission to investigate the human cost — including the deaths of those who received debt letters — as well as the financial impact.

“The government has continued to hide from scrutiny and refused to answer basic questions about the scheme,” they said in a statement.

“Only a royal commission will ensure they are held to account.”

Meanwhile, Gordon Legal is charging ahead with a class action which is seeking interest and damages for all claimants.

What Has The Government Said About The Scrapped Scheme?

When the scheme was first scrapped Scott Morrison, when asked if he wanted to say anything to the victims, said: “I think the time for those sorts of statements is another time, not right now“.

Exactly what he said about climate change in the middle of the bushfires! Excellent!

However, two weeks ago the Prime Minister apologised to those who were affected.

“The business of raising and recovering debts on behalf of taxpayers is a difficult job. Of course I would deeply regret any hardship that has been caused to people in the conduct of that activity,” he said.

Stuart Robert — the minister in charge — has so far not apologised.

In fact, back in November when they finally suspended the program he said: “this government does not apologise for its efforts to protect the integrity of the welfare system”. He’s also cautioned MPs against “jumping to any unfounded conclusions” when asked about robodebt-related suicides.

He also plans to re-start debt collection in September, after a six-month break due to the pandemic.

Malcolm Turnbull, who was Prime Minister at the time, said he regrets the way robodebt “worked out”, and said he had assumed the cabinet ministers involved had gone through the correct legal processes.

“I am very sorry it has created the dismay and distress that it has,” he said.

“Look, it failed and it obviously had serious issues of legal validity, so yes I am very sorry that that worked out the way it did.”


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that more than 2000 people committed suicide after receiving robodebt letters. According to Services Australia more than 2000 people died, but the cause of death is not confirmed.


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