Posted on May 30, 2006

Families Benefit As Accused Go to Jail

Lincoln Wright, Herald Sun (Melbourne), May 28, 2006

Australia’s 22 terror suspects and their families receive more than $1 million a year in taxpayer-funded welfare and legal aid.

And simply because the men were locked up, their families received a social security pay rise of as much as $1700 a year.

One of the jailed Melbourne men, Abdul Nacer Benbrika — leader of a radical group of Islamists — has been in Australia for 10 years and has never had a job.

Taxpayers provide his wife with almost $50,000 a year in welfare.

A Sunday Herald Sun investigation uncovered generous payments to the families of men charged with plotting terror in Australia.

Adding tens of thousands of dollars in parenting payments, rent assistance and family tax benefits to the cost of legal services for the accused makes a total bill to taxpayers of more than $1 million.

Since November, 22 allegedly would-be terrorists have been arrested in Melbourne and Sydney under Operation Pendennis, a joint ASIO, AFP and state police forces operation.

Mr Benbrika was among 13 Melbourne men charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation.

Of Algerian descent, he has a Lebanese-born wife and seven children.

Under Centrelink rules, she is entitled to almost $50,000 a year in welfare while her husband is in prison, awaiting trial.

Ahmed Raad, another Melbourne suspect, has a child and his wife is entitled to about $21,500 a year, as are the wives of Ezzit Raad and Abdullah Merhi.

The wife of another suspect, Hany Taha, who has three children, is entitled to up to $30,000 a year.

Among nine Sydney suspects charged with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack was engineer Mohamed Ali Elomar, 40. He has five children and his wife is entitled to about $38,000 a year in taxpayer payments.

Omar Baladjam, a former actor on the ABC TV program Wildside, has two children.

A Centrelink spokeswoman said the fact someone had been jailed for terrorist offences did not stop their spouse or children receiving welfare. The maximum parenting payment increases from $377.50 a fortnight to $444.20 when a spouse is in jail, she said.

Two so-called “Anglo” terrorist suspects, Jack “Jihad” Thomas and Shane Kent, also have children and benefit from Centrelink payments.

Mr Kent has two children, while Thomas, who is appealing against a conviction for receiving funds from a terrorist organisation, has three children.

Victims of crime groups expressed outrage at the payments.

People Against Lenient Sentencing president Steve Medcraft said it was an insult to law-abiding battling families.

“Why would you get an increased benefit when you go to jail? That’s an insult to law and order,” Mr Medcraft said.

“It never ceases to amaze me the way the system always favours the accused.

“You go to jail, get three meals a day and free dental, medical and optical and your family gets an increased benefit.”

Crime Victims Support Association spokesman Noel McNamara described the payments as disgraceful and said welfare benefits should be suspended when someone was charged with terrorism offences.

“It is ludicrous that someone who is an alleged terrorist should receive benefits,” he said.

“It should be immediately suspended and if they are found not guilty, pay it out then.”