ANALYSIS

Robodebt decision is a win for the little guy

The government pursued the estates of up to 200 dead people under its robodebt program. Picture: Shutterstock
The government pursued the estates of up to 200 dead people under its robodebt program. Picture: Shutterstock

For hundreds of thousands of people who received debts they knew they didn't owe, for campaigners and advocates across the country, it seemed like this day would never come.

Starting July 1, the government will begin repaying 373,000 people, who had 470,000 debts raised against them, totalling $721 million. That's right, some people got hit more than once. It's a huge turnaround from a government that has maintained for years it was perfectly within its rights, and legal and fair to raise debts against welfare recipients based on their income reported to the tax office.

It never made sense. Never. People receiving Centrelink payments have always needed to declare any income they received before getting their payments and for many, that changed every fortnight.

Even someone with a basic understanding of casual or insecure work could understand that averaging a person's annual income across the year couldn't give an accurate picture of their earnings and shouldn't be used to calculate a debt. But the government did so for four years, in the face of multiple legal warnings and mounting evidence it didn't work.

Friday's announcement is a huge win for people who will get thousands of dollars back, but it is a slap in the face for the families of those who lost loved ones who took their lives in the face of what seemed like an insurmountable debt and an impenetrable system.

Even the way the news was handled is an insult to robodebt victims. Late on a Friday afternoon, 15 minutes after the Prime Minister finished a press conference in front of the press gallery.

Instead, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert fronted up on the Gold Coast, where he did not apologise and only conceded this was a "refinement".

For those with a debt, fighting against it felt like punching a brick wall. This is a win for the little guy, the powerless, for continued and persistent community campaigns.

This story Robodebt decision is a win for the little guy first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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