Damning evidence that the government knew robo-debt was illegal
Damning emails have revealed that the Morrison government knew that the controversial robo-debt scheme was illegal and that the debts were not lawful.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has accused the government of breaking the law and Greens senator Rachel Siewert has demanded the government come clean on how long it has known its debt-recovery scheme was unlawful.
Confidential emails between tax office officials were provided to a Senate committee on Thursday, revealing that the Department of Social Service had received legal advice that thousands of debts raised were “not lawful debts”.
It’s unclear as to how long ago the legal advice was received.
The email from the Australian Taxation Office’s general counsel, Jonathan Todd, was dated 19 November 2019, and sent to ATO commissioner, Chris Jordan marked ‘Sensitive: Legal’.
“In further discussion with the DSS, it appears that what you need to raise is: they have advised you that they have received legal advice that debts based solely upon DSS own income averaging of ATO annual tax data are not lawful debts (‘robo-debts’),” read the email.
“They have also suspended the raising and recovery of robo-debts as of today.”
A week later the government settled a court challenge brought by Victoria Legal Aid over a robo-debt, rather than allow it to proceed to court.
Evidence in regards to the Gov's knowledge of the illegality of the #robodebt scheme has been released by the Community Affairs References committee today.— Rachel Siewert (@SenatorSiewert) February 6, 2020
They must come clean on how long they knew robodebt was illegal. https://t.co/N90fnAbpOK#Auspol pic.twitter.com/v8t23ywZik
The Prime Minister was asked in Parliament on Thursday: “Does the Prime Minister regret administering an illegal robo-debt scheme?”
Mr Morrison handballed his opportunity to respond to Human Services Minister Stuart Robert, who claimed the changes were in response to community feedback.
“These changes are designed to make the program more robust by requiring additional evidence,” said Mr Robert.
“This means we’ll no longer raise a debt where the only information we’re relying on is the averaging of ATO. For those debts raised to date, the statement was made that services Australia will be carefully and methodically working to identify those customers.”
Greens senator Rachel Siewert said the government must now reveal how long it knew robo-debt was illegal.
“People in our community have been traumatised and harassed for years and years, many have large debts they don’t owe and are being forced to pay with interest and they want and deserve answers,” said Senator Siewert.