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QCAT orders compensation for Office of Industrial Relations privacy breaches

Queensland’s Office of Industrial Relations (OIR) has been ordered to pay $20,000 in compensation for multiple breaches of a person’s privacy.

Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal member Barbara Kent found that an OIR staff member breached the privacy of a man – identified as AA – on four occasions during conversations with various staff at QSuper – the state’s Brisbane-based superannuation fund.

Ms Kent, in a recently published 18-page decision, said that on 26 June 2020 a privacy complaint made by AA was referred to QCAT under Section 176 of Queensland’s Information Privacy Act 2009.

“The complaint was made against the State of Queensland (OIR) … (and) AA has sought compensation payable for the four breaches of privacy,” she said.

“It is conceded by the (OIR) that (AA’s) privacy had been breached … (and) the parties both agree that there were four breaches of (AA’s) privacy in the course of conversations between a OIR staff member … and staff at QSuper.”

AA, in his submissions, said audio recordings of telephone conversations between the OIR employee and QSuper contained what he alleged was laughter and that the staff members was “acting in a malicious way towards him”.

“(AA) submitted to the Tribunal that he was relying on the following points to prove that the employee of OIR was acting with malicious intent,” Ms Kent said.

“Why did (the OIR staffer) need to speak to QSuper? The OIR had permission to speak
to the (AA’s) treating psychiatrist, General Practitioner (GP), and psychologist.

“In summary, AA considered that this was a backdoor method of attempting to achieve the aim of having him undertake an independent medical examination (IME). He said that he did not need an IME as his medical practitioners could supply information about him.

“(AA) said the tapes were proof of (the staff member) colluding with QSuper, AA referenced the occasions he characterised as laughter on the audio tapes as further proof that (the OIC staffer) was acting maliciously towards him.

“(AA) submitted that he found it highly offensive, humiliating, and embarrassing when he heard the information that was in the recordings. He said that he had had a long career in his job (30 years) and that he was very hurt to have been treated like this.”

The OIR, in its submissions to the tribunal, said there was no evidence that anyone, including the staff member identified by AA, had in any way exhibited malicious behaviour in the admitted privacy breaches.

Ms Kent, in her findings, said: “It is accepted by (OID that the staff member’s) actions amount to a breach of privacy on their behalf.

“However, from the words and actions used I cannot draw the conclusion that the behaviour is malicious. Something malicious requires a step further beyond being badly handled or inappropriate.

“This matter was certainly inappropriately, and one could say badly handled by the OIR with several errors that include the breaches by (the staff member).

“(However) I can find no evidence on listening to the recording that there is proof of malice contained in them.’’

Ms Kent ordered OIR pay AA $20,000 in compensation.

“I consider that payment by the OIR of the amount of $5000 per breach ($20,000 in total) is an appropriate compensation to AA.”

Read the decision.

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