Robodebt victims should be refunded, Labor says


People who paid the Federal Government under its controversial robodebt program should get a refund, federal Labor has declared.

Key points:

  • Labor has called for any debt raised based solely on the robodebt process to be repaid
  • The Government is no longer raising debts based solely on the process after being warned it could be illegal
  • The Minister for Government Services said it would be inappropriate to comment while legal action was underway

The Government tried to find welfare cheats by automatically comparing information held by Centrelink with Australian Tax Office (ATO) income data.

But the program — which aimed to raise $1.5 billion — has been slammed for being inaccurate and bullying people into paying money they did not owe.

Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten said any debt raised based solely on the computerised process should be repaid.

“The first thing they should do is identify everyone… [where] they have relied on this unlawful robodebt scheme and say, ‘sorry we took the money using the wrong power, so we’ll give it back to you’,” Mr Shorten said.

“Then, if they think that some of these people owe some money, by all means let’s [pursue them].”

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The Government is no longer raising debts based solely on this automated process after legal advice warned it could be illegal.

Documents released last week show Government lawyers cautioned the “robodebt” program could be unlawful on the same day the Coalition announced an overhaul of the scheme.

The ATO’s chief lawyer, Jonathan Todd, wrote to tax commissioner Chris Jordan on November 19 last year about the advice from the Department of Social Services (DSS).

“[DSS] have advised you that they have received legal advice that debts based solely upon DSS’s own income averaging of ATO annual tax data are not lawful debts,” he said.

“They have also suspended the raising and recovery of robodebts as of today.”

A Victorian law firm is running a class-action lawsuit against the Government over the scheme, which it said about 10,000 people had joined.


Stuart Robert said it would not be appropriate to comment while legal action was underway. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

“This Government should stop arguing in court, denying that it shouldn’t repay people for whom it has improperly levied them,” Mr Shorten said.

A spokesman for the minister responsible, Stuart Robert, said it would be inappropriate to respond to Mr Shorten’s comments while legal action was underway.