Coalition exposes own hypocrisy in claim to public interest leak

In an epic violation of trust, Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge has intentionally given out a Centrelink client’s personal information to Fairfax media, as a part of a political campaign to discredit and silence Australians speaking out against the nightmare of Centrelink’s debt recovery program[1]. The article, published by Fairfax media[2], contained personal information that was used to “correct the record”, but only serves to highlight the abuse of power within Federal Government departments who would rather be seen to silence criticism than fix the issue at hand.

“By releasing personal information to ‘correct the record’, Centrelink and federal government MPs and officials have set a dangerous precedent when it comes to handling the information of Australians” said Pirate Party Deputy President, Michael Keating. “This action shows the federal government’s intent with collection of personal data from multiple sources, and it’s not for national security reasons. Regardless of what the official line is, this appears to be nothing short of a department attempting to silence criticism in the bluntest way possible, despite there being legitimate issues in process and service delivery from this department. Silencing criticism does not resolve the problems, it only serves to amplify them.”

The release of personal data may be authorised by the Department of Human Services to “correct public statements”[3], but is an entirely disproportionate reaction. This comes from a government who at this time is seeking to link various data collected on individuals, from Census data, to metadata and phone records. The implications of a government department issuing personal data with little to no oversight and the intent of silencing an individual, is horribly irresponsible from a government who claims to be “adult”. We note that at this time, requests to ministers’ diary entries go unanswered[4], which highlights a running hypocrisy on transparency by the Federal Government.

“The point made by the release of this information is that if you speak out about your experience with a government department in a negative light, the government will happily blackmail you into silence.” Mr Keating continued. “This is nothing short of moral incompetence from a heartless government, who also has access to your metadata, call records, and Census information. We have no doubt government departments will access cross-linked data without a warrant or oversight in the future to ‘deal’ with people or problems. We are appalled and demand that the bureaucrats and ministers involved take responsibility for their actions; it’s what adults should do.”

Pirate Party Australia has been warning of this type of scenario since 2014 [5][6], and continues to stand up for the privacy of Australians. We have a policy detailing our Privacy platform[7]. This latest development, along with the government’s slow progress in only recently making Mandatory Data Breach notifications law[8] and refusing to provide adequate privacy controls with Census data[9] only serve to highlight the lack of care applied to collected data and our Government’s view on privacy of individuals. Having proven their technical incompetence time and time again when it comes to protecting the private data of Australians, this latest incident shows again their moral vacuity as well.

“Australians’ private data should not be used for political gain, nor should journalists throw ethics out the window by abusing personal information. There are massive issues with the current handling of Centrelink debt notices, of cross-linked Census data and mandatory metadata collection and retention. It is clear that the Liberal Party do not care about the privacy of Australians and are willing to do anything to silence criticism or dissent using data collected by the systems Australians pay for. Federal politicians would scream if their personal information was leaked to the media, why should it be different for any other Aussie?” Michael Keating concluded.

We highly recommend Australians contact their local MP to express their disgust with this escalation, and ask them to stand up for our most disadvantaged. It’s simply not good enough.