SUBJECTS: Robodebt Royal Commission
BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Good afternoon everybody.
After receiving a series of phone calls, text messages and emails from victims of Robodebt, the amount of outrage that former Prime Minister Morrison's ongoing evidence today is quite triggering for people.
Scott Morrison had an opportunity today to attend the Royal Commission, to personally apologise, to accept personal responsibility as Social Services Minister, as Treasurer, as Prime Minister, for this massive unlawful scheme against hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Australians.
Mr Morrison had the chance to engage in healing and accept responsibility and redeem the reputation of the Coalition Government, at least in accepting responsibility.
Instead, what we got was peak, vintage Morrison.
Lecturing, hectoring, not answering questions, splitting hairs on simple yes/no questions.
We've seen Mr Morrison lecture the Commission, we've seen Mr Morrison basically say I knew nothing, I did nothing, I'm a good person.
And it's almost to the effect, as one person has observed to me, he's almost sitting in the stand saying, “Robo-what?” “Robo-who?” “I didn't see anything”. And if there was something to see, it was someone else’s fault.
He has blamed nearly everyone in his own government, he’s blamed the previous Labor government, he’s even insinuated that the DLO in his office might have got the problems wrong and changed notations.
This is a shocking train wreck performance by the former Prime Minister.
It shows no self-insight. It is a defensive lecture about why everyone else is wrong and he's right.
The fact the Royal Commissioner has had to literally tell him: “Are you listening at all to the questions?” – it is almost the sort of television which you watch between your fingers over your eyes but you're peaking to see the next incredibly poor behaviour.
And this really does show the Robodebt disgrace, the Robodebt scandal.
The Coalition seems unrepentant and it's probably time now for Mr Dutton, who has voted to defend Mr Morrison's multiple ministries, who was obviously an enthusiastic cabinet minister, approving the unlawful Robodebt scheme, for Mr Dutton to say where does he stand on Robodebt, does he apologise for what’s happened and does he support the evidence of Mr Morrison fully? Or is anything Mr Morrison saying making him feel uncomfortable, just like it's making millions of Australians uncomfortable today?
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) How does it compare to…yesterday we saw Senator Marise Payne get up and respond to evidence as well. What are your reflections on her, as the former minister, and on that period of government, how did that compare to what we saw today?
SHORTEN: Well, I think at least Marise Payne knows how to answer a question more quickly than Mr Morrison. At least sometimes she sounded like she was trying to answer the question, rather than talk about whatever topic came into her mind.
I think yesterday she did throw Mr Morrison a bit under the bus, saying Mr Morrison was the more senior minister.
Today Mr Morrison repaid the favour to Senator Payne.
I thought her evidence was, her presentation was superior and more plausible than Mr Morrison's but clearly this was a Coalition government who had pre-judged the outcome.
They wanted to find billions of dollars for their budget.
In their own minds they had convicted people on welfare. They had decided that if there was a discrepancy in annual data versus fortnightly data, that was proof positive something wrong had gone on and they reversed the onus of proof on the victims of the scheme.
When the Coalition was arrogantly breaking the law.
JOURNALIST: You said that victims had found Mr Morrison’s evidence triggering, have you heard victims today and what’s been their reflections on what Mr Morrison had to say.
SHORTEN: Probably summarise it in a couple of sentences. For some they found that, they said this bloke doesn't get it. He has no self awareness at all. He has just tried to blame everyone else and he's, at the same time, in a defensive fashion, trying to say that we didn't do anything wrong. I think for other people though it just reminds them of the harm that was done.
I spoke to Colleen Taylor today. She’s the heroic public servant who, at a very modest level in her position in the public services, tried to tell the generals of the public service this was wrong what was happening.
She is grateful the royal commission is under way.
And I'm really pleased there are people like Colleen Taylor who have the courage to speak truth to power.
JOURNALIST: Would you remove automation from social services, or ensure that there is always a human at least on the side of decision-making?
SHORTEN: We’re not going to remove computers and digitisation, but I understand your point. There’s got to be ethical oversight, you’ve got to adhere to the law. The social security law makes it very clear that the power to raise debts against individuals has to be done in only very limited circumstances. That’s a big power that the Parliament gives the Government to raise debts against its own citizens. And the law is very clear, there’s an obligation, that you have to…that is, the Government has to make its case before reversing the onus on individuals. The big mistake which this (former) Government made, well many of them, but in the fundamental illegal design was taking the human oversight out and in their rush to target the vulnerable people and shake them down, they threw their ethics overboard.
The Royal Commission is disturbing because it shows there was a group think in the government. Public servants trying to please ministers, ministers who were convinced about the wrongdoing of Australians, and once they had pre-formed a view that there was a scam going on by the vulnerable people on welfare then everything looked like the problem they had to solve. Where instead, as it’s emerging, the government just broke the law.
They just broke the law.
JOURNALIST: Will there be any consequences for the government and for Scott Morrison. People watching might not understand how the Royal Commission works or what the outcome might be. What’s going to be the outcome?
SHORTEN: That will be up to the Royal Commission to give Australians and give the government their findings, and we’ll have to wait and see. I do wonder what Mr Dutton really thinks about Mr Morrison. This has brought great shame on the once proud Liberal party and the Coalition. We might disagree with each other with our politics, but this was not even standard political argument. This was the Liberal and National government of Australia breaking the law. When they got advice they didn’t want to hear, they got rid of it, the ignored it. It’s shocking.
And if people think that this can’t happen again, the challenge is to hear the Coalition admit they got it wrong, but whilst the Coalition can’t take personal responsibility for what happened, what trust do we have the Coalition government in future might break the law again. Have they learned nothing?
JOURNALIST: Minister, how do you make sure this never happens again, as government? And also was there anything that surprised you about Mr Morrison’s appearance today?
SHORTEN: Well the Royal Commission will help us ensure this doesn’t happen again. Already the Albanese Government has put in place people to do more checking, so there are lessons we can learn now about treating people on welfare with respect rather than treating them as second class Aussies, which is what the previous government did.
If you need the safety net in Australia, that doesn’t make you a bad person. It just means that’s why we have a safety net. Regardless, if you need to use Centrelink or if you don’t need to use Centrelink, you should be treated equally by the government.
Beyond that, the evidence today, I was genuinely surprised. I get the impression watching Mr Morrison’s evidence, that he’s learned nothing since the election.
I genuinely…watching him give legal opinions, like some bush lawyer, back of Bourke, to the Royal Commissioner about what sections of the Act mean, and then saying that he didn’t necessarily turn his mind to the legislation…
I’ve always felt that when it came to answering questions, Mr Morrison was one camp fire ahead of the posse, but today the ‘welfare cop’ as he called himself has now met the Robocop at the Royal Commission and it’s not pretty for Mr Morrison.