Robodebt 'crime' reported to Australian Federal Police

· Updated July 25 2023 - 5:52am, first published 5:30am
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese has condemned the former Liberal government’s ‘gross betrayal’ following the release of the damning robodebt royal commission report.

The fallout from the royal commission into the robodebt scheme continues to grow, with police confirming they have received a report of crime from the commission.

On Monday, embattled former senior bureaucrat Kathryn Campbell resigned from the Department of Defence, in a move welcomed by the main public sector union as "the first of many steps toward achieving full accountability" in the wake of robodebt.

The government continues to respond to the robodebt royal commission findings. Picture by Gary Ramage
The government continues to respond to the robodebt royal commission findings. Picture by Gary Ramage

An AFP spokesperson also confirmed on Monday it had received the report from the royal commission. The Canberra Times does not suggest Ms Campbell has been referred for civil action or criminal prosecution.

The Canberra Times last week revealed Ms Campbell had been suspended without pay from her lucrative senior AUKUS job, making her the first known senior head to roll in the wake of the royal commission.

The 900-page report into the unlawful debt collecting scheme found Ms Campbell, on the weight of evidence, gave misleading advice to federal cabinet.

Defence on Monday confirmed Kathryn Campbell had resigned. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong
Defence on Monday confirmed Kathryn Campbell had resigned. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong

The top bureaucrat, who had been working in the $900,000-a-year advisory role within the Department of Defence since July 2022, was involuntarily stood down before Defence issued a short statement on Monday regarding her resignation.

"Defence can confirm it has accepted Kathryn Campbell's resignation from the department with effect from Friday, July 21, 2023," the statement read. "Defence will not provide further comment on this matter."

APS Code of Conduct investigations continue

As part of her findings, robodebt royal commissioner Catherine Holmes recommended individuals be referred to the Australian Federal Police, Australian Public Service Commission, National Anti-Corruption Commission and ACT Law Society for civil action and criminal prosecution.

Their identities have not been released publicly, but were provided to the relevant government agency heads to make referrals.

Government agency heads can also make decisions about the employment arrangements of staff identified in the report.

They can do so before a formal investigation has started or concluded.

The Australian Public Service Commission has appointed former commissioner Stephen Sedgwick to assess potential breaches of the APS Code of Conduct by individuals named in the report.

A spokesperson for the commission confirmed former APS employees can still be investigated for code of conduct breaches.

"A resignation does not mean that a process of investigation cannot proceed," they said.

The APSC has declined to provide the number of referrals made by the royal commission, while the NACC and ACT Law Society have also previously declined to do so.

CPSU calls for continued reform post-robodebt 

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly said in a statement that Ms Campbell's suspension and resignation was "a key step in delivering the accountability our members were worried they would never see".

"Kathryn Campbell was a key architect and fervent advocate of a scheme that devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across this country, including CPSU members.

"But Ms Campbell didn't do this alone, and the CPSU expects that this is the first of many steps toward achieving full accountability."

She called for public service reform and resourcing for Services Australia.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said he was "not interested in commenting on the individuals who were behind robodebt," adding, "I only care about the hundreds of thousands of innocent people who were victims of the insidious scheme."

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten. Picture by Gary Ramage
Government Services Minister Bill Shorten. Picture by Gary Ramage

Former South Australian senator Rex Patrick, who has been trying to interrogate Ms Campbell's AUKUS advisory role, welcomed the resignation as a "good thing", but said it should have happened much earlier.

"The Prime Minister had the ability under Section 59 of the Public Service Act to terminate Ms Campbell immediately after he became prime minister," he said.

"The reason I say that is because lots of people suffered under robodebt. And every day that Ms Campbell has been in this very high paid role has been an insult to those who suffered."

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Internal emails and documents obtained under a freedom of information request by Mr Patrick revealed earlier this month that the AUKUS role was signed off by top bureaucrats just days after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced Ms Campbell's time running the Foreign Affairs Department had come to an end.

The documents reveal Prime Minister and Cabinet Department secretary Glyn Davis and former Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott were already figuring out where Ms Campbell could go six days before her termination was made public.

Mr Albanese last week described the move to suspend Ms Campbell from her Defence advisory position without pay as an "appropriate response" from his department.

Miriam Webber

Miriam Webber

Public service and politics reporter

I report on the public service and politics for the Canberra Times. Reach me at miriam.webber@canberratimes.com.au

Karen Barlow

Karen Barlow

Chief Political Correspondent

Karen Barlow is ACM's Chief Political Correspondent. Working in the federal press gallery, she investigates and writes about federal politics and government. She has an interest in integrity, leadership and social equity. She has covered two Olympics and been to Antarctica twice. Contact her on karen.barlow@canberratimes.com.au

Justine Landis-Hanley

Justine Landis-Hanley

Federal politics and public sector reporter

I'm a federal politics and public sector reporter at The Canberra Times, with an interest in integrity, regulation, and social services. Contact me with tips and feedback at justine.landishanley@canberratimes.com.au.