Economic Justice Australia welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Royal Commission into Robodebt in the first block of hearings scheduled for 31 October to 11 November, along with its member organisations, Welfare Rights Centre NSW and the Welfare Rights and Advocacy Service WA.
Economic Justice Australia’s members have assisted people to challenge social security debts through the administrative appeals process for over forty years and brings this expertise to the Royal Commission.
“Economic Justice Australia’s evidence as the peak organisation for community legal centres specialising in social security law, will focus firstly on achieving justice and recognition for Robodebt victims who suffered harm as a result of the flawed scheme; and secondly on identifying what went wrong with our system of accountability”, said Economic Justice Australia CEO Leanne Ho.
“The Robodebt Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference aim to identify what went wrong, systemically and structurally. Given our increasing reliance on automation in government decision-making, addressing flaws or weaknesses in our system of checks and balances is crucial. We need to ensure nothing like this can happen again, especially where the potential harm is to those most vulnerable in our community”, said Ho
The Robodebt program was established in 2015 and was allowed to continue until the Federal Court found in November 2019 there was no legal basis for the debts and a class action commenced.
“Economic Justice Australia welcomes the Royal Commission as the opportunity for a thorough examination of the political and bureaucratic decision-making involved in not only establishing the Robodebt program, then allowing it to continue for almost five years”, said Ho.
“When Senior Administrative Appeals Tribunal members started wiping these debts on the basis that they had no legal basis, why didn’t it stop? When the Ombudsman investigation raised concerns, why didn’t it stop? When ACOSS, Legal Aid and community legal centres raised the alarm, why didn’t it stop? These are all questions for the Royal Commission to address”, said Ho.
The Robodebt class action forced the former Government to refund debts raised without legal basis. But the Federal Court settlement did not include any compensation for trauma, pain and suffering. Payments have been restricted to the amount of interest forgone by the victim on repayments made to Centrelink.
“Victims of Robodebt who were members of the class action but provided payslips enabling Centrelink with the means to recalculate their debts, did not receive a cent from the class action”, said Ho.
Some have criticised the Robodebt Royal Commission as merely a witch hunt.
“Far from being a witch hunt, the Royal Commission is needed to bring justice for people who have not yet had any acknowledgment of what they went through and the harm it caused them”, said Ho.
The Robodebt Royal Commission is calling for victims to come forward. The process for making submissions is available on the Royal Commission’s website at https://submissions.robodebt.royalcommission.gov.au/general/make-a-submission/
MEDIA CONTACT: Leanne Ho (Chief Executive Officer) M: 0448 007 201 E: email@example.com