Australian public servants under probe over illegal debt recovery program

by IANS |

Canberra, Nov 13 (IANS) Sixteen Australian public servants are under investigation for their role in an illegal debt recovery scheme, the federal government confirmed on Monday.

The Australian government has officially responded to the findings of the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme, accepting all 56 of the report's recommendations including criminal investigations into public servants across two government departments who oversaw the debt-raising policy, reports Xinhua news agency.

Launched in 2015, Robodebt aimed to recover A$1.7 billion from people the former government claimed were cheating the welfare system.

The royal commission, which handed down its final 990-page report in July, found that A$721 million were wrongfully recovered from 381,000 people before the "cruel" scheme was declared unlawful by the Federal Court in 2019.

Mark Dreyfus, Australia's Attorney-General, said at a press conference on Monday that Robodebt was a shameful chapter in the country's history that "destroyed" innocent lives.

"This was not an innocent mistake, this was a deliberate, calculated scheme," he said.

"In essence, people were traumatized on the off-chance they might owe money."

Delivering the government's response, Dreyfus, Finance and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth and Government Services Minister Bill Shorten revealed that the public service commissioner has commenced investigations into all 16 public servants the Royal Commission referred for prosecution.

They said the government has hired an additional 3,000 staff to implement the inquiry's recommendations and committed A$22.1 million in new funding over the next four years to help do so.

Shorten officially apologiSed to victims of the scheme in a speech to Parliament in August.

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