This article appeared on the Stuff website on Sunday the 15th, 2012.
A senior medical officer in ACC’s sensitive claims unit has made legal threats to a blogger who posted information about his employment history, in the wake of a mass privacy breach.
Peter Dodwell, the branch medical advisor of the unit that deals with rape and abuse victims, was fired from his previous job in Australia over a privacy issue.
Both Dodwell and ACC’s senior medical advisor, Peter Jansen, have threatened legal action against blogger Kyle Macdonald, a psychotherapist who regularly speaks out against the corporation.
The revelations come as the Auditor General prepares to investigate ACC’s governance, adding to an inquiry by the Privacy Commissioner into a breach that saw 6000 patient files – including 131 from the sensitive claims unit – released to claimant Bronwyn Pullar.
Documents show that in March 2008 Dodwell was sacked from his role as chief medical officer at HealthQuest, the medical screening body for all public servants in Australia, after an internal investigation into his behaviour.
The investigator, former NSW Police Deputy Commissioner David Madden, found Dodwell had inappropriately passed on information to the Education Department about a teacher it intended employing, saying she was being investigated by police for defamatory website postings about him.
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, there was no evidence the teacher was being investigated by police.
Madden said Dodwell passed on the information in an attempt to adversely influence the department’s decision to employ her.
”The way in which he [ Dodwell] went about informing the Department of Education was inappropriate and not reasonable behaviour of a public official,” the report said.
Madden said the teacher had no opportunity to defend herself against Dodwell’s claims, and he should be disciplined for breaching privacy restrictions. He was later fired.
After Mr MacDonald posted a link to the SMH story, and an opinion of its contents on his blog, he received a letter from Dodwell’s lawyer requesting parts be changed or removed because they were defamatory.
The letter was similar to one MacDonald received from Jansen in 2010 about a defamatory blog post and tweet, which he removed for fear of legal action.
Jansen was the senior ACC manager at the centre of another defamation case last year, involving a blogger who was also claimant of the Sensitive Claims Unit.
The blogger, known as Jax, was under the police witness protection programme for sexual abuse at the time, and alleged her ACC file had been accessed by someone within ACC in order to find her contact details.
MacDonald said the threats against him, in his view, were another example of how ACC bullied critics and ”whistleblowers” who had genuine concerns about the organisation.
Dodwell was hired to provide expert opinion about claims and treatment decisions, he said.
”I thought the information should be in the public domain, given someone with that kind of history is in a clinical role. The reality is that it’s a political position, so the public have a right to express their views.”
MacDonald said the fact Dodwell had a history with privacy issues was important given the recent breach and his role in sensitive claims.
”Privacy is important for people with a sensitive claim. Lack of it can cause emotional harm, but it can also be dangerous for people who are in hiding because of sexual abuse,” he said.
In a statement, an ACC spokeswoman said: ”The importance of confidentiality is vital to the good faith employment relationships between ACC and it’s staff. Consequently it would be inappropriate for ACC to comment on any individuals employment matters.”’
But ACC said that Dodwell had provided a complete CV to ACC when he applied for the job.
Dodwell himself said he disclosed, directly to his ACC manager, details of the matter that led to his dismissal in Australia.
As for the legal action, ACC said it had no role when an employee ”acting independently or out of personal motives” initiated legal communications, proceedings or actions with an external party.
Dodwell argued there was no legal action ”either taken or threatened”.
”The letter acquainted Mr McDonald with inaccuracies in his article, and invited him either to remove certain specified passages or to amend his article to reflect the true situation,” he said.
Jansen said the material on McDonald’s blog ”seriously defamed” him. He wouldn’t answer a question asking if he thought his actions were appropriate.
By KIRSTY JOHNSTON
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