5 July 2023

Some are right to be scared about what's in Robodebt inquiry's final report

| Chris Johnson
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Robodebt Royal Commissioner is Ms Catherine Holmes AC SC

Robodebt Royal Commissioner Catherine Holmes AC SC. Photo: Screenshot.

Catherine Holmes delivers the final report of The Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme to the Governor-General tomorrow (7 July), and it’s safe to say many upper echelons of the Australian Public Service are on edge.

Not to mention a few former federal ministers.

Commissioner Holmes was dogged in trying to uncover who did what and what went wrong.

The Federal Court has already declared the illegal scheme “shameful” and a “massive failure” in public administration.

The Royal Commission’s final report is likely to go further and will lay blame.

Some people are more than justified in feeling nervous right now.

The Royal Commission had before it about a million tendered documents to consider, and it heard endless hours of testimony over nine weeks of public hearings.

There were more than 100 witnesses before the inquiry and most of that testimony was damning of a government that introduced the scheme and of a public service that implemented it at all costs.

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Witnesses included former prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, a string of former Coalition ministers and a handful of departmental bosses current and past.

Former ministerial staff giving testimony to the Royal Commission delivered some deep and piercing wounds.

Most critical, however, was testimony from vulnerable victims of the automated debt collection scheme – a scheme that caused so much fear and grief through the heartless delivery of false debts.

Thousands of Australians were traumatised by Robodebt.

Almost as alarming was testimony from some members of the APS workforce who had to roll out the scheme despite knowing it wasn’t right – wasn’t even legal – and who had their concerns dismissed.

We already know from the Royal Commission’s hearings that numerous warnings were delivered to some APS leaders and to various levels of the Coalition government.

The opportunity to back off presented itself many times but was left wanting.

Legal minds were ignored and advice dismissed.

The commission even raised the suggestion of collusion across departments to implement the scheme despite being aware of its illegality.

Or was it deception from one department to another?

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Too many players blamed others during the hearings, or feigned ignorance.

One certainty is that this disgraceful chapter in Australian politics and public service delivery was not mere incompetence.

It was much worse than officials not really knowing what they were doing.

It wasn’t a mere cockup.

This was a deliberate and wanton unconscionable snubbing of the rule of law, of ethical behaviour, of the conventions of decency, and of any notion of ensuring dignity to society’s most vulnerable.

Commissioner Holmes has had her say and the nation will hear just what that is soon enough.

Hopefully, she has been specific about naming and blaming and that her recommendations are tough and pointed.

And that the Federal Government acts swiftly and decisively on them.

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Stephen Saunders2:46 pm 06 Jul 23

Unless Holmes gives him no choice whatsoever, Albanese won’t remove Campbell. And she’ll never walk, will she.

Possibly the most expensive scissors and paper dolls in the entire history of the APS.

It’s not about firing them. The correct result would be that those responsible for this illegal scheme go to jail, including the ministers, the secretary and the senior managers. That is what is supposed to happen when people deliberately and blatantly break laws resulting in serious harm to others.

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