The Perfect Enemy | Australia politics live: robodebt royal commission begins; states unwilling to change drivers’ licence numbers without evidence of fraud
December 9, 2022

Australia politics live: robodebt royal commission begins; states unwilling to change drivers’ licence numbers without evidence of fraud

Australia politics live: robodebt royal commission begins; states unwilling to change drivers’ licence numbers without evidence of fraud  The Guardian

Read Time:18 Minute

In her opening address kicking off the robodebt inquiry today, the royal commissioner, Catherine Holmes, said senior government officials would be called to give evidence explaining their role in the scandal.

Holmes said the Centrelink debt recovery program established by the former government employed an “automated” debt recovery process on a “scale not previously attempted” and had been based on an “unsound premise”.

The robodebt scheme was established in 2015 and ran until November 2019 when the Coalition government accepted in the federal court that the method used for raising welfare debts was legally insufficient.

Holmes said the royal commission would hear from victims of the scheme and take evidence from senior government officials from the period before reporting in April.

She said although much was known now about the way the scheme operated, less was understood about why the scheme was established and how the government had responded to any warnings and criticisms about the program.

“Many people have different levels of government will be asked to give an account of their role in the devising implementation and continuing with the robodebt scheme,” Holmes said.

“But the focus appropriately and in accordance with the terms of reference will be on those in senior positions, who had or should have had oversight.”

The former prime minister, Scott Morrison, current opposition frontbenchers Alan Tudge and Stuart Robert, and former ministers Christian Porter and Michael Keenan, all held portfolios with oversight for the scheme.

Holmes said she understood some victims would not want to “revisit” their stressful experiences of the scheme, but she encouraged those affected to make a submission.

The Centre for Public Integrity isn’t thrilled with the high threshold for public hearings included in Labor’s National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation.

From its statement:

“Exception circumstances” is too high a threshold for the new National Anti-corruption Commission to begin public hearings, and will lead to corruption being hidden behind closed doors, according to former judges and corruption experts.

Victoria is the only state integrity commission that has the exceptional circumstances test and it inhibits its ability to expose corruption. Analysis comparing the Victorian and NSW agencies (attached) shows:

· NSW ICAC has exposed more corruption to the public than the Victorian IBAC, with 42 public hearings and 39 public reports compared to 8 hearings and 14 reports from 2012/13-2019/20;

· The NSW ICAC public interest test does not lead to overuse of public hearings, NSW ICAC held 979 private examinations and 42 public inquiries over the examined period;

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Public hearings are a crucial part of investigating corruption. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and many corruption investigations would not be successful without public hearings,” said the Hon Anthony Whealy KC, Chair of the Centre for Public Integrity.

In legal terms, “exceptional circumstances” has no real meaning and it will act as a brake on the public interest test.

It will cause those investigated to challenge the decision in court which will require the integrity commission to reveal all of its information publicly before an investigation can be finalised. This delays investigations and can lead to evidence being interfered with,” said Mr Whealy.

The former Coalition Government did not want public hearings. Their proposal was steeped in secrecy. It would be a shame if the current ALP Government compromises with the Opposition on this point.

On a different note, the Australia Institute‘s Centre for Future Work has released a report into the conditions of those staffing the ships plying between Australia and the rest of the world.

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}
Because they work in waters that are not always subject to national laws and standards, and because their work is largely hidden from the view of government regulators, the media, and the public at large, international seafarers engaged on foreign-registered ships commonly experience widespread exploitation at the hands of their employers,” the “Robbed at Sea“ report claims.

While it’s hard to oversee conditions for staff entering Australian waters, the Fair Work Act and Awards system (in particular, the Seagoing Industry Award of 2020) are supposed to protect them once they’re inside them.

However, a 2009 regulation (during the Kevin Rudd government) allowed for a “temporary licensed” ship to avoid being subject to the FW Act or industry awards for the first two of its voyages within Australian waters.

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}
This allows the ship, in certain circumstances, to operate with an international crew under standards normally applying to international voyages, even though the ship is delivering cargo from one Australian port to another,” the report said.

Among other weakness is the uncertainty over what precise wages and other entitlements apply to a seafarer, “due to poorly constructed ‘work agreements’,” it said.

The result: more than half of coastal freight is now carried under temporary rather than general licences (which have stricter rules). The proportion more than doubled to about 60% in just five years between 2013-24 and 2018-19.

<gu-island name="TweetBlockComponent" deferuntil="visible" props="{"element":{"_type":"model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TweetBlockElement","html":"

@TheAusInstitute has an interesting report out looking at exploitation of crews on ships in Australian waters. Loopholes have also made it more likely international shipping firms operate shipping between Australian cities, dodging local labour laws. https://t.co/umz2iDoyGv pic.twitter.com/KG3Kffzj1S

&mdash; Peter Hannam (@p_hannam) September 27, 2022

n","url":"https://twitter.com/p_hannam/status/1574575660395528192?s=20&t=Y1ePfH1NZHW5ndiRqC–rA","id":"1574575660395528192","hasMedia":false,"role":"inline","isThirdPartyTracking":false,"source":"Twitter","elementId":"82b3e926-25ae-4aa2-a59c-defa4e7cdd9c"}}”>

@TheAusInstitute has an interesting report out looking at exploitation of crews on ships in Australian waters. Loopholes have also made it more likely international shipping firms operate shipping between Australian cities, dodging local labour laws. https://t.co/umz2iDoyGv pic.twitter.com/KG3Kffzj1S

— Peter Hannam (@p_hannam) September 27, 2022

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}In short, international shipping companies have been given effective permission to operate in the coastal trade, while often avoiding the application of Australian labour laws,” the report said.

Now that there’s a Labor government back at the helm in Canberra, will this industry’s conditions get another examination? Don’t set your watch for it…

Senate to sit late to deal with cashless debit card bill

The Senate will be sitting late tonight to deal with the government’s cashless debit card bill, which has upset the Coalition, who tried to have the Senate sit on Thursday to extend the debate.

But the government said no, because there would be no way for the bill, which is likely to have an amendment in the Senate, to make it back to the house for approval in time, which would delay it being sent off for royal assent.

As usual, deals are being done all over the place in the Senate.

Bill Shorten says robodebt royal commission is ‘final chapter in a very sorry story’

Bill Shorten is in Brisbane for the opening of the robodebt royal commission:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}The robodebt royal commission is about finding out why Australia’s greatest failure of public administration and social security occurred. Robodebt went from about July 2015 to November 2019. It was overseen by successive Morrison government ministers. It was a scheme which was said it was targeted at getting Centrelink cheats to pay what they owed. The truth of the matter is the scheme was unlawful. It didn’t have legal justification. It reversed the onus of proof. It said that once a machine, an algorithm, a faulty algorithm, had asserted that a debt was owed, then the onus was reversed and the citizen had to prove why the government was wrong.

These were David and Goliath struggles, but for four-and-a-half years, successive individuals, advocates, strong family members, the Labor opposition and others said the scheme was out of control. It was only with the advent of a class action and court cases that eventually the Morrison government was forced to cancel the scheme. But four-and-a-half years, despite the warnings, despite the hardship, despite the trauma, the robodebt scheme was relentlessly implemented by the Morrison government. So this royal commission is to find out how could there have been such a massive failure of public administration? How could the government of Australia unlawfully raise debts against nearly 400,000 of her fellow Australian citizens, alleging $1.7bn was owed to the commonwealth? The scheme was unlawful. The warning signs were ignored. Trauma occurred. We hope the royal commission will get to the bottom of why this happened and make sure it can never happen again. Why successive Morrison government ministers and Turnbull ministers ignored the warning signs. Why senior public servants didn’t do the proper checking to see if the scheme was lawful. Anyway that’s all before us. This royal commission is the final chapter in a very sorry story of public maladministration.

Do not respond to any SMS/calls/emails you receive like this.

<gu-island name="TweetBlockComponent" deferuntil="visible" props="{"element":{"_type":"model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TweetBlockElement","html":"

Victims of Optus data hack are now receiving text messages from hackers demanding $2000AUD be paid into a CBA bank account, with threats their data will be sold for “fraudulent activity within 2 days.” ⁦@9NewsAUSpic.twitter.com/J57inlyyut

&mdash; Chris O'Keefe (@cokeefe9) September 27, 2022

n","url":"https://twitter.com/cokeefe9/status/1574582234258243586?s=20&t=tY9ml6gykEvzEBlibY4ESw","id":"1574582234258243586","hasMedia":false,"role":"inline","isThirdPartyTracking":false,"source":"Twitter","elementId":"24f28ae8-e398-4727-90e0-9ca895dbf9e9"}}”>

Victims of Optus data hack are now receiving text messages from hackers demanding $2000AUD be paid into a CBA bank account, with threats their data will be sold for “fraudulent activity within 2 days.” ⁦@9NewsAUSpic.twitter.com/J57inlyyut

— Chris O’Keefe (@cokeefe9) September 27, 2022

People in the ACT are getting very excited by this:

<gu-island name="TweetBlockComponent" deferuntil="visible" props="{"element":{"_type":"model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TweetBlockElement","html":"

#Breaking: Government senate leader Penny Wong confirms Labor wants the territory rights bill to be put to a vote before the end of the year.

It's happening.

&mdash; Dan Jervis-Bardy (@D_JervisBardy) September 27, 2022

n","url":"https://twitter.com/D_JervisBardy/status/1574582224766136322?s=20&t=tY9ml6gykEvzEBlibY4ESw","id":"1574582224766136322","hasMedia":false,"role":"inline","isThirdPartyTracking":false,"source":"Twitter","elementId":"122d5f6c-f426-458b-b1cd-adf45ab0abc5"}}”>

#Breaking: Government senate leader Penny Wong confirms Labor wants the territory rights bill to be put to a vote before the end of the year.

It’s happening.

— Dan Jervis-Bardy (@D_JervisBardy) September 27, 2022

Anthony Albanese meets Japanese PM ahead of Shinzo Abe funeral

Anthony Albanese has held a bilateral meeting with Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida while he is in Tokyo for Shinzo Abe’s funeral.

His office has released the public opening remarks:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Well, thank you very much for the welcome on my second visit to Japan as prime minister. It is important that Australia show our condolence to yourself as prime minister, but also to the people of Japan on the tragic loss of former prime minister Shinzo Abe.

He was very well respected. And as an international statesperson, it is clear that the Quad leaders’ dialogue would not have occurred without his leadership.

The relationship between Australia and Japan is so important and that importance is underlined by the fact that I am here as the sitting prime minister, even though our parliament is sitting.

I have brought with me as well the former prime ministers Turnbull, Abbott and Howard. So you have a very high-level attendance to pay our respects and show our respects to not just Mr Abe’s family but to the people of Japan.

We share such common interests, in particular for a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is so important that we continue to work together and to work with our partners as well to advance that common interest.

Review on Covid vaccines finds Coalition’s actions ‘consistent’ with other high-income countries

A review of Australia’s Covid vaccine procurement has found the former Coalition government’s actions were “consistent with other high-income countries”, and flagged that the federal government will end up with an over-supply of the Novavax jab and a potential shortfall in Moderna.

The review, by the respected public servant Jane Halton, has also warned the Labor government that Australia is “likely to continue to be challenged” by emerging virus variants, with concerns raised that the country’s “policy settings have not been updated to take account of widespread Covid-19 infections”.

Halton was in June commissioned by the health minister, Mark Butler, to investigate Australia’s Covid vaccine strategy. At the time, Butler said the review wouldn’t look to probe potential mistakes made by the former Coalition government, which came under fire for vaccines arriving late and not in high enough numbers in the initial vaccination period. Australia has since gone on to have one of the highest vaccine rates in the world.

Halton’s review noted she only investigated prior purchase plans in the scope of lessons that could be learned in future, and doesn’t make any critical findings of the Coalition. However Halton warned Australia was not “Covid-stable” and said the next two years would be critical to the recovery of health, economy and education systems.

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Consideration should be given to the decision-making structures and advice required, and whether new and existing pathways for procurement and distribution of vaccines and treatments should be retained or adapted.

It is not possible to accurately predict the further evolution of the virus and Australia is likely to continue to be challenged, at least in the short term, by emerging variants and new waves of disease.

Halton noted despite Australia’s earlier success in keeping deaths and cases low, “relative performance is beginning to wane”, saying some policies had not been updated.

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}The need to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 is likely to remain. However, policy settings have not been updated to take account of already widespread Covid-19 infections and associated high levels of hybrid immunity, the possibility of future waves and variants, and developments in vaccine and therapeutic science and manufacturing.

A portfolio approach and potentially redundancy will be needed to ensure access.

Halton and Butler will hold a press conference in Canberra at 12.30pm today.

Early childhood education care subsidy bill introduced

The parliament is sitting now.

<gu-island name="TweetBlockComponent" deferuntil="visible" props="{"element":{"_type":"model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TweetBlockElement","html":"

Minister for Education @JasonClareMP introduced Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill 2022 https://t.co/LVmZtQCPw1 #auspol

&mdash; Political Alert (@political_alert) September 27, 2022

n","url":"https://twitter.com/political_alert/status/1574581616587857922?s=20&t=f24JITaWQIPANtSi10wsng","id":"1574581616587857922","hasMedia":false,"role":"inline","isThirdPartyTracking":false,"source":"Twitter","elementId":"012d7edd-80cf-4998-ac91-35f6e5d97f40"}}”>

Minister for Education @JasonClareMP introduced Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill 2022 https://t.co/LVmZtQCPw1 #auspol

— Political Alert (@political_alert) September 27, 2022

What we’ve learned about the National Anti-Corruption Commission

Paul Karp will be bringing you more from that press conference on the National Anti-Corruption Commission (Guardian style will mean we call it Nacc, because it is an acronym which can be said as a word) but as a recap: the main new thing we learnt there was the bar for public hearings will be very high – higher than what some of the state’s anti-corruption commissions have.

Mark Dreyfus would not say if that was part of the negotiations with the Liberals.

Public hearings will be part of the process, but there has to be a demonstrable “exceptional” need for them, which the Commissioner will decide.

It will also be up to the commission to decide what “retrospective” means in terms of how far back it looks, although it will have the power to look at things which occurred before it was established.

Whistleblower protection will be part of it as the normal processes, it seems, although whistleblower protections will be beefed up as part of seperate legislation, following up on the recommendations of Philip Moss, which were left untouched by the Coalition governments.

Paul Karp asked if the Liberals had asked for this particularly high bar for public hearings and Mark Dreyfus did not answer him.

<gu-island name="TweetBlockComponent" deferuntil="visible" props="{"element":{"_type":"model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TweetBlockElement","html":"

Labor wants the Federal NACC to only be able to have public hearings in “exceptional circumstances” – this is too high a bar and ignores the fact that sunshine is a great disinfectant.

&mdash; David Shoebridge (@DavidShoebridge) September 27, 2022

n","url":"https://twitter.com/DavidShoebridge/status/1574577030271619073?s=20&t=y90uPbl3dXfJXXPGtrQrUQ","id":"1574577030271619073","hasMedia":false,"role":"inline","isThirdPartyTracking":false,"source":"Twitter","elementId":"cfaa4c2f-0f67-4794-a3c7-82c7d80cf92c"}}”>

Labor wants the Federal NACC to only be able to have public hearings in “exceptional circumstances” – this is too high a bar and ignores the fact that sunshine is a great disinfectant.

— David Shoebridge (@DavidShoebridge) September 27, 2022

Q: Should anyone be using it as vehicle of payback or fearing it will be used as political payback?

Mark Dreyfus:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}That is not the purpose of this anticorruption commission … We’ve got anticorruption commission in every state and territory, I’d like to think we’ve learn lessons from the way in which those anticorruption commissions have operated over the last 30 years.

And I like to think also that we have best practice picking from the features of those anticorruption commissions, and when this commission … commences as we hope, around the middle of next year, people will see it operating in this way.

Dreyfus: whistleblower protections to be part of wider review into public interest disclosure

Q: With regard to the whistleblower protection, can you explain how they would operate and do they go far enough to allay the concerns that the crossbench have had?

Mark Dreyfus:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Put it this way, the concerns that have been expressed by a number of members of the crossbench go to the whole scheme of whistleblower protection …

I brought the legislation to establish the Public Interest Disclosure Act to the Parliament in 2013, conscious that it was going to need to be looked at to see whether it was working.

… Nothing has occurred to deal with the recommendations that Philip Moss made [to the former government about the operation of public disclosure laws in 2013].

I’ve said we’re going to pick up that report, update the recommendations and introduce legislation to reform the whole scheme of public interest disclosure protection which is not just confined to anticorruption measures, it’s about the reporting of maladministration, the reporting of any breaches of code of conduct, any bad government, all of these things are the subject of the protection.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission bill will have its own whistleblower protections, as is appropriate for Australian public servants and people working in the public sector who come forward with allegations that the commission should look at.

There is a specific set of whistleblower protection that will be in this National Anti-Corruption Commission bill in addition … but it’s important to see the distinction between anticorruption measures … and the wider whistleblower protection scheme that we put in place in 2013 that needs reform, that needs updating and we’re going to be attending to that.

So he is asked again:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}I don’t think that, as the minister responsible for this commission, once it is established, that it’s appropriate for me to be making referrals to this commission.