The Centrelink fiasco keeps getting worse, writes Ben Eltham. Now the rogue department has leaked private information about ordinary citizens who have the temerity to criticise it.
In the News
Centrelink's decision to release a welfare recipient's personal information to a journalist is unprecedented and will have a chilling impact on public criticism, lawyers say.
Australia’s human services minister, Alan Tudge, relied on legal guidelines in parliament to justify the release of personal information to the media that his own department now says are irrelevant.
Tudge was criticised in parliament on Tuesday for releasing the personal details of welfare recipient Andie Fox, who was critical of Centrelink’s handling of her debt. Lawyers and welfare groups have already warned that the decision to release Fox’s details was legally debatable.
Government efforts to crack down on welfare have fallen hundreds of millions of dollars short of their targets, the National Audit Office has found.
The new report shows a shortfall of $270 million on a target of $790 million from headline "compliance" efforts, announced by both Labor and Coalition governments since the 2012.
Information about a welfare recipient is considered protected but there are exceptions to the rule
Labor has accused the Australian government of breaching privacy laws by leaking confidential information about Centrelink customers.
Privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has confirmed agency-specific laws can "override" the Privacy Act and hand some public service bosses the power to disclose personal information.
The Government's privacy watchdog wants answers from bureaucrats who provided a Centrelink client's personal details to a journalist in a bid to counter her public criticisms.
Public servants have also told ABC News they are concerned the disclosure could inadvertently breach the privacy undertakings of other departments who share their data with Department of Human Services (DHS).
Centrelink is taking "revenge" on critics of its controversial debt collection activities by publicly releasing their private information, according to the federal opposition.
Privacy commissioner asks Department of Human Services to explain why Andie Fox’s details were publicly released
Activists accuse the Department of Human Services of releasing private personal information about a woman in an effort to silence her criticism of its much-maligned debt recovery drive, but the department maintains it has done nothing wrong and the privacy commissioner is looking into the case.
Centrelink has released a welfare recipient’s personal information in order to defend itself against public criticism.
People pursued by Centrelink over its controversial "robo-debts" are being denied the protection of Australian consumer law, a Parliamentary inquiry has been told.
The welfare agency is exempt from laws and guidelines covering debt collection by private businesses, "even the much maligned banks", according to the chief executive of Victorian community organisation Family Care, David Tennant.
Those who publicly criticise Centrelink's automated debt recovery program could have their personal information released to correct the record, the Department of Human Services (DHS) has warned.
Those who publicly criticise Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program could have their personal information released to correct the record, the Department of Human Services (DHS) has warned.
Labor is attempting to suspend the business of federal parliament, accusing the Turnbull government of breaching privacy laws by leaking confidential information about Centrelink customers.
Opposition human services spokeswoman Linda Burney moved a motion in the lower house on Tuesday, arguing the government had conducted a vindictive campaign to gag those who complain about the Centrelink scandal by leaking their details to the media.
Senior government officials have approved the release of a Centrelink recipient’s personal information to counter her public criticism of the department.
Complainants range from ABC 7.30 Report presenter, Leigh Sales, to disability pensioners and victims of Centrelink's debt recovery operations.
But could it be that sometimes the agency is being unfairly castigated?
It starts with a barrage of text messages telling you to urgently call a number. Then the persistent phone calls, sometimes more than ten a day.
Then come the letters telling you to pay “immediately” or risk “further recovery action”, including taking the money directly from your wages or bank account, or seizing your assets.
These mysterious antagonists are the debt collection companies paid millions by Centrelink to wage campaigns of harassment against unsuspecting Australians.
Churchill resident Kate Zizys can empathise with Centrelink clients affected by 'robo-debt' orders for money they may not owe.
Having been in the Centrelink system on and off for most of her adult life, Ms Zizys has been forced to make inflated repayments in the past, despite going to appeal.