The human cost of Australia’s illegal ‘robo’ hunt for welfare cheats

By Frances Mao
BBC News, Sydney

Publishedduration10 hours agoimage copyrightKATH MADGWICKimage captionJarrad Madgwick's family say he felt immense financial pressure

At the beginning of Australia's winter last year, Kath Madgwick read the last message she'd received from her only child.

"I love you mum," her son Jarrad, 22, had texted.

Her son had made her extremely proud, wrote Ms Madgwick in a letter later read out to a parliamentary inquiry. A former school captain, and state-ranked swimmer, Jarrad had been a respectful young man, kind and helpful to others.

But in the year before his death, he had fallen on hard times. There had been a relationship break-up and bullying at work. Newly unemployed and struggling with his mental health, he moved back in with his mum.

He applied to join the army around the same time he applied for unemployment benefit.

When his claim was rejected, he was devastated. On the day of his suicide, he rang up Australia's welfare office to ask why.

"Um hello. I'm like in a pretty desperate situation here," he told the Centrelink officer.

"I've waited a month and I've jumped through all the hoops and I'm just wondering why I haven't even had an explanation? We can't afford rent and I'm thinking about stealing food… like, we need this money," he said.

After that call, Ms Madgwick says, Jarrad checked his welfare account. That was when he learnt that he owed A$2,000 (£1,100; $1,500) to the government. The debt was an apparent overpayment of a previous student benefit he had received – and this had barred his new claim.

"From then on, he was just distressed and inconsolable. But he was still desperately trying for jobs right up until the moment he left the house," Ms Madgwick told the BBC.

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