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

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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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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?

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70 Comments

Total Comments: 70
  1. 0
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    I doubt his regret is very deep, he hasn’t suffered at all.

    • 0
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      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.

    • 0
      0

      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.

  2. 0
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    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!

  3. 0
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    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!

  4. 0
    0

    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

    • 0
      0

      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.

    • 0
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      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.

    • 0
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      Yes, I would apologise, but arrh… I really didn’t.

  5. 0
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    So what would you expect from The Sultan of Spin.

  6. 0
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    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.

  7. 0
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    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.

    • 0
      0

      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.

    • 0
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      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.

    • 0
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      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.

  8. 0
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    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.

  9. 0
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    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.

    • 0
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      “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.

  10. 0
    0

    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!!!

    • 0
      0

      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.

    • 0
      0

      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.

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