Minister Shorten interview on Today with Jayne Azzopardi


JAYNE AZZOPARDI: Well, a gross betrayal and a human tragedy. That's how Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has described the former government's Robodebt scheme after a Royal Commission delivered scathing findings. Former Ministers, including ex PM Scott Morrison, were singled out for criticism, with 20 unnamed people facing potential civil and criminal prosecution.

ALEX CULLEN: Government Services Minister Bill Shorten was one of those who raised concerns about the scheme from opposition and he joins us now from Melbourne. Minister, good morning. Thank you so much for being with us. It's pretty tough news this morning. These findings have been a long time coming. Closure for hundreds of thousands of victims. A lot of these victims ended their own lives. Has justice been served in your eyes?

BILL SHORTEN: It is tough reading, I think, for the victims of the Robodebt scheme. I've been speaking to the mothers of some of the young men who took their lives after receiving Robodebt notices. Nothing can, unfortunately, turn back the clock and make it as it was before the previous government systemically broke the law and caused the harm. But it is vindication. I was speaking to Whistleblowers, the frontline staff at Services Australia, great men and women who spoke up to, spoke truth to power. It is vindication. They feel that the Royal commission has at least heard their side of the story. And it does take a little bit of weight off people's shoulders, because really, for the whole time this scheme was in for four and a half years. The old government used to say that the critics were wrong, that the government was right. There was nothing untoward to see here. And the old government gaslit a nation and its citizens. And so now, yeah, I do think there's a sense of vindication.

JAYNE AZZOPARDI: Well, speaking of those former Ministers, they are all rejecting the report's findings this morning, Scott Morrison particularly fighting back against the claim he allowed cabinet to be misled. Just how serious are the claims against the former Prime Minister? Did he lie and should he resign from Parliament?

BILL SHORTEN: The Royal Commissioner is not a partisan, not a politician, just a very experienced lawyer who's heard it all in her courts and legal argument before. And so she weighed up the evidence and she just found the former Prime Minister Morrison's evidence wanting, she just didn't believe it. And there's things which she has written in that report about former Coalition politicians which any self-respecting politician will be humiliated to have said about them. This is their political tombstone, this is what's going to be etched on it, that a group of them just abused their power, that their evidence just wasn't believed. And so sure, it's the right of Mr Morrison and his former Ministerial colleagues to say they did nothing wrong. But I actually think the facts contradict their narrative. A group of them have got one side, but that hundreds of thousands of people who are the victims of breaking the law, of having the law being broken against them by their own government. I think they would beg to differ with Mr Morrison.

ALEX CULLEN: Holidaying in Italy at the moment. But we know of at least 800 people who took their own lives, Bill, as a result of this scheme. It's far reaching, far reaching, not just financial, clearly. Any compensation, can there be any compensation that makes up for the damage this mess has caused?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, at the very human level, what people really want is never to have had their own government break the law and raise unlawful debt notices against them. But we know the universe can't wind back time. There was a class action which I was involved in helping set up and establish. That class action, run by Gordon Legal did go all the way to the door of the court. And, of course, the government of the day then settled for $1.7 billion of writing off unlawful debts of refunding money to people who have been compelled to pay it. There was $112 million in extra payments there. The Commissioner says, about compensation going forward, that in her opinion, she thinks a general scheme would be more cost to run than the money it would pay. She raises some other legal questions which I know the experts will pour over now.

For the people of Robodebt, the real issue is, in my opinion, their own government, which is meant to be - governments are meant to be there to help people, not hurt people. The Morrison government and even the Turnbull government, by setting up and running the scheme, it hurt people, it didn't help them. That's a massive breach of trust. And citizens in this country allow - support having governments, and they pay their taxes, they transfer some of their individual agency to government, but the deal is that the government won't break the law. And this is what happened. There was a pathology of unlawfulness at the heart of the Morrison and former Coalition governments, which is shocking. And the ends does not justify the means in politics and that's something for all of us to remember. The ends don't justify the means. Government's here to help, not hurt people.

JAYNE AZZOPARDI: Minister Bill Shorten. We heard the Prime Minister say yesterday it shouldn't have happened and it should never happen again, and we all hope that is the case. Thank you so much.

ALEX CULLEN: Well done with your work too on this, Bill. You've been front and centre on this, in this fight, so here we are, a mess and finally, hopefully, something's done about it.