Man ordered to pay back $14,000 of Centrelink funds

Jon SolmundsonGeraldton Guardian

A 47-year-old Geraldton man has been ordered to complete community service while paying back $14,000 he fraudulently claimed from Centrelink.

Mark Togiapoe Pulemoanatama appeared in Geraldton Magistrate’s Court on March 16, charged with two counts of fraudulently obtaining a financial advantage.

The two charges were spread over a one-year period, with Pulemoanatama telling the pre-sentence report author “it was easier to just keep ticking boxes than going into Centrelink to see someone.”

The Commonwealth prosecutor conceded they wouldn’t be seeking Pulemoanatama’s imprisonment, but a punishment which showed the community how seriously welfare frauds were dealt with was required.

“Social security is required by the most vulnerable members of our community,” she said.

While Magistrate Donna Webb had some difficulty with his name, asking if she could call him “Mr P”, she was very clear on the seriousness of Pulemoanatama’s crimes.

“I think it’s essential, given the recent controversy over Centrelink, to reinforce how important social security is to Australia, I agree general deterrence is required,” she said.

“Australia has one of the best welfare system in the world, and when people commit offences like you did it attacks the integrity of that.”

She said these kind of offences put those requesting welfare under higher scrutiny and, in the worst-case scenario, made it harder for them to get payments.

Although the prosecutor suggested fines may be a possible punishment, Ms Webb said Pulemoanatama’s financial situation was still tight and a “fair whack of community service” would be a good opportunity for him to repay his debt to the community.

As well as 100 hours of community service, Pulemoanatama was put on a 12-month community based order, including supervision and programming to help tackle his alcohol and grief issues.

Pulemoanatama has already begun repaying the fraudulently obtained money through regular payments, with $10,257 left to erase the debt.

He was denied a spent conviction.

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