- Letters patent
ELIZABETH THE SECOND, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth
Ms Catherine Ena Holmes AC SC
ACKNOWLEDGING the harm caused to affected members of the Australian community by the debt assessment and recovery scheme known as Robodebt (the Robodebt scheme) which reportedly comprised, from 1 July 2015, the PAYG Manual Compliance Intervention program, including associated pilot programs from early 2015 to 30 June 2015, and the following iterations of this program:
- Online Compliance Intervention, which applied to assessments initiated in the period from on or around 1 July 2016 to on or around 10 February 2017;
- Employment Income Confirmation, which applied to assessments initiated in the period from on or around 11 February 2017 to on or around 30 September 2018;
- Check and Update Past Income, which applied to assessments initiated after on or around 30 September 2018
- in November 2019 the Federal Court of Australia declared, with the consent of the Australian Government, that a demand for payment of an alleged debt under the Robodebt scheme was not validly made; and
- the Australian Government had adopted the same or a similar approach in calculating and raising debts against hundreds of thousands of other individuals under the Robodebt scheme; and
- the Australian Government subsequently announced that over 400,000 debts raised under the Robodebt scheme would be zeroed or repaid.
NOW THEREFORE We do, by these Our Letters Patent issued in Our name by Our Governor‑General of the Commonwealth of Australia on the advice of the Federal Executive Council and under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Royal Commissions Act 1902 and every other enabling power, appoint you to be a Commission of inquiry, and require and authorise you to inquire into the following matters:
- the establishment, design and implementation of the Robodebt scheme, including:
- who was responsible for its design, development and establishment; and
- why those who were responsible for its design, development and establishment considered the Robodebt scheme necessary or desirable; and
- the advice, process or processes that informed its design and implementation; and
- any concerns raised regarding the legality or fairness of the Robodebt scheme;
- the use of third party debt collectors under the Robodebt scheme;
- in relation to concerns raised about the Robodebt scheme following its implementation:
- how risks relating to the Robodebt scheme were identified, assessed and managed by the Australian Government in response to concerns raised by the Australian Taxation Office, other departments and agencies, affected individuals and other people and entities; and
- the systems, processes and administrative arrangements that were in place to handle complaints about the Robodebt scheme from members of the public affected by the scheme, their representatives or government officials and staff; and
- whether complaints were handled in accordance with those systems, processes and administrative arrangements, and, in any event, handled fairly; and
- how the Australian Government responded to adverse decisions made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal; and
- how the Australian Government responded to legal challenges or threatened legal challenges; and
- approximately when the Australian Government knew or ought to have known that debts were not, or may not have been, validly raised; and
- whether the Australian Government sought to prevent, inhibit or discourage scrutiny of the Robodebt scheme, whether by moving departmental or other officials or otherwise;
- the intended and actual outcomes of the Robodebt scheme, in particular:
- the kinds of non‑pecuniary impacts the scheme had on individuals, particularly vulnerable individuals, and their families; and
- the approximate total cost of implementing, administering, suspending and winding back the Robodebt scheme, including costs incidental to those matters (such as obtaining external advice and legal costs);
AND We direct you to make any recommendations arising out of your inquiry that you consider appropriate, including measures needed to prevent a recurrence of any failures of public administration you identify.
AND, without limiting the scope of your inquiry or the scope of any recommendations arising out of your inquiry that you may consider appropriate, We direct you, for the purposes of your inquiry and recommendations, to focus on decisions and actions taken, or not taken, by those in positions of seniority.
AND We further declare that you are not required by these Our Letters Patent to inquire, or to continue to inquire, into a particular matter to the extent that you are satisfied that the matter has been, is being, or will be, sufficiently and appropriately dealt with by another inquiry or investigation or a criminal or civil proceeding.
AND We declare that you are a relevant Commission for the purposes of sections 4 and 5 of the Royal Commissions Act 1902.
AND We declare that you are a Royal Commission to which item 5 of the table in subsection 355‑70(1) in Schedule 1 to the Taxation Administration Act 1953 applies.
- require you to begin your inquiry as soon as practicable; and
- require you to make your inquiry as expeditiously as possible; and
- require you to ensure the inquiry is conducted in a professional, impartial, respectful and courteous manner, including appropriately managing any actual or perceived conflicts of interest; and
- require you to submit to Our Governor‑General any recommendations that you make before making them public; and
- require you to submit to Our Governor‑General a report of the results of your inquiry, and your recommendations, not later than 18 April 2023.
IN WITNESS, We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent.
WITNESS General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), Governor‑General of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Dated 18 August 2022
By His Excellency’s Command