Tue, 7 March 2023 at 4:38 am GMT
As someone affected by the program, I’m grateful to those who spoke up against robodebt: the Not My Debt campaign, the reporters who covered the story and the public servants who raised concerns at risk of their jobs.
I’m still angry at the people involved who didn’t speak up. The people who disregarded human decency to chase the next step in their career or to exact revenge on the computer-assigned undeserving poor.
The royal commission is necessary. A lot of us still need a resolution. We remember the incessant debt collector calls. We remember how the debts blew out all our other living expenses. We remember having our tax returns taken from us. We remember the endless calls to Centrelink to clear our names that never went anywhere. We remember the taboo of speaking out about it all.
Attempts to explain ourselves were generally met with incredulity. This country is full of people who are openly spiteful of anyone relying on an income support payment. The dole-bludger narrative is far-reaching and it led to people who received these debts creating isolated communities to support each other and seek answers.
According to his former media adviser, Alan Tudge requested the file of every person who spoke to the media, and the department cleared the release of some personal information to select news outlets to “correct the record”. Tudge had to be told it was a bad look to take this action against a young man who had committed suicide following one of their illegal debts. Those shouldn’t be the actions of someone working in the public service.
I was glad to see Tudge resign from politics but the fact that he never admitted his responsibility for robodebt nor faced real consequences for his actions incenses me.
Too many of the architects of the program remain in powerful positions. A select few have admitted a very small amount of responsibility. None have offered what I would consider a sincere apology to the people whose lives they toyed with in pursuit of political power.
Stuart Robert has claimed responsibility for implementing the scheme. He remains a Liberal minister within the House of Representatives.
Kathryn Campbell went from being the Secretary of the Department of Human Services and then the Department of Social Services to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade after her work on robodebt. She no longer holds this position, thankfully, but there are a lot of powerful men who were at least as much responsible for the robodebt debacle as her.
Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott each had a hand in implementing the scheme in previous ministerial roles. Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister for the beginning and Morrison at the end of the program. All three receive benefits for their roles as ex-PMs. They should disqualify themselves from these perks in light of what our most vulnerable receive on Centrelink.
The royal commission has been laying bare the cruel reality of what it’s like to live below the poverty line. The hearings demonstrate how exactly the systems designed to punish the poor are created.
I don’t know what comes next. Hopefully, legislation that keeps it from happening again. I don’t trust that those who implemented robodebt and who proceeded against all legal warnings will hold themselves to account. I don’t think any promise of structural change within their organisation should be believed.
I’m just glad that there were people fighting in our corner this time around.
• Nathan Kearney is a horticulturist and independent musician who wants to see welfare reform in Australia