A push by the Federal Government for powers to a release a veteran's personal information has been angrily opposed by former servicemen as a deterrent aimed at stopping people speaking out.
The Bill, which passed the lower house last week, puts stricter conditions on the release of personal data, but it also would give the Department of Veterans' Affairs secretary the power to disclose protected information about veterans, the ABC reported last week.
Now there are calls for Malcolm Turnbull to personally intervene and quash the legislation, following a seperate political stoush which saw Labor refer Human Services Minister Alan Tudge to the Australian Federal Police after a journalist was given a welfare recipient's personal information.
- The Bill is designed simplify Department of Veteran's Affairs processes and help eliminate duplication and waste;
- But there's is a provision that could enable the Secretary of DVA to release a veteran's information;
- Veterans are concerned by the privacy implications;
- The government says it's wrong to say the law will be used to leak information, and it will strengthen privacy protections;
- The South Lake Macquarie RSL sub branch has started a change.org petition calling on senators to block the legislation -- it has so far attracted more than 6,600 signatures;
- The Defence Force Welfare Association wants an independent Privacy Impact Assessment before the legislation is considered by the senate.
Trooper Evan Donaldson, who has accused Defence of illegally stripping him of his rank and career while spending almost eight years trying to discredit him, said the new legislation will work as a deterrent to veterans speaking out.
"It is designed as both a deterrent to anyone who might speak out about maladministration, and it's a mechanism for the department to come after you if you speak out," Donaldson told The Huffington Post Australia.
"This might only be the beginning.
Once they have silenced you, once they have a class of people who are silenced, then they start peeling back your entitlements.Trooper Evan Donaldson
"Once they have silenced you, once they have a class of people who are silenced, then they start peeling back your entitlements."
Donaldson's gruelling seven-and-a-half-year fight with the department almost came to a head last week with a settlement offer that recognises his service and provides $1 million in compensation and his legal costs.
But soon after he was told he'd have to pay his nearly $850,000 legal costs up front and be reimbursed later.
Earlier this week Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan dismissed criticism of the bill.
"The Government took on board all suggestions and recommendations throughout this process," Tehan told the ABC earlier this week.
Statement about Digital Readiness Bill pic.twitter.com/WhUWmpRFUc— Dan Tehan (@DanTehanWannon) March 4, 2017
"The Bill has also undergone a privacy impact assessment."
Labor, which initially supported the Bill, now says it has "serious concerns".
Labor's Shadow Veteran Affairs Minister Amanda Rishworth told the national broadcaster lawmakers were still working on the accompanying instrument that enacts the legislation.
It appears to me the government is seeking the power to go on the attack against people who are vulnerable. That's just indefensible.Major Stuart McCarthy
Former army officer Stuart McCarthy said the legislation is a sign of a government on the attack.
McCarthy, a serving Major until his medical discharge last week, suffers an illness caused by the anti malaria drug mefloquine, provided during a military run trial.
"I can't see any legitimate circumstance where the secretary should be given the power to provide someone's personal medical information to the public," he told the HuffPost.
89 yo war widow notes the gvt could release her info under changes to the Digital Readiness Bill if she criticises them https://t.co/QEBawWbqLc— Asher Wolf (@Asher_Wolf) March 5, 2017
"People who are in a situation where people are criticising government policy, invariably these are vulnerable people. They are undergoing medical treatments and have very serious medical problems.
"It appears to me the government is seeking the power to go on the attack against people who are vulnerable. That's just indefensible."
McCarthy called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to personally intervene and take the lead in addressing the rate of veteran's suicide.
"This Bill is an example of where he must personally intervene," McCarthy said.
... now vulnerable veterans who criticise policy or the government are quite fearful of where it might lead.Rtd. Col Ray Martin
Retired Colonel Ray Martin pointed to the government's senate inquiry into veteran's suicide, which has garnered over 400 submissions in recent months.
"Many of those submissions are anonymous, they only trickled in slowly," he told the HuffPost.
"They're anonymous because they fear retribution from DVA. When the DVA now says 'in the public interest we're going to correct the record,' well particularly vulnerable veterans are concerned.
"The irony is that veterans have either served their country or fought for their country -- part of that is protecting the freedoms of their democracy --- and yet now vulnerable veterans who criticise policy or the government are quite fearful of where it might lead."
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