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Fairfax and Centrelink unite in an unprecedented move to publicly persecute one woman

Early in February, writer and blogger Andie Fox published an account of her interactions with Centrelink over a failure by her ex partner to submit tax returns that led to the department issuing her with a debt notice for over-payment of Family Tax Benefit.

It’s a harrowing account and it resonated with very many people who’ve endured the tortuous process of attempting to explain their situation to Centrelink, after being notified of debt they do not carry. As you may recall, Centrelink is responsible for the unprecedented failure of an automated system that has harassed, threatened, engaged debt collectors and otherwise hounded citizens who have no debt, or a good deal less debt than the department claims.

On Monday, Fairfax journalist Paul Malone published an article titled Centrelink is an easy target for complaints but there are two sides to every story. The article contains the private details of Ms Fox’s interactions with Centrelink, provided to him by the department with the authority of the Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge.

Tudge later triumphantly tweeted the article, which contains details Ms Fox contests.

Just to make it clear: Centrelink has released the private details of an individual citizen without her permission in order to present Alan Tudge’s “side of the story.”

In case there might be any doubt about Tudge’s intentions, Paul Malone and Fairfax have confirmed in their headline that Tudge’s only goal is to use the personal information of a citizen to present his side of the story.

Let’s first consider that both Alan Tudge and Paul Malone are protected by the institutions that employ them. Ms Fox is protected by nobody. So we have the unprecedented situation of Centrelink and Fairfax media joining forces to expose a citizen’s private data in an attempt to claw back some face for Alan Tudge, after the outrageously incompetent debt debacle he oversaw earlier this year.

This is not a question of “both sides of the story.” The actors have no equal ground. It is a breathtaking and unprecedented attack by the LNP government and a compliant Fairfax media on an individual. And it should make everyone of us very afraid.

Family Tax Benefit is paid to millions of families. Not one family is safe from exposure by Alan Tudge, not one, should that family publicly complain about Centrelink. Your private data is fair game in Tudge’s desperate and doomed efforts to appear competent.

There is absolutely no other reason for Centrelink to release Ms Fox’s private data to Fairfax media. Absolutely none.

In other words, any private data held by any government department can now be used as a weapon against you, should you have the temerity to publicly describe your interactions with that department. It can be used to put that department’s “side of the story.” It will be supplied to the media by faceless bureaucrats who do not have to be named, and authorised by their minister.

You write a piece about Medicare? Expect to see your health records appear in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Can there be any more effective way to silence citizens than to threaten them with media exposure of their most private and intimate information?

In Australia today, the LNP and Fairfax media have joined forces in persecuting one woman to save a lamentably incompetent minister’s face. Think about that.

The very fact that Tudge has chosen this course of action confirms his incompetence, and his unfitness to hold his position.

There’s a lot more to be unpacked from this situation, too much for one blog post.

To be continued.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.


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  1. Jaquix

    I know the Opposition are very busy at the moment, there is so much that needs to be questioned and exposed, but could they please add this to their list?

  2. babyjewels10

    This is an utter disgrace. Tudge should be forced to resign. And Fairfax should not get away with this either.

  3. townsvilleblog

    Surely there is not a sector in Australia that has had more heat from this tory government than the poor and working poor, this is a classic example of unregulated capitalism gone mad. Nary a word about the Aust Post CEO on $5.7 mil but the unemployed 1,186,000 and the underemployed 1,398,000 in Dec 16′ Roy Morgan Research figures, and the in excess of 3 million living below the poverty line in Australia.

    A job, even one that pays starvation wages like shop assistant (no matter what the title e.g Grocery Manager) waitresses, etc a pay cut instead of a pay rise, and those on well paid jobs couldn’t care less, until that is, it is their turn, it will come if the LNP remain til 2019.

  4. Clean livin

    If the government of the day treats privacy of citizens with such disdain, this sends a powerful message to the people of Australia that our governments cannot be trusted, therefore we can now say good bye to confidence in the accuracy of future Buraeu of Statistics census.

    I certainly would not trust these bastards with my privacy.

  5. Photontrace

    Jennifer Wilson, you suggest that what the government may do with our personal data should make us feel afraid and I understand why.
    I want to put a little twist on it though. It should make us feel courageous, like you are being in writing your article. We need to build up our courage and we need to support each other in standing up. Obviously you know this already or your would not be writing as you do.

  6. jimhaz

    I wouldn’t call those details private. Must be better cases out there than this one.

  7. Jennifer Wilson

    Thank you, Photontrace. As you say, we have to stand up to the best of our ability and with whatever skills we have, because the Turnbull government despises citizens who don’t fit into it’s extremely narrow framework of the “right kind of people.” It will continue to hound and persecute those most disadvantaged because at its core it is thoroughly corrupt.

    jimhaz, you don’t even go by your real name, so you have no standing in this debate over the unauthorised release of private information. If you don’t care about privacy, use your name.

  8. Keitha Granville

    and yet in dealings with Centrelink I may not know or ask things about my husband nor he of me. How is it that a third party of no relation is allowed access ???

  9. Sir ScotchMistery

    I recently saw Mr Tudge at a Bears night at the Sportsman’s Hotel in Spring Hill.

    He did ask me not to say anything, so this is just between you guys and me.

  10. Mirjana

    Outrageous, unprofessional, fradulent.= our current government

  11. paulwalter

    The only thing lower than a politician is a journalist.

  12. leighton8

    I am surprised and somewhat disappointed with the SMH. Neither with Alan Tudge …. expected.

  13. Peter F

    @ SSM Why would he want you to keep this information secret?

  14. Sam

    This proves that Fairfax isn’t the ‘leftie paradise’ that the conservative shills you see about would have you believe.

    I’ve also noticed the SMH editorials sometimes look like they wouldn’t be out of place in the daily telegraph either and have called them out on that.

    Low rent journalism is low rent journalism no matter what organization it comes from.

  15. Möbius Ecko

    Story on the Project right now.

  16. Deanna Jones

    What a chilling, Orwellian precedent this is going to set.

  17. Rondel Threadgate

    There is (legally) a presumption of innocence in life, apparently, this government and it’s lackey, Centrelink, is above the law

  18. paulwalter

    Has it occurred to other readers just how well this posting fits with another current thread, from The”Aim Network; “The LNP Welfare Card, the true facts exposed”?

    In fact, so much of government so called “policy” seems to be about the wastage of vast amounts of money to scapegoat and enmiserate some small group or other of outsiders, for nothing more than the “kick” it gives government rednecks and their supporters.

    How sick is it going to get?

  19. Möbius Ecko

    A while back I used to think this government and its politicised agencies couldn’t get any worse. I’ve learnt time and again they can.

    Today I learnt a Liberal minister, for purely self indulgent political reasons (revenge), used his privileged access to government data to make public the personal interactions of a citizen.

    Then I learnt a head of ASIO admitted in a hearing that his agency has accessed the metadata and other private information of a small number of journalists.

    Both fascist like actions were undertaken not to protect us, but to send a clear message to the target groups that if they or anyone else reports negatively on this government or says something they don’t like their private lives will be made public or used against them.

  20. Matters Not

    @ SSM Why would he want you to keep this information secret?

    As they say: At The Sportsman’s Hotel, the best head isn’t always on the beer.

    Give whatever meaning you like to that boast.

  21. Steve C

    This isn’t really restricted to just a Liberal or Labour government, what do all you people really think happens with all our information? Of course they use it for their own purposes, every single one of them, there are no exceptions. Greens, LNP, Labour, Family First, it does not matter. If they can, they will all use our own data to silence us or intimidate us.

    Everyone basically gives away all their personal information to commercial entities now anyway, everything we type into a search engine, every post on social media, every comment on a no name news website, EVERYTHING is being stored, sorted and sold.

  22. Wayne Turner

    The idiot at the dying Sydney Morning Herald,editiorial section openly supported and called for the re-election of Turnbull and this hopeless mob. No surprise.Anything to protect their hopeless choosen one’s.

  23. paulwalter

    Steve C, what we are actually witnessing a very deliberate public abuse of the law to smear and silence someone querying this Centrelink system that is itself deliberately corrupt and brutal.

    It represents a new new, despicable low in Australian public affairs

  24. Alan Baird

    Yes, hiding under Fairfax’s genteel exterior are some quite unpleasant layers occasionally being digitally brought to the front. Other signs are to be found in letters that damn Turnbull more in sorrow than anger. This morning there was a rash of quite annoyed writers which are quite justified by the current Federal fiscal outrages being perpetrated in the neo-con “gush upwards – trickle down and evaporate” vein. However, you can easily pick the mere spectators, one of which didn’t complain about how outrageous the corporate wins and wins and the workers lose, lose, (year upon year) were, but rather said it was a bad look. Cover up the symptoms and all will be well. Fairfax rarely sticks with any thing vaguely pinkish let alone red yet you’ve got your Q-mob-queer-obsessives calling it “left wing”. Hah! Only if name’s Attila…

  25. jimhaz

    I still would not call those details private. To me no government benefit is ever private.

  26. jimhaz

    I think I saw Crikey story intro indicating the new Editor was likely to shift Fairfax to a more conservative position. James Chessell does look like he would be a conservative twit.

    Personally I always though the SMH failed to shift to the left a half a dozen years ago (all the political writers were cons under Paul Sheehan), well before the Guardian came on board, to try and corner the moderate/left market.

    I think the board chair, Nick Falloon, having been a Packer dude for yonks, is likely to promote conservative views over more technically balanced news – regardless of market opportunities.

  27. paulwalter

    You don’t see it as a smear campaign, Jimhaz?

    I am desolate.

    “Look upon my works, Ye mighty
    and despair”.

  28. paulwalter

    ” Äbandon hope,
    All ye who enter here”.

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