Conservative MP Cory Bernardi says the payment of Centrelink spousal benefits to the wives of polygamous Muslim men is political correctness gone mad.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott called for action after learning about the issue, only to be told that it would cost more to pay them the single parent benefit, News Corp Australia reported on Sunday.
Centrelink said it did not hold data based on polygamous relationships or religion. The Islamic marriages are religious unions that are not registered.
"We are always told the data is not kept. I think that is a convenient excuse,'' Senator Bernardi told News Corp.
"(T)he lack of will to confront some individuals who seek to apply a different law to themselves means politicians are afraid to speak out.''
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann dismissed the story, saying the government doesn't recognise multiple marriages.
"The proposition that somehow the government is authorising polygamy, that is just completely ridiculous," Senator Cormann told Sky News.
He also rejected the suggestion the government was refusing to crack down on such payments because of some sort of political correctness motivation.
He said there are only two options for these payments - a single parent payment, which is higher than partner payments.
Government says News Corp used unverified quotes
The Department of Social Services said the article in News Corp published on Sunday included unverified quotes from an article published 2010.
A spokesperson from the department explained its welfare payment processes.
"When granting income support, the department determines whether a payment is made at the single or partnered rate.
"Being in more than one member-of-a-couple relationship has no bearing on that assessment – if you are in a member-of-a-couple relationship then you will be assessed at the partnered rate."
Eligibility is determined on an individual’s circumstances and there are no additional payments for having multiple partners.
Customers with multiple partners are assessed exactly the same as any other person, under Australian law.
The department added it did not hold data based on polygamous relationships or religion.