Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert is today urging Centrelink recipients to make submissions to the Senate inquiry and not to be deterred by the Government's current behaviour in releasing personal information, explaining that giving evidence to a Senate committee is covered by Parliamentary Privilege.
“In order to reassure people who may be considering making a submission I have sought advice from the Acting Clerk of the Senate on the protections to witness and prospective witness to the senate inquiry into the Centrelink debt recovery system.
“Given Government’s release of personal information on Centrelink recipients who speak out about the Centrelink debt recovery system, it is important that everyone including the Government is clear about protection of witnesses. I had concerns that people may be deterred from putting in submissions and speaking at the inquiry hearings.
“Potential witnesses may be fearful of providing evidence to the committee because the Government is monitoring what people say and is giving private information to the media to ‘correct the record’ and maintain the ‘integrity’ of the social security system.
“The Acting Clerk has outlined clearly in a letter to me what constitutes interference with witnesses and molestation of witnesses, and such action may be treated as a contempt.
“The Clerk also noted that the Senate is, in particular entitled to expect that government departments and agencies will not transgress against these prohibitions to the detriment of witnesses and the Senate committee process.
“I encourage people who want to give evidence to do so knowing you are protected by Parliamentary privilege".