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Christian Porter tells inquiry ‘someone’ in department assured him robodebt was legal but ‘I can’t recall who’ | Royal commission into robodebt

Christian Porter has insisted that someone in one of the two government departments responsible for the robodebt scheme assured him it was legal, while telling a royal commission he did accept some responsibility for the scandal.

The former social services minister and attorney general told the inquiry he could not be sure who provided the legal assurance, but he was sure he had asked about it.

“I do distinctly recall putting a question … that everyone’s assured about the legal underpinnings,” he said. “I can’t recall who it was that affirmed that assurance, but someone did, and I recall that it was a departmental person.

“I couldn’t say if it was [Department of Social Services or Department of Human Services]and it happened quickly, and we moved on because it just wasn’t the focus of what was going on.”

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The meeting occurred while the robodebt scandal was the focus of intense public controversy in early 2017, though ministers have claimed they were focused on complaints about the practicalities of the program, not its legality.

The royal commission is investigating why and how the unlawful Centrelink debt recovery scheme was established in 2015 and ran until November 2019, ending in a $1.8bn settlement with hundreds of thousands of victims.

Porter, who is no longer in parliament, appeared at the inquiry after the former human services and current Coalition frontbencher Alan Tudge told the royal commission he did not accept and he was responsible for his department’s failure to check the scheme was legal.

Porter was also asked by the commissioner, Catherine Holmes AC SC, if he took “any responsibility” for what happened. He said: “I do. I look back at this and I see myself

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