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A royal commission has been established to examine the former debt assessment and recovery scheme known as Robodebt. Between 2015 and 2019, the former Federal Government falsely accused 443,000 people of underreporting their income and being overpaid government benefits. Approximately 381,000 people paid back their debts issued to them, totaling $751 million, which was later found to be unlawful.

In 2021, the former government agreed to a $1.8 billion settlement. This included repaying people with some interest and removing any outstanding unlawful debts.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called the Robodebt scheme a “cruel system” that resulted in “human tragedy”, alluding to the numerous claims of suicides. The new Labor government has allocated $30 million for the royal commission, fulfilling an election promise.

“People lost their lives,” said Albanese.

Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia

The royal commission will examine the establishment of the scheme, who was responsible for it and why it was necessary, how concerns were handled, how the scheme affected individuals and the financial costs to government, and measures to prevent this ever happening again.

The royal commission will focus on decisions made by people in positions of authority. It will be led by Catherine Holmes, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland. Holmes has experience leading the Queensland floods commission of inquiry in 2011-2012 and acting as counsel in the commission of inquiry into abuse of children in Queensland Institutions in 1998-99.

Former ministers that were involved in the Robodebt scheme such as former Prime Minister Scott Morison, Marise Payne and Christian Porter, may be compelled to testify as witnesses. Albanese said that it would be up to the commission to decide whether this was required.

When asked if the royal commission would recommend further compensation for victims of the Robodebt scheme, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said that the inquiry had broad terms and the government would not preempt the commission’s findings.

The final report is due to be delivered by 18 April 2023.