Some excerpts from today's SMH article on the way the previous govt operated taking care of the public purse. :roll: Then there is the morality of the actions taken.... AUSTRALIA'S poorest people have been pursued in an unprecedented and aggressive legal campaign over welfare payments - and the workplace relations department is under fire for running up lawyers' bills chasing small amounts of money or cases so weak they never reach court. The number of cases pushed through the courts by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has soared almost 20-fold over three years in one court alone, as pension payments are challenged and moves made to recover amounts as low as $1300. In a campaign welfare advocates describe as harsh and punitive, the department has spent millions of dollars taking its social security "customers" to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and then, in some cases, the Federal Court. The department pursues such legal action at a far higher rate than other departments overseeing government pensions. A Herald investigation found the department has litigated against impoverished people even when Centrelink has made the mistakes; when medical evidence has supported a person's need for a disability pension; and when people are destitute and living on the streets. In some cases, people have been left with no income while being subjected to legal action. However, Mr Raper said the new Government had to overturn the Howard-era legacy of using taxpayer dollars to pursue cases which he said usually involved no fraud or wrongdoing, and which inflicted unnecessary hardship. The aggressive pursuit of welfare recipients dates from 2004, when the Howard government handed the department control of a $20 billion social security budget. As secretary, Dr Boxall oversaw a significant culture change, with the number of appeals by the department to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal soaring from just 17 in 2004-05 to 202 the following year, and to 321 last year. A lawyer who has worked closely with the department said it had pursued social security recipients to the "nth degree" - whatever the legal merits of the case. The department was "ruthless in the pursuit of any and every case" where a social security recipient may have received a small overpayment - even when it had been given wrong and misleading advice by Centrelink. "In my experience, [the department] operated at the very, very limit of acceptable conduct," he said. In 2006-07 the department won only half the cases it instigated in the tribunal. And for every case it pursues to a hearing, the department concedes many more, often at the last minute. It withdrew from two-thirds of cases before they went to hearing. According to some lawyers, this was usually for lack of evidence or because the department's appeal lacked merit. Whether successful or not, the department's enthusiasm for legal action costs taxpayers money. The cost of paying external lawyers, including for Federal Court reviews, jumped from $710,000 in 2005-06 to $1.8 million last financial year, Centrelink figures show. Employment and Workplace Relations stands out as the department largely responsible for a huge jump in the number of overall government appeals to the tribunal. The Herald found there were 441 appeals by various federal departments last financial year - up from just 82 in 2004-05. Each case in the tribunal cost an average of $5300 to $14,500 and in the Federal Court $15,000 to $20,000. The article detailed three cases where punitive and unjust action had been taken in a policy of pursuing individuals, no matter whether there had been any fault or whether the costs had any relation to the recovery sought.