PM issues an apology over the government’s unlawful robo-debt scheme

Mr Morrison expresses ‘deep regret’ for any harm the scheme may have caused.

australian prime minister scott morrison in parliament

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has offered his “deep regret” to anyone harmed through the government’s use of the controversial and unlawful robo-debt program.

In a parliamentary address on Thursday, the PM admitted that “the business of raising and recovering debts on behalf of taxpayers is a difficult job”.

“I would apologise for anyone hurt or harmed in the way that the government has dealt with that issue and to anyone else who has found themselves in those situations,” he said.

“I would deeply regret any hardship that has been caused to people in the conduct of that activity,” he added, referring to an example raised by Bill Shorten of a cancer patient “ripped to shreds” while being pursued for a robo-debt generated while in hospital.

Mr Morrison said such a situation is “very distressing”.

“It is our instruction that we would hope that all agents of the government, when pursuing the debt recovery option, that they would be sensitive to people’s circumstances,” he said.

The man was one of hundreds of thousands of people issued with potentially incorrect computer-generated debt notices.

The scheme matched Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink data to claw back overpaid welfare payments. It has now been scrapped and is the subject of a class action challenge.

The apology comes after the government announced last month it would scrap the scheme and pay back $721 million to 373,000 people and 470,000 debt notices chased through the unlawful program.

Despite acknowledging the illegality of the scheme, the government initially shied away from issuing an apology for any harm it may have caused.

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said at the time he could not apologise because of ongoing litigation over the scheme.

“The system was flawed. I'm not going to use that word because … as Attorney-General I can't use the sort of language in the context of the litigation,” he told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.

The minister for government services, Stuart Robert, also skirted an apology at that time, saying that “the Morrison government takes its responsibility for upholding the integrity of Australia’s welfare system seriously”.

Mr Robert said Thursday that any hardship cases should now be referred to his office.

“It is incumbent on all of us if we have constituents who are hurting or suffering, bring them through to me, all colleagues know where I am,” he said.

“Give me a buzz and we will seek quickly to help you out with that.”

The government’s leader in the Senate, Senator Mathias Cormann, backed the PM’s apology.

“That is appropriate for the Prime Minister to do,” he said.

However, the opposition were not convinced the PM’s apology was genuine, with Mr Shorten saying “I listened to the Prime Minister today cry what I have to say were crocodile tears”.

“Saying ‘well I’m sorry, ‘course we only ever want to do what’s lawful’,” said Mr Shorten in question time on Thursday.

“This government has known for three years … that this was unlawful.”

Do you think the apology is too little too late? Or do you applaud the PM for making this apology?

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    COMMENTS

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    Ducky
    12th Jun 2020
    10:05am
    I doubt his regret is very deep, he hasn't suffered at all.
    libsareliars
    12th Jun 2020
    12:16pm
    I agree with you Ducky, I doubt Morrison's sincerity along with all the other cruel, heartless members of the LNP who allowed this heinous scheme to get off the ground. It's also cold comfort to those people and the families of those who suicided over this disgraceful scheme.
    thommo
    12th Jun 2020
    8:43pm
    MORRISON'S sincerity is a load of bullshit. He is a charlatan, and always has been.
    As the responsible minister back in 2016, he was the person responsible for ramping up this illegal cruel and unconscionable ROBODEBT scheme to help bring the budget back into positive territory.
    This scene was cruel and malicious and entirely ideologically based. They didn't care a hoot that people would suffer immeasurably, even committing suicide.
    And here we are, copping his bullshit crocodile tears, which is blatant bullshit.
    How is it that the Australian public continue to allow Morrison et al to remain in power after what the LNP have done over the last seven years in office.
    They're lucky we're not having a 1917 style Russian revolution here.
    But the good news is that they will be turfed out of office at the next federal election, and good riddance to them.
    Notold
    12th Jun 2020
    10:07am
    Sounds like the bloke who bashes up his wife. 'I am sorry.' Yep until the next time you can get away with blatant harm and all the time knowing you are doing the wrong thing!
    Hoohoo
    13th Jun 2020
    5:28pm
    Great analogy, Notold.
    Notold
    12th Jun 2020
    10:07am
    Sounds like the bloke who bashes up his wife. 'I am sorry.' Yep until the next time you can get away with blatant harm and all the time knowing you are doing the wrong thing!
    lizzieR
    12th Jun 2020
    10:12am
    He didnt apologise - he used the the word "of course i would" " which he obviously wouldnt & didnt - listen to what he said not what has been reported - an apology is when you say i am sorry i did this - i am sorry this happened because of what i did
    Heskwith
    12th Jun 2020
    11:31am
    spot on, thanks for that comment. I just made the same observation in my comment.. it was intended to sound like a duck, but it is not even a plastic duck for the bath. Reportage missed this.
    Maggie
    13th Jun 2020
    4:49am
    LizzieR and Heskwith I agree absolutely. "I WOULD apologise" sounds as though it is conditional : I would apologise IF. . .
    He just could not bring himself to do the right thing and say I AM SO VERY SORRY.
    Hoohoo
    13th Jun 2020
    5:30pm
    Yes, I would apologise, but arrh... I really didn't.
    Waiting to retire at 70
    12th Jun 2020
    10:21am
    So what would you expect from The Sultan of Spin.
    4b2
    12th Jun 2020
    10:22am
    Good one Scot, taking after his mentor Johnny Howard never say sorry never apologize and always blame someone else, especially the opposition. His words “the business of raising and recovering debts on behalf of taxpayers is a difficult job”are are a reflection where his thinking is, the economy not the people that has been hurt by his illegal scheme of ripping off innocent people.
    I can understand that his ancestors coming to Australia as boat people and convicts. The fruit never falls far from the tree.
    Travellersjoy
    12th Jun 2020
    10:29am
    The lack of sincerity is telling. If he or they had any regrets it is because they are shown up to be callous, venal and unchristian. Not what the PR man wants on display, so a performance of sorry.

    I will take them seriously when they stop treating women as servants and chattels, when they make genuine moves to improve women's incomes, superannuation and personal safety from predator men; when they treat Indigenous Australians with due respect and regard for their lives and property; when they stop wasting our tax dollars on people with plenty of resources of their own and do something credible to fix our public schools, TAFES and universities; when they actually invest in Australia and Australians instead of ensuring that billions of dollars made in Australia is exported tax free; when they genuinely recognise that Aboriginal rock shelters and other heritage are an essential part of human history, not iron ore sacrificed to China; when they change the super system to improve circumstances for those too poor to have the benefit of accountants and lawyers to scam the system.

    They are such little men, I expect no change, and the occasional performance of regret for their contemptuous treatment of millions of us.
    Horace Cope
    12th Jun 2020
    12:17pm
    Nice speech, Travellerjoy, but not a lot of proof of your overblown rhetoric. Very easy to sit back and criticise but it's a little bit harder to come up with a solution to your accusations.
    libsareliars
    12th Jun 2020
    12:25pm
    So well said Travellersjoy, I would also add to that list: keeping Jobseeker at a fair and decent level and not reverting back to what it was; doing something about our appalling homeless situation which was supeerbly highlighted on SBS this week with the Filthy Rich and Homeless episodes. Everyone should have to watch that, exceptional tv. When they start putting Australians first and the good of their country and not their own greed, then we might take them at their word. Until then, they are just empty vessels.
    libsareliars
    12th Jun 2020
    12:33pm
    Horace Cope, isn't that what these people are paid very handsomely to do - come up with solutions to these unfair conditions that Australians live with today. They are the ones who have enacted the laws and policies that have brought about the problems that Travellersjoy is talking about. Australia today, thanks to the LNP is a very divided and unfair society, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
    Hairy
    12th Jun 2020
    10:45am
    travellers joy you said it all Thankyou ,the trouble is the maggots have spread through all political party’s ,They are born and brought up with a mind set they are superior to the rest of us ,They are actors ,non genuine self serving Non caring as any normal person can see from their poor acting performances.
    Peter H
    12th Jun 2020
    10:55am
    Anyone who supports a system where Jobseekers are paid $300 a week with the threat of it being taken from them at any time cannot be too caring. Further, expecting someone over 50 to get a job as easily as someone 10 or 20 years their junior doesn't demonstrate compassion. He is just another politician playing the age old game.
    libsareliars
    12th Jun 2020
    12:45pm
    "Anyone who supports a system where Jobseekers are paid $300 a week with the threat of it being taken from them at any time cannot be too caring"

    Agree entirely with your post Peter H. No compassion or humanity.
    Buggsie
    12th Jun 2020
    10:57am
    What a bunch of hypocrites, led by the master of spin himself. They knew that the robodebt scheme was flawed from the very beginning and proceeded in the belief that those targeted would roll over and pay. As I said to my local NP member Dr David Gillespie, the scheme was nothing more than government sponsored white collar crime and should be referred to the Federal Police for investigation, just as the banks were. How can we believe anything that this government says in the future - the old saw "How can you tell when a politician is lying? When his or her lips are moving!" applies today as much as always. Disgusted!!!
    Mac
    12th Jun 2020
    12:38pm
    Yes, Buggsie

    How many times did the government ignore the public's protests that the Robodebt was a farce?

    How many debt notices were altered to different amounts with no explanation as to how the figure was arrived at?

    How much notice did Centrelink take of people's concerns over the years?

    A business which issued a debt notice with no dates or amounts specified for those dates as happened in the Robodebt situation would be a laughing stock with regard to their ineptitude and inefficiency.

    Why did Centrelink cancel those debts relating to the court cases - were they afraid of being caught out?

    More personal interaction, not computer generated intolerance, and more empathy should be shown to those who were overwhelmed by the sheer draconian tone of Centrelink letters demanding payment for debts supposedly accumulated over a number of years, the requirement to prove to Centrelink by providing mountains of paperwork and backtracking through payment records.
    Mac
    12th Jun 2020
    12:38pm
    Yes, Buggsie

    How many times did the government ignore the public's protests that the Robodebt was a farce?

    How many debt notices were altered to different amounts with no explanation as to how the figure was arrived at?

    How much notice did Centrelink take of people's concerns over the years?

    A business which issued a debt notice with no dates or amounts specified for those dates as happened in the Robodebt situation would be a laughing stock with regard to their ineptitude and inefficiency.

    Why did Centrelink cancel those debts relating to the court cases - were they afraid of being caught out?

    More personal interaction, not computer generated intolerance, and more empathy should be shown to those who were overwhelmed by the sheer draconian tone of Centrelink letters demanding payment for debts supposedly accumulated over a number of years, the requirement to prove to Centrelink by providing mountains of paperwork and backtracking through payment records.
    Tanker
    12th Jun 2020
    11:01am
    We are witnessing the resurrection of Scotty from Marketing. He has to take responsibility for Robo debt but only produces words lacking in sincerity. This signals his return to the past just when we thought he was reformed.
    He has also returned to batting away questions he doesn't like and few journalists push him for an answer.
    cupoftea
    12th Jun 2020
    11:07am
    Do not forget the Taxpayer paid $190,000 for his empathy classes, to cry or not to cry and idiots still believe him and Roberts well that is an idiot making money because of the idiots who voted him in
    libsareliars
    12th Jun 2020
    12:34pm
    "Do not forget the Taxpayer paid $190,000 for his empathy classes"

    Yes and what about the money paid to Scott Camm? $300,000 for what?
    Wstaton
    12th Jun 2020
    11:08am
    How facetious, they were told time and time again that it was unlawful yet they continued for four years hurting 100s of thousands of people cause in stress and suicides.

    What I think is that there is so much hoo hay about dole bludgers is that the thought was "Haa! people do not like dole bludgers so we can get away with this so carried on" True there are some dole bludgers but to put everyone on benefits in that category was abominable. You have been caught out Morrison. And a limpid apology without saying sorry what we did to you doesn't wear it.

    Rember when Howard wouldn't say sorry to the first people?

    I wonder how many people will be crying out dole bludgers now with so many people on the dole (Jobseeeker)

    Oh, by the way, ignorant historian, Australia did have slaves in the past. Read up on this before spouting untruths.
    Fedup
    12th Jun 2020
    11:09am
    He deeply regrets that anyone was harmed. What he means is he deeply regrets that his approval rating was harmed.
    Wstaton
    12th Jun 2020
    11:18am
    Here is the difference between sorry and regret:

    You would say "I'm sorry" when you did something wrong, you should feel 'regret' for what you've done.

    And to take this further his regret was that he was found out.
    tobymyers
    12th Jun 2020
    11:17am
    Does this mean they are also apologizing for the financial abuse they carry out on their Centrelink customers for the last .what...........20 years ? and do they clean up their act as a government and realize they have a social responsibility towards the people to ensure no one lives in poverty, is disadvantaged,are treated with respect, and receive a fair and just income to support the over priced life we have to pay for to live in this country ?......................I doubt it.
    Heskwith
    12th Jun 2020
    11:29am
    Actually, he said twice the word "would" ... he "would apologize".. not that he does.
    Anonymous
    12th Jun 2020
    11:58am
    Why should he apologise?
    Youngagain
    12th Jun 2020
    5:14pm
    He should apologize, RW, because the scheme was known to be flawed yet the government persisted with it unfairly and cruelly, causing hurt to many innocent people. I normally support the LNP, but in this case they were wrong and they knew they were wrong yet they persisted. And your constant claims that everyone hurt by Centrelink was 'rorting' are disgraceful. Centrelink makes lots of mistakes. Many honest, decent people have suffered because of those mistakes. It is extremely nasty and a reflection of a cruel and heartless character to keep endorsing a scheme that has been proved to be wrong and unlawful.
    Mad as Hell
    12th Jun 2020
    11:39am
    Apologise for the 2017 changes to the Pensioner Assets Test and backpay stolen pensions.
    Youngagain
    12th Jun 2020
    4:54pm
    That won't happen, Mad as Hell, although it certainly SHOULD.
    Youngagain
    12th Jun 2020
    4:54pm
    That won't happen, Mad as Hell, although it certainly SHOULD.

    12th Jun 2020
    11:59am
    If I hear another person tell me how great it was that they will get the money back that they had to pay because they got caught out rorting the system I am going to scream.
    Tarzan
    12th Jun 2020
    1:24pm
    Spot on
    Sundays
    12th Jun 2020
    1:58pm
    Really, and you didn’t just make this up?
    Rae
    13th Jun 2020
    7:28am
    This need not have happened if the Government had co-ordinated with the ATO and had current income reporting sorted out. For a Government bent on keeping wages stagnant and jobs flexible using casuals etc fortnightly reporting of income by employers is vital. Government policy created a stupid system of HR where over two million need income top ups because it's too low but then don't organise an IT system to deal with it.

    That's incompetence right there.

    I doubt the LNP have any idea of the consequences they create with their mad schemes and policies.
    Youngagain
    13th Jun 2020
    8:15am
    Start screaming, RW. And I hope you scream until you lose your voice and destroy your lungs, because the world doesn't need bigoted people who can't deal in fact. NOBODY who was caught rorting is getting money back. People who are getting money back were WRONGLY targeted by a flawed scheme that blind Freddy could see couldn't possibly yield legitimate results.

    Like you, I am an LNP supporter, and like you I am aware of plenty of rorting of the welfare system - and I despise and condemn rorters and hope they are caught. But unlike you, I deal in FACT, and the FACT is that the Robodebt Scheme was unlawful and quite clearly targeted innocent people wrongfully, doing enormous harm. The flaws were obvious, and the pig-headed arrogant turds who persisted in defending it when it was clear to all how wrong it was should be sacked and forced to pay back the money THEY rorted from the public by claiming high salaries when they were not competent and not doing the job they were paid to do. Maybe if we had some accountability among the privileged and empowered, battlers would be less inclined to feel entitled to take whatever they can get. While those at the top steal by failing in the job they are so generously paid to do, and rip off the taxpayer with their avoidance rorts (many of which THEY make legal for their own gain), it's hard to point fingers at people in genuine need.
    Youngagain
    13th Jun 2020
    8:15am
    Start screaming, RW. And I hope you scream until you lose your voice and destroy your lungs, because the world doesn't need bigoted people who can't deal in fact. NOBODY who was caught rorting is getting money back. People who are getting money back were WRONGLY targeted by a flawed scheme that blind Freddy could see couldn't possibly yield legitimate results.

    Like you, I am an LNP supporter, and like you I am aware of plenty of rorting of the welfare system - and I despise and condemn rorters and hope they are caught. But unlike you, I deal in FACT, and the FACT is that the Robodebt Scheme was unlawful and quite clearly targeted innocent people wrongfully, doing enormous harm. The flaws were obvious, and the pig-headed arrogant turds who persisted in defending it when it was clear to all how wrong it was should be sacked and forced to pay back the money THEY rorted from the public by claiming high salaries when they were not competent and not doing the job they were paid to do. Maybe if we had some accountability among the privileged and empowered, battlers would be less inclined to feel entitled to take whatever they can get. While those at the top steal by failing in the job they are so generously paid to do, and rip off the taxpayer with their avoidance rorts (many of which THEY make legal for their own gain), it's hard to point fingers at people in genuine need.
    B-mused
    12th Jun 2020
    12:09pm
    What has been quoted is NOT an apology, it is merely a qualified statement.
    If he had used words to the effect that "I apologise" or "I do apologise", rather than "I would apologise", it would be an apology.

    With his present use of words, we don't know when/why he would apologise. Has anyone asked him when he would apologise?

    Maybe he would apologise if it was the only way to get re-elected as PM, or something trivial like that...
    porthboy
    12th Jun 2020
    12:21pm
    How many people realised this and how many people, especially journalists, chose to ignore it?
    Horace Cope
    12th Jun 2020
    12:27pm
    Well, what a lot of Labor supporting rubbish. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story? Just to clarify a few things which can be proven, unlike the garbage spewed forth already. The averaging scheme using the ATO was introduced by Labor and was carried on by the current government. It was thought to be legal because of advice given to Labor by the government's legal department. In November 2019 Deanna Amato took the government to the federal court which decided that the system was illegal. Because of that decision all actions under RoboDebt were put on hold pending further legal advice. The decision by the federal court was not considered worthy of appeal and the decision to refund all payments was taken.
    libsareliars
    12th Jun 2020
    12:43pm
    Horace, I think Labor also had actual people overseeing these debts, not a machine, so there were checks and balances. Also, who's supporting Labor in these posts? Nobody's commented about Labor as far as i can see. And even if Labor did introduce it, it doesn't make the policy right - The LNP still ran with it for 3 years after they were told it was unlawful. How good is that! The refunds are not going to be much use to those who suicided over the debts are they?
    Fedup
    12th Jun 2020
    12:49pm
    Even Morrison hasn’t blamed Labor, so it’s certainly not their fault!
    Robodebt was introduced in 2016 by the Liberals.
    Sundays
    12th Jun 2020
    2:07pm
    The problem with the way the Robodebt system has been used without any checks and balances, without the Govt actually having to prove the debt was owed, with insisting it was up to individuals to prove there was no debt even when they couldn’t get paperwork required is what the LNP did and hoped they would get away with. The PM apology was too little too late.
    Mitzy
    12th Jun 2020
    3:15pm
    Great to hear your sensible, well balanced and insightful comments Horace. I always look forward to your posts to see a sensible comment and discussion, instead of all the hate speech of so many other commentators. Thankfully according to recent polling they must be in the minority.
    Rae
    13th Jun 2020
    7:32am
    The Liberals terror of employing actual people is costing tax payers billions of dollars.

    I can understand business hating to have to pay people to work but this is a Government. It's not their money and yet they waste it and create messes through refusing to employ adequate staff numbers.
    Don
    12th Jun 2020
    1:02pm
    Apology, hollow as a burnt out log.
    Cruel scheme vigorously denied by his party, a few material details about rectification would be beneficial.
    Tanker
    12th Jun 2020
    1:13pm
    How good is Scotty? Didn't know about the slavery of Pacific Islanders in the cane fields.Switched on P.M. eh?
    libsareliars
    12th Jun 2020
    1:26pm
    Exactly Don.
    Sundays
    12th Jun 2020
    2:10pm
    Or the slavery of aboriginals as pearl divers in WA, on cattle stations and missions.
    Anonymous
    12th Jun 2020
    10:15pm
    Still an idiot Sundays no idea ever work a day in your life no just got welfare me and me bludging family
    Tarzan
    12th Jun 2020
    1:19pm
    If you have been overpaid, you know it, so pay it back, simple really
    Anonymous
    12th Jun 2020
    10:13pm
    Yes most pensioners are cheats I know of plenty
    inextratime
    12th Jun 2020
    1:33pm
    Scott Morrison was not PM when the Robo debt was instigated. It was Alan Tudge who spouted off at the time about how the Centrelink Mafia were on the prowl and woe betide anyone who got caught in the net. Now as Minister of Population Tudge has said he supports a "Bigger Australia. Stand by for the ramifications of that policy.
    Fedup
    12th Jun 2020
    4:49pm
    Morrison was treasurer at the time. He would have been involved in any money making scheme.
    tobymyers
    12th Jun 2020
    1:55pm
    Some delusional comments here obviously posted by people who have toooo much money.

    If anyone can work out whether they are under paid or over paid let me know .................ooohh shiiiiite that's why we have robo cop now all we need is someone on the government payroll to decide what a fair payment is to live on .......................good luck with that .
    tobymyers
    12th Jun 2020
    1:58pm
    If you voted for the LNP rabble you need a brain check and if you voted for the fish and chip lady you must have been hungry , if you voted for the greens you were looking for something recyclable to wrap your fish and chips in and if you voted for labor you just could not bring yourself to vote for any of the others.
    KSS
    12th Jun 2020
    3:23pm
    Wow! Comments here not predictable at all right!

    Those of you contesting the use of the word 'would' need a lesson in formal grammar.

    As for Mr Shorten's comments, he couldn't lie straight in bed. Did he really make his comment with a straight face?
    ollie
    12th Jun 2020
    4:07pm
    I wonder if he ever thinks about all those people who took their lives because of their unlawful act i doubt he does
    OJ21
    12th Jun 2020
    4:35pm
    If we weren’t in a recession and they were still chasing a surplus they would not have done anything to rectify Robo Debt or make any apologies. As we are so far in debt I assume that the money they are going to have to pay back is just a drop on the wholly bucket.
    Aussie focussed
    12th Jun 2020
    5:43pm
    Scott, regardless of the politics ..... you ARE doing a great job. Your not biaised, your not flexing like a wet paper bag. Yes, you've made a couple of hawai sized mistakes BUT you are proud of your family and don't back down from your religion. And I'm not religious mate. You could not have picked a worst time, but then you didn't. Rather your chinese bloke in china chose the time and didn't bother to tell you or the world. They owe you, and they owe us. The benefit of dealing with those 'humans' has proven expensive and costly financially, ethically and morally. We gotta get on, deal with ethical countries that respect trademarks and the Labor Party (yeh union based) takes money from a country that enslaves cultures and people and is building fortresses in international waters. Scott, do what you need to do, balance your decisions though because a lot of people are hurting. Also while you review the billions handed out to 'refugees' think of us 100% English speaking Australians that have had their pension age flicked out a few years while you give our refugee friends a handout with health, money, housing, child care, university education, fee legal, migration agent fees, High Court of Australia time and so the big list goes on. Give us Australians (of all colours) a break!!!!!!!
    jennyb
    12th Jun 2020
    8:28pm
    I WOULD apologise, not I DO APOLOGISE. What does this mean? "I would apologise but I can't be bothered>" "I would apologise but I'm not going to?" Typical weasel words from a man without morals or empathy.
    Sceptic
    12th Jun 2020
    8:41pm
    What a silly and contrived question. It is obvious what the answers would be from the lot of complainers on this site
    Aussie focussed
    12th Jun 2020
    8:43pm
    You betcha :) I couldn't help it

    12th Jun 2020
    10:10pm
    Lets face it pensioners are bludgers and should be put on food stamps and it wont be long
    tobymyers
    12th Jun 2020
    11:57pm
    Is that you Scotty ? Hi Mate I don't blame you from hiding but on a pensioners site ??? pleeeeeeeze !!!!!
    4b2
    13th Jun 2020
    12:22pm
    Scotty from marketing is full of BS.


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