4.1 The Terms of Reference for this Inquiry require the ALRC to consider, among other things, the legislative arrangements of Commonwealth social security, child support and family assistance systems. The ALRC is also required to consider whether the extent of information sharing across the Commonwealth, and with state and territory agencies, is appropriate to protect the safety of those experiencing family violence.[1] This chapter examines how family violence is disclosed to Commonwealth agencies, and how that information is treated by those agencies.

4.2 Centrelink, the Child Support Agency (CSA) and the Family Assistance Office (FAO) are responsible for the administration of the social security, child support and family assistance systems, respectively. As service delivery agencies, and due to the integration of these agencies as part of the Human Services portfolio, this chapter discusses the disclosure of family violence to, and treatment of, information about family violence by, these agencies. Details of other Commonwealth agencies referred to in this Inquiry are considered in their respective chapters. As these issues primarily concern service provision by Department of Human Services (DHS) agencies, this chapter also provides an overview of the structure of DHS, and recent changes to the Human Services portfolio.

4.3 As discussed in Chapters 5–13, family violence is relevant to social security, child support and family assistance in a number of ways, including qualification for social security payments, income management and exemptions from the requirement to obtain child support (‘reasonable maintenance action’). It is therefore important that the agencies that administer these systems are able to identify people who have experienced, or are experiencing, family violence so that they can inform them about relevant exemptions or entitlements which, in turn, may enhance their safety.

4.4 The ALRC has identified a number of personal and institutional barriers to the disclosure of family violence to these agencies and proposes a multifaceted approach of screening and risk assessment processes, information sharing and privacy, and family violence policies, to ensure that victims of family violence are appropriately identified, and their needs are responded to accordingly.

4.5 In particular, the ALRC proposes that Centrelink, the CSA and FAO should ‘screen’ all customers for family violence, not through direct questions, but by giving them a short statement and other information about family violence and its relevance to a person’s social security, child support and family assistance case. The ALRC considers that these reforms will enable customers to decide whether or not to disclose family violence—reflecting the theme of self-agency, detailed in Chapter 2.

4.6 However, the ALRC recognises that screening alone is not sufficient and considers that an appropriate case-management and privacy response should be triggered, including referral to a Centrelink social worker. To assist with this, and to ensure consistency across the relevant departments and agencies, the ALRC proposes that a ‘safety concern’ flag should be placed on a customer’s file where family violence and fears for safety have been disclosed. This flag should be subject to information-sharing protocols between relevant departments and agencies, subject to informed consent and privacy safeguards.

4.7 Finally, to enhance consistency across the different departments and agencies, the ALRC proposes that a family violence and child protection policy be developed for each department or agency.

[1] The full Terms of Reference are set out at the front of this Discussion Paper and are available on the ALRC’s website at <>.