Tuesday, 16 April 2024
    Robodebt royal commission now under way
    Social Services

    Robodebt royal commission now under way

    A royal commission into the now-defunct debt recovery scheme, commonly known as Robodebt, has wrapped up for now after two weeks of hearings in Brisbane, ABC News reports.

    The Online Compliance Intervention was introduced by the federal government in mid-2016 — an automated system meant to ensure people on Centrelink benefits were not over-receiving.

    It compared income data from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) with what welfare recipients reported to Centrelink — a process known as income averaging.

    Previously a Centrelink officer checked each case, but the new system meant a computer now detected discrepancies and generated an email to the welfare recipients forcing them to prove they were not over-claiming.

    The system generated an exponentially greater number of interventions and came under heavy criticism for placing the burden of proof on welfare recipients.

    The scheme unlawfully claimed almost $2 billion in payments from 433,000 people.

    Robodebt was scrapped in May, 2020, and in August this year, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese fulfilled an election promise by ordering a royal commission into the scheme.

    Former Queensland Supreme Court justice Catherine Holmes is leading the commission, with the final report due by April 18, 2023 — hearings will recommence in December.

    On Monday, October 31, Mr Greggery KC opened the hearing by highlighting that high-level external legal advice had not been sought about the scheme despite it seeking to recover millions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of Australians.

    "In view of the scale of the debt recovery program initiated by the Commonwealth against its citizens it now seems obvious that the advice from the solicitor general, or other eminently qualified barrister, ought to have been obtained before the scheme was implemented,'' he said.

    "Plainly that was not done."

    Mr Greggery also revealed that in 2014, the department's own lawyers raised concerns about the way the scheme estimated or "smoothed out" incomes.


    The Robodebt royal commission has wrapped up for now. Here are some of the key takeaways (ABC News)