Scott Morrison rejects ‘absurd’ Robodebt report
Scott Morrison worked as an advisor to the NZ tourism minister between 1998 and 2000. Photo: AAP
Scott Morrison says he has been the victim of a political “lynching” in a fiery rejection of the findings of the Robodebt royal commission.
The former prime minister made a rare speech in Parliament on Monday to “completely reject” the findings handed down by the inquiry three weeks ago, including that he had given untrue evidence.
Mr Morrison acknowledged Robodebt’s “regrettable unintended consequences” but did not apologise.
But he called the adverse findings against him in the royal commission report “absurd”.
The former PM said the report had held him to an unfair standard for mistakes and oversights he said were his department’s fault – not his responsibility.
“This campaign of political lynching has once again include[d] the weaponisation of a quasi-legal process to launder the government’s political vindictiveness,” Mr Morrison said.
“The latest attacks on my character by the government in relation to this report is just a further attempt by the government following my departure from office to discredit me and my service to our country during one of the most difficult periods our country has faced since the Second World War.
“They need to move on.
“I will continue to defend my service and our government’s record with dignity.”
Commissioner Catherine Holmes found that Mr Morrison allowed his Cabinet colleagues to be “misled” over the nature of the policy and its legal risks by presenting them with a proposal lacking critical information.
Robodebt, which collected debts from people on welfare payments based on faulty maths, was found by the Federal Court in 2019 to have been unlawful and a “shameful chapter” in public administration in Australia.
But Mr Morrison said responsibility for the Robodebt proposal had to be placed on the public service, not him personally.
He accused the commission of suggesting that ministers should not rely on the work of their departments.
“[That] is not only wrong, but it would make executive government unworkable,” he said.
“Media reporting and commentary following the release of the commission’s report, especially by government ministers, has falsely and disproportionately assigned an overwhelming responsibility for the conduct and operations of the Robodebt scheme to my role as minister.”
‘I understood to be true’
The commission’s report found the top bureaucrat who worked on the Robodebt proposal, Kathryn Campbell, was likely to have kept quiet about any doubts about the legal basis for the policy because Mr Morrison wanted to go ahead.
Ms Campbell resigned last week.
Mr Morrison also rejected a finding he had made untrue statements as “unsubstantiated, speculative and wrong”.
“I had stated in evidence what I understood to be true,” he told Parliament. “The commission failed to disprove this and simply asserted it.”
Earlier Monday, Government Services Minister Bill Shorten, who pushed to establish the royal commission, read its findings against Mr Morrison out in Parliament.
“I note that Mr Morrison has disputed the royal commission findings,” he said.
“He may have convinced himself, but he failed to convince the royal commission and, indeed, most Australians.”
Mr Morrison’s continued presence in Parliament has been the subject of extended political speculation.
One of Mr Morrison’s Liberal allies recently told TND that they expected the former prime minister was more likely to decide to continue serving in Parliament longer after the royal commission’s report made adverse findings against him.
And when concluding his speech on Monday, he gave no indication he intended to resign.
“I will continue to defend my service and our government’s record with dignity and an appreciation of the strong support I continue to receive from my colleagues, from so many Australians since the election, and especially in my local electorate of Cook, of which I’m pleased to continue to serve,” he said.
Aside from its published findings, the commission also presented a “sealed” section recommending civil or criminal action against specific individuals.
Those names have not been made public, and Mr Morrison has not said if he is subject to those recommendations.