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No, Minister, that’s illegal

Former Government Services Minister Stuart Robert appeared at the Robodebt Royal Commission last week and attempted to do as so many others have done – blame someone else. As The Guardian reported

Repeatedly he made comments directly at odds with what he now tells the commission he believed: that the scheme was deeply flawed. In fact, he explained its key mathematical flaw – the central reason it is unlawful – as articulately as any other witness on the stand on Thursday.

Robert accepted on Thursday that he had told the public things he believed were “false” because of “cabinet solidarity”.

In a particularly memorable encounter with the commissioner, Catherine Holmes, Robert said: “As a dutiful cabinet minister, ma’am, that’s what we do.”

Holmes replied: “Misrepresent things to the Australian public?”

The Commissioner has a point. The New Daily reports

Mr Robert cast himself as the man who brought robodebt to a swift end after his conscience had been pricked by a report into the scheme.

His conscience sent him straight down a parliamentary corridor to burst into Mr Morrison’s office.

“Within hours I walked into the prime minister’s office to put an end to it,” he testified.

“I think my actions go to my state of mind.”

However

the recollection of Professor Renee Leon, a distinguished lawyer and the public servant in charge of a government department as robodebt dwindled, contradicted Mr Robert’s evidence.

Professor Leon recalled receiving advice in February that the scheme was likely illegal and quoted directly from what she said were two briefings she gave to Mr Robert after his appointment in May, during which, she said, she suggested apologising.

“We absolutely will not be doing that. We will double down,” she recalled him replying. “Legal advice is just legal advice.”

Professor Leon testified that senior members of the Coalition appeared “very attached” to the scheme, but that she had been at a loss to explain why it had lasted for so long.

Robert denies Leon’s claims.

Heavens knows if Robert went to the PM’s office as soon as he realised the problems inherent in Robodebt but it is known that Robert is a Pentecostal Christian, as is former PM Morrison. Morrison apparently calls Robert ‘Brother Stewie’, which begs the question how well have both of them read their holy book? There are multiple references to doing to others as you hope they would do to you, looking after those who are less fortunate than yourself and not killing anyone. It is a mystery how a lot of Coalition policy promoted by Morrison and Robert passes those tests.

A list of somewhat dubious political decisions made by Robert that go back years was published by The Saturday Paper last December. His claimed trip to the PM’s office obviously wasn’t a sign of a change of character, as The Saturday Paper was reporting on Robert allegedly telling people how to avoid registering as a lobbyist in 2020.

Thats not to say that the senior public servants have covered themselves with glory here either. While the public service exists to implement the policy of the government of the day, they also have to act morally and ethically as well as providing frank and fearless advice. Assuming the evidence given to the Royal Commissioner is accurate, there was a lot of senior public servants that chose to stay below the parapet rather than voice the reality that averaging income over a calendar year based on ATO data was inaccurate, probably illegal and just dumb – because the inequity and unfairness of the system would get out in the end. And when the gig was up and some evidence reported, any calls about this Royal Commission being a political ‘hit job’ disappeared very quickly.

We all like to be told that we are brilliant thinkers and everything that we attempt is going to be successful. Unfortunately, the reality is somewhat different, most of us compensate for that by discussing plans to spend a significant sum of money, completely change our lifestyle and so on with a group of trusted people who usually have different experiences and outlook to yours. Politicians in the past employed a group of non-partisan, independently minded and experienced public servants to both formulate and implement policy that was in keeping with the perceived government of the day and the public’s wishes. At times, the senior public servants best advice would be ‘no Minister, that is not a good idea’ prior to giving reasons (such as illegality, public perception, ethics and morals and so on). Sadly, it seems that the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Coalition Government removed the public servants with the courage to suggest a course of action was wrong from positions of influence. They aren’t the first government to do so and sadly won’t be the last in all probability.

So what have we learnt so far from the Royal Commission? No one actually stopped for a minute to ask if ‘welfare cheating’ (as marketed by the Coalition politicians to further denigrate those who didn’t have sufficient income to live) was as prevalent as claimed. Neither did anyone stop to connect the dots that a significant number of Australians do earn wages of part of the year and are also entitled to social security when not earning. Then someone decides to automate a manual process to create ‘efficiencies’ – better known as staff cuts without remembering that computers can only say yes or no – they aren’t really good with determining individual circumstances.

At the end of the day, it seems that the politicians and senior public servants focused more on the political outcome than the process. The Royal Commission is currently scheduled to report on 30 June. Let’s hope it brings some peace to the those that have been adversely affected by this illegal Coalition scheme.

 

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23 comments

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  1. Russell Wattie

    The thing to remember is the algorithms required for a computer to pick up if a person was entitled to Welfare payments for a ‘two week or 10 week’ period could have been built into the system, if there had been the political will.

  2. Phil Pryor

    So, breaking laws can be O K for a servant of specialised groups, e g, political parties that have fixed, ignorant, unbending, dogmatic attitudes and so, policies derived from that. Doing the wrong thing for a “right” support of a tribal or “family” group is O K to such deviates. Deviates they are, for they accept that not doing the right thng is the right thing for them, to support their stance in life. It is because their life is a lie. They flesh out lies, offer face to the world, front and appearance and pose. Is it a born criminaity, inevitable? So many “great” aggressive historical figures have been above or outside the law, with delusions of grandeur and imperious drives. S Robber seems a puny little arachnid type, squashable, while his leader Morrison was a huge pile of manurey muck, such as to offer the arachnid sustenance and shelter. Conservative selfite supremacist liars are the great curse of life, especially in political power.

  3. Florence nee Fedup

    I wonder how many recipients, not customers lodge new earnings? Most would be relodging what they did to be eligible for benefits. The whole issue makes no sense to me. Unless the tax returns identify new income when unemployed or sick, they have not proven any debt. This stands whether the recipient replies to their requests or not. As front-line staff have given evidence, they were forbidden to check the income noted in the files. What is impressive, not one underpayment has been discovered.

  4. Keitha Granville

    It seems to me that governments spend ALL their time trying NOT give people any assistance, and almost NO time trying to get tax from people who don;t need any help.
    Tax rorts, gaming the system, deductions, incentives – all these do is allow the wealthy to declare no taxable income, meanwhile living like kings.

    It will never change.

  5. GL

    The lies, self-delusion, cowardice, deceit and the utter contempt with which Stewie’s, and the rest of crooks involved with Robberdebt, behaviour and treatment of both the public and the commission should be gobsmacking. About the only line the vile little creep didn’t use: “I was just following orders.” Sadly, however, we’ve had the now ex-LNP gubmint do this sort of thing so often that is has become just par for the course.

    What will come of the commission into Robertdebt? I very much doubt any court proceedings will eventuate and the whole lot of them will have some stern words thrown at them and what they did followed by a slap on the wrist and then it’s back to business usual. I would dearly like to proved wrong but…

  6. Canguro

    Baby Jewels, your link appears to be dead.

  7. Harry Lime

    Morrison,Robert,Taylor and the rest of that pack of suit wearing jackals were, and still are,lying fucking hypocrites,and will be,until the day they wheeze their last untruth.And let it be sooner rather than later.Scum of the earth.

  8. Jon Chesterson

    SO WHAT – WHAT IS THE CONSEQUENCE, CARELESS MISMANAGEMENT OR MALEFICENCE? THE MORRISON-STEWART MINISTRY

    Just another Sunday…

    ‘Frankly it’s terrifying’ how Stewart Robert and Scott Morrison’s interpretation of truth, justice and government works. Frankly, if Robodebt and the plethora of other god forsaken acts of parliamentary and executive government are allowed to run their course without legal, social or political consequence then we, all Australians, our constitutional democracy have been seriously hijacked by an utterly corrupt moribund lying and malicious political Hillsong-Pentecostal Christian fundamentalist infused Liberal party hell bent on serving its own interests – not the people, not Australia or rule of law.

    No princess cruise ship disembarkation here…

    Their breed of national security is the breach of national security they have used to defend the indefensible, and many have suffered and some died because of their greed, lies, cruel self serving religion and criminal mismanagement, their implausible denial, their wanton belligerence, their raw grab for power.

    Been there already…

    So what comes next, next time when Labor have had their turn of office? Do we then suffer the next ‘Neo-Liberal’ impost – A Dutton Ministry and/or worse? A further relentless drift of ideology to the right into soft post-modern Australian versions and tyrannical god-like fiefdoms of Trump, Stalin and Putin.

    Seriously!

    Stuart Robert’s refusal to take the blame for robodebt isn’t just offensive, it’s terrifying, The Guardian 4 March 2023 – https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/commentisfree/2023/mar/04/stuart-roberts-refusal-to-take-the-blame-for-robodebt-isnt-just-offensive-its-terrifying

  9. Pete Petrass

    Whilst there is a lot of blame being put onto senior Public Servants it would seem they were in the unenviable position of obeying their nasty and grubby Lieberal masters or being sacked. Compare the fates of Leon and Campbell to see that. It is very easy to just say “quit your job”, although it would seem that some (like Campbell) quickly grabbed the kneepads and relished in the new challenge.
    The one big issue with these sorts of things is that most of the evidence likely remains hidden behind the all encompassing “cabinet in confidence” umbrella so it can be extremely difficult to obtain hard facts on them.
    My thought is that “cabinet in confidence” should only apply when a government is in power. The public has a right to know just what has gone on during a term of government, most especially with the previous one. The Federal ICAC would likely have the entire previous government in jail were this to be the case.

  10. Jon Chesterson

    One of the fundamental flaws in our Parliamentary system is the dismantling of an entire arm of our constitutional democracy, the public service by successive Liberal governments ever since the beginning of the Howard years. Yes Minister, no Minister or informed legal, civil, constitutional, political, intelligent, executive advice have been removed from our Parliamentary process and outcomes, like sitting on a two legged stool. And Dutton has been attempting to marginalise the judiciary too, pre-empt or limit their constitutional powers and/or override them, discredit them.

    So in addition to optimising privatisation of public services for profit, informed government has become a partisan and party criminal affair, with no effective checks and balances, no informed government, where any government advice, consultancy, executive functioning, administration and implementation has become a huge costly affair on the public purse and revenue to line the pockets of ministers, corporate sponsors, elites and mates.

    And on that subject, did Stewart Robert not own or manage a private IT company, registered in his parents name without their knowledge or consent, and make millions out of the flawed illegal immoral pathetic algorithm it developed? Another ‘little’ indiscretion, conflict of interest that a Public Service would have negated the need for and at the very least ruled out, ‘no Minister that is unlawful, unconstitutional or beyond your duty of care, responsibility or (god forbidding) competence’. Instead they have their own appointed incompetent and ignorant advisors rather like the American system which Trump particular exploited for family and business gain – Nepotism. And haven’t they all been at it, under the table, in your face, even laughing at us and boasting about it.

    This Westminster model of Parliament has been hijacked by the Liberal and Nationals and it is hardly surprising we find ourselves falling off the stool, crashing to the floor – Stability, reliability, accountability, responsibility, integrity and trust have all be sold to family and business interests and dynasties rendering Parliamentary democracy a shadow of its former potential. That is how empires are built, teeter and fall. The cement and stability, the infrastructure are forgotten and neglected, poorly maintained. However in this case it was quite sociopathic, malicious and deliberate.

  11. Stephengb

    2353NM

    You said, “Let’s hope it brings some peace to the those that have been adversely affected by this illegal Coalition scheme.”

    I’m suggesting that you do not hold your breath.

  12. andy56

    see i still think the whole arguement is based around “legality”. To me its the morality play of the decade.
    Lying to the public whilst in government is a hanging offence to me. They are our emplyees, not cabinet’s. Wilful bastardry like robodebt should have physical consequences for all involved, like fucking jail time. The public servants were only interested in self preservation so chose silence instead of the sack. Now there is an opportunity for reform, make this type of ministirial blackmail on public servants punishable by incarceration. Morrison, the architect of this moraly bankrupt police must be held to account, and not just to god on his dying day, but here and now.

  13. Brad Black

    If paying down the increasingly out of control budget deficit was the motivation for robodebt for the previous ‘government’, then it would have been far more lucrative to claw back money rorted from the taxpayer by ……. politicians!

  14. Terence Mills

    I expect to see both Morrison and Robert resign from parliament before the next election.

    Neither one has any future in politics and will probably be thrown out by their electorate if they do decide to recontest.

    Both of them were first elected to parliament in 2007 so could they be hanging around to bulk up their superannuation – official retirement age for pension entitlements is 55, these two are 54 (Morrison) and 52 (Robert) ?

  15. leefe

    PhilPryor:
    “Doing the wrong thing for a “right” support of a tribal or “family” group is O K to such … ”

    Remember, both Scummo and Stewie are Pentecostals. It’s actually in their manifesto that lying, immoral and illegal acts are acceptable if it furthers the spread of their religion, particularly in regards to strengthening their grip on political power.
    This is at least as much about the religious clique as the political.

  16. David Evans

    So, all those a/hs were just following orders then ey robo t. er robert??…That defence didn’t save many at Nuremburg did it? Just go you bastard, and take the other goddam lunatics with you…..

  17. Harry Lime

    Thanks, Jon Chesterson,for illustrating the malaise that most in the MSM are ignorant of,or are unwilling to acknowlege.Yessir, that little bastard
    Howard’s poisoning of our politics continues it’s festering.Patron saint of every LNP shyster.Elder ‘statesman’ my arse.

  18. Phil Pryor

    Leefe is correct in noticing the righteous supremacist distortions available to muckheaded mischiefy myth muncher misfits. Filth…

  19. Jack sprat

    The Tories always punch down ,attacking easy targets, those on the bottom rung of society who don’t have a voice or power to fight back.Meanwhile the LNP will fight tooth and nail to protect the tax avoidance loopholes that enable the big end of town to stash multi millions in super.

  20. Clakka

    What to say about the LNP? Without question it has become increasingly corrupted, accelerated substantially by the desperate and clever beguiler, John Howard. And one has to say that any political party that has as a primary objective to oppress ordinary wage earners and welfare recipients to facilitate benefits for wealthy elites and corporations is morally bankrupt.

    Howard, the grinning assassin, can be likened to Ronald Reagan – such a ‘nice guy’, but desperate to maintain power, so, ‘trickle down economics’ and enfranchisement of the lunatic evangelist fringe, now burgeoning and virtually destroying US politics. Whilst Howard was ousted by the ordinary wage earners for his deplorable ‘Work Choices’ policy, the LNP’s seething cauldron of amorality, greed, envy, grasping desperation and lies did not go away, it just festered.

    Other than an extreme minority of free-market academic ideologues, it’s membership comprised, mainly behind the scenes, self-serving olde worlde imperialist elites, who groomed and enfranchised as politicians, the snivelling apparatchiks from their swamp of otherwise unsuccessful desperados. The remainder in the wings, a cabal of various small business usurers, freebooters and their progeny, and those hoping to make money out of thin air. All well versed in guile and deception, egging and urging the development and implementation of writs fashioned from the fetid depths of their soulless moulds.

    After the demise of Howard at the front, it wouldn’t be too long that their navel gazing drew them to the machinations of Reagan – the politics of religion and religion in politics. And so the recruitment with all its devices began, peaking with the mutually devisive Hillsong Pentecostals. Who would lead and who would follow?

    Of late, they may have both smashed themselves. But let there be no doubt, the LNP, now even more desperate have unconscionably doubled-down with such jiggery pokery via other ‘religious’ groups, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists.

    The question remains, what can be done via the likes of the AEC, ICACs and the courts?

    Will the LNP end up like the maddened Israeli government, utter ‘divide and conquer’, promoting land theft and gun ownership, and seeking to disempower the independence of the judiciary?

  21. K

    I feel compelled to comment. This “man” is a bottom feeder. I watched his testimony the other night, and his smug, self serving attitude was abominable. If that’s a word. Can he quote any other statutory reference? I seriously doubt it! He showed a blatant disregard for the law, despite his “sir” and “ma’am” demeanour. Ms Holmes had to remind him about parliamentary privilege, FFS. He’s not fit for the public service, not fit for the ministry, why the Fuchs is he still being paid by taxpayer dollars?

    I also watched Ms Leon’s testimony.

    Which one made a more credible witness? Hmmmm…. Let me think for a nanosecond.

    I do hope the new government is lining up a team of credible forensic auditors to give him a well deserved kick up the proverbial!

    ‘Huff said.

  22. Benjamin

    Everything that the LNP did during in government, WAS ILLEGAL and designed to attacking the most vulnerable in society.

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