Former-Human Services Minister, Stuart Robert, has admitted "absolute responsibility" for the Liberal-National government's implementation of the Robodebt scheme.
The admission came in response to a question from Commissioner Catherine Holmes as part of the Robodebt Royal Commission. Mr. Robert was asked whether or not he took responsibility for "what the government, of which you were a part, did?" Mr. Robert replied "Absolutely, Commissioner...As a senior member of the government, I take absolute responsibility as part of cabinet solidarity for this."
Mr. Robert also admitted to making television appearances and defending the program, despite his awareness that the program may be illegal, as a "dutiful cabinet minister." Mr. Robert described to the commission how ministers are "required" to defend government policies even if they disagree with them:
"Ministers are required to defend the government's programs as part of cabinet solidarity regardless of if they agree with them or not...I have implemented many things I passionately disagree with, but I'm still required as a minister to represent them and defend them and that's what I've done here, regardless of my personal sense or belief."
Earlier in the same week the commission was told by the former-secretary of the Department of Human Services, Renee Leon, that the government was "very attached" to the scheme and that Mr. Robert had replied that "Legal advice is just legal advice" and had vowed to "double down" after being informed that the program was illegal:
"In a second conversation with Mr Robert, Professor Leon recalled saying: "The best course is to apologise to our customers, to admit the error, and to inform customers and staff of the steps we will take to correct the error." Professor Leon said Mr Robert replied: "We absolutely will not be doing that. We will double down". When asked by counsel assisting Justin Greggery KC what happened to Robodebt, Professor Leon said: "I ended up having to stop the program in advance of a decision from the government to do so."
Ms. Leon provided the commission a handwritten note regarding the conversation dated to the 29th of October 2019 regarding Mr. Robert's alleged statements. This note corroborated evidence provided by another public service witness.
Mr. Robert refuted both of the claims that he had replied "Legal advice is just advice," and that he intended to "double down" on the scheme.
Ms. Leon also told the commission that she halted the program after receiving legal advice regarding her obligations, despite the decision to end the program being one for the government.
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