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50/1996 Disclosure of Information
National Office Instruction
amending General Orders (1993 edition)
Instruction No. 50
Date of Effect: 1 August 1996
Disclosure of Information
The purpose of this Instruction is to draw to attention the need to exercise caution before disclosing certain information about applicants to spouses and vice versa, even though they may be proposed joint tenants.
A recent complaint to the Privacy Commissioner has highlighted the need for more caution with certain information about a veteran that his/her spouse may not have been aware of and vice versa if applicable.
In the case in hand, the applicant's service records showed that he had a period of leave without pay which reduced his effective service to less than the required minimum period necessary to establish eligibility for a DSH loan. When the veteran's wife phoned to find out the progress of the application, she was advised of the deficiency in her husband's service. The veteran's leave without pay was something that he had never disclosed to his wife and he considered it a breach of his privacy for us to have disclosed it to her.
It is understandable as to how this disclosure arose because the eligible person and spouse were joined under Section 4A and treated together as an eligible person accordingly. Either one of the parties enquiring about the application has the authority in that sense to be asking about its progress. However, in hindsight, disclosure of personal information about the other party should not have occurred.
Administrative Framework and Decision Making General Order 3.1 currently prohibits the disclosure of information which is properly confidential to one party only where the party to whom the information relates has indicated that the information is not to be released. This GO needs amendment in the light of this recent case.
Policy to be applied
It is prudent that we consider more carefully what information may be released to a spouse. There should be no problem in discussing the stages of application processing with either party. If, however, the process is affected by the personal circumstances of either party, discussions on the particular matter should only occur with that person. For example, if a service check reveals a period of leave without pay, absence without leave or other breaches of discipline, a medical related premature discharge, or that the veteran did not serve in an area as claimed, then those details are only to be disclosed to the veteran. An enquiring spouse should be informed that there is a delay in finalising the application and requested to ask the veteran to contact our office as a matter of some urgency. The details could then be discussed with the veteran without the risk of a breach of confidence.
Attached are amended pages for the Administrative Framework and Decision Making General Orders. Please replace the existing pages 5-6 with the amended version.
Effect on previously issued NOIs
This Instruction has no effect on any previously issued operative NOI.
Housing & Community Support
31 July 1996