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Former PM Turnbull to appear at robodebt commission

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull will front the royal commission into the unlawful robodebt scheme.

Mr Turnbull will give evidence on Monday, as the commission enters its last week of hearings.

He will be asked questions on his knowledge of the scheme, which operated while he was prime minister between 2015 and 2018.

Mr Turnbull will be the second former prime minister to give evidence at the royal commission, following the appearance of his political successor Scott Morrison.

The royal commission on Friday heard concerns from a former government department director that the set up of the scheme was rushed.

Tenille Collins, the former director of the Department of Human Service, told the commission that while she thought the development of the robodebt scheme was carried out too quickly, she did not consider whether the program was legal.

"There was a strong push at this time in the department more broadly to find (budget) efficiencies," she told the commission.

"I was surprised at the time though, because ... we were still iterating the process that we proposed to test on (December 8, 2014), and then we had a draft (policy proposal) on December 10 - it's highly unusual.

"My concerns were more that this was very rushed, and we might be overlooking things that were important, as opposed to being a specific concern about the legal position."

The commission is examining why the scheme was established in 2015 and how it continued until 2019, given it had generated significant criticism by early 2017.

The Centrelink debt recovery scheme involved using annual tax office data to calculate average fortnightly earnings and automatically issue welfare debt notices.

The government unlawfully recovered more than $750 million from more than 380,000 people and has been blamed for contributing to several suicides.

Ms Collins told the commission robodebt represented a significant change from averaging methods previously carried out.

"It hadn't been done at this scale though, and the important difference between the way averaging was used in the past and the way it was proposed to be used in the measure was we weren't even going to attempt to go to employers," she said.

"I saw this as a significant deviation from existing process, not policy process."

When public criticism was mounting on the robodebt scheme during early 2017, Ms Collins said public servants in the department were becoming overwhelmed by the amount of issues associated with robodebt.

"It was like not being able to see the forest for the trees, we became very distracted with things that did not matter," she said.

The commission also questioned several officers from consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which was tasked with auditing the scheme.

While an independent investigation was launched in 2017, the Department of Human Services told the firm a report would not be needed and a visual presentation would be sufficient.

Despite the report being in the late stages, it was never handed over.

PwC partner Thai Bowe told the commission it was "odd" for the final report of a project not to be submitted despite being worked on for several months

In emails shown to the inquiry, Mr Bowe asked people within PwC not to send documents relating to the report to the government department.

He told the commission he thought the department didn't need the report due to the agency wanting to focus on improving the robodebt system and minimising media interest in issues with the scheme.

"DHS felt they understood what they needed to do and ... when media interest occurred, that distracted them from getting on with undertaking those improvement initiatives," he said.