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Robodebt inquiry exposes putrid behaviour

The royal commission was established and is now in session
The royal commission was established and is being streamed live here:

| Schwartz Media

From time to time, when there’s something important to say, I give space in PNG Attitude for Australian politics. Each morning, Schwartz Media sends me a heads-up on the big stories of the day. This morning’s email brought with it sickening information about how a powerful segment of Australia’s public service, apparently working at the behest of senior politicians, had engaged in what would best be described as criminal behaviour. The passages underlined for emphasis are mine - KJ

MELBOURNE - Rachelle Miller, who was an adviser to former federal human services minister Alan Tudge, testified to the Robodebt Royal Commission yesterday on her role in handling media inquiries about the illegal welfare debt recovery scheme.

Miller said that in late 2016 there was a “proliferation” of negative media coverage “predominantly in the left-wing media”.

She alleged that in response, Tudge “requested the file of every single person who appeared in the media … you could see the exact transactions that they’d had with Centrelink”.

Miller said the government then released personal information of robodebt “case studies” to “more friendly” tabloid media to deter more people from speaking out.

She added that then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office told her the narrative of “cracking down on welfare cheats” was playing well in marginal seats in Western Sydney.

Last year, Miller received a $650,000 (K1.6 million) settlement from the Commonwealth after she alleged abuse by Tudge during her employment under him and former government minister Michaelia Cash.

Tudge will today testify before the royal commission, where he will also be cross-examined by lawyers for Miller.

Earlier yesterday, Annette Musolino, former chief counsel at the Department of Human Services, was grilled over her failure to appeal tribunal decisions related to the scheme’s flawed use of income averaging;

It follows evidence to the royal commission last week that showed how departments actively avoided legal precedents to keep the (robodebt) scheme running for years.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Ah, the thought of an affronted and schreeeeeching Michaelia Cash.....

Bernard Corden

Another remarkable feature during the Commission of Inquiry was the appalling testimony from the demure Randroid, Rachelle Miller.

It was littered with irritating phrases such as, "You know" and "Kind of" and redolent of a Skype interview with Richard Wilkins live from a Manhattan studio apartment on Park Avenue.

It spoke volumes for a Sydney Church of England Grammar School education.

Bernard Corden

One of the most despicable aspects of the entire Robodebt scheme is its reverse onus of proof.

Over the past three decades the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and various state bodies successfully lobbied governments to attenuate the employer's duty of care under statutory work health and safety legislation. This involved more corporate socialism and removal of the reverse onus of proof.

How come our federal government did not apply the same rigour and ruthlessness towards many corporate gangsters such as Rio Tinto, Anglo Coal and BHP over income tax?

Brother Stuey may make an appearance before the Royal Commission next week and maybe Michaelia Cash. Attendees in the public gallery will be provided suitable hearing protection.

Michael Lorenz

After reading your report about Robodebt I decided to have a look at some of the video available on the royal commission website and to say I came away shocked and appalled is putting it mildly.

The demeanor of some of witnesses involved in introducing and implementing the debt recovery program left me speechless. Many of them seemed to exude an aura of fuck you impunity, accepting no responsibility for the disaster.

On the plus side I can't think of a better argument for some sort of ubi than this shitshow.

All for a few votes, apparently. Wedge politics in its finest iteration.

Like you Michael, I watched some of the proceedings yesterday. Alan Tudge, formerly the minister responsible for implementing the robodebt scheme was being examined. I was variously astonished, irate and amused at Tudge's attempts to wriggle away from any responsibility. I think what particularly astonished me were Tudge's claims he had not sought legal opinion on the legitimacy of a scheme that, even then, was being described publicly as unlawful. If readers are interested, the hearing resumes today at 9.30 am. You can find the stream at - KJ

Bernard Corden

Alan Tudge was one of several Ivy League cabinet ministers in the LNP coalition government under the sanctimonious mooncalf.

His egregious performance today at the Pullman in Brisbane almost made Barnaby Joyce sound articulate. Meanwhile, the railway station car park rorts scandal remains unresolved.

Nobody in parliament house realised old Barnaby was a drunkard until he turned up sober for work one day in the lower house.

Meanwhile, the Royal Commission continues tomorrow with a special guest appearance from Frank ('Some Mothers do 'Ave 'Em') Spencer aka Christian Porter.

Indeed, the theatre of law has very little to do with the discovery of truth or realisation of justice.

Moreover, numerous public serpents and other panjandrums have sacrificed truth to protect the interests of the powerful over the powerless. This brings me to Tony Benn's infamous five questions for politicians:

1) What power have you got
2) Where did you get it from?
3) In whose interests do you exercise it?
4) To whom are you accountable?
5) How do we get rid of you?

Any leader or minister who is unable to answer the final question does not live in a democratic system or believe in the process.

Stephen Charteris

At a time of gross inequity, the best some of the ruling elite could do was attack the poor and disadvantaged.

Worse, they concocted an illegal scheme that forecast a customers debt that in many cases had never existed and presumed their guilt unless proven otherwise. Is that the LNP post truth paradigm.

I hope those responsible who ignored advice as to the illegality of their actions face the full force of the law.

Chris Overland

I have followed the activities of the Royal Commission into the Robodebt scheme since it commenced.

As a retired former senior executive in the SA public service, I have some insight into the sometimes quite complex relationships between senior public servants and their political masters.

Over the years politicians of all persuasions have progressively subverted the traditional independence of the public service through a variety of means, most notably placing all senior executives on performance based, time limited contracts.

In a way, the Robodebt scheme exemplifies just how damaging this process has been for the development and implementation of public policy.

It is very clear that the senior public servants responsible for designing and implementing the scheme knew almost from the outset that it was illegal, as well as immoral and unethical.

Nevertheless, they worked assiduously to comply with the wishes of their political masters. They ignored or denied or circumvented any and all advice that contradicted the ideologically based belief that the people caught up in the scheme were all 'welfare cheats' and thus undeserving of either sympathy or belief.

In short, they entirely bought into the beliefs of the governing party as distinct from approaching the matter from a dispassionate, fair minded and, above all, legally and ethically proper manner. They truly became the servants of the ruling political party as distinct from the Australian public they are sworn to serve.

This catastrophic failure to perform their proper role in giving 'frank and fearless' advice has been reflected in the evasions, deflections and convenient lapses in memory that senior public servants called before the Royal Commision have displayed when giving evidence.

Even more conveniently, one of the key figures involved, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Social Services, has since died. The Royal Commission thus will be deprived of critical insights into to what passed between the responsible Ministers involved and the principal architect of the scheme.

That the Australian Public Service is no longer fit for purpose has been vividly displayed during the Royal Commission.

It has been irredeemably corrupted by years of political efforts to reduce it to a mere cypher of the political party in power.

The same may be said of the state public services, wherein the same tactics have been pursued to make them more 'responsive' to the party in power.

The members of Australia's political parties are increasingly not representative of the wider Australian community.

They are much more reflective of specific interest groups like unions, the business community, religious groups and some ethnic communities.

Consequently, their ideas about policy and governance are now driven more by the need to satisfy the economic or ideological needs of these interest groups rather than at the needs and aspirations of the wider public.

The 'captive' public service thus becomes the instrument of this process and, as the Robodebt scandal demonstrates all too clearly, this can and does result in actions that are manifestly neither consistent with the law or a broadly defined understanding of the public interest.

By rights, the Royal Commision ought to interpret its brief to recommend very major changes to how the Public Service is structured and managed. In particular, it should recommend that the practice of hiring public servants on a contractual basis should be abandoned in favour of a return to tenured appointments in some form.

It is abundantly apparent that a senior public servant whose tenure depends upon the whim of the government of the day will feel constrained from giving 'frank and fearless' advice. This was understood by those who more than a century ago first established an 'independent' public service.

This was primarily done to serve as a bulwark against the pervasive cronyism, nepotism and outright corruption that was pervasive at the time.

The Robodebt debacle demonstrates that the modern public service is no less vulnerable to these same forces than was the case all those years ago.

If ever there was a time when major reform was needed it is now. Whether Australia's major parties are capable of doing this, or even recognising the need to do it, is a moot point.

I will not be holding my breath.

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