We voice our concerns on Centrelink release of private information

We voice our concerns on Centrelink release of private information

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Media statement on release of private information by Centrelink

Our Executive Director Civil Justice Access and Equity Dan Nicholson has voiced serious concerns on the issue of Centrelink releasing private personal information to the media.

Mr Nicholson said, 'The disclosure of private information collected by Centrelink to the media in this way is a serious matter that should be of concern to all Australians.

'The starting point is that disclosure of this kind is a criminal offence, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment unless a specific exception applies.

'In this case the government relies on an exception to the offence that allows disclosures because they are “for the purposes of social security law” – specifically because, they claim, “unfounded allegations necessarily undermine confidence and takes staff effort away from the dealing with other claims”.

'This is an extraordinarily broad interpretation of this exception. We can’t find any decided cases that support it, and we think there are real doubts about this interpretation of the law.

'By contrast another part of S208 of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth) allows for disclosures in the public interest. However, this section has much more rigorous safeguards in place, including the need to comply with guidelines. There is real doubt about whether those guidelines would allow release in this case.

'It seems that Centrelink is attempting to get around important safeguards in the Act by releasing the information in the way they have.

'Given this doubt and the public interest in the matter, it’s important that Centrelink provide further information about the basis for these releases. Failing that, releasing information in this way should be stopped immediately.

'It’s important to remember the real human consequence of this decision. We would now have to advise any person who thinks they have an incorrect Centrelink debt that, if they speak publicly about their situation, their confidential information is no longer safe with Centrelink. This is an unsatisfactory situation,' Mr Nicholson said.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry, please contact ​Senior Communications Advisor Kerrie Soraghan (03) 9269 0660 or 0422 966 513

More information

Get help with Centrelink's automated debts.