ScoMo seeks secret docs to save ‘reputation’

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Scott Morrison wants to have confidential cabinet documents released to bolster his defence at a royal commission into robodebt, with his lawyer arguing his “reputation is on the line”.

The former prime minister will be hauled before the commission next week and grilled over his role in the failed Centrelink debt recovery scheme.

Then-social services minister, Mr Morrison oversaw the 2015 launch of an automated income averaging tool which matched welfare recipients’ income with data from the Australian Taxation Office.

The program, which became known as “robodebt”, falsely accused people of owing the government money and resulted in the Commonwealth paying out a $1.8bn settlement to victims after they mounted a class action.

At a public hearing of the royal commission into the scheme on Tuesday, Mr Morrison’s counsel, James Renwick, argued he should be free to call documentary evidence which has been suppressed.

Mr Morrison has made a submission to the commission that refers to documents which are currently secret because the Commonwealth has made a public interest immunity claim over them.

Mr Morrison has applied to have the documents, which include classified cabinet decisions and minutes, released publicly because they are valuable to his defence.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison will appear before a royal commission into robodebt. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary RamageFormer prime minister Scott Morrison will appear before a royal commission into robodebt. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

The discussion between Dr Renwick and Commissioner Catherine Holmes during the procedural hearing revealed glimpses of what appears to be Mr Morrison’s planned defence.

Dr Renwick said an important part of Mr Morrison’s “answer to any criticisms” about robodebt was “that these were decisions taken by the government or through cabinet or one of its committees”.

“It’s a collective decision of government as a whole following proper processes, rather than a decision of an individual minister,” he said.

Commissioner Holmes said: “Mr Morrison could simply say, ‘Robodebt was never identified as a priority to me.’”

“And I’m sorry if you were hoping to appeal that part of it, Mr Glover, but I’ve just disclosed it,” she then said to the lawyer acting for the Commonwealth, Trent Glover.

He argued that the documents Mr Morrison wanted to have released were not related to what he said was the “core cabinet confidentiality” of what had been discussed at cabinet meetings.

“No one, including Mr Morrison, wants to reveal the actual discussions as opposed to the cabinet decision and the cabinet’s submission,” he said.

More to come.

Read related topics:Scott Morrison

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