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Many suffered a robodebt of death

It must be challenging for the Commissioner and Senior Counsel Assisting when critical witnesses at the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme either suffer from amnesia, compulsive lying, acquired memory loss, flippancy, no responsibility or even lousy hearing.

How on earth do they piece it all together? A better question is how all those involved live with the knowledge of the crime they committed and, worse still, the knowledge that it was illegal.

The symptoms seemed to worsen after taking an oath, to tell the truth. To state that it was the worst public policy disaster in Australian political history is to understate its death count.

Even on the evidence so far, it is enough to conclude that a crime of terrible proportion has been committed. It is not for me to pre-empt the Commission’s findings, but this goes beyond lawlessness and immorality.

With the next round of hearings just around the corner, let’s look at the key moments that have transpired to date.

* * * * *

What was going on in these depraved minds that would render them impotent in the face of perverse Christian leadership?

It was revealed that:

“More than 2030 people died after receiving a Centrelink debt notice, also known as robo-debt, according to new data released by the Department of Human Services.”

What the Commission was asked to consider

The Robodebt Royal Commission was established on 18 August 2022 and will conclude in June 2023. It was established to:

“… enquire into the establishment, design and implementation of the Robodebt scheme; the use of third-party debt collectors under the Robodebt scheme; concerns raised following the implementation of the Robodebt scheme; and the intended or actual outcomes of the Robodebt scheme.”

I urge the reader to view the complete list here. The Government left nothing out. The Terms of Reference are wide-ranging and straightforward.

What we know so far

“Everybody says it was really somebody else’s doing, and it’s a bit hard to get to the bottom of whose doing it was.”

So said the head of the Commission, Catherine Holmes, after hearing the evidence of former Attorney General Christian Porter.

The latest hearings concentrated on the period between 2016 and early 2017. It was the period in which the full horror of the robodebt scheme came before the eyes of the Australian Public.

When asked if he accepted any responsibility for the scheme, Christian Porter, the former social services minister, without hesitation, said:

“I do. I look back on this, and I see myself through the correspondence getting quite close at points to taking the next step of inquiry. I didn’t do that. I wish now that I had, but I also see the reasons that I didn’t.”

So, he had the distinction of becoming the first minister to accept any responsibility for what occurred.

Without exception, the witnesses so far were evasive: Morrison, Tudge, and Payne either handballed, had a memory lapse, or straight-out lied.

Porter told the Commission:

“… he didn’t ask more questions about the scheme’s legality. In his recollection that in early 2017 ‘someone’ assured him it was legal. He said he couldn’t recall who told him but said it was a public servant.”

This elicited from Holmes a hard stony look, and she responded with:

“You don’t seem to have approached any of this from a lawyer’s point of view … You don’t seem to have at any stage said, well, by what authority do we send the letters?”

Alan Tudge, in his extended stay in the witness chair, also had a problem with the “l” word (legal).

According to the Minister, he was never informed regarding legal doubts officials in his department had about the robodebt scheme. In his view, it must have been legal because it had gone through the cabinet and, therefore, would have had legal analysis.

Of Tudge, Luke Henriques-Gomes wrote in the Guardian that he:

“… rejected the suggestion that if those public servants had not sought to clarify the law on robodebt (they did not), he was responsible as the minister. But, crucially, under questioning, he conceded he never suggested it be stopped either.”

When asked about income averaging, Tudge said:

“I’d understood that (income averaging) had always been used for decades and so it had not crossed my mind that it could possibly be unlawful.”

Commissioner Holmes responded:

“It seems a fairly blithe approach for a minister, particularly in the light of controversy, to assume that because it’s happened before for a long time it must be fine.”

Questions were asked about two suicides linked to the scheme and his handling of them, which he found difficult to answer. In particular, why he had not sought a probe into the second case or didn’t stop the program pending an investigation.

It was difficult not to conclude that Mr Tudge wasn’t bending the truth beyond breaking point about his alleged involvement in decisions to proceed regardless. He must have been hard of hearing.

The public service

Annette Musolino was chief counsel at the Department of Human Services while the scheme operated and was unmercifully drilled by counsel assisting.

She told the Commission she had known that the administrative appeals tribunal had ruled against the scheme on several occasions. Although she was responsible for:

“… a team of lawyers handling these decisions, but she did not act to clarify the law.

Musolino suggested she believed the legality of the robodebt scheme had been “sorted out”. But she had seen that the department of social services had conflicting advice on the program – including a damning opinion from 2014.

Holmes said: “You had done nothing to get it sorted it out. Not even gotten advice.”

Musolino deflected blame, saying she believed the department of social services had determined the scheme was legal. Musolino will face the royal commission again later this month.”

I shouldn’t be shocked at the lying and deceit. This Royal Commission is soliciting from its witnesses, even if, as Commissioner Holmes says, it is often challenging to specify blame.

Thus far, it tells me that the Commission is doing a splendid job revealing their ostrich-like defence.

Showing up both politicians and public servants for the treacherous gutless charlatans without apathy they are. Whereas the Commissioners must attribute blame with fact, l have the luxury of being able to venture between the lines and listen to what a lifetime of experience tells me.

From what l can tell, the ABC and The Guardian are the only media outlet covering the subject. It’s a pity because this is one of the worst political scandals in Australia’s history. The AIM Network also has a keen interest in reporting these events.

Next time I will review how the Government tried to assassinate the character of its many victims. Plus, more witnesses, including Tudge (again) and the entertaining (if nothing else) Malcolm Turnbull.

My thought for the day

My reason cannot understand my heart, but I know my conscience does.

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12 comments

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  1. Terence Mills

    Any scheme that allows a government department ,with all its power and resources, to tell an individual person, frequently down on their luck and mentally fragile, that they owe money AND then places the onus on the individual to prove that they don’t, is fundamentally flawed.

  2. Joanna Parish

    Yes I agree with your summaries on how decisions were made. However there is an equity equation going on in my view: if you hold the belief of a stereotypical group of people who are on welfare as undeserving of government funds, cut salary earners’ pay and services provided from a ‘bloated’ bureaucracy, reward profit driven mates (farm bought for Sydney’s new airport, repair of a reef to a wealthy foundation, continue to subsidise all mineral extraction, particularly for oil & gas; offer funds for mates’ sports: one example a shooting range. If this is belief based understandings then actions, for a cohort or cabinet, personnel in bureaucracies can have no doubts to progress implementation.
    If on the other side of this equation, your belief of a stereotypical group of people who are on welfare are deserving of a share of taxes collected centrally then implementation flows on..
    What has been acutely shown is how people will lie about their belief based decision. No one in justification of their decision making process told the public hearing said something like… ‘but these people always cheat’, or said something like ….’too much of government money is spent on welfare’.

  3. ajogrady

    The Indue cashless debit card had a similar impact on peoples lives as Robodebt did. Indue card and Robodebt were heinous examples of the L/NP’s cruel war on the poor. The L/NP’s cruel war on the poor is profit driven to benefit L/NP donors and are prime examples of the outcomes of what power and greed produce against a defenceless group of people.
    A bad system will always beat a good person.

  4. GL

    Like I keep saying: at the end of the commission fingers will be pointed, ultimately meaningless words of shame and bad behaviour will be said about the ringleaders. A slap on the wrist and away they go scot free. Maybe some public servants will be sacrificed on the altar of expediency and then it will all be swept under the carpet. I have virtually zero faith in seeing Scummo and Crony Co. Inc. hauled up in front of a court. Besides, who will foot the bills for the potential millions of dollars for what would, no doubt, be long drawn out criminal court trials?

  5. Baby Jewels

    Justice MUST be done and SEEN to be done…but will it? Will we, in 2 or 3 years, be nursing an even bigger grudge against Government and bureaucracy than we already do?

  6. Keith

    Hopefully, people will remember at the next election the depths that the LNP are happy to go down too. The LNP don’t support wages and salaries going up for workers; and welfare beneficiaries were even worse off.

  7. Williambtm

    Surely there is a criminal basis for charges to be laid against the LiberalNational coalition party of governent ministers for engaging in their dishonesty & treachery against the people of our nation?

    What could be more fair than the forming up of a vigilante force of some 2 thousand citizens te go head-hunting to rid that verminous
    political party from ever again imperilling the lives of Australia’s working class people.

    I am yet to discover how a political party minister’s head is more of value than a suicided Australian working person?
    In fact it can be proven that one Lib/Lab party miniaster costs the Australian economy a huge dent or an major imbalance to our economic futures, while the other is to be rembered as a worthy contributor to Australia’s economy.

    Now, where is the Governor General situated in this mother of all public trials being conducted by a highly regarded member of Australia’s Judiciary as the Commissioner. presiding over the Robodebt Royal Commission of inquiry, into the scandalous criminal-like treachery hurled upon the people of our nation?
    Surely there can only be the one set of rules that “every person within our nation” be obliged to follow.

    Let us not forget the half a $Trilliom dollars debt increase that had been whacked onto our nation’s debt burden, Yep, by that same cut-throat Lib/Nat political party, yet nothing to show for its expenditure, nor was there any cause to slash Australia’s various welfare agency annual budgeted obligation being executed its necessary portion… of Australia’s annual revenues.

    Thus more money pissed up against the wall by this same mob of treacherous Lib/Nat party reckless non-representative Robodebt loving ministers.
    I would prefer the well regarded Commissioner to deliver a strong recommendation that each Lib/Nat party minister be sentenced to spend some 3 years in Australia’s most severe slammer.

  8. King1394

    We need at least two more Royal Commissions.
    1. The Indue card
    2. The role of Centrelink as the agency to which you turn for advice and other help. Many of the Robodebt victims had to endure the full runaround of the Centrelink phone system, which will send you in circles, or cut off suddenly after you have held for hours. And when you finally get a real person, they don’t have the knowledge or seniority to fix anything.

  9. Pete Petrass

    “A better question is how all those involved live with the knowledge of the crime they committed and, worse still, the knowledge that it was illegal.”
    Personally I don’t think any of these grubs will be losing any sleep at all over RoboDebt. That feeling is primarily driven by the expectation that none will face any appropriate consequences for the actions.

  10. Canguro

    The list of Australian politicians bundled off to prison for their offences is pretty slim. My sense of the above comments is that they likely reflect the probable outcomes after the Robodebt RC wraps and delivers its findings. Some wrist-slapping, lots of tut-tutting, newspaper articles scorning the cabal of operatives who ignored advice and plowed ahead despite knowledge of illegality, possibly a sacrificial tossing of a public servant or two on the barby, and that’ll be it, done, over, move on.

    What really sticks in the craw is the willingness of the law & judiciary to send people to jail for offences that utterly pale in comparison to those outlined above, especially in the light of the number of tragic suicides, lives unnecessarily erased amidst a pall of suffering that itself was a direct function of the willingness of senior LNP ministers to conspire, illegally, to strip money from the pockets of this country’s most vulnerable citizens, contrapositioned against the likelihood of zero legal sanctions against these putatively criminal politicians and public servants.

    And they wonder why we hate them.

  11. New England Cocky

    The Robodebt Investigation will only be completed after the COALition Scummo & Cronies are jailed for treason against the Australian people.

  12. leefe

    Tudge’s rationalisations are specious, to say the least.

    “I’d understood that (income averaging) had always been used for decades and so it had not crossed my mind that it could possibly be unlawful.”

    Yes, income averaging had been used to flag potential overpayments; but these cases were always checked to determine whether that had actually occured. Robodebt removed the human oversight, automated the entire process and, worst of all, reversed the onus of proof. THAT is what makes it quite obviously illegal.

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