Beyond the bubble that is Robodebt: How governments that lose integrity threaten democracy

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    Robodebt describes the automated process of matching the Australian Taxation Office's income data with social welfare recipients' reports of income to Centrelink. Discrepancies signalling benefit overpayment trigger debt notices. The scheme has been criticised for inaccurate assessment, illegality, shifting the onus of proof of debt onto welfare recipients, poor support and communication, and coercive debt collection. Beyond immediate concerns of citizen harm, Robodebt harms democratic governance. Through persisting with Robodebt, the government is launching a regulatory assault on its own integrity. Two Senate inquiries reveal government endorsing (1) incoherence and inconsistency in public engagement, (2) unsound purposes and processes and (3) disregard for citizens. Such actions destroy trustworthiness. Citizens keep their distance and as a result, cooperation falters. At particular risk is the tax system. Citizens harmed by government turn to alternative authorities for help and opportunity, not always along legitimate pathways. The underground economy provides one such opportunity for fearful welfare recipients.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)242-259
    JournalAustralian Journal of Social Issues
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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