Monday 25 December 2017

*Season's Greetings From North Coast Voices, December 2017*

As is our usual practice North Coast Voices will not be posting comment between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
We hope to see you all in 2018!

*Scarlet Robin photograph by Flock Wildlife found at Difficult Bird Research Group

Sunday 24 December 2017

Santa spotted arriving in Australia!

No Christmas gift for Turnbull Government from Newspoll and nothing under the tree for most of us

There were definitely no bright shiny ribbons on this Lib-Nats Christmas box as Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, along with his ministers, senators and MPs, trailed in the 25th consecutive Newspoll.

In Daily, 18 December 2017:

Labor leads the Coalition by 53 per cent to 47, representing a national swing against the government of three per cent.

The poll of 1669 voters across the country, conducted for The Australian over the weekend, shows the Coalition has made no ground in the past two weeks with Labor maintaining a one-point primary vote lead of 37.

Nor was there a Christmas gift for average Australian families in this little budgetary effort by Messrs. Turnbull, Morrison and Cormann set out below.

Because the bottom line is that:
wages growth is expected to remain low; 
the national unemployment rate isn't predicted to fall below 5.25% in the foreseeable future; 
there are additional funding cuts in education;
so-called debt recovery from welfare recipients will continue with enhancements;
reductions in certain types of welfare payment also continue apace; 
tha taxation system remains skewed against ordinaty workers AND 
government gross debt continues to grow across the forward estimates while government revenue growth is somewhat subdued.

There is also no Treasury forecast that Morrison's promiseded 2020-21 $23 billion reduction of the 2018-19 projected $591 billion total gross government debt will actually happen.

Is the Berejiklian Government treating a conservation trust & koala protection fund as a method to pork barrel on the NSW North Coast ahead of the next state election?

The koala population of New South Wales ends the year as it began - in danger of localised extinction on the NSW North Coast and widespread extinction across the state.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 December 2017:

Koala populations are under siege in many parts of NSW, including the far north coast of NSW. 
Photo: Cole Bennetts

The Berejiklian government proceeded to buy two blocks of land for koala habitat, overriding internal concerns the purchases were "not a priority" as protections were already in place.

The acquisition of the land in the Tweed Shire earlier this year comes as a new poll finds strong strong local support for new koala national parks.

There is also confirmation the state's new biodiversity conservation act prevents threatened regional populations of any species - including koalas - securing elevated endangered status.

Documents released under freedom of information to the North Coast Environment Centre (NCEC) reveal Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) staff doubted the benefits of paying almost $1 million for about 104 hectares of land for koala protection near Pottsville, north of Byron Bay……

Ashley Love, a spokesman for the North Coast Environment Council, said the spending appeared aimed at shoring up support for National MPs in marginal electorates in the region.

Mr Love is also concerned the government will squander the $10 million koala fund - meant to protect "vital" habitat - and a separate $240 million biodiversity conservation trust to protect land with high conservation values.

"It was a bad precedent at the very beginning of when this government's going to spend a lot of money on private land," he said…..

A ReachTEL of 700 residents in the state seat of Lismore found 68.3 per cent of participants in Lismore town and 71.9 per cent in Ballina support the creation of national parks to protect koalas from logging and land clearing.

"This polling shows that were the government to create them, they would be broadly welcomed,"  Alix Goodwin, chief executive of the NSW National Parks Association, said.

"We expect that the forthcoming Whole of Government Koala Strategy will reflect the wishes of the community and include new protected areas."

The new biodiversity conservation act, which is widely viewed as easing controls on land-clearing, has also stripped the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee of its ability to highlight localised threats to species.

The independent NSW Scientific Committee made a preliminary finding in August that the koala population near Port Stephens was endangered as it is '"facing a very high risk of extinction in NSW in the near future."

However, the new conservation regulations passed later that month precluded a local population of a species from having a separate rating if it already listed. Koalas are deemed "vulnerable" in NSW.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Quote of the Week

“When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process”  [US DoJ Special Counsel’s Office spokesperson, Peter Carr speaking about Trump Transition Team emails, in Slate on 17 December 2017]

Tweet of the Week

Friday 22 December 2017

Adani circles the wagons in Queensland

@AnnastaciaMP exercising the Queensland Government's right of veto

Townsville Bulletin, 18 December 2017:

ADANI has announced it will part ways with its main contractor for its Carmichael megamine.

The Indian mining giant released a statement this morning heralding the change, which comes after Downer pulled information on Adani recruitment events from its website.

Downer was set to develop and operate the mine, but Adani will instead run the mine as an owner-operator.

“Following on from the NAIF veto last week, and in line with its vision to achieve the lowest quartile cost of production by ensuring flexibility and efficiencies in the supply chain, Adani has decided to develop and operate the mine on an owner operator basis,” it read.

“Adani and Downer have mutually agreed to cancel all Letter of Awards and Downer will provide transitional assistance until 31st March 2018.

“Adani remains committed to develop the Carmichael project and will ensure the highest level of standards and governance.

Map of section Galilee Basin, Qld

Can you even imagine personally owing the NSW Government over $204k in unpaid fines? Somebody in the Northmead area can.

As of 30 June 2017 approximately 515,437 debtors owed the NSW State Debt Recovery Office a whopping $839,762,236 as a result of 2,524,845 fines being generated.

The nature of these fines range from penalty notices (e.g. parking fines) through to court fines, State Electoral Office fines, Sheriff Office Jury Branch fines and Bail Forfeiture Orders.

These fines are all overdue and an unknown number of these debtors are serial defaulters.

Here are the top five serial offenders:

The person owing the largest dollar amount hails from the Northmead area, the second largest has an address in the vicinity of Waterloo-Zetland, the third is somewhere in Artarmon and, the fourth & fifth seem to call the Eastern Suburbs home.

In the 2016-17 financial year the State Debt Recovery Office wrote off est. $68.23 million in  debt still outstanding.

Thursday 21 December 2017

The true nature of Noble Caledonian Limited?

One can tell a great deal about a corporation if one looks at when and how it was created.

The Noble Caledonia cruise line* likes to brag that it was created in 1991 out of a passion for small ships.

The company which created the cruise line was called Quayshelfco  382 Limited (incorporated 1 August 1991) before its name change to Noble Caledonia Limited registered on 30 October 1991 and, it has extremely long articles of association.

Here is just one sub-clause:


Noble Caledonia also likes to boast that; Being an independent company where the owners are involved in all aspects puts us in a unique place. From this position of freedom and not having to pander to shareholders and financial institutions....

In fact this company is owned by Noble Caledonia Holdings Limited which in turned is owned by its shareholders Arawak Travel Holdings Limited (formerly Arawak Capital Limited) and Cruising Investments (NC) Pty Ltd and, the ultimate controlling party is Polhavet AB a company registered in Sweden.  Noble Caledonia Limited is not always free of the need "to pander" to financial insitutions as the group appears to borrow large sums as required.

* See opinion on Noble Caledonia's operations in Australia & South Pacific at

Who is Trump defending? His discriminatory administration or vulnerable people?

Who is Trump defending? His discriminatory administration or vulnerable people? 

Odds are Donald Trump is attempting to disguise his war against science, the environment, women's reproductive rights, people with disabilities, vulnerable groups and all Americans living in poverty.

Washington Post, 15 December 2017:

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation's top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases - including "fetus" and "transgender" - in any official documents being prepared for next year's budget.
Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are: "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based."
In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of "science-based" or "evidence-based," the suggested phrase is "CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes," the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.
The question of how to address such issues as sexual orientation, gender identity and abortion rights - all of which received significant visibility under the Obama administration - has surfaced repeatedly in federal agencies since President Donald Trump took office. Several key departments - including Health and Human Services, which oversees CDC, as well as Justice, Education and Housing and Urban Development - have changed some federal policies and how they collect government information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
In March, for example, HHS dropped questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in two surveys of elderly people.
HHS has also removed information about LGBT Americans from its website. The department's Administration for Children and Families, for example, archived a page that outlined federal services that are available for LGBT people and their families, including how they can adopt and receive help if they are the victims of sex trafficking.
At the CDC, the meeting about the banned words was led by Alison Kelly, a senior leader in CDC's Office of Financial Services, according to the CDC analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly. Kelly did not say why the words are being banned, according to the analyst, and told the group that she was merely relaying the information.
Other CDC officials confirmed the existence of a list of forbidden words. It's likely that other parts of HHS are operating under the same guidelines regarding the use of these words, the analyst said.
At the CDC, several offices have responsibilities for work that uses sAt the CDC, several offices have responsibilities for work that uses some of these words. The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention is working on ways to prevent HIV among transgender people and reduce health disparities. The CDC's work on birth defects caused by the Zika virus, for example, includes research on the developing fetus.
The ban is related to the budget and supporting materials that are to be given to CDC's partners and to Congress, the analyst said. The president's budget for 2019 is expected to be released in early February. The budget blueprint is generally shaped to reflect an administration's priorities.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

"F-aaaaark!" the crow calls in the skies over Canberra

It’s hard to believe that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Cabinet were not three sheets to the wind when they drew up this short list………..

ABC News, 18 December 2017:

After more than a year of speculation, the ABC has confirmed Attorney-General George Brandis will leave Parliament to take up the post of Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

The move will be announced as part of a broader pre-Christmas reshuffle of Malcolm Turnbull's Cabinet, to be detailed tomorrow.

Among the contenders to replace Senator Brandis as attorney-general are Social Services Minister Christian Porter and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash….

And I thought the Turnbull Government ministerial line up couldn't get any worse........

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, media release, 19  December 2017:

I have refreshed my Ministry to reflect the priorities and values of my Government.

The Ministry features two new, major portfolios: one focused on job creation, the other on national security. This reflects my Government’s determination to provide opportunity and security for every Australian.

We have entrusted those portfolios to two of our most experienced and respected Ministers.

Peter Dutton will become Minister for Home Affairs, for the first time bringing together the nation’s security, border and intelligence agencies under one department.

Senator Michaelia Cash will become Minister for Jobs and Innovation, charged with harnessing the policies of the government to create more jobs and job opportunities.

Senator Cash will be a key part of the Government’s economic team working to deliver on our commitment of more jobs, more investment, and stronger economic growth.

I’m delighted to welcome Barnaby Joyce back as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport - a vital portfolio as the Government rolls out its record $75 billion infrastructure program.

Christian Porter will become Attorney General, a role he previously held in the West Australian State Government.

Mathias Cormann will take on the additional role Special Minister of State. Mathias’s expanded portfolio is testament to his outstanding performance as a Cabinet Minister.

Kelly O’Dwyer will take on the additional role of Minister for Women, which was previously held by Senator Cash.

I am pleased to welcome five new members of Cabinet.

Deputy Nationals Leader Bridget McKenzie joins Cabinet as Minister for Sport, Rural Health and Regional Communications. Bridget has long campaigned for better services for regional communities.

Michael Keenan will join Cabinet as Minister for Human Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation - a central role in ensuring all Australians get the services they expect when dealing with the Government, particularly as more and more services shift online.

Dan Tehan will join Cabinet in the critical role of Minister for Social Services. He will work closely with the newly created role of Assistant Minister for Children and Families, which will be filled by David Gillespie, as well as with Jane Prentice, who has been doing an outstanding job as Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services.

John McVeigh, who previously served as a minister in the Queensland Liberal National Party State Government, will join Cabinet as Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government.

David Littleproud will become Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. He will bring to the role two decades of experience in agribusiness before he joined parliament.

This new Cabinet will not include some familiar faces.

Senator Arthur Sinodinos wrote to me this week to tell me his medical treatment is taking longer than anticipated and he is unlikely to be able to return from leave until the middle of next year.

In those circumstances, he has asked that he not be included in this new ministry.

Senator Sinodinos is one of this generation’s most accomplished and experienced public servants and his contributions to the Cabinet have been sorely missed since his illness was first diagnosed.

Naturally, we wish him well in his recovery and I look forward to him regaining full health and returning to a senior Ministerial or other government role in the future.

Senator George Brandis, who after 17 years of distinguished service in the Senate, has signalled his plans to stand down.

Senator Brandis has been a stalwart of this Government in the Senate, particularly in the past couple of years given the difficulties of negotiating with a large and, at times, unpredictable crossbench.

Senator Brandis' legacy as Attorney General will be remembered for two things in particular. First, it was on his watch as Attorney, and in so small measure thanks to his eloquent advocacy over many years, that Australia legislated for marriage equality.

Secondly, as the Minister responsible for domestic national security since 2013, he undertook the most comprehensive reforms of our national security laws to keep Australians safe.

I hope that Senator Brandis’ public service to the nation is not over. Early in the new year I intend to recommend to the Governor-General that he be appointed as Australia’s new High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. I know he will excel at this role.

Senator Brandis’ position as Leader of the Senate will be filled by Senator Cormann, who has been integral in steering the Government’s agenda through the Senate. His determination and his counsel are invaluable.

I obviously consult with the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Nationals on the makeup of the Ministry.

I take this opportunity to thank Darren Chester for his significant contributions to the Cabinet as the outgoing Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. I know that we will all continue to call on his wisdom and experience.

Changes in the Outer Ministry reflect this Government’s focus on business enterprise, national security and families.

Craig Laundy is promoted to the role of Minister for Small & Family Business, Workplaces and Deregulation. Craig spent two decades in private business before joining Parliament so will bring unique insight into the challenges faced by small businesses.

He will take direct responsibility for workplace relations and will work closely with Senator Cash in her new role to ensure the Government is doing everything possible to give companies the confidence they need to invest and create jobs, and to give Australians the confidence they can get the skills and opportunities they need to find a job or land a better paying job.

Michaelia Cash, Craig Laundy and Zed Seselja - as the new Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation - will work together to make sure we harness the jobs of the future through new industries and small business so Australians can adapt and thrive in this era of innovation and technological change.

As Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton will be supported by two Ministers: Angus Taylor as Minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity and Alan Tudge as Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs.

He will also continue to have the assistance of Alex Hawke as Assistant Minister for Home Affairs.

The Department of Home Affairs will keep Australians safer by ensuring full coordination between ASIO, the AFP, Australian Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and AUSTRAC. It will also contribute enormously to nation building through its focus on our immigration program.

Paul Fletcher will take on an expanded role as Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, charged with ensuring the Government’s infrastructure program meets its objectives of reducing congestion and improving the liveability of our cities. He will also continue the delivery of City Deals with state and local governments around the country.

After serving as Minister for Small Business since last year, Michael McCormack will become Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel and will assist me in this final year of the ANZAC centenary.

Melissa Price joins the Ministry as Assistant Minister for the Environment. She will work closely with Minister for Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg and is tasked with developing and implementing the Government’s policies on issues as broad as climate change, Landcare and the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

In the new role of Assistant Minister for Children and Families, Dr David Gillespie will work with the Minister for Social Services, Dan Tehan, to ensure children get the best start in life and families get all the support they need.

Damian Drum, currently the Chief Nationals Whip, will join the ministry as Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister.

David Coleman, who came to Parliament after a long career in business, is also elevated to the ministry as Assistant Minister for Finance, while Luke Hartsuyker moves to the role of Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

I thank Keith Pitt for his service in the Assistant Trade Minister role.

The Ministry is filled with energy and rich with diverse life experiences.

Together we look forward to securing and delivering a safer and more prosperous Australia. [My yellow highlighting]

Complete Federal Ministry List here.

One of the reasons why local government, traditional owners and communities in the Clarence Valley should be very wary of home-grown and foreign lobbyists, investment consortiums and land developers

On 15 August 2016 four representatives of United Land Councils Ltd & United First Peoples Syndications Pty Ltd gave evidence before the NSW Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No. 6 INQUIRY INTO CROWN LAND.

One of the projects put forward to the Inquiry by those representatives was the industrialisation of the Clarence River estuary by way of construction of a mega freight port.

The following tale involves a number of persons or firms associated with the aforementioned  companies and this mega port & rail project, including Nick Petroulias aka Michael Felson aka Nick Peterson.

The Newcastle Herald, 21 October 2017:

HE WAS brash and brilliant. A young lawyer from Melbourne who became a rising star of the public service, hand-picked to serve as assistant tax commissioner by the age of 30.

That was until a spectacular fall from grace left Nick Petroulias jailed for using his plum position to do the very thing he was tasked with stamping out: defrauding the tax office.

Since his release from prison in 2010, Mr Petroulias has kept a low profile, going by a number of aliases including Michael Felson and Nick Petersen.

He described himself as a “disabled pensioner” on bankruptcy forms in 2015, with his debts estimated at an eye-watering $104 million.

But Fairfax Media can reveal that he has been accused of working behind the scenes to dupe a wealthy Chinese property developer into the illegal purchase of $12.6 million of Aboriginal land across Newcastle.

The matter is the subject of a Supreme Court legal battle that veteran lawyers have described as one of the most extraordinary cases they have seen in their careers.

Labelled by a lawyer familiar with the case as a real-life version of “Alice in Wonderland”, its cast of characters includes an international fugitive known as Robbie Rocket, a convicted drug dealer and a dead company director who somehow continued signing agreements a year after he was cremated in a Sydney cemetery.

The existence of an international money laundering syndicate and a karaoke junket intended as a bribery attempt are among the other sensational allegations contained within thousands of pages of evidence that have been tendered to the court.

Collectively, the lands were valued at $12.6 million.

Two Awabakal board members met with Mr Zong. At the negotiating table, they introduced him to Mr Petroulias – an agent for the parties involved – and Knightsbridge North Lawyers, a firm enlisted to broker the deal.

The only catch, Mr Zong was informed, was that the portfolio of land had already been sold to another buyer a year beforehand.

But he was assured that in return for a payment, that purchaser would remove themself from the picture.

By the end of the year, things appeared to be proceeding smoothly. 

Mr Zong had signed sales contracts, begun pursuing the land’s rezoning and outlaid nearly a million dollars – money he believed was a combination of a deposit and a payout for the former buyer.

But then came a shock announcement that threatened to derail the transaction: the state government had launched an investigation into the land council.

The investigation followed complaints about the land council’s governance and finances.

But Mr Zong alleges he was reassured the deal was still on a steady footing. He claims to have been told by Mr Petroulias that “there was no reason arising from the investigation that would compromise the validity of the transaction documents”. 

However, damning findings from the government’s investigator resulted in the land council being placed into administration. Then, the confirmation came: the sale was off.

Mr Zong ordered the immediate repayment of his $1 million, but his demands were refused. His property development companies – Sunshine Property Investment Group and Sunshine Warners Bay –  launched a civil claim for damages and to recoup the losses.

Caught in the legal crossfire was the land council, its law firm Knightsbridge, and the land’s original buyer, a mysterious company registered under the name Gows Heat.

Since it was placed into administration last year, the Awabakal land council has been under the control of Terry Lawler, a prominent Newcastle financier and philanthropist awarded an OAM in January.

Mr Lawler has recruited a high-powered legal team – including top silk Jeremy Kirk SC – to defend the land council and launch a cross-claim.

They have argued that the sales contracts Mr Zong signed were bogus and none of the proceeds found their way into the land council’s coffers.

Read the full article here.

The Newcastle Herald, 15 December 2017:

A wealthy Chinese developer appears set to withdraw a lawsuit against the Awabakal Aboriginal Local Land Council. 

Tony Zong and his Sunshine Property Investment Group had alleged they were conned into a deal to purchase $12.6 million of Aboriginal land across the city.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court heard the matter – involving disgraced former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias – was “painfully close” to being resolved. 

It’s understood Awabakal lawyers want the land council’s costs covered as part of the settlement. 

“There doesn’t seem to be terribly much at issue in the Sunshine matter now except for the terms of discontinuance,” Justice Darke said. 

A separate action against Awabakal is also making its way through the courts. 

Knightsbridge North Lawyers has placed a caveat over the old Newcastle Post Office while it pursues the land council for $26,743 in alleged unpaid fees. 

Justice Darke indicated mediation could occur if the matter remained unresolved when the case returns to court in February. 

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Turnbull Government's data retention privacy blunder just rolls on and on...

“If data can be re-identified with no more than SQL, there's no "if" about a leak, and the "when" is history.” [Journalist Richard Chirgwin, Twitter 18 December 2017]

“But why are medical records so attractive? Well, it turns out that there’s a metaphorical holiday feast of enticing data served up in your average health record. Family history, demographic data, insurance information, medications, etc. means there’s enough information to completely steal an individual’s identity and commit medication fraud, financial fraud, insurance fraud and a wide array of other crimes. When this very private, unchangeable information gets into the wrong hands, devastation can ensue.” [Robert Lord writing in Forbes, 15 December 2017]

First the Australian general public were told that patient data was well protected and data breaches wouldn't happen as a result of government's drive to collect, cross-match and retain as much information about each and every Australian citizen/permanent resident as possible.

Then when the inevitable day came where poor data security was laid bare - as the personal histories of 550,000 blood donors were placed on an insecure computer and accessed, as Medicare details began to be offered for sale on the Internet's dark web and Medicare itself became careless with its encryption -  the public was told in the first instance that misuse was unlikely, in the second instance that personal medical information couldn't be accessed and that patients couldn't really be individually identified in the third instance where a billion line encrypted data set was publicly released.

After that the Turnbull Government assured the population that it would create legislation which would make it illegal for anyone to de-encrypt anonymised data and create a Notifiable Data Breaches scheme.

We were all going to be safe once more in the arms of the Turnbull Government.

Now the cat is out of the bag, because that billion-line 30 year's worth of personal health information about est. 3 million people just won't stay in the back of the ministerial cupboard where Greg Hunt shoved it.

 [Fairfax journalist Ben GrubbTwitter 18 December 2017]

The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 December 2017:

One in ten Australians' private health records have been unwittingly exposed by the Department of Health in an embarrassing blunder that includes potentially exposing if someone is on HIV medication, whether mothers have had terminations, or if mentally unwell people are seeing psychologists.

A report, published on Monday by Dr Chris Culnane, Dr Benjamin Rubinstein and Dr Vanessa Teague from the University of Melbourne's School of Computing and Information Systems, outlines how de-identified historical health data from the Australian Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) released to the public in August 2016 can be re-identified using known information about the person to find their record.

The study reveals unique patient records matching the online public information of seven prominent Australians, including three (former or current) MPs and an AFL footballer. While a unique match may not always be accurate, Dr Rubinstein said there was the possibility to improve confidence by cross-referencing other data.

"Because only 10 per cent of Australians are included in the sample data, there can be a coincidental resemblance to someone who isn't included," he said.

"We can improve confidence by cross-referencing with a second dataset of population-wide billing frequencies. We can also examine uniqueness according to the characteristics of commercial datasets we know of, such as bank billing data."…….

Privacy analyst and Lockstep consultant Stephen Wilson said the breach damaged public confidence in health policy makers and data custodians.

"It's a huge breach of trust," he said.

"Promises of 'de-identification' and 'anonymisation' made by health officials, and ABS too in connection with census data releases, have been shown to be erroneous.

"The ability to re-identify patients from this sort of public release is frankly, in my view, catastrophic. Real dangers are posed to patients with socially difficult conditions.

"It beggars belief that any official would promise 'anonymity' any more. These promises cannot be kept."

Computer security researcher Troy Hunt said re-identification of anonymised records was attractive to researchers and nefarious parties alike.

"In this case, clearly more work needs to be done to protect individuals' identities,' he said. "My hope is that the government embraces responsible research like this and strives to improve confidentiality rather than penalise those seeking to report deficiencies such as this."

The federal Department of Health was notified about the issue December last year.

"The Department of Health takes this matter very seriously and had already referred this to the Privacy Commissioner," a Department of Health spokesperson told Fairfax Media......

Meanwhile, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which houses Australia's privacy commissioner, said it was investigating the publication of the datasets.

"The investigation was opened under section 40(2) of the Australian Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) in late September 2016 when the Department of Health notified the OAIC that the datasets were potentially vulnerable to re-identification," a spokesperson said.

"Given the investigation into the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) datasets is ongoing, we are unable to comment on it further at this time.

However, the commissioner will make a public statement at the conclusion of the investigation."

The OAIC said it continued to work with Australian government agencies to enhance privacy protection in published datasets.....

Australian Labor Party will not support Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 in its current form

Labor MP for Jagajaga and Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Jenny Macklin, media release. 5 December 2017:


Federal Labor will support the continuation of the existing cashless debit card trial sites in Ceduna and the East Kimberley. 

However Labor will not support the rollout of the cashless debit card to the two new proposed sites of Bundaberg and the Goldfields due to insufficient consultation with these communities, and the widespread criticism of the evaluation and the effectiveness of the card.

After conducting our own consultations with people in Bundaberg and the Goldfields and hearing evidence from the Senate Inquiry, it has become clear that Labor cannot support Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 in its current form. 

Labor believes that there is insufficient credible evidence at this point to support the establishment of further trials of the cashless debit card. 

The flawed Orima Evaluation of the existing trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley was inconclusive.

The Orima evaluation was subject to detailed criticism from leading academics, including Dr Janet Hunt from ANU, who said the evaluation does: “not present adequate evidence of the trial leading to successful outcomes for participants…. it is impossible to have confidence that the trial actually succeeded.”

Given the significant cost of the trials, an accrued cost of around $25.5 million or about $12,000 per participant, we must be sure that the cashless card can deliver its stated objectives. 

We have consistently said that we will take a community-by-community approach to the further rollout of the cashless debit card. 

Labor also has concerns that two years is not long enough for communities to determine whether there has been any real benefit from the introduction of the cashless debit card.

We are hearing that the communities in the existing trial sites want to continue using the card, and see the trial through.  

We will continue to support the continuation of the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley for these reasons. 

Labor will move amendments to the Bill to extend the end date for the trials in Ceduna and the East Kimberley to 30 June 2019 so that a proper evaluation can take place over a longer trial period. 

We have always said that we are supportive of community driven initiatives designed to tackle chronic alcohol abuse. But they must be genuinely community driven and not be part of a top-down approach. 

Labor understands that entrenched disadvantage cannot, and will not, be solved by income management alone. That’s why we have always advocated for the Government to provide additional wraparound supports to participating communities. 

We are calling on the Senate to support our amendment that funding for these vital wraparound service be guaranteed in the legislation. 

In future, Labor will only consider the introduction of any new trial sites if the Government can show that the community have agreed through a formal consultation process with the community, as well as an agreed definition of consent, and have established an evidence base through a robust and credible evaluation.

The Turnbull Government’s Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017 progressed as far as it second reading and was referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report.

The final report has a single line recommendation and also contains two dissenting opinions by Labor and the Australian Greens.

The bill returns to the House of Representatives in the new year.

Labor has now baulked but is unlikely to prevail given it doesn’t have the numbers in the lower house.