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Bill Shorten's Robodebt Class Action Results in $1.2 Billion Settlement for Victims

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Bill Shorten is the minister for NDIS and Government Services under the Albanese Labor Government. He was the former leader of the Australian Labor Party during the 2019 Federal Election and campaigned heavily for greater utilisation of electric vehicles. Mr. Shorten also launched a class action case in 2019 alongside Gordan Legal against the Coalition Government for their handling of the Robodebt debt-recovery scheme. The case resulted in a $1.2 billion settlement to be distributed amongst 400,000 Australians.

Bill Shorten smiling in a black suit jacket and tie, with the text "Bill Shorten" foregrounded.

Robodebt Class Action

In September of 2019 Mr. Shorten called for the Coalition Government to suspend the robodebt scheme and announced a class action lawsuit undertaken by Gordan Legal on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Australian affected by the scheme. Mr. Shorten said the proposed class action would allege the federal government of financially benefiting as a result of the robodebt scheme in instances where it wrongfully collected money that legitimately belonged to recipients.

As part of his announcement, Mr. Shorten described how there had been "a pattern from the commonwealth of wiping the debt at the centre of legal challenges, possibly because the government was “scared” to prove the legal basis of the scheme, and that pointed to grounds for legal challenge."

In November of 2020, the day before the case was set to begin, the government agreed to settle the class action for $1.2 billion. The settlement also included commitments to repay $720 million in incorrectly collected debts, a further $400 million cleared in unlawful debt demands and 400,000 Australians were to receive $112 million in additional compensation. However, the government did not admit to any liability or knowledge of the scheme’s unlawfulness as part of the settlement.

Mr. Shorten remarked on the settlement, suggesting that the government was only paying back the incorrect debts as a result of court pressure:

“Call me a bit sceptical, but the only reason why the Morrison government surrendered is they had the hot breath of the court on their throat."

In the aftermath of the settlement, Mr. Shorten remained a strong proponent of a Royal Commission into the scheme. As described by The Saturday Paper, Mr. Shorten "had been relentless in his determination to expose the full extent of what he calls the “greatest failure of public administration and social security”."

Removal of ‘birthing parent’ from Medical Forms Provokes Backlash

On July 21st 2022 Mr. Shorten announced on Twitter that he had instructed officials to change forms, used at several hospitals which featured the term 'birthing parent', to alternate forms which utilised the term 'mother':

“When I was informed on this situation yesterday, I instructed the responsible officials they should cease. They will be replaced with new forms that use the word mother, not birthing parent, which is consistent with other Medicare forms.

The term 'birthing parent' was featured in forms at only three hospitals as part of a trial. The forms were for parents to register the birth of their child with Medicare, with only 1100 parents having participated. Mr. Shorten claimed forms featuring the term 'birthing parents were “part of a pilot program launched in three hospitals under the previous Coalition government”.

Prior to Mr. Shorten's announcement, Sall Grover, the founder of a female social network which excludes trans women, had posted to Twitter stating that the term 'birthing parent' is "absolute bullshit is exclusionary, alienating and derogatory towards every woman [who] wants to be and is called ‘mother’.”

Ms. Grover's comments were featured in an article for the Daily Telegraph, with other media outlets also picking up the story. The Daily Telegraph also reported that 55 men gave birth to children in 2014-2015, according to Medicare records. Mr. Shorten referenced the Daily Telegraph story in his Twitter announcement.

In 2013, the Labor government amended the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to include protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. This functionally resulted in transgender and intersex people no longer being required to disclose or explain their gender in order to receive medical treatment through Medicare.

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