The settlement of the class action lawsuit against robodebt for $112 million in compensation minus legal fees has “shafted” the victims of the unlawful debt recovery scheme, according to Not My Debt founder Lyndsey Jackson.
On Monday the federal government and Gordon Legal announced they had agreed to settle the class action lawsuit against the automated data matching and debt recovery program, known as robodebt.
The settlement totals $1.2 billion, but the vast majority of this is refunded and zeroed debts already announced by the government, with $112 million to be provided to the more than 400,000 clients of the lawsuit in compensation.
As part of the settlement, the government has not admitted any liability for the scheme, or that anyone involved with it knew that it was unlawful.
The decision to settle the class action before it was heard in court has left many victims of robodebt and organisers against the scheme disappointed and frustrated, with many seeing it as a missed opportunity to hold ministers and senior public servants to account, and to obtain a legal precedent to prevent a similar scheme in the future.
Ms Jackson said there is a widespread feeling of disappointment among clients of the class action.
“People are definitely feeling that $112 million in compensation isn’t a very big amount for the number of people affected, and we’re not going to get any closer to figuring out what went wrong,” Ms Jackson told InnovationAus.
“There isn’t any accountability, no one is taking the stand for this. There is a feeling of disappointment that there was a settlement. People are feeling that Gordon Legal are the winners, that the Labor Party are the winners, but it doesn’t take much maths to see that most people will get a couple of hundred bucks.
“That’s not close to the hours, stress and inconvenience caused for people going through this.”
Despite the $1.2 billion settlement and untold damage wrecked by the deeply flawed scheme, no-one who oversaw the program is being held to account, she said.
“There’s still this real distrust and feeling that the government got away with something. It’s just shocking that no minister has lost their job over this,” Ms Jackson said.
“We’ve got $1.2 billion paid back because it was illegally taken from Australians. How has no-one been held accountable? It’s just shocking. What does it take for a minister to lose their job?”
Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union’s Thomas Studans said feelings are “complicated” for victims of robodebt following the settlement.
“On the one hand, yes, it’s the biggest settlement in class action history, and one of the biggest in terms of how many members there are. But in terms of payment, they’re not getting a whole lot of money. We know there are people that that wouldn’t even cover the printing of their file,” Mr Studans told InnovationAus.
“I understand it is a big win and people need relief quickly and needed this judgement, but there are no precedents or anything that could be useful going forward to really make this stick for the government,” he said.
“They’ve admitted no liability in making the settlement, it seems to be favourable for the government in terms of them avoiding scrutiny.”
“We’ve missed out on that opportunity, and that is what is galling for us and for members of the class action. There’s no closure for any of it.”
The campaigning against robodebt won’t stop after the class action settlement. There have been renewed calls for a Royal Commission into the scheme this week, in an effort to get more transparency and accountability for robodebt.
“We need to take stock. It’s been five years and everyone has worked their fingers to the bone, and this is a bit of an anti-climax,” Mr Studans said.
“We need to ponder our next move and there are a variety of options. The Royal Commission is the most promising method of public accountability, but there have to be other options.
“It’s not Gordon Legal’s or Bill Shorten’s victory. It could have been any politician or any major law firm, the groundwork was done by five years of campaigning by people who are not getting the credit they deserve for bringing this to light.”
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