Minister Shorten Question Time transcript

Member for Cook in regards to the Robodebt Royal Commission

QUESTION: My question is to the Minister for Government Services. What did the Royal Commission into Robodebt’s Final Report find as to who was responsible for the design, development and establishment of the cruel and unlawful scheme? And were there any other important observations made by the Commissioner?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Prior to the 2022 Election, the Albanese Opposition promised Robodebt victims that we would hold a Royal Commission if elected. The Royal Commission is now concluded. There was 46 days of public hearings, over 100 people gave evidence.

On 7 July, Commissioner Holmes handed down her Final Report. The Government is considering the 57 recommendations that it contains. Commissioner Holmes forensically examined who was responsible for the design, the development and establishment of the Robodebt Scheme.

Then the Royal Commission outlined how successive former Liberal governments, despite repeated warnings, continued to break the law, victimising vulnerable Australians. The Royal Commission goes to the role of the Member for Cook, who was the Social Services Minister who first took Robodebt to Cabinet in 2015.

The Member for Cook in a press release on the 12 of May 2015 said: We will put a strong welfare cop on the beat to track down suspected welfare fraud.

Under oath at the Royal Commission in December 2022, the Member for Cook’s evidence was that income averaging – the process underpinning the unlawful Robodebt Scheme – was a “foundational way” that the then Department of Human Services worked.

However, Commissioner Holmes found in the Final Report at page 102: The Commission rejects as untrue Mr Morrison’s evidence that he was told that income averaging as contemplated in the Executive Minute was an established practice and a ‘foundational way.

She goes on to say at page 106: Mr Morrison knew that the use of income averaging was the primary basis of the ‘new approach’ described in the Executive Minute and that DSS had advised DHS that legislative change was required to implement the proposal.

She continues: The new policy, the NPP represented a complete reversal of the legal position without explanation.  Mr Morrison was not entitled without further question to rely upon the contradictory content of the NPP on the question of the DSS legal position. The Royal Commission went on to say:

Mr Morrison allowed Cabinet to be misled because he did not make that obvious inquiry.

She continues: He failed to meet his ministerial responsibility to ensure that Cabinet was properly informed about what the proposal actually entailed and to ensure that it was lawful. I note that Mr Morrison has disputed the Royal Commission findings. He may have convinced himself but he failed to convince the Royal Commission and indeed most Australians.