Robodebt Royal Commission: commission hears evidence from suicide victim’s mother

A woman whose son committed suicide after learning of Centrelink debt amounting to just under $2000 said her letters to senior government ministers, including then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison, went unrecognised despite her search for answers.

Kathleen Madgwick’s unemployed and broke son, Jarrad, died in May 2019, shortly after learning that despite multiple attempts to obtain a government Newstart allowance, he would need to pay more than $1700 to the government.

Jarrad was 22.

Ms Madgwick told a Royal Commission into the Robodebt scheme, which unlawfully claimed nearly $2 billion from more than 400,000 people during the period of the previous Coalition government, that she didn’t even receive a note expressing remorse for her loss from Mr Morrison, nor then-government services minister Stuart Robert.

“Not even a ‘sorry for your loss’,” she told the Royal Commission on Friday.

Camera IconJarrad Madgwick died soon after learning he had been hit with an illegal Centrelink debt worth nearly $2000. Supplied. Credit: Supplied

The Commission, which has heard from more than 70 witnesses across 31 days of hearings, will conclude on Friday after hearing from a raft of former senior members of past governments.

Scott Morrison, Malcolm Turnbull, Christian Porter, Marise Payne and Stuart Robert have all been called to give evidence at the Brisbane-based Commission, which is expected to hand down its findings in April.

Ms Madgwick said her son had recently returned to live with her on the Sunshine Coast from Wodonga, where she said he had been thrust into homelessness and financial difficulty due to workplace bullying.

She said her son was “really struggling,” and recalled a moment shortly before his death when he stole vitamins from a local chemist.

Ms Madgwick said Jarrad became “very distressed” after learning of his Centrelink debt.

Former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, never replied to Kathleen Madgwick’s letter concerning her son’s death after he was hit with a Robodebt of nearly $2000.
Camera IconFormer Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, never replied to Kathleen Madgwick’s letter concerning her son’s death after he was hit with a Robodebt of nearly $2000. Credit: Supplied

She penned letters to both Morrison and Robert shortly after her son’s death seeking an explanation into his treatment, but was never responded to.

Earlier on Friday the Commission also heard from a former Centrelink employee, who said she had dealt with 10 suicidal Robodebt victims in a single day.

Taren Preston, who worked for the Department of Human Services in Sydney and rural NSW, said her number of referrals began to double during the period of Robodebt.

The social worker was often required to make suicide risk assessments of clients, she said.

“Often people would make statements like,” Ms Preston said, before articulating a self-harm scenario.

She said a common mantra in the Department at the time became, “too bad, so sad.”

The Commission continues.

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