SUBJECT: Robodebt illegality and class action.
LEON BYNER, HOST: Let’s talk to the Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten. Bill can I just clarify and people would love to know this there would be a lot of South Australians who paid money afraid that they owed it - they would be due a refund. Is the government under law obliged to pay that money?
BILL SHORTEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Well in my opinion what’s happened is the government levied debts to the Commonwealth which they didn’t have the power to levy. So it’s not an issue of whether or not they got lucky and did someone owe them money or someone didn’t owe them money. They didn’t have the power. Now the Commonwealth is contesting this and there is a class action underway but at least in one case already they have conceded they didn’t have the power to take the money and they’ve repaid the money with interest. What I don’t understand about this recalcitrant bunch of bunglers, excuse my language but I’m fed up with this issue. Is that they have conceded in one case out of 700,000 that they didn’t have the power. If they didn’t have the power in the case of this lady that they’ve repaid why did they have the power in the other 699,999 cases? 
BYNER: Steve Georganas one of your federal colleagues assures me and he’s never given me a bum steer. We understand that there are a lot of South Australians who paid money to robodebt afraid that they’d done something wrong and they’re actually due a refund. So do we have to wait for a test case to see whether they will get it when it’s already been given out under law that it was not lawful?
SHORTEN: Steve Georganas in many cases when people went to him actually stopped the unfairness happening to begin with. But I would estimate there are tens of thousands of South Australians who either - didn’t have the resources to disagree - or just thought well it’s the government so they must be right, or maybe if they are uni students their parents just paid up. A lot of people who are on Centrelink have gotten on with their lives and didn’t want to get back into a big argument about that period of time in their history. What I don’t understand Leon is the government knows it’s been breaking the law - they are not just saying we got this wrong we’ll send back the money and we’ll go and recheck the cases. What they are doing is sitting on the money and in today’s Australian newspaper it’s been revealed they are spending 130 million dollars instead of just giving the money back to check every matter retrospectively.
BYNER: What? So they’re second guessing their algorithm?
SHORTEN: Well the poor old hapless minister Stuart Robert when I said to him a very simple question, how many people were illegally levied? How much money is owed? And when are people going to get repaid? He got up for a minute and just simply said we’re going to manually check everything. You couldn’t write this stuff except it does have a consequence that a lot of people are made to pay money that they didn’t owe. They haven’t got the computer program wrong and relied on it they’ve now gone back to the old fashioned getting people to check if they should have paid to begin with but why is it they are so stubborn? They know they have been caught out - give the money back and if you think someone owes a debt well then go and prove it.
BYNER: So in a nutshell Bill there is a delay in their paying it because they are now checking to see whether what was deemed by the court unlawful they’re checking whether it was right anyway.
SHORTEN: Well the point is they didn’t have the right to collect the money so what they’re trying to do is band aid unlawful behaviour. And here’s a tip Leon and this is the first place I’ve said it aloud but I am pretty cynical about this government. What’s the bet that will try and find out of 700,000 cases you know a dozen cases where people clearly owe the money even if the government proved it in the wrong way and they’ll use those examples to say everyone who was caught by robodebt is a scoundrel? I’m telling you now that’s what this crowd of bunglers will do. They’ll spend taxpayer money covering up the mistake. They’ll spend taxpayer money to defend a position they know is illegal. And then what they will is roll out some superficial scapegoats of individuals whose fate and circumstances mean that they did owe money and they’ll say see everyone is criticising us is just covering up for a few people who did the wrong thing or made mistakes. Don’t you think that’s what they’ll do Leon? That’s what they will do.
BYNER: Well look, I’ve got another question so if you’re owed money you got this letter and you thought oh look I don’t want to fight with the state it’s too hard I’ll just pay it. Then you still haven’t got your refund and you won’t be getting it yet because they’re fighting it in court.
SHORTEN: That’s right. I’ll use an analogy and it’s not a perfect example but I think it will help crystallise it in listener’s minds. When you get a speeding ticket occasionally you say that can’t be right but maybe most of the time you say oh well and just pay. But if the government wasn’t allowed to use that speed camera or if the speed camera was faulty or they didn’t do their prosecution,
BYNER: They rescind it
BYNER: They rescind it
SHORTEN: They don’t go back and try and find witnesses on the day to see if you were speeding
BYNER: Ok so when will we know, so we are waiting for a decision on an appeal but what about the class action where’s that at the moment?
SHORTEN: Well the Commonwealth has to file its defences today so we’ll see what that looks like. Then there is a hearing on March the sixth which is called a case management, I think it’s a case management because the judge wants to know where it is all up to.  And what’s again, not only to I suspect the Commonwealth will try and blame a few people but here is another tip. I reckon that they will try and delay, they will try and drag it out.  Because of course this robodebt scheme which was the inappropriate use of averaging a person’s annual income to disqualify them for Centrelink on any particular fortnight even if they were unemployed that fortnight and they were eligible for it. The reason why they did that and the reason why they are delaying now is because they want to pretend they’ve got a surplus budget and they don’t want to admit they’ve raised money they shouldn’t have and that’ll put a hole in their budget. These guys are the cover up kings.
BYNER: Will you keep us well informed on this because I know there are hundreds of people maybe more than that, who have had the letters.
BYNER: Thanks Bill. And look my source, we’ve got a lot of good sources and they’ve described this as a complete shemozzle.