By Matt Walsh
CANBERRA, May 1 (Xinhua) -- In an attempt to bring the nation's budget back to balance, the Australian government will target around 20,000 welfare cheats who are choosing to rort the system instead of actively search for work, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said on Monday.
Ahead of the federal budget to be handed down by Treasurer Scott Morrison next Tuesday, the government has confirmed it would be targeting welfare crooks, after figures revealed that a growing number of jobless Australians were taking advantage of a loophole which allows them to access welfare payments despite missing mandatory "appointments."
Data obtained by local media showed that last year 7,006 Australians skipped their welfare appointments but "made contact" before the fortnightly "cut-off," meaning their welfare payments continued despite missing the meetings.
Around half of the 7,006 continued to do this for at least six fortnightly periods, meaning they were paid 433 U.S. dollars every two weeks despite not making physical contact with the welfare body. Another 13,000 Australians were identified as exhibiting "unusual behavior."
Speaking to News Corp on Monday, Cash said that welfare was to be used by Australians genuinely struggling to find employment, not by those "who have no desire to work."
"Australia's welfare system is there to provide a safety net for those in need, not to fund a lifestyle choice," Cash said.
"The (government) continues to look at ways in which to strengthen the system so that community expectations are met and to ensure that those who can work, do work."
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge backed Cash's sentiments. He told News Corp that while the majority of Australians who used welfare were genuinely in need of the help, there were a problem few who were "gaming the system" at the cost of the taxpayer.
"We need to close these loopholes so that jobseekers can't get around their obligations," he said on Monday.
"It is in their interests as much as the community's for them to get back to work as quickly as possible, because the longer a person is on welfare, the steeper the road back to employment."
"We need a system that recognizes that some have serious issues in their life and need assistance. But for those who are gaming the system, we need to introduce stronger, more immediate consequences."
Meanwhile Treasurer Scott Morrison's plan to pass on tax breaks for first-home buyers in Australia has drawn criticism from think tanks, with Deloitte Access Economics warning that measures slated by the government would not return the budget to surplus, meaning it could put the Australian economy's AAA credit rating at risk.
Deloitte's director, Chris Richardson told Fairfax Media that proposed tax cuts, while positive in theory, would not simply "whirr (the budget) back into surplus."
"As a nation, we need to have a serious conversation," he said in comments published on Monday. "We've voted ourselves extra spending but not a way to pay for that spending. The government's approach seems to do little other than promising that 'she'll be right.'"
Responding on radio on Monday, Morrison refused to say the government would bring the budget back to balance by Fiscal Year 2020-2021.
Earlier, the Treasurer said the government would also look into re-evaluating the allocation of the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) following a request from the Western Australian state government.