TRANSCRIPT OF QUESTION TIME
QUESTION: My question is to the Minister for Government Services. What has the Royal Commission into Robodebt uncovered about what was said in public by former Ministers in charge of the unlawful scheme, versus what they actually believed, and how many Robodebts were raised between the 29th of May 2019 and the 19th of November 2019?
BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the member for Bean for his question. In the most recent block of hearings at the Royal Commission into Robodebt, we've heard from Professor Renee Leon, former Secretary of Department of Human Services, Timothy French, DHS legal counsel and the member, then the Minister for Human Services. Specifically, Mr French testified that in a meeting in early July 2019 the Member for Fadden was verbally briefed with the Australian Government solicitor opinion that Robodebt was on very shaky grounds. Testimony which Professor Leon corroborated in her own in her own evidence. Further evidence was led that on July the 31st, the member for Fadden appeared on the ABC's Insider program defending Robodebt and stating, amongst other things, that in 99.2% of the cases, the debt was correct. 99.2%, he said. However, last week, under questioning by the Royal Commissioner, the Member for Fadden admitted that he knew that what he was saying was false. The Royal Commissioner said, and I quote Commissioner “your evidence was that you could not raise a debt based solely on averaging”. Member for Fadden, “Yes, that was my belief, Yes, Commissioner”. “And the 90% of those cases, that is exactly what was happening under the program, to your knowledge, Minister?” “That's correct, Commissioner”. “So what you said there, to your knowledge at the time was false?” Minister, and this is very, very, very interesting, “my personal view, yes, but I'm still a government Minister, and it is still a government program, and that was the approach the government had signed off on”. The basic position of the evidence of the member for Fadden was that Cabinet solidarity allowed him as a minister to give statistics that he did not believe on Robodebt in Australia.
INTERJECTION FROM OPPOSITION
SHORTEN: I say this in all collegiality, but I thank the Manager of Opposition Business for giving me the chance to go to the precise quote, Minister for Member for Fadden at page 4220, “they were the numbers from the department based on the work approach and how the program is being run. That was the accepted figures. And as a dutiful cabinet minister, ma'am, that's all we do”. Then the Commissioner replies, “misrepresent things to the Australian people?” The evidence was very idiosyncratic for the Member, for the Member for Fadden. The story that was being put in the Royal Commission last week is that there is a doctrine of collective ministerial responsibility that allowed the previous government to mislead the people.