There’s a Bully in Town … and it’s perfectly legal

The Australian Government is legislating to use your personal information to silence any dissent to its policies. It will be starting with veterans’ information if it passes the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Digital Readiness and Other Measures) Bill 2016 (Cth).

Australian citizen have to deal with the national government. The young, old, unemployed, disabled or those who have served this country in the defence forces must provide their personal information to one or more government agencies. There is no choice: no information means no entitlements. If done properly it is a good thing and should harm no one. But it has to be done properly.

What the Government is proposing to do is a danger to our rights, our privacy and a form of government bullying to ensure our silence. That is why the Australian Privacy Foundation is worried about the new bully in town.

This is just the latest form of Government bullying.


What is the bullying? Could it affect you? Can the government get away with it?

The Department of Human Services is using leaked personal information to harass and demean critics of Centrelink, its service agency. The Department doesn’t like criticism … it’s large, slow and very thin-skinned. It acknowledges that problems with its IT systems and staffing mean it is threatening to collect overpayments that do not exist.

Publicly criticise that inefficiency – a major waste of your money as a taxpayer – and the Department is likely to provide your personal information to the media. People now think twice before getting into a fight with the Human Services bully. The bullying means they are more likely to stay silent, chilling legitimate debate, even though the Department got its figures wrong.

Privacy law in Australia is meant to protect you and I from official abuse of our information. The Department says this is perfectly legal, because the government is authorised to release personal information to correct ‘misinformation’ by recipients of entitlements. That is a shallow and weak justification. There is no independent review, and it is wide open to abuse – it is often unclear that there has been misinformation.

If the Department bullies critics, we will have difficulty telling what is honest disagreement (have you ever misunderstood a government form or found a mistake?), what is dishonest, and what is the result of sloppy, bug-ridden Human Services software.

The Veterans Affairs’ Minister – who deals with veterans and their families – is now shepparding a new bill through the Parliament that allows him to release personal information about veterans when it suits his Department’s aims. The Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Digital Readiness and Other Measures) Bill 2016 (Cth) will be bad law.

It makes a mockery of the Privacy Act. The Privacy Commissioner should condemn it. It disrespects people who serve our country. It needs to be killed before it goes to the Senate. It shouldn’t be copied by other Departments.

Just because bullying is legal doesn’t mean it is right. Contact your local member to say NO.