Just because a govt agency says it wrote you a letter doesn’t mean it did.

3 Mar
Department of Complaints Against the State.

Department of Complaints Against the State.

 

One of Human Services Minister Alan Tudge ‘s justifications for his aggressive media pursuit of writer, blogger and single mother Andie Fox, is that Centrelink made numerous attempts to get in touch with her by phone and letter, and many of these attempts were unanswered.

I have no idea of the validity of these details, however I do know that government agencies are not always accurate in their accounts of interactions with citizens. Despite this fact, the agencies present “their side of the story” as if it is indisputable fact, simply because they say so.

I know this because last year I had some bizarre difficulties with Medicare. I submitted a claim for specialist services, the same claim submitted regularly for the previous eighteen months. The item number is not claimable on the website and as I didn’t have the app on my phone, I’d been submitting via snail mail. There was one occasion on which Medicare said my claim had not arrived, which was resolved after I resubmitted. This was attributed by Medicare to the tardiness of Australia Post.

A few months later I received notice in the mail from Medicare that I had not properly filled out my claim, and they needed further details. I found this very odd, as the claim was exactly the same as the previous eighteen. I rang Medicare.

I was told my claim hadn’t been received. If my claim wasn’t received, how come I’ve just got a letter asking me for more details about it? I inquired. The staff member was excessively rude, aggressive and unhelpful, so I asked to speak to a supervisor. She demanded why I wanted to speak to her supervisor, then shouted that there was no need for me to do that and terminated the call.

When I next managed to contact a staff member I was more fortunate. The staff member was extremely helpful, and we discovered that there was no record of the previous day’s aggressive phone call. We also discovered that the letter I’d received requesting further information had a reference number which did not coincide with that of any Medicare employee.

As well, the staff member informed me that my claim forms, photocopied and returned to me with the demand for more details, had been incorrectly handled: they should have not been returned to me at all, and certainly not as photocopies.

Where are my original claim forms, I asked? We have no idea, I was apologetically told. My claim forms have been photocopied and the originals lost? Breach of my privacy? I suggested.

Who has accessed my claims for specialist services and who knows my history and who is able to access the Medicare system with a false reference number? I asked.

I have never received any answers to these questions. I did speak to another staff member who also could not connect the reference number on my letter with anyone working in the system. I have no idea who in Medicare photocopied my original claim forms, or why, or what happened to them.

I did eventually receive reimbursement and I haven’t had any trouble since.

This is one small example of what can go wrong in government agencies, and that because the Minister says something has been properly executed does not necessarily mean it is so.

It’s also an example of how vulnerable users of these agencies are, and how little control we have over the information we submit. Medicare claim forms reveal a lot about us we might not necessarily want anyone else to know. This is our right.

If a minister can release private data marked “for official use only” to the media, we can have no trust in these agencies. We are in an invidious position: we have no choice but to submit private information. We have now seen how our private data can be used to hold us hostage by agencies and ministers, who might decided to “correct the record” with it if we publicly complain.

I didn’t write about my Medicare experience at the time because I felt concerned that there might be some retaliation, particularly in view of the bizarre circumstances and the misappropriation of my claims by an unknown person. This is how governments silence citizens, and this is why the Fox case is so important.

We now know that Tudge has his staff monitor social media for complaints against DHS.

Well, Minister Tudge, monitor this. Or better still, find out what happened to my private medical data.

 

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22 Responses to “Just because a govt agency says it wrote you a letter doesn’t mean it did.”

  1. Moz of Yarramulla March 3, 2017 at 9:15 am #

    I suspect anyone who has ever dealt with Centrelink reads those stories and does a hollow laugh. Except the ones who say “sounds like bullshit to me, you lying fuckers” 🙂

    My vast experience of Centrelink was that the only difference between them and a shredder is that the shredder is honest about what it does. I used to take photocopies of everything stamped by the local post office JP, just because I was so used to them losing stuff. Half the time they’d find it again a month later and claim any difference was fraud, too, even when it was “yesterday you said your bank balance was $53, today you say $28″… HA, you lie about your financial circumstances. The great thing about being educated is that I can swear in four languages…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 3, 2017 at 9:44 am #

      And yet they have the power to release your private data to the national media…

      Like

      • Moz of Yarramulla March 3, 2017 at 9:58 am #

        I’m not sure that that makes it *better*, Jennifer. {/sarcasm}

        “we can’t find your… oh, wait, there they are on the front page of the SMH”. At least Pullya Benefit said “I’m sorry you’re unhappy”, Tudge and Turnbull can’t even do that.

        I’m still boggling at the whole “we got legal clearance then deliberately released the stuff we accidentally included”… are they trying to argue that ministers should be drug tested?

        Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter. March 3, 2017 at 4:17 pm #

      Yes. I am a nervous wreck when I think of my experiences with them and those come from a kinder time than now.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. kristapet March 3, 2017 at 9:58 am #

    Thank you for your “ballsy” article – and for writing it

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Christine Brunt March 3, 2017 at 10:01 am #

    Federal government agencies not MPs are under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Complaints about staff conduct, administrative incompetence, unfairness etc on the part of Medicare or Centrelink should be directed there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 3, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

      Yes, thank you Christine, I’m aware of the process.
      It is also perfectly legal for me to air my experiences right here.
      Who do you work for?

      Like

  4. paul walter. March 3, 2017 at 3:36 pm #

    Christine Brunt, that was a poor effort.

    People’s lives pass before them and they have reached old age before any clarity even begins to exist or resolution occurs.

    Charles Dickens wrote a classic novel on the misuse of the law to thwart justice in the novel “Bleak House”.

    You need to realise that the government proceeded with the false algorithim system deliberately imho to create precisely the monumental, system clogging intensity of legalised robbery and coercion now occurring.

    Let go of the legal perversions and try to recall the notion of justice .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 3, 2017 at 5:03 pm #

      I decided not to take my Medicare issue to the ombudsman because I could see no point & have too many other things to do. What would be the outcome? Practically nothing.

      Like

  5. Arthur Baker March 3, 2017 at 3:43 pm #

    I’m going to post the text of John Birmingham’s latest subscription column here, because it’s relevant. Three caveats:

    (a) John Birmingham is not to be confused with so-called Minister for the (chokes with ironic laughter) Environment, Simon Birmingham.

    (b) John Birmingham’s writing can be somewhat, let us say, ripe. But in this forum we’re accustomed to seeing people hailed as brainless cunts, so that shouldn’t matter a lot. If it does, to you, stop reading.

    (c) I paid $20 for a half-year subscription to John Birmingham’s fruitier writings, which is a ridiculously small amount. I’d willingly pay 5 or 10 times that. Two articles straight to your InBox every week. He authorises those who subscribe to forward his work, free, to anyone, so in return, and in all fairness, I suggest you also shell out your $20 at https://gumroad.com/l/aliensideboob#. Give the guy a go, with some of your dough. You won’t regret it.

    Here’s the text, received today:

    Doxxed by the Feds

    Finally! The enigmatic Tudge appeared this week. The Inhuman Services Minister was probably envious of his colleague Christian Porter, who’d enjoyed weeks of fame as producer, director and star of the Theatre of Cruelty spectacular Not My Debt! But while Porter brought the aesthetics of a Turkish snuff movie to a huge and sprawling opus—“Thousands hurt in production of this shitshow! Some even die! Watch now!”—Tudge wisely went small. Not for him some massive and gaudy vaudevillian clusterfuckstravaganza with thousands of screaming welfare losers chased around a stadium by fire-breathing mechanical dinosaurs, crazy-drooling Murdoch columnists in spiked leather mankinis at the controls (and dodgy software adding to the thrill of the audience, who could never be entirely sure the pitiless killbots wouldn’t inexplicably glitch and turn on them).

    No. Tudge was quiet.

    Tudge was intimate.

    Tudge was all up close and personal disclosure. And unlike Porter, he did it with just one actor and a few lines. This was the week Alan Tudge owned the Theatre of Cruelty. This was the week a woman called Andie Fox was publicly dismembered there, up on the national stage.

    Fox’s thoughtcrime?

    She’d written a piece for The Canberra Times about her experience with Centrelink debt collectors. Brace yourselves, readers. It had not been a tasty slice of paleo pear and banana bread. More like a couple of months of high intensity waterboarding… with stale dog douche water.

    Pieces like this are published all the time. Smart politicians ignore them. Public servants never respond. Not only is it inappropriate for them to launch into contested partisan discourse, it’s fraught with legal hazards. Governments hold enormous stores of personal information about us, much of it extracted from an unwilling populace under force of law. The social contract underlying this exchange is supposed to guarantee the information won’t be misused. By administrators. Or, more especially, by politicians seeking advantage, either because they’re slithering opportunists who’d ratfuck a blind grandmother if they thought the security camera was pointed the other way, or just because they’re, you know, as dumb as a discount shitpickle.

    I confess I’ve never met Alan Tudge and I’m not sure which basket he’d fall into. Maybe we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and accept that when he approved the release of “protected” information about Andie Fox’s welfare history and tax records he was simply looking to “correct factual inaccuracies or potentially misleading information.”

    It wasn’t just shitposting as a service. It was shitposting as a public service!

    Pity that his minions went about doing this by selectively releasing their own inaccurate and misleading information, with a nice thick wedge of up-fucked failcake for dessert.
    Not content to brief a journalist with sketchy half-truths from Fox’s personal files, the government tossed in some old-fashioned incompetence and straight-up fake-ass bullshit.

    They ‘accidentally’ released confidential internal briefings on Andie Fox to both The Canberra Times and The Guardian, compounding the original breech of her privacy which they’d actually intended. Everything was cool, though. Confronted with the potential criminality of serving up a poisoned ass-casserole of broiled Fox meat, Tudge cited a couple of totally fucking irrelevant legal guidelines; the equivalent of saying “Well, we put a croissant on a tractor, so fuck you in the neck.”

    His half-trained flying monkeys meanwhile had to front Senate Estimates and explain themselves, which they duly did, insisting that even if Fox thought this was a big deal, it totally wasn’t. And even if she didn’t like getting fucked so hard, it was really only a little bit rapey, and how many fucking croissants do we have to put on this tractor anyway? I mean, jeez, lighten up.

    There is no lightening up, though.

    Criminal penalties for the unauthorised disclosure of your personal information by government officers are written into law. They’re real penalties. With jail time and the promise of making new friends in the communal shower whether you’re in the mood to bend over or not.

    The ALP’s Linda Burney has referred Tudge to the Federal Police.

    Meanwhile anybody who has been publicly critical of the government over Centrelink or, well, anything really, just a got a lesson in the benefits of shutting the fuck up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • doug quixote March 3, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

      Thanks Arthur, and John Birmingham.

      This government has been a mean version of the Keystone Kops ever since Abbott first bludgeoned his way into power, and the choice of a merchant banker in a better suit as leader hasn’t improved the base material.

      Throw them out.

      Like

    • Jennifer Wilson March 3, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

      Many thanks Arthur, and John Birmingham and I’m certainly coughing up $20.
      That really is a damn good piece.

      Like

  6. paul walter. March 3, 2017 at 4:16 pm #

    Yes. Andrew Elder at Poltiically Homeless has done stuff like this, angry and bitter at having to point out what constitutes the obvious bases for many political issues and having to point them out to an idiot public that should see the obvious as clearly as he does.

    Sad to read elsewhere that Labor passed government legislation involving this sort of stuff and I despair of their naivety as to this government, yet again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 3, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

      Oh, PW, it is inexplicable, at the very time Burney was referring Tudge to the AFP, legislation giving govt the power to release the private data of veterans sailed through HoR.
      However. There is still some way to go with this legislation, Labor seem to be considering withdrawing support (they’ve observed the backlash against Tudge) & I am hoping they see sense or god knows what happens next.

      Like

      • Moz of Yarramulla March 3, 2017 at 6:17 pm #

        Ever get the feeling that The Greens are the actual opposition? I see Scott Ludlam or Jenny Leong talking and go “wow, actual sense from a politician”. This vacillating handwaving “we agree with the Liberal policies but in a slightly nicer way” stuff makes me grind my teeth.

        Compromise on the stuff we can afford to lose, not on basic human rights or human existence stuff. I still think Rudd should have turned round and said “yes, this *is* the hill I’m prepared to die on” and pushed for a carbon tax. Mind you, I think Turncoat should have done the same, even if it ended up being just his one vote that crossed the floor.

        Like

      • paul walter. March 3, 2017 at 11:21 pm #

        Sorry, read this an hour ago but can’t offer a fair reply.

        Feel like Ive been offered up a cup of sick to drink.

        Will see if I can do better tomorrow, but not now.

        Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter. March 3, 2017 at 11:26 pm #

          Sorry, Moz, not you but JW’s. Its not like it hasnt happened before during the last few years either.

          What gives with these creeps and also sections of msm keeping silent?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Moz of Yarramulla March 4, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

            No offence taken pw, I agree with you either way 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  7. paul walter. March 3, 2017 at 6:27 pm #

    The Drum actually did a fairly thorough segment tonight and a passable one apart from the ever- pathologically dishonest Nikki
    Savva.

    Mike Seccombe also professed puzzlement at the ALP’s muted responses to the Centrelink issues, thus far.

    Liked by 1 person

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  1. Just because a govt agency says it wrote you a letter doesn’t mean it did. | No Place For Sheep – Papuq's Snippets - March 12, 2017

    […] Source: Just because a govt agency says it wrote you a letter doesn’t mean it did. | No Place For Sheep […]

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