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My brush with robodebt

  • 26 September 2019


I was heartened by the announcement that Gordon Legal is pursuing a class action for robodebt victims that will seek to require Centrelink to establish a lawful basis for any debt due to it. I am one of hundreds of thousands of people who has gone through the robodebt process.

Like Victoria Legal Aid's test-case client Deanna Amato, I too felt the exercise of a reverse burden of proof; like I was guilty until proven innocent. The very nature of the scheme goes against the common law principle that the prosecution is to prove the guilt of an accused person, which is said to lie at the foundations of law and order in this country. Despite what I already knew of the problematic nature of the scheme, I was left feeling deeply anxious and questioning my own conduct.

There seems to be distinct phrases in how Centrelink have approached robodebt, which has been referred to by Bill Shorten MP as verging on extortion. Earlier victims were issued debts directly. My story was a little different and goes like this.

In July of this year, I was issued a letter via registered post with the subject line 'We need you to check and update your past income information', signed 'National Manager Compliance Program'. The 'check' was for the 2013-14 financial year. I came to know about it on a Friday evening and I got right into it, determined to get it over with quickly. Well, if only!

After trawling through emails, I discovered I was one of the fortunate ones who had sufficient payslip information available to me electronically. I filled out the required form online which took hours, including uploading payslips to the Centrelink system with some difficulty as it froze regularly. I was unable to complete all the information as the form in question pre-filled the dates of payslips, which did not correspond to the dates on my payslips.

This demanded a phone call. I cringed at the thought, reflecting on my experience with 132490, still called the 'Youth and Students line', which now handles calls regarding everything from Low Income Health Care Cards to Youth Allowance and Newstart for under 22s. I thought of my recent phone queue 'on hold' experiences: 20 minutes if I called right on 8am; 40 plus minutes if I called before 11am; an engaged signal anytime later than that.

To my surprise, getting through on the robodebt line was pretty