‘Shameful chapter’ – Restitution but not justice from Robodebt class action ruling

12 June 2021

This morning’s ruling on the Robodebt class action shows why we need to improve the basic rights protections of everyone receiving social security in this country, said ACOSS today.

As Justice Bernard Murphy found, Robodebt has been “a shameful chapter in the administration of the Commonwealth social security system and a massive failure of public administration.”

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“Today’s ruling reveals just how far we have to go to improve the basic rights protections for people receiving social security in this country.

“The law fails to give people the justice they so clearly deserved, with 443,000 people affected by Robodebt who will not receive compensation for the hurt and anguish this horrific scheme caused over many years.

“The ruling found that it should have been “obvious” to government that this scheme was deeply flawed.

From as early as December 2016, ACOSS warned the Minister responsible that there were serious flaws with Robodebt, causing serious distress. We urged that Robodebt be suspended but our advice was ignored. We continued to warn the Federal Government about the devastating human impacts of RoboDebt until the Federal Court ruling in 2019. It is indefensible to assert that the Government did not realise that Robodebt had serious failings from the start or that it was not alerted to the serious consequences on people including people with serious vulnerabilities.

“We welcome that there is restitution, with the Commonwealth returning money to victims of Robodebt with interest. However, this will not compensate for the serious harm caused by this awful abuse of government power. Nor do we yet have any guarantees, legal or otherwise, that these events will not occur again.

Indeed, right now, the Federal Government is again being warned about the risks of digitised human service delivery – without adequate human involvement and adequate rights protections – for example, with the NDIS and employment services. Will these warnings also be ignored?

“ACOSS will continue to fight to strengthen social security rights in Australia. Today’s judgement highlights again how wrong Robodebt was. It also makes clear that we need much stronger legal and rights protections in place if we are to ensure that this kind of harm will never be repeated.

“We again acknowledge and congratulate all of the individuals and organisations who have fought tirelessly to have Robodebt abolished and for justice to be served to its victims. The fight continues.”