Partners in on business cons should also be pinged

There has been only muted criticism of the Government's latest welfare initiative, which sees people facing a $5,000 fine or a year in jail if it is found they were aware their partner was fraudulently claiming a benefit.

The response is understandable enough. Beneficiaries attract little public sympathy at the best of times, and many people will see little wrong in both parties who profited from a crime being punished, and the losses being split between them.

But if they accept that premise, they should also consider its wider implications. If there is to be a level playing field, should this not also apply to the wife of the businessman who lives the high life on the back of her husband's fraudulent activities, of which she is well aware?

Chester Borrows, the Associate Minister for Social Development, gave no indication this was also in his mind when he trumpeted the Government's tackling of welfare fraud this week.

Advertisement

Misrepresenting a relationship as a means of receiving the domestic purposes benefit or sole-parent support is, of course, usually a decision taken by both partners. But there will be occasions when that is not so.

In such cases, a great deal of time, money and energy will be expended in the pursuit of an innocent party. And all because this so-called relationship fraud is said to be costing the Government $20 million-plus a year.

That is a paltry sum, and hardly justification for a law that singles out beneficiaries' partners in an unnecessarily heavy way.