3 June 2020

Paddy Manning: “[F]or sheer government incompetence and malevolence, nothing comes close to the disgraceful robodebt program, which was based on a tabloid myth of rampant welfare fraud, was heartlessly implemented, and which turned out to be illegal. On Friday afternoon we learnt that, in the face of litigation that threatened to embarrass key Coalition ministers, the federal government would refund a staggering $721 million in debts unlawfully charged to more than 373,000 vulnerable Australians. … But this utter debacle is about much more than the money, which always represented chicken feed for taxpayers but was literally a matter of life or death for the unfortunate recipients of unlawful debts. Last year, a Senate inquiry into the scheme took evidence that more than 2000 people died after receiving their initial robodebt letter, of which a third were considered ‘vulnerable’ by the Department of Human Services. … But the government … has learnt nothing from all this, announcing the resumption of mutual obligations yesterday, forcing the unemployed through the humiliating ritual of searching for jobs that don’t exist as the economy dives into recession.”