Questions Without Notice - Royal Commission into Robodebt

02 August 2023

Ms BYRNES (Cunningham) (14:36): My question is to the Minister for Government Services. In light of the final report of the royal commission into robodebt, what are the lessons? Why should Australians have confidence in the conduct of the royal commission?

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services) (14:36): One lesson from the royal commission is: when governments are warned about harmful policies, don't shoot the messenger. But in his statement to the House on Monday, the member for Cook repeatedly attacked the royal commission's credibility, doing what he does best. Having gaslit the nation for four years, he's now gaslighting the royal commission. In exonerating himself on Monday, the member for Cook used coded and loaded words to discredit the royal commission.

Let me repeat some of the coded and loaded language of the member for Cook. He dismissed the findings as 'disproportionate', 'wrong', 'unsubstantiated', 'contradicted by clear evidence'. He accused the finding as 'not credible or reasonable', 'unfair', 'retroactive'. He painted the findings as 'allegations', 'unreasonable', 'untenable', 'false' and 'speculative'. He fumed that that the royal commission was 'speculative and wrong'. He verbally punched 'wrong', 'unsubstantiated', 'absurd'. He delegitimised the royal commission as 'quasi-legal'—as if somehow there was a question mark on the fairness of the royal commission. Interestingly, the Leader of the Opposition commended the speech by the member for Cook.

While the royal commissioner isn't here to speak for herself, the royal commissioner anticipated such fake news attacks. In volume 1 of the report, pages 6 to 7 directly address questions of procedural fairness and the standard of proof.

Mr Littleproud interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting.

Mr SHORTEN: The commission noted that it applied the rules of procedural fairness. Persons who were likely to have findings made against them were notified in advance and given the chance to respond before the final report. All witnesses had the chance to seek leave to cross-examine other witnesses. The commission's processes were inquisitorial, not adversarial—not a party advancing a particular case. The commissioner explained that where she made findings against individuals that were liable to cause real damage to reputation she adhered to the Briginshaw standard. That is the application of extra care when making findings of fact in serious civil matters. The commissioner specifically stated that she did not reach her conclusions without a high degree of satisfaction as to the evidence.

But the challenge now for the opposition and the Leader of the Opposition is as simple as this, courtesy of the member for Cook: he disputes it. He implies very clearly that he didn't get a fair go. So, the choice for the Leader of the Opposition is very straightforward. Who's correct? Is it the member for Cook, who you said gave a strong defence on Monday night? But they were clever weasel words from the Leader of the Opposition. He said 'strong defence'; he didn't actually say whether he agreed with him. So now what we've got to do is ask the question of the Leader of the Opposition. This is a test for your leadership. Do you back the member for Cook? Or do you back the royal commission? You're in an untenable position and you can't sit on the fence any longer. My advice is, cut him loose before he drags you down with him.