QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
QUESTION, DAVID SMITH MP: My question is to the Minister for Government Services. At the recent public hearings of the Royal Commission into Robodebt, what have we learned about the inaccurate debts raised against innocent Australians?
BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Thanks, Mr. Speaker and I will update the house about how the Robodebt Royal Commission has discovered that the previous government expended almost $1 million to commission a report reviewing Robo debt in early 2017 by the former Minister for Human Services, how this report simply disappeared.
Specifically, we've learned the following facts.
On February 15 2017, Price Waterhouse was commissioned to do an independent review into Robodebt to be completed by the 30th of June.
Secondly, according to last tender, the contract allocated to Price Waterhouse to review Robodebt was $939,244.90. It was paid.
Thirdly, we'd learned that engagement between Price Waterhouse and senior DHS officers occurred more than weekly.
The minutes of one of those meetings on March the 10th quotes a senior departmental representative saying, and I quote, “political criticism has lost steam, and the Ombudsman report will say all aspects of the system are good. Further, the Minister is interested in what we have to do now. What can we press accelerator on in terms of recovery?” End quote.
We’ve further learned there was a visual presentation this review provided to the former minister in mid-May 2017.
It notes that the former minister’s preference was to receive slides, as he was a former consultant.
We further learned that a final draft report was prepared at the end of May. It's about 93 pages long. It was dated June and it was promised to be delivered on June the 2nd.
Then, nothing. Quite literally, I report to the house, that nothing happened. This draft report was never sent. Apparently there was never any written requests for it not to be sent or to be sent. It simply just disappeared. The trail went cold. A million dollars was paid, but no report.
So what we have though, is the Royal Commission has now found what a million dollar report looks like, and I'll table it, but no one can actually recall on the Royal Commission why the final report was never sent.
A million dollars of taxpayers’ money and nothing, literally nothing.
We’ve got the Royal Commission, we've got the report. But the question which I think Australians want to know is why was the report really shelved? And I'll turn to the Royal Commission. They noted that whilst the draft report employed neutral language, it was actually a very damning indictment of DHS’s system of debt recovery.
The report said that the promises of the money to be saved were overstated. The reported accuracy of the scheme was disastrous (at least 27% error rate).
It's a big shame that a million dollars was spent on a report that was never tabled. But it's a bigger shame that we missed the opportunity to stop Robodebt five years ago.