• Written by Terry Carney, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Sydney
The government seems not to have sought independent legal advice before demanding the repayment of debts it couldn't prove were owned. Shutterstock

Three years after legal experts laid out their reasons why robodebt was wrong in law and wrong in maths, the government has folded its tent, conceding all points just before trial of the test case conducted in the name of 33 year old local government employee Deanne Amato.

Deanna Amato found out about her alleged robodebt in January when her full tax return was intercepted and taken from her, all $1709.87 of it. Centrelink said she owed a debt of $2,754 for Austudy support it said she was overpaid while studying in 2012.

It had sent letters to her old address.


Read more: Government makes changes to error-prone robo-debt collection


A week before court orders were finalised on Wednesday, a Centrelink internal email dated November 19 advised that debts would no longer be asserted on the basis of overpayments suggested by data-matched estimates of averaged fortnightly earnings, but only by overpayments calculated on the basis of actual earnings in the relevant fortnights.

All past debts would be “methodically” reviewed, starting with those where people had not previously made contact.

Why the government caved

Wednesday's court order

Wednesday’s court order makes clear why the government folded.

It confirms that averages provide no evidence at all, and that Centrelink cannot “reverse the onus of proof” to require people to prove they do not have a debt. It must itself establish that there is a debt.

There are no acceptable half measures on either point, so this should mean that robodebt has ended and all 300,000 or so alleged debts collected on this basis should be refunded with interest, and perhaps also an apology for distress caused by acting unlawfully.

With as much as A$660 million of ill-gotten (if not all yet collected) revenue is at stake, there are indications that government is yet properly to understand what the law requires of it.

It is talking as if it hasn’t understood

Instead of accepting that Wednesday’s court ruling requires that any future or past debt be based on earnings in each and every fortnight, the minister, Stuart Robert, speaks only of needing “additional proof points”, of there being “no change” to the construct of the onus of proof and of this being just another “refinement” which affects a “small cohort”.

He has even talked about “continuing to use income averaging as part of a range of options to ask a welfare recipient to engage with the department of human services if there is a discrepancy”.


Read more: Robo-debt class action could deliver justice for tens of thousands of Australians instead of mere hundreds


The initial script issued to Centrelink call centre staff when fielding calls from people enquiring about past debts in light of the changes brought about by the Federal court test case are also worryingly similar to “business as usual”. They simply invite people to collect payslips and other documents to “prepare for a reassessment,” leaving the very clear impression that is is still up to the person to disprove the debt.

It acted without outside advice

It appears from press reports that the attorney general has confirmed that for over three years the government failed to obtain other than in-house legal advice before belatedly obtaining the external advice that revealed that robodebt was the proverbial Emperor without (legal) clothes.

It is to be hoped that it gets it now as it works out what is required to bring debt recovery into compliance with the law.

There is an old legal saying that the lawyer who advises and represents themselves “has a fool for a client”.

Unfortunately on this occasion robodebt has not only made the government look foolish – the kind of failures of program design, basic mathematical reasoning and legal research that would leave a failed third world state feeling embarrassed – but in the course of its life has imposed untold hardship on and trauma on some hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable members of Australia’s community.


Read more: Danger! Election 2016 delivered us Robodebt. Promises can have consequences


Less than six weeks ago the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (the expat Australian Philip Alston), in a report to the UN General Assembly, warned of the risk of a “digital welfare dystopia,” citing robodebt as one of the leading examples of how much human and reputational damage can be caused by bad design.

The Amato ruling exposes the flagrant breach of the rule of law at the heart of the welfare dystopia that robodebt created.

Government must as a matter of urgency establish an open and fully representative oversight body to ensure justice is fully and quickly delivered to its past victims and that no future debts are asserted other than in proper compliance with Centrelink’s legal obligations, now so clearly laid out for all to see.

Terry Carney for nearly 40 years was a member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and its predecessor the Social Security Appeals Tribunal

Authors: Terry Carney, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/robodebt-failed-its-day-in-court-what-now-127984

What to consider when buying an e-scooter- important factors

E-scooters is a popular transportation mode that is used for travelling from one place to another in a short period of time. There are a large number of people who are buying this transport for ...

News Company - avatar News Company

the pandemic has put pressure on many relationships, but here's how to tell if yours will survive

ShutterstockLife in lockdown has been tough on many relationships. But negotiating the transition back to “normal” as restrictions continue to lift could also be a challenge for couples.So...

Gery Karantzas, Associate professor in Social Psychology / Relationship Science, Deakin University - avatar Gery Karantzas, Associate professor in Social Psychology / Relationship Science, Deakin University

Curious Kids: why do we burp?

www.shutterstock.comWhy do we burp? We sometimes also burp before meals, why does this happen? — Ahaana, age 7That is a really interesting question, Ahaana!There are two types of burping, but ma...

Vincent Ho, Senior Lecturer and clinical academic gastroenterologist, Western Sydney University - avatar Vincent Ho, Senior Lecturer and clinical academic gastroenterologist, Western Sydney University

New Zealand hits a 95% chance of eliminating coronavirus – but we predict new cases will emerge

Daniele Cossu/ShutterstockThere is now a 95% chance COVID-19 has been eliminated in New Zealand, according to our modelling, based on official Ministry of Health data.As of June 4, New Zealand has had...

Michael Plank, Professor in Mathematics, University of Canterbury - avatar Michael Plank, Professor in Mathematics, University of Canterbury

Heading back to the gym? Here's how you can protect yourself and others from coronavirus infection

ShutterstockWith coronavirus restrictions gradually lifting across the country, we’re now able to resume many of our regular activities. A lot of us might have been particularly keen to get back...

Brett Mitchell, Professor of Nursing, University of Newcastle - avatar Brett Mitchell, Professor of Nursing, University of Newcastle

Some Of The Best No Cost And Paid Options Of Making Videos For Instagram By Video Editing Tools

We, in our lifetime, have always thought of making an Instagram video. Because videos are more engaging and compelling than other kinds of posts, they serve and deliver a lot more value to the v...

News Company - avatar News Company

For a stress-free move – make the right checklist

It’s often said that success has less to do with the actions you take and much more to do with the quality of your planning and your goals. But great planning is about the right checklist; not...

News Company - avatar News Company

Are your kids using headphones more during the pandemic? Here's how to protect their ears

Shutterstock During the coronavirus pandemic, have your kids been using headphones more than usual? Maybe for remote schooling, video chats with relatives, or for their favourite music and Netflix sh...

Peter Carew, Lecturer, University of Melbourne - avatar Peter Carew, Lecturer, University of Melbourne

how Australia compares to the rest of the world

Molly Glassey/Pexels, CC BYWhen it comes to coronavirus cases, deaths and tests, Australia is performing better than many other countries with comparable populations and geographies, a new COVID-19 da...

Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling - avatar Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion