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Calls for royal commission into robodebt

By Andrew Brown
The robodebt scheme automated tax and Centrelink data to raise debts against welfare recipients. (AAP)

A Senate committee has called for a royal commission to be established into the government's robodebt scheme.

The community affairs committee said in its final report released on Friday the scheme had indiscriminately targeted some of the country's most vulnerable people.

"It caused significant and widespread harm to their psychological and financial wellbeing," the report said.

"The committee reiterates its concern that many people may not receive any form of compensation for the severe hardships they endured because of the program."

The government scheme, which automated the matching of tax and Centrelink data to raise debts against welfare recipients that the coalition claimed to have overpaid, was ruled unlawful in 2019.

A settlement of $1.2 billion was reached between robodebt victims and the government in 2020.

The majority Greens and Labor committee, chaired by Greens senator Janet Rice, said the scheme had impacted hundreds of thousands of people and undermined trust with government services.

The committee's report said at least two suicides had been linked to the robodebt scheme, but it was not clear how many more had been associated with the program.

The report said the government had deliberately withheld crucial information in relation to robodebt.

"The committee has repeatedly requested crucial information from the government, which has been refused on the basis that the release of information would harm the public interest," the report said.

"This resistance takes place in the context of major public policy failures that have corroded public trust in both the executive and the public service."

Labor has pledged to establish a royal commission into robodebt should the opposition win the May 21 federal election.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese previously called robodebt a "human tragedy" that had been wrought by the government,.

"Against all evidence and all the outcry, the government insisted on using algorithms instead of people to pursue debt recovery against Australians who in many cases had no debt to pay," he said upon announcing the policy.

Liberal senators Wendy Askew and Hollie Hughes, who sit on the committee, disagreed with the findings and indicated the government was in the final stages of repaying eligible group members under the class action settlement.

"In view of the significant changes that have been implemented, including as a result of substantial external scrutiny, government senators see no compelling reason why any further review is required," the dissenting comments said.

"The recommendation to establish a royal commission into the income compliance program is unnecessary due to the scale of changes that have already been made to the program."

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Dive Deeper:
Senate committee calls for royal commission into robodebt scandal
Labor-Greens majority committee accuses the government of withholding information on the scheme which caused ‘significant and widespread harm’
A failure as shameful as robodebt leaves questions only a royal commission can examine
Without an understanding of how this unlawful scheme occurred, what’s to stop something similar happening again?
The Hunger Games created by NDIS algorithms
This fifth article in the Defending the NDIS series looks at the harm caused by algorithms and the perverted power…
Fact checking Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese in the third leaders' debate
The third leaders' debate was a much more subdued affair than the fiery, more shouty previous clash between the two…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
What ABC readers are asking us about the 2022 federal election
We asked ABC readers what they wanted to know about the federal election and received thousands of submissions. Here are…
AAT member says he was benched after too many decisions against government
Michael Manetta says move undermines impartiality and independence of administrative appeals tribunal
Get all your news in one place