Bad Machine (Development)

Described by the longest-serving member of Australia’s government review tribunal as “extortion”, the Robodebt program chased money from Centrelink users through the use of debt-collectors, letters from the Australian Federal Police and threats of jail.

Commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre, Western Sydney playwright Brooke Robinson is writing a new theatre work, bad machine, exploring the tragic impact of Robodebt on individuals and communities throughout Australia.

Robodebt is the common name given to the Online Compliance Intervention, an automated debt recovery program that was introduced by the federal government in mid-2016. Robodebt replaced Centrelink’s previously manual system of calculating overpayments and issuing debt notices to welfare recipients with an automated algorithm. Before the Robodebt system began in 2016, there was an average of 20,000 interventions per year; with the introduction of the Robodebt system, this number increased to 20,000 interventions per week. Crikey

More than 2,030 people died after receiving Robodebt notices in the period of July 2016 to October 2018, 429 of whom were aged under 35. While the Department of Human Services does not collect data on the cause for death in these cases, nearly a third – 663 people – were classified as “vulnerable”, which means they had complex needs like mental illness, drug use or were victims of domestic violence. ABC

Over 400,000 people were issued with computer-generated debt notices, some of which made demands for payment from people who did not owe the government money. 

Set in Campbelltown, with stories from urban and regional Australia, bad machine will raise the voices of those affected, with a particular focus on welfare recipients identified as ‘vulnerable’ by Centrelink.

This work explores topics that people may find triggering and/or disturbing, including suicide. If you need support, please call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.