Motion to accept findings of the Royal Commission into Robodebt


SUBJECTS: Motion to accept findings of the Royal Commission into Robodebt; response to amendment

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Just in reply to the conclusion of this debate, I do feel it is appropriate to respond to some of the comments made by the Member for Bradfield and Deakin. What we've seen in response to the initiating resolution which says that we accept the findings about the Ministers, that we think that we should apologise and we think that we, this Parliament also, believes that we should commit to making sure this never happens again. Is the response from the Opposition's been their own amendment which, you know, they're entitled to do self-evidently. But I just want to go to the core of their arguments criticising this resolution, and it does go to whether or not the lessons of Robodebt have actually been learned by the Parliament.

The Member for Bradfield is very punctilious with his words, so I listened to some of them. Essentially his proposition was that the public service came to the Coalition government with this proposal. But what that glosses over, quite deliberately in a calculated fashion, is the Coalition government were interested in whether or not they could track down what they thought was a mountain of welfare fraud. This was deeply in the DNA of the previous Coalition government. This sense of unfairness, that somehow people on welfare were getting something they weren't entitled to, they created this straw man that somehow there's a lot of money being siphoned out of the welfare system by welfare recipients.

And they thought that they could turbo charge welfare compliance, drop out human oversight, reverse the onus of proof, and this would lead to rivers of gold for their budgets. The Royal Commission exposes the fact that there wasn't a mountain of gold there. This was like that explorer in the 1930’s in Australia, Lasseter, who went looking for the imaginary vein of gold, but it never existed. The problem is, though, all Lasseter did is he harmed himself. He disappeared. But this was not a consequence free proposition by the government. What they did in their rush to have a war on the poor, to demonise people on welfare as second class is, they took away their rights. They reversed the onus of proof. It is truly ironic that the Member for Cook bleats about, he feels that his onus of proof has been reversed onto him now the Royal Commission has listened to him and formed a view. But I just wish that he and his colleagues had shown some of the empathy they feel for themselves, for everyone else. Essentially once the Coalition triggered this runaway train of illegality, and they're saying, well, it’s just the public servants.

Then the Member for Bradfield then glosses over four and a half years, and we stopped it when we saw it was wrong. It's as if they were never told. It was as if the AAT never existed. It was as if there weren't 19,000 internal appeals, 4500 external appeals, at least 500 cases identified by the Royal Commission, where decisions were made on the use of income averaging. It's as if Price Waterhouse never gave them a report which they paid $1 million for. It's as if Clayton Utz never gave them a legal opinion in 2018, telling them of the severe problems with the legality. What we have is a Coalition in opposition who haven't learnt the first lesson of losing an election. You've got to show some contrition to the voters. Not on everything. You don't have to abandon all your legacy. But sometimes when a nation changes the government, the party who was in government, who now is in opposition, needs to reflect. What are some ways that we can demonstrate we actually hear some of the lessons? Now, those opposite are masters of using a word and pivoting off the word to create a totally different meaning. I mean, the Member for Cook said that the consequences, he regrets the unintended consequences. What a minimisation that must be. What a sense of cold comfort that must be for the victims. Oh, your harm was an unintended consequence. Now, if you're just one person, you might say, oh, okay. But there wasn't just one person who had unintended consequences. There were tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. They were coming into Coalition backbenchers’ doors to - For these masters of language also then seek to demonize the royal commission so they say it's not their fault.

I mean, what is the point of being a Coalition Cabinet Minister if every time the public service tells you to do something, you say, thanks, where's my limo? Where's my lunch? That is not the job. The job of a Cabinet Minister is to interrogate the proposals. But here you would get them - the Coalition's defence is essentially we are glove puppets of the public service. But then they move on to say when it was wrong, we stopped it. That's just an outrageous lie and I'm calling it out as a lie. There were so many warnings on this, it's ridiculous. And then they say they stopped it. It's a bit like a pyromaniac setting fire to the bush and then when the fire brigade puts it out, said, well, without me, it couldn't have been put out.

The point about it is it was Deanne Amato and Madeleine Masterton. Remember those names. These are Australians who showed more commitment to putting down this scheme than the Coalition combined, and the Victorian Legal Aid Commission.

I mean, as for the Member for Deakin's contribution, what a dishonest farrago of words. He couldn't even mention the Robodebt once. Like, for him, he's just beamed it out. But then I also noticed the assault on the Royal Commission itself, and I've got to stand up for the Royal Commissioner. The Member for Deakin, you know, bagging people for being politicians. Well, it takes one to know one, my friend. But he says hand-picked. Well, yes, the government appoints a Royal Commissioner, but hand-picked. There's just that insinuation that we're all friends. That is not right. And the Royal Commissioner has dealt with, she's seen it all in the witness box. And that's why she didn't believe Scott, the Member for Cook.

But then they get into this what I think is the most shameless and incorrigible attack. Sorry, the Greens made a contribution, but as usual, they spent more time attacking us than attacking the Liberals. So, I'll treat that sniper fire with the with the amount of time it deserves. That's it. But we get to the attack by the Coalition saying, it's just politics. It's politics. It's political. Oh, the Member for Maribyrnong, he's political. Yeah, you got me. I'm a politician. But actually, I want to confirm one thing. My word, it's political and my word, it's personal. But not in the way that you, those refugees from the last cabinet of the coalition government would insinuate. It's personal and it's political to Labor because you hurt a lot of people. For years we sat in opposition, and you tucked your very important thumbs behind the very important lapels of your jacket, and you said, we believe in the rule of law. Well, actually, you didn't. You hold yourself out in this cloak of sanctimonious conservatism. We are the party of the law. It's in the conservative DNA to be the party of the law, respecting the law. But you didn't.

You know, when you say you believe in the rule of law, the klaxon goes, the buzzer goes, wrong. If you believed in the rule of law, you would have checked if the scheme was legal. If you believed in the rule of law, Mr. Morrison, when he saw in his first submission - the Member for Cook. Oh, good point. I'll call him the Member for Cook. You would have believed the Member for Cook; he got a submission saying you do need to change the law. And then in that marvellous, magical world that he lives in of invisibility, the next submission says no legal change required. Member for Cook is far too smart to question his luck. Just goes on, fantastic. That obstacle magicked away. If you believed in the rule of law, you'd have listened to the art. If you believed in the rule of the law, you would have paid attention to being a model litigant. The model litigant requirements of the Commonwealth say that when you've got a series of decisions, you better report it to someone. On no less than 424 cases identified by the Royal Commission, these former masters of the rule of law just never noticed. When you get a bad decision and a series of bad decisions and a conga line of bad decisions, you are obliged to either appeal the decision because you think it's wrong or change your policy. But you took the not brave way. The cowardly way of ignoring it.

Like. There is no satisfactory answer to that in the minds of the Australian people. So, it is personal to us. Because when you demonise people on welfare, when you don't give them the same legal rights, when you ignore all the warnings, when you gaslight the victims, when you attack the advocates, when you use the power of your office to look up personal files to attack the critics in the media, when you take the pay as a Cabinet Minister, when you lecture for year upon year upon year, we're going to get these people and then it's wrong, then to gaslight the Royal Commission. Yes, we are the messengers, and you can shoot us all you like.

If I was being really partisan, I would hope that you keep doing exactly what you're doing because at the moment, the way the Coalition is handling this Royal Commission, with a few notable exceptions, the way you're handling it means you've learnt nothing, and you'll repeat the same mistakes again.