Centrelink’s controversial robo-debt recovery scheme is an “elaborate sham”, according to a prominent Victorian barrister who wants to challenge it in the Federal Court, the Canberra Times reports.
Gavin Silbert, QC, who retired as the state’s chief crown prosecutor in March, has accused the Department of Human Services of ignoring its legal obligations and acting like a bully towards some of the nation’s most vulnerable people.
Mr Silbert became embroiled in the dispute when someone he knew was issued with a demand to repay a debt of $10,230.97, which the department claimed was overpaid by Centrelink between 2010 and 2013.
He has provided pro bono advice and helped prepare correspondence to the department, which repeatedly asked for an explanation on how the debt was calculated.
However, the department’s compliance branch has ignored nine letters between May and November 2018 that requested additional information. Last week, it made threats to impose interest charges on the original debt.
“Other than the bald assertion that I have a debt, I have never received any details of how the debt is alleged to have arisen or anything which would enable me to verify or understand the demand made of me,” Mr Silbert’s client wrote on June 7.
In another letter, Mr Silbert’s client wrote: “There is not a court in the country that will uphold your demands for interest in the absence of fundamental details of how the amount is alleged to have arisen.”
Mr Silbert is keen to launch Federal Court action to test the legal basis of the robo-debt program and the government’s apparent unwillingness to provide particulars.
“I’m itching to get this before a court,” he told Fairfax Media.
Top QC slams Centrelink’s robo-debt program as ‘elaborate sham’ (Canberra Times)