Senior bureaucrat suspended for role in Robodebt scandal

Kathryn Campbell

Kathryn Campbell – a senior bureaucrat who headed the Department of Human Services and was in the top job during the inception of the Robodebt scheme in 2014 – has been suspended.

The move follows disturbing findings from the royal commission into the illegal scheme, which falsely accused welfare recipients of owing money to the government.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the ABC that Ms Campbell had been suspended without pay as a result of what he described as “failings with bureaucracy” and “human tragedy” caused by the scheme.

The Robodebt royal commission handed down its findings a fortnight ago and was especially scathing of Ms Campbell’s role.

“This was a decision made by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and appropriate bodies. It’s not appropriate given the potential legal matters that are involved to go through all of the detail there,” Mr Albanese told the ABC.

The royal commission determined that Ms Campbell had done “nothing of substance” after being made aware of the program’s illegality. She also provided misleading advice to the federal cabinet as part of an Expenditure Review Committee in 2015.

Around 443,000 Australian welfare recipients were delivered false debt notices and, as a result, the commission concluded a “number of people” took their own lives.

Ms Campbell previously refused to accept that people had died over the program.

“We have apologised for the hurt and harm but none of us can imagine what goes on in individuals’ lives,” she told a 2020 Senate hearing.

Since the release of the royal commission’s findings, a number of independent MPs including Zoe Daniel and Rebekha Sharkie have called on Ms Campbell to be sacked or resign.

However, news that senior bureaucrats in the federal government were behind shifting Ms Campbell into a $900,000 a year role, weeks before the Prime Minister announced she was being removed as DFAT’s secretary, will leave some people wondering if the suspension from the role is punishment enough.

Do you think it’s fair Ms Campbell has lost her job over this? Or should the blame lie with the politicians who orchestrated the scheme? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Also read: Calls for debt collectors to return Robodebt profits

Written by Claire Halliday

Claire is an accomplished journalist who has written for leading magazines and newspapers, such as The Sunday Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Women's Weekly, Marie Claire, Rolling Stone, Australian House & Garden, GQ, The Australian, Herald Sun, The Weekly Review, Kidspot.com.au and The Independent on Sunday (UK).

9 Comments

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  1. It’s always the way that one person is targeted to take the blame for the actions of many. I know Ms Campbell, having worked under her when she was a “mere” Deputy Secretary of a different Department and, although this was many years ago, I know her to be not only an incredibly accomplished woman who has given great service to the country (within and outside of the APS), but an incredibly intelligent, diligent and empathetic person who would no more dismiss personal tragedies (although her military background and current role in the APS might have people questioning this). I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I can’t help but think that she has been set up as the fall-person for this awful situation. I wish Ms Campbell and her family my best as she navigates her way through this.

  2. If campbell is incredibly intelligent then she knowingly caused incredible stress and devastation to an incredible number of innocent vulnerable australians.
    Watching her and various other despicable public “servants” appearing at the enquiry was sickening…. the evasions, attempted deceipt, and complete lack of any personal responsibility was appalling.
    That these people are in senior highly paid positions in the public “service” is terrible…what is wrong with the system, that puts such reptiles with no sense of right and wrong in positions of control?
    Sadly this is symptomatic of much of the public service. I ask any reader to nominate any public servant appearing in front of the enquiry, who displayed commendable qualities.

    Simply suspending these monsters without pay is not good enough! True justice would see them in stocks in city centres to be pelted with rotten fruit for an extended period. Failing that…. prison sentences for betraying the trust of the public, while being paid incredible amounts to discourage corruption.

    In response to margaret’s complaint about one person taking the blame for many…. I agree. Other heads should roll, but I applaud that campbell’s is the first. These people are like war criminals….
    If campbell was such a fine operator “many years ago”, then what happened to her, to rot her moral compass?

  3. A key art of being a senior public servant is to double guess what it is that the minister wants or wants to hear. This requirement became a vital survival skill when Howard’s Liberals came to power and it was made clear that the public service would do what the government wanted of it. I recall Howard’s right hand man Peter Shergold telling senior public servants words to the effect of “You may have thought you were employed to serve the public, you are now here to serve this government.” It is clear that this mantra continues whichever Liberal government is in power.
    While MS Campbell may have been in fear of her job if she advised against the government’s wishes as were many senior public servants, the shear immortality and inhumanity of the Robo Debt scheme should have been enough for a person worthy of a half million dollar salary to to tell the government that its proposal was illegal.

  4. I see a similar debacle occurring with university HECS debts where our students will be slugged with a “CPI fee” added annually to their so-called interest free government loan to get an education. What is wrong with Governments where they can invent some after-the-fact slug on those who can least afford to pay it. I can see student debt having a huge impact on the vulnerable and yes possible suicides when they can’t see a way out.

  5. She has been the easy meat. Go for the public servants first. Will any politician pay for it. I really hope so. They are after all paid to run the Department. Past history shows it doesn’t. Time will tell.

  6. Surely, The tip top public servant of the Dept. of Human Services must have signed the approval tick to introduce Robodebt. She shouldn’t totally carry the blame. Await developments.

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