Former social services minister and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has addressed Federal Parliament for the first time since the release of the royal commission’s bombshell findings on the robodebt scandal.
The report, released in early July, found that Morrison neglected his responsibilities as a minister regarding a “crude and cruel” illegal robodebt scheme that allegedly led to numerous suicides.
On Monday, July 31, Morrison rejected the commission’s finding, claiming they were “unfounded and wrong”.
“The latest attacks on my character by the government in relation to this report is just a further attempt … to discredit me and my service to our country during one of the most difficult periods our country has faced since the Second World War,” Morrison said.
According to the robodebt royal commissioner, Catherine Holmes, Morrison, who served as the social services minister from December 2014 to September 2015, had permitted misinformation to be presented to the cabinet regarding the necessity of legislation for raising debts using the “income averaging” approach.
Morrison was accused of failing to conduct a basic investigation into the reasons behind the department’s shift in its stance on whether legislative changes were needed to alter social security law.
“Mr Morrison allowed cabinet to be misled because he did not make that obvious inquiry,” the report reads.
However, Morrison argued that at no point had anyone told the ministers that the scheme was unlawful.
“Had this information — that is the internal legal advice — been shared with me when I was minister it is highly unlikely this scheme would have ever been advanced,” Morrison said.
“The commission’s finding unfairly and retroactively applies a consensus on the understanding of the lawful status of the scheme that simply was not communicated at the time.
“This is clearly unreasonable, untenable and false basis to make the allegation of allowing cabinet to be misled.”
Morrison then argued that the Albanese government was using the findings as a “weaponisation of a quasi-legal process to launder the government’s political vindictiveness.”
“They need to move on,” he said.
“For the government to now condemn me for holding a view that they shared and sustained for more than three years after I left the portfolio is rank hypocrisy.”
The report suggested that those who were part of the robodebt program should be subject to both criminal and civil charges, but it refrained from naming specific individuals.
Morrison did not comment on whether he was among those referred for investigation. However, former ministers Alan Tudge and Stuart Robert have stated that they have not been referred for any such investigation.
Although there was speculation about Morrison potentially leaving parliament during the middle of the year, the member for Cook said he was “pleased to continue to serve” his electorate.