Wednesday, 07 Dec 2022

A shameful chapter: how Australias robodebt saga was allowed to unfold

A shameful chapter: how Australias robodebt saga was allowed to unfold


A shameful chapter: how Australias robodebt saga was allowed to unfold

When Cameron Brown learned of an idea to tighten Centrelink welfare debt collection in late 2014, he was "almost immediately" concerned.

It was around the same time copyright holders had been sending so-called "speculative invoices" on a mass scale to people who may have illegally downloaded films - the so-called Dallas Buyers Club saga.

The Centrelink debt recovery idea reminded the mid-level policy adviser at the Department of Social Services of the same practice. And he felt it was not just potentially unlawful but "unethical".

Brown sought legal advice that turned out to be damning. The idea, to quote the legal advice, "may not be derived within the legislative framework".

Brown put it more succinctly in a hearing this week: "That's the end of the proposal." Of course, it wasn't.

What happened to this bombshell legal advice is one of the central questions being investigated by a royal commission into what a judge called a "shameful chapter" when he signed off on a $1.8bn settlement with hundreds of thousands of victims last year.

How was it that the legal advice, finally revealed this week, was dismissed, discarded or overruled? And, crucially, how far up the chain did these initial legal concerns go?

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