15 April 2024

Union alarmed over Robodebt legal adviser's appointment to high-level ACT directorate role

| Claire Fenwicke
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Lisa Carmody

Lisa Carmody giving evidence at the Royal Commission into the Robotdebt scheme. Photo: Screenshot.

Alarm bells have been sounded over the appointment of a senior legal adviser involved in the Robodebt scheme to the role of deputy director-general in an ACT Government directorate.

Lisa Carmody has been appointed to the role in the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate (CMTEDD), a move which has concerned both the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and UnionsACT.

The CPSU has described Ms Carmody’s role in the Robodebt scandal as “significant” and raised concerns about her appointment to a role that “liaises constantly” with trade unions.

“Robodebt was a cruel and illegal scheme that had disastrous impacts across the country, including on CPSU members who were forced to implement it,” CPSU ACT regional secretary Maddy Northam said.

“To now expect CPSU members in the ACT Government to work with someone who was involved in perpetuating this scheme, in an industrial relations capacity, is shocking.”

Ms Northam said the CMTEDD’s deputy director general had a “hugely important role” in implementing the government’s industrial relations agenda and questioned whether someone with Ms Carmody’s history was suitable for the job.

“The CPSU is concerned that this appointment could have a detrimental impact on the ACT Government’s relationship with the union movement and undermine the confidence of public servants when raising concerns with management,” she said.

UnionsACT secretary Kasey Tomkins expressed concern that some elements of the Robodebt inquiry were still sealed.

“The unfortunate reality is that so long as referrals made by the Robodebt Royal Commission remain sealed, we’ll not know who potentially will be subject to future civil or criminal legal proceedings,” she said.

“The role Ms Carmody will occupy is one that carries substantial impact over the lives of those working in the ACTPS.”

Both unions have called on the government to provide “more context” on the appointment, while CPSU has also called on ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr to “reconsider” the appointment.

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An ACT Government spokesperson stressed ministers, including the Chief Minister, are not involved in public service recruitment.

“The Deputy Director-General, Office of Industrial Relations and Workforce Strategy is an ACT Public Service role and the appointment of senior public servants is the responsibility of the Head of Service,” they said.

The spokesperson explained that recruitment for the role had been done nationally and included a full merit-based assessment and due diligence process.

“The Robodebt Royal Commission final report does not support the assertions of the CPSU,” they said.

“When Ms Carmody commences in the role, she will look to actively engage with all key stakeholders.”

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In her submission to the Robodebt inquiry, Ms Carmody outlined she wasn’t responsible for providing legal advice on social security matters dealt with by the Federal Department of Human Services and wasn’t aware of the Robodebt scheme when she was acting Chief Counsel for the department in January 2017 (when the scheme came under intense media scrutiny).

It was at this time that the department was asked to develop a paper on the department’s practice of “averaging income” to calculate payments under social security law and the circumstances under which it was permissible for the department to assume pro-rata earned income over certain periods.

Ms Carmody outlined that she had no understanding of the methods of calculating and recovering debts under Robodebt, their potential unlawfulness, and the potential for “inaccurate or unfair” calculation and recovery of debts through the scheme.

The Robodebt Royal Commission found the draft advice had “explicitly recommended” external legal advice be sought.

“Ms Carmody accepted in her evidence that the arguments in the draft advice in support of averaging were ‘unconvincing’,” the final report noted.

The final report referred 16 Commonwealth public servants to the Australian Public Service Commission for investigation over possible breaches of the APS Code of Conduct.

Region is not suggesting Ms Carmody is one of these people.

As of February, only one matter has been concluded (with no sanctions issued), four individuals had been issued with preliminary findings against them, and 11 remained entirely unresolved.

The names of the Commonwealth public servants have not been made public.

After her time with the DHS, Ms Carmody was the general manager of enterprise strategy and governance with Services Australia.

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HiddenDragon7:49 pm 16 Apr 24

Maybe the ACT unions had a nicely house-trained candidate in mind who they would prefer to have seen in this job – but whatever the case on that score, reading between the lines of this wryly entertaining article, this looks like an appointment that was just meant to happen.

A couple of things to consider here based on comments from people below.
Firstly, while we don’t know if there were findings in relation to her role in RoboDebt, the fact she moved on to a role at Services Australia similar to that which she is performing now should have folks radars up. She was regarded as being less than open about her involvement in RoboDebt while at SA and I understand there wasn’t a lot of confidence in her with the staff affected by her decisions there.
Secondly, everyone is entitled to a second chance regardless of their past misdemeanors. While I support both Maddy and Kasey’s position on her, perhaps it’s prudent to let her take those first steps and if she stumbles, well the Head of Service knows what to do.
Thirdly, as someone who has been at the bargaining table in both the ACT and Commonwealth environments, lawyers are often the least best suited to these roles. They tend to be unable or unwilling to demonstrate the requisite flexibility in thinking and usually won’t participate fully in the discovery of new practice. Probably their training influences this but I’ve only met two who could walk that line competently and they were on the union side of the table!
As to protecting the Barr Government individually or collectively, and the ministerial awareness of such appointments, don’t listen to the spokesperson; watch the Chief Minister at pressers and at events where this can be called out. That’s where you get the real answers.

I am not sure I agree with your assessment that everyone deserves a second chance Glen Hyde. The Robodebt scheme was cruel and illegal and the most shameful and catastrophic policy failure in Australia’s political history.

Lisa Carmody had a role in it. There is still a sealed section contained in the Royal Commission findings that protects the names of potentially corrupt politicians and public servants who had a role to play in the policy’s implementation. It is not known whether Ms Carmody’s name is on that list.

The current role Ms Carmody has been appointed to is a senior and high-level position within the chief minister’s directorate liaising and advising the CM and other significant stakeholders. Her role also includes liaising with the unions who have raised significant concerns at her suitability for the appointment and dealing with her in the future.

“…everyone is entitled to a second chance”? Well, this one looks like a promotion, to me.

This is really shocking. This woman should not be allowed to take up a position when she clearly does not have the ability to make sound decisions.

CMTEDD look out – integrity on a loose footing

‘….ministers, including the Chief Minister, are not involved in public service recruitment’. WT…?
LOL, they forgot to start with, ‘once upon a time….and they all lived happily ever after’. They must think people are stupid. Of course a high level, senior management position would have been approved by the Minister.

Heaven forbid if our chief minister and elected representatives started interfering in public service recruitment processes Peter H! I am sure the Liberal party lynch mob would be ready and waiting for such an opportunity!
Voters are still coming to terms with the widespread corruption of the Morrison government. Most particularly the government’s blatant interference in administrative processes and political appointments to the public service and judiciary!

@Jack D.
As always, deflecting in behalf of the Barr government.

The Morrison government was booted out of office – end of story.

An opinion has been expressed that “… a high level, senior management position would have been approved by the Minister”. While there would be no “formal involvement” of the relevant minister, it’s reasonable to suppose that the minister would have been informed – if for no other reason to give them a “heads up” on the potential back lash of the appointment – as has happened.

How am I deflecting? Any government recruitment process for senior office holders is independent of political processes and undertaken by the relevant department. Of course the chief minister was advised, he is the Treasurer and head of the department and would have signed off on the decision, but not interfere. This is the exact same process that occurs for any minister heading a department.

We currently have the ACT’s Integrity Commission investigating allegations that a minister meddled in a government procurement process for the awarding of a contract.

There is a clear difference between being “booted out” and “voted out” of government.

@Jack D.
“How am I deflecting?”
What has any action (including your “widespread corruption”) by the Morrison government got to do with the ACT public service recruitment processes? Nothing … that’s a classic example of deflection.

The Morrison government was responsible for the corruption that led to the implementation of the Robodebt scheme. Lisa Carmody, who allegedly had a role to play in the implementation of the scheme has just been employed to a senior executive role in the Chief Minister’s department, the subject of this article Justsaying.

The Robodebt scheme was cruel and illegal and the most shameful and catastrophic policy failure in Australia’s political history. Some recipients of the scheme took their own lives and families were destroyed. The policy’s devastating consequences resulted in a Royal Commission which cost taxpayers many millions of dollars.

That is just part of the widespread corruption committed by the Morrison government that goes to the heart of this article and pointed out in my comment!

@Jack D.
Jack, the post to which you responded, specifically questioned the statement that ministers would not be involved in the ACT public service recruitment process.

You then decided to play “what about them” by referring to the “widespread corruption committed by the Morrison government” – which, despite what you say, is not the “heart of the article”. The article is about Ms Carmody’s role in the Robodebt scheme and consequently her appropriateness for the role for which she has been selected in the ACT public service.

I made a comment in response to someone else’s observation JS. I didn’t seek to get into an argument or pursue it!
The conversation is finished, I am not into wasting time and splitting hairs!

@Jack D.
Yes, I agree, Jack.

You’ve directed your customary barb at the other side of politics, so there’s no further mileage to be gained for ACT Labor. Time to move on to the next salvo for the cause.

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