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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3600

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - I claim to be mispresented insofar as by imputation

Mr SPEAKER -Order! You are not speaking to the motion?

Mr SINCLAIR - If I may, I prefer to do so. I commend the Minister for the moderation of this statement. I was concerned at an earlier statement he made in this House in reply to questions. I believe that at no stage while he has been Minister, or at any other stage, has the information divulged by the Minister for Social Services, as he was, or by the present Minister for Social Security, reacted against the pensioner. It is my belief that over the course of the years it has been necessary for some divulgence of information to be part and parcel of the holding of information within a department such as the Department of Social Security. Obviously there is a feeling on the part of those who have heard the statement by the Minister that perhaps this has been to the detriment of those concerned. It should be said on the other hand that by far the major usage of this information has been for the benefit of the pensioner.

When I was Minister for Social Services on a number of occasions I was approached for confidential information from files. I made it the practice that files should never be seen other than by officers of the Department and, if information were to be made available, it should be statistical information of a general nature rather than of a personal nature. I do not believe that information of that character that is divulged reacts other than to the advantage of the individual. I am concerned that if there is to be any undue restraint on the ability of the Department specified or any other Commonwealth Department to exchange information it should not be in such a way as either to frustrate the operations of the Government or to deny pensioners concessions that are available to them through some other government agency, be it at local government or State government level, when those concessions can be made only if the other agency knows that the person concerned is a pensioner.

I should hope that people who are pensioners do not feel that the results of the steps taken by the present Minister for Social Security will react to their disadvantage. I am sure that that is not his intention. I hope the degree to which there have been headlines in various newspapers around Australia that have suggested that information has been divulged detrimental to personal privacy, and consequently in some way reacting against those persons, will not make people feel that the pension system of the Department of Social Services is an agency of which they need be afraid henceforth. There have been real problems in the community in getting people to take up pensions. Unfortunately there are still some people who feel that there is a measure of loss of pride involved in receiving a pension from the Government. I believe this not to be so. I hope that as a result of the action taken by the Minister people who hold some fears about disclosure of personal information, particularly elderly citizens who, for reasons of pride or for other reasons, have been hesitant to receive this benefit, do not feel hesitant to receive this benefit, do not feel inhibited in making the disclosures necessary to ensure their entitlement. I am apprehensive that this could be the result of the Minister's statement. I believe it is necessary that information be exchangeable between officers of various government departments and that there must be the strictest possible restraint placed on the use to which the information can be put.

I trust that the inquiry to which the Minister referred in his statement and which was initiated by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) will not result in undue restraint on the use of information. I trust that whatever procedures are ultimately adopted will be promulgated in this House and that it will be possible for honourable members to discuss the information and the manner of its exchange and application as well as to ensure that the fears expressed by honourable members on this side of the House are not realised. For my part I believe it is necessary that there be complete freedom of belief on the part of an indivdual that information disclosed to the Department will be [protected to the maximum degree, but I believe equally that divulgence of that information should not preclude the Department from exchanging the information with other agencies or individuals where the exchange can be to the benefit of the applicant.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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