Attorney-General Christian Porter has not apologized for the faults of the robo-debt scheme that forced thousands of Australians to wrongly pay back benefits, citing continuing legal action.
The government announced on Friday that $720 (US $480) million will be refunded for around 470,000 welfare debts thrown up by the scheme because of faulty income assessments made by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
Asked on ABC television’s Insiders program whether he would now apologize for the system, Porter admitted: “The system was flawed.”
But he would not apologize because there was litigation ongoing.
“As attorney-general I can’t use that sort of language in the context of the litigation,” he said.
“There’s litigation ongoing and it argues negligence and we don’t concede that.”
Cabinet colleague Keith Pitt has been more blunt, saying there is “nothing” to apologize for when conducting oversight over a large government program.
Porter was a social services minister when the robo-debt system was first introduced in 2015.
He said on May 31 the government would resist an argument for further damages in the courts for the way in which the government ran the system, but acknowledged using annualized ATO data to assess incomes had been shown to be an insufficient basis for raising debts.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers wants an apology for an issue which has a long way to run and said some ministers may still find themselves “in the dock.”
“What we are talking about here is the illegal thieving of people’s money, which has ruined lives and in some cases cost lives,” he told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program.