Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: Doorstop Interview at Brisbane Digital Forensics Laboratory

5 August 2019

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to be here. Can I say, to open what is the second digital forensics lab here in Brisbane. The first digital forensics lab of course opened in Canberra a number of years ago. And it's impressive and it's important work. Not only have we seen over 50 cases that have successfully concluded in the courts but more importantly in the last twelve months we’ve seen 3,300 investigations that have included digital forensics. And to give you an idea of the growth of this area in protecting the Australian people in the last two months alone we’ve seen 1000 different investigations involving digital forensics.

This digital forensic piece is only going to continue to grow as we provide more and more services that the Australian Government provides through digital channels.

Australians can have absolute assurance that we’ve got a first-rate, not just digital forensic lab combining with Operation Integrity, combining with the entire compliance area within the Department that Annette Musolino runs. The Australian people can have absolute assurance that we’ve got their back digitally covered. If there are people seeking to defraud Australian citizens we’ve got world-class digital forensic labs that actually take leads from our compliance or from compliance from tax, or other investigative agencies across the country, to work out what the issues are and seek to prosecute.

So I am really, really proud to open the second digital forensics lab, to meet the team that are working there behind it, and I think this is a tremendous capability, not just for the Australian people but for the Australian Government.

REPORTER:

How much does fraud cost the taxpayer each year when it comes to welfare fraud?

MINISTER ROBERT:

In the tens and tens of millions of dollars. The good thing about what we are doing here is that we are cracking down very, very strongly upon it. And every year we see less and less dollars and cents leaving in terms of fraud.

REPORTER:

And how sophisticated is this digital, I guess welfare, fraud? What exactly are they doing? Are they using mobile apps to defraud the taxpayer? Or what is going on?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It evolves and it changes. It is everything from community childcare providers creating multiple entities and linking them through creating false citizens with false children and then enrolling those children through and then claiming funds on it. Right the way through to false providers in the NDIS space claiming for again false participants that don’t exist and for services that weren’t delivered. And right across the broad spectrum on every area of payment.

REPORTER:

And is digital technology making easier for them to create these fictitious people?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely and quicker for them to claim and of course before you would need quite sophisticated computing arrays to manage that. Now your mobile phone has probably more computing power than what it took to get the first person on the moon.

REPORTER:

What are they doing in there, are they crunching big data? What exactly are they doing to try and catch these people? Because it’s not just the prosecution it’s actually the detection.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It is, it's identifying technology, it's identifying hard drives, identifying cloud computing areas where people are seeking to hide data, manipulate data or use computing technologies from which to attack data. And the beauty of digital forensics is that wherever you go online you leave your digital fingerprints. As I tell my now teenage oldest son and my two boys who are coming through, nothing you do online is hidden. It’s all out there. Where you have been, what you have looked at, what you’ve sent. It’s exactly the same thing with those that would seek to defraud the Australian people. And that is the beauty of world-class digital forensic labs they go out there and find your digital footprints and your digital tracks, where you have been digitally, and how you’ve sought to defraud the Australian people and present a bill of evidence that is admissible in court.

REPORTER:

Why Brisbane? What was so significant, is there a significant amount of fraud in Queensland?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well look outside the weather is magnificent! It is just superb!

[Laughter]

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well look it’s a lovely location to have it. There are substantial Human Services investments here, in the very building you are in. Including a Service Centre, include a debt payment area, a substantial compliance area and a footprint for Operation Integrity. So this makes a perfect collocation for the centre.

REPORTER:

We saw last week Queensland was the number one spot for dole cheats is that one of the reasons why it’s here in Queensland as well?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No it’s got more to do with collocation with the services I just mentioned.

REPORTER:

Obviously you can’t give away all the secrets but how advanced is the technology in there?

MINISTER ROBERT:

World-leading. Speaking as a former Assistant Minister for Defence, world-leading tech.

REPORTER:

Is there any area in regards to welfare that is particularly bad when it comes to fraud? Any one area as such?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No it's right across the board. Everything from parents or couples who are actually in a couple claiming single parent payment. Right the way through to people seeking to defraud on Newstart or seeking to defraud on family tax benefits. I think the last big surge we saw was in family day-care across the childcare and childcare support areas and unfortunately we are now seeing it across NDIS. Everywhere where government has new initiative that seeks to serve Australians unfortunately we get a very small but committed rascal element that also follows.

REPORTER:

In light of this new technology, what is your message to people then that think they can defraud welfare?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well the message from the Australian Government and from me as the service delivery Minister is quite clear if you seek to defraud the Australian people we will catch you. And once we catch you we will gather the evidence we’ll need, we will prosecute in the courts and you will be held to account.

REPORTER:

Do you think we will see more of these Digital Forensics Labs roll-out as more and more things go online?

MINISTER ROBERT:

In short, yes. As the Government moves more and more and quite quickly towards providing services that are most convenient for Australians, and most convenient tends to be via digital services, we’ll need to keep pace with any threats upon those. And digital forensics is one small part of that. But as is compliance and as is Operation Integrity which is a joined up effort between my Department and the Australian Federal Police. To ensure we can properly investigate and then using the digital forensics prosecute those who would seek to defraud us.

REPORTER:

Do you thing having things on your mobile makes it easier for people to commit fraud? Are they more tempted to commit fraud because they can do it from their smart device?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I think the issue is the computing power is now exponentially growing according to Moore’s law, which allows you to attack things more often with more power.

REPORTER:

How much does a lab like this cost?

MINISTER ROBERT:

A lot of money.

[Laughter]

MINISTER ROBERT:

But it is well worth it.

REPORTER:

Is it a multi-million dollar lab?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It is, and they will continue to be. But remember what is the cost of providing assurance to the Australian people. How much are we prepared to invest to keep the trust of the Australian people. To have the information and the data they provide to the Australian Government is protected to globally high levels. That’s what we do. That’s the level of assurance we provide the Australian people. In that we hold the trust of them.

My Department touches 99.9% of all Australians through proving payments as well as through processing Medicare. And Australians can have the assurance that we’re keeping their data solid, tight and that any attempt to defraud is being met with these big global labs and these global level compliances and you will be caught.

REPORTER:

And organised crime just finally, that is something else you are looking at? It’s not just individuals?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It’s not just individuals. It’s any form of criminal element organised or otherwise that seeks to defraud the taxpayer and it seeks to come after taxpayer’s monies that we hold on trust and pay as our Department.

These capabilities, these labs, these compliance teams, this joint force between us and the AFP and Operation Integrity that is who they will face.

REPORTER:

Organised crime seem to be moving more into welfare fraud now. We saw that in New South Wales with the day-care centres. Is it an ongoing issue for the Federal Government?

MINISTER ROBERT:

$174 billion in welfare and related payments, on top of that $22 billion in the NDIS at full scheme entering next year in terms of full payment scheme. That is a fair amount of money for organised crime to come after.

Tremendous, thanks.

Page last updated: 5 August 2019