Fair Cop: Morrison’s Welfare Fraud Crackdown Must Go Further

SOCIAL SERVICES minister Scott Morrison’s welfare fraud taskforce is a promising start on the onerous problem of weeding out welfare rorters and throwing them off the public purse, but it doesn’t go far enough; every dollar parasitic bludgers are paid from government coffers must first be taken from income generated by the hard work of others. It is to be hoped that once fully operational, the focus of Morrison’s laudable initiative can be widened.

First things first: my silence over much of the past week has derived not so much from workload this time (or so I initially thought), but illness; first instincts were to blame my two-year-old son (who has taken over the role of germ disseminator-in-chief in our house from his big sister) for bringing something home from his chums at daycare, but a vicious bacterial ear infection rules a kiddivirus out as the source — and points the finger back toward a logical consequence of maintaining ridiculous hours and paying the price for a run-down immune system. Or toward cigarettes. Or, probably, toward both.

The couple of thousand milligrams of penicillin I’m taking daily should see me right soon enough — and a little more frequent in terms of output in this column, the ongoing heavy load I’m still juggling at present notwithstanding.

Yet I find a perverse irony in the fact that in trying to get ahead and to bring carefully considered, structured, long-term professional plans to fruition, I (or anyone else who works hard) should get sick, only to keep pushing myself/themselves to maintain and/or prematurely resume optimum levels of output, when there are far too many people floating around in this country content to sit on their arses, with their hands outstretched, and to take from the labours of others everything they can get with no sense of either obligation or responsibility in kind.

And I am not talking about the genuinely needy, so anyone who wants to use that statement as the pretext for some wild anti-Tory rant would be best served going somewhere else before embarking upon such a silly diatribe.

I have been reading a report from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this morning that details the “zero tolerance” approach being adopted by Social Services minister Scott Morrison in seeking to recoup more than a billion dollars in improperly and/or fraudulently claimed welfare monies, and whilst the initiative is a welcome one that should be both applauded and encouraged, I don’t think it goes anywhere near far enough.

My only caution is that in cracking down on welfare debts incurred through the over- or underestimation of income, the current system of repayments (whether through reduced subsequent benefits, or arrangements struck with relevant government agencies to repay monies, and the like) — if adhered to and honoured by the claimant — should continue, rather than using the proverbial sledgehammer to smash a nut.

Where Morrison’s initiative targets recidivists who cannot and will not pay, however, is clearly another matter altogether.

I have never understood how people can find the miserable ducats doled out by Centrelink to be in any way preferable to the higher income and better life that a job provides; unemployment benefits, for example, don’t even add up to $300 per week, and combined with the fact Centrelink is just about the most pathetic, depressing, uninspiring place in Australia, why anyone would want to build a life around it (and its paltry stipends) is beyond me.

But they do; a common argument is that in taking a job, some people might not be all that much better off than remaining on the dole, to which I say a) the minimum wage in this country now sits at above $30,000 per annum, as opposed to less than half that for the dole; b) the default culture in this country must be to work, rather than to sponge off others; and c) arrogating to oneself the “right” to arbitrarily live off the tax payments of others as an alternative to work is not a right at all, and those who seek to do so should simply be thrown off welfare altogether.

Digest that, Bill Shorten, with your pathetic and meaningless blather about “fairness:” Shorten, of course, wouldn’t know “fairness” if it bit him in the face.

If Morrison’s taskforce is to perform its role in any meaningful sense, I think it has to also cover those areas the Tele reports it will ignore: people underestimating income to claim “middle class welfare,” family tax benefits, government-funded parental leave payments and the like are ripping off decent taxpayers every bit as much as those whose ambitions in life extend no further beyond the next instalment of their ill-gotten booty from Centrelink.

Welfare fraud is welfare fraud, whichever way you cut it; and excluding some payments from the enforcement net as “supplementary” undermines the integrity of the very crackdown — and cultural clean-up — Morrison is trying to implement in the first place.

I understand that where this kind of approach is used, there are limits, and I understand that when tackling a monolithic edifice such as Australia’s obscene welfare bill (accounting as it does for almost half of all government expenditure) the thin edge of the wedge is the only way such an undertaking can be commenced at all, for it is regrettably not possible to summarily terminate every bludger’s indulgence on the public teat with a click of the fingers.

Even so, and even beyond the items ruled out of Morrison’s net because they are “supplementary,” there are other areas I think a properly calibrated fraud taskforce should be targeting.

One example lies in the “dole households” that were briefly notorious in the 1980s and 1990s before a recession spared them the public spotlight, wherein four or five people pooling their resources (read: dole cheques) to collectively rent a modest house, run one modest car between them, and live a spartan but entirely unaccountable existence at the expense of the taxpayer, unencumbered and untroubled by notions of earning their money respectably or — quaintly enough — of hard work.

It can’t be too hard for government agencies to spot households comprised of individuals not in relationships with each other, all claiming the full rate of the dole, and living in a domestic environment based on the communal entrenchment of a culture of unemployment and welfarism. Properly dealt with, it shouldn’t be too hard to find ways to recoup welfare monies from them either.

An argument that gets trotted out whenever a conservative government makes some attempt to crack down on welfare abuse — unsurprisingly, by the forces of the Left that use welfare addiction as a political tool to cement votes for the ALP and the Communist Party Greens, who would never really do anything to upset the bludger community — is that the expense and resources required to properly address the problem of welfare fraud (and they make it clear they see the “problem” as miniscule: it’s just a nasty Tory plot against the poor) outweigh the monies likely to be saved, rendering the whole exercise pointless.

Well, I don’t think it’s pointless to stop people taking from the public purse what they were never entitled to take in the first place.

I have heard anecdotes over the years of people who have done so, and bragged about never getting caught, and who suggest that taxes are so high that ripping off the system is the only way to make ends meet.

As indelicate as it might be to point it out, taxes probably wouldn’t be as high as they are were it not for people like that having their hands in the till. Someone has to pay for it. And the only ways government can acquire the funds to meet its obligations are by taxing people and by borrowing. It’s food for thought from those who think they are above everyone else, and above the law.

But I would add that even if a comprehensive crackdown on welfare rorting did in fact cost as much (or more) than it saved, if it led to a permanent correction in the cultural disposition of some people to regard welfare as fair game — and something to be maximised in their own self-interest in defiance of once again, quite quaintly, the law — then the entire exercise would constitute an investment, rather than representing a cost.

People who are able to work hard and either do so or genuinely seek to do so will easily spot the distinction. Those who are apologists for indolence, laziness, greed, and unlawful and lawless behaviour won’t like it one bit. I’m not concerned about the faux outrage and wounded feelings of those who sit in the latter category.

And one area I’d like to see the harsh glare of a welfare crackdown turn to is an audit of orders made in the Family Court, wherein one parent — usually the mother — makes grandiose promises under oath to study, get a full-time job, and then very deliberately acts to either maintain sole reliance on the single parenting payment or in conjunction with child support payments from the defeated parent: if they get a job at all, the types I am referring to, it is wilfully engineered to cover a few days per fortnight at most and to minimise (or eliminate altogether) the loss of any of their “income.”

This sort of behaviour is not only a contempt of the Court, but makes a mockery of its proceedings; I think people who conduct themselves thus are just as guilty of welfare fraud as those who fit the criteria set out for Morrison’s taskforce. (They are also deliberately and spitefully overburdening their former partners through their laziness and malice, but that’s another story).

It is not an attack on women to criticise these people, even if it is mostly mothers who such an attack covers. It is an attack, from another angle, on the leech culture that sees some people believing society owes them something when in fact, it owes them nothing. Those mothers might not lose their kids, but they do deserve to lose their pension payments.

I wanted to talk about this issue before I head off to bed, it being 3am in Melbourne as I write: such is the need to get medication times stepped back to fit the working week before it recommences again tomorrow.

But as regular readers know, I find the amount of money spent on welfare in this country shameful, not a source of pride; and whilst I would never advocate people who really needed help to be cut off, the simple fact is that wherever you look, there are people gaming the system and pocketing, collectively, billions of dollars when they shouldn’t get a cent. And it has to stop.

I wish Scott Morrison the very best of luck as he sets about tackling a problem that has proven too hard for many conservatives who preceded him, and of little real interest to his ALP counterparts beyond a bit of rhetoric to curry favour with middle class swinging voters.

Yet I don’t think what has been announced goes anywhere near far enough, and in sharing a couple of ideas today in relation to other areas I think any crackdown ought to investigate, I’d be interested in the constructive thoughts of readers as to other ways unjustifiable welfare payments might be stopped.

 

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2 thoughts on “Fair Cop: Morrison’s Welfare Fraud Crackdown Must Go Further

  1. I’m not sure a Government who thinks families on $200,000 PA deserve childcare assistance will actually ‘crack-down’ on welfare fraud. If they are serious, they should be looking at the DSP and the well known child benefit scams occurring in certain demographics.
    Or the Government may like to ponder the ridiculous fact 54% of Australians receive some sort of Government benefit while less than 48% actually pay tax to fund all this socialist largesse. I’m not expecting much to actually change given the outrage over stopping parental leave double dipping.

  2. A crackdown on welfare cheats, yawn. Like both sides haven’t been promising that for the last 25 years.

    These fishies would be a lot easier to find if the pond they swam in was much smaller. Aiming to create more employment and reduce the number of people they can hide in is the best solution.

    If a government is actually serious about reducing the welfare bill then the only sensible way is to reduce the demand for welfare. Creating a jobs friendly environment and looking into the pricing practices of the oil and housing rental industries would be a good start.

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