16 February 2024

Government agrees to all recommendations of Robodebt Royal Commission

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Woman giving man a report.

Governor-General David Hurley receives the Robodebt Royal Commission report from Commissioner Catherine Holmes. Photo: Screenshot.

The Federal Government has announced that it has agreed or agreed in principle with all 56 recommendations made by the Robodebt Royal Commission.

The 13 November announcement includes additional funding of $22.1 million over four years and $4.8 million each year to support the implementation of the recommendations, on top of previous unrelated announcements of additional funding.

The government’s response includes additional investment for the Commonwealth Ombudsman to boost oversight of government agencies, and new funding to reinstate the Administrative Review Council to support better decision‑making across government.

It said the Attorney‑General’s Department will also receive additional funding for the Office of Legal Services Coordination and the Office of Constitutional Law to improve how legal risk is identified and how legal advice is provided to Cabinet, and new investment to develop a legal framework to support automated decision‑making in appropriate circumstances and in a manner that is consistent with the principles recommended by the Royal Commission.

The government said that 16 public servants are formally under investigation for the roles they played in devising and implementing the scheme.

Royal Commissioner Catherine Holmes’s report into the Robodebt debt collection scheme was handed down in July. It found the program devised by the Abbott government was “a crude and cruel mechanism, neither fair nor legal”, and that it “made many people feel like criminals”.

It said that “people were traumatised on the off-chance they might owe money” and that it was a “costly failure of public administration, in both human and economic terms”.

“The Albanese Government is fulfilling our commitment to put people back at the centre of the work of government and invest in better services for the Australian community,” a joint ministerial statement said.

“We will continue to implement reforms to strengthen the Australian Public Service and bolster the powers of oversight agencies to ensure a failure like the Robodebt scheme can never happen again.”

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“Robodebt was a shameful chapter for public administration in Australia,” Minister for the Public Service Katy Gallagher said. “It didn’t come out of the blue – the previous Liberal-National Government spent years gutting the Australian Public Service and putting public servants in a challenging and vulnerable position.”

“To those who took their own lives because of Robodebt and their families we pay our respects. The horrible pain inflicted upon you should never have happened. To the activists, advocates, whistleblowers, journalists, members of Labor and the cross bench, and of course the victims themselves who fought tirelessly for accountability and justice, today is because of you,” Minister for the NDIS and Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten added.

Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth said today marks “another step towards reversing the damage caused by the former Liberal Government’s unlawful Robodebt Scheme”.

“Our government is committed to a strong social security safety net and service delivery that puts people at the centre and we’re putting in place changes that will deliver enduring benefits for all Australians for years to come,” she added.

“We will continue to push forward with reforms to ensure a failure like the Robodebt scheme can never happen again.”

“When the scheme’s ‘unfairness, probable illegality and cruelty became apparent’ at the beginning of 2017, the Royal Commission found that – instead of abandoning it – the path taken by the former government ‘was to double down, to go on the attack in the media against those who complained and to maintain the falsehood that in fact the system had not changed at all’,” Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said.

READ ALSO Services Australia staff finally get an apology for what they had to endure with Robodebt

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) welcomed the government’s response, saying the recommendations will make significant progress towards ensuring that Robodebt, or any iteration of it, is never allowed to happen again.

“Today is a significant day for all those whose lives were impacted by the illegal Robodebt scheme,” CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said.

“CPSU members in Centrelink tried to stop this scheme in its tracks. These frontline workers stood up and spoke out time and time again, but were ignored, silenced and even threatened.

“The Robodebt Royal Commission report showed us that strong, frank and fearless leadership across the public service would not have allowed the Robodebt scheme to happen.”

“And the government’s response is progress toward the accountability, reform and closure that the victims of this scheme need and deserve.

“Our members in Services Australia are hopeful that this government is turning the ship around and I urge the Albanese Government not to let them down.”

In September, former CEO of Services Australia Rebecca Skinner apologised to the agency and its staff for the toll the rollout of the illegal scheme had taken on some and how the fallout had affected many more.

“I am sincerely sorry for the position this placed you in, and extend this apology to former colleagues who have since left,” she said.

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