This paper explores how digital techniques of policy implementation can themselves propel, shape and/or disrupt processes of welfare reform. It does so via a close analysis of the implementation of the Online Compliance Intervention, popularly known as ‘robo-debt’, by the Australian Department of Human Services (DHS). As it argues, this automated debt recovery system has transformed the governance of welfare compliance in Australia. Robo-debt has shifted responsibility for proving the existence of welfare non-compliance from the welfare state to the individual welfare recipient and has automated and ‘dehumanised’ the infliction of informal punishments, including debt recovery processes. Ultimately, robo-debt has enabled and contributed to broader processes of punitive welfare reform. The case of robo-debt prompts wider questions about the relationship between law and its technical implementation, and highlights the productive possibilities of the technologies of welfare administration.
Our next Annual Conference will take place from July 6-9, 2021. It will be held in a completely novel way as a fully online Conference: ICON•S Mundo. Stay tuned.
The Call for Papers for ICON•S Mundo is now closed. Successful applicants will be notified by the end of May.
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