Transcript: 2GB Sydney, Interview with Ray Hadley

5 May 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Welfare compliance
E&OE

RAY HADLEY:     

Look, I get emails all the time and phone calls from listeners, about people rorting the DSP, the Disability Support Pension. Now, I got one and it really sort of sparked my interest because it's atypical of the emails I get, and she's got all the details, this listener, about a family living on DSP payments despite not having any disability. She indicates to me one member of the family claimed to be blind, yet holds a driver's licence and drives a car. Changes her names regularly. She tells me that the son of this woman received a welfare payment, but has lost it, with findings he was, according to a tribunal, a malingerer, but then his wife may still be entitled to a Carer Allowance providing care to the malingerer, and so it goes on.

Now, I've spoken before that we spend $158 billion on social security and welfare. That will rise to $191 billion in the next three years and we need to get these people off the public teat. The Federal Minister for Human Services is Mr Alan Tudge. He's on the line right now. Minister, good morning to you.

ALAN TUDGE:   

Good morning Ray.

RAY HADLEY:     

You probably come across this more than I do, but it's infuriating. In this particular case, it does appear that a tribunal has acted and taken at least some of the pensions away from these people.

ALAN TUDGE:   

That's right, in this case there was a decision made by my department to cancel these people's payments, and in fact then issue a debt to them to repay the money which they owed. The individuals are within their rights to appeal those decisions and they did to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, but the tribunal upheld those decisions. So, their payments are cancelled, one of the women actually owes back over $200,000 to the taxpayer.

RAY HADLEY:     

Two-hundred thousand?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Two-hundred thousand dollars. An extraordinary amount. That's one of the largest amounts that I've come across, but that was a decision, which my department and Centrelink made, and then upheld by the tribunal. Now, I think your listeners when they hear these things, I mean, they work hard I think they're happy to support people who are down in their luck, but they don't want to support who, for whatever reason, should not be receiving those payments.

RAY HADLEY:     

So, what's...

ALAN TUDGE:   

And that's what were, that's the [indistinct] were trying to achieve.

RAY HADLEY:     

Sorry, minister, what struck me, it's generational this stuff. So, you've got mum on the public teat, and this is the other point that I've made to your colleagues in the past, including the Treasurer, someone declared her to be blind when she's not blind, given that she holds a driver's licence and is still driving allegedly. I mean, what do we do with the medical practitioners who provide evidence of people having a disability when no such disability exists?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Yeah, this is quite an extraordinary case when I was ready through the public file here, and I'm only going to refer to what's in the public domain, and it is extraordinary. It goes all the way back to 1990 and you've relayed some of those facts which came out through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

RAY HADLEY:     

Yeah.

ALAN TUDGE:   

And, I mean, I think they're some of the questions that we need to dig into further as well. From my responsibility's perspective, where in charge of ensuring there's integrity in the welfare system and here we uncovered a case where a person wasn't supposed to be on that payment and we're asking for money to be repaid, and we do this regularly, and sometimes it is hard work. As you know, sometimes we use data matching. We compare say, for example, what you self-report, and we compare that with what, say, the Australian Taxation Office has on its file, and where there's a discrepancy we investigate that. But this is hard work, but very important work for the integrity of the system.

RAY HADLEY:     

What role do whistleblowers play? Because I get frustrations from people saying, well I rang and I dobbed in someone and I haven't heard anything and I don't know what's happening.

ALAN TUDGE:   

Yeah, so we've got a whistleblower line. It's a tip-off line. It's a very good one and they do get investigated when people do inform us. Now, we won't necessarily go back to the person who tipped us off. There's privacy reasons why we can't do that, but they do get investigated and, to be honest, a lot of action is taken as a result of tip offs which members of the public provide, and so if they do know of people who they, you know, have pretty good evidence to suggest that something unusual is occurring they should call that tip-off line.

RAY HADLEY:     

This lady who wrote to me from Queensland says, in her final line, it's sad Ray to believe taxpayers are supporting this mob of blood-sucking bludgers, and that's a fair analysis of what's happened. She has a fear however, the informant, that despite the rulings of both Centrelink and the AAT that while the mother ends up owing you $200,000, and by the way, Mr Tudge, good luck getting the $200,000. You've got two chances - none and buckley's. The son, who's described I believe either by your department or the AAT as malingerer, but now there's a suggestion that his wife, whilst having her carer payment cancelled, she may be entitled to some sort of carer allowance because she provides some sort of care to the malingerer. I mean, that must become infuriating as well?

ALAN TUDGE:   

Yeah, you've got to treat every single case on its merits and I don't want to talk about these particular examples other than what's in the public domain. You know, of course it is infuriating when people are getting payments they shouldn't be entitled to. Now, I should preface this and just say that, you know, most people actually do the right thing. We've got a good social security safety net for a reason. It supports people in need and that's a good thing.

We've got to make sure it goes to the people who need it and not to the people who are either deliberately or inadvertently ripping off the system, and we've got to have systems in place to be able to audit it to pick up on these cases. And that's the hard work which we are trying to do. Sometimes it's not easy this stuff and sometimes it's uncomfortable for individuals when they receive a debt notice, but it they have been or they have received an overpayment in the past - well, you've got to pay it back to the taxpayer.

RAY HADLEY:     

But you take the view that the $200,000 plus - you won't be getting that back? I mean...

ALAN TUDGE:   

Well, we'll see how we go. I can't recall the details of this particular individual and where she's at her in life, but there are mechanisms to be able to recoup some of that money.

RAY HADLEY:     

Okay, are there provisions for you to claim assets if she has a home or other assets, or not?

ALAN TUDGE:   

So, we've got- If she's on any sort of payment at the moment, or anybody who owes a debt who's on a welfare payment, we can start to take the money off that welfare payment. We'll soon be able to do that in relation to any say tax return, which you might have to be able to recoup of a tax return before you- before it comes back.

RAY HADLEY:     

But, in other words, you've got buckley's chance of getting 200 grand. If you get five grand you'll be doing well.

ALAN TUDGE:   

Well, let's see how it goes. Certainly it's our ambition to get that $200,000 back.

RAY HADLEY:     

Okay. But I mean, the bottom line, as it's been reported by Ross Greenwood and this program, we're going for $158 billion annually to $191 billion to 2020 or thereabouts. I mean, and the point you just made as well is well made. I don't care if we spend $191 billion as long as the people who are deserving it get it.

ALAN TUDGE:   

Exactly.

RAY HADLEY:     

If the bludgers and malingerers are getting it, it means we can't look after the needs of those who are legitimately disabled.

ALAN TUDGE:   

Oh, I think that's exactly right and I reckon that's the attitude that most Australians. They're happy to support through their taxes the people who are down on their luck. They might have a disability, they're out of work for whatever reason, obviously there's the aged pensioners. But they don't want to support people who are ripping off the system.

Now, a couple of things we've got this compliance work in place that we've just been talking about it and I've also been talking in recent weeks about the fact that we need to toughen up our mutual obligations system because some people aren't doing the right thing and yet aren't really facing any financial penalties for that. And, we are taking a very close look at this because we want to have system that encourages people to do the right thing at every step. Doing the right thing means looking for a job. It means taking those job interviews and it means accepting the job when they've offered. And if they don't do that then there has to be appropriate consequences.

 RAY HADLEY:    

Okay. Good to talk to you. Thanks Minister.

ALAN TUDGE:   

Thanks so much, Ray.

RAY HADLEY:     

Federal Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge.