The Hon Michael Keenan MP
Defending Australia’s multi-billion-dollar welfare system against serious fraud and organised criminal activity will be the focus of a major taskforce funded by the Coalition Government.
Taskforce Integrity is a joint operation run by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP), which brings together intelligence analysts, digital forensic experts and serious fraud investigators to prevent criminal gangs from ripping off Australian taxpayers.
The taskforce has also been authorised to make aggressive use of the Commonwealth’s unexplained wealth and asset seizure powers to help it recover stolen funds.
Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation Michael Keenan said DHS distributed about $175 billion in welfare and Medicare payments every year and it was a sad fact that criminal syndicates were keen to get a slice of the pie.
“Anywhere there is a large pot of money, criminal gangs are never far away, working in the shadows to try and identify and exploit any vulnerability or weakness in our defences,” Minister Keenan said.
“We have seen recent evidence of this in other major government programs such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme and family day care system where organised criminal activity has been successfully detected and disrupted.
“In one recent case, the value of that alleged illegal activity was more than $5.7 million.
“While I am confident that our welfare payment system has robust defences, it would be naïve to think that criminals were not actively targeting us through a variety of methods, including via the latest advances in technology.
“That is why this taskforce has been given significant resources to go after these criminal gangs to ensure taxpayer funds are only going to those who are genuinely entitled to them.”
Also in the taskforce’s sights will be those who help to facilitate the activities of criminal gangs, including their lawyers and accountants, or other corrupt professionals directly or indirectly involved in the delivery of government-funded programs.
Welfare recipients who have large amounts of unexplained wealth, such as gang members, will also targeted.
Taskforce Integrity was originally formed in 2015 to investigate general non-compliance in the welfare sector, mainly by individuals acting alone to defraud the Commonwealth. Expanding its remit to focus on organised criminal activity and serious fraud is expected to result in tens of millions in savings each year.
“The Coalition Government takes extremely seriously the need to protect the integrity of the welfare system in order to ensure that it remains viable and can continue to meet the needs of those who rely on it,” Minister Keenan said.
“That is why we will be using every tool in our arsenal to not only catch these criminals, but also to seize their assets so that stolen funds can be put back into the programs they came from.”
The Coalition’s strong efforts to stamp out welfare fraud have generated more than $3 billion in savings for taxpayers since July 1, 2016.
That record stands in stark contrast to Labor’s when it was last in power. Compliance activity went backwards under Labor who do not understand the importance of protecting Australia’s welfare system from fraud.
Further information about Taskforce Integrity or how to report suspected welfare fraud is available at www.humanservices.gov.au/fraud.