Judge slams government as it approves robotic debt settlement

About $ 11,000 of that came from Felicity De Somerville, a 33-year-old mother and nursing teacher from Frankston in south-east Melbourne. In 2017, she realized that Centrelink had withdrawn what was then six months’ salary from her account without warning when she tried to pay for her one-year-old daughter’s antibiotics.

“If they can do this to someone who can stand up for themselves, what are they going to do to the underdog?” Said Ms. De Sommerville, one of the main plaintiffs in the case.

While Ms De Sommerville is not owed a debt repayment and is unsure whether she will share the $ 112 million in compensation from the settlement, she said Friday’s judgment was a victory as it would set the stage for the legal system to challenge future government failures.

The ministers, including Energy Minister Angus Taylor, stressed on Friday that the government had failed to recognize its responsibility and said it was important for people not to cheat the welfare system.


Judge Murphy had said that many of the stories of financial hardship, anxiety, distress, suicidal thoughts and suicide told by the victims of the scheme and their loved ones were heartbreaking. Others felt ashamed and hurt at being falsely labeled as welfare cheaters. “You couldn’t help but be touched by them,” Judge Murphy said.

Labor government services spokesman Bill Shorten, who was instrumental in launching the class action lawsuit led by Gordon Legal, a Melbourne-based company, called for a royal commission to ensure accountability and allow the public to find out the truth about the beginning of robotic debt.

“No senior official has lost their job, no minister has lost their job,” Shorten said outside the Federal Court building in Melbourne.

“In January of this year, the entire Dutch government withdrew after thousands of families were wrongly accused of child protection fraud.”

Peter Gordon (right) of Gordon Legal led the class action lawsuit against the government on behalf of welfare recipients who were illegally forced to repay money. Bill Shorten of the Labor Party led his party’s charge against her.Credit:Justin mcmanus

Ministers such as Stuart Robert, Alan Tudge, Christian Porter and Anne Ruston have been part of the social and government service portfolios during the operation of the program. Prime Minister Scott Morison announced some of what turned into robotic debt when he was treasurer in 2016.

About 202,000 people affected by robotic debt will receive nothing from the settlement. This includes people who had paid nothing for claimed debts or whose debts held up when calculated by more reliable methods.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the government should release legal advice it previously refused to disclose about the scheme. “This chapter is still open,” said Senator Siewert.

Gordon Legal will earn $ 8.4 million for his work to date and was expected to receive an additional $ 4.2 million to finalize the settlement, but Judge Murphy withheld that figure, saying he wanted more evidence on the work to do.


“For these perpetual critics of the… class action plan, this case is yet another example of the plan providing real and convenient access to justice,” said Justice Murphy.

Crisis assistance is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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