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Lawyer at centre of ‘compromised’ robodebt legal team resigns

Services Australia’s chief operating officer has reportedly resigned a year after the robodebt royal commission made damning findings about her role in the “disastrous” and controversial scheme.

user iconNaomi Neilson 04 June 2024 Corporate Counsel
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Twelve months after robodebt commissioner Catherine Holmes found that Annette Musolino downplayed her “professional obligations to be independent” and failed to provide sufficient legal advice, Musolino has resigned from her Commonwealth role.

In her role as the chief counsel of the Department of Human Services, Musolino “took no steps” to provide legal advice to executives about the need to obtain external advice “because she knew that such advice was unwanted by them”.

Musolino also withheld information from the Commonwealth Ombudsman about the legality of the scheme and downplayed her professional obligations “and the need to independently form her own view about matters where she was providing advice”.


Holmes’ finding about Musolino and her role was just one of many of the damning conclusions in the robodebt report about the legal teams behind the DHS and the Department of Social Services.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported Musolino was “allowed to resign” after its investigations team questioned how she was able to consult for external firm, AllyGroup, which is known to provide legal advice to governmental departments.

In response to questions from the national broadcaster, Government Services Minister Bill Shorten and Services Australia said Musolino was on leave when she was working for AllyGroup.

A spokesperson told ABC: “When allegations were made [Musolino] may have been moonlighting, the minister asked Services Australia to investigate immediately. [Musolino] subsequently resigned.”

Musolino told ABC she had written permission from Services Australia to conduct outside work, and AllyGroup said Musolino provided “ad-hoc consultancy services” but not to government.

The “disastrous” robodebt scheme saddled people with “demonstrably wrong debts raised against them”, and often those people only discovered this once debt collectors contacted them.

As a result, families struggled to make ends meet, mental health was damaged, and two young men committed suicide.

The failure of DHS and DSS to share legal advice was one of its most significant findings because it meant the Office of Legal Services Coordination and the Attorney-General had no oversight.

Its in-house lawyers also took a “remarkably passive approach to the provision of legal advice”, and “little attention” was paid to the provisions of the social security legislation.

Commissioner Holmes found the beginning of 2017 was when robodebt was at its worst because when it should have abandoned or revised the scheme drastically, it instead “doubled down” to maintain the “falsehood” that the system had not changed at all.

“Robodebt was a crude and cruel mechanism, neither fair nor legal, and it made many people feel like criminals,” Holmes said.

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