Questions on the Royal Commission into Robodebt


QUESTION: My question is to the Minister for Government Services. What has the Royal Commission into Robodebt revealed about the steps the former government took to assure itself that Robodebt was legal? What is the Government's response to subsequent statements in the Parliament?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: The Robodebt Royal Commission has provided Australians who are the victims of Robodebt with a chance to tell their stories. These were stories which weren't heard for four and a half years while the unlawful scheme was being run. One case study, and I quote: “When I found out I had a panic attack and cried. This alleged debt was the third time they had given me a debt and the other two turned out to be invalid as well. At this point, I live in permanent fear. I'm chronically ill and on disability. All doctors tell me to avoid stress. But there was no avoiding the stress Centrelink caused me. Last year I ended up in a psych ward feeling as though I should just give up and die.”

Another statement: “I received a request from Centrelink 18 months ago for me to prove I had not been overpaid by them for what was deemed to be approximately $6,000. I've had severe headaches, I'm in constant body pain from my surgery and arthritis. I've had suicidal thoughts due to this supposed debt with my anxiety up, my body pains up. Some days I can't even get out of bed.”

Another story. Jenny was pursued by Centrelink for a Robodebt. It had been alleged she'd been overpaid approximately $3,000 over a period of time over seven years ago. Jenny was employed during the overpayment period, but she could not prove her earnings to Centrelink as her former employer paid her in cash and did not issue payslips during the claimed over period overpayment period. Jenny's daughter took her own life. Jenny found it hard to provide instructions during that period of time. She has a diagnosis of PTSD.

We've heard from the workers who were working at Centrelink. One worker said: “I wanted to kill myself with a letter to tell the public what is happening. I still cry every day. I feel responsible for the deaths of others. I cannot get some phone calls out of my head.”

Another worker said “the impact on my personal life was enormous. I took three months long service leave. I ended up in the outpatient services of a psychiatric unit.”

The third worker said “I remember talking to a client whose debt was $5,000. He was telling me the best thing to do would be to go on to the train tracks and lay down. It was very distressing to hear him and all the other customers on the brink of suicide.”

This is why the Royal Commission is occurring. But at the end of Question Time yesterday, the member for Fadden gave a personal explanation to the House. He said he stopped Robodebt. There was no acknowledgement of anyone else. He says he took action. He sought legal advice on the 4th of July 2019 because he had substantial misgivings. Leaving aside, this recollection has been contested in the Royal Commission, just think for a moment about the member for Fadden's version of events. He waited 155 days. If you have substantial misgivings, no matter what minister you are, do you wait 155 days? I wonder how many thousands of debts were issued in the period of substantial misgivings. I remind the member for Fadden and Coalition you are not the victims here.