A leading criminal lawyer believes it is “reasonably clear” that Human Services Minister Alan Tudge – or someone from his department – broke the law when they supplied a Centrelink client’s personal information to a journalist.
Robert Richter, a Queen’s Council and former chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, believes the disclosure of the information could lead to a prison sentence of up to two years if proven beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal court.
Mr Richter was engaged by the Labor Party to assess whether Mr Tudge had committed a criminal offence by passing on the details of welfare recipient Andie Fox, who had been a vocal opponent of the way Centrelink was chasing her debt.
Mr Richter’s advice suggests releasing Ms Fox’s personal information to “set the record straight” was unlawful, although Mr Richter notes he did not know precisely what was released and by whom.
“It is reasonably clear that the minister or one of his office’s staff has committed an offence,” Mr Richter wrote.
“The disclosure of Fox’s information would be punishable by up to two year’s imprisonment if proven in court.”
Mr Tudge has dismissed the legal advice, saying the disclosure was approved by his department’s lawyers and was necessary to correct misleading public statements.
“Labor’s lawyer provided an opinion without knowledge of what information was disclosed – he has admitted this,” Mr Tudge told the ABC.
“I received clearance to release the information from the Chief Legal Counsel of the Department of Human Services, who is intimately across the details of the case and the relevant laws.”
Labor has already referred the disclosure of Ms Fox’s personal information to the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The AFP is still investigating the situation.
Privacy Information Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has also made his own inquiries about the disclosure.
Mr Tudge told Parliament last week that his department took the protection of people’s information very seriously.
“It is governed by the Privacy Act which has very strict provisions, but there is also provision in the law to provide discrete pieces of information to correct the record on certain occasions,” he said.
Read more at The Guardian
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