The fallout from the Robodebt Royal Commission report continues to reverberate throughout Australian politics and while media interest in the issue may have waned, the implications of the report are far from over. Calls for former Prime Minister Scott Morrison to resign from Parliament have gained momentum, with critics asserting that the blame for the Robodebt scandal – described by Federal Court judge Bernard Murphy as a “massive failure in public administration” – extends beyond Morrison alone.
The revelations in the Robodebt Royal Commission report have shed light on the widespread issues plaguing the previous Liberal–National Coalition government’s automated debt recovery system. As public scrutiny intensifies, the focus has shifted to various former ministers and members of the public service who were involved in the flawed implementation of Robodebt, including Stuart Robert, Alan Tudge, Christian Porter, and potentially other Coalition Cabinet ministers.
Although Kathryn Campbell, a senior figure in the public service, has become the public face of opprobrium within this Robodebt scandal, there are likely others within the public service who will have to face the consequences of their involvement. While the push for Morrison’s resignation has not only come from other opposition parties but also within the Liberal Party itself, removing Morrison from Parliament will not mark the end of the Robodebt scandal, as the issue runs deeper and wider than his individual responsibility.
While there is a growing consensus within the community that Morrison should resign, it is important to note that he is not solely to blame for the Robodebt debacle. Nevertheless, the Liberal Party appears to be using him as a scapegoat, hoping that his resignation will mitigate some of the damage ahead of the next federal election, due in 2025. Morrison’s disastrous reign as prime minister continues to be a reminder of the Liberal Party’s challenges. However, his resignation is not such a simple process, as it would require him to retire, resign – or face charges related to Robodebt resulting in a criminal conviction with a potential jail term of over 12 months.
The Liberal Party finds itself in a difficult position regarding Morrison’s tenure. While they could disendorse him from the party, he would still remain in his seat for up to two years until the next federal election. Consequently, the party’s options to hasten his departure are limited. The longer Morrison stays in Parliament, the more damage he potentially inflicts on the Liberal Party’s reputation. Yet, it remains uncertain how they will manage his exit, as they lack definitive alternatives.
Considering the future prospects for Morrison, his chances of securing a lucrative post-political job appear bleak. The revelations from the Robodebt Royal Commission report, including the possibility of corruption charges, make it unlikely for him to attract prominent employment opportunities (although it could be argued that the “seriously corrupt” former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is employed by Optus, so perhaps there may be an opening available there for Morrison as a sidekick? Or PwC, a consultancy firm that seemed to very open to corrupt deals with the former Coalition governmernt?)
Also, Morrison’s current role as a backbencher offers him a $230,000 salary, as well as freedom from significant responsibilities, and the ability to enjoy the benefits associated with the position. Why would someone like Morrison leave politics if this is his only viable option?
The Robodebt fallout continues
As the fallout from the Robodebt Royal Commission report continues to unfold, the demand for accountability and justice remains at the forefront. The public’s expectation for action extends beyond the resignation of Morrison from Parliament, as the full scope of responsibility and potential corruption must be thoroughly addressed. The Robodebt scandal has become a defining issue in Australian politics, and the consequences for those involved are far from over.
Morrison, of course, has dismissed the adverse findings against him, claiming that the Commission “did not understand how the government operates”. If how government operates includes breaches of protocol, corruption, incompetence, and the implementation of an illegal and unconstitutional scheme, then perhaps it is true – the Commission didn’t understand how the Morrison government operated but, then again, it’s possible no one else did, including Morrison himself.
Despite the damning findings, Morrison’s refusal to accept the report’s conclusions holds little weight – Morrison’s reputation as a liar further raises doubts about his credibility and his lack of trustworthiness extends beyond this particular issue, rendering his presence in Parliament of questionable value. History has shown that former prime ministers often contribute to the Australian community in various capacities after leaving politics. However, Morrison’s leaves behind a vacuum and his prospects seem limited, offering little in terms of domestic or international contributions.
There are also rumours the Cronulla–Sutherland Sharks rugby league team – a club littered with its own scandals of drug cheating, salary cap rorting and player misbehaviour – are considering removing Morrison as their number one ticket holder. This would serve as a significant blow to his ego, considering the perks associated with the position – such as free games and access to the corporate box. The potential loss of this affiliation underscores the dwindling popularity of Morrison and highlights his struggle to find relevance outside of politics.
The lack of Robodebt interest from the mainstream media
While the mainstream media did initially reported on the release of the Robodebt Royal Commission report – how could they not? – its coverage has been perfunctory and has since dwindled over the past few days. The 24-hour news cycle, driven by the constant search for new stories, does contribute to this phenomenon but it is worth noting that if a Labor government had been implicated in such an illegal scheme, the media coverage would likely have been far more extensive, especially when comparing with the Royal Commissions into trade union governance, and the Rudd government’s home insulation scheme, in 2014. Both of these were instigated by the Abbott government, primarily as a political attack on Labor, and were enthusiastically promoted by a compromised and partisan conservative mainstream media. Robodebt? Not so much.
Independent media outlets and social media played a crucial role in bringing Robodebt to the public’s attention – most notably, the campaign commenced by the digital rights activist Asher Wolf – with the mainstream media offering limited coverage and languishing far behind with their interest. This disparity does raises questions about media biases and their role in holding conservative governments accountable.
The blame for the Robodebt scandal should not solely rest on one or two individuals: Kathryn Campbell, is now facing scrutiny for her involvement and surely her future within the public service should be coming to an end, as if there was any further evidence required. However, it is evident that the blame game serves as a convenient tactic for those in the media and the Liberal Party to deflect responsibility. A more diligent media would have pursued a thorough investigation, exposing all those responsible.
The leader of the opposition, Peter Dutton is seeking to sweep the Robodebt disaster away from scrutiny, emphasising the need to “focus on the future”. Fortunately, the newly established National Anti-Corruption Commission is also focused on the future and will be closely examining the ‘sealed section’ of the Robodebt Royal Commission report and potentially uncovering additional names involved.
Will Dutton’s name be one of those listed? The pursuit of justice and accountability should take precedence over political posturing and while Dutton’s posturing was solely focused on providing a message to take to the Fadden byelection over the weekend, this pursuit needs to follow through in interests of the public.
The Robodebt scandal highlights the systemic issues of abuse of vulnerable people in the community, and protecting those in political office, which lead to a lack of transparency and accountability. As public sentiment continues to evolve, the demand for change will become more pronounced. The National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Department of Public Prosecutions must fulfill their duties by charging those responsible for the illegal Robodebt scheme. It is essential to address the systemic flaws within governance to prevent similar instances of misconduct and ensure a more transparent and accountable government. It is must never ever be allowed to happen again.