Robodebt scandal: Labor pledges a royal commission if elected to government

A royal commission into the robodebt scandal will begin by the end of the year if the opposition wins the May 21 election, Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten has pledged.

The robodebt scheme, which was subsequently ruled unlawful, was rolled out in 2015 and used an automated system that measured a person’s average income to claim $1.7 billion in alleged debts from 433,000 Centrelink recipients.

The opposition’s spokesman on government services Bill Shorten said there were still questions that needed to be answered.Credit:Joe Armao

The scheme put the onus on those receiving Centrelink to prove that they didn’t owe the debt. In many instances people were falsely accused of owing debts.

In 2020, the federal government had to refund $721 million in debts that had been wrongly collected from 381,000 people.

And it paid $1.8 billion to settle a class action brought against by victims of the scheme but set aside just $112 million in compensation which equates to less than $300 per person affected.

Labor has long called for a royal commission, the highest form of inquiry with the powers to summon witnesses, and on Friday evening said it would have one started by the end of the year if elected to government.

The opposition said it would begin consulting on a royal commission’s terms of reference immediately after May 21 if victorious.

The commission would examine who was responsible for establishing the scheme, how it was created and the handling of complaints and how much the scheme ended up costing taxpayers.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said Labor would find out the truth.

“Robodebt was a human tragedy, wrought by this government … it caused untold misery,” he said in a statement.

The opposition’s spokesman on government services Bill Shorten said there were still questions that needed to be answered.

“We still do not know how this reckless scheme was unleashed,” he said.

“We do not know whether poor legal advice was given or whether legal advice was simply never sought.

“And without knowing the true origins we do not know what safeguards could be put in place to prevent a repeat,” he said.

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