Centrelink office

Having gone after MPs, whistleblowers and journalists using private information, the Turnbull government has reached a new low that is simultaneously a logical extension of its abuse of power: using private information to attack a member of the public who had the temerity to criticise the government. Moreover, the bureaucrats involved actually boasted about it and warned that others would receive the same treatment.

Blogger Andie Fox wrote a comment piece for the Fairfax papers on February 6, outlining her experience with Centrelink: her ex-partner hadn’t lodged tax returns, which meant Centrelink’s automatic data matching system tallied up a debt in Fox’s name for Family Tax Benefit she had claimed. Fox mentioned that privacy laws had hampered her ability to prove her relationship was over and that her ex-partner’s actions shouldn’t impinge on her. The Department of Human Services hit back, disclosing much of her personal information to The Canberra Times. The targeting of Fox by the Department of Human Services and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge was not merely an extraordinary breach of privacy purely for political ends, it was intended as a warning to any Centrelink client who might think about publicly criticising the agency. Justifying the breaching of Fox's privacy, Human Services accused Fox of lying, and warned "unfounded allegations unnecessarily undermine confidence and takes staff effort away from dealing with other claims. We will continue to correct the record on such occasions."