Morrison government’s welfare fraud lab comes under fire
7 August 2019 at 4:23 pm
The launch of a new digital forensics lab to detect welfare fraud has been slammed by anti-poverty advocates, who say the lab will only serve to unfairly paint welfare recipients as “dole cheats”.
The Morrison government said the Brisbane lab will analyse digital evidence to stop organised crime infiltrating Australia’s welfare system.
It will also be used to aid criminal investigations against individual welfare recipients suspected of committing fraud.
“If you’re saying you actually went to job interviews in location A, B or C, but your devices said you’re in Cairns or Port Douglas having a great time at the taxpayers’ expense… you might have some difficult questions to answer,” cyber security expert Brian Hay told Nine News.
— Nine News Queensland (@9NewsQueensland) August 5, 2019
But the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) said the Department of Human Services lab was unnecessary, arguing only a tiny fraction of welfare recipients engaged in genuine fraud.
AUWU spokesperson Jeremy Poxon told Pro Bono News the announcement came amid a slew of government attacks on social security recipients.
He said it was “pretty clearly” driven by the increasing pressure on the government to raise Newstart.
“This supposed crack down on welfare fraud – along with the data released on job snobbery and the figures sent to Sunrise about ‘dole cheats’ – all seem to create a narrative that unemployed people are welfare bludgers that deserve even more stringent measures,” Poxon said.
“To spend resources developing a high-tech crackdown on welfare recipients [is outrageous], when government data shows only a tiny fraction have actually committed fraud.”
The AUWU points to 2011 government research that found over a three-year period, only 0.04 per cent of people that underwent Centrelink payment reviews were convicted of fraud.
Poxon said if the government genuinely wants to tackle welfare fraud, it should go after providers from its controversial outsourced jobseeker program Jobactive.
The Guardian reported earlier this year on allegations that Jobactive providers were offering welfare recipients cash and petrol to lie about their employment status to falsely claim incentive payments.
“Reports keep coming out that [providers] are misusing funds and unfairly deriving profit by forcing unemployed workers into activities. We’re getting inundated every day with stories that they’re unfairly cutting off people’s entitlements,” Poxon said.
“The people breaking the rules and committing to the real welfare fraud are right in front of the government’s lies. But it refuses to do anything about it.”
Here are some things which are categorically not fraud, a criminal act with a specific legal meaning:
– missing an appointment with a provider
– otherwise failing to meet any part of a Job Plan
– getting overpaid???? by Centrelink???? As a result of THEIR administrative errors??
— tony shalhoub memes (@maximumcuddles) August 6, 2019
But Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert said the lab was needed to “protect the integrity of taxpayer money”.
“The new facility will allow the department to continue to detect and disrupt organised crime activity, and to stop the exploitation of vulnerable customers and communities,” Robert said.
The government has investigated more than 3,300 cases of suspected fraud across Centrelink, Medicare and child support programs during 2018-19.