Comm Games hero’s $134k Centrelink rip-off
MOTIVATIONAL speaker and Commonwealth Games baton bearer John Coutis has narrowly escaped a jail term for not telling Centrelink he was earning about $5000 a fortnight for more than 12 years while on the disability support pension.
Between 2004 and 2017 the disability advocate earned more than $1.468 million which he did not tell Centrelink about.
The 51-year-old was paid more than $134,000 in disability support pension which he was not entitled to under the income test.
Coutis is well-known on the Gold Coast for his charity fundraising, motivational speaking and disability advocacy. He was also this year awarded a medal of the Order of Australia.
He has spoken at events attended by former US president Bill Clinton, English business magnate Richard Branson and South African anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela.
Coutis pleaded guilty in the Southport District Court on Monday to two counts for obtaining financial advantage by deception.
Judge Bernard Porter sentenced him to five years prison with immediate release on parole.
"I am conscious of the disability support pension not being enough to support people on disability but thousands of others have been able to comply … very few would have been able to earn $1.5 million like you have," he said.
"The welfare system depends on the honesty of claimants and this type of offending undermines the welfare system."
Judge Porter said part of the reason for immediate parole was that the prison was unable to cater to Coutis' disability.
Outside of court, Coutis apologised for his actions and asked for his privacy.
For a majority of the about two-hour sentencing proceedings Coutis sat on a mobility scooter which had the number plate "No Legs". He later asked to sit on the floor as he found that more comfortable.
Coutis is a double amputee and often uses a modified skateboard to get around. He also has lung issues and arthritis.
The court was told Coutis was born with Spina bifida and, at the time, was not expected to survive.
References were provided from radio host Alan Jones, former Olympic swimmer Dawn Fraser, NRL great Phil Gould and former Tweed Heads top cop Superintendent Wayne Starling.
Commonwealth prosecutor Chris Wilson told the court the offending began in 2004 when Coutis signed a form to get the pension saying he was not a sole trader and was not sure he was going to work again.
At the time he was working as a motivational speaker and earning an income for his work.
His failure to disclose his income was discovered in 2017.
"He was detected because he was identified as a frequent international traveller and completed at least 37 trips during the 12-and-a-half years," Ms Wilson said.
Ms Wilson said Coutis had repaid $33,000, but still owed more than $100,000.
Defence barrister Clare Hurley said since the COVID pandemic Coutis had been unable to travel for work and was now on JobSeeker.
Ms Hurley said Coutis was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia this year and the ceremony was scheduled for September.