'Crude and cruel.' The Robodebt report has been released. Here are 3 things we've learned.

Five years after Robodebt's launch, the royal commission report into the "cruel" scheme has been handed down.

Royal commissioner Catherine Holmes handed the 990-page report containing 57 recommendations to Governor-General David Hurley on Friday. 

The former coalition government launched the Robodebt scheme to "detect, investigate and deter suspected welfare fraud and non-compliance" in mid-2015 in an effort to save billions of dollars.

The scheme issued debt notices to people identified through a process called income averaging, which compared reported incomes with tax office data.

More than $750 million was wrongfully recovered from 381,000 people under the scheme, which was ruled unlawful by the Federal Court in 2019. 

Victims told the royal commission of their trauma and fear as they received notices and debt collectors made contact.

Here's what we've learnt from the report so far. 

1. Robodebt figures to face prosecution.

The report recommended senior figures behind Robodebt be prosecuted over their roles in the troubled program.

The report included a "sealed chapter" that is not part of the bound report, which "recommends referrals of individuals for civil and criminal prosecution". 

The report did not reveal any names. 

The commissioner also referred parts of her report to the Australian Public Service Commission, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the president of the Law Society of the ACT and the Australian Federal Police.


"It is remarkable how little interest there seems to have been in ensuring the scheme's legality, how rushed its implementation was, how little thought was given to how it would affect welfare recipients and the lengths to which public servants were prepared to go to oblige ministers on a quest for savings," Holmes wrote. 

"Truly dismaying was the revelation of dishonesty and collusion to prevent the scheme's lack of legal foundation coming to light."


2. "Robodebt made people feel like criminals."

In the report, Holmes condemned Robodebt as "crude and cruel" scheme that left people traumatised. 

"Robodebt was a crude and cruel mechanism, neither fair nor legal, and it made many people feel like criminals. In essence, people were traumatised on the off-chance they might owe money," she wrote. 

"It was a costly failure of public administration, in both human and economic terms."

3. Ex-ministers given $2.55m in Robodebt legal support.

Before the release of the report, it was revealed that taxpayers forked out $2.55 million in legal costs for former coalition government ministers attending the Robodebt royal commission.

The figures, which were released to a Senate committee, showed former social services minister Christian Porter's support totalled $795,053, while ex-PM Scott Morrison, who held the social services portfolio in 2014-15, received $477,528.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was provided with $98,935.

Other ex-ministers who had their costs covered included Paul Fletcher ($120,772), Anne Ruston ($5626), Dan Tehan ($112,696), Marise Payne ($240,520), Michael Keenan ($518,064) and Stuart Robert ($183,835).

Under parliamentary business resources rules, assistance can be approved for a range of legal-related costs.


How has the PM reacted?

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has condemned the scheme as a "gross betrayal and a human tragedy", following the release of the report. 

"I particularly want to acknowledge the many thousands of individuals who were harmed by the Robodebt scheme and thank those who bravely share their stories with the commission," he told media in Canberra. 

"We have arrived at the truth because of the courage of some of the most vulnerable Australians. People who have shown bravery in the face of injustice, hardship and sometimes terrible grief. The courage stands in stark contrast to those who sought to shift the blame, bury the truth and carry on justifying the shocking harm."

Albanese also pointed out that "Liberal ministers dismissed or ignored the significant concerns that were raised over and over again" by parliament, victims and others for years. 

"It pursued debt recovery against Australians who in many cases had no debt to pay. It was wrong. It was illegal. It should never have happened and it should never happen again."

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

- With AAP.

Feature Image: Matt King/Getty.