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.