Minister Shorten Doorstop interview to discuss the Robodebt Royal Commission final report


SUBJECTS: Robodebt Royal Commission final report

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: The job of government is to help Australians, not hurt Australians. The Coalition government fundamentally failed that trust of the Australian people. Robodebt hurt a lot of innocent people. It was the unlawful use of giant power. So, I hope for the victims it's vindication. I hope also it means, that the Royal Commission provides us, with insights which allow us to make sure this never happens again.

JOURNALIST: What sort of consequences could we be talking about if there's anyone found to have committed any sort of wrongdoing?

SHORTEN: Well, Commissioner Holmes has been meticulous, independent, thorough, with no time for any nonsense and spin in evidence. I'm sure she will have thought deeply about her findings. We will see them, they'll go online at 11:00. It is within the power of the Royal Commission to make adverse findings about individuals. It could be senior public servants, could be former Coalition Ministers. We'll have to see what findings she has. The Royal Commission finding isn't an actual criminal verdict. It then has to be pursued by either criminal or civil jurisdictions, other professional bodies. I think for Australians they do want to know, how could the law be broken for four and a half years?

JOURNALIST: What lessons do you think governments, both past and present, should take away from this?

SHORTEN: Make sure that when you implement a policy that it's legal, it shouldn't be a lesson that needs to be learned, but clearly it was. I also think, and we'll see more from the Royal Commission, I also think that when there are complaints and not isolated complaints, they're always important, but when there is a pattern of complaints, a firehose of unhappiness, these are red flags and it should be respected, not ignored. I think for four and a half years the Coalition government essentially gaslighted the Australian people. Every time an advocate or social worker or a victim or a family member or an opposition politician or a lawyer said there's a problem here, the government shut everyone down and said that, you know, essentially nothing to see here. Move along. You can't have that many red flags and keep ignoring it. So, whenever there are problems in the future, we've got to be better at respecting the complaint rather than just presuming the government's right.

JOURNALIST: What do you think the most concerning thing we learned from the Royal Commission was?

SHORTEN: I'm going to reserve final judgment on that question until we get the Royal Commission report, because I'm sure Justice Holmes will have put together, threaded together arguments and propositions from her vantage point, which will be worth thinking about. But for me at this point, it is that the government is here to help people, not hurt them. The Coalition hurt people, it didn't help them. And never again should we allow this sort of poor-shaming go on where essentially the Coalition government sort of turned a blind eye to targeting the most vulnerable people in Australia and treated them as second class citizens. If you need social welfare and support, you are not a lesser person, you are not a second-class Aussie. Every Australian has human rights and in this case, they weren't adhered to.

JOURNALIST: A lot of the politicians, the former Coalition Ministers that were involved in this scheme are no longer in government, apart from former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who actually helped set up the scheme in 2015 as the Social Services Minister. Pending obviously the implications of today's Royal Commission. Do you think he should step down from his role in parliament?

SHORTEN: Let's see what the Royal Commission says. What amazed me, the evidence of the Ministers collectively was that on nearly 200 occasions they said they couldn't remember or didn't know. Essentially Coalition Ministers’ defence to their government breaking the law in a systemic, calculated fashion is that they were too stupid to work out what was going on. That's not really a satisfactory answer, is it?

JOURNALIST: Have you been in touch with any of the victims or their families ahead of today, and if so how are they feeling about today?

SHORTEN: I have spoken to some of the mothers whose sons, their precious sons, took their lives after having to deal with the Robodebt machine. Nothing can bring their kids back. And that ultimately, if we could turn back the clock, that would be the only outcome. But we can't. The universe won't let us do that, sadly. So, for them, it's a stressful day. It's a triggering day, but also, it's a day of some vindication. Coalition Ministers regularly gaslighted these women about the circumstances of their son's passing. They were given great confidence by watching Justice Holmes and the way she conducted the Royal Commission in a no nonsense, straight down the barrel approach. So, I think today is a better day for them than other days they've had because it is some form of vindication. But my thoughts are with them and everyone who got a hard time. The idea that a government could systematically break its own laws and persecute the most vulnerable in our community is shocking. Thanks.