By Alex Cooper
A document leaked to Green Left Weekly indicates that the Department of Social Security and the Australian Federal Police are planning regular exchange of information that has generally been regarded as confidential.
It created considerable scandal earlier this year when it was revealed that DSS and the AFP had exchanged information about protesters at the Aidex Exhibition in Canberra in November. A draft memorandom of understanding leaked to Green Left aims to formalise such exchanges. A wide range of confidential information may be shared under the terms of this document.
The memorandum, dated August 7 and to be signed by the commissioner of the AFP and the secretary of the DSS, sets out the responsibilites of the two authorities to:
"(a) acknowledge a commitment to respond promptly and efficiently to criminal or other offences against DSS, or offences under various enactments administered by DSS, and to ensure that such offences are suitably recorded or reported, and
"(b) accept that there may be circumstances (eg urgency location) where it is more practical for DSS to refer a matter to State/Territory Police for investigation. Such instances will be made known by DSS to the AFP".
This implies that similar agreements are likely between the DSS and other authorities, including the state police.
Under the heading "Operational Relationships", the full extent of their possible cooperation is
"Where DSS receives or discovers information from which it can reasonably be suspected that crime against the Commonwealth has been, is being, or is likely to be committed, it will ... in more serious or sensitive cases promptly notify the AFP who shall accept responsibility for the matter and provide DSS with an estimated time frame for the investigation".
The AFP is to do the same for any "offences against the DSS", and contact may be at the headquarters or regional level.
Under "Referral Criteria", the memorandum is equally exhaustive:
"In determining whether a particular matter, fraudulent or otherwise, should be referred to the AFP for investigation, DSS shall have regard to whether the matter involves, may involve, or has the potential to involve;-
"(a) a significant monetary or property loss to the Commonwealth or its instrumentalities;
"(b) exploitation or attempted exploitation of a government programme, scheme, plan or allocation;
"(c) a Commonwealth officer, employee, or person engaged on contract to Government, either acting alone or in concert with others;
"(d) organised or conspirational activity;
"(e) bribery, corruption or attempted bribery or corruption of public officials or persons performing duties on behalf of the Government;
"(f) the security, standing or integrity of Government, its instrumentalities, resources or interests;
"(g) relations between the Commonwealth, State or local Governments, or the national or international role of the Commonwealth."
Further, the AFP and DSS may "exchange information and intelligence to assist in the prevention, detection and investigation of crime".
The memorandum also sets out how both parties will handle the media. The wording might suggest a view that too much was released to the media in regard to the Aidex protesters, or that the versions of events provided by DSS and AFP weren't sufficiently in agreement:
"In cases where both the DSS and AFP are involved, the organisation having the lead role shall be responsible for the release of information to the media. Releases where made must be in accordance with pre-trial publicity guidelines and adequately reflect the contribution made by each organisation. No information is to be provided to the media during investigation, charging, prosecution or appeal phases of any such enquiry, without agreement on release and content by both agencies."