Taxpayers will foot the legal costs for former prime minister Scott Morrison to appear before the robo-debt royal commission after Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus agreed to fund expenses for a slew of Coalition figures to face the inquiry.
In documents tabled in the Senate on Wednesday, Dreyfus said it was appropriate to provide financial assistance for Morrison given the inquiry related to his former duties as social services minister overseeing the creation of the scheme, as well as his roles as treasurer and prime minister.
Former ministers Alan Tudge, Michael Keenan, Stuart Robert, Christian Porter and Marise Payne will also have expenses covered by taxpayers, but the approval of the public money does not cement their appearance at future hearings, which begin again next month.
The tabled documents say Porter, who has left politics, would appear under his former social services ministry and as the former attorney-general; Payne, Keen and Tudge as former human services ministers, and Robert as human services and government services minister.
The robo-debt scheme was launched in 2015 with the aim of clawing back $750 million from nearly 400,000 Centrelink recipients it allegedly owed the Commonwealth money.
The system took annual income data and averaged it over 26 fortnights, presuming income was the same across each, and put the onus on welfare recipients to disprove alleged debts.
In the first two weeks of its hearings, the commission heard from a roll call of senior public servants speaking about the scheme, which was later found to be illegal.
The government settled a class action lawsuit in 2020 and paid more than a billion dollars in compensation. But it was too late for those whose families said took their own lives as a result of the scheme and their alleged debts.