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CURRENT CASE: Challenging government secrecy over the Robodebt scandal

Justin Warren is using the Freedom of Information Act to find out who knew what about the botched Robodebt scheme - one of the biggest scandals in recent Australian political history.

Status: The case was heard before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in 2021. A decision is expected in 2022. Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is representing Mr Warren in collaboration with Grata Fund. 

The Robodebt scheme, which ran between 2015 and November 2019, used an automated debt recovery system to determine if Centrelink recipients had been ‘overpaid’.

Many people were wrongly accused of owing money. In 2021 the Federal Court approved a $112 million class action settlement for victims of the controversial Robodebt scheme that unlawfully collected money from some of the most financially disadvantaged people in the community. 

The program caused severe financial stress and harm to hundreds and thousands of vulnerable people. 

In 2017, technology and human rights advocate Justin Warren made a Freedom of Information Act request for early business plans and other documents produced by the Department of Human Services – now known as Services Australia – to justify the rollout of the Robodebt scheme.

These documents could show who knew what – and when – about Robodebt, and how the automated debt recovery program was designed and approved at the most senior levels of the public service and the former Coalition government.  

The documents could also reveal what former prime minister Scott Morrison and senior figures in the former government knew when they had responsibility for the program.

When the department refused to release the documents, Mr Warren challenged the decision through the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, and won. The previous government appealed the decision, and in June 2021 the case went before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.