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.

Community Call Out
Do you have a Robodebt story? As part of the research for bad machine, you can submit your story anonymously via the text box below. Submissions will not be shared publicly. This is for research purposes only as part of the development process of bad machine. By submitting your story you agree for it to be read by the Playwright and Dramaturg in the research process of bad machine. bad machine will be a work of fiction informed by real places and events. Names, characters, and incidents used in the work will be products of the Playwright’s imagination as informed by research and real stories. Ensuring the privacy and wellbeing of all participants is paramount and at the forefront of this process.

If you wish to discuss your experience further, you can directly contact: 

Lily Balatincz
Creative Producer, Contemporary Performance
[email protected]

Submit your story (anonymously if you choose). You can fill out the form below or send us a voice message via a Dropbox or Google Drive link. Make sure to provide the link in the ‘Your Story’ field.

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Your Story

Trigger warning:
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.