Official never read key robodebt pronunciation

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A senior official in charge of appeals for social benefits has admitted he has never read a tribunal that found controversial robode debts could not be legally enforced.

Elizabeth Bundy, who led internal reviews for the Department of Human Services, appeared at the royal commission on robodebt in Brisbane on Wednesday.

Ms Bundy was repeatedly questioned about a major ruling by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which conducts independent reviews of decisions made under Commonwealth law.

The tribunal ruled in 2017 that robode debts could not be legally enforced, ruling that the process used to calculate the debts was imprecise and unreliable.

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Angus Scott, counsel assisting the royal commission, seemed surprised that Mrs Bundy had not read the ruling.

Mr. Scott asked how she could do her job effectively without knowing about the decision.

“As administrator of the appeals department… you had a duty of care for decisions of the AAT… are you saying that you did not read this decision?” he said.

Ms Bundy said it was impossible to read all the 13,000 decisions the tribunal made each year.

“It’s not possible with a branch of 400 people to read every AAT decision,” she said.

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The illegitimate robodebt scheme involved using annual IRS data to calculate biweekly earnings and automatically issue distribution debts.

The program falsely recovered more than $750 million from 381,000 people and led several people to commit suicide while being pursued for false debts.

Ms Bundy was questioned about her understanding of the legality of income averaging, admitting she had not read any 2014 legal advice stating that it would not be legal.

While admitting it was essential to her job, Ms Bundy said she didn’t read the advice because “it was an extremely busy time”.

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“I assumed these things were resolved,” she said.

Much of Wednesday’s evidence focused on the department’s understanding of using income averaging as a last resort.

Ms Bundy said the department used the process after two failed attempts to contact a benefit claimant.

Mr Scott said there are other avenues available to obtain the required information.

“Obviously it’s not averaging as a last resort, is it?” he said.

Ms Bundy said that if there was no other information for a decision maker it was used as a last resort.

“People’s understanding of what that meant could be different,” she said.

– MONKEY

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