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Tuesday, 12 November 1985
Page: 1991

Senator PETER BAUME(5.59) —I am sorry that the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) is not present. I want to ask about the question of recoveries of overpayments and draw attention to certain criticisms which have appeared recently from my colleague the honourable member for Richmond, Mr Blunt, who has drawn attention to the fact that overpayments and improper payments within the Department of Social Security do not seem to be pursued with adequate vigour or care.

Senator Button —I am sorry to interrupt Senator Baume. I will try to arrange for Senator Grimes to be here. I will take a note of the points he raises.

Senator PETER BAUME —I understand that the Estimates are being debated fairly quickly and that it is not possible for all the Ministers to be here. But there is genuine concern by those who care about the social security system, not only that there should be payments to all those who deserve to be paid and that those who are entitled to benefits should receive them, but also that wherever there is an inappropriate payment or a fraud upon the revenue, people can be assured that it will be detected and followed up. We know of one person who was caught with, I think, 37 aliases. He was drawing 37 benefits from the Department. This incident was detected. That kind of thing should be pursued with vigour and detected.

There is a concern abroad that the Department of Social Security sees itself as a benefits paying department-we applaud that-but does not place an appropriate priority upon the detection and prevention of depredations upon the revenue. Mr Blunt drew attention to this concern again. In the world of party politics people may wish to attack my colleague and say that he raised a political matter. But there is a genuine concern that the Department of Social Security should be able to demonstrate not only that it is paying where it should be but also that it is responding to overpayments or frauds where these occur. I put it to the Minister that there is a perception in the community that deliberate fraud is more widespread than officers of the Department would acknowledge when the estimates were examined and that it should be taken more seriously than we thought officers were taking it.

I know many officers in the Department of Social Security. I understand that they believe fraud is infrequent. If that is the case, many of the anecdotes which people have told me about specific episodes must be untrue. When I am given such anecdotes I make a simple request to the people who tell me to give me the details so that I can ask the Deparment to follow them up. That is the only proper thing to do. Part of our duty is to protect the revenue. There is a concern that the Department of Social Security is not carrying out this function. I ask the Minister whether he has seen the comments of Mr Blunt and whether he has any response about the appropriateness and the vigour with which these matters, not the payment of benefits but the inappropriate payment of benefits, deliberate fraud and overpayment, are pursued and detected.