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Compare and contrast: Sussan Ley and Centrelink punters

Such is politics in these interesting times that it’s impossible when alerted to one scandal, to refrain from speculating if it has been confected to distract your attention from another.

So it is with Health Minister Sussan Ley’s current imbroglio which seems, at first blush, a nice little “look over here not there” moment arriving right on top of the Centrelink scandal.

In the former, federal Health Minister Ley appears to have spent an inordinate amount of taxpayer dollars travelling to the Gold Coast, including for two New Year’s Eve celebrations (what ministerial duties could she possibly be fulfilling on New Year’s Eve at the Gold Coast?) and, conveniently, at the time of the auction purchase by herself and her partner, a Gold Coast businessman, of an $800,ooo apartment close to his office.


Here is an analysis by the ABC of Ms Ley’s spending.

Ley has agreed to in part pay back some of these taxpayer dollars, acknowledging her fraudulent misappropriation of the money was “an error of judgement.” Many of us think of these behaviours as criminal activities that ought to be investigated by the AFP, but it all swings on the narrative.

In stark contrast, the AFP has joined forces with Centrelink to distribute intimidating letters threatening punters with jail if they might possibly have at some time in the last six years fraudulently claimed welfare benefits. People are advised to pay back the amounts Centrelink determined they owed, prior to any evidence that they actually owed anything. Three debt collection agencies have been contracted by Centrelink to pursue debtors, whether the validity of their debt has been established or not. This is an action Australian Lawyers for Human Rights describe as an abuse of legal process.

It does make sense that calling in debt collectors to pursue an alleged debtor before the debt has even been validated might well be an abuse of legal process. Somehow this fact escaped the notice of the Centrelink overlords, or perhaps they simply don’t care. It’s the government’s intention to continue this extortion for the next four years, making a total of ten years illegally hunting down welfare recipients in order to raise $4.6 billion to fix the budget.

In any case, the contrast between the treatment of Centrelink punters and the treatment of Health Minister Sussan Ley could not be more stark. If it was hoped the Ley affair might distract from the Centrelink debacle, well, no. But I do understand that the LNP would think it might, as they are largely brain-dead.

And then yesterday the Australian’s star turn and renowned dog lover Chris Kenny hove into view, with a tweet on the Ley affair to the effect that “there’s a very experienced health minister waiting in the wings.” Ahahaha! the thlot pickens!

Of course that very experienced health minister must be Tony Abbott, and of course Ley was first outed by the Murdoch hacks.

And so, Turnbull is wedged. If he doesn’t demote Ley: trouble from the voters. If he demotes Ley and doesn’t replace her with Abbott, who has long been agitating for a return to the front bench, he’s in serious trouble with the far right-wing. Ley is also one of Turnbull’s few allies, and he won’t want to lose her from his cabinet.

However this plays out, the contrast between the manner in which Sussan Ley is treated and the treatment of Centrelink punters could not be a more outstanding example of what the Turnbull government thinks of its citizens. Ley, who ought to be investigated for fraud, is permitted to apologise and pay back the money. Centrelink punters are threatened with jail and repayment of monies, whether they’ve committed fraud or not.

Some humans really are more equal than others.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Update: Sussan Ley has since stood down as Health Minister pending travel expenses investigation.


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  1. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    Hanging really is too good for them, but amazingly if you go to Ley’s twitter page, her supporters are out there in droves, happy to overlook behaviour that in any other profession might incur jail time.

    As you’ve updated, she has temporarily stood down, and Seenodonors has temporarily taken over her portfolio (I’m assuming her ministerial one, rather than her growing expenses-assisted investment one).


  2. etnorb

    She should go! Nothing better for this inept bloody so-called “politician”. However, whilst she will (probably) escape any brush with the law, thousands (probably) of Centerlink “customers”–hate that word to describe us!–will be subject to draconian measures to extract as much as possible, even from persons who do not “owe” any money back to the Government! WTF?? And they are involving all sorts of “interested” parties to help them in their scam! AFP & at least 3 Debt collection agencies (!) to claw back what is supposedly owing, & punish all these so-called dole cheats! WTF?? It is definitely past time fro Talkbull & the rest of his lying, inept, obscenely over-paid, flat earth, so-called conservative, right wing idiots TO GO!!

  3. Stephen Griffin

    How many resignations before we need a new government – the pool is shallow and the talent rather weak? Enough is enough, this crowd are the worst we’ve ever had in power. I’ve had it with these leeches, pretending they just ‘made a mistake’ when it’s been snouts in the trough all along. They’ve made a mission to threaten decent people transitioning from welfare to work and treated them as if they’re the ones committing the crime. Screw all of them and call a new election immediately! ‘Filth’ is too nice a word to describe these opportunists.

  4. Lauren Peterson

    I just spoke to a representative at the AFP who stated that even though Centrelink are sending out letters stating the AFP are involved in their investigation of recipients, they are in fact NOT involved and are now investigating Centrelink regarding this matter. Could Centrelink be investigated for fraud by the AFP? That would be poetic!

  5. jim

    And on “our” ABC a one nation member says that the Labor party is just the same. You can bet that there will be no more rorting of the publics monies ie. you can bet but you’d lose.

  6. Gangey1959

    Get the AFP logo onto a letter demanding the money back, same as I got for my $1835 earned over 2 periods of employment in 2012.
    Charge her %10 interest.
    And do it publicly.
    Then let ms ley squeal to the cameras about how unfair it all is.

  7. Stringybark

    ooohhh GEEZ LOUISE…….not bloody abbot again

  8. Luke

    And to think they hounded Slipper out of office and disgraced, ( he was at fault) when he said he would pay back the $900, Toni Abbott refused to let him and the Federal Police were brought in. Both Parties have been guilty of trying to steal Tax Payers Money and caught out. It is time to take the watchdog out of their hands and a independent committee to look at all aspects of their expenses and wages. This bunch of Politicians need to be reminded of the” Ides of March” We are coming for you.

  9. Kaye Lee

    The Australian Federal Police (AFP) formed ‘Taskforce Integrity’ in August 2015 to investigate and prosecute welfare fraud.

    Comprised of specially trained officers, the Taskforce has sent letters to those suspected of fraud reminding them it is an offence to give false information to Centrelink.

    Speaking to the media, Human Services Minister Alan Trudge warned that police would remain vigilant in investigating cases of Centrelink fraud:

    Police are reportedly turning to unorthodox means to stop suspects in their tracks: according to a recent media article, police are searching through Twitter and Facebook posts for signs of undisclosed changes in personal circumstances.

    The new tactic has reportedly uncovered many instances of people falsely claiming to be single in order to access higher welfare payments – in one case, a couple on individual benefits had allegedly taken to Twitter to publicly announce they were in a relationship and expecting a child.

    In other cases, individuals claiming to be unemployed had allegedly been caught after sharing information about their workplace online.

    Police have also reportedly partnered with online auction site eBay to track welfare recipients who have disposed of undeclared assets.


    I am just wondering how much ‘Taskforce Integrity’ is costing us.

  10. kristapet

    Very interesting distinctions made about the equity, rather, or lack of it, between ordinary, but, poor Australians and Liberal Party members. The lack of morality exhibited by this government is on steroids
    Abbott is still playing “hide the sausage” in, I want to be on the front bench, any which way I can, while I am not: undermining for advantage, carping, harping, nit picking, and all his the other ‘white-anting’, behaviours in full bloom

    Excellent article, articulating such a clear view of this issue.
    Thank you, Jennifer

  11. keerti

    Some animals are more equal than others—- comparing this mob to animals is an odious comparison and is an insult to all animals. A reasonable parallel to the treatment of centrelink beneficiaries. It would be fair to lock up and fine all politicians who have even the remotest whiff of wrongdoing about them. They would be made to refund all monies claimed from the beginning of their time as mp until they could justify with appropriate paperwork their right to it. After that any money that they couldn’t provide entitlement to would incur interest. This would goo a long way towards the deficit, possibly further than ripping off disabled pensioners and people who because of poor governance
    are only able to find part time and casual work.

  12. silkworm

    “Ley has agreed to in part pay back some of these taxpayer dollars…”

    Sorry, but the taxpayer doesn’t fund any government spending.

  13. paulwalter

    Never mind part of it.. the LOT. Then dismissal from cabinet and court procedings.

  14. Wayne Turner

    Ley replacement for the moment: Arthur “I Can’t Recall” Sillydidit. From one crook to another crook.

    What a mob this government is…

  15. Ricardo29

    Silkworm, thats not what ScoMo would have us believe, he says we, the taxpayers, arent paying enough which is why we have this Centrelink thing and all the other clawbacks.

  16. wam

    The centrelink debacle is one of the most serious errors the coalition has made but who will know??
    You let shorten off, Jennifer, and how was catherine king’s shadow health spending?

    It would be interesting to count how many time trunbull used ‘fair; in 2016??

    The October quote should have labor choking with anger:
    Malcolm Turnbull has pledged a “fair and compassionate” approach to welfare recipients

    He is ‘fair’ is letting susson everything standing down on full pay but letting the dogs out for gangey’s contempories with the clear expectation that up to 20% will be innocent??

    My daughter struggled to pay a debt in queensland but her husband was transferred to victoria and the new centrelink officer found they underpaid her $20 a week for the last two years.

    jim, the slimey x is guilty of every lawyer-led rort in the senate.
    Hypocritically, he said both parties are the same.
    He deserves far greater contempt than the honest one nation people spouting truth as they see it.

  17. MichaelW

    Very interesting Kaye Lee, glad I’m not on twitter or Facebook. Too much information out there, we innocently post things over the internet and before we know it……Hang on what am I doing?????

  18. Annie B

    Beware of Facebook – it is full of mis-information and heaps of conspiracy theories ( not that I think the Centrelink debacle is a conspiracy – but there are many and varied versions of it all. !! ) ….

    In fact, always be wary of saying anything on social media.

  19. ace Jones

    Where is the Labor Party … hiding under the table, the self-serving gutless bastards also protecting their own pilfering from Public purse!

  20. Ill fares the land

    The most outrageous aspect of this is that while Ley will likely lose here Ministerial position (she will have a nice apartment in the Gold Coast to retreat to to contemplate how unfairly she has been treated – this is about her being a victim after all); the system itself won’t be changed – because no or few other politicians have the will to force those changes. The primary reason for that is that most, if not all, have their dirty little secrets. Perhaps the best way forward, aside from changing the rules dramatically, is to offer amnesty for past fraud. After all, little if any of past funds will be repaid.

    To my mind, this is an issue for several reasons.

    One is the corruptibility of politicians (they are not unique – many who get the opportunity to cheat do so quite happily and then rationalise their actions with tripe like, “well, everybody else does it”; or “everything was within the rules”.

    The second is that claiming and over-claiming travel allowances is, for politicians and the public sector generally, a massive industry.

    Third, the politicians simply refuse to spend their own money (our money after all) – the system should include a clear provision that if a politician incurs a cost and no tax deduction would be available, they are not entitled to reimbursement or an allowance. That puts them on the same footing as every taxpayer. If you or I claimed a deduction to travel to a millionaire’s NYE party, the ATO would treat that as “entertainment” and deny a tax deduction, even if we argued that we attended for “business reasons”. Just because the cost is “incurred” by a politician does not make a case for special treatment. Especially considering the host of the NYE parties was a party donor – and was allegedly awarded generous government contracts which really has nothing at all to do with us as taxpayers. This is favours from and for the rich – why is it our cost?

  21. Miriam English

    If we had a simple Universal Basic Income instead of the labyrinthine rules for social security payments then all this Centrelink kefuffle would be avoided.

    As for Sussan Ley, she should obviously go to prison. She wantonly indulged in fraud, multiple times. If there is no penalty then other politicians will continue to do the same, thinking that it’s okay because if they’re caught they only have to pay (part of) it back, so big deal.

  22. Miriam English

    That’s why both the big parties don’t want an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) looking into politicians. Both sides have been abusing their privileges. It’s just more glaringly obvious with the LNP crooks. I wonder how many Labor pollies would turn out to be crooks? More than a few, I suspect. We really need an ICAC investigation into politicians!!

    Why on Earth should a country be run by crooks? We need more pollies of the calibre of Richard Di Natale, who pays for his own trips overseas.

  23. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    Warren – I’m afraid you won’t find me disagreeing with you. Rorting is rorting. I don’t care which party they belong to.

    But Ley was rorting and then lying to try and cover up her behaviour, which is a really, really big problem.

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