Centrelink checks to catch thousands of fine dodgers
POLICE checks will be required for new Centrelink claims from March next year.
In a controversial crackdown on criminals, more than 60,000 jobless Queenslanders stand to lose welfare payments as the Federal Government hunts down fine dodgers.
Up to $190 million in Centrelink cash could be handed back to the State Government to spend on schools, roads and hospitals.
For the first time, Australians applying for Centrelink payments must agree to police checks from March 1 next year.
Anyone found to have a criminal arrest warrant would be kicked off welfare until they turn themselves in.
Federal Social Services Minister Dan Tehan yesterday called on the Queensland Government to back the scheme.
"People should be expected to repay their debt to society,'' he told The Courier-Mail.
"This measure will help Queensland with the clearance of its arrest warrants, as well as helping people with outstanding warrants avoid jail time."
The Courier-Mail can reveal that 62,306 Queenslanders on the dole owe $190 million in unpaid fines.
Each fine dodger, on average, has 12 unpaid fines totalling $3053, data compiled by the Queensland Auditor-General reveals.
The Federal Government plans to deduct the debts from the welfare payments of "serial fine defaulters" with court-imposed fines.
A small amount would be taken from Centrelink payments every fortnight and passed on to state governments.
Mr Tehan said there would be "safeguards" to ensure people have enough money to live on after the fine deduction.
The Federal Government also plans to strip welfare payments from people with outstanding arrest warrants for criminal offences.
From March 1 next year, fugitives will have their Centrelink payments frozen - or halved if they have children.
If the warrant is cleared within four weeks, their payment will be reinstated.
But if they fail to turn themselves in, they will lose all Centrelink payments.
People making a new claim for Centrelink payments, or transferring from one payment to another, must agree to police checks and disclose any outstanding arrest warrants.
Payments will be rejected unless warrants are cleared within seven days.
The Federal Government still needs a Queensland Government sign-off to make its Centrelink cashback scheme work.
State Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath yesterday demanded more details.
"There has been no consultation on how such data would be collected or who would pay for that data collection process,'' she said.
Queensland Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington called on the State Government to back the plan.
"Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for Labor being soft on fine dodgers,'' she said.
"Labor need to ensure there are no free rides."
Fine dodgers owe $1.2 billion in Queensland - with 42 per cent of the debt likely to be written off.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert said she held "deep concerns" about the plan to deduct welfare payments from people "struggling to pay back fines".
"This will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our community," she said.