JAMES VALENTINE, HOST: They'll be previewing what the Robodebt Royal Commission might find, what will be in it. Let's put some of those questions to the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese as well, who joins us this morning. Prime Minister. Very good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. Good to be with you.
VALENTINE: Thanks for coming on. What is it you don't know? If you look at the report, what's the question you want answered?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we want the details of precisely how this disastrous scheme was allowed to not just be created but to be continued after it was known to be illegal for such a long period of time. It was wrong, it was illegal, it should never have happened and the important thing is that it never happens again. Because this was a human tragedy with real consequences for people over a long period of time. Some $1.7 billion in alleged debts against over 430,000 Australians which caused such stress and anxiety. I saw people in my electorate office and the alarm bells were certainly going off when every single person who I made representations for, had their debt either eliminated because it was just wrong, or substantially reduced.
VALENTINE: Have you had a heads up? Know what's in it?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't. I will be in Canberra this morning. It will be handed to the Governor-General at 9:30am. But the Cabinet has made a decision that we'll release it straight away so that the public can examine it. There are two different ways, of course, you can deal with something like this. Release it straight away, or sometimes governments have taken the time to do analysis and to determine a response. We, of course, will have time to give a considered response and that will go through our normal processes. But we think there is such public interest in this, that myself and Minister Shorten will be releasing it this morning in Canberra.
VALENTINE: What could come from it? I mean, obviously there could be further condemnation of actions that were taken during that time, but could it reach the new National Anti-Corruption Commission? Could there be charges?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, certainly that would be open to the Royal Commission to recommend action, and one of those responses could be to refer to the National Anti-Corruption Commissioner. The Royal Commissioner, Catherine Holmes, has done an extraordinary job. She went through hour upon hour of interviews, not just with former Ministers, but with public servants as well to conduct this inquiry to make sure that the details were out there. The extraordinary thing is here that including, I'm sure, on programs in which you were presiding over, there were significant concerns raised over and over again by victims, by public servants, by community organisations and by legal experts. But the program was as if it had a life of its own, including Ministers threatening we will hunt you down. And that caused enormous anxiety and distress for people. And we know that for many people as well, when they get a letter from the government saying, demanding that X number of dollars be repaid, they would just repay it. I mean, there are cultures in the world, unfortunately, where there are real dire consequences if that doesn't occur.
VALENTINE: Are you clear that there's nothing else like this going on still in government processes? We've had a few people texting us this morning saying they're still getting a Robodebt style letter. It's talking about Coronavirus overpayments and the like. Is it all gone out of government?
PRIME MINISTER: We have put the humans back into Human Services. That's the problem here, was that there was an algorithm. I had someone in my electorate who, he was a young man who tragically had cancer. So, what occurred with him was that he used up all of his sick leave and annual leave. That all got used up and then he got an income, a payment, which he was perfectly entitled to. But because of the averaging that had occurred on a computer system, effectively it hit him with a debt which he did not have. So, on top of dealing with the trauma of having a cancer, a young man in his 20s going through chemotherapy, he's getting these letters of demand, threatening legal action and threatening responses from the government. It was a disgraceful period.
VALENTINE: So, then what do you make of these comments that we're getting, where people say, well, I'm still getting a thing that it's Robodebt in style, it's automatic. It says, I was overpaid during Coronavirus JobSeeker period, I was unemployed during that time. I can't get a response from Centrelink, was what one correspondent told us.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we want to make sure that it does never happen again. There should never be, that sort of automated system is something that we certainly are not doing. There, of course, should be, if someone receives payments that they're not entitled to, of course that should be followed up. But what we had here was a very different system. It was a part of the rundown of Human Services. There's been some criticism by the Opposition that we've employed more public servants. Well, if you want human beings to deal with other human beings, you have to employ people. And that is what we have done as a government, in part anticipating, of course, we know that this scheme was illegal, we know it was inappropriate, we know the consequences which were there. We want to make sure that it doesn't happen again. I'm sure that one of the things that the Royal Commissioner will give consideration to, because it is a part of the terms of reference, is how to ensure something like this can never happen again.
VALENTINE: Hearing from the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese on ABC Radio Sydney. It's 18 minutes to eight. I'm James Valentine. On other matters, a welcome pause in interest rates from the RBA this week. Are you reacting, is your Cabinet and Government reacting as though inflation has peaked?
PRIME MINISTER: We indicated that our advice from Treasury was that inflation had peaked earlier this year. It was good that the inflation figures were reduced last month, well below where market expectations were, and we welcome the fact that there was a pause in what had been occurring with interest rates. Inflation does need to fall further, we certainly accept that, and that's one of the reasons why the government has prioritised providing cost of living relief for families whilst not putting pressure on inflation. That's why we designed, for example, the Energy Price Relief Plan, together with what was then the Perrottet Government here in NSW, to make sure that it actually put a downward pressure on inflation while assisting people. And Treasury and the Reserve Bank have indicated that that measure alone will reduce inflation by three quarters of a percent.
VALENTINE: Just on the Voice, the Voice to Parliament, the referendum that's coming most likely in October, as you've been saying, at the end of this year. Let me read to you this response from Jacinta Price, from Senator Jacinta Price to Linda Burney's address at National Press Club during the week says in this morning's Telegraph, the Voice is an illusory entity that at this stage has no detail of its functions or responsibilities, number of representatives or how said representatives will come to be, or how it intends to improve lives. Are those details going to be forthcoming?
PRIME MINISTER: The details were there in the Langton and Karma report. But importantly, Clause Three of the proposal that will go to the Australian people makes it clear that it's up to the Parliament to determine the structure, functions and processes of the Voice. That will be up to the Parliament. So, we're not enshrining that in the Constitution. But the principles which are that will be elected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves. That it will be representative, that it will be accountable through processes, the normal government auditing processes, that it will include representatives of every state and territory, will include representatives from remote communities, will include young people, and will also be gender diverse in terms of men and women are already out there for all to see. This is a very simple proposition, which is two things, recognising Indigenous people in our constitution and then secondly, that there will be an advisory group, an advisory group on matters affecting Indigenous Australians. And we know that you get better outcomes when you consult people who are directly affected by those decisions.
VALENTINE: But is it almost that simplicity that's making it? That means that when just enterprise or anybody else, Lydia Thorpe, anybody else, Peter Dutton says, well, how many people, what's going to go on? How will this actually work? That answer is not satisfying to that. It doesn't answer that question and it means that the question hangs there unanswered.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, these are people who said no before the question was even asked and were always going to say no. But they know full well that just like other details, the constitution doesn't determine how many members advise the Australian government on the Infrastructure Australia Board. It doesn't determine, for example, the Navy aren't mentioned. What the constitution does say is Australia will have a defence force and then it's up to the government of the day to determine that detail. So, what we have is because it is such a clear position being put forward, and that's why every sporting code, major business organisations, trade unions, every faith group, Christian, Muslim, Jewish groups are all supporting Yes in this referendum. Because it is very clear going forward that we can't continue to just do things the same way. We have a suicide rate that's twice as high. We have a greater chance of a young Indigenous male going to jail than to go to university. We have an eight year life expectancy gap. We need to listen to Aboriginal people about matters that affect them and that is all that an advisory group, The Voice, would be able to do.
VALENTINE: All right, Prime Minister. Thanks so much.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.