Robodebt: Australia's illegal welfare search drove individuals to despair

An essential review in Australia has determined that the illegal welfare hunt conducted by the previous government made people feel like criminals and led to suicides.

Locals referred to it as "Robodebt," and it was an automated government program that required welfare recipients to repay benefits they did not owe. Due to a programming error, individuals received letters stating they owed thousands of dollars in debt. The policy affected more than 500,000 Australians.

The plan was in effect from 2016 until 2019, when a court ruled that it violated the law. It forced some of the nation's poorest citizens to pay bogus invoices. Many of them had to take out loans, sell their vehicles, or use their savings to pay off obligations that were due in a few weeks. Others claimed they were insulted and made to feel embarrassed when they were told they owed money.

The final report of a royal commission investigating the scandal was released on Friday. It referred to the plan as a "costly failure of public administration" with "extensive, devastating, and continuing" negative effects. Commissioner Catherine Holmes stated in her 990-page report, "Robodebt was a crude and cruel system that was neither fair nor legal, and it made many people feel like criminals."

In Australia, a royal commission is the most effective method for citizens to pose queries. This one lasted for eleven months and received numerous entries. On Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese criticized the previous administration's program as a "gross betrayal" of the public, which had injured the most vulnerable.

At least three suicides were identified as a consequence of Robodebt policy, and it was "confident that these were not the only incidents of this nature." Two young men, Rhys Cauzzo, 28, and Jarrad Madgwick, 22, died by suicide, and their mothers testified before the commission last year on their behalf. The other party was unknown. 

Other victims told investigators that the tension of a debt demand had caused them anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Another victim who had previously experienced mental illness stated that he was in "complete shock" upon receiving a $A11,000 (£6,300, $8,100) debt notice because it would "set me back years and years and years"

Friday's final report of the inquiry criticized the conservative government of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison for launching the scheme with "little to no regard for the individuals and vulnerable cohorts that it would affect." Mr. Morrison stated on Friday that he rejects "each of the findings that are detrimental to me and are critical of my role in authorizing the scheme."

He insisted that he acted in good faith and in accordance with the department's explicit and deliberate guidance. The report also accuses the government of continuing to conceal the scheme's "apparent unfairness, probable illegality, and cruelty" The government also falsely exaggerated "miniscule" instances of welfare fraud, according to the report.

In 2019, the Morrison government abruptly terminated the Robodebt program after victims challenged its legal basis before the Federal Court of Australia, which ruled that it was illegal. In addition, the government was forced to refund over A$700 million to victims as a result of its retreat. In addition, a multibillion-dollar lawsuit launched by victims seeking compensation was resolved.