Scott Morrison can “put his pointless talking points” on the Robodebt program before a royal commission if Labor is elected, government services spokesman Bill Shorten has said.
Mr. Shorten says key questions remain unanswered after a $1.2 billion settlement between Robodebt victims and the federal government was reached in 2020.
“The four-year Robodebt campaign was the government going to war against its own people and it didn’t have the legal authority,” he told reporters.
The automated matching of tax and Centrelink data to increase debts to welfare recipients for money the coalition claimed to have overpaid was ruled illegal in 2019.
But the government never specified who was in charge of the regime and which ministers knew about its problems.
Mr Morrison was Minister for Social Services when it was conceived, but denied any personal responsibility for the disaster.
Labor has long called for a royal commission into Robodebt, which Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese describes as “a human tragedy, caused by this government”.
“Against all the evidence and outcry, the government insisted on using algorithms rather than people to pursue debt collection against Australians who, in many cases, had no debt to pay,” he said. he said on Saturday.
“It has caused untold misery. Only an Albanian Labor government will find out the truth.”
The Australian Social Services Council backs the plan, calling it appropriate and proportionate.
“We need to properly probe the decisions and processes that led to this dismal situation and ensure nothing remotely similar ever happens again,” CEO Cassandra Goldie said.
“We also need to probe the underlying thought.”
The royal commission would be tasked with establishing who was responsible for the scheme, what advice was used in its implementation and the complaint handling processes.
It would also look at the cost to taxpayers of the debacle and the harm done to those targeted.
Labor says the royal commission has a budget of $30million and the mandate would be in place before Christmas if it forms government in May.
The prime minister hit back at the proposal, saying the issues had already been resolved.
“There have been numerous investigations into this and there have been court cases that we have fully co-operated with,” Mr Morrison said.
“Almost $750 million in reimbursements have been made by the government and the changes to the plan have been put in place. The problem has been solved.”
Any investigation should start with the income assessment process, average income, which was introduced by the Labor Party, Mr Morrison said.
‘I find it quite hypocritical that a scheme that Labor has actually introduced for income averaging in the assessment of people’s social rights, for which they now seek to criticize the government,’ he said.
“Labour does this all the time. They just come out and make these claims.”
But Mr Shorten said Australians still don’t know ‘how this reckless scheme was unleashed’.
“We don’t know if bad legal advice was given or if legal advice was simply never sought,” he said.
“We don’t know if officials have been inappropriately overburdened and politicized. And without knowing the true origins, we don’t know what safeguards could be put in place to prevent a recurrence.”
Labor will also launch a user audit of the government services digital portal myGov to assess its reliability and functionality.
Australian Associated Press