A Royal Commission into Australia’s Robodebt scheme has referred several government officials for civil and criminal prosecution after handing down its final report on Friday. The inquiry included 46 days of hearings, received over 1000 submissions and heard from 115 witnesses regarding the unlawful scheme. The report contains an “additional sealed chapter that is not part of the bound report,” which recommends referrals of multiple individuals involved in the scheme for prosecution.
The Commission stated:
Robodebt was a crude and cruel mechanism, neither fair nor legal, and it made many people feel like criminals. In essence, people were traumatised on the off-chance they might owe money. It was a costly failure of public administration, in both human and economic terms
The report stated, “elements of the tort of misfeasance in public office appear to exist.” The inquiry criticised several public officials, including former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, for failing to properly investigate the use of income averaging during his time as social services minister. Then-Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS) Kathryn Campbell was found to have known of the illegality of her department’s scheme and failed to act on the information. Campbell was responsible for the policy proposal that was presented to the national cabinet in 2015.
Evidence emerged during the inquiry, which found that several government officials, including the chief counsel for the Department of Social Services (DSS), were aware that the Robodebt scheme was illegal. However, this legal advice remained in the draft and was never finalised.
The report made 57 recommendations, including repealing s 34 of the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act to end the confidentiality of cabinet documents and requiring Services Australia to direct its agencies to finalise legal advice regarding government programs within three months of receipt. It recommended that Services Australia design accessible policies and…
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