TRANSCRIPT OF QUESTION TIME
QUESTION: What have we learned from the Royal Commission into Robodebt about concerns raised by those representing the Robodebt victims?
BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: I thank the member for Makin for his question. Over the last two weeks I've updated the House about Royal Commission evidence how various groups in the community warned the government about the unlawful Robodebt scheme - the whistleblowers, the lawyers, the media, the brave victims. There's another group that the Royal Commission has heard evidence from, the welfare advocates. These people are under-funded. They tirelessly, continually warned about Robodebt on behalf of our most vulnerable. Specifically, the Royal Commission has heard from respected welfare advocates Genevieve Bolton, Katherine Boyle and Catherine Eagle. Importantly, they reminded the Royal Commission that Australia is a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, specifically Article Nine. Article Nine is that social security is a right for people to access, or in other words, it's not optional charity to be taken by whim from the government. These advocates further gave evidence that they repeatedly told the former coalition government they had concerns with the averaging process, the automatic application of a 10% interest fee, the unreliability of the automated process. The victims had to chase information from employers who were no longer in business. The victims were told at Centrelink that they first would have to borrow money from payday lenders or use their credit cards in order to pay unlawful debts. That there were victims who were fleeing domestic violence, who were homeless. The first time they knew that they had a Centrelink debt, a Robodebt debt was when the debt collectors found them. The victims were told that in a significant departure from previous practice before the coalition government, that they had to, they had the onus.
INTERJECTION FROM OPPOSITION
SHORTEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to say for the record that whilst the truth is uncomfortable for those listening to it, it was more uncomfortable for the Robodebt victims. And everything I'm saying is evidence. These are facts and no amount of interjections from the Member for Bradfield changes the truth.
SHORTEN: For the benefit for the Member of Bradfield, read from page 996 of the evidence - that's what I'm quoting from. Of the spread of clients who were contacted by these advocates. 37%, 37% of the Robodebt victims these advocates represent had a disability, 19% were homeless, 12% were victims of domestic violence or in danger of it. In summary, the advocates said ‘we consistently raised our concerns about Robodebt, which we believe to be unlawful. It consistently fell on deaf ears’. And I also wish to advise the House, that as of 2 today, the Government has announced, at the request of the Royal Commission, an extension to its reporting dates to the 30th of June this year.