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Poor Alan Tudge

Poor Alan Tudge, the Federal Minister for Human Services, appears to have put his foot in it. Concerned about the tone of an article in the Fairfax media by a social security recipient who claimed she had been harassed about a debt she never owed to social security, he took it on himself to pass on personal details about the woman who wrote the article to the Fairfax media group so they could address what he considered to be inaccuracies in her article.

Could you imagine the outcry if Gina or some other corporate hero’s details were given by the Treasurer to a privately owned media group? You’d never hear the end of it! Inquiries would be held and heads would roll off the chopping block.

Details held by the Commonwealth about individuals is protected by law. What Tudge and his department have done is possibly illegal. Not that that has stopped the government in the past. In 2004 when I was co-convenor of Defend and Extend Medicare and the Health Minister Tony Abbott (yes, the budgie smuggler himself, Tony Abbott) was pushed into a corner by a campaign which ultimately stopped the Howard government destroying Medicare, me mate Tony went one step further. He arranged a private briefing between Murdoch’s Herald Sun and ASIO. At this briefing ASIO reports, which were held about key members of Defend and Extend Medicare, were handed over to Herald Sun reporters to do a series of articles which tried to publicly derail the Defend and Extend Medicare campaign by publishing articles which were based on ASIO reports.

Despite Melbourne Trades Hall passing a motion condemning what had occurred and questions being raised in Federal parliament by the Labor Party as well as an extensive investigation being carried out, no smoking gun was ever found. We were not in a position to collect enough evidence to prosecute Abbott for what was clearly an ideologically motivated attempt to discredit activists who were pursuing legal peaceful actions to highlight the Howard led government’s ideologically driven attacks on Australia's only universal health care system.

There are many precedents of Australian governments leaking material held by them which is protected by legislation, to attempt to derail political campaigns that are beginning to be effective.

Health records, social security records, tax records and information held in public databases, including ASIO records, are routinely used to discredit activists. When what are “fringe” groups in their eyes gain political traction, government departments under ministerial direction seem to be free to leak any material held by them to discredit political activists in this country. That’s why it is so important for people, especially activists, to fight tooth and nail to ensure this data remains the personal property of those who are targeted.

Dr. Joseph Toscano

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