“Belief” is not enough to justify legislation to reveal private data

4 Mar



On Thursday, in the midst of public outrage at Human Services Minister Alan Tudge’s doxxing of a Centrelink user, legislation allowing the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to give private information to the media passed through the lower house with bipartisan support, and almost unnoticed.

The power to legally release a citizen’s private information to the media is argued by politicians as necessary, in order for agencies  to respond to people they believe are deliberately misleading the public and in so doing, undermining the public’s confidence in that agency.

Look. I could write an entire post on the irony of citizens undermining confidence in agencies. Think robo-debt for a start. It’s my “belief” that there’s no citizen alive capable of inflicting as much damage on government agencies as they inflict upon themselves, all too often exacerbated by the minister supposed to lead them. Nobody could undermine public confidence in Centrelink better than Hank Jongen and Alan Tudge.

The significant words in the justification for this legislation are they believe. Government agencies and ministers do not have to prove you are deliberately misleading the public and undermining an agency. They simply have to believe you are in order to legally release your private data.

Of course you can fight them after the fact. You can take them to court to make them prove their belief. But by then you’re all over the media, you’re traumatised, and it’s too late. Governments have deep pockets, and you most likely do not.

You have also compulsorily supplied agencies with the very information they now intend to use against you, because they believe your complaints, impressions, and opinions undermine them.

I’ve carefully re-read the article by Andie Fox that caused Alan Tudge to release her data to Fairfax because he “believed” her commentary undermined public confidence in Centrelink.

Ms Fox wrote an opinion piece. It consists almost entirely of how she felt during her encounters with Centrelink. The only points of dispute Tudge could find are a couple of dates, and numbers of phone calls.

According to Alan Tudge, this is sufficient to undermine public confidence in Centrelink, and justifies his release of her private data to Fairfax. Clearly, this is an absolutely ridiculous claim on Tudge’s part, and an abhorrent abuse of his power.

In fact, the power of Ms Fox’s piece is not in a Tudge-like gotcha game with the agency, but rather in her subjective experience of engaging with Centrelink, one with which thousands and thousands of other users can identify.

What Tudge’s reaction demonstrates is that we absolutely cannot trust ministers and senior public servants to exercise good judgement in their use of this legislation.

It demonstrates that citizens must not tolerate legislation that is so open to abuse by ministers and senior public servants, legislation that is based solely on the grounds of their beliefs.

Politicians need to fully explain why they need such legislation in the first place, and in the second, why they feel the need to extend it to include veterans. It wouldn’t have anything to do with military personnel speaking out about the ADF’s stance on the effects of anti-malarial drug Mefloquine, would it?

No senior public servant and no minister should have the power to publicly release a citizen’s private data simply because he or she believes there may be an adverse outcome for an agency. This is an attempt by politicians to silence all dissent by instilling a terror of possible consequences.

Supplying private data to these agencies is compulsory. Politicians are demanding that in handing over our private data, we also agree to their release of it to media should they believe any public commentary we make might adversely affect their interests.

This is an untenable situation for citizens, and a massive over-reach on the part of politicians.

Postscript: Acting Senate Clerk Richard Pye has acknowledged that Tudge’s release of private data may have a “chilling effect” on witnesses at next week’s inquiry into Centrelink Robo-Debt. 

Mr Pye has warned that any attempts at interference with witnesses will be considered to be contempt. 

We have a government that has to be warned not to interfere with witnesses in a Senate inquiry. Think about that. 


33 Responses to ““Belief” is not enough to justify legislation to reveal private data”

  1. AnnieM March 4, 2017 at 8:41 am #

    Well said. The consequences are huge for those on the receiving end of a departments belief. How have we gotten here? There’s no justification I’ve seen that holds water for the public release of a person’s private information. None.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. doug quixote March 4, 2017 at 9:14 am #

    As a minimum the officers in question should be required to go before a magistrate and state their reasonable belief, rather like the police search warrant procedure. It could be done quickly if required.

    We need to keep the machinery of the State answerable to the law, and keep the word “police” well away from the word “state”.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. helvityni March 4, 2017 at 9:20 am #

    …yes but, no but, all that Christians need is belief, that makes anything true…

    Most of the right-wingers are believers…God bless them as Trump says.


  4. kristapet March 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

    I am sickened to my very soul, about how this government (2017) uses their ability to make changes to the law, in such ways as to remove basic rights – such as rights to privacy, dissent, or calls out about wrong doing by government departments
    When governments overstep their mark it must be noted and rectified
    I thought the Attorney General’s job was to safeguard the law – it doesn’t appear to be the case, lately (2013-2017)
    I am aghast about how they misuse their power and authority, to force and trample their own agendas at the cost of civil liberties – and their piecemeal removal of checks and balances on government actions
    Giving required information should not become a “Catch 22”
    Another law change that has gone through with rude haste is the overturning native title

    This government is tree barking its constituents and our indigenous people

    Click to access 20081013TheRoleoftheAttorney.pdf


    • Marilyn March 4, 2017 at 6:46 pm #

      The Attorney’s General have destroyed the rule of law for the whole life of the so called commonwealth of Australia, which is what one would expect from a rogue state built on genocide and land theft.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. kristapet March 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

    I meant “ring barking”


  6. paul walter. March 4, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    You have to see Centrelink as typical of a mindset. Jennifer Wilson would not have emphasised the key word “belief” without a purpose.

    I think Australia’s best political oversight or “vision” meta-columnist, Lenore Taylor, offers the apt context for understanding Jennifer Wilson’s concern. Together you get the micro and the macro.

    The result is an ugly Dorian Grey portrait of insanity ,arrogance, sadism and resulting incompetence that is driving this nation off a cliff.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. allthumbs March 4, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

    You can fairly I think, lay this squarely at the feet of Trumble and his slavish love for all things digital including the fingers he sticks in his ears to deaden the sound of his own accelerating demise.

    The algorithimic software programs now in place at Centrelink and Veterans Affairs are all seeing and all knowing and I daresay all judging and future protests by individuals to being mistreated, misrepresented or fined will mean no responsibility will be taken by the Government at all the responsibility of which has been outsourced to the company that provided the networked software program.

    Maybe a grudging letter of apology offered with a “due to a technical glitch a fault in your circumstances was by error recorded by this department and the return of your two children from Social Services will be expedited as soon as we can locate them in the system in the next 3-5 days”.

    Tie these systems to your bank accounts and your health care card, the software program that your company uses to pay you salary and wages, your superannuation contribution fund and the ATM network where you get your street cash (while cash still exists) and you’ll have your spending habits traced and checked and more often than not judged.

    And just like those Aboriginal communities where your spending habits are determined by some overseeing software program, they’ll make sure your contributions to the Economy are patriotic, profitable, taxable and timely, timely enough for Scott Morrison to give an hourly update on the decreasing deficit in mandatory app on your mobile phone, because we are all in this together.

    No wonder Malcom’s mother left him, she knew he would turn out to be a prick.

    Liked by 2 people

    • helvityni March 4, 2017 at 4:25 pm #

      🙂 especially for your last sentence, allthumbs. Later on his fellow students at school and at uni found him insufferable.

      No wonder he always talks about Lucy and I, she’s a friend for life….

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 5, 2017 at 8:49 am #



  8. halfbreeder March 4, 2017 at 4:59 pm #

    At law, a decision that only requires ‘belief’ requires that that ‘belief’ be reasonably held. That means there must be some objective fact that allows the ‘belief’ to be formed by a reasonable person. A lunatic…(like Tudge I guess)….could believe anything but that would not be reasonable. Hence, if Andie’s statements in the press report could not lead a reasonable person to form a belief that she was being misleading about her Centrelink experiences then the ‘belief’ required to make the decision has not been satisfied. If Andie’s article and statements, which admittredly I have not read, were concerned with her personal expereince of Centrelink at a subjective and emotional level, then it would be very hard for Tudge and his hack crony Jongen to find an objective fact to create the reasonable belief they require to make the decision to release her records, In efect, they would need to prove she was lying about her personal and emotional experiences. That they could not do. It is onbky likely to be misleading if she said something that mislead someone about Centrelink processes. From what I understand, it doesn’t seem that she has done this. That would mean Tudge’s release of her details is unlawful.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Marilyn March 4, 2017 at 6:47 pm #

      Are people even aware that public servants can arrest and jail anyone they ”think” might be here without a visa.

      Liked by 1 person

      • paul walter. March 4, 2017 at 7:55 pm #

        Yes, as you know, some of us believe that the current tranche of bullying from the government stems directly from the asylum seeker experiment.

        Entrenched attitudes here tended to see asylum seekers as “öutsiders”, beyond the realm of Australian responsibility and were well exploited by people like Ruddock.

        But now it is being applied here to Australia’s “öwn”, usually heralded by the same sort of vicious propaganda campaigns against asylum seekers and with the same shifty bendings of the law.

        .Firstly aborigines, then migrants, then people on welfare and latest but not least, part time workers, especially women and the young.

        The meaning of the refugee experience of disempowerment is beginning to sink in along with a recognition of what aussie politics really has been about since neoliberalism and divide and conquer with the rule in favour of those who want dominate and plunder Australia without interference emerged

        It is one of the reasons I posted the latest Lenore Taylor article: Whatever the economic claims from conservatives, journalists worthy of the name in their dwindling numbers will quickly and accurately point out that none of the “violence”. For want of a better word, it is applied to out groups hived away to weaken the solidarity of the centre.
        In both the political and economic senses, the current pol economics are not remotely required for the health of the country, but for the greed and appetite for control of plunderers and satisaction of control freaks, local and offshore.

        Taylor got it right a little while back on the massive royalties denied Australia by TNC’s and weak (corrupt?) local politicians and this article continues the explication.

        In commending that latest article, I add that examination of other areas of utter, deliberate in some cases, wastes; all this also shows the origins of a sense of of false crisis re finances, as the oligarchy continues to weaken the political fabric.

        I need mention only one phrase.that explains most of it even for political virgins; Rupert Murdoch and friends.

        Give the article a read, it will explain much for the perplexed.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 5, 2017 at 8:52 am #

      Thanks halfbreeder, that’s a clear extrapolation of reasonable belief.
      As DQ observed, Centrelink ought to be obliged to present such beliefs to a magistrate much as police do to obtain warrants.

      Liked by 1 person

      • halfbreeder March 6, 2017 at 1:12 am #

        Decisions of public servants can be challenged in Tribunals or courts under Administrative law provisions such as the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review Act) 1977 or at common law.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Jennifer Wilson March 7, 2017 at 3:18 pm #

          Yes, but it’s a bit late when they’ve slagged you all over the media.


          • paul walter. March 7, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

            First rule for dissenters: oilskins.


  9. AnnODyne March 4, 2017 at 5:06 pm #

    My residential location is without mail delivery. No ‘postie’, no letterboxes. Most of the 139 households in the wider area collect mail from the hotel which is the only retail in ‘town’. The management there is not benign and I recently had a lash of that ‘no privacy’ horror when they informed me in a throwaway remark, that they knew I had received a letter addressed to a farm 25 kms away. How could they have found out?
    The mail contractor whose van brings AusPost bags to all the map ‘dots’ had told them. I felt violated. I feel so sorry for Andie Fox whose violation was national.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. allthumbs March 4, 2017 at 5:14 pm #

    According to this article:


    Accenture and Capgemini were the favourites to get the gig, if it was Accenture it is comforting to know they are incorporated in Bermuda and Dublin, and if Capgemini got the gig, well…….


    What a bunch of schmucks we are.

    Liked by 3 people

    • AnnODyne March 4, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

      oh there’s that scare word ‘recruitment firm’.
      Sussan Ley’s party pal and cohort the ‘LNP-created billionaire’ Sarina Russo’s recruitment firm has abandoned jobseekers resumes to dumpsters in QLD as well as in the UK (my ref there is DailyMail but it could be true). These resumes might reveal a female age 19 living alone, address and email, cellphone etc. Could lead to physical danger by a crazy.
      How many MP’s would not mind if their Family Court records were blowing up the main street with all the other litter?

      Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter. March 5, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

      Wow, that is so monumental..reminds me of the privatised Nauru system. It answers so many questions and raises so many re the underlying mentalities and diabolical perversions of logic and ethics involved

      So many people made to suffer for this pointless and probably corruption riddled lunacy.

      Yet so much of msm remains conspicuously silent, it is deafening.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. doug quixote March 5, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    OT, I watched ‘Borat’ last night on SBS and I have never laughed so hard or so long at such antics. Sacha Baron Cohen is brilliant.

    Catch it if you can. 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • helvityni March 5, 2017 at 6:55 pm #

      Sacha Baron’s Borat is very funny, but his Ali G was even more so.

      Pauline Hanson (Insiders) was painful to watch, Cassidy treated her most gently…


      • doug quixote March 5, 2017 at 10:15 pm #

        Yes, from what I saw she thinks Putin is a role model.

        The Ali G character I found somewhat cringeworthy. But not as cringeworthy as Pauline, Cory and Donald; and almost as funny.


        • Moz of Yarramulla March 6, 2017 at 9:29 am #

          DQ, that’s been my problem with most politicians for a while now. They’re as cringe-inducing but not as funny as Ali G. Or, all too obviously, as smart or self-aware.


  12. paul walter. March 7, 2017 at 4:40 pm #

    Esp.for allthumbs but others can understand easily enough also


    and this:



    • allthumbs March 12, 2017 at 12:21 am #

      Thanks Paul. Computers and IA are particularly good at doing complicated things, very complicated things, the emphasis on the development of Robots has been in the professional realms.

      The fear of automation effecting the lower echelons of the working world has been overtaken by the mounting angst of lemming like fatalities to be suffered by the educated professional classes, namely in a bit of dodgy DIY they have taken with admirable gusto to the brush, tin of paint and the inescapable corner.

      Asimov’s three laws of robotics seem to have been totally ignored.



  1. When you hand over private info, you are not informed of a caveat on confidentiality | No Place For Sheep - March 5, 2017

    […] Canberra Times hack Paul Malone has today written a column headlined “Time for the truth behind Centrelink controversy and Andie Fox.” The piece is a particularly inept and resentful defence of his use of a citizen’s private data, given to him by DHS Minister Alan Tudge, to put Centrelink’s “side of the story” of a dispute between that user & the service provider. […]


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