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Robodebt was a policy fiasco with a human cost we have yet to fully appreciate

Peter Whiteford writes in The Conversation (16.11.20) about the federal Coalition’s bungled automated welfare debt recovery system, suggesting that a combination of community activism, journalistic investigation, political scrutiny and the legal aid system has ultimately provided a remedy to the system’s victims.

‘The Robodebt class action bought by Gordon Legal has been settled at a cost to the government of around $1.2 billion. According to federal Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten, this is the biggest class action in Australian legal history.

‘This comprised refunds of $721 million to 373,000 people, $112 million in compensation and $398 million in cancelled debts.

‘As is well-known, “Robodebt” is the label commonly applied to the initiative starting in 2016 designed to increase recoveries by government of “overpayments” made to social security recipients, retrospectively dating back to 2010.

‘… Essentially, the Robodebt fiasco arises from the very formulation of the policy. From the beginning, a central feature of the program was unlawful.

‘The unlawfulness does not relate to a legal technicality or a mistake in drafting. In brief, the “overpayments” the government recovered using income averaging were not overpayments. No one who understood the social security system and its governing legislation could have realistically thought they were.’

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