Ten lessons for Public Servants from Robodebt: New report

29 May 2024

The Australian Public Service must use the Robodebt experience as a prompt to revisit its values and draw lessons for the future.

 Susan McKinnon Foundation partnered with Professor Emeritus Richard Mulgan to analyse the transcripts and findings of the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme and, through the lens of three established APS values – independence, collaboration and accountability – identify key lessons to guide the behaviour of current and future public servants.

The Royal Commission revealed serious weaknesses in the culture of the APS, particularly at the more senior levels. It made several institutional recommendations aimed at strengthening the integrity of the APS, all of which the government has accepted either in full or in principle. However, institutional structure is only one element underpinning the culture of an organisation. More important are the deep-seated values that animate the behaviour of individuals and determine the collective performance of an organisation such as a government department.

The analysis of the evidence draws on examples and issues raised by the Royal Commission, in particular how individual public servants chose to act in certain situations, and whether their actions were professionally appropriate and, if not, why not.

The report found the Royal Commission offered unique opportunities to reflect on the distinctive contribution and responsibility of the APS, particularly with regard to its culture. It offers ten overarching and current lessons for public servants to implement from Robodebt:


  1. Lawfulness is a bedrock value for public servants
  2. Truthfulness is a bedrock value for public servants
  3. Public servants should keep an accurate record of significant events and advice
  4. Hasten slowly
  5. Department leaders should set a proper balance between responsiveness to ministers and independence from them
  6. Cooperation and collegiality are essential to good administration
  7. Other APS departments and agencies should be treated as colleagues not rivals
  8. Public servants should welcome input from non-government stakeholder organisations
  9. Public servants should build a culture of openness and accountability
  10. Public servants should be openly accountable to individual members of the public to whom they are providing services


Find out more about the lessons the Australian Public Service must implement from the Robodebt Royal Commission by downloading the report below.

For more information about this analysis, or the work of Susan McKinnon Foundation, please contact us.