Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Centrelink – What's the Code of Conduct for Bullying ?

Centrelink management has warned staff they may be committing a criminal offence by leaking internal information, as the welfare agency struggles to manage a backlash from staff angered by the Federal Government's debt claw-back project.

7.30 has obtained an internal email from Centrelink's general manager of people services, Adrian Hudson, sent to all staff last night advising them to make disclosures "through the proper channel".

The email, headed "Public interest disclosures and 'leaking' are not the same", warns staff that "there are very limited circumstances where you can make a disclosure externally".

"You'll be protected if you make a disclosure through the proper channel — in the first instance to the department," it said.

"Outside of the [Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013], an employee who makes a disclosure externally will not be protected and may in fact be committing a criminal offence and be in breach of the APS Code of Conduct."

Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said the department had a responsibility to educate staff about their protections and responsibilities under Commonwealth legislation and the Australian Public Service code of conduct.

"We do this periodically across a range of important issues and will continue to do so to help staff navigate departmental processes and procedures," he told 7.30 in a statement.

Policies that mitigate the stress of poverty would be better than scaring individuals into paying back debts they're unlikely to have, writes Erin Stewart.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has begun holdings meetings with welfare groups as part of its investigation into the project.

On Monday, independent MP Andrew Wilkie wrote to the Ombudsman Colin Neave, offering to put investigators in touch with a former Department of Human Services staff member who has accused Centrelink of bungling the project.

Mr Wilkie said his office has been contacted by several whistleblowers, including some who had left Centrelink "due to the new debt program".

The Department of Human Services has rejected claims that staff dealing with debts have not been properly trained in the system.

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