The Australian Federal Police has decided not to investigate Human Services Minister Alan Tudge over his office’s decision to disclose to a journalist the personal information of a critic of the Centrelink robo-debt notice system.
In late February, blogger and welfare recipient Andie Fox published a comment piece on The Canberra Times detailing some of her experiences with with Centrelink’s debt debacle. In response to claims made in the article, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge’s office gave Canberra Times journalist, Paul Malone, Fox’s own personal information, which formed the basis of an article denying Fox’s original claims.
Labor’s shadow minister for human services Linda Burney referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police in March, but Tudge maintained he had legal advice that gave him permission under the Social Security Act and in a statement on Monday, the AFP announced it had decided against launching an investigation into Tudge over the breach of privacy.
“The AFP has conducted an evaluation into this matter and concluded that there was no breach of Commonwealth legislation,” a spokesperson for the AFP said in a statement.
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In a press release on Monday, Tudge said the AFP “made clear that the protected information released by my office was approved for release and was therefore not an unauthorised disclosure”.
He said Labor’s referral was a “political stunt” and part of a “Centrelink scare campaign” wasting AFP resources. It came the same day that the Turnbull government announced $321.4 million in funding for the AFP to hire almost 300 more officers and upgrade technical and forensic capabilities.
The Department of Human Services previously refused to answer questions about its role in leaking Fox’s private information to Malone, citing the ongoing AFP investigation. The department will front Senate estimates hearings later this month where it is expected Labor will continue to push for transparency over the decision to release Fox’s personal information.
The legal advice Tudge was relying on to disclose the information has still not been released, and the department has said it would be against the public interest to release it publicly.