Politics Analysis

Scotty the Welfare Cop and his Robodebt Royal Commission copout

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

Despite Scott Morrison making a solid effort to represent himself as an innocent bystander in the Robodebt RC, his waffling and obfuscation are only convincing us all of his guilt as its engineer. Managing editor Michelle Pini reports. 

*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.

IF YOU WERE just tuning in to watch former PM and multi-ministry junkie Scott Morrison giving evidence before the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Schemeyou may be forgiven for thinking that this was a man who was simply coming forward to set us all straight.

Just like any actual progress during Morrison’s prime ministerial term, the Robodebt Royal Commission is proceeding interminably slowly as Morrison gives evidence about what he knew about Robodebt. As was his habit while Prime Minister, Morrison frequently drifts off during the proceedings into long, usually irrelevant soliloquies about what a great job he was doing and why Robodebt was really needed. As opposed to the actual facts — which in this case, of course, are that Robodebt was an unlawful and erroneous scheme that extorted money from the poorest and most vulnerable among us, leading to devastation and in many cases, suicide.

Though this is surely only a formality, since, as we have covered in detail over the years here at IA, he most certainly knew. He knew and chose to do nothing. Morrison knew and actually chose to proceed. Along with his Cabinet and all the senior public servants who participated in the scheme. Too bad if it was fallacious. Too bad if it was illegal. And sayonara to the 2,000 people who lost their lives.

But as Scotty told the Royal Commission:

"I think we're getting a bit bogged down in semantics."

As often happened during Morrison's reign, once again, irony died. Because, sure, today (14 December) is the day the former PM was questioned by a royal commission to determine whether or not he was aware of the flagrant miscarriage of justice that resulted in Robodebt – the illegal scheme that led to the deaths of an estimated 2,000 individuals – and which was based on the "semantics" provided by recipients to the Department of Social Services going back as far as ten years. Though this, as pointed out by Commissioner Catherine Holmes, was against the legislation. 

Interestingly, the legality of the scheme and whether he was aware of it was also the subject of one of Morrison's tangents. He strayed off into what he "understood" the department "understood" about what the recipients "understood" and whether he had any "understanding" of the legislation. Understand? No, we don't, Scotty.

This is because Morrison, belligerent and condescending to the last, takes every opportunity to interject, obfuscate, “clarify” and otherwise attempt to obscure any inquiry from the facts of his misdeeds.

Today, both Commissioner Catherine Holmes AC SC and senior counsel assisting Justin Greggery KC demonstrated gargantuan reserves of patience with Morrison, whose tactics, as always, are simply infuriating and convey little. 

Indeed, it was pleasing to see Commissioner Holmes having none of it, telling Morrison at various intervals during the proceedings:

“Mr Morrison, it might be better if you just wait for the question."

"That was really not that relevant.”

“Oh please, don’t give us an example.”

"Are you even listening?”

And then, with obvious frustration, Commissioner Holmes cooly suggests to Morrison:

"Can I get you to stick to answering the question a bit more? I do understand that you come from a background where rhetoric is important, but it is necessary to listen to the question and just answer it without extra detail, unnecessary detail, if you can."

Other highlights included the former PM happily referring to himself as a "welfare cop". No lack of understanding there.

And then there's our personal favourite, the part where the proceedings were halted from the live stream as Scotty the Welfare Cop decided to reveal details from documents provided under parliamentary privilege, at which point Commissioner Holmes asked Morrison whether he understood what parliamentary privilege is, to which he replied that he did.

The inquiry resumed and Commissioner Holmes again stopped Morrison, almost immediately, explaining that he was, once again, referring to documents under parliamentary privilege. 

This, of course, is all because while Morrison may not be a lawyer, he understands that the “framing” of questions and of facts, can provide a perfect decoy for avoiding unpleasant consequences. It is no coincidence that he became known as Scotty from Marketing before he was Scotty the Welfare Cop, after all.

And so it is that today (14 December), a former prime minister of Australia, who still sits in parliament (collecting a salary of around $200K and will receive a parliamentary pension for life of about that amount) despite official censuring by the House – a usually unheard of occurrence – sits confidently in front of a royal commission, thinking he’s got away with it all. And let’s face it, he probably has.

He continues to spin tales about why what he did was right and for our own good. That it matters not if people were hounded to their deaths because Robodebt was one of the mechanisms by which he could pretend to care about so-called “rorting”.

This is Morrison after all, and he should know about rorting, since, as PM, he oversaw the most scandalous rorting of any government, ever, deliberately and without a hint of shame. That man is now standing before the people of Australia in all his glorious entitlement, telling us that sure, he clawed back dollars and cents from Australia’s poorest citizens. Sure, we now know they didn’t even owe any money.

And yes, it may have been unlawful (though he couldn’t possibly have imagined that to be the case) but he was only trying to bring those who sought to rort the system to justice:

"There was nothing to suggest to me in the submission that went to Cabinet that it was unlawful and no evidence was presented about that submission that it was unlawful at that time, or at any other time, until the Solicitor General provided the Minister for Government Services with advice in 2019."

What we need to understand is that Scotty from Marketing, the Liar from the Shire, the former PM, secret Treasurer, Health Minister, Finance Minister, Home Affairs Minister and Minister for Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, hero of Engadine and now, self-appointed Welfare Cop, will continue to avoid and weasel his way out of all responsibility. He will throw his colleagues and staff under the bus, just as he did the victims of the (as he always understood it to be) illegal, Robodebt scheme. He has no shame.

Hopefully, Scotty the Welfare Cop has finally met his match in the formidable Commissioner Catherine Holmes at the Robodebt Royal Commission

*This article is also available on audio here:

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter – usually only available to subscribers – and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

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

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