“Centrelink does not collect ‘Post Breaching Terminal Outcome Statistics’ and is therefore unable to assist with your request for this information.” That is a trulydisgraceful statement for if any commercial company tried to hide ‘negative performance’ information or data’ from Australian shareholders by omitting it from an annual report, then the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) would prosecute the board of directors responsible for issuing that report.
However, as the Grave Digger documents in the July 1st 2012 blog (http://wp.me/p1n8TZ-3v) make quite clear, the Australian Parliament actively supports the concealment of breaching fatalities data from the Australian public with the use of suppression orders!
Sadly, the unlawful hiding of breaching fatalities data is just one of a number of unlawful activities that some Centrelink officials are involved in. In this blog, I shall have a look at ways in which to use THE PRIVACY ACT to deal with any unlawful requests for information by Centrelink officials who may misuse their lawful authority by trying to coerce you into providing information that you do not have to provide, e.g. Centrelink asks for 36 bank statement over a 3 year period when Centrelink only requires your current bank statement.
WELFARE RECIPIENTS HAVE POWERFUL LEGAL RIGHTS. As you can see from the news article below which is about 15 years old, when the Howard Government shut down the Commonwealth Employment Service, it was necessary to change the Privacy Act to allow the commercial firms running the replacement JOB NETWORK to access the information in Centrelink’s customer database. The headline is misleading because unemployed people did not lose their privacy protection; the real truth is that in the ideology driven rush to shut down the CES and set up the Job Network, the Howard Government forgot all about this legislation. That was an error that nearly killed off the Job Network!
Even the Howard Government had to toe-the-line and obey the Privacy Act! That highlights just how powerful this legislation is and my message to you is that when Centrelink asks you to provide personal information, you only have to provide the information that Centrelink is legally permitted to access and nothing more. Even then, your legal rights are such that you can make them wish that they had never asked!
Grave Digger #23: The Privacy Act – because it can be more honoured in the breach than the observance if you don’t know your rights which are buried in plain sight in legislation that contains 72,550 words spread over boring 271 pages. What you are about to read about your rights are selected clipped extracts from that mountain of information.
Recommendation: Download an RTF copy of the Privacy Act from: http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/download.cgi/au/legis/cth/consol_act/pa1988108
Key Privacy Act stuff that you should know: Some of the Privacy Act Principles.
Principle 1 – Manner and purpose of collection of personal information
1. Personal information shall not be collected by a collector for inclusion in a record or in a generally available publication unless: (a) the information is collected for a purpose that is a lawful purpose directly related to a function or activity of the collector; and (b) the collection of the information is necessary for or directly related to that purpose.
2. Personal information shall not be collected by a collector by unlawful or unfair means.
WHAT THIS MEANS: It really is unlawful for Centrelink staff to go on ‘fishing expeditions’ and misuse their lawful authority to coerce or intimidate (force) you to provide information. To threaten to cut off a welfare payment unless the information is provided is NOT the 1st line of approach but in fact is the last ’reasonable’ option Centrelink can legally use, i.e. enforcement, and it only be used if you stubbornly refuse LEGITIMATE” requests.
- To threaten to turn off the dole as part of the initial request for information is MALFESANCE, an offence that can result in Centrelink staff being fired for misuse of lawful authority.
- When you receive a letter that makes that sort of threat, file a written complain both with Centrelink and the Privacy Commissioner.
- If you think Centrelink is on a fishing expedition, file a malfeasance complaint. One complaint may be ignored but if several welfare recipients across the nation, (or who are all registered at one Centrelink office), file complaints then the Centrelink official could wind up in court!
- So, don’t be afraid to complain and include the “Malfeasance” word in your complaint.
- DO ask if Centrelink is conducting a fraud investigation and if the answer is “yes”, point out that a court issued search warrant is required and using the provisions of the Privacy Act is “unlawful” and “unfair”.
- This may mean that any information uncovered without a search warrant may be “poisoned fruit” that cannot be used as evidence against you in cour
Principle 2: Solicitation of personal information from individual concerned Where:
- (b) the information is solicited by the collector from the individual concerned; the collector shall take such steps (if any) as are, in the circumstances, reasonable to ensure that, before the information is collected or, if that is not practicable, as soon as practicable after the information is collected, the individual concerned is generally aware of:
- (c ) the purpose for which the information is being collected;
- (d) if the collection of the information is authorised or required by or under law—the fact that the collection of the information is so authorised or required; and…
WHAT THIS MEANS:
- If a Centrelink official requests information from you, then that official, or any other Centrelink official, must provide sufficient detail for you to make a reasonable, INFORMED determination that this is a legitimate request and that the information requested must be provided.
- Simply demanding information does not cut the mustard. Simply saying that the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has given Centrelink information and they want to verify it is not good enough.
- You have the right to request a copy of the information provided by the ATO be given to you so that you can reasonably determine if Centrelink’s request is legally valid.
- Since the ATO must also maintain accurate records of your financial activities, you have the right to query errors with the ATO and have them corrected and for the ATO to then comply with the Privacy Act by correcting the false information provided to Centrelink.
- If Centrelink arbitrarily sets a date for the information to be provided, you can request(in writing) that Centrelink comply with its obligations under the Privacy Act and that any date for the provision of this information post-date the satisfactory provision of this information by Centrelink by 14 days.
- If a Centrelink staff member refuses to agree to this, politely inform them that you will file a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner under Section 36 of the Privacy Act alleging non-compliance with Privacy Principle #2.
- Again, DO ask if Centrelink is conducting a fraud investigation and if the answer is “yes”, point out that a court issued search warrant is required and using the provisions of the Privacy Act is “unlawful” and “unfair”.
- This may again mean that any information uncovered without a search warrant may be “poisoned fruit” that cannot be used as evidence against you in court.
- NOTE: If Centrelink hits you with a demand for all bank statements over the last 3 years and you have monthly statements, then you are actually being asked to provide not one piece of information but rather 36 DOCUMENTS!
- You can legitimately and reasonably request that Centrelink provide you with a written explanation for EACH of those 36 documents, not just the 3 year period.
- Iif you have 4 bank accounts, that is 144 DOCUMENTS and you are entitled to a reasonable explanation as to why EACH document is required.
- This request (in writing) by you is a way of shutting down intrusive and unnecessary fishing expeditions by forcing Centrelink officials to legally justify EACH document requested.
- The ATO, usually checks your bank account each night and if this daily checking finds a reporting error (data mismatch) in the income report that you gave Centrelink yesterday, then a reasonable, non-intrusive request by Centrelink for your bank account details should be for the most recent (current) bank statement rather than 36 bank statements that cover a 3 year period.
Principle 3: Solicitation of personal information generally.
Where: (b )the information is solicited by the collector; the collector shall take such steps (if any) as are, in the circumstances, reasonable to ensure that, having regard to the purpose for which the information is collected: (c) the information collected is relevant to that purpose and is up to date and complete; and (d) the collection of the information does not intrude to an unreasonable extent upon the personal affairs of the individual concerned.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
- Principle 3 (c) places a legal obligation on Centrelink to make sure that their records are accurate and it is this legitimate purpose that is open to abuse by Centrelink (and/or the Federal Police).
- Check out 3 (d); I mentioned previously that if Centrelink needs to check your last bank statement but asks for 3 years’ worth of statements then they are intruding to an unreasonable extent upon your personal affairs!
- The solution is to use Principle (3) (d) and demand (in writing) that Centrelink provide sufficient information, in writing, so as to exercise your legal right to reasonably determine that Centrelink’s request is valid under Principle 3 (c), i.e. relevant to that purpose, and that it is not an unreasonable intrusion into your personal affairs. (Principle 3 (d).)
Principle 5: Information relating to records kept by record‑keeper
(2) A record‑keeper is not required under clause 1 of this Principle to give a person information if the record‑keeper is required or authorised to refuse to give that information to the person under the applicable provisions of any law of the Commonwealth that provides for access by persons to documents.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
- Centrelink has the right to refuse to state why they are collecting the information ONLY if a specific law applies that allows them to refuse to disclose this information.
- However, the work-around to that is that you can request that Centrelink provide the information about which specific law allows Centrelink the right to refuse this information.
- This is one way of finding out if Centrelink is secretly investigating you to determine if you have been”Defrauding the Commonwealth by obtaining a benefit by deception.”
- Many of Centrelink’s “10 prosecutions a day” stem from people being conned by Centrelink investigators into providing information which, under the privacy principles in this law, do not have to be provided.
- If you have been ripping off Centrelink and are being secretly investigated, asking which law prevents Centrelink from revealing why they want the information, will alert you to what is happening.
- Note: if you are being investigated, copy Grave Digger documents 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 from the 1st July 2012 blog posting (http://wp.me/p1n8TZ-3v) and ask Centrelink to explain why you are being investigated.By ‘embedding’ these 5 bdocuments into your investigation, you can ask the same question in court.
- A few days ago, the “Proceeds of a crime” case against David Hicks was dropped because the Director of Public Prosecutions was advised that question could be raised in court by David Hicks that the government did not want to have to answer!
- Believe me; those 5 documents do raise questions that no politician wants to ever have asked in court! (See paragraphs 5 and 44 (ii) of the Australian Constitution to understand why this is so.)
RE EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW: I recognize that some readers may not be happy with some of my advice to welfare system rorters but the principle of Equality before the Law means that politicians and welfare recipients must be treated in precisely the same manner. You simply cannot ignore politicians who rort whilst applauding the prosecution of welfare recipients who may have rorted the welfare system. If the AFP keeps refusing to investigate politicians who rort, why then should there be any investigation of alleged welfare rorters?
Principle 7: Alteration of records containing personal information
(One) A record‑keeper who has possession or control of a record that contains personal information shall take such steps (if any), by way of making appropriate corrections, deletions and additions as are, in the circumstances, reasonable to ensure that the record:
(a) is accurate; and
(b)is, having regard to the purpose for which the information was collected or is to be used and to any purpose that is directly related to that purpose, relevant, up to date, complete and not misleading.
(Two) The obligation imposed on a record‑keeper by clause 1 is subject to any applicable limitation in a law of the Commonwealth that provides a right to require the correction or amendment of documents.
3. Where: (a) the record‑keeper of a record containing personal information is not willing to amend that record, by making a correction, deletion or addition, in accordance with a request by the individual concerned; and (b) no decision or recommendation to the effect that the record should be amended wholly or partly in accordance with that request has been made under the applicable provisions of a law of the Commonwealth; the record‑keeper shall, if so requested by the individual concerned, take such steps (if any) as are reasonable in the circumstances to attach to the record any statement provided by that individual of the correction, deletion or addition sought.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
- This is another ‘data matching’ obligation that requires government agencies, e.g. Centrelink and the ATO, the responsibility to have accurate files.
- It therefore gives Centrelink the legal right to request information from you that ‘may’ have changed and once again, this is a legal right that is subject to unlawful abuse by Centrelink officials.
- HOWEVER, it gives YOU the right to request that the information that the ATO may have provided to Centrelink be checked by you and your written response to that information MUST be appended to the information.
- Obviously, you cannot verify or refute the ATO information until it is provided to you and if Centrelink refuses to provide it you can complain to the Ombudsman, the Privacy Commissioner and Centrelink, that your legal right to verify information BEFORE providing Centrelink with additional information has been violated by Centrelink.
Principle 8: Record‑keeper to check accuracy etc. of personal information
A record‑keeper who has possession or control of a record that contains personal information shall not use that information without taking such steps (if any) as are, in the circumstances, reasonable to ensure that, having regard to the purpose for which the information is proposed to be used, the information is accurate, up to date and complete.
WHAT THIS MEANS: This is yet another ‘data matching’ clause that requires government agencies, e.g. Centrelink and the ATO, the responsibility to have accurate files. It therefore gives Centrelink the legal right to request information from you that ‘may’ have changed and once again, this is a legal right that may be subject to unlawful abuse by Centrelink officials if they choose to do so.
Principle 9: Personal information to be used only for relevant purposes
A record‑keeper who has possession or control of a record that contains personal information shall not use the information except for a purpose to which the information is relevant.
WHAT YOU REALLY, REALLY DO NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS PRINCIPLE:
- The Howard government really stuffed up mega- big time with this privacy principle. After winning the March 1996 election, the Howard Government threw common sense out the window and decided to scrap the DSS and the CES and replace them with Centrelink and the privately operated Job Network.
- Apart from forgetting about the above mentioned need to change the Privacy Act to allow the Job Network to access the Centrelink customer database, John Howard & Co also forgot about the worldwide shortage of skilled computer programmers caused by the Y2K ‘Bug’.
- The ancient UNIX mainframe computer based database had to be ported over to Windows NT and in doing so, the ‘honeymoon-password’ database file was also ported over and re-activated. Oops!
- Fast forward into the 21st century to a couple of years after I ceased to be a Job Network recruitment consultant. Curious, I tried to log into the Job Network with my old user name and the last password and it failed because these passwords had to be renewed every 30 days. However, when I re-tried using the honeymoon password I was shocked to discover that I was ‘in”.
- I promptly logged out without looking at anything and subsequently reported this programming bug to a federal government committee.
- As far as the bug was concerned, my notification was a textbook case of “too little, too late”, for it appears that the database had been compromised by professional hackers.
- These days, there are tele-marketing ‘opt-out’ laws that prevent tele-marketers from annoying you, but at the turn of the century unemployed people received fewer calls from some tele-marketers.
- Anyone care to guess why this was the case?
A CRITICAL QUESTION: Who else was able to worm their way into the Centrelink database?
- Did professional hackers working for foreign intelligence services, e.g. CIA, MI6, the KGB (FSB), Mossad or organized crime?
- Who, if anyone, did get into the database at super-user level?
- The Howard Government spent millions of dollars unsuccessfully trying to get the government’s security “Gatekeeper” software to work and it may well have been a case of shutting the door after the horse had bolted.
- A patriotic citizen, just to be on the safe side, I also notified ASIO of this bug as their own files may have been compromised if they accessed the Centrelink database.
- Needless to say, I never heard back from ASIO who were probably conducting training exercises in the wrong hotel room. (That is an old, but very real, headline grabbing ASIO training blunder.)
OKAY! The Privacy Act is really, long and boringly complex so I will now skip to page 64 of the Privacy Act.
16A Organisations to comply with approved privacy codes or National Privacy Principles.
An organisation must not do an act, or engage in a practice, that breaches an approved privacy code that binds the organisation. To the extent (if any) that an organisation is not bound by an approved privacy code, the organisation must not do an act, or engage in a practice, that breaches a National Privacy Principle. This section, approved privacy codes and the National Privacy Principles have effect in addition to sections 18 and 18A and Part IIIA, and do not derogate from them. To avoid doubt, an act done, or practice engaged in, by an organisation without breaching an approved privacy code or the National Privacy Principles is not authorised by law (or by this Act) for the purposes of Part IIIA merely because it does not breach the code or the Principles.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? Basically, this is telling public servants not to abuse the Privacy Act. It means that if you are the victim of Privacy Act abuse, e.g. misuse of the ‘data-matching’ provisions, then the public servant(s) involved in this abuse are in BIG trouble.
(“To avoid doubt…” What does that bit of this principle mean? This paragraph is confusing goobledeegook that totally confuses me!)
OTHER VITAL PRINCIPLES TO KEEP IN MIND:
- You really do have legal rights but you need to know them so get your own copy of the Privacy Act. (See the download link above.) Remember that Centrelink cannot unlawfully or unfairly demand data and must not be “intrusive” when seeking information from you.
- PICK YOUR FIGHT; Is it worth the hassle of picking a fight with Centrelink officials who can really mess up your life before you take them down? (After all, these ARE the bureaucrats who have never once reported any of the murderous breaching quota fatalities!)
- BE POLITE when talking to Centrelink staff because MOST will try to help you if show them some common courtesy.
- Most importantly, make your requests for clarification in WRITING (2 copies – one which you get the Centrelink CSO to stamp) and ask for written summaries of any commitments made by Centrelink staff as verbal promises are not worth the paper that they are written on. (Corny joke.)
- ALWAYS ask for an interview tracking ‘receipt number’.
- DATA is the key word when centrelkink makes a data-matching request. You do not have to provide photocopies of 36 monthly statements if you decide to give Centrelink a 3-year pile of bank statements. If you download THE DATA from your bank, stick in THE DATA on a CDROM or DVD instead.You only have to DATA match by providing the DATA that Centrelink requests in a recognized format and that most definately does include electronic data files that are stored on an optical drive.
- If you have to download 36 files (or more) in EXCEL format, keep them as separate files on the DVD. It is okay to encrypt and/or password protect this information so long as you give Centrelink the appropriate passwords to open the files.
- Don’t have EXCEL? Then download the free OPEN OFFICE software which can read and write EXCEL files. If you use this software, save the data files using the Open Document (ODT) file format to ensure that Centrelink can read your files in EXCEL 10.
- Alternately, scan all of your bank statements and burn them to DVD. This takes longer but is also a far cheaper option. (It also takes ages for Centrelink’s not-so-powerful desktop computers to laod and print them all out.)
- Do keep in mind that I am a schoolteacher/trainer and not a lawyer and that it is almost 14 years since I was a Job Network recruitment consultant.
- Finally, The Privacy Commissioner is the ‘umpire’ and checking with the umpire is always a very good idea. So read the Privacy Act carefully ,and talk to the Ombudsman’s Office or to the Privacy Commissioner’s office if you have any hassles with Centrelink unreasonably requesting 3 years worth of bank statements when they are only to entitled to one statement.
The shorthand URL for this blog is: http://wp.me/p1n8TZ-52
If you found the information in this blog to be useful, please pass the URL on to your friends or post it on your Facebook page.
Ron Medlicott (Christian advocate of welfare rights.)
Hopefully, the next blog with be an update of the 6 Week Rule – Centrelink recently paid a Queensland woman $2 MILLION and then charged her with fraud! Its true!!!
After that,I hope to post more classified documents that look at the human rights violations involved in breaching and the way in which the Australian Human Rights Commission was prevented from stopping the breaching activity that triggered so many deaths. The right to life is the ultimate human right and breaching was about deliberately, recklessly violating this most basic of all human rights.