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High Court Upholds Centrelink Decision in Poniatowska

The High Court of Australia yesterday rejected the Crown’s appeal against the decision of the South Australian Supreme Court overturning a conviction for Centrelink Fraud. The earlier South Australian...

Justin Wong

The High Court of Australia yesterday rejected the Crown’s appeal against the decision of the South Australian Supreme Court overturning a conviction for Centrelink Fraud.

The earlier South Australian Supreme Court decision of Poniatowska had held that under the most commonly charged Centrelink Fraud offence, merely omitting or failing to declare employment income without any specified legal obligation to declare that income was not sufficient to satisfy the charge.  A change in circumstances can include a change in income or living arrangements.

As reported in an earlier article, the Federal Goverment amended the Social Security Act to deal with the Supreme Court’s decision. Yesterday, Justice Heydon of the High Court was scathing in this regard and said:

“It is common for the decisions of courts to be reversed by the legislature after they have been delivered. It is less common for this to take place even before they have been delivered. Yet the legislature has got its retaliation in first in relation to this appeal. In those circumstances it is desirable that this dissenting judgment be as brief as possible”.

The uncertaintity that followed the South Australian decision resulted in many Centrelink Fraud prosecutions being delayed or discontinued. Now that the High Court has given its ruling, and the amending legislation is law, it remains to see what will happen with the prosecutions withdrawn over the past 12 months.