RoboDebt was introduced by the Australian Government in 2016. It’s architect was the appalling Christian Porter, then Minister for Social Services. Its aim was to recoup debt from Australians perceived as being paid too much by Centrelink. It targeted the most vulnerable in our community. It basically crosschecked the incomes of all recipients receiving welfare payments. If they were earning too much it sent them a debt notice demanding that they repay any overpayment. It was said that RoboDebt issued up to 20,000 debt notices a week.
Many people were extremely stressed when they received RoboDebt notices. Some people that received notices suicided. Shalailah Medhora, writing for TripleJ Hack, reported that 2030 people died after receiving RoboDebt debt notices of which 429 were under the age of 35. How many of those 2030 were suicides is not known. Nevertheless, it is an appalling statistic.
It was later found that RoboDebt actually issued hundreds and thousands of debt notices in error. It led to a class action to recoup the repayments. It was suggested that as many as 600,000 people were wrongly issued with debt notices through RoboDebt. This led to refunds of $721 million to 373,000 people, $112 million in compensation and $398 million in cancelled debts being repaid. The total cost to the Government for this tragic and cruel policy was $1.2 billion. This is not including the human cost. RoboDebt was described by The Conversation as a fiasco with a cost we have yet to fully appreciate.
It will come as a surprise to no-one that Stuart Robert oversaw RoboDebt for most of its policy life. He refused to apologise for the fiasco. The deaths, the costs and the stress it caused meant nothing to him. On the 25th November 2019 he had this to say, “Let me say very categorically this government does not apologise for its efforts to protect the integrity of the welfare system.” In 2020 Scott Morrison did apologise. Stuart Robert went on to be the Minister for the NDIS.
Just this morning, while browsing through Facebook, I came across an article that described how the NDIA had been spying on a participants Facebook posts. They did this to try and prove that she was not eligible for the NDIS. Apparently, the NDIA developed a dossier on the woman based on her posts on Facebook and Linkedin. One post was complaining about the lack of fruit at a major Supermarket chain. The NDIA submitted this as evidence that she was lying about her claim that she was unable to go shopping.
The woman appealed the NDIA decision not to grant her NDIS access. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) found in favour of the woman. They described the conduct of the NDIA as “Far from sound” The whole process of trying to deny the woman access to the NDIS, partly based on a Facebook post about the amount of fruit in a Supermarket, took 21 months. At what cost??
Firstly there is the human cost. The stress on this woman. The AAT appeal took 21 months! How long was she trying to gain access before the appeal? How much money was she made to spend on doctors reports to prove her need? Most likely, she was denied important support and services for over two years. The stress of having to prepare for the appeal. The stress of having to gather evidence for her case. The stress to her health at having no support in that period. That human cost cannot be measured. And based on what? A Facebook post about the amount of fruit. How low can the NDIA go?
This woman is not an isolated case. She is one of many. She is one of thousands of people appealing about the substandard treatment and plans being doled out by the NDIS. Her case took 21 months!!! In that time the NDIA paid lawyers to present their case. They paid specialist to write reports to try and show the woman was lying about her need for support. There is the cost of the AAT for the time of the Member, the administration and the processing. The cost is enormous! And they are doing this for thousands upon thousands of people – In 2021 there was a 324% increase in NDIS AAT appeals. The NDIA is spending millions to try and win these cases and based on what? Well sometimes just a person buying fruit in a supermarket!
I am contacted by NDIS participants on a regular bases about the NDIS asking them to repay money. Many participants receive funding for low cost technology. Deaf people use this to purchase items that will allow them to communicate better or be safe. This ranges from iPads to smart watches. Smart watches alert them to alarms and door bells. An iPad allows them to communicate through VRI or receive captioning. Ridiculously, the NDIS will often say that these items are not needed and request funds be repaid. Or worse, they take control of the participants budget and refuse to let them self manage! They make them feel like criminals!
In their unholy obsession to save money, the NDIA are either refusing access, cutting plans or chasing funds that they believe are wrongly spent. The amount of stress that they are placing on people through this manic and cruel attempt to cut NDIS expenditure is scandalous!
I call it the DisaDebt – The NDIS version of RoboDebt. There is no doubt RoboDebt led to human tragedy and DisaDebt is likely causing the same. What price a human life?
All I can say is dump this inhumane Government now. This abuse of human dignity and rights has to end!