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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 2661

Senator COATES —I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security to the headline of the front page story in the National Times on Sunday alleging that one in five of unemployment benefit recipients is a cheat. Is it not true that the survey on which the story was based was directed at specially targeted groups in specially targeted geographical areas; that some recipients merely had the rate of benefit adjusted, rather than cancelled altogether; and that, while the body of the story mentioned these matters, the headline was totally misleading and an insult to the overwhelming majority of genuinely unemployed job seekers in this country?

Senator GRIMES —I did read the article. As Senator Coates said, it referred to the Budget initiatives taken in which both the Minister for Social Security and the Department set up review teams in specific areas targeting specific groups of people where there was considered to be a high risk of people cheating on unemployment benefit. As a result of that, the first reviews were done of about 3,300 people and 677 were taken off a benefit to which they were not entitled. To do what the article did in the headline and what Mr Blunt, the shadow Minister, did in his Press statement and extrapolate those figures to the national figures and say that one in five people, or whatever the figure is, is cheating on the dole is nonsense. It is fairly typical of the response of Mr Blunt in these areas.

We targeted a specific area. We targeted specific groups of people and that targeting has been very successful. But that is only stage one of the reviews that will be conducted. As the reviews go further the percentage of people found cheating will be lower and lower. Mr Blunt is known for Press statements of this type. He put out one recently, on 23 November, which said that we had cut the number of social security field officers by 64 when this Government has increased the number by 130. Six hundred people have been assigned to service social security budget initiatives. He said that field officers do not have the power to investigate welfare fraud. Under legislation not only do they have that power but clients must answer the questions they ask under that power. Mr Blunt said that we eliminated the work test. We have not. He said that the Labor Government had let personal lodgment of unemployment claims lapse. It was not this Government but the previous Government that did that. I also remind honourable senators that only last year Mr Blunt was a vigorous supporter of the Australia Card because he claimed, rightly, that that card would be very effective in overcoming social security fraud. It is unfortunate that the article, as Senator Coates said, casts a cloud over the vast majority of honest people on unemployment benefit. These are the sorts of hysterical responses we get from the shadow Minister in the other place.