It might have been hidden away at the tail end of the program, after the Ashes preview, but PM had an excellent debate on welfare cheating last night. Julia Limb spoke to Greg Marston from the University of Queensland’s
School of Social Work, who says his research shows that “about
0.01% of the total Centrelink customer base actually commits
fraud and is convicted” and that the amounts involved are minimal.

“Most people are doing it for survival,” he claimed. “They’re not
involved in multiple identity fraud or large sums of money. They’re
individuals making decisions about how they’re going to get by from
week to week combining part-time casual work with what benefits they
can get from Centrelink.”

In response, Peter Saunders from the Centre of Independent Studies said
while it’s hard not to feel sympathy for people struggling on a mix of
casual incomes and welfare, that does not make benefit fraud
acceptable. He suggested there could be changes to the way that
Centrelink requires people on benefits to report their earnings.

And that might be the nub of it. The government makes a lot of noise
about welfare to work measures – but how about getting welfare to work
in an environment when more and more jobs are casual, part time, or
short term. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the IR reform package,
it is bound to exacerbate this trend, while the welfare system is
designed around the old nine-to-five.

The Age
reports today that Peter Costello is ready to embrace radical welfare
reform in indigenous communities. When is the government going to
“think the unthinkable” and finally deliver its barbecue stopper – or
has the fire gone out in the Webber?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey