Anthony Albanese has been forced to deny suggestions that his royal commission in the Robodebt scandal will be an “extremely expensive” political witch hunt.
The prime minister on Thursday outlined details of the investigation into the scheme that mistakenly sent automated debt notices to more than 400,000 vulnerable Australians between 2016 and 2020.
However, the scandal has already passed through the Federal Court, which ordered a $1.8 billion settlement, leading critics to accuse Albanese of investigating the saga now for his own political gain.
The investigation will come at no small cost to taxpayers, as royal commissions typically cost between $50 million and $400 million, primarily due to exorbitant staff salaries and legal fees.
At a press conference on Thursday, Albanese, who is leading in the polls, was asked if he was pitching the investigation as a way to drag the Coalition through the mud.
Similarly, Tony Abbott was accused of trying to harm Labor when he ordered two royal commissions into Kevin Rudd’s insulation scheme and union corruption.
“Is this another costly way to tear down the previous government?” a journalist asked Mr. Albanese.
‘I tell you how expensive it is, the more than a billion dollars that this process has cost, the prime minister replied.
“A federal government that cost that money because of the way this was handled.”
Scott Morrison (pictured with his wife Jenny) will surely have to participate in the investigation.
Albanese, who went into the election promising a royal commission, said the human cost of the scandal, including numerous claims of suicide, meant it needed to be investigated further.
‘We need to get to the heart of why this happened. This is such a serious problem.
“This is a commitment for which we have a mandate and a commitment that we have a responsibility to fulfill.”
Government Services Minister Bill Shorten also rejected suggestions that the royal commission was not necessary.
What was robodebt?
The coalition government wanted to recover money from welfare recipients who received too much.
In 2016 the Online Compliance Intervention replaced manual debt collection with an automated computer program that compared ATO and Centrelink databases to detect payment discrepancies.
It wrongly demanded $1.73 billion from 433,000 Australians before the Federal Court ruled it illegal in 2019.
Some 2,000 people died after receiving the automated message that they owed money, with around 430 under the age of 35.
“The assumption in your question is that the Federal Court dealt with all the issues, that is not true,” he said.
‘We never got to hear why the government continued it for 4.5 years.
‘Why did Minister (Alan) Tudge say in 2016 or 2017, ‘we will hunt them down’? He proposed hunting down the citizens of this country for debts they didn’t have, using legal power he didn’t have.
“The government has never satisfactorily explained how this monstrous scheme slipped out of the system and simply took on a life of its own.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the royal commission would be a “witch hunt” if it did not investigate the previous Labor government, which also collected debt using a controversial method called revenue averaging.
“I guess the terms of reference will include Labor’s time in the portfolio when the situation started,” Dutton said.
“Of course, if it isn’t, it’s clear this is nothing more than a political witch hunt and Anthony Albanese is spending more time looking in the rear view mirror than looking ahead to what the Australian public will face.” , which is going to be a difficult period economically.’
The inquiry, due to report in April 2023, will examine who was responsible for the scheme, why it was deemed necessary, how concerns were handled, how the scheme affected people, the financial costs to the government and measures to avoid a like. disaster happens again.
Labor will benefit politically from the investigation which will drag several senior Coalition figures over the coals.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney on Thursday, Mr Albanese said: ‘Robodebt was of course the brainchild of the Coalition – a computer program to find out if someone owed the government money rather than involving a real person.
‘One of the commitments I made was to put humans back into human services to make sure this never happens again.
‘We know that nearly 400,000 Australians fell victim to this cruel system. A human tragedy with very real consequences for its victims.’
Robodebt’s scheme wrongly demanded $1.73 billion from 433,000 Australians before the Federal Court ruled it illegal in 2019.
Data from the Department of Human Services revealed that more than 2,000 people died after receiving an initial automated message that they owed money, with around 430 under the age of 35.
The court’s ruling prompted a $1.8 billion class action settlement for those affected.
But the previous government did not admit responsibility and has never detailed who was responsible for the scheme and which ministers knew about its problems.
The Morrison government has never detailed who was responsible for the controversial Robodebt scheme and which ministers knew about its problems. In the picture: Scott Morrison