Minister Shorten in Question Time

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: The Robodebt Royal Commission not only looked at the circumstances surrounding the start of the lawbreaking scheme, it also addressed the question whether the lawbreaking against vulnerable people, why it went on for four and a half years and whether there are any red flags or warnings or signs that this scheme was wrong. The Royal Commission actually says that the beginning of 2017 was the point at which Robodebts’s unfairness, probable illegality and cruelty became apparent. The beginning of 2017. The Commission says that it should have been abandoned or revised drastically. An enormous amount of hardship and misery, as well as expense to government that it was so anxious to minimise would have been averted. But after hearing all the evidence, the Royal Commission said instead the path taken was to double down. To go on the attack in the media against those who complain and maintain the falsehood that the scheme had not changed at all.

The government was, the DHS and DSS Ministers maintained, acting righteously to recoup taxpayers money from the undeserving. So, 2017, warning signs ignored. The Commission says that the scheme trundled on. The cover up continued. It says that DSS, the Department of Social Services, seems to have taken little interest in the administrative appeal cases until mid-2018, when the Department of Human Services told the Department of Social Services that an AAT decision said that income averaging in the way of Robodebt was unlawful. There was an AAT decision. The AAT had put reliance on an article by Professor Carney, who subsequently wasn't reappointed to the AAT. There was draft advice from Clayton Hewitt saying, this is right.

But it was never acted on. They were told it was wrong, and it was never acted on. The Ombudsman, according to the Royal Commission, was deliberately misled. I remind the Coalition trying to gainfully ignore this, the Ombudsman was misled by the former government. This then was used by the government to resist scrutiny of the scheme.

So, there were many warnings about this scheme. Many warnings that the former Coalition government was engaging in mass lawbreaking of its own laws against the vulnerable. The question, though, for the current opposition and they've been strangely silent is, do they agree with the Member for Cook that this is just an unfair political attack? Surprisingly, the Leader of the Opposition has. But I think now we need clarity from the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition. Do you accept that the ill effects of the scheme were varied, extensive, devastating and continue? And why don't you just say we broke the law for four and a half years and we are absolutely sorry?