Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has ramped up the Government’s war on welfare debt by appearing on A Current Affair and threatening to jail those who owe Centrelink money.
“We’ll find you, we’ll track you down and you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison,” he said.
Earlier in the year a mass-mail campaign by the police and Centrelink targeted welfare recipients in specific areas, threatening jail if they provided inaccurate information. Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) Chief Executive Cassandra Goldie has joined a long line of critics against the Government’s threats.
“It is appalling that the Minister for Human Services is telling people on the lowest incomes three weeks before Christmas, that if they have a debt with Centrelink they may go to prison,” she said.
“This is false, highly irresponsible and risks causing a huge amount of unnecessary stress and anxiety amongst people who are already doing it tough.
“We are not a police state and people should not be made to feel like they are doing the wrong thing by claiming a social security payment,” she said.
According to figures provided by ACOSS, just 0.018 per cent of welfare recipients were investigated for fraud last year and of the 996 cases referred to prosecutors, only 29 resulted in indictable charges.
“If a person thinks a decision is wrong they have a right to ask for a review, and have further appeal options,” said Hank Jongen, General Manager of the Department of Human Services.
“It is also important to highlight that there are a small number of people who do set out to intentionally defraud the welfare system,” he continued.
“For that reason, the department reminds customers that there are serious consequences for intentionally providing the department with inaccurate information.”
What do you think? With only 29 welfare recipients convicted last year, is the Government overstepping the mark by threatening recipients in specific areas of the country with letters? Are you now more scared than ever when submitting your income reporting?
Read more at The Guardian