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Crossbench Demands Answers on Robo-Debt Bureaucrat’s $900K AUKUS Parachute

The suspension of former top bureaucrat Kathryn Campbell from a $900,000 AUKUS advisory role after the robo-debt royal commission’s damning findings against her has sparked fresh questions about the government’s decision to assign her a top job in a sensitive portfolio.

Crossbench MPs want to know why the Defence Department did not reveal on July 10 that Campbell was suspended, prompting Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to confirm on Thursday that his department and “appropriate bodies” made the call to sideline her over her key role in the unlawful debt recovery scheme.

“It’s not appropriate, given the potential legal matters that are involved, to go through all of the detail here, but certainly, there’s been an appropriate response from my department and from the public service to the royal commission findings,” Albanese said on ABC radio Melbourne.

Greens senator Barbara Pocock accused the government of “backwards engineering” a role for Campbell after documents disclosed via a parliamentary hearing revealed senior mandarins arranged the Defence job for her a week before her termination from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was announced in mid-2022.

“It wasn’t done in the way that most jobs within the public sector are created and filled, and that leaves a lot to answer … about proper processes and proper management and shepherding of Australian taxpayer dollars,” Pocock told Sky News.

Correspondence produced to questions on notice in Senate estimates revealed the secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Glyn Davis, and former Australian Public Service commissioner Peter Woolcott arranged to give Campbell a senior Defence role a week before her axing was announced by Albanese in June last year.

“Her salary would be set by correspondence between Greg [Defence secretary Greg Moriarty] and myself, but could be expected to match her current salary. They will give thought to her title, but she will basically be a highly paid Band 3,” Woolcott said in the June 16 email to Davis.

In an email two hours later, Davis said: “Appreciate you working with Greg and Kathryn through to a landing – these sound an entirely workable set of arrangements.”

NSW independent MP Dr Sophie Scamps said it was no surprise that Campbell had been quickly suspended, but her AUKUS appointment needed closer examination.

“How is it possible that a role important enough to pay $900,000 – of taxpayer money – is filled in this way? Average Australians go through far tougher processes when applying for jobs,” Scamps said.

Moriarty said under fiery questioning during a parliamentary hearing last month that there had been no royal commission at the time he appointed Campbell to the advisory role.

“I identified that there was a role that required somebody with very senior-level skills in support of the Nuclear Powered Submarine Task Force,” he said.

Defence declined to answer questions on Thursday.

Victorian independent MP Dr Monique Ryan, along with Pocock and her Greens colleague Janet Rice, questioned the lag in revealing Campbell’s suspension, saying the government had to hold itself to “higher standards of accountability and transparency”.

Former NSW Court of Appeal judge and integrity advocate Anthony Whealy, KC, also raised concerns about the secrecy of the decision.

“It goes hand-in-hand with the sealed section of the robo-debt report. The public need to know what is happening and they need to know in a timely fashion,” he said.

Whealy last week called for the opening of the sealed section of the commission’s report, which contains the names of individuals referred for potential criminal or civil prosecution, saying the overwhelming public interest trumped a desire to guard against prejudicing future proceedings. This masthead is not suggesting Campbell is named in that section.

Campbell went on leave shortly before the royal commission made a range of scathing findings on July 7, including that she repeatedly failed to act when the scheme’s flaws and illegality became apparent.

Campbell, who served as secretary of the Department of Human Services between 2011 and 2017, the period in which the illegal income averaging scheme was introduced, has been approached for comment. She has yet to comment on the findings of the royal commission.

The royal commission found Campbell kept the true nature of the income-averaging scheme secret when advising cabinet because she knew Scott Morrison – at that time the social services minister – wanted to pursue the program.

It also found Campbell deliberately instructed her own legal team to discontinue a request for legal advice on the scheme and that she shelved a damning $1 million audit by PwC into the welfare crackdown, just as it was about to finish because she feared its contents would be damaging.

Source : SMH