Jun 23, 2020







SUBJECTS: Federal Labor’s call for a Royal Commission into Robodebt.


JULES SCHILLER, HOST: I am now joined by the Federal Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese. Welcome, Anthony.




SCHILLER: Does Scott Morrison have a point, that you also used an automatic payment system?


ALBANESE: No, he doesn’t. And he knows it. He knows that he proudly announced the adoption of this Robodebt scheme which has caused trauma for hundreds of thousands of Australians and which has been proven to be illegal. This was never an issue under the Labor Government. What Scott Morrison did very consciously was take humans out of the delivery of Human Services by having an automated generation of debt regardless of what the actual circumstances were for people.


SCHILLER: Anthony, do we need a Royal Commission? There’s already legal action that might be able to call Federal ministers like Stuart Robert to account. What would a Royal Commission achieve that that couldn’t?


ALBANESE: What a Royal Commission will do is enable one; for people to tell their stories. This has been incredibly traumatic for people. In my office, people who came to see me in my electorate, every single one of them got their debt reduced to zero or debt reduced substantially. And you had circumstances whereby we had one fellow who had cancer. He was a young bloke in his 20s and he had used up all of the sick leave and then had to leave work. He went on Centrelink benefits. And then he got a letter while he was still having chemotherapy, dealing with this, saying that he owed debt to the Commonwealth, which was, of course, completely untrue. There were incredible circumstances here. We need to know who came up with this scheme, why it is that there weren’t any checks and balances there in terms of human oversight, why it is that the cost is already at least $721 million, but will be much more, why it is that measures weren’t done to ensure that people weren’t essentially harassed for debts they didn’t owe. And to put in place structures and have recommendations to make sure this can never happen again.


SCHILLER: In 2017, there were hints that this was illegal. Two years ago, Anthony Albanese. So, why did the Federal Government persist with it?


ALBANESE: That’s a very good question. And that’s one of the reasons why you need a Royal Commission. It was clear that it was against the law. And you had AAT, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, made up of people appointed by the Government, who looked at measures and cases, people who appealed. And they said this was not a legal or lawful system. And yet the Government kept going with it. Kept issuing debts, kept harassing people, kept taking payments that they weren’t entitled to. And that’s one of the reasons why you need the Royal Commission. Because simply, the Government hasn’t been transparent about this. We have tried to ask questions in the Parliament, and we just haven’t got any answers.


SCHILLER: How haven’t they been transparent, Anthony Albanese? Have they not released documents? Are they not releasing some of the minutes of meetings? What would you like to see from them?


ALBANESE: They haven’t released a range of documentation and they’re hiding behind, their lawyers are hiding behind, essentially legal privilege to not release those documents. We wrote, Bill Shorten, the Shadow Minister, wrote to the Government last week and gave them until Friday to respond positively, give an indication that they were going to be more transparent. And the Government has refused. Which is why we’ve gone through the step of saying that there’s a need for a Royal Commission to get to the bottom of this.


SCHILLER: What chance do you think of a Royal Commission actually happening, though? Because the Government’s obviously going to block it?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see what happens. The crossbenchers have all been, it must be said, supportive of the concept of a Royal Commission. That is the first thing to be said. And a number of Government backbenchers, as well, have been very critical of the Government’s own actions because they’ve seen on the ground the impact that this has had. So, we’ll be proposing it in the Parliament when Parliament resumes in August. But if not, then, after the next election, we’ll be hopefully in a position to advance a range of policies. And one of them will be this. Not because it’s an exercise in just looking at the past, but it needs to be an exercise that points the way forward for the future. This has impacted some of the most vulnerable people in our community here. And part of the reason for the debt, the Government in recent times has changed its rhetoric with JobSeeker, but it’s not that long ago that they were condemning anyone who was receiving welfare. And we see this as part of that continuum.


SCHILLER: Just quickly, finally, Anthony Albanese. Obviously, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. And as awful as Robodebt was, is this the right time to be putting the Government under pressure? It could be said that they’re dealing with an unprecedented issue. Is this the right time to be this combative?


ALBANESE: Well, it is the right time to be holding them to account because there are people who are traumatised by this. We need to get to the bottom of it. We’ve been constructive about the pandemic. We voted for all of the Government stimulus packages. We pointed out some of the weaknesses that were there. But we didn’t allow the perfect be the enemy of the good. So, I think it’s there for all to see that we have been constructive. We will continue to be so. But we’ll continue to hold them to account as well. We have a minister here in Stuart Robert, a good friend of the Prime Minister, who refuses to be accountable for any of these measures.


SCHILLER: Anthony Albanese, we’ve got to get to the 5pm news. Thanks for making some time. Appreciated the chat.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.