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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2410

Senator CROWLEY (Minister for Family Services) (11.26 a.m.) —I am advised that people could still be charged under the Crimes Act where greater penalties apply and prison is the last resort, but for smaller penalties people could be charged under the Social Security Act. The points raised by Senator Chamarette are, I suppose, interesting, and of a basic philosophic nature in that they might have to take account of the state of our real world, how many people are in prison and so on. It is certainly clearly not the intention of the Department of Social Security to be putting people in gaol, but it is certainly clearly the intention of this government that people do not defraud Social Security.

  I think we need to remind ourselves that whether they are people on disability payment, supporting mothers or age pensioners, if they are found after fairly extensive examination to be in the business of deliberately intending to defraud the taxpayers, then it is fairly insulting to all the other decent citizens receiving those benefits and payments who are not trying to defraud the system that there is no real penalty for flouting the rules. It is important that we keep in mind the balance here. There is something to be said for all those people who have social security payments who behave honourably and do not intend to defraud. What we are talking about is not a wispy little mistake but an intention to defraud. It is also clear that gaoling people is not the first thing we do; it is the last resort, and monetary penalties can certainly occur on the way to that point. I think it is a question of balance.