Robodebt Was the Grinch That Stole My Christmas: Why We Need Albo’s Royal Commission

In 2018, Robodebt was the Grinch that stole my Christmas. During November of that year, Centrelink used this automated debt-collection system to hound me for $316.87. Why I owed them $316.87 was never properly explained to me and still remains a mystery. Nevertheless, I was receiving scary legal letters in the mail and getting scammer-vibes phone calls. 

Due to me struggling to stay afloat at this time, I felt like I didn’t have the resources to contest this fine. So I scrounged together the money I had and somehow paid it. I just wanted this experience to be over. 

However, the next week, I received something very interesting from Centrelink. They sent $319.06 into my bank account. Now, I’m no fool, I knew that this could be a stuff up. So I called Centrelink to double-check if they meant to send me this money. They said yes. They said the fine was an error. In fact, they said I should use this money to buy some Christmas presents early. And that’s exactly what I did. 

Smash cut to November 30. I was chilling at home and received a phone call from Centrelink. A stranger on the other end of the line told me I owe the government $319.06. They told me that I need to send this money today. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that I spent that money already on Christmas presents. Centrelink doesn’t care. I knew this and sent them $319.06.

The call ended. I was alone in my house. I was demonstrably poor, scared, and broken. 

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Labor Launches a Royal Commission Into the Rododebt Disaster

On August 25, our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, made a huge announcement. “Today, I am outlining the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Robodebt that we committed to while in Opposition,” he stated in a press conference. “Robodebt was the Coalition’s brainchild, a computer program to find out if someone owed the Government money rather than involving a real person. One of the commitments that I made was to put the humans back into human services.”

Albanese then went on to say, “We know that almost 400,000 Australians fell victim to this cruel system, a human tragedy with very real consequences for its victims. The Royal Commission will examine the establishment of the scheme, who was responsible for it and why it was necessary, how concerns were handled, how the scheme affected individuals and the financial costs to government, and measures to prevent this ever happening again.”

Somedays, I am worried that the other shoe will drop, that Centrelink will reach out again and ask for another $300.00. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling such feelings. As Albanese asserted, this affected around 400,000 individuals. This scheme has left scars everywhere.

As someone who was impacted by the Robodebt disaster, I welcome this Royal Commission. Every failing of the scheme needs to be laid out on the table. Moreover, I hope that the people who created this cruel system are somehow brought to justice. Nobody deserves to be dehumanised the way I was in 2018. Everyone deserves an A+ Christmas.

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