By Michael Giles
IN its recent mid-year economic statement, the Turnbull Government claimed it could save up to $2 billion over the next three to four years with “enhanced welfare payment integrity”.
In other words, they are warning of a major crackdown on welfare fraud.
Predictably, the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, described the so-called crackdown on social security fraud as Scott Morrison’s one-trick pony, a measure the government has tried before with little success.
He criticised the government for wanting to go after welfare cheats but failing to do the same thing about multi-national tax evasion, while also allowing high-income earners to get away with huge superannuation benefits.
He’s got a point.
But if there is significant rorting of welfare benefits going on, both sides of the Federal Parliament should support action against it, even if only to pay those in real need a decent allowance while the difficult circumstances remain.
Anecdotally at least, there appears to be a problem with welfare fraud in this area.
At a recent public event, where there was a useful discount offered to those who could produce a welfare card, it was evident that when a couple arrived, the “single mother” handed over a pension card and her male partner either paid full price himself or handed over a disability pension card separately.
The couple were clearly together.
In fact, even in cases where the “single mother” has subsequently become pregnant, and welcomed a new baby, no red flag goes up about her residential status.
We have also heard reports of people registering new babies with the Births, Deaths and Marriages office, as having a mother only, so they can be sure of getting the single-mothers’ pension.
And there’s a lucrative trade going on in multiple identities, just so people can claim more than one welfare payment.
There are also claims that new arrivals in this country see the welfare system as an easy way to make money.
How true these reports are is anyone’s guess but everyone acknowledges that Australia has one of the most complex welfare/tax systems in the world and some fundamental reforms are clearly needed.
For example, in Sweden, everyone is issued with an identity number.
They’re not just John Smith of Brighton or Lisa Nguyen of Oakleigh.
They have a number that goes on all documents, including birth certificates, tax returns, health papers, everything so that when John Smith moves to Mt Isa trying avoid family support payments or Lisa Nguyen claims a rental concession when she’s not entitled to, the Department of Human Services can easily cross-reference all of the relevant material in a confidential setting.
Why don’t we do that here?
Over the next nine months, we are going to see the two sides of politics at each other’s throats in the run up to a likely September Federal Election but would it be too much to ask to see a bipartisan approach to reforming the tax and welfare systems to produce a better outcome for all?
I guess so.