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Scott Morrison could face royal commission over Centrelink Robodebt

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Scott Morrison could be hauled before a royal commission into the Robodebt scandal unveiled by Anthony Albanese today.

Mr Albanese believes key questions remain unanswered after a $1.8 billion settlement between Robodebt victims and the government was reached in 2021. 

The inquiry, which will deliver a report by April 2023, will examine who was responsible for the scheme, why it was necessary, how concerns were handled, how the scheme affected individuals, financial costs to government, and measures to prevent a similar disaster from happening again.

Labor is set to benefit politically from the inquiry which will haul several senior Coalition figures over the coals. 

The Morrison government has never detailed who was accountable for the controversial Robodebt scheme and which ministers knew of its problems (pictured, Scott Morrison)

What was Robodebt? 

In 2016 the Coalition claimed to have overpaid money to welfare recipients.

The Robodebt scheme worked by matching tax and Centrelink data to recoup the alleged overpayments.

It wrongly demanded $1.73billion from 433,000 Australians before it was declared illegal by the Federal Court in 2019. 

Some 2,000 people died after getting the automated message they owed money, with about 430 aged under 35. 

Speaking to reporters in Sydney on Thursday, Mr Albanese said: ‘Robodebt was, of course, the Coalition’s brainchild – a computer program to find out if someone owed the government money rather than involving a real person.

‘One of the commitments that I made was to put the humans back into human services to make sure that this can never happen again. 

‘We know that almost 400,000 Australians fell victim to this cruel system. A human tragedy with very real consequences for its victims.’ 

The Robodebt scheme wrongly demanded $1.73billion from 433,000 Australians before it was declared illegal by the Federal Court in 2019. 

Data from the Department of Human Services revealed more than 2,000 people died after getting the automated message they owed money, with about 430 aged under 35.

The court’s ruling sparked a $1.8billion class action settlement for those impacted. 

But the former government did not admit liability and has never detailed who was accountable for the scheme and which ministers knew of its problems.

Mr Morrison was Social Services Minister shortly before the automated scheme – officially named Online Compliance Intervention – was put in place in 2016 to recover overpayments made to welfare recipients.

He will also have to face some type of inquiry – possibly a royal commission – into why he secretly swore himself into five ministerial portfolios in 2020 and 2021 as Labor looks to inflict maximum political damage on the Coalition.

Other senior Liberal Party ministers such as an Alan Tudge, Stuart Robert and Christian Porter could also cop a grilling over the ill-fated scheme. 

The coalition has previously argued $750 million in reimbursements have been made and problems have been addressed.

Labor took the plan for the inquiry to the federal election, arguing robo-debt was a ‘human tragedy’.

Mr Albanese hit back at suggestions the royal commission was ‘just another expensive way to trash the former government’.

‘I tell you what’s expensive – the more than billion dollars that this process has cost,’ he said. 

The details of a royal commission into the controversial Robodebt scheme are set to be unveiled by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a press conference in Sydney

The details of a royal commission into the controversial Robodebt scheme are set to be unveiled by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a press conference in Sydney

The Australian Council of Social Service welcomed the Royal Commission.

Acting ACOSS CEO Edwina MacDonald said: ‘This Royal Commission is for the victims, and we welcome that there will be support for people who share their story.

‘Robodebt hit people when they were going through the hardest of times – after the death of a family member, in the wake of a natural disaster, and when they were living on next to nothing, struggling to cover the cost of three meals a day.

‘In allowing an algorithm to make crude decisions about an essential human service, Robodebt revealed disdain and contempt for people receiving social security payments.

‘This Royal Commission must eliminate any possibility of Robodebt happening again and focus on improving protections for people receiving social security. We stand ready to work with the Royal Commission in its investigation.’ 

Robodebt was a scheme for automatically recouping alleged overpayments from welfare recipients by matching tax and Centrelink data (pictured, Centrelink in Bondi Junction

Robodebt was a scheme for automatically recouping alleged overpayments from welfare recipients by matching tax and Centrelink data (pictured, Centrelink in Bondi Junction

In the 2021 court case, Justice Bernard Murphy said those hounded by Robodebt and finding amounts suddenly taken from their bank balances felt shame and hurt at being wrongly branded ‘welfare cheats’, with some driven to take their own lives.

However, Justice Murphy stopped short of saying the government knew the scheme was unlawful.

The Commonwealth settled the case without admitting legal liability.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said the commission would 'go where the facts lead them' and slammed 'cold-hearted' Coalition leaders for not caring about Robodebt victims

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said the commission would ‘go where the facts lead them’ and slammed ‘cold-hearted’ Coalition leaders for not caring about Robodebt victims

Grieving mother whose son, 22, killed himself after discovering a $2k Robodebt releases heartbreaking audio of his final phone call with the welfare agency

By Zoe Zaczek for Daily Mail Australia

A shattered mother whose son killed himself after he discovered a $2,000 debt under the Robodebt scheme has shared his final phone calls with the welfare agency.

Jarrad Madgwick called Centrelink twice on May 30 last year to find out why his Newstart claim was rejected.

The 22-year-old then went online and discovered a $2,000 Robodebt on his MyGov account. He took his life hours later. 

His mother Kath has now gained access to her son’s final phone calls with Centrelink through a Freedom of Information request.

‘From the start of the year, I wanted the truth. I wanted Centrelink to be very open with me about what discussions they had had with him, what they had sent to him,’ Ms Madgwick told A Current Affair.

Jarrad Madgwick called Centrelink twice on May 30 last year to find out why his Newstart claim was rejected. The 22-year-old then went online and discovered a $2,000 Robodebt on his MyGov account. He took his life hours later

Jarrad Madgwick called Centrelink twice on May 30 last year to find out why his Newstart claim was rejected. The 22-year-old then went online and discovered a $2,000 Robodebt on his MyGov account. He took his life hours later

Ms Madgwick is adamant her son killed himself after learning of his debt. Services Australia advised Jarrad knew about the sum of money on May 28.

‘My question is, if Jarrad knew about this debt, why would he not have mentioned it in the two lengthy phone calls he had with Centrelink on the 30th?’ she asked. 

In audio from the phone calls, Jarrad sounds distressed about his financial situation. 

‘Um hello… I’m in a pretty desperate situation here and my claim has been rejected after I’ve waited a month and I’ve jumped through all the hoops and I’m just wondering why I haven’t even got an explanation?,’ he asked. 

In another snippet of audio Jarrad said: ‘You’ve rejected my claim so I can’t get backpaid. So now I’m defaulting on all my loan repayments and everything. It’s f*****.’ 

Ms Madgwick said her son’s debt is not mentioned in either of the phone calls, one of which lasted for 19 minutes.  

His mother Kat (pictured) believes Jarrad killed himself because he was falsely billed $2,000

His mother Kat (pictured) believes Jarrad killed himself because he was falsely billed $2,000

She hopes Services Australia will publicly apologise to those who fell victim to the Robodebt scheme.  

‘An apology would help. Will it bring my son back? No. But, for the thousands out there that have been suffering through this I think they need the apology,’ she said.  

‘There won’t be a day that I don’t miss him or want to feel him or hear his laugh or have him give me a big hug.

‘Never a day I will go by that I don’t think of him and wish he was here.’ 

Services Australia said senior leaders travelled to meet Ms Madgwick in person on two occasions and apologised for both her own and Jarrad’s experience. 

In a statement to Daily Mail Australia Services Australia said: ‘Services Australia has done all we can to support Ms Madgwick and address her questions over the last year and we continue to offer social worker support.

She hopes Services Australia will publicly apologise to those who fell victim to the Robodebt scheme.  

‘An apology would help. Will it bring my son back? No. But, for the thousands out there that have been suffering through this I think they need the apology,’ she said.  

‘There won’t be a day that I don’t miss him or want to feel him or hear his laugh or have him give me a big hug.

‘Never a day I will go by that I don’t think of him and wish he was here.’ 

Services Australia said senior leaders travelled to meet Ms Madgwick in person on two occasions and apologised for both her own and Jarrad’s experience. 

In a statement to Daily Mail Australia Services Australia said: ‘Services Australia has done all we can to support Ms Madgwick and address her questions over the last year and we continue to offer social worker support.’   

For confidential 24-hour support in Australia call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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