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Debt by Design: The Anatomy of a Social Policy Fiasco

22 June 2021
3.00pm – 4.00pm AEST
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couple angry with financial problems looking at bills over laptop


“Robodebt” is the label applied to an Australian government initiative designed to increase recoveries of “overpayments” made to social security recipients. Following complaints from many of those affected, there have been multiple investigations and inquiries, and a Federal Court Case which ruled the policy unlawful. The government is in the process of paying back more than $1,000 million to more than 400,000 people after conceding the largest class action settlement in Australian history, and faces calls for a Royal Commission. Robodebt resembles a “policy fiasco”, as the outcomes could have been foreseen at the inception of the initiative. The initiative not only failed to achieve the Budgetary savings anticipated, it has undermined rather than protected the integrity of the social security system. It poses serious questions about the quality of Australian public administration.

The objective of this UNSW Social Policy Research seminar is to clarify exactly how this fiasco occurred and identify the similarities and differences between this case study and other policy failures.

Peter Whiteford is a Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University, Canberra. He previously worked at the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre, where he is also an Adjunct Professor. He also worked as a Principal Administrator in the Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. He has published extensively on various aspects of the Australian and international systems of income support.

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