Private investigators to spy on welfare recipients in Services Australia crackdown | Camden-Narellan Advertiser
The welfare agency insists its invasive surveys are only used as a last resort and have been the norm for more than two decades.
It comes as Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds announced in December that a COVID-19-related pause on debt collection would be lifted from early January, with repayments required from early July.
In the agency’s tender documents, released last Monday, successful private investigators would be required to investigate Australians that the agency has “reasonable suspicion” of “serious non-compliance”.
The justification for surveillance should also demonstrate that “the benefits of obtaining relevant information through optical surveillance far outweigh the intrusion into the privacy of [Services Australia] customer or third party,” the documents state.
The government agency listed allegations of undeclared employment or relationships as examples of cases that may constitute surveillance.
Those who claim medical incapacity could also be investigated if there is suspicion that the welfare recipient has misrepresented their situation.
Investigators should also track and monitor non-recipients suspected of being in an undisclosed relationship with the support recipient.
Recipients suspected of defrauding the support system could be secretly monitored by investigators using cameras while locations could be bugged to determine the recipient’s movements and habits.
Services Australia spokesperson Hank Jongen said his agency made more than $230 billion in support payments in the 2020-21 financial years to people affected by COVID-19, bushfires and disasters. floods.
“Most people who claim payments from Services Australia are honest and doing the right thing,” Mr Jongen said.
“However, some individuals and groups try to obtain payments to which they are not entitled by committing fraud, often made possible by impersonating others.”
He added that the agency has specialized teams capable of detecting and investigating fraud, identity theft and other related crimes.
“Optical surveillance is an important part of these capabilities and is used to support our investigations into suspected criminal activity,” he said.
“We only use it when other avenues of inquiry are either inappropriate or inconclusive.”
Services Australia did not respond to questions asking how it defines “serious” non-compliance, or how it determines whether the benefit of obtaining information through surveillance outweighs the intrusion into life. privacy of the recipient.
A spokesperson warned the government must be very careful how it addresses potential breaches as many people relied on income support to meet their basic needs and around a third of jobseekers suffered of a chronic illness or disability.
“Given the serious risk of harm to those affected by the intimidation and invasion of privacy, any surveillance powers should be very narrowly defined and subject to close administrative oversight and review,” said one. ACOSS spokesperson.
“Investigations must be carried out by public officials who are fully responsible and expected to exercise the highest standards of care and due diligence.”
The program has raised compliance notices against more than 430,000 current and former welfare recipients by using an “average income” system to allocate a person’s reported taxable income over every fortnight of the year .
Opposition Government Services spokesman Bill Shorten said the government’s recent track record on robodebts should cast doubt on whether the federal government will undertake proper oversight of child support recipients.
“The Morrison government cannot expect Australians to trust the people, who slapped them with illegal robodebts, to spy on them without going overboard and doing damage,” he told Australian Community Media.
“The government’s first priority should be not to break the law themselves.”