24 January 2023

Robodebt Royal Commission to hear from former minister and APS bosses

| Chris Johnson
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Catherine Holmes AC SC

The Robodebt Royal Commissioner is Ms Catherine Holmes AC SC. Photo: Supplied.

Robodebt Royal Commission hearings resume on Monday, 23 January, with this next session continuing until Friday, 3 February. Departmental and ministerial use of media throughout the failed and illegal scheme will be one focus of this round of hearings.

How the then federal Coalition government reacted to criticism of the scheme during its lifetime will also be scrutinised, as will decisions from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which has since been abolished by Labor.

In short, the third round of public hearings will be all about how the indefensible was defended.

Why was advice ignored? How could anyone in authority have believed the plan to boost government coffers was ever legal?

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Former human services minister Alan Tudge is set to appear before the hearings on 1 February.

The day before, 31 January, Mr Tudge’s former media adviser Rachelle Miller is due to give evidence also.

Services Australia personnel will feature prominently as witnesses over the next two weeks.

General manager Hank Jongen, deputy chief executive officer Christopher Birrer, and former chief operating officer and general counsel Annette Musolino will all appear.

Former AAT member Terry Carney is scheduled to be grilled about the legality of the scheme and how a tribunal decision he delivered saying it wasn’t legal angered the Coalition government and cost him his own job.

The Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme was established by Labor in August 2022 when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appointed former chief justice of Queensland Catherine Holmes as commissioner.

Under the Letters Patent, the Royal Commissioner is required to produce a final report by 18 April, 2023.

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The commission’s website states that the upcoming block 3 of hearings will include scrutiny of:

  • The impacts of the scheme on individuals;
  • Growing criticism of the scheme after its implementation, both internally within Government agencies and from external groups and individuals;
  • The range of responses from the Department of Human Services and relevant Ministers to criticism of the scheme.
  • Decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) on matters pertaining to Robodebt;
  • The ongoing defence of the legality of the scheme, in the face of such criticism and adverse AAT decisions and a contrary external legal advice in 2019;
  • The use of media by ministers and government departments;
  • Attempts by the legal profession to bring proceedings in the Federal Court, challenging the legality of the scheme; and
  • Measures taken or considered where alleged debts were not paid, including attempts at criminal prosecutions, departure prohibition orders and garnishee notices.

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Stephen Saunders10:35 am 21 Jan 23

I remember baulking at Labor’s 1980s TAFE privatisation, then the Libs’ 1990s CES privatisation. After I left the APS, brave souls moved jobs, rather than implement Rudd Pink Batts.

This seems to be on another level. $800K Secretaries and $400K Ministers casually tormenting vulnerable Australians with scarcely a care. Holmes’ report will be something else.

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