Contributed from Victoria
After several public servants working at Centrelink leaked information of internal operations, management have threatened to punish them. The focal point at present is the so-called Robo debt recovery system., where many thousands of Centrelink clients have been sent threatening debt notices. Often the recipients do not really have a debt.
The Minister’s and government’s response is to ignore calls to shut the system down. A stark warning has gone out from the Department of Human Services to 36,000 staff in the parenting department.
The mess has led to an inquiry by the Commonwealth Ombudsman. It also faces Parliamentary scrutiny with Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon team and the prospect of a Parliamentary inquiry.
Protesters occupied Human Service’s Minister Alan Tudge’s electorate office on Wednesday, demanding an end to the data matching program which is soon to be stepped up and extended to up to millions of pensioners, parents and disabled Australians.
DHS human resources boss Adrian Hudson wants workers to follow the official “Public Interest Disclosure” protocol which keeps allegations in-house, warning that public servants will not be “protected” if they take their concerns elsewhere.
The main workplace union, the Community and Public Sector Union, says the department is “monstering” its workers to keep its failing secret.
Mr Hudson told DHS employees in a memo sent on Tuesday that they could be protected, in “limited circumstances”, if they made disclosures, under Commonwealth whistleblowers protection legislation, to managers in the department.
“Disclosures made under the public interest disclosure arrangements and leaking are not the same thing,” Mr Hudson wrote.
“Outside of the PID [Public Interest Disclosure Act], act an employee who makes a disclosure externally will not be protected and may be committing a criminal offence or be in breach of the [Australian Public Service] Code of Conduct.”
CPSU Deputy National President Lisa Newman said on Wednesday that DHS was simply trying to cover-up the detail of the mess it had made.
“DHS staff work hard to help ordinary Australians and are frustrated that the agency has been run into the ground and that service standards are totally unacceptable.
“DHS management is trying to keep its many problems secret.
“Adrian Hudson could be better spending his time than monstering staff with threats.
“Instead, perhaps he could spend some time listening to their suggestions on how to fix this situation so that people who’ve done nothing wrong stop being sent debt notices.”