A useful change

February 21st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Shane Cowlishaw at Stuff reports:

Concerns have been raised about the plans to investigate people without their knowledge as the Government introduces measures to prosecute the partners of benefit fraudsters.

Announcing the changes yesterday, Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows said a new offence would be created to allow the partner or spouse of a person wrongly collecting a benefit to be charged.

It would mean partners could face a fine of up to $5000 or 12 months in jail, as well as their share of the repayments.

Last year more than $20 million was lost because of relationship fraud, making up one-third of cases. …

Beneficiary Advocacy Federation spokeswoman Kay Brereton said she was supportive of the move to target partners.

Currently the majority of people being punished for relationship fraud were women, who were often pressured into the crime. While there would be situations where a partner was not aware of the fraud, this would be the minority, she said.

“I’d love to think that this would discourage men, and I know I’m being very sexist but what we see is mostly men, to discourage them from pressuring their partner into doing this.”

I agree that in the majority of cases it is a joint decision to commit benefit fraud, so the ability to prosecute both is a useful change.

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46 Responses to “A useful change”

  1. annie (539 comments) says:

    They can’t do that! Half my extended family would have their comfortable lifestyles ruined. They might even have to work (plenty available where they live).

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  2. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    I agree that in the majority of cases it is a joint decision to commit benefit fraud, so the ability to prosecute both is a useful change.

    In which case, the ability to prosecute already exists – the couple are parties to the offending.

    What this offence will cover is situations where one person simply knows the other person is engaged in benefit fraud, but does nothing about it. It would be like saying that if an employee knows that their employer is engaged in tax evasion (say, an apprentice knows his boss is doing cash jobs on the side) but doesn’t tell the IRD while continuing to get wages from the employer, then that employee is guilty of a criminal offence.

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  3. Nick K (1,243 comments) says:

    I agree with AG. The ability to prosecute already exists: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1961/0043/latest/DLM328506.html?search=sw_096be8ed809832a0_parties_25&p=1&sr=10

    I am very concerned about the further move to charge people based on doing nothing about it. We have seen it with the changes to the child violence laws, and now this. What next – going to jail for failing to stop someone from committing suicide?

    I think we are completely arse-about-face on all of this.

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  4. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    I loath benefit fraud, but I’m more than slightly spooked by the notion of guilt by association.

    Such a move feels a bit totalitarian, and appears to be an admission that despite the size and cost of the government machine, it can’t control who it gives money to, and why.

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  5. Andrei (2,640 comments) says:

    You’ve gotta love liberals who have spent forty years dismantling marriage and promoting sexual freedom who now want to criminalize a poor man who sets up a relationship with a poor woman and who has children from another man – imprison him even for it even if he doesn’t immediately take financial responsibility for her brood

    The whole concept of marriage you utter morons is that it establishes who should take responsibilty for any children born of a woman and that it keeps these sort of issues to an absolute minimum.

    But rather than stepping back a rationally trying to find a way out of the swamp your ideas have produced you will keep of doubling down and smashing the cultural fences and institutions that existed to provide humane and fair mechanisms for the raising of the next generation – after all it is far more important that upper middle class twits can live their over indulged lives any way they choose than to encourage all to live in the ways of our ancestors in order that the poor may live in honor and dignity

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  6. david c (254 comments) says:

    Andrei: Making sense since never.

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  7. Nigel Kearney (1,012 comments) says:

    This is different from just knowing about someone else committing a crime and not reporting it. If they are living together, the partner is almost certainly gaining financially as a result of the fraud. The fact that the partner both knows about the crime and benefits from it, even indirectly as a result of not having to pay the bills themselves, makes it different from the suicide example and probably also different from AG’s tax evasion example.

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  8. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    “and I know I’m being very sexist but what we see is mostly men, to discourage them from pressuring their partner into doing this.”

    what a crock of shit.

    i knew a heap of westie chicks back in the day who were stoked to have their budging bf’s live with them. “we get two benefits” or “when mark moves in we will have heaps more money”.

    i know one chick who has been on the DPF since 18 or so.. still on it at 36 and the youngest is 7.. shes moved in with some dude. no way she has gone off the dpf. its their entitlement.

    the women claiming fraudulent benefits are just as guilty as the men. it has nothing to do with being “pressured” into it.

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  9. Nick K (1,243 comments) says:

    Nigel – but it’s not different to being a party to an offence under section 66 of the Crimes Act. So the law already exists. Just use it. It was the same with cellphone use in cars – the law of inconsiderate or careless driving would cover that but we have to waste inordinate amounts of time and money inventing new laws when they are not required because there is sufficient regulation already in place, if only it was used.

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  10. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    So let’s fine poor people who can’t afford to pay the fines.

    Hell, let’s put them in prison or on PD, which will cost the taxpayer even more.

    It’s cheaper to leave them be. At some point you have to admit that the cure is worse than the disease.

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  11. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    Tom – funny how the left all of a sudden care about tax payer money when they think it will win them an argument.

    How about this – a paddock with giant fences and some armed guards and a shit load of tents. that shouldnt cost too much. compulsory stretch for benefit fraudsters.

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  12. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    Any person, whether they are married to, or defacto, cousin or friend, that benefits from any crime that they have knowledge of, and has not reported, should be criminally liable. This includes professionals as well, the accountant that assists in cooking the books for tax evasion and so on.

    No double standards here, if you want one group in society to accept criminal responsibility by association then it has to cover everyone.

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  13. MT_Tinman (3,184 comments) says:

    Dime, well said.

    AG, no, it’s not – unless of course the employee is also a tax cheat.

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  14. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    Judith (1,563) Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Any person… that benefits from any crime…

    What constitutes a benefit? If the employer, in AG’s analogy, is only staying afloat through tax evasion then the employee is in fact benefitting from that crime. On the other hand what if a partner in a relationship pays their share of the rent and bills through their own earnings? Surely this has to be judged on a case by case basis rather than simply assuming guilt through knowledge of the crime.

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  15. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    Tom – funny how the left all of a sudden care about tax payer money when they think it will win them an argument.

    So you agree it’s a waste of money?

    Good.

    How about this – a paddock with giant fences and some armed guards and a shit load of tents. that shouldnt cost too much. compulsory stretch for benefit fraudsters.

    This is why these debates are pointless. The right have no workable solution to the problem that wouldn’t involve mass violations of human rights and/or international covenants we have signed up to. What you have suggested is otherwise known as a concentration camp. Even if it were morally feasible, it would still cost more than letting benefit fraud slide. Same goes with compulsory sterilisation, the reintroduction of the workhouse or the other insane schemes right wingers have to solve this minor problem.

    The same thing goes with tax evasion. In many cases it’s just too expensive to chase up the evaders.

    A Zen like calm in the face of these evildoings is the only rational response.

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  16. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    “So you agree it’s a waste of money?

    Good.”

    No, i dont agree its a waste of money. Its an investment. God know why you want people living off tax payer CHARITY to have a lifestyle on par with those who work.

    As for this tax evasion bullshit – just who are these tax evaders that get away with it? sound like bogeymen to me. the govt has also invested a shit load of money in this area.

    you lefties have no morals when it comes to other peoples money

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  17. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    Ill even go further.

    If it costs the TAX PAYER $3 to stop these LOSERS taking an extra $1 and pissing all over our faces in the process then im all for it.

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  18. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    Weihana (2,869) Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    If the person is aware of the crime, and continues to receive whatever the ‘benefit’ (yes even wages) then they are included.

    Is it different? A woman (using typical gender roles here), who does the washing, cooks the meals, etc, for her partner, who is receiving a benefit and has not declared their relationship, is liable? But she is ‘working’ for him, doing something in return for the benefits she is receiving.

    An employee sells the stock, works at the shop front, collects the cash, and is paid for doing that for their employer who is involved in tax evasion by not declaring his cash sales. Different situations but both criminal – that employee/partner are working and receiving money from someone who is committing a crime.

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  19. Nick K (1,243 comments) says:

    Judith & Ors, I am not disagreeing with the parter being culpable. I am saying that we don’t need another law to do it.

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  20. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    Where’s the difference?

    A man moves in with a women on the DPB, knows that she is continuing to claim it in full (but doesn’t urge or in any way encourage her to do so), then eats the food/uses the power/etc that the DPB income helps to pay for.

    An apprentice begins a job with an electrician, knows that the electrician is doing a bunch of “cash-in-hand” jobs that never appear on the books (indeed, even works on a number of these), then gets paid wages by the electrician that the apprentice uses to buy food/power/etc.

    A lawyer is brought in by a large company to advise on a transaction, discovers in the course of doing so that the company is accounting for its profits in a way that amounts to tax evasion (but doesn’t advise the company to do this), then gets paid a very large hourly fee for his services that he uses to buy food/power/etc.

    How is the first man more culpable than the other two? Don’t all three have the same mental element (knowledge of wrongdoing on the part of another)? Don’t all three benefit from behaviour that defrauds the tax-payer? So how can you say it’s OK to criminalise the actions (or, rather, failure to act) of the first man, yet not the other 2?

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  21. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

    annie (507) Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 11:06 am

    They can’t do that! Half my extended family would have their comfortable lifestyles ruined. They might even have to work (plenty available where they live).

    ————————
    Excuse Me.

    so I take it you dobbed them all in. After all they were breaking the law and stealing from us taxpayers and that’s all ok is it?

    don’t feel so bad half the tenants in rental houses use that scam as well.

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  22. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    The issue is not who is ripping off the system, IMO, it is the amount of people who we have on benefits.

    There will always be tax evaders, and there will always be those who find new and inventive ways to receive what they not entitled to.

    Punishing people, making it a crime is not going to assist in reducing the cost or those ripping off the system. The will just find new and inventive ways of fooling the authorities.

    If you stop the benefit, charge the person with a crime, make it even more difficult for them to get work, can’t pay their fine. When they don’t pay the money back, eventually the system imprisons them. Then their kids are left to be cared for by the state. And who pays?

    Instead of one person ripping off the system it becomes generational.

    There is another way, but it would cost. But either way, it is going to cost the tax payer, so it may as well be in a manner that stops the cycle.

    You allow people to declare such relationships. Then you put one of that ‘pair’ into work. (Create work schemes for them if need be have them sitting there knitting – it doesn’t matter what, just teach them that if they want money, they have to do something for it) Then you reward for effort – show them that with honesty and hard work, life gets better. Teach them the work ethic. They turn up on time, they a better hourly rate, they produce – they get more, they show initiative … and so on.

    Plus by declaring the relationship you have access to a possible family in ‘strife’ and therefore they can be monitored for other social problems often associated with benefit fraud.

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  23. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    dime (5,546) Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    you lefties have no morals when it comes to other peoples money

    dime (5,546) Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Ill even go further.

    If it costs the TAX PAYER $3 to stop these LOSERS taking an extra $1 and pissing all over our faces in the process then im all for it.

    Interesting moral dilemma. You would spend 3 times the amount of tax payer money on the pretense that you are “moral” with other people’s money. From the libertarian perspective tax is an inherent evil. I find it strangely contradictory to suggest that taxing people 3 times as much is more moral.

    Of course you have suggested that “Its an investment”, but this surely must mean that at some point in time this scheme will save money. Is this kinda like the investment that if we outlaw drugs and lock them all in prison then at some point in time people will stop using drugs?

    The problem with welfare, as I see it, is that it creates a distortion. The usual trade off is “Do I flip burgers (or other menial labour) or do I sit on my butt”. If the reward is roughly comparable then we create an incentive to do nothing. However, if everyone received a universal basic income then any work we did on top of that would always put us in a better position. It would also mean the single individual would receive support just as the solo mum does which would negate the incentive to shack up with a solo mum and commit benefit fraud.

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  24. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    AG (1,511) Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Well put. I totally agree!

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  25. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    So let’s fine poor people who can’t afford to pay the fines. Hell, let’s put them in prison or on PD, which will cost the taxpayer even more. It’s cheaper to leave them be.

    You’re missing the point (outside the above replies).

    This law change does not change the status of those on the DPB. If they are caught comiting fraud, they will be sent to jail, same as now.

    The difference is that their partners are now liable for their part in skirting the law.

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  26. Nick K (1,243 comments) says:

    The difference is that their partners are now liable for their part in skirting the law.

    Their partners are liable NOW. We don’t need a law change to make it so. AG is spot on.

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  27. Fentex (971 comments) says:

    I agree that in the majority of cases it is a joint decision to commit benefit fraud, so the ability to prosecute both is a useful change

    A curious turn of phrase to say you agree to a thing that is not a proven fact.

    Generally people say “I also think” or “I also suspect”.

    Nevermind, it’s a minor thing to notice how an opinion about beneficiaries is so easily mistaken for a fact when I’m sure exactly the same opinion is held about all other possible fraudsters and their partners. Such as the spouses of managers and shareholders of companies.

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  28. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    weihana – blah blah blah socialism blah blah universal basic income blah blah

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  29. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    Nick – arent they trying to make it easier to get a conviction though?

    some shitbag loser says “i didnt know she was on a benefit” and our sympathetic society says “fair enough”.

    a lot of deflection in this thread. how about we deal with one issue at a time.

    here is a fact – benefit fraud pisses people like me off. people like me contribute far more than we take, so why not through me a bone? im sick of losers pissing all over good tax paying bastards like me

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  30. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    here is a fact – benefit fraud pisses people like me off. people like me contribute far more than we take, so why not through me a bone? im sick of losers pissing all over good tax paying bastards like me

    Well, at least you recognise this policy for what it really is … feeding the muts. Now … who’s a good little boy? Who’s a good little boy? Go vote National … go on!

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  31. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    lol yes, the tax payers who are pissed off are the mutts.

    the losers on welfare are the real heroes!

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  32. m@tt (629 comments) says:

    @dime
    “here is a fact – benefit fraud pisses people like me off. people like me contribute far more than we take, so why not through me a bone? i’m sick of losers pissing all over good tax paying bastards like me”

    Yeah, benefit fraud should be punished, just like any fraud. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that you are being pissed on in gallons by tax evaders and corporate fraudsters while the benefit fraudsters are directing a thin stream of urine in your general direction.

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  33. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    m@tt – the government has pumped a ton of money into the IRD so they can track tax evaders.

    why cant a problem be tackled one piece at a time?

    do losers somehow get to go last?! why?

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  34. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    “corporate fraudsters ” – i keep hearing this term. anyone reading lefty comments would think it was a huge problem.

    where and how exactly is all of this corporate fraud taking place?

    are we talking the finance companies? where company directors have been sent to jail etc. or something else?

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  35. peterwn (3,271 comments) says:

    Some years back, a woman prosecuted for benefit fraud had the prosecution overturned on appeal – on the basis that she was not in a relationship like marriage. She got DPB and ‘partner’ got unemployment benefit and he bullied her into parting with some of her DPB money for his lifestyle. He left her then blew the whistle on her and presumably suffered no consequences. The appeal judges interpreted the law in the light of its purpose – as stated in the ‘preamble’ to the original 1930’s Social Security Act.

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  36. Nick K (1,243 comments) says:

    Nick – arent they trying to make it easier to get a conviction though?

    some shitbag loser says “i didnt know she was on a benefit” and our sympathetic society says “fair enough”.

    They’re making it politically more sellable/palatable when they do get a conviction, or when someone is charged with it. Then Paula Bennett or Chester Borrows can beat their chests and say at election time “we are bloody tough on crime and benefit fraudsters. Here’s what we did”.

    That is easy. It is much more difficult for the Minister to ask police to enforce the current law (section 66) because then he/she is seen as politically interfering in the operation aspects of policing; and/or is not separating his/her executive powers very well. That is a problem for the government. Passing a pointless law and standing on a stage at election time proudly pronouncing how tough on crime you are isn’t.

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  37. Nigel Kearney (1,012 comments) says:

    I’m not convinced that s66 is applicable. The commenters who are lawyers ought to know more than me, but it seems as though you have to assist, encourage, advise etc, i.e. take some positive action, in order to be covered by s66. I think it’s fair to also criminalize simply knowing about benefit fraud and gaining from it, without the need to prove the accused took any positive action at all. Especially as this would be hard to prove in practice.

    I have no problem with all three people in AG’s example being treated the same. But a law change that only captures one out of three cases is still better than nothing.

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  38. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    I’m not convinced that s66 is applicable … it seems as though you have to assist, encourage, advise etc, i.e. take some positive action, in order to be covered by s66.

    True. But this can be hard to do, if the woman (who usually is the fraudulent party) won’t testify … how else do you prove the man did anything to encourage/advise/etc her to carry out the fraud? So the Government is setting a lower bar – if you know what is going on and passively benefit from it, you can get pinged.

    OK – that’s a policy choice. But note that it is criminalising something that isn’t criminalised in any other area of our criminal law – it is not, for example, illegal to sell your car to a drug dealer, even if you know the money you are getting for it was gained by selling P to schoolkids. And note that there is zero – absolutely zero – chance of this approach being taken in either of the other two equivalent examples I gave above. So, the question arises – why is this approach being taken to just this one very small area of offending that is but a drop in the bucket compared to the other ways the tax-revenue stream is diddled.

    And the answer, I suspect, looks a lot like Nick K’s above.

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  39. Chuck Bird (4,880 comments) says:

    @peterwn (1,938) Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    It is good see a lawyer argue common sense. It is not just about prosecuting someone but recovering money as well.

    AG, may be technically correct but his analogy is extreme. I am sure there is a Latin term for his argument.

    To say an apprentice should be expected to pay IRD because he should have been aware his boss was doing cash jobs is ridiculous.

    Making someone earning good money who has benefited from moving in with a woman who was on the DBP and would have known she if she was still on the DPB at least after a period of time responsible for paying back the money is not unreasonable to many people.

    It is a shame lawyer and judges are not required to have a degree of common sense. Binnie is a prime example.

    The analogy is not valid. Most people have not ripped off social welfare. The vast majority if they were honest at some tie in their lives have benefited from cash jobs – the majority by paying cash and getting a discount. This would include MPs, lawyers, judges and law professors.

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  40. Nick K (1,243 comments) says:

    Maybe you’re right, Nigel. But for centuries the criminal law has never interfered in the actions of people who stand by and do nothing about a crime being committed, because the criminality involves the actus reus of an offence – the actual physical act of doing something. In certain circumstances omissions are a crime, but they are rare.

    For example, someone might be chased down the street with a man carrying a knife. You see it. They stop in front of you. The offender stabs the victim to death. You do nothing and walk away. You do not assist at all. You have not committed an offence, despite how repugnant your inaction might be.

    The current government has not only done away with the failure to act in the cases of child abuse (i.e. failing to do anything about it is now a crime, even though you are not the offender yourself), they are now proposing that a partner who may not be involved at all in the welfare crime being charged!

    These people could quite easily be parties, or accessories under s 71, except spouses and de-facto partners are exempt as accessories. This is because, presumably, the spouse is not a competent or compellable witness in any case against his/her spouse.

    This raises a very interesting dilemma actually: If the spouse or de facto partner is an associated defendant in the welfare crime (which it seems they will be) they are not compelled to give evidence against their co-defendant spouse. So, for evidence purposes, this change means nothing as well.

    I just don’t like where all of this is going

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  41. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    The vast majority if they were honest at some tie in their lives have benefited from cash jobs – the majority by paying cash and getting a discount. This would include MPs, lawyers, judges and law professors.

    So … the reason for not chasing and prosecuting tax evasion as aggressively as benefit fraud (and certainly not introducing “guilt by association” offences) is not based on any principled basis, but purely because of the kind of people who commit each sort of offence? That may be the way the world actually works, but it’s pretty ugly when you spell it out that directly … even if you dress it up in the gaudy robes of “common sense”

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  42. Chuck Bird (4,880 comments) says:

    “That may be the way the world actually works, but it’s pretty ugly when you spell it out that directly … even if you dress it up in the gaudy robes of “common sense”

    It might also be common sense if tradesmen and small business men seen their taxes were not going to pay beneficiaries ripping off the system they would be less inclined to do cash jobs.

    I think most people rightly think someone avoiding some tax by doing the odd cash job is nowhere near as morally wrong as someone who contributes nothing to the system

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  43. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    Or, it might be common sense that if beneficiaries didn’t see ripping off the taxpayer as being something everyone else does, then they might be less inclined to do so themselves. Who knows? Because “common sense” is one of those things we just say to pretend that what is comfortable for us to believe has some sort of deeper basis.

    Anyway, I think your argument is breaking down into “the things I do can’t possibly be as bad as the things other people do” – which is what we all think, but again isn’t a very principled basis for making laws. Which is fine – but then lets not pretend that this proposal is anything other than a bone to keep people like dime from slobbering all over the carpet.

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  44. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

    Anyone remember that woman over Hamilton way that Labour used to try to embarras the Govt 3 or4 years back. Piles of bene money Plus a live in male friend.

    Look back at that outrage and remember how pissed everyone was with them

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  45. Longknives (4,737 comments) says:

    Fuck the feral parasitic scum.
    While we work our arses off desperately trying to support our families (paying more and more bloody tax), they lounge about smoking weed,rooting no-hopers and getting drunk…All the while spitting out endless unwashed,uneducated and uncontrollable children simply so they can squeeze a few more dollars to out of the taxpayer to put in a bloody pokie machine.
    Fuck the feral parasitic scum. And fuck their no-hoper boyfriends as well.

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  46. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    If it costs the TAX PAYER $3 to stop these LOSERS taking an extra $1 and pissing all over our faces in the process then im all for it.

    I thought Tories were supposed to be opposed to government wastage.

    You can’t really do anything about the hopeless. We’ll pay for them one way or another. C’est la vie.

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