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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2410

Senator CHAMARETTE (11.28 a.m.) —The minister misunderstands me. I am not saying that there should not be a penalty for infringements, I am merely stating how ridiculous it is that the penalty should go to the same extreme within the Social Security Act as it does within the Crimes Act. I have a Commonwealth criminal law publication dealing with guidelines that have been introduced since 1987 where Crimes Act charges have been laid in two main classes. They are:

(a)`systematic fraud', involving claims for dual or multiple pensions; and (b) `internal fraud', where the offence was committed by or with the assistance of an officer or former officer of DSS.

I am not saying that serious offences should not have serious penalties. What I am saying is that the differential between a very minor offence and a serious offence is totally removed if we have imprisonment within the Social Security Act that actually deals with less serious offences than the Crimes Act deals with and puts imprisonment as a last resort. If imprisonment can be a last resort under the Crimes Act, it should not even be mentioned in the Social Security Act. It should not be referred to as criminal behaviour but rather as maladministration or even attempts to deceive.

  We have to look at the reasons why people commit offences. We have to examine the effects of our laws in the community. We have found that 92 per cent of the women who are imprisoned for social security fraud are on sole parent benefits. It is up to the department to assess the impacts of its penalty provisions and the way courts are using them. I am not blaming the department. I am just saying that something clearly is going wrong. Our voting for a six-month imprisonment penalty is sending a signal that is being received in the community in a different way than the minister has explained. That is why I urge people to support the amendments that I am putting forward.