Robodebt royal commission report delivered, flagging criminal prosecutions

Senior public servants will be referred for civil and criminal prosecution over the unlawful Robodebt scheme.

Royal commissioner Catherine Holmes on Friday handed a 990-page report containing 57 recommendations to Governor-General David Hurley.

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The report also included a sealed chapter that is not part of the bound report.

“It recommends referrals of individuals for civil and criminal prosecution,” the commission said in a statement.

The former Coalition government launched the scheme to “detect, investigate and deter suspected welfare fraud and non-compliance” in mid-2015 in an effort to save billions of dollars.

The scheme — which became known as Robodebt — issued debt notices to people identified through a process called income averaging, which compared reported incomes with tax office data.

More than $750 million was wrongfully recovered from 381,000 people under the scheme.

Victims told the royal commission of their trauma and fear as they received notices and debt collectors made contact.

The inquiry also heard evidence of bureaucrats ignoring serious questions and advice about the legality of the scheme.

The scheme was ruled unlawful by the Federal Court in 2019.

A settlement of $1.2 billion was reached between Robodebt victims and the then-government in 2020.

The inquiry, headed by former Queensland chief justice Catherine Holmes, was set up in August 2022 — three months after the Labor government was elected.

The inquiry set up in 2022 was headed by former Queensland chief justice Catherine Holmes. Credit: AAP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said ahead of the report’s release, the government would take the time to give a “considered response”.

“It should never have happened, and the important thing is that it never happened again, because this was a human tragedy with real consequences for people,” he told ABC radio.

“The cabinet has made a decision that will release it (the report) straight away so that the public can examine it.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he would wait and see what findings were made in the report.

“There is no question about why it’s being dropped today,” he told Channel 9, pointing to the upcoming Fadden by-election.

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