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Wren's Week: The Gladys Liu scandal deepens and robodebt class action begins

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While Glady's Liu's problems get worse, there may be some hope for robodebt victims (Screenshots via YouTube)

As Gladys Liu's political career becomes undone, the Labor Party has taken action against the robodebt scandal, writes John Wren.

THE GOVERNMENT continues to unravel.

The Gladys Liu scandal is not going away. If anything, more inappropriate activity has come to light and I fully expect much more is still to come. Since last week, it has been revealed she was the likely organiser of an anonymous Chinese language social media cabal that pumped out vast quantities of digital disinformation about Labour and Greens candidates and puffed her up.

I don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese, but I’m reliably informed much of what was published was quite horrendous and quite distasteful. Let’s just say Liu’s homophobic credentials were on full display. She will, of course, deny all knowledge of it.

It also emerged she promised to write references for Chinese student visas in return for volunteer work on her campaign. NSW Labor Senator Kristina Keneally called it visas for volunteers. It’s corruption in plain sight. There are also photos of Liu with both Liberal Party branding and Chinese Communist Party Belt and Road signage side-by-side.

Liu’s fraudulent AEC-inspired election day signage also went before the Court of Disputed Returns. Apparently, the Liberal Party’s legal team were chastised for their (unsurprising) reluctance to assist the Court. Once the case got underway it appears Liu’s defence was that the Liberal Party did it and she knew nothing about the signs. This is despite numerous photo and videos of her standing in front of the signs on election day.

This is a desperate defence by the Libs. They know they’ve been caught out. By acknowledging the blame lies with them it takes the heat off Liu. They are effectively saying the fraud lies with the Liberal Party, not the candidate, so it would be inappropriate for the Court to find against her.

Liu is now a zombie MP. Her political career is over. The scandal will not go away. Eventually, Scott Morrison will ask her to resign. When even the unembarrassable Bob Katter is too embarrassed to be seen with her, you know the end is nigh.

While this was all unfolding, both Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg were arrogantly telling business leaders that they should not be getting themselves or their companies involved in social issues, that they should stick to their knitting.

The first point is, who do these two think they are to tell “captains of industry” how they should invest their marketing or operational dollars? Companies invest their money where they will likely get the greatest return on investment for their shareholders. These companies operate in their communities which are made up of consumers who buy their products and services. If the community is demanding electric cars, for instance, is Frydenberg suggesting they shouldn’t invest in developing such vehicles because they should be promoting fossil-fuel in line with government policy? Extraordinary.

If a company gains more revenue from being outwardly anti-Adani/coal than if it were dealing with Adani/coal as a supplier, then why shouldn’t a company take that stance?

Lastly, and I’m not sure that Morrison and Frydenberg have thought this through, but companies make donations to political parties because they are in favour not just of the party’s economic policies but also because of its social policies. Let’s not forget those social policies affect their customers’ spending power. So, when Morrison says these companies shouldn’t get involved, is he saying they should no longer make donations to the Liberals on that basis? I loathe the term “virtue signal”, it’s an alt-Right pejorative. Morrison used it when he said companies should not virtue signal on social issues. Well, isn’t a public donation to a political party a virtue signal in itself?

These sort of centralised commands to the business community are totalitarian in nature. The Chinese Communist Politburo issues such social edicts to Chinese businesses all the time. They also expect strong compliance. The penalties for non-compliance can be severe for the company as a whole and their rogue executives, especially if they are State-owned enterprises. Perhaps having Gladys Liu in the Liberals and having those Chinese donations rolling in is affecting Morrison and Frydenberg’s behaviours.

The other huge news this week was the Labor Party’s and Gordon Legal’s initiation of a legal class action against the Government over their dreadful robodebt program. I’ve commented on robodebt before, but to summarise, the Government uses an algorithm to identify welfare recipients who might be in a situation where they have received more welfare then they were entitled to. It is not an exact science by any means. Once someone is identified they are sent a letter of demand for the alleged outstanding amount. They are effectively found guilty until proven innocent.

The letters have caused innumerable tales of stress and depression. Many people have supposedly taken their own lives after receiving such a letter. Once a letter is received, it is up the recipient to prove their innocence to Centrelink. Anyone who has dealt with Centrelink knows how soul-destroying, time-consuming and ultimately futile this can be. This, of course, adds even further to the stress.

In a nutshell, robodebt preys on the most vulnerable in society. It’s immoral and sociopathic. The letters are little more than a Government-sponsored phishing scam that reverses the onus of proof on the welfare recipient.

What makes the class actions so special? Well, Labor would have cancelled the robodebt scheme had they won the election in May. They would probably have also initiated a Royal Commission to investigate it fully and expose those who were behind it. But Labor didn’t win so they needed another plan. The class action will have many similarities to a Royal Commission, only this time the Government is not able to set the terms of reference. Gordon Legal will be taking submissions from robodebt victims, collating information and so forth. Apparently, 1,500 parties have signed up to the class action in only the first four days. Once the full scope of information is presented in court, it will be quite the public spectacle.

If you want to be a party to the class action (you have received a robodebt letter and have tried to dispute it or have another relevant grievance), you can register your interest here.

Like a Royal Commission, those who created the system and administer it, current and past cabinet ministers involved in it will be forced to the stand to give evidence. It will end political careers, bring down governments. It’s even possible that both criminal and further civil charges could be laid against those involved once the evidence is made public. The only downside is that the legal process will take years. Nevertheless, it will hang over the Liberal Party like the Sword of Damocles. This is a masterstroke from the Labor Party and Bill Shorten, the Shadow Minister responsible. Time will tell, but the class action could prove to be Shorten’s crowning glory in his political career. It’s not over yet.

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