My son could still be here Queensland mum Kath Madgwick welcomes robodebt royal commission
Exclusive: Victims of the robodebt scheme have embraced Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s announcement today of a royal commission into the scandal.
Revealing details of the $30 million probe, Albanese said robodebt, which led to a $1.8 billion class action settlement between victims and the federal government, was “a human tragedy with very real consequences for its victims”.
A total of $1.73 billion in unlawful debts were raised against more than 400,000 people during the disastrous scheme, which ran from July 2015 to November 2019.
Queensland mother Kath Madgwick lost her only child, son Jarrad to suicide.
The 22-year-old took his life hours after finding out he had a Centrelink debt of $2000 in May 2019.
Madgwick said she was “delighted” to hear news of the royal commission today, adding that she hoped it would bring closure for herself and others who had lost their closest loved ones.
“I’m hoping it means we get some answers,” she said.
“I’m really hoping they learn and realise that they’re dealing with vulnerable people, and that this never gets rolled out again.”
Madgwick said she finds it harrowing to think what might have been if the former coalition government had acted on earlier warnings of other people taking their lives over Centrelink debts, rather than carrying on with the debt-raising program for four-and-a-half years.
“If they had done something (earlier) my son could still be here,” Madgwick said.
A key line of inquiry in the royal commission will be what legal advice the former coalition government received over the scheme and when.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison, who was social services minister at the time robodebt was introduced, is likely to be called to give evidence.
Other former government ministers expected to be drawn into the investigation are Alan Tudge and Stuart Robert, who both acted as social services minister during various iterations of the scheme, and former attorney general Christian Porter.
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Madgwick said it was unbelievable that no-one in government had lost their job over the scandal.
“This was a scheme that was found to be illegal. We have heard all about (former prime minister) Scott Morrison putting himself into all these different ministries, and how there was no illegal component to it – but there was to this,” Madgwick said.
“It just inconceivable to me. The government have all the lawyers, top lawyers, so surely somebody knew it was illegal.
“Somebody needs to be sacked over it. I don’t care if they’re in opposition now. Whoever was responsible, or involved in it, needs to be out of parliament.”
Melbourne woman Julie Scott spent five years paying back a $2200 debt she was given by Centrelink while on a carer’s payment as her mother was dying of cancer.
“I cried. I screamed, I struggled financially,” Scott said.
“I’ll be honest, there were months and months where I felt like killing myself.
“Financially, I just couldn’t do it. I had cats to take care of and electricity and gas and water and food.
“They make you feel incredibly bad, like you’re a criminal.
“They made threats to me, they said if you don’t pay it off, we’re gonna put it in the hands of a debt collector and you’ll lose your car.”
Like Madgwick, Scott said she hoped the royal commission would help make sure there was never another robodebt.
“My hopes are that this never happens ever to anyone ever again, if they want to get their overpayments back they need to come up with a system that’s honest, for everyone. That it’s not done via computer. It’s done via people.
Scott said no amount of compensation would bring back lost loved ones, or make right the extreme suffering many robodebt victims went through.
However, she said she hoped the inquiry would lead to accountability.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, they need to be accountable for what they’ve done.
“The ministers behind it need to stand up and be accountable for the system, otherwise the royal commission is a complete waste of time.”
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