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Tuesday, 12 November 1985
Page: 1995

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(6.23) —The situation the Government is adopting is that the Department of Social Security has, and always had even in the great and glorious times of the coalition Government, a certain number of overpayments. In this case these overpayments resulted from a specific instance and as a result of the investigations of the officers of the Department, as I understand it, it was decided that to go through an exercise of trying to track down in detail every overpayment that occurred and to collect every overpayment that occurred would not be cost effective.

To give an example of what used to happen in the past and what happens when one does not make proper judgments in this area, I would point out that many years ago in the late 1970s the Department, at the urging of the then Government, used to indulge in what were called saturation raids. This was an effort to cut down overpayments. They used to go out and run what were called big blitzes in postcode areas to detect all the overpayments, to put off benefits people who should not have been on benefits. This used to create great feelings of inner glow among certain members of the then Government and great satisfaction among certain officers of the Department who were that way inclined that they were actually doing something. When what they were doing was analysed, as we pointed out at the time, it was found that what happened was that a whole lot of people would be taken off benefits, 86 per cent of them would go back on benefits on appeal and get the benefits back paid. Very few overpayments were picked up and the whole thing was not cost effective. In fact, it was costing the taxpayer a hell of a lot of money to make people feel good.

As a result of all those decisions it was decided, and quite sensibly decided, not by this Government but by the Department, under the previous Government, that the best way to go about it was to detect and prosecute large overpayments and fraud where they occurred, to crack down vigorously-not in the manner of the Greek conspiracy case-on those areas where they occurred. But the best way to make sure they did not occur and to limit their occurrence was to provide good administration, good policing and good control of the system. That is what the Department does now. It is not particularly this Government's policy. If Senator Walters wants to be emotive and pick up the Auditor-General's report and say `Look, there is an overpayment. The Auditor-General says that the Department has not done as much as it should. Therefore, the Government is to blame and is lax', all I can say is that that has occurred in the Auditor-General's report every year I have been in this Parliament. I suggest that it has occurred in the Auditor-General's report ever since the Auditor-General has been reporting to this Parliament. If it makes Senator Walters feel good to talk in that way and to finish her questioning in that way so be it. It is of no concern to me, I can assure her it is of no concern to the Government, and it is of even less concern to the taxpayer.