Transcript: 4BC Brisbane, Interview with Ben Davis

31 October 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
E&OE

BEN DAVIS:    
If you suspected someone was rorting the welfare system, would you dob them in? I mean, no one likes a dobber, but when it comes to stealing taxpayers' money, your money, different case, isn't it?

It seems there are plenty of you, plenty of Queenslanders who are only too happy to drop a neighbour into it, that is if you think that they are doing the wrong thing.

Figures from the federal Department of Human Services show it received almost 25,500 tip-offs from Queenslanders last financial year. That number again: 25,500 tip-offs in Queensland for people rorting the system, second highest in the country. So are we a state of tattletales or are you just doing the right thing?

Alan Tudge is the Minister responsible, the Human Services Minister. Alan, good afternoon. 25,487 tip-offs here in Queensland. We are a state of dobbers, but it also looks like we are a state of rorters.

ALAN TUDGE:
We have been advertising quite broadly the welfare tip-off line, and people can call us or they can tip-off online as well if they believe that someone is committing welfare fraud. In many cases they are right, in some cases they are not, but every single instance does get followed up and we can assure the listeners of that.

BEN DAVIS:    
Alright. The figures, and I will get into following it up and what is right and what is wrong in just a second, but these figures, do they surprise you?

ALAN TUDGE:
They don't that much because I know the figures from the previous years. For a number of years now we have been getting about 100,000 tip-offs each year; this year it has gone up to about 109,000 across the country.

It used to be just over 25,000 for Queensland. When you have got, I suppose, 4 million or 5 million people on welfare payments and receiving payments every fortnight, there unfortunately are some people who are doing the wrong thing.

The Australian public do help us in identifying those who are doing the wrong thing so that we can crack down on them, recoup the money, and in some instances even prosecute them.

BEN DAVIS:    
I am looking at New South Wales, that is where the highest number of tip-offs are coming through, 31,000 in the last financial year, but they have been steady over the last three years with the amount of tip-offs coming through. Queensland has risen over the last three years by about 14 per cent.

ALAN TUDGE:
That is right. That is interesting. I cannot really explain that one. They were, I have got the numbers in front of me here, a couple of years ago at 22,000, now you are up to about 25,000, 25,500 tip-offs.

I don't know why that has gone up so far in Queensland and it has not in New South Wales. Nevertheless, when people do make a tip-off, either online or through the telephone, we take them seriously.

Sometimes they are incorrect, the tip-off. Somebody might, for example, think that they know someone who is on a Disability Support Pension yet they are mowing their lawn, or they are using an axe, and so they tip them off.

But they may have a serious mental condition or there might be some other condition which means they are on that Disability Support Pension.

On other occasions, though, they do actually identify a person who is wrongly receiving a payment or is fraudulently, for example, claiming a single payment when in fact they are in a marriage-like relationship.

And in those instances we are able to uncover those people, we are able to recoup the debt, and where it is appropriate they get referred to the DPP and they may be prosecuted.

BEN DAVIS:    
Just on that, Minister; so 108,000-odd tips last year, but it only led to 118 referrals to the DPP. I mean, is it worth it? How much does the program cost?

ALAN TUDGE:
It is because we also recoup about $40 million in debt as a result of this. Importantly as well, it does send the overall message across the broader community that you have got to do the right thing.

Take the time, if your circumstances change, let us know; if you are earning income, let us know, because we do have this compliance system in place, such that if you are not doing the right thing, you may well be followed up on.

BEN DAVIS:    
Alright, $40 million, that is nothing to sneeze at if we are getting that back.

ALAN TUDGE:
That is exactly right. I mean, you know the size of the welfare expenditure. It is a very large figure.

BEN DAVIS:    
It is huge. We only have to look at our tax returns and see that little graph on the back to see how much of our taxes are going to welfare.

ALAN TUDGE:
Yes, about a third of the overall Federal Budget now is welfare expenditure, and we are doing a lot to make sure that those who need welfare get it.

It is terrific that we have the welfare system, but also to ensure that those who either don't need it or who are rorting the system are being cracked down on.

BEN DAVIS:    
Alan Tudge is the Human Services Minister. Alan, this week you have teamed up with the Australian Federal Police here on the Gold Coast to hunt down rorters, those who are doing the wrong thing.

How do you judge the success of that program? I know you have done it in the past in the north of the southeast part of the state. How do you judge the success? By the number of prosecutions, the money recovered, or is it just to serve as a warning or a deterrent?

ALAN TUDGE:
It is a bit of all three. This is the 14th destination where we have had what is called Taskforce Integrity in place, which is a joint operation between my Department of Human Services and the Australian Federal Police.

In essence, locations are identified where there is a higher likelihood that people have been receiving an overpayment or committing welfare fraud, and then we will target those locations, we will send letters out to people reminding them about their obligations, they will get text messages, we will have a physical presence on the ground, and we will also do more investigative work to determine whether or not there has been any fraud being undertaken.

Again, it is good in terms of identifying money owed and identifying people who are fraudulent, but also it is good in terms of just reminding people about their obligations, because if people do the right thing  and the vast majority, of course, do the right thing, then they have got nothing to worry about.

But if they are not informing Centrelink about a change in circumstance or income coming in, or if they are deliberately trying to rip off the system, then there are going to be consequences.

People need to understand that, because it is taxpayers' money that we are talking about and we want to ensure that there is integrity in the overall system so that we can continue to have a good social security safety net.

BEN DAVIS:    
Yeah, I don't think anyone likes those who are rorting the system, especially when it is taxpayers' money, their money coming into play.

Minister, while I have got you, how are things with your mates in the National Party?

ALAN TUDGE:
They are good as gold as always, Ben.

BEN DAVIS:    
Yeah, right.

ALAN TUDGE:
They are all one party up in Queensland, of course. I am from Victoria, where it is…

BEN DAVIS:    
I know, but on the federal level in Canberra, how are things there?

ALAN TUDGE:
Oh look, we are…

BEN DAVIS:    
Because look, those that I have been speaking to are saying that they are livid, the fact that Julie Bishop is Deputy Prime Minister here and filling in. Will this damage the marriage?

ALAN TUDGE:
No, I don't think it has. I mean, we have to work through this issue associated with the High Court's decision, which found that some people are not eligible to be members of Parliament, and we have got to deal with it, we are dealing with it, there will be a by-election.

We hope that Barnaby Joyce is re-elected again and then we will be able to put this behind us. We have just got to deal with it because the High Court says we have to. Hopefully we can get it over and done with over the next couple of months and then just move on.

BEN DAVIS:    
Look, personally I don't think you could have gone any other way, unless you had someone like, is it Darren Chester, I think, to come in from the Lower House.

You have got to have the Acting Prime Minister in the Lower House, and if the Nats are throwing up someone from the Senate, I don't know what else you could have done. But Julie Bishop, Deputy Prime Minister; how would she go as Prime Minister?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think she is Acting Prime Minister at the moment, and I think she will do a very good job as Acting Prime Minister while Malcolm Turnbull is away, and then Malcolm Turnbull, when he comes back, will fill those duties.

BEN DAVIS:    
Not a glance into the future?

ALAN TUDGE:
I don't know what you are getting at here, Ben.

BEN DAVIS:    
I think you do. I think you do, Alan. Come on.

ALAN TUDGE:
We have got a very good Prime Minister in Malcolm Turnbull. We are united behind him and we have got a big task in front of us. We have had a couple of hiccups with the High Court decision.

We will get over that and then we are going to be back focusing on what matters to the Australian people, and what concerns them is electricity prices and congested roads.

It is national security. It is things like welfare fraud, and they are the things we are focused on. They are certainly the things that I am focused on.

BEN DAVIS:    
Good on you, Minister. Appreciate your time this afternoon.  Alan Tudge, the Minister for Human Services.