Minister Shorten Doorstop Interview at Robina Services Australia


SUBJECTS: Minister Shorten discusses the opening of Robina Services Australia and Robodebt Royal Commission final report

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICESHORTEN: Hi, Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Bill Shorten. I'm the Minister for Government Services and the NDIS. With me is Leticia Del Fabbro, Labor's candidate in the Fadden Byelection on Saturday we're here opening our new premises in Robina where we're going to see excellent government services for the people of the Gold Coast. 

JOURNALIST: Excellent. I just have a question to ask the Minister, regarding the [inaudible] which you were mentioning [inaudible]. You mentioned last night on ABC 7.30 Report that, you know, Ministers shouldn't think that they're out of the woods. What makes you think Robodebt victims would sue the Ministers who presided over the scheme and are you encouraging them to do it?

SHORTEN: Robodebt was the most shameful chapter in the administration of Australia's Social Security laws since Federation. It was a massive act of unlawfulness perpetrated on hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Australians for no other reason than they were vulnerable and using the welfare system, the Royal Commission, which is the result of Labor's election promise, has exposed a shocking pathology of unlawfulness at the Cabinet level of the former Coalition government and in the senior ranks of Australia's public servants. For four and a half years, an unlawful scheme was perpetrated against Australia's poor and vulnerable, merely because they were on welfare. It was illegal. The Royal Commission was handed down last Friday. What it said is that amongst other findings of extreme hopelessness and illegal conduct by the previous Government, what it found is that whilst there wouldn't be a general compensation scheme because it would be too hard to administer, more expensive to run than the money they might pay out, is the Royal Commissioner at page 659 raised the following proposition: that on the face of the evidence that was put forward in nine weeks of the Royal Commission, and the hundreds of thousands of documents which were studied, the Commissioner said that the elements of the tort of malfeasance of public office were present. This is not a common legal proposition. Sometimes in the history of Australia, government Ministers have been individually sued under this tort of malfeasance of public office. I think the most recent big case was the decision to stop the livestock exportation to Indonesia. I've watched the Coalition Ministers say that merely because they haven't been referred to a criminal body or to some other regulatory authority, that somehow, it's given them a clean bill of health. I just think that there'll be some victims of Robodebt who'll be seeking legal advice. If the Commissioner has said that on its face, the elements to constitute this tort of malfeasance of public office have been met, I suspect that there will be some individuals who will seek legal advice and they may well seek a remedy of suing the individual former Ministers. And that's why I said last night, I don't know why these Ministers are running around acting like they're out of the woods yet. This was a shameful scandal in Australian political history. 

JOURNALIST: Do you support the Commissioner's view at all? 

SHORTEN: I'm not a former chief justice of the Queensland Supreme Court. It's in there, and I think it will be for lawyers and others to contest this matter.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Shorten, if individual victims sue individual Ministers who will pay the compensation? Will it be the public sector or will be the individual Ministers?

SHORTEN: Well, there's a long way to go. Ministers may seek indemnity and say that they were carrying this out as part of their ministerial role. This will be for the lawyers to work through. But I just say that there's a lot of people out there who want accountability, until they see accountability. I don't think it's over.

JOURNALIST: The Opposition says that they'll work with the current government to make sure this never happens again. What has the government got planned?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I think if the Opposition want to work with us, they need to work with the victims of Robodebt. I think having former Prime Minister Mr. Morrison say he did nothing wrong makes it very hard for the Opposition to be taken credibly. They want to work with us in terms of what we do, what we've got to do is I think have a sea change in Australian debate about people who use our social Security safety. Specifically, people who use Social Security, they're not villains. The level of fraud is tiny. Of course, if people owed money, they've got to pay it back. But we've got to change the debate that everyone on welfare is a dole bludger. We've got to stop treating people who may have fallen on hard times as a second class Australian. That's the first sea change and the Coalition's rhetoric about the poor, the vulnerable, the people who use welfare needs to change. And beyond that, I think we need to make sure that whenever there is a decision made by government, the people who see what the government says to them, they can see the logic. They can see the transparency. And we don't ever again reverse the onus and have the government come down on individuals and say, you're guilty until proven innocent. 

JOURNALIST: Are you aware of a letter being sent from Gordon Legal to the Prime Minister inviting negotiations over [inaudible]? 

SHORTEN: Yeah, I've seen reference already to lawyers raising what the Royal Commission has said and we need to talk about that. Yes?

JOURNALIST: Thank you. It's Kathryn Campbell. Is her position within defence tenable?

SHORTEN: That's not up to me.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a view?

SHORTEN: No, I don't have the view on any individual public servant, and that's all I can say on the matter. Thanks.