QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT SERICES: I'd like to express gratitude to the work of the Robodebt Royal Commission so far for uncovering evidence which would not have otherwise been available to the Australian people. Some of that evidence shows that by the middle of 2017, the former Coalition government was well and truly aware of Robodebt’s many problems. As I updated the House yesterday, there were literally tens of thousands of articles in the media, several hundred mentions in Parliament, countless representations made to MPs and Senators on all sides.
There was the missing million-dollar report, which was shelved inconveniently before it could be provided. But most importantly, the government, the former government, were on notice from the victims, bravely sharing their own stories. Despite this, I can advise that from the 1st of July 2017, a total of 764,000 Australians who had received welfare payments in the past were unlawfully accused of defrauding the government and slapped with Robodebt notices. Now of this, 348,000 was subsequently notified there was an apparent discrepancy during the scheme but did not have a debt raised against them. However, the remaining 416,000 Australians were still issued unlawful Robodebts after July 2017.
If the Coalition government had heeded these repeated, numerous, well documented warnings and stopped the Robodebt scheme at that stage, 764,000 of our fellow Australians would never have been subjected to this stressful, unlawful behaviour by their own government. Not only did the Morrison government continue with this illegal scheme for more than three years until it was only eventually stopped by a class action in November of 2020, we know from evidence at the recent hearings of the Royal Commission that they were continually dismissive of the warnings.
What if the Morrison government had not ignored the repeated warnings? What if had actually published the $1 million report? What if they had heeded the pleas of the victims? Could this illegal scheme have ended in July of 2017? Now we will never know.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Mr. Speaker. Despite the protestations of the opposition, it is a fact that the scheme was illegal. It is a fact that 764,000 Australian citizens who pay the opposition's wages, by the way, were unlawfully served with debt notices. The point, which really remains in conclusion is simply this: the architects of Robodebt believed at the ends justified the means. And the only remaining question for me is when will all of the architects at the top of the Robodebt tree take full accountability and take full culpability and responsibility for the most illegal administrative scheme run by any government in the history of the Commonwealth?