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Without Prejudice September 2023

Mihail-Patrick Grivas

What has Robodebt done?

During the 2015 election, then Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison revealed the pilot program known as ‘Robodebt’ to the entire nation, a program which was part of his vision to be a ‘welfare cop’ and help him save billions of dollars in the federal budget by reducing the amount spent on fraud investigations by federal government agencies.

However, the program was criticised for multiple failures and issues, such as how it would send debt notices to deceased persons, as well as, resulting in the death of multiple vulnerable people who received debt notices that were not initially checked before being sent out.

In 2020 the then Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert announced the scheme would be terminated and all 470,000 incorrectly issued debts would be refunded in full. In the same year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in Parliament that he apologises for any hurt or harm on the part of the Government that the scheme caused. However, after pressure from opposition parties, academics, and the new Labor Government, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced that he issued Letters Patent for a Royal Commission into the Robodebt scheme on 25 August 2022.

Finally, on the 7 July 2023 the Royal Commission completed its investigations and provided 57 recommendations. It concluded that the scheme involved ‘incompetence’ and ‘cowardice’ from the government of the day. The Royal Commission noted that people who were served debt letters were left helpless and in distress and many of these debt letters have led to suicides.

In response Scott Morrison said he rejects the findings of the Royal Commission, stating that there is a misunderstanding about the job of the Government.

In summarising the entire sequence of events, the Guardian describes the ‘dole bludger’ rhetoric likely amplified the message which supported a system like Robodebt and the need for the ‘Welfare Cop.’

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Court rules in favour of the Barngarla People

In November 2021, Napandee near Kimba was chosen as the site for a low and medium-level nuclear waste storage facility. The Barngarla people, the traditional owners of the land, opposed the plan due to its potential impact on a sacred women's site called "The Seven Sisters Dreaming." They initiated a legal challenge, arguing that the Resources Minister, Keith Pitt, showed bias in the decision-making process.

The court ruled in favour of the Barngarla people, citing apprehended bias by the Minister, and the project's future is now uncertain. The government has not yet indicated if they will appeal the decision or consider other locations for the nuclear waste facility. Meanwhile, environmental campaigners hope this ruling will prompt more responsible discussions on nuclear waste management in Australia.

The court upheld the complaint, establishing a rare legal precedent of apprehended bias against a Minister. Consequently, the project's future is uncertain, pending government decisions on potential appeals or alternative locations for the nuclear waste facility. Advocates view this ruling as an opportunity for responsible discussions on nuclear waste management in Australia, emphasizing the need for sensitivity and respect towards indigenous communities.

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