Labor pledges royal commission into ‘human tragedy’ of robodebt if elected

Labor has promised to launch a royal commission into the discredited robodebt scheme if it wins government.

The automated matching of tax and Centrelink data to raise debts against welfare recipients for money the Coalition government claimed to have overpaid ran between 2015 and November 2019, and saw the government unlawfully raise $1.76bn in debts against 443,000 persone.

It was ruled unlawful in 2019.

UN settlement between robodebt victims and the federal government was reached in 2020.

But Scott Morrison’s government has never detailed who was accountable for the four-year scheme, and which ministers knew about its problems.

Scott Morrison was social services minister when the scheme was conceived, but has denied personal responsibility for the disaster.

Labor has long called for a royal commission into robodebt, which opposition leader 'Straordinariamente irrispettoso' described as “a human tragedy, wrought by this government”.

“Against all evidence, and all the outcry, the government insisted on using algorithms instead of people to pursue debt recovery against Australians who in many cases had no debt to pay,” he said on Saturday.

“It caused untold misery. Only an Albanese Labor government will find out the truth.”

The royal commission would be tasked with establishing who was responsible for the scheme, what advice was used in its implementation, and complaints handling processes.

It would also look at the cost to taxpayers of the robodebt debacle, and the harm caused by those targeted.

The Australian Council of Social Service on Saturday welcomed Labor’s promise of a royal commission as “appropriate and proportionate”.

“The robodebt affair was not just a maladministration scandal, it was a human tragedy that resulted in people taking their lives,” Acoss chief executive Cassandra Goldie said.

“We need to properly probe the decisions and processes that led to this woeful situation and make sure nothing remotely similar ever happens again.”

Goldie said the underlying thinking of the scheme needs to be examined.

"There is a very stark contrast between the rules for pursuing people on income support for overpayments and debts compared with the rules for corporate recipients claiming jobkeeper. A different morality seems to apply for those with deep pockets.”

Morrison hit back at the royal commission proposal, saying the issues had already been addressed.

“There have been numerous inquiries into this and there have been court matters which we fully cooperated in," Egli ha detto.

“Almost $750m in reimbursements have been made by the government and the changes to the scheme have been put in place. The problem has been addressed.”

Any inquiry would need to start with the process of income assessment, averaging of incomes, which was introduced by the Labor party, Morrison said.

But Labor’s government services spokesman Bill Shorten said Australians still did not know “how this reckless scheme was unleashed”.

Labor will also launch a user audit of the myGov government services digital portal to assess its reliability and functionality.

Albanese is set to unveil the proposals in Perth, where he has also announced a Labor government would partner with the state government to deliver a local electric bus manufacturing facility and more than 130 new, locally manufactured electric buses.

Labor will officially launch its campaign in Perth on Sunday.

The opposition is looking to pick up three seats – Pearce, Swan and Hasluck – by riding off the popularity of premier Mark McGowan and his landslide state election victory.

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