Standing alongside class action litigator Peter Gordon at a press conference in parliament house on Tuesday, former opposition leader and shadow government services minister Bill Shorten said the legal veteran was the man who “took on big tobacco in America, took on asbestos cases, took on thalidomide compensation”.
Gordon said he only began looking at robo-debt when Shorten took over the portfolio in May and invited him to examine the government’s curious behaviour of wiping the debts at the centre of legal challenges rather than pursuing them and establishing its right to the money in court.
What is robo-debt?Supplied
Robo-debt is a part-automated process in which recipients of government benefits are sent letters asserting that they owe the government money because they have been overpaid. Many of the debts are false or highly inflated because they are calculated using an inaccurate formula that averages employment earnings over a series of fortnights rather than identifying what actually earned in the relevant fortnight.
Robo-debts have been routinely overturned as lacking a legal foundation when appealed to the first level of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Although the rulings have always been accepted by Centrelink in the individual cases taken before the Tribunal, Centrelink has not applied them to cases not taken to the tribunal.
A Federal Court challenge by two Australians who are arguing the illegality of robo-debts remains underway, but Centrelink wiped both debts after the case was launched. Argument remains about whether this means there is still a live legal issue to be heard. The case is not expected to return to court until December.
What is “unjust enrichment”?
- ^ class action (www.abc.net.au)
- ^ legal veteran (gordonlegal.com.au)
- ^ false or highly inflated (www.notmydebt.com.au)
- ^ ever challenged (www.unswlawjournal.unsw.edu.au)
- ^ wiped both debts (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Gordon Legal (gordonlegal.com.au)
- ^ Unjust enrichment (gordonlegal.com.au)
- ^ 500,281 (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ driving it up (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ special features and technical requirements (www.austlii.edu.au)
- ^ Danger! Election 2016 delivered us Robodebt. Promises can have consequences (theconversation.com)
Authors: Terry Carney, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Sydney