The Albanese administration has either accepted in full or in principle to all 56 of the recommendations made by the robodebt royal inquiry. The attorney general described the unlawful plan implemented by the Coalition government during the time of Centrelink as “deliberate” and “calculated.”
In July, the royal commissioner, Catherine Holmes, issued a total of 56 recommendations, some of which include the implementation of additional face-to-face services, a review of the manner in which Services Australia interacts with its customers, a cap on debt of no more than six years, and an audit body for automated decision making.
Although the government stated that it will spend a total of $22 million over the course of four years to implement each plan, anti-poverty campaigners and the Greens suggested that the government should go further. Separately, the government did not agree with the “closing observation” that was included in the report. This “closing observation” suggested making significant alterations to the Freedom of Information Act (FoI Act).
As evidence that the department was listening, the minister of government services, Bill Shorten, pointed to recent staffing increases at Centrelink and the creation of a new Services Australia advisory group.
He explained, “What we’re doing is putting the ‘human’ back into human services, and literally thousands of ongoing positions for public servants have been created.”
As a result of referrals made by Holmes, the Australian Public Service Commission is looking into the activities of sixteen individuals who were involved in the scheme.
According to Dreyfus, “this was not an innocent mistake; rather, it was a deliberate and calculated scheme.” In essence, they were traumatized because there was a possibility that they might owing money.
The royal commission provided a wide variety of suggestions for how Centrelink, the social security system, the public sector, and the government may all be made more effective. These contained guidelines for how the government and its bureaucracy are to handle legal advice, as well as increased funds and authority for the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The government did not accept Holmes’s “closing observation” to change the FOI Act in such a way that cabinet records would only be exempt from revelation if there was a very good cause to do so in the public interest.
Janet Rice, a senator for the Green Party, stated that while the study and Labor’s response were a “positive step towards justice for those traumatized by the callous and illegal scheme,” it does not change the fact that our social security system is fundamentally dysfunctional.
Rice advocated for a “immediate suspension of all debt-collection efforts.” Even though it has stopped using the illegal method that was utilized in robodebt, the government will continue check for compliance and assess debts in cases where recipients have been overpaid.
During the month of December, Services Australia informed the Senate estimates that it was chasing more than one million people for debts totaling $5 billion.
Kristin O’Connell, a beneficiary of assistance who is also a spokesman for the Antipoverty Centre, has demanded that all debts owed to Services Australia be immediately suspended until “a safe system can be worked out.”
She stated that “we call on the government to immediately cease raising and pursuing Centrelink debts until a safe system can be designed that does not recover money from people who can’t afford to live.” “We call on the government to immediately cease raising and pursuing Centrelink debts until a safe system can be designed.”
In the middle of 2015, the previous government of the Coalition tried to save billions of dollars by launching a program called robodebt.
It did this by performing a procedure known as income averaging, which involved comparing the income that Centrelink users reported on a fortnightly basis with data from the annual tax office. It then sent debt notices to the people who were found to be in debt.
More than $750 million was unjustly recovered from 381,000 people, and the royal commission heard evidence of bureaucrats dismissing critical issues and warnings about the legality of the “crude and cruel” plan.
The federal court issued its decision that the program was illegal in November of 2019. In the year 2020, a settlement for a class action lawsuit in the amount of $1.8 billion was struck between victims of robodebt and the government of the time.
In addition, the findings of the Royal Commission into Robodebt noted that elements of the tort of misfeasance in public office “appear to exist,” which may open the door to further legal action.
Shorten also stated that two parents of people who were caught up in the robodebt system, Jennifer Miller and Kath Madgwick, whose sons Rhys Cauzzo and Jarrad Madgwick took their own lives while they were dealing with Centrelink arrears, were still exploring civil proceedings. Shorten was referring to the suicides of their kids.