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Gordon Legal to investigate class action against Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Gordon Legal is set to investigate a potential class action against the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) following what it labelled an “unauthorised” disclosure of sensitive medical and personal information affecting up to over 300,000 service personnel and their families.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 15 February 2024 SME Law
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The investigation stems, the firm outlined in a statement, from the closure of the DVA’s Medicines Advice and Therapeutics Education Services Program (MATES Program), which was revealed to have been sharing identifiable data with the University of South Australia over a span of two decades.

According to the firm, the private information apparently disclosed included a range of highly personal details such as “the medical histories of veterans and their family members, including their mental health diagnoses, pregnancy terminations, sexual health diagnoses, surgeries and alcohol and drug addiction issues”. In conjunction with this, “their names, addresses and dates of birth were disclosed”.

Gordon Legal has filed a representative complaint with the information commissioner, representing all individuals affected by the disclosure, on the back of the DVA having “conceded that it misled the information commissioner about the extent of the disclosed information in an earlier investigation of the MATES Program”, which only exacerbated concerns regarding their accountability and transparency, the firm submitted.

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Julie Anderson, OAM, an advocate for veterans and a spouse of a Gulf War veteran, expressed outrage at the alleged claims, stating: “What concerns me the most about all of this is the complete disregard by the DVA of the right of veterans to choose what happens with their own personal information.

“The DVA could have sought their informed consent at any time. Not once did it do this in the two decades that the MATES Program was in operation.

Seb O’Meara of Gordon Legal, spearheading the investigation, affirmed the firm’s commitment to protecting the privacy rights of veterans and their families, stating: “Our investigation will look at the legal options to protect the privacy of veterans and their families, and attempt to rectify these injustices.”

He also pointed out that “this matter highlights the crucial need for government bodies to be held accountable for protecting Australians’ sensitive information”.

In a statement published on 12 February, DVA secretary Alison Frame wrote: “It is important to note that there has not been any unauthorised access of veteran data. The data has not been made available publicly or for nefarious purposes. DVA only ever provided client data for the purposes of MATES to a trusted organisation, the University of South Australia, under strict data security and access policies.”

“DVA takes its obligations under the Privacy Act extremely seriously, and in August 2023, paused any provision of data to UniSA to enable a thorough examination of the existing arrangements. Since this time, no data transfers have occurred.”

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy is the editor of Lawyers Weekly. A former lawyer, he has worked at Momentum Media as a journalist on Lawyers Weekly since February 2018, and has served as editor since March 2022. He is also the host of all five shows under The Lawyers Weekly Podcast Network, and has overseen the brand's audio medium growth from 4,000 downloads per month to over 60,000 downloads per month, making The Lawyers Weekly Show the most popular industry-specific podcast in Australia. Jerome is also the author of The Wellness Doctrines book series, an admitted solicitor in NSW, and a board director of Minds Count.

You can email Jerome at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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