Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
It's that time of year again! The sunset clause in the Data-matching Program (Assistance & Tax) Act , renewed twice in 1992 and 1993, is again due to take effect on 22 January 1996. In order to continue the program, the government has introduced an amendment to repeal the sunset clause (Sched 2, Pts 2 and 3, Social Security Legislation Amendment (Carer Pension and Other Measures) Bill 1995, introduced on 19 October 1995). The amendment would retain a reporting requirement - every three years to Parliament, and every year to the Privacy Commissioner
As required by the Act, the participating agencies tabled reports in Parliament in October on the operation of the program. As usual, the Department of Social Security (DSS) report is the most comprehensive, covering its activities both as the matching agency and as a source and user agency. For the first year since the program commenced, the DSS actual savings directly attributable to the matching ($83.7 million) exceeded their estimates, although the cumulative savings to date of $193.5 million are still less than the original estimates for the first year alone. Savings for all agencies in 1994-95 were 101 million, with costs of $20 million.
Other amendments to the Data-matching Act included in the Schedule would allow the Department of Human Services and Health (DHSH) to participate in the regulated data-matching program. The change co-incides with the need to remove the former Department of Community Services and Health from the scheme, following the expiry of the First Home Owners Scheme.
The rationale for replacing the old DCSH with the new DHSH relates to changes to the child care assistance program which is jointly administered by the Department of Social Security (DSS) and the DHSH. The administration of this program will now be combined with that of DSS family assistance, involving a joint application and assessment in relation to both child care assistance and family payment. It will involve the collection of tax file numbers (TFN) from a small group of beneficiaries for the first time, and the seeking of consent from a larger group of existing DSS family payment clients for the use of TFNs already held by DSS for the child care assistance program. These changes will be effected through amendments to the Child Care Act. As with other uses of the TFN, anyone refusing to allow their TFN to be used would lose their eligibility for assistance - provision of the TFN is a condition of assistance.
On one view, this proposed change represents a significant extension of the regulated program and use of the tax file number to another area of government. On another view, it is incidental that this particular benefit program involves two departments, and should be seen as no different from the fairly regular adjustments of benefit names and administrative arrangements within DSS.
The Bill is due to be debated later in November, with a view to passage before Christmas.