Liberty Victoria welcomes the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme’s final report, which was handed down on Friday 7 July 2023. Liberty Victoria calls on the Federal Government to implement all the report’s 57 recommendations and to formally inquire into all forms of welfare debt, to the extent that the underlying policy imperatives and operating processes of Robodebt continue in various forms through harsh welfare debts that continue to bring significant hardship onto the most marginalised people in our community.
Liberty Victoria endorses the recommendations that Services Australia avoid language that “reinforces feelings of stigma and shame” associated with the provision of government benefits, that its processes be amended to consider vulnerability factors facing welfare payment recipients including their ability to meet compliance activities, improved training for frontline staff, and the creation of an advisory body comprised of people with lived experience. At the Commission recommended, Services Australia must design its policies and processes so that the people they are meant to serve are central to its processes.
It should be a high priority to implement the Commissioner’s recommendation of repealing s 34 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) to end the ‘blanket approach’ of confidentiality of cabinet documents and requiring Services Australia agencies to finalise legal advice regarding government programs within three months of receipt. The previous Government received departmental and legal advice that indicated the Robodebt scheme was unlawful from the outset, and several groups including Liberty Victoria raised concerns as to the legal basis of the scheme.
Further, Liberty Victoria supports the Commissioner’s recommendation of implementing a debt recovery management policy that is ethical and transparent and imposing a six-year limit on debt recovery. The report has called for a comprehensive, consistent legislative framework for government services for automated debt collection processes including a statutory body to monitor and audit automated decision-making processes.
The Robodebt scheme eroded merits review and due process rights. It is vital that the Government establish clear pathways for review and enable the algorithms and methodologies to be subjected to public and expert scrutiny.
Liberty Victoria reinforces the need to increase social security payments: the report notes that “with financial security comes the dignity to which social security recipients are entitled and to which the Scheme was so damaging.” Liberty Victoria continues to strongly advocate for a properly functioning social security system — that is, a system which is available, adequate, and accessible to all without discrimination— to ensure that all Australians have access to the basic necessities of life.