Federal Parliament - Robodebt

June 11, 2020

Dr ALYI want to start with some figures here today. I want to start with the figure of 370,000 people who were wrongly indebted. There are 470,000 debts, worth $721 million—so far—to be paid back. One of the most important figures of all is that of 2,030 deaths of people after receiving a robodebt notice. The Minister for Government Services—and, with respect, the previous speaker as well—want to come in and argue the merits of collecting overpaid debts and the merits of income compliance. With respect, this MPI is not about the merits of income compliance. This MPI is about those figures, the direct result of the government's damaging scheme known as robodebt, which has since proven to be illegal and unlawful and which, as the Labor members who spoke before me have outlined, is purely and wholly the responsibility of the Minister for Government Services and the Prime Minister.

There are some widely publicised cases—I have reams and reams of newspaper articles here—of people who have lost their lives, of the anxiety, of the fear, of the stress, of the damage that the robodebt scheme caused in people's lives. But I want to talk about the ones in Cowan. I have here 16 cases, and this is a mere snapshot, a tiny, tiny snapshot, of the number of cases that my office in Cowan dealt with involving people who received unlawful debt notices from this government and, in detail, the consequences it had for them, their lives, their livelihoods, their families, their mental health and their wellbeing.

Jordan, 22 years old, is an apprentice who took time off work for a knee operation. He was given a debt of $6,000. It wasn't until his mother came to us and queried his debt that we realised—and it subsequently came to pass—that it was a debt that was wrongly raised. This was after months of stress caused to this young man and his family. There is the story of Joseph, a 75-year-old pensioner, whose son is overseas, but Joseph continues to get debt notices for his son. It's caused him incredible stress. It's just really, really hard to sit with somebody who's received a debt notice, who has terror and fear about what's going to happen to them, who feels like they are being strongarmed and harassed, and who comes to your office and, in tears, speaks to you in detail about the impact that this has had on them. This is not about the merits of debt collection. This is not about the merits of income compliance. It is about those people. If I'm able to pull up 16 cases just like that in Cowan, I'm 100 per cent certain that every member in this House, every member that represents an electorate, could pull up at least 16 cases of people who have come to them.

I will tell you about Pauline, who is not in my electorate but in the electorate above mine, which is held by a very senior member of this government. She got nowhere when she approached his office, so she came to me. Her daughter has Cushing's disease and mental health issues. The robodebt raised against her daughter has taken a huge toll on her physical and mental health. We've helped Pauline to appeal the decision, and we've been successful in that. It just goes to show the lengths to which people have to go under this government, who continue to treat Australians with contempt.