PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 7 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Super early access scheme fraud.
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Labor has been working hard to provide the government with bipartisan support. Where the Government has put policies up that we think need improvement, we've offered suggestions. Where the Government's suggestion, where the Government’s program to have gaps in them, we've pointed out where those gaps are. Where alternative policies are needed, we've provided suggestions for alternative policies and where we've had concerns about the administration of the program, we've pointed those out. That's why we're deeply concerned today about reports that hundreds of superannuation accounts may have been subject to fraud because of the mis-administration of the early access to superannuation scheme. We pointed out at very beginning this process had serious security risks associated with it. Industry pointed out that they were serious concerns and there was susceptibility to fraud because of the systems that have been put in place. We’ve learned overnight that the Federal Police are now investigating 100 cases of fraud. We need to get to the bottom of what is happening. There are billions of dollars at stake. What we know is that are over a hundred people have had their superannuation payments made fraudulently. What we don’t know is whether there are more. What we don't know is how this fraud has been allowed to occur. What we don't know is why the Government has ignored the advice of industry and why is has ignored advice of Labor and what we don't know is why the Government hasn't taken corrective action to ensure this sort of fraud did not occur. We will be raising all of these issues in the Senate Committee this afternoon to ensure we get to the bottom of this. Over 27 billion dollars that has been earmarked by the Government as being available through the early access superannuation scheme, this is big money. The members of those funds have a right to know what's going on. Australians have a right to know. This is our retirement savings that has been put at risk. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What kind of explanation will you be seeking from the ATO? Is it inevitable that a project of the size will have some element fraud?
JONES: What we know is that risks were pointed out to the Government. The problem here is with the system the Government has set up. There is no independent verification of the data that entered. Basically an automated scheme, the Government has put in place an automated scheme. So somebody enters in their details, there is no independent verification of whether the person who is entitled to those funds is the person who has entered that material into myGov website. It's an obvious weakness in the system that pointed out to the Government by industry, it was pointed out to the Government by Labor and roundly dismissed. We pointed this out to the Government at the beginning of the process, they said don't worry about it, we've got it under control. Clearly it's not under control. Clearly there are at least a hundred people who have had their accounts fraudulently accessed and money has been fraudulently paid. We want to ensure that those individuals are compensated but we want to ensure that this does not spread.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any idea how much money has been taken, roughly speaking, you got briefings on this, do you have any sort of quantity?
JONES: We know that the average withdrawal was about eight and a half thousand dollars and could be up to ten thousand dollars. So if a hundred people had ten thousand dollars accessed, you can do the maths. These are just the cases that we know about. What we don't know is how many undetected cases there are out there. We've had information brought to us through electorate offices of members receiving SMSs, allegedly from the ATO, or indeed from the ATO, saying that their claim for early access to their superannuation has been approved and those people are saying well this is weird because we never made a claim for early access. How can this be going on in the system of we were told was going to be secure and all of these concerns have been dealt with. The Minister was warned, the Government warned and they failed to heed those warnings. We need to know why.
JOURNALIST: Will it fall to the funds to repay this money?
JONES: We don't think any individual member or any individual fund should have to pay the price of the Government's incompetent administration of this system. We want to ensure that the members who are doing it tough do have access to their superannuation in accordance with the Government’s scheme. We don't want one dollar of the member’s superannuation account going to a fraudster.
JOURNALIST: You’re implying, Stephen, that you believe this is the tip of an iceberg, that there may be many more people. Is there any way, at this stage, to make an estimate about how widespread this or are we simply relying on people coming forward with complaints about the text messages and the like? Is there any way we can get a grip, at this stage, on the scale of this?
JONES: We will be grilling the Tax Commissioner and the Government today in the Senate Committee to ensure that we can get to the bottom of this. The Government needs to come clean. Is it just this one hundred cases or are there more? How many other flags are have been sent up? How many other indications of suspected fraud are there? Will the Government put in place changes to ensure that this sort of fraud does not become more widespread?
JOURNALIST: Labor must be pretty confident of holding Eden-Monaro given the ructions on the other side the from the Nats.
JONES: It’s an absolute dog's breakfast down there. At a time when million Australians have lost their jobs, why is it that the Liberal and National Party are squabbling amongst themselves over one job? They should be focused on jobs of people have lost their work and lost their businesses in Eden-Monaro and not focus on themselves. I'm pretty confident that her Kirsty McBain is out there ensuring that she's got the interests of the people of Eden-Monaro in the front of her mind and whenever the Liberal and National Party work out who their candidates are, when they stop their squabbling, will be able to focus on the issues that matter to the people of Eden-Monaro and the rest of the country.
JOURNALIST: Just briefly, back to the super, do we have any idea how the super details were accessed? I mean, it's not a difficult thing to get, typically, it’s presumably already in databases owned by criminals or other groups and are looking for opportunities like this to exploit that data. Do you have any insights on that?
JONES: The briefing that I've received overnight is the information was accessed from a third party, from the tax agent, and that information was then uploaded onto the Tax Office website and the member funds were accessed that way. The concern that Labor has is if it was so easy for a member’s information to be garnered from a third party, how do we know the sort of broad is not more widespread?