(Image: AAP/Julian Smith)

Some Centrelink debt applicants were surprised to receive text messages from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) this week, acknowledging their case was a “robodebt matter”.

The text messages, which appear to be sent by the AAT’s Sydney registry, told recipients their “robodebt matter” was being reviewed by a senior tribunal member and flagged a date and time when the member would call them. 

Texts received by two Centrelink debt applicants from the AAT acknowledging their case was a “robodebt matter”.

Terry Carney, social security law expert and a long-serving former AAT member, told Crikey that while he had always used the word “robo-debt” in conversations with applicants, these text messages are “probably the first time ‘robo-debt’ has been used by the tribunal [itself]”. 

Using the term “robodebt” stands in sharp contract to the Coalition government’s aversion to the word. 

In October, Liberal Senator Matt O’Sullivan told the Senate inquiry into the debt-recovery scheme that, because staff were involved in issuing and reviewing debts, “the term robo-debt seems to be quite a misnomer”.

Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes agreed, telling the same Senate inquiry back that the misuse of the term was “creating a bit more anxiety than is required”. 

“If we’re trying to reduce the anxiety around this, probably not using that term particularly in these sorts of settings would be helpful.”

But Carney said that “robo-debt” is “actually the right language to use because it’s the language everyone understands”. 

The AAT appears to agree with Carney. 

A spokesperson for the tribunal told Crikey that “the AAT is sending similar text messages to a group of applicants whose Centrelink debts were calculated in accordance with the online compliance initiative (often referred to as the ‘robodebt program’). 

“We do this to offer the opportunity to discuss the next step in their review process. The word ‘robodebt’ is used because it will be readily understood by our applicants.”