Centrelink Fraud

As of 26 March 2021, there were 5.5 million Australians receiving some sort of income support payment from the government.

This very large pool is difficult to police especially when maintaining entitlements relies mainly on self–reporting by recipients. Consequently, a great deal of effort goes into that and the Commonwealth government throws huge sums to combat that including:

(a) data matching between government agencies;

(b) increased identity verification checks;

(c) forensic accounting and site visits; and

(d) encouragement of public tip offs.

This over-resourcing has seen courts approach sentencing in these matters very sternly. This principle comes from cases like Zaky v R [2015] NSWCCA 161 where it was said:

…persons who abuse the system of social welfare must expect to face heavy penalties… and
…a custodial sentence is to be imposed for social security fraud except in very special circumstances…

Judy Lorbek Sentencing Over Centrelink Fraud

A Sunshine Coast woman who went on a spending spree with over 2 million dollars of Commonwealth money has been jailed for 6 years. Outside the court Judy Lorbeck’s lawyer said the mother of three couldn’t resist the temptation when she found the money accidently deposited in her account.

“I don’t think she put any thought into where the money had really come from at the time, just it was there, the temptation was too much and she succumbed to it.” – Michael McMillan

Lawyer Michael McMillian says the case highlights deficiencies in how Centrelink controls public money.

Lorbeck will be eligible for parole after she serves 18 months, she’ll also forfeit her Nambour home.

Preventing A Charge

But it is not inevitable that commonwealth frauds will result in imprisonment. Once detected, an ‘overpayment’ is referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, and that is the first opportunity to arrest any future prosecution. The criteria that agency will follow in their decision-making exercise is determining whether there is sufficient evidence to justify the initiation of proceedings, and secondly, whether it is in the public interest to pursue them. One strategy I’ve always used with great effect is to intervene at this stage on behalf of a client. I’ve always seen the first of the two criteria as the application of legal principles and the latter as potentially a more social approach. Judicious use of both can prevent a charge before it occurs.

 

Sentence

Given that the social security system is quite automated, and in large part relies on the continued truthfulness of its beneficiaries, defended trials are not common. But a sentence won’t necessarily mean that imprisonment is inevitable. In a recent case in which I was involved called The R v Barjwaj & Chadha the Commonwealth could not prove with any admissible evidence that it had suffered any actual loss, despite my clients conceding that they had committed the frauds alleged. This fact saw the clients avoid a period of actual imprisonment.

These are just a few matters which are worth mentioning in this very dense area of criminal law. Of course, I am only too pleased to discuss this or any other aspects of these matters at any time.