Harrowing stories about the personal toll of the Robodebt scandal have been aired in court, as victims and family members called for the government - including Prime Minister Scott Morrison - to finally be held to account over the bungle.
The court heard multiple cases of Centrelink recipients who committed suicide after debts were raised against them, with one witness recounting how debt collectors repeatedly called and harassed her in the days after her father died.
Victims and family members shared their stories as part of objections to the $1.2 billion settlement between the federal government and 400,000 members of a class action lawsuit set up to challenge the debt program.
More than 500 objections have been lodged to the proposed settlement package, which includes: the $721 million sum the government has agreed to pay back, $398 million worth of debts it has committed to erase, and $112 million in compensation.
A system to sort out class action members' eligibility and the amount owed to them would be established, pending the court's approval.
On Thursday witnesses appeared one at a time before Justice Bernard Murphy, either in the courtroom or via video-link, to make their objection.
A number of witnesses argued that the settlement did not account for the emotional trauma inflicted on them by the unlawful debt-raising scheme. Nor, many argued, did it hold the government or the ministers who oversaw Robodebt accountable for the scandal.
In settling the class action, the government did not admit that it was legally liable.
Debts are no longer being raised solely on the basis of average income data.
A number of witnesses listed off the ministers who had served in the social services and human services portfolios since the flawed compliance program started 2015, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, former Attorney-General Christian Porter and now Education Minister Alan Tudge.
"There is no accountability. Nobody has been held accountable for these things," said Kath Madgwick, who has linked her son's suicide to the stress of his Centrelink debt.
"If there is no accountability, then the government is going to continue to harass vulnerable people. I feel that if it settles, justice hasn't been served and the government walks away."
Another witness said the settlement, if approved, would "absolve" the Morrison government's ministers of responsibility.
The settlement amounted to a "government wish-list", the witness said, which would compound the "injustices of the extortionate scheme" and allow the "perpetrators" to escape accountability.
Another witness spoke of how her partner and father had committed suicide amid the stress of welfare debts. She described how debt collectors rang her "every single day" after her father died.
"Please, acknowledge that it's not fair. My dad is dead because of people not acknowledging ... nothing," she said.
The Canberra Times contacted Gordon Legal, the firm running the class action, but it declined to comment while the hearing was underway.
The 500 objectors represent fewer than 1 per cent of all class action members.
Mr Morrison last year admitted the foundation of the scheme was "not appropriate", but insisted the matter was being resolved.
- Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.
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