Minister Shorten Doorstop Interview

SUBJECTS: Victorian floods & Disaster Recovery Payments

We'll just get stuck straight into these questions. The Royal Commission into Robodebt has found the Social Services Department was warned the program was unlawful but proceeded to implement it anyway. What do you make of that?
BILL SHORTEN, FEDERAL MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES: It's only day one. That is disturbing evidence. I'm not going to jump to any conclusions after one day of evidence. Robodebt was a massive failure of public administration under the previous government. Hundreds of thousands of Australians were unlawfully sued by their own government. But this is why we're having the Royal Commission to get to the bottom of how could a government break the law for four and a half years with no apparent advice to the contrary?
And you're involved in the very early planning of data matching when last in government. Did you have any legal advice saying it was legal?
SHORTEN: This Robodebt Royal Commission's going towards what the Coalition Government did. No one is suggesting that previous governments did Robodebt. Robodebt was the creation of the Morrison, Turnbull and Abbott governments.
JOURNALIST: And many parts, just onto another topic now. Many parts of Victoria still recovering from floods or preparing for even more. Does the disaster relief payment need to be increased? Give inflation?
SHORTEN: Listen I'm here in Rochester today, people should realise that Campaspe Shire and Rochester in particular were ground zero for a phenomenal water bomb the ground is still waterlogged three weeks later. There's a lot of people who are doing it tough. Cup Day is the race which stops the nation. But I'm up here in Rochester on Cup Day because the people here need to hear that other people know they're still going through difficulty. This will take a long time to recover so we've got to make sure that whatever assistance can be provided is to farmers, to businesses, mental health support, accommodation, temporary accommodation. It's really tough up here.
JOURNALIST: And why not increase it to $3,000 like the Council of Social Services is calling for? Does that really add to inflation? These people are in real need.
SHORTEN: First of all, the Albanese Government's rolled out the $1000 payments on record time, much better than previously done. I think the issue is a bit more complicated than an extra thousand bucks that The Council of Social Services are proposing. There are $5,000 grants to help businesses, $10,000 grants for farms. We've just got to make sure that the money, which is due to get out, is getting out. I'm very impressed by the volunteers and the support workers, by the resilience of the Rochester community. They need mental health support. They need to see support for business, small business and farms. We also need to make sure that the temporary accommodation, because this will take months and months, is being provided.
JOURNALIST: So when you leave here today, what will be your first priority in helping these people?
SHORTEN: Well, I'll start while I'm here, but it's to make sure that if people are put in applications for relief to help clean up farms, clean up their businesses, that that's getting through the system. It's clear the damage has occurred. I just want to make sure that people are getting the best chance to get back on their feet. This is a journey of months and years, not of weeks. But a little bit of help now, I think can go a long way to building people's morale. That's what I want to do. Sort out the red tape.
Anything else you'd like to add? Who's your tip for Melbourne Cup?
SHORTEN: I'm going to box up a trifecta I'm afraid, I think it's hard. I like one four, eight, nine, eleven, maybe twenty four and see how I go with that. But like all free advice, it's worth what you pay for.
JOURNALIST: Thoughts on the Centrelink in Benalla.
SHORTEN: Both the local Labor Party in Benalla and Helen Haines have raised with me whether or not the Benalla Centrelink office can be reopened. We've sat down with these people who are currently reviewing client demand and we're going to see what's the best way we can ensure that people in Benalla get a fair go. So that's it's a work in progress with what the solution looks like. I do think though Services Australia, the floods are now the priorities and we've got to make sure that help is getting to the flood drenched communities in north central Victoria. Thanks.