Robodebt Response: Concrete major changes needed to transform the way government treats people on low incomes

ACOSS welcomes the federal government’s response to the Robodebt Royal Commission, saying major changes are needed to transform the way in which people receiving income support are treated.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie says:

“We welcome the federal government’s broad acceptance of 56 of the recommendations from the Robdebt Royal Commission. It is now essential they implement all recommendations fully, in a timely and transparent manner, working closely with civil society groups including people directly affected. 

“Robodebt was an appalling and unlawful abuse of government power that robbed people of their humanity and, in some cases, their lives.

“Robodebt victims and their families deserve concrete major action to ensure nothing like this can happen again and we treat people on low incomes with dignity. We still have one of the lowest unemployment payments among wealthy countries. Automatic decision-making is still leading to people being excluded from the help they need. 

“To fix the system, the government must genuinely collaborate with civil society groups, including people directly affected and other social security experts about what needs to happen through legislation and otherwise to make social security fair. 

We strongly welcome the announcement of additional Centrelink staff, the abolition of private debt collectors, the piloting of an advocates’ channel, as well as ensure frontline staff are consulted about program changes. We also welcome publication of Administrative Review Tribunal decisions. 

To improve social security, ACOSS now calls for firm commitments to:

  • Collaborate with community sector peak bodies, experts and people directly affected ahead of social security reforms to ensure reforms are fair
  • Ensure there are enough face-to-face staff and social workers to meet community need
  • Reform debt recovery letters so they do not resemble an invoice, and people have a clear understanding of their rights to appeal
  • Proactively waive debts in circumstances where the person is unable to pay or it would be inappropriate to level a debt against them
  • Automatically pause debt recovery for the full length of time a debt is under review
  • Change legislation to abolish the 10% recovery fee, interest charges and not recover ‘debts’ that are 100% Services Australia’s fault
  • Cease automatic payment suspensions
  • Increase social security payments to at least $78 a day so people can cover basic costs. 

The federal government is making the right statements of intention to make our social security system fairer, but we need to ensure there is concrete major change that makes good on these commitments. We stand ready to work with the government to reform the system so that we have a truly fair and humane social security system that supports people when they need it.