Politics Analysis

Dutton chortles as Labor acts on L-NP Robodebt delinquency

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

Australians generally elect Labor governments when they believe change is needed and they hold high hopes for progress.

This week, the Albanese Government took further steps to address one of the most rotten and shameful chapters in recent Australian history, by agreeing to all 56 recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme.

While it has been criticised on some issues where long overdue reforms have not yet materialised, the Labor Government's performance on Robodebt and action taken to ensure such a disaster can never be repeated, have been exemplary and deserve acknowledgement. 

As the 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.

Dutton no doubt felt protected by his Parliamentary privilege, emboldened by the deplorable No vote “win” and insulated by the knowledge that most people who would still vote for him either agree with his contempt for the underprivileged or would likely not be watching his disgusting performance in the Chamber.

We now know that the crime of Robodebt, inflicted as it was on the innocent, the frail, the most vulnerable Australian families, and over which 2,000 people took their own lives, was not an inadvertent error. It was not an administrative mistake. It was cold, calculating and deliberate. It is shocking in the extreme. It is simply inexcusable. Yet the fact that Dutton not only displays zero remorse but actually finds the whole thing amusing, tells us all we need to know about this would-be PM. 

The unlawfulness and utter cruelty of Robodebt, about which the Coalition Government had been warned three years prior and a total of 76 times before it acted, but still constantly and blatantly continued to lie about, appears to have had little effect on the Opposition Leader.

At various times, he has called the Royal Commission "a witchhunt" and criticised the Labor Government for being "gleeful" about it. And this week, Dutton again channelled Donald Trump and repeated a shameless falsehood — one which Commissioner Catherine Holmes called out in her report. Mr Dutton again claimed that when the problems with the Robodebt Scheme were raised, the program was stopped immediately. This is a monstrous lie. 

Dutton also muttered a few words resembling an apology that went something like: I'm sorry for those affected but it's hardly my fault, before defending Alan Tudge, Stuart Robert and Scott Morrison's right to reject the findings against them. And then, unlike Robodebt victims who were treated as criminals without charge, Dutton talked about his mates and Robodebt architects being "innocent until proven guilty".

If anyone is still ignorant of this man’s heinous rap sheet on human rights or plain decency, his complete lack of remorse over Robodebt and conduct in the Chamber when Labor presented its response to the Royal Commission's Report into Robodebt should be enough to relegate him to electoral oblivion forever more.

The Albanese Government has agreed to implement all 56 of the Royal Commission recommendations. (There is some debate as to whether there were 56 or 57 recommendations in the Report, with a point about FOI release of cabinet documents referred to as a "closing comment" by Labor.) Investigations by the Public Service Commissioner have commenced into the conduct of 16 public servants referred for criminal or civil prosecution.

It is also providing 'additional funding ... to support implementation of the Government Response'.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is of course unable to detail any investigations before the National Anti-Corruption Commission, but it is heartening that these have begun.

The positive and decisive steps taken by Labor to address Robodebt, however, are in sharp contrast to its persistence with the prosecution of former military lawyer David McBride, who blew the whistle on SAS war crimes, and its refusal to implement protections for whistleblowers in general, for example. There are several other areas where the Government's performance has come under fire from progressives. (See subscriber-only editorial for more details.)

Australians demand more from Labor governments.

By the time the Morrison Government was finally voted out, the list of corruption and incompetence requiring drastic action was already so extensive that no matter what the new Albanese Government addresses, the level of discontent and government distrust within the community will be hard to shift.

But this is not to say that just because Labor might be doing its best or that because the previous government was abominable, we should let Labor off the hook. It also does not mean that because the previous government was a disgrace, we should not point out where the Albanese Government falls short of our expectations.

Repeated cries of “they’re all the same” are unhelpful at best and self-perpetuating at worst. And we need to give credit where warranted. 

A Dutton-led government is unthinkable for progressives, but we must continue to hold Labor to a higher standard, one which they met admirably with their response to the Robodebt Royal Commission. 

 
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You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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