What will it take for the government to admit it was at fault when it implemented, and continued to implement, the robodebt scheme?
The scheme has been an abject failure, a misplaced attempt to implement an automated system to administer decisions that have had profound effects on the lives of countless Australians.
And yet, as recently as late last week, amid reports the government was told its infamous scheme was unlawful shortly before the system was suspended in November last year, there is yet to be any official comment on the legal issues that are clouding the scheme.
The scheme involved sending out automated messages to thousands of recipients of government benefits asserting that they owed the government money because they had been overpaid. A large number of these assertions were false, and based on a faulty data collection method whereby a recipient's reported income was spread across the full year, rather than taking into account casual work or periods of unemployment during which benefits were paid.
The system has left more than 600,000 Australians with debts to the government, with little power to challenge these debts.
Last year Gordon Legal announced a class action against the debt scheme, and almost 10,000 people have registered their interest to join the action.
Victoria Legal Aid has also challenged the scheme through the courts, with the government losing a test case last year when the court found the income averaging process was unlawful.
Meanwhile, the government is in the process of reviewing the debts raised under the scheme, which is expected to take months.
It's unconscionable behaviour and now the government needs to make amends.
But as Labor has pointed out, what the government has done, in effect, is raise debts against innocent Australians, many of whom found the system, unsurprisingly, intimidating and difficult to negotiate. Many paid debts they did not owe, for fear of reprisals.
The impact of this shouldn't be overstated.
There have been reports of suicide, depression and much unnecessary pain, and all the while, the government has remained defensive, to say the least, even while attacking some of the most vulnerable members of the community. It's unconscionable behaviour and now the government needs to make amends.
At time of writing, government services minister Stuart Robert had not publicly commented on legal issues around the scheme. And yet internal emails show the government was told the scheme was unlawful in November last year.
In an email to Australian Taxation Office Commissioner Chris Jordan, General Counsel for the tax office Jonathan Todd wrote that the debts raised by matching tax office data to Centrelink data "are not debts owed to the Commonwealth".
The emails have been released as part of a Senate inquiry into the debt scheme. But Mr Robert refused to detail when legal advice was given, citing public interest immunity as the scheme is now the subject of a class action.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten blasted the government's handling of the scheme as incompetent at best.
"One theory is that they didn't know and they're just incompetent ... their explanation is essentially they're idiots," Mr Shorten told Sky News. He pointed out that if the government was adamant it had done nothing wrong, it should have "nothing to fear from openly revealing what it knew about Robodebt's legality and when".
But again, just what will it take for the government to make amends, rather than excuses?
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