16 Mar 2017

Govt urged to extend data-for-funding reprieve

12:59 pm on 16 March 2017

A temporary reprieve granted to sexual violence agencies regarding information-sharing with the government should be extended to all such groups, an NGO umbrella group says.

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The new arrangement, due to come into place on 1 July, requires agencies seeking state funding to hand over clients' private details to government organisations.

However, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has directed her ministry to delay implementing the information-sharing programme for those working with sexual violence victims until it works out how to securely collect and store the data.

Umbrella group ComVoices spokesperson Brenda Pilott told Nine to Noon that agencies she works with feared the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) did not have a secure system for information from any of the groups to be covered by the new programme.

"They haven't recognised that there are sensitive and difficult issues for many other kinds of services," Ms Pilott said.

"We all understand there are clear safety issues around sexual violence victims - there is no argument about that.

"[But] those issues are often a component of family violence, so many other services would say, 'We've got special and additional needs too.'"

Other agencies, including suicide prevention groups and those helping problem gamblers, also dealt with sensitive issues, Ms Pilott said.

ComVoices was not blaming the ministry for not being ready for the new system, as it involved complex issues and there was a lot of work to be done, she said.

"We've been saying for some months now ... let's take a step back from all of this and try and work out how government gets the information it really needs, and doesn't get the information it doesn't need, and get a system we can all have trust and confidence in."

The fact MSD did not have a system to protect information from sexual violence services suggested there was no secure system at all, she said.

It was also not clear whether the reprieve on information gathering related only to organisations working with victims of sexual offending, or whether it would also extend to those like WellStop, which worked with sex offenders.

"There are some serious issues for organisations doing that work," Ms Pilott said.

"The stigma and danger to people who are perhaps labelled as sex offenders or paedophiles is very considerable and they would have very serious concerns I would imagine."

Social service providers were faced with a "Hobson's choice" because if they did not hand over client information they would not be funded.

"And for many agencies that will mean by about July or August they'll be shut, the people who work in them will be out of a job, the clients will have nowhere to go to and various services will be missing."

Ms Pilott had written to the Prime Minister and Social Development Minister asking that the information -sharing scheme be deferred for all social service agencies.

The Privacy Commissioner will report on the issue next week.