Mark Dreyfus MP

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Matter Of Public Importance - The Damage Caused By Robodebt - Mark Dreyfus QC MP

11 June 2020

The truth is: The government has known for years that the Prime Minister's Robodebt scheme was illegal. The truth is that the government has known for years that the Prime Minister's Robodebt scheme was harming Australians. They were told time and time and time again. They covered it up. And now they want everyone to move on. Well, Labor will not be moving on. We will hold this Prime Minister and his grubby government to account. Australian taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the Prime Minister's $1 billion extortion racket, but it is this Prime Minister and his government who will forever wear the shame. And, no matter how long it takes, they will be held accountable.

MARK DREYFUS
SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE -The damage caused by the Government's unlawful income compliance, or 'Robodebt' program.

11 JUNE 2020

Mr DREYFUS(IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (15:33): In May 2015, the now Prime Minister announced the scheme that would become Robodebt.

I have the media release here with his name on it. Under his new scheme, the Prime Minister said, 'The government would track down suspected welfare fraud and noncompliance.' Those words have not aged well, because instead of tracking down actual welfare fraud and noncompliance, thousands of law-abiding Australians have been falsely accused and treated like criminals by their own government for almost five years.

When he was Treasurer, in 2016, the now Prime Minister joined forces with the now Attorney-General to announce a dramatic expansion of their illegal Robodebt scheme. I have a copy of that press release too. Its title is: The Coalition's Plan For Better Management of the Social Welfare System. I don't think they were trying to be ironic. In it the now Prime Minister promised that no Australian who honestly disclosed their income would be worse off under the expanded Robodebt scheme. Those words have not aged well either because the Prime Minister's illegal Robodebt scheme has left many thousands of honest Australians worse offnot just financially worse off, this scheme has destroyed lives, in some instances, it may have cost lives.

And it took until today for this Liberal government, led by this callous and cowardly Prime Minister

The DEPUTY SPEAKER(Mr Llew O'Brien): The member for Isaacs will withdraw.

Mr DREYFUS: I withdraw, Mr Deputy Speakerto offer a partial and qualified apology for foisting this scheme on Australians. The Prime Minister continues to cower behind his false statement that he continued a practice which commenced long before 2015. We had the same false statement repeated just now by the hapless Minister for Government Services. Let me be very clear: this is a false statement. The Prime Minister's illegal Robodebt scheme was unprecedented. This Prime Minister started it in 2015. And it was a mistake. It was no accident.

For at least three years, the government has known that the Prime Minister's scheme was illegal, but, instead of fixing it, the government covered it up. On 8 March 2017, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal held that the Robodebt scheme was illegal. The government did not appeal that decision. On 20 April 2017, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal again held that the Robodebt scheme was illegal. The government did not appeal that decision. On 25 August 2017, and twice on 7 September 2017, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal again held that the Robodebt scheme was illegal. The government did not appeal those decisions either. And those are only the decisions that we know about. The government refuses to tell Labor or the Australian people how many other AAT members have told the government that the Robodebt scheme was illegal. They say: 'It would be an unreasonable diversion of resources' to locate that information. How convenient!

According to this government, spending many hundreds of millions of dollars to harass law-abiding Australians over debts they did not owe is a 'reasonable' diversion of resources. According to this government, paying private debt collectors to harass law-abiding Australians over debts they did not owe was a 'reasonable' diversion of resources. Apparently, leaking the personal information of a struggling single mother, including her relationship history, in an effort to smear her because she dared to publicly criticise the Robodebt schemethat was a 'reasonable' diversion of resources. But being up-front with the Australian people about the Prime Minister's illegal Robodebt schemethat would be an 'unreasonable' diversion of resources.

The truth is: The government has known for years that the Prime Minister's Robodebt scheme was illegal. The truth is that the government has known for years that the Prime Minister's Robodebt scheme was harming Australians. They were told time and time and time again. They covered it up. And now they want everyone to move on. Well, Labor will not be moving on. We will hold this Prime Minister and his grubby government to account. Australian taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the Prime Minister's $1 billion extortion racket, but it is this Prime Minister and his government who will forever wear the shame. And, no matter how long it takes, they will be held accountable.

ENDS