So here is an interesting thing – the government is being sued.
The occasion was the announcement at Parliament House by Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon that his law firm Gordon Legal will be launching a class action on behalf of people who have been targeted by the government’s robodebt program.
I haven’t been following the story too closely – here is my understanding of what is happening. Australia operates a means-tested welfare system. Some welfare recipients move in and out of paid employment and end up having received too much welfare and as a result are required to repay that amount.
I find it hard to get excited. If someone has made the effort to get a job and has received ‘too much’ welfare let them keep the difference as a reward for having gotten a job. But, I understand, the politics of envy and resentment dictate otherwise.
So here is the thing: It is my understanding that the government has very broad powers to recover money. The robo-debt collection process may be annoying, intrusive, embarrassing, and what-not but it isn’t clear to me how and when a court could intervene.
But then, we read this:
… if Gordon Legal is successful in convincing the courts that the government has been guilty of “unjust enrichment” in attempting to gouge money from thousands of poor people it was not entitled to …
… the government has accepted it cannot prove the debt is owed. Sadly, thousands of people who didn’t know any better have paid up.
That raises two issues.
One – if true this is not a debt-collection, but unauthorised taxation. The collection of taxation without parliamentary approval is a crime known as tyranny. Even if the Commonwealth loses this case, I suspect that nobody will be prosecuted. Alas. Not enough former politicians and public servants go to jail for my liking – this is indicative of a governance problem.
Two – how is this different from the stories we heard during the Banking Royal Commission about evil financial institutions gouging customers?