Questions on the Robodebt Royal Commission

SUBJECTS: Legacy of Robodebt

QUESTION: My question is to the Minister for Government Services. How do the actual findings of the Royal Commission into Robodebt compare with what members of former Liberal Governments say about Robodebt?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: The Member for Caldwell's question is very important to Australians because those opposite would like to think that Robodebt is now in the rear vision mirror of Australian politics, and they just want to move on. But the nation cannot move on until those who were in government, now in opposition, actually accept accountability and responsibility, because, sure, it is inevitable that if they don't learn the lessons of the past, then Australians can expect them again in the future.

Now, Government Ministers, the then-government Ministers have had a lot to say about Robodebt. The Member for Cook has said that the Royal Commission findings on him are just wrong and he, with his trademark blame shifting, just says this is a political lynching of himself and he just would like Labor to move on.

But how does the nation move on when the Member for Cook says one thing, but the Commission rejected as untrue Mr. Morrison's evidence. It says that, the Commission says, Mr. Morrison knew that the policy proposal that he brought forward to the Cabinet represented a complete reversal of the legal position without explanation. The Royal Commission said Mr. Morrison allowed Cabinet to be misled. I repeat that, because it seems that some on the frontbench don't realise, of the Opposition, Mr. Morrison allowed Cabinet to be misled because he didn't make the obvious inquiry. It goes on to say that the former Prime Minister of Australia failed to meet his ministerial responsibility to ensure that Cabinet was fully informed.

But it wasn't just the Member for Cook. A generation of Coalition Cabinet Ministers have had their legacies tainted by the unlawful actions of the Robodebt scheme. I remember Mr. Tudge saying he was going to find the welfare cheats and hunt them down. But the Commission said about former Minister Tudge that he made the decision to publicly release the personal details of one particular person to the media, following an opinion piece she wrote critical of her treatment by Centrelink. The Royal Commission said that Mr. Tudge's use of information about Social Security recipients and the media to distract from and discourage commentary about the scheme's problems represented an abuse of that power. It said it was all the more reprehensible in view of the power imbalance between the Minister and the cohort of people upon whom it could be reasonably expected to depend upon the Minister.

There was, of course, our friend, the former member for Fadden, Mr. Robert, who came up with the new doctrine that Cabinet solidarity meant that he could actually make statements of fact as to the accuracy of debts which he knew could not be right. The Royal Commission said about that Cabinet Minister, nothing compels ministers to knowingly make false statements or statements they know are untrue. The real issue here that Australians want to hear is does the rest of the Coalition agree with Mr. Morrison about the Royal Commission or do they accept responsibilities for breaking the law for four and a half years?