Federal Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten is appalled that another minister has refused to apologise for the Morrison government's flawed robo-debt scheme, accusing it of acting like a "legalised mafia".
The government announced on Friday that $720 million will be refunded for around 470,000 welfare debts thrown up by the scheme because of faulty income assessments made by the Australian Taxation Office.
Asked on ABC television's Insiders program whether he would now apologise for the system, Attorney-General Christian Porter admitted: "The system was flawed."
But he would not apologise because there was litigation ongoing.
"As attorney-general I can't use that sort of language in the context of the litigation," he said.
"There's litigation ongoing and it argues negligence and we don't concede that."
Cabinet colleague Keith Pitt has been more blunt, saying there is "nothing" to apologise for when conducting oversight over a large government program.
Mr Porter said on Sunday the government would resist an argument for further damages in the courts for the way in which the government ran the system, but acknowledged using annualised ATO data to assess incomes had been shown to be an insufficient basis for raising debts.
He was social services minister when the robo-debt system was first introduced in 2015.
Mr Shorten, the opposition's government services spokesman, said Mr Porter didn't want to apologise for the "unlawful, unjust scheme" he introduced that chased hundreds of thousands of innocent Australians for debts they did not owe.
"Australians expect to be able to trust our government," he told reporters in Melbourne.
"What we don't expect to see is the government act like some sort of legalised mafia, shaking down citizens, saying unless you agree with us and pay the money we allege you owe us, we will chase you, you might get debt collectors, stop you getting jobs or travel overseas, we will put you under mental distress."
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers believes the issue has a long way to run and said some ministers may still find themselves "in the dock".
"What we are talking about here is the illegal thieving of people's money, which has ruined lives and in some cases cost lives," he told Sky News' Sunday Agenda program
Australian Associated Press