The NACC has decided it won’t investigate Robodebt

Article published 24 June 2024

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The National Anti-Corruption Commission – known as the NACC – has announced that it will not look into referrals from the Robodebt Royal Commission

When the National Anti-Corruption Commission (the NACC) was established last year, it was met with a fair bit of enthusiasm and more than 500 referrals in its first month. That enthusiasm has evaporated with the news that the NACC won’t pursue its investigation into six public officials involved in the Robodebt scandal.

What is the NACC?

The NACC is an independent body with the power to investigate politicians, parliamentary staff, private companies that work with the Government and many other people and groups in the realm of Australian politics. It is also able to investigate activities that may be corrupt even if they are not technically illegal, such as misuse of information, breaches of public trust or abuse of office. This means that if someone in politics is doing something that seems suspicious, there’s a pretty good chance that the NACC can investigate it.

So, it’s not surprising that many people had hoped that the people responsible for the Robodebt scandal would be investigated.

The Robodebt scandal

Robodebt is one of the biggest Government blunders in recent memory. For anyone unfamiliar, the scheme compared Tax Office data to income declared to Centrelink, then it automatically issued debt notices to payment recipients whose income declarations didn’t match the data from the Tax Office (and who could not explain the discrepancy).

As if using an automated system to punish welfare recipients was not bad enough, the scheme also issued thousands of incorrect debt notices. In the eventual Royal Commission, it was found to be both an immoral and illegal system.

All of this suggests that Robodebt, and the people behind it, would be prime candidates for investigation by an anti-corruption body. So why has the NACC dropped the case?

The NACC’s decision

Despite considering the Robodebt case for nearly a year, the NACC has decided it won’t investigate any further. In an announcement about the decision, the NACC said that “it is unlikely that it would obtain significant new evidence” that hadn’t already been found by the Royal Commission if it continued the investigation.


It also argued that, because there is another ongoing investigation into Robodebt (this time by the Australian Public Service Commission, another watchdog organisation), there was no point in the NACC exploring the issue any further.


Here’s the problem though: the Royal Commissioner who investigated Robodebt deliberately delayed her final report until after the NACC was established so that she could refer 6 public officials to the NACC for further investigation. Clearly, the Royal Commissioner thought that it was a matter that the NACC should look into.


In addition, while the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) can investigate 5 of the 6 public officials, the 6th is an unnamed politician who falls outside the APSC’s jurisdiction.


So, if you’re thinking that the NACC should have continued with its investigation, you’re not alone. The Office that oversees the NACC to make sure that it operates correctly has now announced that it will launch an inquiry into the decision not to pursue a Robodebt investigation.

This means that the organisation in charge of investigating corrupt and improper behaviour is itself being investigated for potentially corrupt and improper behaviour!


Confusing levels of bureaucracy aside, it is clear that the NACC has not lived up to the public’s expectations. Here’s hoping that it learns its lesson going forward.


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