2GB with Ray Hadley – 4 December, 2014

RAY HADLEY:

Despite spending long periods overseas, lying about having cancer and faking his father’s death, 54 year old Ali Mahmood started receiving welfare in 2003 after arriving in Australia on a humanitarian visa from Iraq. He then spent any amount of time back in Iraq, he was a refugee from Iraq but then spent I think about 167 days back in Iraq. He’s claimed benefits while overseas in 2007, he said his father was ill, in fact said his father died. It was his father-in-law with whom he had no contact. Then he said he had to travel for life saving cancer treatment, both the claims are lies, he didn’t have cancer. His benefits thankfully have been cancelled by the Admin Appeals Tribunal, but he’s not the only one rorting the system. We find out today that many, many are. Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews launched a review of the DSP earlier this year and he’s on the line. Minister, good morning to you.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Good morning Ray.

RAY HADLEY:

How many people of the 800,000 figure are rorting the welfare system?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look it’s difficult to put a figure on that. Our recent review has shown that for people under 35, we’ve found that 16,000 of them are capable of going onto a participation plan. 8,000 of those 16,000 have been referred to employment services because they can be found to work. Now we’re continuing to work through this group and I’ve got no doubt that many more people will be found capable of working.

RAY HADLEY:

To put it in context if we’ve got 800,000 on the DSP, how many of the 800,000 are under 35? Can you quantify that?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Under 35 we estimate that we are working through a group of about 28,000 at the moment so it’s that group that we are focusing our immediate attention on because obviously with younger people who have been on the DSP for a less period of time we’ve got better chances of getting them back into work.

RAY HADLEY:

Are you saying 8,000 of 28,000 are capable of work?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well it’s 8,000 of the 16,000 that have so far gone onto a participation plan, we’re working through about another 20,000 or so under 35 and I expect that a reasonable number of them will be capable of working as well.

RAY HADLEY:

Gee it’s a high percentage, does that surprise you?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Um it doesn’t DSP recipients are not one single homogenous group, there’s a lot of older people, there’s people who’ve been on it for a long time. What I want to do is try and change the culture that DSP is not seen as a sort of set and forget payment for life. That doesn’t help the individuals concerned or their families and it certainly is a big cost to the taxpayer.

RAY HADLEY:

Look one of the things I’m concerned about is people who are genuinely in need of our support as a community get tarred with the same brush, and so you say oh how are you existing mate, oh I’m on the DSP, so immediately you think rorter.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

That’s right.

RAY HADLEY:

And that’s not right.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

No it’s not and there are people that have got a manifest disability, you know somebody, the obvious example is someone with quadriplegia or paraplegia, or whatever, even though some of those can work and do work. But we’re not tackling the people who are manifestly disabled and who should be on a DSP because that’s the proper thing to do. We’re trying to tackle those who just want to get on to the DSP because it pays more than the unemployment benefit.

RAY HADLEY:

The other area that we need to tackle and I don’t know whether you’ll agree with this, obviously these people go to their GP and are deemed to be eligible for DSP. That would make me think there’s a cottage industry out there of GPs in parts of I suppose Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and all the other capital cities, who are the go to people when you want a letter to inform Centrelink that you’re entitled to a DSP.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well that’s something I’m looking very carefully at, at the moment Ray and I’m getting some further advice from my department about what we might be able to do in that regard. So I may well be able to say something more in a few weeks’ time.

RAY HADLEY:

So would it surprise you if the same name crops up? Say I got a letter recently from a doctor who said look I haven’t approved more than two in the last three years he said but I know a guy in Auburn who’s approved 80 in two years.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Yes. Well that’s the sort of thing we’re having a look at, at the present time. You obviously want a system where it’s much more robust than just having you know a particular doctor who is quite, you know, easy going in terms of these things, for the good of the person themselves. Now I think sometimes doctors feel under a bit of pressure because you know their patient comes in and they want to do the right thing for them. So that’s what we’re trying to look at and tackle that culture.

RAY HADLEY:

When you see this story published in News Limited yesterday, Ali Mahmood the 54 year old, and given you’re the Minister, are you astounded by this that it could happen over such a long period of time, since 2003? You know through a previous administration, through the current uh, through the previous administration, so through the Howard years then two different Prime Ministers and now into your time. We’ve got a person who’s abusing the system to the extent that even the almost hopeless Admin Appeals Tribunal finally say oh this is a rort this has got to stop.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

This was a clear case, of you know clear fraud upon fraud and obviously this guy who lied his way through the system for the last ten years and it’s finally caught up with him, that’s what we’re trying to crack down on these sorts of circumstances. We’re also tightening up the amount of time somebody can go overseas, you know it’s reasonable that somebody on the DSP might have good reason to go overseas and you know we all get four weeks break so that’s reasonable, but some of these lengths of times have been far too long.

RAY HADLEY:

Yeah I think people find it amusing that they seek refuge as a refugee from a nation and then travel back there for 167 days, it would make you think that the original claim wasn’t really valid.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

It certainly suggests that doesn’t it.

RAY HADLEY:

Now one of the things that happened, you know people are reluctant to give other people up but I think when they see the abuse that is documented like the abuse by this bloke yesterday, they are more inclined to do it. You’ve got a fraud tip-off line, now if you were to phone that today, 131 524, what process does that put in train?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

That then leads to investigation, obviously the department would look at the claims in terms of the person concerned, it might seek some further information in relation to it and could even lead to some further assessment, analysis and interview with the person concerned.

RAY HADLEY:

Thanks for your time as always, if we don’t talk again have a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

You too Ray and to all your listeners.

RAY HADLEY:

Thank you Kevin Andrews, the Minister for Social Services.