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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1664

(Question No. 5047)

Mr Jacobi asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 17 February 1987:

(1) Has his attention been drawn to the annual report for 1985-86 of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) which expresses concern that welfare fraud is not being controlled effectively.

(2) Is it a fact that (a) a significant factor in the lack of control over welfare fraud is that many serious cases are not being referred to the DPP because they have not been investigated, (b) whilst the majority of less serious matters are investigated by his Department and very serious cases are investigated by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), a large group of cases in the middle are not investigated at all and (c) this state of affairs is unsatisfactory and can only undermine the deterrent value of prosecutions in this area.

(3) Are the guidelines which will assist his Department to identify cases which should be referred to the AFP for investigation unlikely to have much impact on the overall problem without an increase in investigation resources; if not, why not.

Mr Howe —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Yes.

(2) (a) (b) and (c) It is a misconception to believe that a significant proportion of social security offences is not investigated and that the deterrent value of prosecution is thereby undermined. In conjunction with the AFP, my Department has drawn up guidelines which formalise and clarify longstanding procedures governing whether a social security offence or suspected offence is to be investigated by officers of the Department of Social Security or the AFP. Where investigation is likely to be complex the matter is referred to the AFP. The bulk of cases comprise those to be investigated by DSS. All such cases are investigated.

It is understood that the great majority of cases referred to the AFP are also investigated. After due investigation both agencies refer cases in which they believe prosecution action is warranted to the DPP where the final decision on whether prosecution action should proceed is made. The DPP lays charges for serious offences under the Crimes Act (1914). In 1984-85 161 cases were heard under this Act. In 1985-86 this increased to 245 and there is every indication that this number will increase considerably in 1986-87. Where there are convictions, there is a noticeable trend in the court towards more prison sentences and longer prison sentences. Serious cases which attract a severe penalty appear to be receiving adequate publicity and demonstrate to potential offenders how seriously these matters are regarded.

(3) The guidelines are intended to formalise and clarify responsibility for the investigation of social security offences. My Department has recently allocated additional staff to review and investigation work. This has been a successful initiative. Questions concerning resource allocation within the AFP should be referred to the Special Minister of State.