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We Asked The Government 14 Times And It Couldn't Tell Us If A Positive Centrelink Drug Test Stays On Your Record For Life

No idea.

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After the government announced its controversial plan to drug test young people on Centrelink, BuzzFeed News had a question – if you test positive, does a note get put on your Centrelink file for life?

We asked the government this simple question 14 times over the last week and still don’t have an answer.

We started by asking social services minister Christian Porter.

His office sent us the following convoluted public servant jargon about privacy, without answering our question.

There are existing privacy safeguards in place under the Privacy Act 1988 and the confidentiality rules in the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999. These laws provide that protected information, including any personal information such as health information, can only be accessed, used or disclosed in limited circumstances. Under the social security law, this includes for the purposes of administering that law; for research, statistical analysis or policy development; and where it has been certified as being in the public interest. These existing safeguards will apply to any information gathered as part of this trial.

A comprehensive Privacy Impact Assessment will be undertaken in conjunction with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner as part of the implementation of the trial to ensure the protection of privacy in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles.

The social services minister's office then referred us to human services minister Alan Tudge.

Tudge nudged us over to his department.

The Department of Human Services passed our question over to the Department of Social Services (DSS).

The DSS provided the following two sentences:

Recipients’ personal information is protected under the Privacy Act 1988 and the confidentiality rules in the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999. This will include participants in the drug testing trial.

Which does not shed any light on the question of what happens to someone's Centrelink file when they test positive for illegal drugs.

The DSS referred us back to social services minister Porter, who again did not answer our question.

Instead, the minister's office told BuzzFeed News: "What the department provided you is correct."

So, after a week of confusion over which minister and department was responsible for the drug testing policy, no light has been shed on what happens to someone's Centrelink file when they test positive to an illegal drug.

But we do know that if you test positive your personal information will be available to be accessed and disclosed for "the purposes of administering that law; for research, statistical analysis or policy development; and where it has been certified as being in the public interest".

Last week treasurer Scott Morrison confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the 5,000 Centrelink recipients chosen for drug testing won't be "random" as was previously stated, and instead will be selected based on “data-driven profiling tools” and "risk profiling".

The locations, still to be determined, will be based on demographic data including testing of toilet water, and focus on areas with high drug use.

The policy, which prime minister Malcolm Turnbull described as "based on love", has been criticised by drug and alcohol experts, academics, welfare groups and called "misguided" by the PM's favourite charity.

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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