Thursday, 13 April 2017

Australian Dept. of Human Services and Centrelink sink to a new low

An automated Dept. of Human Services-Centrelink debt recovery system that launched an est. 230,000 investigations into client welfare paymentsin 2016-17, then used an error-prone “income averaging” method to decide that more than 133,000 clients had incurred a debt owed to Centrelink and sent them a bill which included a recovery fee.

During this entire debacle spokespersons for the Turnbull Government, the Department and Centrelink have attempted to mislead and misinform welfare clients, mainstream media and the general public.

Now we have been told that for months, perhaps years, the software program being used by Centrelink to run its access to online services portal left users vulnerable to phishing attacks which can steal their credentials including names, addresses, bank account details.

If this is yet another example of the innovative and agile government information technology Liberal and National Party MPs boast about - then gawd help us all!

Comment  on office of the Minister for Human Services, Mr Alan Tudge

By an IT consultant.......

That Victorian Legal Aid saw it necessary to update its advice to clients to warn them that their personal information is no longer safe with the Department is an extraordinary situation. This is not advice from tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists. This is sober advice from legal professionals that a major part of the Australian Government cannot be trusted. I cannot stress enough how bad this is.

This behaviour from the Department has had a chilling effect, as I believe it was intended to. This chilling effect is not theoretical. I have personally spoken to individuals who have been reluctant to speak out against the Department, either to the media or to this Inquiry, because they fear repercussions from the Department as they are dependant in some way on income support.

At one point I discussed these matters with the office of the Minister for Human Services, Mr Alan Tudge, and was alarmed to discover that his office did not share my view that the Department has an asymmetric power advantage over individuals. They were of the view that if an individual is critical of the Department in the media, they become fair game.

The attitude from Mr Tudge’s office appeared to be one of a siege mentality where they were at a substantial disadvantage despite the vast array of resources at their disposal, particularly when compared to an individual reliant on income support. They felt that there had been a lot of false information being reported in the media and that it was time for them to “start fighting back.” This adversarial attitude, coupled with the astounding levels of secrecy from the Department, indicates major cultural issues in the Department and in the responsible Minister’s office.

The Department of Human Services exists to serve the humans in our society. The clue is in the name of the department. If individuals within the Department are unhappy with their role, then they should be encouraged to seek employment elsewhere.

By a Queen's Counsel.......

ABC News, 3 April 2017:

One of Australia's leading criminal barristers believes Human Services Minister Alan Tudge — or one of his staff — may have broken the law by supplying a journalist with a Centrelink client's personal information.

Robert Richter, a Queen's Counsel and former chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, believes the disclosure could lead to a prison sentence if it is tested beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal court.

Mr Tudge has dismissed the legal advice, saying the disclosure was approved by his department's lawyers and was necessary to correct misleading public statements.

"I received clearance to release the information from the Chief Legal Counsel of the Department of Human Services, who is intimately across the details of the case and the relevant laws."

Mr Richter's advice was commissioned by Labor MP Linda Burney and his findings were based on public information, rather than inquiries with Mr Tudge's office.

In his opinion, it is "reasonably clear that either the Minister or one of his office's staff had committed an offence".

"We cannot presently put it higher without knowing precisely the content of the information that was disclosed and by whom it was disclosed," Mr Richter said……

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