POLITICS

Labor Refers Turnbull Minister To AFP Over Centrelink Debacle

Labor has accused Alan Tudge of misconduct over the release of private Centrelink information.

02/03/2017 5:04 PM AEDT | Updated 02/03/2017 8:44 PM AEDT
Andrew Meares/Fairfax
Minister Alan Tudge during question time at Parliament House in Canberra

CANBERRA -- Federal Labor has referred Human Services Minister Alan Tudge to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) over the release of private information, accusing him of unethical and possibly illegal actions.

The key question is: did the Minister break the law by disclosing a welfare recipient's personal information, that of blogger and single mum Andie Fox, to a journalist?

"It is not a step that I have taken lightly," Burney told Sky News.

"I believe that the actions of the minister are at best unethical and at worst illegal."

"A private individual's information appears to have been provided to a media outlet without their permission," Burney said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

"If this is the case then how can anyone trust the government to look after their private information? If you or I go to Centrelink or a hospital or a school, we expect it to stay private."

Fox had claimed in an opinion piece for Fairfax Media last month to have been "terrorised" by Centerlink over a debt she claimed was owed by her former partner.

Her personal details turned up a few weeks later in a Fairfax comment piece written from the government's perspective by a journalist.

But the Human Services Minister stands by his actions, saying Fox had made a "false assertion" and the record had to be corrected.

"Ms Fox made false assertions about Centrelink in her column in the Fairfax media," Tudge said in statement.

"Information provided by my office to Fairfax in response to their enquiries about Ms Fox's claims was done with the approval of the Chief Legal Counsel of the Department of Human Services.

"It was provided to correct Ms Fox's false assertions."

He defended the actions as legal.

"The Government takes privacy very seriously and complies with all the requirements of the relevant legislation to ensure that Australians' information is treated, and safeguarded, appropriately," Tudge said.

"In particular, the Privacy Act 1988 sets out the Australian Privacy Principles, which cover the collection, use and disclosure of information by Government Agencies."

During a Senate Estimates grilling, the Department of Human Services confirmed it had provided Fox's personal information to the journalist, but defended the release as proportionate and legal.

The hearing heard the release of the "protected" information had been approved for release by Tudge's office.

It was also reported in the Guardian on Thursday that Tudge's office mistakenly sent the journalist internal departmental briefings about a welfare recipient's personal circumstances, relationship and tax history.

The outlet also revealed it mistakenly received documents when it "raised questions about the disclosure of Fox's personal information".

Calling in the AFP on a minister is a relatively rare action and more often than not such a move will not result in an AFP investigation.

The AFP has confirmed it received a referral from Federal Labor on Thursday over the actions of Minister Tudge.

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