Mark Dreyfus MP

Member for Isaacs
Contact Mark
(03) 9580 4651

ABC RN Breakfast 12 June 2020 - Mark Dreyfus QC MP

11 June 2020

SUBJECTS: Robodebt; Black Lives Matter protest & Indigenous deaths in custody.


FRIDAY, 12 JUNE 2020

SUBJECTS: Robodebt; Black Lives Matter protest & Indigenous deaths in custody.

HAMISH MACDONALD, HOST: Today, Labor is questioning the sincerity of that apology. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. Good morning to you.

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning Hamish. Great be with you.

MACDONALD: Do you accept the apology?

DREYFUS: This was a qualified and partial apology for what was a shocking abuse of government power. Scott Morrison has never taken responsibility for it and yet, he started this when he was Social Services Minister, went on with it and expanded it when he was Treasurer and owned it as Prime Minister. I find it extraordinary that the best he can do is express, in this partial way, regret for a particular case.

What we need to know is what happened. We need to know when the Government knew that this scheme was illegal. We need to know why the Government persisted with this preying on the most vulnerable people in our community for years after its apparent they knew that it was illegal.

MACDONALD: Can I just pull you up there because these are his words. He said I would apologise for any hurt or harm in the way that the Government has dealt with that issue, and to anyone else who has found themselves in those situations. These are his words of course I would deeply regret any hardship that has been caused to people in the conduct of that activity. Whats qualified about that?

DREYFUS:Hamish, that's the kind of apology you give when you're saying, I'm sorry, IF I caused hurt.

We know that this scandalous scheme caused immense harm to hundreds of thousands of Australians. It quite probably caused some Australians to take their lives. It caused misery. It disrupted people's lives. All of that is clear. Why can't this Prime Minister simply say, I am sorry, we got this wrong? Because it is absolutely clear that they got this message wrong.

What they're trying to do is hide. What they're trying to do is pretend that they didn't know that it was illegal, something they've now admitted in court. They knew it was illegal. They knew it was illegal because the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, a government agency, told them that it was illegal as long ago as March 2017. There's a suggestion that there were dozens and dozens of decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to exactly that effect. We know of about five at the moment, because they've become public. So in 2017, the Government knows it's illegal, but it goes on and on and on. It's going to cost Australians more than a billion dollars to fix this up.

MACDONALD: The Prime Minister though, has pointed to what Labor did in terms of these practices of income averaging, saying it was implemented, embraced by Labor. He says the Government merely followed your example. Do you accept that you had a role in these sorts of processes becoming part of the way things are done in Australia?

DREYFUS: That's simply false. And as usual for Mr. Morrison, it's a half truth.

There was income averaging used, I believe, starting in around 2011, as the start of an investigation process by public servants, which involved also looking at payslips and investigating from getting records from employers and then making a decision, a human being making a decision, to raise a debt owed to the Commonwealth. That's not what Mr. Morrison started. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal described what he did as unprecedented. In other words, it had never been done before. So what he started in 2015 was an automated process, where computers sent out debt notices. They were followed by debt collectors.

MACDONALD: Just so we understand, to be clear on this, in government, would you use income averaging as part of the process again? Or are you saying you would rule that out?

DREYFUS: Potentially for raising a flag at the start of an investigation that public servants then carry out, and carefully and legally taking advice from lawyers, before raising a debt claim, potentially, it might be something that is the start of an investigation. But the idea that you can have an automated system - that's why it's called Robodebt - and you can have an automated system that simply takes averaged figures without regard to whether they're showing you a real picture of what actually happened, without regard to whether or not they're showing you what the income of the benefit recipient actually was, is absurd.

And it was illegal and Scott Morrison needs to take responsibility for this and own up to what happened instead of pretending falsely that this is something that had happened before. He is the designer of this. He instituted it in 2015. And he went on with it. It took until November 2019, for us to get the first admission from this Prime Minister, that what had happened was illegal and he's still trying to hide behind this pretence that somehow this had happened before he became Social Services Minister.

Let's be very clear about this Hamish, it hadn't happened before. He's responsible. We need to know the full story and we need not only a proper apology, we need a proper acceptance of responsibility. That's what a courageous Prime Minister would do. That's what someone who is prepared to adopt proper processes of government would do.

I can't quite convey how scandalous this is that we've got illegal action by government for more than three years. On and on and on, after they had been told, causing untold misery to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Australians. And we're going to keep talking about this because, Mr. Morrison, even now, despite this partial apology that he grudgingly gave yesterday, has not accepted responsibility.

MACDONALD: We need to put some questions to you about these protests that are planned again this weekend. Should individuals who participate in protests that have been declared illegal, should they be arrested?

DREYFUS: It's a matter for authorities in each state as to how they deal with people continuing to protest when there's been court orders. But my advice to absolutely every single Australian is obey court orders, obey the law, and most particularly listen to the health advice too. Simple as that.

MACDONALD: Pat Turner, the lead convenor of the Coalition of 50 Peak Indigenous bodies says that there does need to be wholesale reform of police in Australia if we are to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people in custody. Do you agree with her?

DREYFUS: Well of course the rates of incarceration, the deaths in custody, are much too high. One death in custody is too high. It is unacceptable and it must change and we need to see action from state and federal governments on this.

There are still recommendations from the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody from 1990, the early 1990s that remain unimplemented. We've known about what needs to be done for years and years. There's been review after review, it's time to see action. And I can certainly understand the anger and frustration of those who feel that governments across Australia haven't adequately responded to the injustice thats being experienced by First Nations people.

MACDONALD: Given what you've just described should this issue go to National Cabinet?

DREYFUS: It should go to National Cabinet, it should go to state cabinets, it should go to the Federal Cabinet, it should go to Parliaments across Australia. And we should start to see more action. We should start to see implementation of recommendations that have been on the table for, in some cases, decades.

You only had to listen to my colleague, my wonderful colleague, Pat Dodson in the Senate a couple of days ago to understand the frustration that First Nations people are experiencing, to understand his frustration. He was one of the Royal Commissioners in the Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission, and you can only imagine how he must feel 30 years on to see that the recommendations that he made with his fellow commissioners are still unimplemented.

MACDONALD: Mark Dreyfus, thank you very much.

DREYFUS: Thank you very much Hamish.