‘Are you listening at all?’: Scott Morrison deflects questions at Royal Commission for robodebt scandal

Dec 16, 2022
Scott Morrison takes the stand at the robodebt Royal Commission. Source: Australian Government Royal Commission

Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been pulled up for dodging and deflecting questions at the Royal Commission for the controversial Centrelink robodebt scheme, introduced while he was the Social Services Minister.

Since its launch in 2015, the robodebt scheme which used an automated income-averaging tool, which led to thousands of people being falsely accused of owing the government money, was cancelled after being found unlawful by the Federal Court in 2019.

The illegal scheme inaccurately recovered over $750 million from 381,000 people and had dire consequences for unsuspecting victims, some of whom took their lives from the stress of being pursued for false debts.

Morrison came across as indifferent to the scandal which he helped roll out and its detrimental consequences for unsuspecting Australians.

During his time in the witness box at the Royal Commission, the former Prime Minister had to be reminded multiple times to stay on track and to stop interrupting, even bringing the hearing to a stand-still over worry he was violating parliamentary privilege.

Commissioner, Catherine Holmes SC, couldn’t hold back her frustration, asking Morrison: “Are you listening at all?”

Morrison denied responsibility saying the fault lay with department staff who didn’t bring legal issues to his attention, despite signing a briefing in which the legal concerns were raised.

“Had that advice come forward I sincerely believe we would not be sitting here today,” he said.

The backbencher said he assumed all legal concerns were settled when the final proposal made it across his desk.

“It was not uncommon that at early stages in my experience of new policy proposals that departments would flag potential issues and that’s what I simply noted that to be,” Morrison told the commission.

“By the time of the submission going to cabinet, that view … had changed and advice was given that legislation was not required, by the department.”

However, Holmes wasn’t having a bar of Morrison’s response.

“How is it that you were content to just see ‘no legislation required’ and leave it at that?” she questioned.

Morrison answered: “Because commissioner, that is how the cabinet process works. I was satisfied that the department had done their job.”

The Royal Commission will continue to hear two more days of evidence in the upcoming week.

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