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New DFAT boss comes with robodebt baggage

The top bureaucrat who oversaw the beginning of the unlawful $1.8 billion robodebt scheme has been promoted to one of the most prestigious roles in the public service, heading Australia’s diplomacy as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Kathryn Campbell was secretary of the Department of the Human Services from 2011 to 2017, which was responsible for the welfare overpayment recovery scheme that became robodebt, before being appointed to her current role leading the Department of Social Services.

Kathryn Campbell was called to give evidence to the robodebt Senate inquiry multiple times.

Kathryn Campbell was called to give evidence to the robodebt Senate inquiry multiple times.Credit:Picture: Alex Ellinghausen

News of her appointment to head DFAT triggered an unusually sharp reaction from Labor and the Greens, who are still seeking answers and a royal commission over the robodebt saga despite a class action settlement.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday Ms Campbell would replace the outgoing DFAT Secretary Frances Adamson, who has been appointed governor of South Australia. Ray Griggs, a former chief of the navy, will take Ms Campbell’s role and Katherine Jones, a career public servant, has been appointed secretary of the Attorney-General’s department.

“I have every confidence that they will lead by example and ensure the Australian public service continues to play an integral role in our nation’s COVID-19 recovery and provide high-quality services to all Australians,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.


Labor’s government services spokesman Bill Shorten said he could not comment on Ms Campbell’s new position but questioned her past role.

“It has never been satisfactorily explained to me what Kathryn Campbell did or didn’t know about the four year rollout and implementation of the unlawful robodebt scheme,” Mr Shorten said.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who chairs the Senate committee into robodebt said she was disappointed Ms Campbell was moving to another role before all robodebt issues were resolved.

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