Welfare debt crackdown sees 138 banned from overseas travel
Just like Paul Hogan a decade ago, 138 Australians have been stopped from travelling overseas this year because they have debts to the government.
And a further 86,000 who owe a combined $1.13 billion could find themselves in the crosshairs as part of a crackdown on welfare rorting.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal 2168 people have already been warned they could be banned from going overseas unless they agree to pay back $55 million of welfare.
Of these, 405 have started repaying a combined $9 million so their wings are not clipped by a Departure Prohibition Order, or DPO. And 268 have entirely cleared the combined $4.6 million they owe.
In one example, a person was found to owe $20,000 of welfare after the Australian Taxation Office discovered undeclared income.
A DPO case manager told the person, who was planning a trip, that a departure prohibition could be applied. The money was repaid in full.
Some 138 DPOs have been imposed on people who failed to heed warnings over $3 million of debts. This has led some to repay.
In one example, a person was found to owe $45,000 due to under-declaring income and assets.
Multiple warnings were made but the customer didn't agree to a repayment arrangement.
A DPO was issued in May 2018 and a repayment arrangement was agreed soon afterwards.
DPOs first came into the spotlight in 2010 when the Commissioner of Taxation served one on actor Paul Hogan.
The star of Crocodile Dundee and US resident had been in Australia for his mother's funeral.
The ATO alleged he had unpaid tax and penalties of about $150 million dating back to the late 1980s.
Hogan later reached an undisclosed settlement with the tax office on a "without admission" basis.
The new figures relate to welfare debts, to which DPOs have been able to be applied since 2016.
They emerged in response to questions from The Telegraph to Government Services Minister Stuart Robert, who yesterday said the DPOs are part of a "system of checks and balances that is delivering significant owed money back to the taxpayer".
Meanwhile, figures obtained by Labor senator Kimberley Kitching show 75,000 so-called "robo-debt" assessments against NSW residents have been reduced or wiped since July 2016.
The data also shows 123,000 debts were repaid or are being recovered through a payment plan.
Opposition government services spokesman Bill Shorten said the Coalition was "standing over innocent Australians, demanding money they don't owe".