• Peter Gresham
Social Welfare

Privacy Commissioner Bruce Slane's criticisms of the Social Welfare Department's data-matching progamme were a re-run of the last two years, Social Welfare Minister Hon. Peter Gresham said today.

"Mr Slane has had many meetings with officials and been told that the computer upgrade would meet his requests. "Officials have explained what they can do and what they can't do, but Mr Slane keeps repeating the same arguments."

"I accept the Department's position that it would be irresponsible to do an expensive and temporary upgrade of the computer systems to meet Mr Slane's requirements, when the new system will meet his needs once it is up-and-running," said Mr Gresham.

Mr Gresham said data-matching saved the taxpayer more than $20million in benefit overpayments in the last financial year. The information the Privacy Commissioner wanted was each individual debt established as a result of data-matching and how much money was saved with each data-match. This level of detail was not needed by the Department.

He disputed Mr Slane's comments that the Department's calculations on longer term gains from data-matching were over-stated. "The prospective savings that result from data-matching are calculated using sound and well-accepted formulae."

Mr Gresham said data-matching not only detected benefit crime, but it also had a strong deterrent effect. "People know that if they try to rip off the system there is a good chance they will be caught because government departments compare information."

"I am satisfied that data-matching is carried out legally and correctly and does not breach people's privacy. Mr Slane's comments have the potential to worry people unnecessarily. His concerns are not around the way data-matching is carried out, but how it is reported to him," Mr Gresham said.