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Controlling fraud in the Australian government bushfire and COVID-19 support measures

There is no doubt Australia has faced some extraordinary challenges over the past year. Intense roaring bushfires and a silent, sinister virus have dramatically impacted our businesses, government services and way of life. Yet, despite these challenges, Australians have shown an inspiring commitment to their community. Many generously opened their wallets to support bushfire victims or closed their businesses to help authorities deal with the national health crisis.

Government agencies also demonstrated extraordinary commitment and agility to make sure services and support has reached those in need quickly. This has included quickly establishing the new National Bushfire Recovery Agency to support bushfire victims, and rapidly designing and implementing multiple broad and targeted measures to support Australia’s response to COVID-19.

The need to rapidly design and implement stimulus and support measures also presents significant challenges to controlling the risk of fraud. In January, at the height of the Australian Government’s response to the Black Summer bushfires, the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre delivered its first of many practical guidance products to support fraud control during emergency situations.

Fraud is, to a certain extent, inevitable and hard to prevent due to the time-critical nature of emergency responses. While fraud cannot be eradicated during emergency responses, it can be controlled and limited. The Centre provided some key guiding principles early and often, which among others included:

  • using established processes and relationships, rather than setting up new ones
  • working with well-established and trusted partners.

Australian government entities found practical solutions to deliver measures quickly while maintaining program integrity. For example, Services Australia and the Australian Taxation Office were able to use existing IT mechanisms and processes to deliver JobKeeper and JobSeeker. This allowed them to use established processes and controls without substantially holding up the flow of payments. They were also able to leverage their existing relationships to share information to prevent double-dipping across these two payments.

The Australian Bushfires Report by the Australian Red Cross demonstrates the value of well-established trusted partners in getting Australians back on their feet following the Black Summer bushfires. The report provides a full account of how donor funds are being used, plus insight into the triple burden of drought, bushfires and COVID-19, the key components of the Red Cross recovery program, and recommendations to the Natural Disasters Royal Commission. It also discusses how the Red Cross verify each application for funding to prevent fraud.

For further help in controlling the risk of fraud when designing and delivering emergency support measures contact the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre. A full catalogue of our guidance and other products is included in our online library. 

Further reading

Calamity Criminals: Designing an effective response to fraud arising from disasters (Nick Sellars)

This article (originally written before these crises fully emerged) looks at what it might mean in government administration to be agile, responsive and community needs-driven, while also delivering services with integrity.            

Bushfires and Scams (Scamwatch and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission)

A summary of bushfire-related scams that have come to the attention of Scamwatch, and steps that Australians can take to protect themselves.

COVID-19 compliance measures (Australian Taxation Office)

Information about the ATO’s compliance approach for the COVID-19 stimulus measures – including case studies and further links.

Suitability Assessment Toolkit for Emergency and Crisis Response (CFPC)

COVID-19 Counter Fraud Measures Toolkit (CFPC)

National Bushfire Recovery Factsheet (CFPC)


Photo of Deanne Allan

Author: Deanne Allan (Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre)

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