The Federal Court heard today that the Government considers it has no duty of care to those on welfare who were wrongly and illegally accused of owing, in some cases, huge debts to the Commonwealth!
The fallout from the robotdebt scandal is only gathering pace. Services Australia, through Centrelink, has been using an income averaging process, by which the Government was determining that people on welfare had been overpaid and owed the Government a debt, often in the thousands of dollars. This was a debt that the recipient of the notice had to demonstrate they did not owe, or pay up (it should be noted that Services Australia deliberately reversed the onus of proof from the Government demonstrating the debt was owed, to the hapless recipient having to prove the debt was NOT owed, in order to automate the issuing of thousands of debt notices to the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in the country).
We’ve found out over the last few months that not only did the Government have no legal basis in which to calculate and issue these debts using this process, but that it received legal advice to this effect and chose to hide it and kept pursuing its illegal debt raising scheme in order to claw back money to prop up the budget and its prematurely promised surplus. And today, as class action legal proceedings on behalf of 11,000 citizens who were issued these debt notices arrives in court, the Government has maliciously doubled down by stating it did not believe it owes a ‘duty of care’ to the welfare recipients on whom it inflicted its illegal robotdebt scheme.
The Government is arguing that it should not be required to pay back the money it illegally raised from welfare recipients, and that it should also not be required to pay compensation to people it essentially extorted under extreme duress (it is estimated that over 2000 suicides can be linked to the robodebt crisis – our Government can credibly be accused of hounding people to death).
What is the purpose of Government if not to provide services and care to its citizens? This Government denies a responsibility and duty of care to its most vulnerable citizens in order to justify its extortion of those same citizens over manufactured illegal debts they did not owe. The true nature of a society can be determined by how it treats its most vulnerable; this process has brought into stark relief the true character of the Coalition Government. And as a society, we should be deeply alarmed, because how a Government treats its most vulnerable constituents, who cannot fight back, is how it would treat ALL of its constituents if it thought it could get away with it.
Elana Mitchell, Democrats campaigner
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