Why is Centrelink’s robo-debt system still operating? The evidence that many have been unjustly saddled with debt is out there. It’s a scandal that it’s still going on.
Robo-debt is still in operation, because this poor excuse for a government that we have, is deliberately targeting vulnerable people, to discourage them from signing up for Newstart and other benefits.
This can’t be blamed on just the technology. Even if does It is wrong to take away human oversight. The real problem is that it is founded on reversing the principle that the debt must be proved before being issued, to issuing the debt first and then forcing the recipient to prove their innocence.
This may not be easy and some of those facing a debt may not know what they can do about it. It is inevitable that injustices will occur, and we can’t believe that those designing the system were unaware of this.
This scam has also been used as a cover to privatise Centrelink services. Consequently, people getting in touch to sort out a problem are increasingly being shunted to private contractors, provided with incentives to cut even more people off. Their brief is to allow the least possible to be paid out.
Now an expert has hit out against the robot-debt system.
Prof Terry Carney, who is a former member of the Administrative appeals Tribunal (which hears Centrelink appeals), has written in an academic journal that the robo-debt scandal has only been permitted by failings across a ‘plethora’ of institutions.
How the robo-debt program has failed people is exposed, and on appeal many of the issued debts had to be either wiped off completely or substantially reduced.
Centrelink’s “robo-debt” system is a form of illegal extortion allowed by failings across a“plethora” of democratic and legal institutions, he says.
It’s the second time Carney, who helped oversee the writing of Australia’s social security laws, has used academic journals to condemn the system as illegal this year.
Carney’s last paper said robo-debt involved the enforcement of “illegal” debts that in some cases were inflated or non-existent, an allegation that was forcefully rejected by the Department of Human Services. The rejection was not backed by evidence to show otherwise.
This time, Carney used a piece in the Alternative Law Journal to map out the numerous shortcomings that allowed the system to come into being and operate for 18 months without challenge.
“It breaches principles of ethical administration regarding avoidance of oppression of vulnerable and uninformed citizens,” he wrote. “To continue to do so constitutes moral bankruptcy and surely warrants the label of acting in an‘extortionate’ fashion.”
Carney says advocacy bodies and legal aid have been starved of resources and undermined, weakening their ability to challenge the system, and that pro bono legal services and civil society groups have failed to fight the government on the illegality of the system.
He also argues the lack of a sympathetic attitude to the vulnerable means the illegality of the system “has largely failed to catch public attention.”