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'This is Australia's Watergate': Robodebt lawyer calls for prosecutions, class action


Robodebt victims could reopen claims for compensation in the wake of the royal commission’s damning report on the illegal scheme.

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Class action lawyer Peter Gordon said his firm Gordon Legal had written to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese following the report’s release requesting compensation.

“We hope that we’ll have some fruitful discussions about that … the class action’s never been dismissed,” he told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Monday.

“It’s clear that there’s now an evidentiary basis to proceed with a much more direct and egregious tort called misfeasance in public office, which will entitle people to get proper damages.”

The royal commission report released on Friday found former coalition ministers, including former prime minister Scott Morrison, dismissed or ignored concerns about the legality of the scheme.

The former government settled the class action lawsuit in 2020 for more than $1 billion after a court ruled the debt recovery scheme was unlawful.

Mr Gordon likened robodebt to “Australia’s Watergate”.

“It has exposed systematic dishonesty right throughout the highest levels of government that was ongoing for years,” he said.

“I hope that the government will now do the right thing by the citizens as it has so far done consistently since it won office.”

Royal commissioner Catherine Holmes wrote in her report there was no practical way of setting up a compensation scheme for those affected by robodebt.

“It is impossible to devise any set of criteria that will apply across the board, because people were affected in such varying ways,” she said.

“People suffered from the effects of the scheme in a multiplicity of ways, so there is no common starting point.”

The commissioner said a better use of public money would be to increase the rate of social security payments.

Following the release of the report, Mr Morrison has been facing calls to step down from parliament.

He has rejected suggestions of wrongdoing or that he misled cabinet.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said the former prime minister should be embarrassed by the royal commission’s findings.

But he said it was up to Mr Morrison to stay and “protest his innocence” if he wished.

“That’s up to him, but anyone who reads the royal commission (report) is going to form a different view about Mr Morrison’s proposed timetable for staying in parliament,” he said.

Liberal backbencher Bridget Archer told Nine newspapers she was disappointed by Mr Morrison’s response to the report’s findings.

“He was very quick to reject the findings of the royal commission rather than seek to engage constructively with its findings and find ways to reform the system to ensure this doesn’t ever happen again,” she said.

Nationals leader David Littleproud said Mr Morrison, who represents the Sydney seat of Cook, needed to decide whether he was still set on serving in federal parliament.

“It’s a matter for Mr Morrison to determine whether he’s still got the heart to continue on,” he said.

“And if he hasn’t, then he should get out of the road, because the people of Cook deserve someone that has the fire in the belly to stand up and to represent them in Canberra.”

The report included a sealed section recommending further investigation and action against several unnamed individuals.

Federal police and the National Anti-Corruption Commission are considering the evidence.

Mr Shorten said he understood the undisclosed chapter would be made public once investigations were completed.

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