Action on manifestly unjust and illegal ‘Robodebt’ long overdue.

June 2, 2020

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) welcomes the Federal Government’s long overdue commitment to reverse the harm caused by its illegal ‘Robodebt’ system, noting the system has destroyed lives.

ALHR President Kerry Weste said, “Since the scheme was introduced in mid-2016, advocates have been consistently alerting the responsible Ministers, including the treasurer at the time, Mr Scott Morrison, as to the need for urgent reform of a system which violated international law and was manifestly unjust.”

“Robodebt’, has always been deeply problematic, raising significant human rights concerns, particularly in respect of Australia’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).”

“The system was fundamentally flawed. It calculated a large number of debts incorrectly. It has also consistently failed to adequately evidence alleged debts before issuing a notice. Contrary to usual principles of justice, it placed a reverse onus on the recipient to disprove the alleged debt causing enormous anguish to the recipient and, worse still, without the recipient having adequate access to relevant records. The system has been plagued by inadequate staffing levels within the Department of Human Services (DHS) to assist recipients in relation to inquiries and as well as inadequate training of those staff.”

Ms Weste continued, “The ‘Robodebt’ dispute resolution processes were difficult and unfair because the legislation governing payments from DHS is extraordinarily complex and beyond the understanding of most people. Moreover, the automated system’s use of debt collection agencies may not have complied with debt collection guidelines and it has never been clear if such agencies were appropriately trained in how to communicate with vulnerable people.”

“This was a manifestly unjust system that has had a disproportionate impact on some of the most vulnerable members of our society, especially people living with a disability. This disproportionate impact of ‘Robodebt’, arguably renders the Federal Government also in breach of obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” said Ms Weste. 

“The raising of alleged debts that were incorrectly calculated within a system that has had little regard for the wellbeing of the most vulnerable in our community is in direct contrast with Australia’s obligations under the ICESCR.”

“It is imperative that the Federal Government urgently review all automated debt collection systems being used and reform or abandon any aspects of the Centrelink compliance program that do not comply with our domestic laws and international legal obligations.”

ALHR’s September 2019 submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Inquiry into the Centre Link Compliance Program is available here.

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.