12 July 2023

Sealed section of Robodebt report holds important public information

| Chris Johnson
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Woman giving man a report.

Governor-General David Hurley receives the Robodebt Royal Commission report from Commissioner Catherine Holmes last Friday. Photo: Screenshot.

The Federal Government is seeking advice over whether and/or when it can publicly release the names Royal Commissioner Catherine Holmes recommended should be referred for possible civil and criminal prosecution over the worst of Robodebt.

It’s obvious Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wants to name and shame, as does his Government Services Minister Bill Shorten.

That’s been clear since the 990-page, three-volume report was delivered to Governor-General David Hurley on Friday (7 July).

The PM took great delight in reading out sections of the report where Commissioner Holmes criticises the actions of former Coalition ministers – including former prime minister Scott Morrison – and where she dismisses or refutes some of the evidence they gave to the Royal Commission into the Robodebt scheme.

But it is the additional sealed section that has everyone talking – almost as much as they did when Cleo magazine introduced the first sealed section to an Australian magazine way back in the 1970s.

The Royal Commission’s sealed section names names … and the federal Labor government couldn’t be more delighted about it.

In her letter to the Governor-General, Commissioner Holmes noted that her sealed section had been provided to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Public Service Commissioner, and the Law Society of the ACT.

“I do not propose to name the entities to which I have made referrals because it would only lead to speculation about who had been referred where, which would almost certainly be wrong,” she wrote.

Those remarks themselves, though, have only served to ramp up the inevitable speculation.

READ ALSO Cabinet was misled and used as an excuse, according to Robodebt royal commission

And it’s easy to speculate who these people the Royal Commission named are.

Which might be why the prime minister would like to get them out into the open.

“It would certainly be my preference unless there is some legal impediment to it, but I’ll seek proper advice on that,” Mr Albanese said after the report’s release.

“I haven’t yet received advice from the Attorney-General’s Department, from the appropriate authorities on that.

“It’s pretty clear that the correspondence from the Royal Commissioner, Catherine Holmes, makes it clear in her wording of her letter to the government, it’s not about people being in the sealed section remaining sealed forever.

“In her words, to read from the letter, ‘I recommend that this additional chapter remain sealed and not be tabled with the rest of the report so as not to prejudice the conduct of any future civil action or criminal prosecutions’.

“My view is that that clearly is saying that is the period in which this information is being kept for the purpose of not prejudicing that action.”

Mr Shorten, too, thinks the names should be released when it is legally prudent to do so.

The minister said on Monday that the public deserves nothing less than to see those responsible for the traumas of Robodebt to be held accountable.

All true, but not as much as the truth that there is great political gain for Labor in having members of the Coalition named and prosecuted over the awfulness of Robodebt.

Shorten says Morrison, who the Commissioner has stated misled cabinet, should be embarrassed and humiliated by the report’s assessment of him.

Even members of the former PM’s own side have come out suggesting he should consider his parliamentary future.

READ ALSO Robodebt commissioner recommends criminal charges over illegal debt collection scheme

For his part, Morrison has rejected the inquiry’s evaluation of his role in Robodebt and has made it clear he has not been notified of legal recommendations against him (yet).

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is correct in saying Albanese and Shorten are making political hay with the report.

He’s even used the term “glee” to describe how Labor is responding to it.

And he labelled Shorten a political animal.

That’s all true and it’s stating the obvious.

But it is all besides the point.

Robodebt should never have happened, yet certain forces – too many – both at the political and public service levels insisted that it did, despite every concern that was raised.

Too many Australians needlessly suffered because of it.

Robodebt was criminal behaviour and prosecutions should flow.

The sooner names are revealed and we know what is going to happen to these people, the better.

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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