Distance is no barrier to our generosity

In his recent fascinating insight into the home life of Eddie Obeid, Michael Smith has commented in passing on how much fun and profit can be had for overseas residents while drawing Australian benefits from Centrelink. He provides the list of benefits which ‘Australians’ living overseas can continue to draw.

I visited the site he mentioned, and noted that it’s in a folder on its server called ‘enablers’, which is pretty much spot-on. But it’s not as bad as you might initially think.

From January 1, 2013, changes have been made to overseas welfare claims. Now, most benefits will continue to run for only six weeks before any questions start being asked.

The site constantly assures its visitors that ‘if you leave Australia permanently, your [payment] will stop.’ Human nature being what it is, I don’t think anyone who intends to live overseas permanently is going to tell Centrelink that. It’s easy to buy a return ticket and then not use it, especially if it means that your benefits will continue for longer. 

And then we have easy-to-follow exceptions like this:

If you have a Partner Provisional Visa (subclass 309 or 310) or Interdependency Visa (subclass 820 or 826), you can only get your Child Care Benefit/Child Care Rebate for an approved length of time of up to a maximum of six weeks, for the following approved reasons:

  • an acute family crisis (e.g. to visit an immediate family member who is critically ill)
  • humanitarian reasons (e.g. to adopt a child or attend custody proceedings), or
  • eligible medical treatment that is not available in Australia.

And this:

If you leave Australia to live in another country you will not be able to receive Disability Support Pension (DSP) in the other country, unless you:

  • are terminally ill and are leaving Australia permanently to be with or near a family member, or to return to your country of origin, or
  • left Australia prior to 1 July 2004, and at the time of leaving you were told that you could be paid indefinitely, and you have not returned to Australia to live since that time, or
  • have been assessed in Australia prior to the departure as having a permanent, severe impairment and no future work capacity. Assessment involves a review of your DSP qualification and a Job Capacity Assessment.

Many of these exceptions also appear to have holes in them that a truck full of Australian taxpayers’ dollars could be driven through. People who are good at manipulating a system would easily find these and prolong their stays overseas indefinitely. For example:

International Services can help you if:

  • your payment has been approved to continue for an agreed period (e.g. to attend to an acute family crisis) and you need to request an extension of that agreed period
  • you are reaching the end of your payment period outside Australia and you find that you can’t return to Australia as planned due to unforeseen circumstances (e.g. serious illness),  [bold emphasis added]

I like that second one; it reminded me of the late Christopher Skase and of the only time in my life I’ve ever admired Andrew Denton (he started a public subscription scheme to hire a bounty hunter to bring Skase back to Australia.) It wouldn’t take much to get evidence of either of these criteria.

Not that you’re actually asked for any – some benefits are clearly more equal than others. The only benefits that ask for proof of why you’ve left Australia even temporarily are the:

  • Double Orphan Pension
  • Exceptional Circumstance Relief Payment
  • Family Tax Benefit Part A and Family Tax Benefit Part B
  • Newstart Allowance
  • Sickness Allowance
  • Special Benefit
  • Jobseekers Allowance

That just leaves:

  • Age Pension and Pension Supplement
  • Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme
  • Austudy
  • Baby Bonus
  • Bereavement Allowance
  • Carer Allowance
  • Carer Payment
  • Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate
  • Concession Cards
  • Dad and Partner Pay
  • Disability Support Pension (DSP)
  • Double Orphan Pension
  • Mobility Allowance
  • Parental Leave Pay
  • Parenting Payment (Single and Partnered)
  • Partner Allowance
  • Pension Supplement
  • Pensioner Education Supplement
  • Pharmaceutical Allowance
  • Remote Area Allowance
  • Rent Assistance
  • Schoolkids Bonus
  • Seniors Supplement
  • Telephone Allowance
  • Utilities Allowance
  • Widow Allowance
  • Widow B Pension and Wife Pension
  • Youth Allowance

Michael Smith has provided another helpful link to a Centrelink publication showing how many people are drawing these benefits. As of June, 2010, there were a staggering 71,360 people receiving overseas payments, the vast majority of whom were on an aged pension, and the bulk of those were living in Italy (18,051) – miles ahead of the next largest group, who were living in Greece (8,203). The third largest group of overseas welfare recipients were living in a country infamous for its poor living standards, work avoidance, spicy food, and other hostile and un-Australian customs, namely New Zealand (6,252).

So the single aged pension payment is $733.70 a fortnight, or around $19,000 a year. But multiply that by the 62,148 people potentially receiving this full payment overseas and that’s a staggering $1,185,547,677.60. Over a billion dollars, and that’s just one year and just one pension.

Two things struck me. The first is just how many ‘poor’ people – people who are claiming welfare payments – the Australian taxpayer is supporting to travel and live overseas. They can’t all be signing up for overseas training in the Reserves, surely – although I am sure there are some other armies they might be training to help.

The second thing that struck me was how long it’s been since I took six weeks off work to travel overseas. It was 1999, and I paid for it myself.

I think what’s wrong with this page of advice at the Centrelink ‘enablers’ site is that it’s far too long. The solution is to list the benefits in question and then head the page thus:


If you leave Australia for any reason, your benefits will cease being paid immediately.


If you can afford to travel overseas, you don’t need welfare.

They don’t really have to add the second sentence, but I rather like it as a clear and definite rationale. This is also what I would like to say to this gentleman and others who are enjoying their retirement and overseas travel at my expense.

If you’re living on the Australian taxpayers’ dollar, you can at least have the decency to live here. Or am I barking up the wrong tree? Would it be cheaper for us to ship our entire aged population overseas?

  • It would free up job opportunities for young people
  • We would no longer need to import aged care workers from developing countries
  • We would free up our health care system from the burden of an aged population
  • Australia would once again become a country of bronzed young people, our roads uncluttered by grey nomads and people driving expensive cars very, very slowly
  • We could slash the developing countries’ aid budget entirely and instead donate in kind via Centrelink and the sale of the family pile (71% of aged pensioners own their own homes)
  • Families could be offered the choice of either caring for their elderly relatives themselves, or shipping them overseas.

Any comments?

Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City. In the last five years she has worked full-time, paid quite a lot of tax, and decided to buy property rather than travel overseas. This has worked out pretty well, because she bought during the dip in Perth real estate prices at the end of 2008. But it’s all about choices, people.

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