Crime Analysis

Lessons learned from Robodebt RC: Zero NACC unknown culprits: Six

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

The NACC's decision to ignore the crime of Robodebt is a kick in the guts for every victim of this heinous scheme and further evidence of the failure of our public institutions, writes managing editor Michelle Pini.

WHILE IT WAS FITTING that Morrison, Tudge, Porter, Robert and Keenan were made to face the Royal Commission, what would be even more appropriate is if they were now "tracked down", "made to repay those debts" and possibly "even end up in prison".

That is very much "in the public interest".

When the Labor Government agreed to all 56 recommendations from the Robodebt Royal Commission last year, there was a sense that things were in hand and that there would finally be consequences for those responsible. 

Responsible Coalition ministers for Robodebt over its four-year destruction period, including Scott Morrison, Alan Tudge, Christian Porter, Stuart Robert and Michael Keenan plus an assortment of senior public servants, all faced the Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission's final report was delayed to allow Commissioner Catherine Holmes time to refer individuals to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

Sixteen bureaucrats, including former Department of Human Services secretaries Kathryn Campbell and Renée Leon, were to face further investigation by the Australian Public Service Commission special task force, established to deal with code of conduct referrals.

Six individuals, whose names have not been released and may or may not have included these secretaries, were also referred to the NACC.

As we reported at the time the Labor Government presented its response to the Royal Commission Report in Parliament, architect of the scheme and former PM Scott Morrison smirked, while former chief bouncer and current Opposition Leader Peter Dutton likewise sniggered, chortled or turned his back on the proceedings. The rest had already slithered away.

Many of us felt an overwhelming desire to wipe that smirk off their faces, Peter Costello-style. Of course, we controlled ourselves yet again, assuaged by the belief their comeuppance would soon arrive.

But on Thursday 6 June, nine years since Robodebt began and almost 12 months since Commissioner Catherine Holmes delivered her findings, the NACC announced:

The Commission has therefore decided not to commence a corruption investigation as it would not add value in the public interest. However, the Commission considers that the outcomes of the Robodebt Royal Commission contain lessons of great importance for enhancing integrity in the Commonwealth public sector and the accountability of public officials. The Commission will continue … to ensure that those lessons are learnt, and to hold public officials to account. …

The Commission will not be making further comment.

No further comment, eh?

Not even about how any ‘lessons of great importance’ will ever be learnt when no officials are ever held to account? Or about how those lessons will ever be learnt when these individuals have not been gaoled, summarily dismissed, fined, not even named or required to make a public apology? 

It turns out Morrison and Dutton could smirk and chortle to their collective (assuming they each have one) hearts’ content, confident in the knowledge no comeuppance would be forthcoming. And they are smugly aware that their part in this sickening crime, or any other crimes to which they (or other parliamentarians and public servants) may be complicit, will have absolutely no personal ramifications for them.

We cannot even look forward to wiping the smirks off the faces of top dogs Morrison and Dutton.

Over 2,000 people were driven to take their own lives over Robodebt, a vicious and illegal scheme designed only to break the poorest, sickest and most vulnerable among us. Make no mistake, no lessons have been learnt. There is nothing to stop this exact thing happening again.

Then there’s the matter of the NACC. What possible purpose can this excuse for a corruption commission possibly achieve if not even one person is brought to justice for the deaths of over 2,000 innocent people and the destruction of thousands more lives?

Commissioner Holmes' damning report detailed the many ways the Robodebt scheme 'failed the public interest':

'It is remarkable how little interest there seems to have been in ensuring the Scheme’s legality, how rushed its implementation was, how little thought was given to how it would affect welfare recipients and the lengths to which public servants were prepared to go to oblige ministers on a quest for savings.

Truly dismaying was the revelation of dishonesty and collusion to prevent the Scheme’s lack of legal foundation coming to light.

Holmes also pointed to the failure of the entire institutional framework:

'Equally disheartening was the ineffectiveness of what one might consider institutional checks and balances – the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office, the Office of Legal Services Coordination, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal – in presenting any hindrance to the Scheme’s continuance.'

The decision not to investigate those responsible for Robodebt – Australia’s biggest public service crime to date – is a massive failure from the NACC, which is supposed to investigate corruption and provide accountability.

It is not lost on us that Labor Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has not created an anti-corruption institution with teeth or even offered extra whistleblower protections. There appears to be a confluence of minds among politicians from both sides of the political fence that bringing responsible parties to justice may redound upon them.

The Albanese Government began on the right foot in setting up a national anti-corruption commission and a Robodebt Royal Commission. It must now address the reasons those responsible for this heinous crime are not being brought to justice and rectify them.

And if you’re not outraged or if you think this stuff only happens to so-called “dole bludgers” or “no-hopers”, given there are zero consequences for the perpetrators of this crime, what makes you think it can’t happen to anyone the government of the day decides to use for political leverage?  

While it was fitting that Morrison, Tudge, Porter, Robert and Keenan were made to face the Royal Commission, what would be even more appropriate is if they were now "tracked down", "made to repay those debts" and possibly "even end up in prison".

If you would like to make an official complaint about the NACC's conduct, you may do so here.

This is not the whole story! Subscribe today to read the whole article and access all our work.

Follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter/X @independentaus and Facebook HERE.

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