16 April 2024

Union alarmed over Robodebt legal adviser's appointment to high-level ACT directorate role

| Claire Fenwicke
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Lisa Carmody

Lisa Carmody giving evidence at the Royal Commission into the Robotdebt scheme. Photo: Screenshot.

Alarm bells have been sounded over the appointment of a senior legal adviser involved in the Robodebt scheme to the role of deputy director-general in an ACT Government directorate.

Lisa Carmody has been appointed to the role in the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate (CMTEDD), a move which has concerned both the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and UnionsACT.

The CPSU has described Ms Carmody’s role in the Robodebt scandal as “significant” and raised concerns about her appointment to a role that “liaises constantly” with trade unions.

“Robodebt was a cruel and illegal scheme that had disastrous impacts across the country, including on CPSU members who were forced to implement it,” CPSU ACT regional secretary Maddy Northam said.

“To now expect CPSU members in the ACT Government to work with someone who was involved in perpetuating this scheme, in an industrial relations capacity, is shocking.”

Ms Northam said the CMTEDD’s deputy director general had a “hugely important role” in implementing the government’s industrial relations agenda and questioned whether someone with Ms Carmody’s history was suitable for the job.

“The CPSU is concerned that this appointment could have a detrimental impact on the ACT Government’s relationship with the union movement and undermine the confidence of public servants when raising concerns with management,” she said.

UnionsACT secretary Kasey Tomkins expressed concern that some elements of the Robodebt inquiry were still sealed.

“The unfortunate reality is that so long as referrals made by the Robodebt Royal Commission remain sealed, we’ll not know who potentially will be subject to future civil or criminal legal proceedings,” she said.

“The role Ms Carmody will occupy is one that carries substantial impact over the lives of those working in the ACTPS.”

Both unions have called on the government to provide “more context” on the appointment, while CPSU has also called on ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr to “reconsider” the appointment.

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An ACT Government spokesperson stressed ministers, including the Chief Minister, are not involved in public service recruitment.

“The Deputy Director-General, Office of Industrial Relations and Workforce Strategy is an ACT Public Service role and the appointment of senior public servants is the responsibility of the Head of Service,” they said.

The spokesperson explained that recruitment for the role had been done nationally and included a full merit-based assessment and due diligence process.

“The Robodebt Royal Commission final report does not support the assertions of the CPSU,” they said.

“When Ms Carmody commences in the role, she will look to actively engage with all key stakeholders.”

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In her submission to the Robodebt inquiry, Ms Carmody outlined she wasn’t responsible for providing legal advice on social security matters dealt with by the Federal Department of Human Services and wasn’t aware of the Robodebt scheme when she was acting Chief Counsel for the department in January 2017 (when the scheme came under intense media scrutiny).

It was at this time that the department was asked to develop a paper on the department’s practice of “averaging income” to calculate payments under social security law and the circumstances under which it was permissible for the department to assume pro-rata earned income over certain periods.

Ms Carmody outlined that she had no understanding of the methods of calculating and recovering debts under Robodebt, their potential unlawfulness, and the potential for “inaccurate or unfair” calculation and recovery of debts through the scheme.

The Robodebt Royal Commission found the draft advice had “explicitly recommended” external legal advice be sought.

“Ms Carmody accepted in her evidence that the arguments in the draft advice in support of averaging were ‘unconvincing’,” the final report noted.

The final report referred 16 Commonwealth public servants to the Australian Public Service Commission for investigation over possible breaches of the APS Code of Conduct.

Region is not suggesting Ms Carmody is one of these people.

As of February, only one matter has been concluded (with no sanctions issued), four individuals had been issued with preliminary findings against them, and 11 remained entirely unresolved.

The names of the Commonwealth public servants have not been made public.

After her time with the DHS, Ms Carmody was the general manager of enterprise strategy and governance with Services Australia.

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.

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