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Criminals targeting virus support schemes

The prime minister has played down a police investigation into organised crime syndicates rorting coronavirus welfare supports.

Federal police have frozen more than 50 bank accounts after criminals targeted JobKeeper wage subsidies, the boosted dole and early access to superannuation.

“The very reason you know about this is because the enforcement actions that have been undertaken by the AFP with the support of the government,” Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

“What that is a demonstration of is that the AFP is doing their job to protect people.”

Mr Morrison said the scale of integrity issues with support programs was small compared to the $50 billion dished out through JobKeeper.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg vowed to crack down on criminals targeting coronavirus welfare schemes.

“We’re working to ensure that where there is fraud, it’s uncovered and those people face the full force of the law,” Mr Frydenberg told Sky News.

The government has established a serious financial crimes task force bringing together the Australian Federal Police, the tax office and home affairs.

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said busting open superannuation fraud had helped detect other crimes.

“We have restrained assets in relation to fraud against government COVID-19 programs and we will work with other agencies to continue to do so,” he told The Australian newspaper.

The prime minister has defended giving people early access to superannuation, saying a majority were using it to shore up their finances.

“It’s up to people to decide what to do with their own money,” Mr Morrison said.

“Where they’re making those decisions to better protect their mortgages and put themselves in a more resilient position, that greatly assists them not just for now but for the long term as well.”

Industry Super Australia estimates 395,000 people under-35 have wiped out their super balance.

Chief executive Bernie Dean said every Australian should have a good life in retirement rather than scraping through on the pension.

“Those early contributions are like yeast; without them you’re left with a much flatter nest egg,” he said.

“To have hundreds of thousands wiping their savings out mid-way through their life is a tragedy waiting to happen and it will affect everyone.”

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