Media Release by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

598 welfare cheats convicted in Queensland

The Australian Government’s commitment to keeping the social security system fair and honest has seen 598 Queenslanders convicted of welfare fraud in the last financial year, Senator Kay Patterson, Minister for Family and Community Services, announced today.

“Queensland had a very successful welfare fraud conviction rate, with 99.2 per cent of the 603 cases of welfare fraud appearing in court resulting in convictions,” Senator Patterson said.

“The Australian Government was able to recoup more than $6 million in debts.

“Of the 2829 people convicted of welfare fraud in Australia, Queensland made up 21 per cent of total convictions.

“In one of the most serious cases a Brisbane man was sentenced to three years imprisonment after he used false identities to steal more than $80,000 from taxpayers.

“Centrelink only refers the most serious cases of fraud for prosecution, in line with the Commonwealth’s prosecution policy.

“These cases generally involve people who have intentionally deceived Centrelink in order to receive payments to which they are not entitled.

“Many of these customers have cheated taxpayers of more than $50,000 or claimed payments using multiple identities.

“In the 2002/03 financial year, Australian taxpayers were saved more than $44 million every week through compliance and review activity.

“The Australian Government is committed to ensuring the social security system is available to Australians when they need it and that they all receive what they are entitled to,” said Senator Patterson.

“While the Government is keen to catch people who seek to cheat the system it also supports proper management of taxpayer funds to ensure people receive their correct entitlement in the first instance.

“In the Budget I secured funding for a national awareness campaign entitled Keeping the System Fair, which will include a multi-media educational campaign, encouraging Centrelink customers to voluntarily notify any changes in their circumstances.

“This campaign is expected to result in net savings to taxpayers of $214.9 million over the next four years.”

Case studies

A Brisbane man used false identities to illegally claim more than $80,000 in social security payments over 11 years.

Colin Johnson, of Wavell Heights, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, to be released after nine months after entering into a good behaviour bond of $1,000 for a period of three years.

Johnson, who was in receipt of Newstart Allowance, repaid his debt in full prior to his court appearance.

“The Judge accepted that the defendant had entered into the course of conduct because he was upset over his loss of money with the Pyramid Building Society.

However he also noted that the offending behaviour continued after he had received settlement in relation to the matter.

He took into account that the defendant had no previous convictions, that he cooperated with the investigation, entered an early plea and had a number of medical conditions that would make serving time in jail more difficult.

In recognition of his medical condition the Judge stated that he intended to reduce the bottom of the sentence by three months. The Judge also noted that deterrence was a consideration in this matter.”

A woman, who rorted more than $89,000 in welfare payments over 14 years was given a suspended jail sentence of 21 months upon entering into a good behaviour bond for 48 months.

Tricia Munro, who was convicted in the Brisbane District Court on 16 August 2002, undeclared her earnings to Centrelink whilst in receipt of a Disability Support Pension.

The court ordered Munro to pay reparation of $40,275.