Secrecy surrounding Robodebt to be tested in legal battle 21 June

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

A long-running legal battle to access documents behind the Federal Government’s botched Robodebt scheme reaches the Administrative Appeals Tribunal this week in a hearing that begins today.

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 week’s tribunal hearing, scheduled for June 21-23, 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.”

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