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.

 

Tudge releases unauthorised documents, & where are the “leading” feminists?

2 Mar

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Please feel free to email, phone or visit this man with your opinions.

The Guardian has this afternoon reported that Human Services Minister Alan Tudge “accidentally” authorised the sending of confidential internal briefings concerning Centrelink complainant Andie Fox and marked “official use only,” to Fairfax journalist Paul Malone for publication.

The documents included information about Ms Fox from the Australian Tax Office. It’s unclear whether or not DHS has notified the ATO of this data breach.

The Guardian became aware of the “mistake” when the same documents were sent to that publication after journalists requested further information from DHS on the Tudge debacle.

Tudge has assured parliament that he lawfully authorised the release of Fox’s information to Malone. However, given he now claims some of those documents were “accidentally” released, he could not also have authorised them unless he authorised an accident, which is entirely possible and if so, situates us in even more bizarre territory than we found ourselves in yesterday.

It was also revealed today that Alan Tudge requires regular updates from his staff, gleaned from social media, on which Centrelink users are complaining about their experiences with that department.

Centrelink is stalking customers who publicly complain about their services.

Any Centrelink employee who released documents marked “for official use only” to the media would be sacked and prosecuted. I expect the same treatment for Minister Tudge. Don’t you?

Andie Fox is a single mother, chosen by Tudge as a scapegoat to distract from his astronomical incompetency. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, the power imbalance between Alan Tudge, Paul Malone of Fairfax, and Andie Fox is incalculable. As I’ve also noted before, there are thousands of complainants Tudge could have chosen to attack, however, he chose a single mother, one woman because, I suggest, he imagined her to be an easy target, and we know how the LNP feel about single mothers.

And yet not one leading feminist has seen fit to speak out about Ms Fox’s plight. Not one feminist with a platform has chosen to use it to discuss this situation. Not one leading feminist has got Ms Fox’s back, not one has questioned Tudge’s persecution of a single mother, not one has questioned the injustice of Ms Fox being in this situation in the first place because of her ex partner’s actions. A woman is under unprecedented attack by the Australian LNP government, and not one public feminist has said a word about it. WHY NOT?

To be continued. 

 

 

 

No need for Centrelink to prove your comments are adverse: they only need to think so before exposing you to media.

1 Mar

 

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Further to yesterday’s post on the release to Fairfax media of private information by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, the minister has justified his decision to take this action on the grounds that he is entitled by law to reveal personal details if the individual has made complaints in the media Centrelink considers false.

In other words, if you complain in the media about Centrelink, your private information can be released by that department in its own defence.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s Use or disclosure of personal information regulations address this situation thus:

6.22 Examples of where an individual may reasonably expect their personal information to be used or disclosed for a secondary purpose include where:

the individual makes adverse comments in the media about the way an APP [Australian Privacy Principles] entity has treated them. In these circumstances, it may be reasonable to expect that the entity may respond publicly to these comments in a way that reveals personal information specifically relevant to the issues that the individual has raised[8]

The APPs and the APP guidelines apply from 12 March 2014 and cover both Australian Government agencies and organisations covered by the Privacy Act. 

I would argue that it is never reasonable to expect that Centrelink will divulge your personal information to the media under any circumstances, and 6.22 needs to be scrapped. The paragraph makes no reference as to whether or not your adverse comments are justified. You only need to make comments Centrelink considers adverse for them to reveal your private information to the media. 

Criticism of a government agency can see you stripped of all privacy. Think about that.

This should make anyone who entrusts Centrelink and other government agencies with private information, very nervous.

At the same time, if you need Centrelink assistance you have no choice but to give them all the private information they require. This is a lose-lose situation for citizens, and it is entirely unacceptable.

Andie Fox, the subject of Tudge’s vengeful action, is a middle class professional woman, like millions of others who claim Family Tax Benefit, and the millions of older Australians who claim part pensions. Tudge, in this instance, has not gone after his stereotypical welfare recipient. So don’t feel you are safe in your demographic, because you aren’t. Should you get Centrelink offside, your private information can be given to the media whether your complaints are justified or not, without any consultation or warning.

There is a website titled “Not my debt” where you’ll find page after page of adverse commentary on Centrelink. There are thousands of critical tweets. There are hundreds of articles in mainstream media and the blogosphere dedicated to adverse commentary on Centrelink. Yet Alan Tudge went after one woman.

If you think your privacy is safe with government agencies as long as you keep your mouth shut, think about what kind of country you’re living in, and what kind of person you’re becoming because of it.

Centrelink is an apolitical body. An individual’s private information held by the agency must not employed as a silencing tool by the government of the day.

 

 

 

 

Fairfax and Centrelink unite in an unprecedented move to publicly persecute one woman.

28 Feb

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Early in February, writer and blogger Andie Fox published an account of her interactions with Centrelink over a failure by her ex partner to submit tax returns that led to the department issuing her with a debt notice for over-payment of Family Tax Benefit.

It’s a harrowing account and it resonated with very many people who’ve endured the tortuous process of attempting to explain their situation to Centrelink, after being notified of debt they do not carry. As you may recall, Centrelink is responsible for the unprecedented failure of an automated system that has harassed, threatened, engaged debt collectors and otherwise hounded citizens who have no debt, or a good deal less debt than the department claims.

On Monday, Fairfax journalist Paul Malone published an article titled Centrelink is an easy target for complaints but there are two sides to every story. The article contains the private details of Ms Fox’s interactions with Centrelink, provided to him by the department with the authority of the Minister for Human Services,  Alan Tudge.

Tudge later triumphantly tweeted the article, which contains details Ms Fox contests.

Just to make it clear: Centrelink has released the private details of an individual citizen without her permission in order to present Alan Tudge’s “side of the story.” 

In case there might be any doubt about Tudge’s intentions, Paul Malone and Fairfax have confirmed in their headline that Tudge’s only goal is to use the personal information of a citizen to present his side of the story.

Let’s first consider that both Alan Tudge and Paul Malone are protected by the institutions that employ them. Ms Fox is protected by nobody. So we have the unprecedented situation of Centrelink and Fairfax media joining forces to expose a citizen’s private data in an attempt to claw back some face for Alan Tudge, after the outrageously incompetent debt debacle he oversaw earlier this year.

This is not a question of “both sides of the story.” The actors have no equal ground. It is a breathtaking and unprecedented attack by the LNP government and a compliant Fairfax media on an individual. And it should make everyone of us very afraid.

Family Tax Benefit is paid to millions of families. Not one family is safe from exposure by Alan Tudge, not one, should that family publicly complain about Centrelink. Your private data is fair game in Tudge’s desperate and doomed efforts to appear competent.

There is absolutely no other reason for Centrelink to release Ms Fox’s private data to Fairfax media. Absolutely none.

In other words, any private data held by any government department can now be used as a weapon against you, should you have the temerity to publicly describe your interactions with that department. It can be used to put that department’s “side of the story.” It will be supplied to the media by faceless bureaucrats who do not have to be named, and authorised by their minister. 

You write a piece about Medicare? Expect to see you health records appear in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Can there be any more effective way to silence citizens than to threaten them with media exposure of their most private and intimate information?

In Australia today, the LNP and Fairfax media have joined forces in persecuting one woman to save a lamentably incompetent  minister’s face. Think about that. 

The very fact that Tudge has chosen this course of action confirms his incompetence, and his unfitness to hold his position.

There’s a lot more to be unpacked from this situation, too much for one blog post.

To be continued.

There’s honour even amongst morality’s dregs? Milo & the alt-right

22 Feb

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Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart editor, intellectual featherweight and fascist star turn adored by the alternate right who till yesterday saw him as a warrior king in their battle against “political correctness” and perceived left-wing censorship, has finally come spectacularly undone.

To the point where his followers (amongst them the likes of Rita Pahini, Chris Kenny and Andrew Bolt in this country) who have thus far endorsed his foul outbursts against Muslims, Jews, women and transgender people as an exercise of the right to free speech, have found themselves in unlikely and uncomfortable moral confusion over Milo’s positive attitude towards pedophilia, and overt sympathy for perpetrating catholic priests.

Yiannopoulos was to have given the keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference later this month, and yesterday (a bad day for Milo) organisers felt compelled to withdraw their invitation.

Breitbart News, whose former editor-in-chief Steve Bannon is now President Donald Trump’s lead strategist, is reportedly considering dumping Milo. At least we now know the alt-right’s bottom line: slander anyone on grounds of race, ethnicity, sexual preference and gender, but don’t publicly advocate pedophilia. There’s honour even amongst morality’s dregs, apparently.

Publishing house Simon and Schuster yesterday dropped Milo, terminating their contract to publish his forthcoming book. They stood by him while he slandered Jews, Muslims, women and transgender people for money and spectacle, but apparently a line was crossed with his sympathetic stance towards pedophilia.

It’s gratifying to witness the extreme right writhe in unaccustomed moral anguish when confronted with speech even they cannot accept. Who knew there was such a thing?

Yiannopoulos attempted to defend himself: “My book has been canceled”  he wailed on Facebook (Twitter having banned him some time ago) in baffled outrage, getting the spelling wrong in his time of extremity as anyone might.

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange then rushed to Milo’s defence from his lounge room in the Ecuadorean Embassy, tweeting that poor Milo is the victim of “politics disguised as morality” and, god help us, he’s been censored!

Well, Assange is wrong: Milo hasn’t been censored. Any publisher can publish him, he can self-publish, and any organisation is free to extend him an invitation to keynote. If they choose to ignore him that is not censorship, you’d think Assange, of all people, would understand that.

What Milo is experiencing are the consequences of free speech. He remains free to say whatever he wants, in the US at least.  Others have equal freedom to decline to listen and disseminate his speech. Refusing to listen and disseminate is not censorship, it’s exercising the agency and the right to decline to listen and disseminate.

Many among us have experienced the refusal to listen, and to disseminate our points of view, not a few of us from the very groups Milo has singled out for discrimination and contempt. He’s had a good run. Now his masters are done with him. You can’t go round advocating the rape and molestation of young boys, even amongst the alt-right, it seems. Who knew they had standards?

Update: Milo resigns from Breitbart:

And this is just for fun: 

Fake threats, and democracy.

18 Feb

 

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Demands that we be kept “safe” by governments play into the hands of conservatives who simultaneously, and with an alarming degree of cognitive dissonance, express their distaste for a nanny state while instigating extreme measures they claim will fulfil both our expectations of safety, and their responsibility to fulfil those expectations.

All too often those measures are an opportunity for authorities to increase surveillance, harvest personal information and exert unnecessary control over citizens, resulting in an erosion of rights that does nothing to keep us safe but rather makes us increasingly vulnerable, not to terrorists but to the state.

As in the family, so in public life. The greatest threat to our safety is allegedly the stranger, in both the private and the public narrative. So we have President Trump’s seven country “Muslim” ban in the US, designed to make Americans safe. In Australia we have the secretive, punitive Department of Immigration and Border Protection, with their ring of steel around our borders and their concentration camps off-shore. Both governments justify extreme measures with repeated assurances that their only objective is to keep us safe.

However, in the case of both family and country, danger is far more likely to come from within the circle than from without: the family is potentially the most dangerous place for women and children, and terrorism is overwhelmingly perpetrated by citizens/permanent residents of the target country rather than refugees, or foreigners who enter the country with the specific aim of conducting attacks.

In a liberal democracy we are supposed to be participants. We have agency. The degree of safety we demand governments provide is incompatible with the freedoms we rightly expect. Governments are not our parents. While as children we are entitled to protection, as adults we have no such entitlements. Protection and safety must be a joint venture: we have to participate in ensuring our own welfare. Once we relinquish our responsibility, we’re on the road to totalitarianism.

Democracy isn’t just the right to vote. It’s a way of being.

Neither will government assurances of safety from external threat protect us from what is most pressingly dangerous: violence in homes and institutions.

Governments are most reluctant to commit resources to these obvious threats to safety and stability.  Instead, billions are wasted on the containment of fake threats, and we continue to face real threats grossly under-supported and largely unacknowledged. Our protection in this instance does not require state intrusion into personal life: it requires adequate money and front-line resources administered by competent and experienced citizens, not politicians.

This is an example of democracy working. Secretive bureaucracies are not democratic, and neither is taking money from those in difficult circumstances to fund tax benefits for corporations turning billion dollar profits.

The robust exchange of views between Senator Jacqui Lambie and Islamic youth leader Yassmin Abdel-Magied, broadcast on ABC’s Q&A last week, is a complex example of the degree to which fake threats dominate our discourse. It also inadvertently provided a seminar in free speech, when a number of organisations petitioned the ABC to provide a “safe environment” in which Muslims may speak.

Senator Lambie has obviously swallowed the fake terrorism threat, as is evidenced in her noisy opposition to what she perceives as the imminent danger of Australia becoming subject to what she understands as Sharia law. At present, I’d argue, Australia is faced with the rather more urgent matter of dealing with the consequences of Catholic Canon law than with Islamic tenets, sad confirmation of the theory that the stranger is not our largest and most immediate danger.

I don’t like Lambie’s views on the matter of Sharia law, or her manner of expressing them, however, such views exist and attempting to silence them is not a useful option. Currently, the voices of prejudice, fear and hatred seem to have wrenched the mic from voices of reason and good will. We are under the governance of a conservative ideology that values combat and domination over citizens’ and community interests, while offering fake protection from outside forces in order to conceal that ideology’s very real threat to civil society.

Sharia law is not currently an issue for Australia: political negligence on matters of survival such as climate change and social inequality and injustice are.

I don’t yet know how we get the mic back. I don’t think anybody does. I don’t think forcible silencing of opposition is an option. It’s impossible to dictate the tone and language in which opposition is couched. Once again, personal responsibility stands side by side with freedoms. That there are people with platforms taking little or no responsibility for their speech and its possible consequences is truly awful, but it’s reality.

For mine, freedom of speech was exercised by all parties in the Q&A example, including the freedom of organisations to get up a petition protesting the event, and the freedom of their supporters to sign it.

This is how we contest fake threats. By embracing democracy as a way of being, not just something we perform at the ballot box every few years. It isn’t any government’s sole responsibility to keep us and democracy safe, and once we relinquish agency, we have truly lost all hope of safety, and returned to infantile dependence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turnbull’s faith in coal is weak: his home is ready to go off-grid.

13 Feb

 

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Today, FOI documents confirmed that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was advised that last year’s power blackouts in South Australia were not due to renewable energy failures, but to severe weather conditions that caused unprecedented damage to the network.

Turnbull decided to ignore this advice as it does not align with his commitment to fossil fuels and his party’s entrenched opposition to renewables. Instead, he and his ministers seized the opportunity to politicise the blackouts by blaming the generation mix and the South Australian Labor government, despite having been advised by concerned bureaucrats that in so doing, they were disseminating false information to the Australian people.

Federal Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg claimed that state and federal Labor governments had recklessly committed to ambitious new energy targets, using the SA blackouts as an example of how renewables are allegedly unstable, and allegedly lead to energy insecurity.

These men, along with Barnaby Joyce and other politicians, deliberately misled both parliament and the public, seizing the opportunity to manipulate and obfuscate for their personal and political gain, without any regard for the wellbeing of the country and its citizens. They are traitors.

Turnbull has done an extraordinary backflip from fighting to introduce a carbon price and losing the leadership of his party for his pains, to attacking Labor for “ideological obsession” with renewables at the expense of “energy security.”

However, Turnbull’s commitment to coal and gas does not extend to his personal life. Apparently he is not fully persuaded that coal and gas do indeed provide sufficient energy security. We learned today that the Prime Minister does not seem to be walking his talk, and has installed battery storage in his Point Piper home.

Turnbull also recently upgraded his solar array, to the point where he could almost go off-grid.

As was noted on Twitter, Turnbull is protecting himself and his family from the inconveniences, distresses and dangers of power outages in a NSW market dominated by coal, with renewable technology his policies vehemently oppose.

Turnbull is a hypocrite, as well as a traitor.

In the meantime, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) which is currently considering a $1billion loan to mining giant Adani, has refused a Greenpeace FOI request for dates and locations of upcoming board meetings, on the grounds that it could encourage protesters and media interest if they were made public. This is an acceptable reason for refusing a FOI request? We shall find out. Greenpeace is appealing the refusal.

Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia, writes Ian Verrender, in a piece that is worth a read.

I’m sure Malcolm Turnbull knows there is no future for coal.  I’m also sure he doesn’t care.

Turnbull will gamble with the future of the country and its citizens, many of whom suffer through upwards of 47 degree heat-waves without the benefit of battery storage, because Turnbull wants to keep the job he bought himself for $1.7 million.

And we thought we couldn’t do worse than Abbott.

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