CANBERRA -- The Australian Federal Police won't further investigate Human Services Minister Alan Tudge over a controversial release of a Centrelink client's personal information to a newspaper.
Labor frontbencher Linda Burney referred Tudge to the AFP in March, after the minister's office gave personal details of a Centrelink recipient, blogger and single mum Andie Fox, to a Fairfax journalist. Fox had previously written an opinion piece in the Canberra Times in February about her struggles dealing with the Centrelink system, and Tudge's office authorised the release of additional facts about her case, including tax and relationship information.
Labor sought legal advice, with the former chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Robert Richter, advising that a law "may" have been broken and the disclosure "could" lead to a prison sentence.
"I believe that the actions of the minister are at best unethical and at worst illegal," Burney said at the time.
The case was met with much controversy, with many criticising Tudge for releasing Fox's personal details. On Monday, however, the AFP confirmed it would not be pursuing further investigation of the incident.
"The Australian Federal Police can confirm it received a referral from the Shadow Minister for Human Services, the Hon Ms Linda Burney MP on 2 March 2017 and commenced an evaluation," an AFP spokesperson told HuffPost Australia.
"The referral raised allegations of the possible unlawful release of protected information by the Department of Human Services and / or the Minister the Hon. Mr Alan Tudge MP and/or his staff regarding a Centrelink client. The AFP has conducted an evaluation into this matter and concluded that there was no breach of Commonwealth legislation.
"The AFP will not be making further comment in respect of the matter."
In a statement on Monday, Tudge said Labor's referral of the case "was always a political stunt and part of its Centrelink scare campaign".
"In a letter received from the Assistant Commissioner today, the AFP made clear that the protected information released by my office (prepared by my Department) was approved for release and was therefore not an unauthorised disclosure," Tudge said.
"The decision to end the consideration of this referral is no surprise. Social security law and family assistance law allow for the release of limited information to respond to incorrect or misleading information in the media about specific cases, in order to maintain public confidence in the integrity of government programmes."
"The Government takes privacy very seriously and complies with all the requirements of the relevant legislation."
Burney told HuffPost Australia that she would continue pursuing Tudge over the leak, including pushing for further investigation.
"Frankly if the Minister thinks this is the end of his troubles he is mistaken. Lawful or not, Mr Tudge acted deeply unethically," she said in a statement.
"Serious questions remain about Alan Tudge and his office's handling of highly sensitive information and Labor will continue to push for answers. Labor will now ask the Information Commissioner to resume his investigation into Mr Tudge's handling of private information and I look forward to that outcome."
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