Contributed by Ben Wilson
Madeleine Masterton, who works as a nurse in a Melbourne hospital and was pursued by Centrelink, is taking them to court. They had alleged that Centrelink has made has a false Robo debt claim of around $4,000. and withheld information on how it was calculated.
She is being represented by Victoria Legal Aid, which is arguing that the way Robot debts are being calculated is illegal. The outcome may have a direct effect on the thousands of Australians who have been targeted with similar debts. This is therefore a landmark case.
Madeleine also has the backing of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS). Its CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie said:
“Robo debt has unleashed thousands of debt notices in error to parents, people with disabilities, carers, students and people seeking paid work, resulting in people slapped with Centrelink debts they do not owe or debts higher than what they owe.
“It has been a devastating abuse of government power that has caused extensive harm, particularly among people who are the most vulnerable in our community.
“ACOSS has repeatedly called for Robo debt to be stopped, warning of the serious harm it is causing.
“We have repeatedly warned the Government that Robo debt is grossly unfair and contrary to basic legal principles, especially the use of automated averaging to calculate debts, and the reversal of onus of proof, which is leading to inaccurate assessments of what people may, or may not, owe, and of people being pursued for debts they do not owe.
“It is disappointing that it is being left to an individual and her lawyers to litigate in the Courts to stop this injustice. ACOSS congratulates them for their courage and determination in taking up this legal challenge. We urge the Government to act now and end this fundamentally flawed and brutal debt collection system.
“Robo debt is among a long list of policies from this Federal Government that degrade and harass people living with disability, caring for children, studying or searching for paid work.
“Instead of making life harder for people with damaging policies like Robo debt, the Cashless Debit Card and Parents Next, a good government would increase the grossly inadequate Newstart and Youth Allowance payments to ensure our social safety net does not trap people in poverty.
“Our social security safety net should provide people with the support and dignity they need to escape the poverty.