900 complaints on robodebt decision

Almost 900 complaints have been lodged with the NACC inspector after the corruption watchdog did not pursue an investigation. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Brenton Edwards

The independent official charged with investigating corruption issues at the newly formed corruption watchdog is set to launch an inquiry into the body’s decision not to investigate the referrals from the Robodebt royal commission after she received almost 900 complaints into the matter.

Last week, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) announced it would not pursue an inquiry after the royal commission into the unlawful debt recovery scheme referred six individuals who had overseen the scheme, arguing it was unlikely to garner any further evidence.

“After close consideration of the evidence that was available to the Royal Commission, the Commission has concluded that it is unlikely it would obtain significant new evidence,” the NACC said in a statement released last week .

Robodebt calculated welfare recipients’ alleged debts by income averaging and issued debt noticesPicture: NCA NewsWire / Brenton Edwards

“In the absence of a real likelihood of a further investigation producing significant new evidence, it is undesirable for a number of reasons to conduct multiple investigations into the same matter.”

But a week later, the NACC’s inspector Gail Furness SC revealed she would launch her own inquiry into the watchdog’s decision not to launch an investigation after she had received almost 900 individual complaints.

“Many of those complaints allege corrupt conduct or maladministration by the NACC in making that decision,” Ms Furness said in a statement on Thursday.

“I also note that there has also been much public commentary.

The NACC’s inspector Gail Furness has launched an inquiry into body’s decision not to pursue an investigation into the Robodebt royal commission. Picture: Supplied
The NACC’s inspector Gail Furness has launched an inquiry into body’s decision not to pursue an investigation into the Robodebt royal commission. Picture: Supplied

“Accordingly, I have decided to inquire into that decision. I anticipate that I will make my findings public, in due course.”

Integrity advocates have been scathing of the NACC’s decision to eschew an investigation, and questioned whether the body is sufficiently capable of investigating allegations of corruption in the public service.

A separate inquiry by the Australian Public Service Commission is currently underway after the royal commission made 16 separate referrals to the agency.

Robodebt, active from 2015 to 2019, was an automated method of calculating welfare recipients’ alleged debts by matching their reported pay with their supposed annual incomes, which were estimated by averaging data from the Australian Taxation Office.

It issued debt notices to 443,000 welfare recipients.\In June 2021 the Federal Court agreed to a $1.8bn settlement for victims of the scheme following a class action.

The court called it a “shameful chapter” and a “massive failure of public administration”.

If you're struggling, know that help is available 24/7.

Lifeline: Call 13 11 14, text 0477 13 11 14 or chat online.

Kids Helpline: Call 1800 55 1800 or chat online.

Beyond Blue: Call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.

1800RESPECT: Call 1800 737 732, text 0458 737 732 or chat online.

13 Yarn: Call 13 92 76.

MensLine Australia: Call 1300 78 99 78.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000).