$ 1.2 billion in robodebt settlement issues raised | The Murray Valley Standard
Victims of gross debt have stood against class-action lawyers, amid objections to the federal government’s offer to settle $ 1.2 billion without admitting legal liability.
Federal Court heard “harrowing stories” of victims of Commonwealth’s automated illegal program that combines tax data and Centrelink data to claw back welfare benefits that the government said were overpaid .
“If the settlement is approved, there are a lot of people who will not receive money but will have given up their rights … and there are people here who have lost their children,” Judge Bernard Murphy said Thursday. .
Dubbed robodebt, the program was declared illegal in 2019 after the Federal Court found that Centrelink could not be satisfied that the automatically calculated debts were correct.
A man, Jeremy, detailed his experience with the “targeted and punitive” program. He expressed concern that the previously proposed Commonwealth settlement allowed politicians to avoid publicly admitting that robodebt was illegal.
He also expressed concerns that Gordon Legal, the firm behind the class action, would be the primary beneficiary.
“The government will have used state power to persecute the weakest members of society, then used public funds to prevent them from being held accountable,” Jeremy said.
“On the other hand, the victims will have endured tremendous stress and anxiety, which benefits a wealthy law firm.”
Others have expressed concerns about the transparency of the law firm’s costs, some details of which were withheld.
Judge Murphy said there must be “a good reason the costs weren’t open to reading.”
“Having said that, I don’t see anything embarrassing,” added the judge.
Acting for Gordon Legal, Bernie Quinn QC said that while some people would not be compensated under the settlement, they would benefit from a “shutdown”.
Jennifer Miller said robodebt played a “very important” role in the suicide of her son Rhys Cauzzo about four years ago, after being sued by Centrelink and debt collectors.
Ms Miller said she was happy the money was refunded, but opposed the settlement as no one in power had been held accountable.
“The only thing I’ve ever had are platitudes – I was shown no respect,” she told the court.
“My objection is that there was no liability. It turned out to be an illegal process at the start of the play.”
Ms Miller said Centrelink sued her son despite knowing he had mental health issues and also gave private information about him to the media.
More than 500 people objected to the settlement and many had “poignant stories,” Justice Murphy said.
Another woman told court that her partner and father committed suicide after being chased by debt collectors.
“The emotional toll is absolutely ridiculous,” she said.
A man said his debt was reduced from more than $ 3,000 to $ 400 after spending six months providing supplies to authorities, but the stress he endured kept him from working.
He said the settlement as it stood meant he would not receive compensation for his mental suffering.
“It’s shocking, isn’t it? The man said.
“I think that’s totally wrong – I’m running around and they don’t take my word for it at all.”
Another man, 45, said he spent a tenth of his life worrying about and dealing with his robodebt case.
It was previously revealed that the victims would receive $ 112 million in compensation, be reimbursed $ 720 million and have $ 400 million in illegal debts written off.
Income averaging is no longer used as the only proof of possible debt.
The hearing to determine the final form of the settlement is expected to continue on Friday.
Associated Australian Press