Freedom of Information: what the Govt didn’t want you to know about the Cashless Welfare Card

Article published 6 October 2021

Freedom of Information: what the Govt didn’t want you to know about the Cashless Welfare Card

A RECENT report found that federal Government departments take the mickey out of Freedom of Information (FOI).

Anyone can apply for information that is not publicly available held by the Government.

There are grounds on which FOI applications can be refused.

But it now turns out that half the FOI applications which are refused are refused illegitimately, the Office of the Information Commissioner has found.

Applicants can appeal to the Office of the Information Commissioner if they are unhappy with decisions, but it routinely takes years for this under-resourced Office to process appeals.

The very, very likely truth is that departments simply refuse applications they don’t like the look of in the knowledge the Office of the Information Commissioner will take forever.

Your own CPSA lodges the odd FOI application now and then.

Most recently, CPSA applied for information on the number of Age Pensioners on the Cashless Welfare Card in the Cape York area on 30 June 2021.

In fact, CPSA applied twice, in quick succession.

The first application was refused by the Department of Social Services (DSS) on the grounds that it did not hold information about the number of Age Pensioners on the Cashless Welfare Card.

This was an odd response, because the DSS administers both the Age Pension and the Cashless Welfare Card.

Reading between the lines, CPSA gathered that the DSS had not compiled this information for the specific date of 30 June 2021 but had done so earlier in June 2021.

CPSA applied again, but this time it applied for the same information compiled earlier in June 2021.

Again, CPSA’s application was refused. This time around it was on the grounds of privacy. The number of Age Pensioners on the Cashless Welfare Card was so small, the DSS said, that they would be able to be identified even if the information CPSA applied for didn’t name them.

A curious and implausible response, because there are hundreds of Age Pensioners in the Cape York area who are not on the Cashless Welfare Card. How you would identify those who are on it from a mere number is perhaps only clear to the DSS.

Anyway, unbeknownst to CPSA, Senator Nita Green had asked a Question on Notice in the federal Parliament about the same issue.

She had not asked for this information as per a specific date.

Nonetheless, the Minister responsible responded to her, detailing that there were twenty Age Pensioners in the Cape York area on the Cashless Welfare Card, of which fourteen were on it compulsorily and six voluntarily.

Date not an issue.

Privacy not an issue.

The moral of this story is: don’t rely on FOI, get your local parliamentarian to ask a Question on Notice.

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