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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.


Justin Warren applied to Services Australia under the FOI Act for documents relating to the business case of the notorious Robodebt scheme found to be unlawful by the Federal Court. The documents could show what various ministers including Scott Morrison, Christian Porter and Alan Tudge knew about the scheme, and what went wrong.

In 2022, the AAT ruled that only one document needed to be released. Mr Warren appealed that decision and in 2024, the full Federal Court overturned the decision which denied access to documents. In a massive win for government transparency, the court found that there was serious denial of procedural fairness, and that the AAT did not interpret the law on the Cabinet document exceptions correctly.

Case Timeline

June 2024 Mr Warren wins his full Federal Court appeal 
August 2023 Hearing
December 2022 Mr Warren appeals the decision to the Federal Court
December 2022 AAT upholds secrecy and rules for only one document to be released
December 2021 Closing submissions are heard in the AAT
August 2021 Case is heard in the AAT
June 2021 Case is heard in the AAT
April 2019

Mr Warren files the case 

The Case 

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. In December 2022, the AAT upheld secrecy and ruled for only one document to be released. Mr Warren appealed the AAT's decision and won his full Federal Court appeal following a judgment handed down by the Full Federal Court in 2024.

Mr Warren is represented by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers in collaboration with Grata Fund. 



Read the AAT decision handed down December 2022

View information about Mr Warren's appeal