Secrecy surrounding Robodebt to be tested in legal battle

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

A long-running legal battle to access
documents behind the Federal Government’s botched Robodebt scheme will be heard
next week by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal from June 21 to 23.

The tribunal hearing comes just over a
week after the Federal Court approved a $112 million class action settlement
for victims of the controversial Robodebt scheme that unlawfully collected
money from some of the most financially disadvantaged people in the community.
The case before the tribunal centres on early
business plans and other documents produced by the Department of Human Services
– now known as Services Australia – to justify the roll out of the Robodebt
scheme.
These documents could reveal what Prime
Minister Scott Morrison and senior ministers Christian Porter and Alan Tudge knew
when they had responsibility for the program.
Human rights advocate Justin Warren
first requested the documents under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws back in
2017.
When the department refused to release
the documents, Mr Warren challenged the decision through the Office of the
Australian Information Commissioner, and won.
This month’s tribunal hearing is a
further appeal by Services Australia against the Information Commissioner’s
decision to release the documents.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, acting for Mr
Warren, will argue the documents should be released.
Mr Warren hopes that if successful, the
release of the documents can shed more light on who knew what about Robodebt
and how the automated debt recovery program was designed and approved at the
most senior levels of the public service and possibly Government.
The case forms part of the Grata FOI
Project and is being run pro bono by Maurice Blackburn.
It is the second piece of litigation to
come out of the Grata FOI Project, which aims to hold ministers and government
departments accountable to FOI law and ensure the public are able to scrutinise
decisions of Government, particularly those that affect our most marginalised
communities.
Quote attributable to Isabelle Reinecke,
founder and executive director at Grata Fund:
“A functioning FOI system is crucial for a transparent and
functioning democracy. Not only should these documents be released, but
we need to have an independent, arms-length inquiry into what happened, and who
knew what when.”
Quote
attributable to Jennifer Kanis, Principal Lawyer at Maurice Blackburn:
“The Robodebt program has caused severe
financial stress and harm to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people. The
documents at the centre of this case, if released, could give these people
important answers about what the government knew, and when, about the risks of
the failed and unlawful scheme.”
/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length.