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Libs, Labor trade blows over 'data harvesting' finding

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Opposition Leader David Speirs concedes political parties need to ensure they’ve “got their houses in order” following the Ombudsman’s findings into the Marshall Government’s use of campaign tool NationBuilder.

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Ombudsman Wayne Lines found the former Liberal Government’s use of the data harvesting platform was “regrettable” and “created the perception of public information being used for party-political purposes” but that “it does not appear data was produced in any meaningful form”.

He determined it was “not in the public interest” to pursue an inquiry.

The ombudsman looked at the use of links by the Liberals that redirected web users through the domain used by political parties around the world to collect data for campaign purposes.

Lines said it appeared the practice had been inadvertently carried over when the former government was elected in 2018 and ceased in March 2021.

As well as the hyperlinks being used in media releases, employees of a range of agencies had cut and pasted them onto agency resources without understanding the potential implications.

The ombudsman engaged an expert in cyber security, privacy and the protection of government data to provide advice after studying the functions of several of the hyperlinks in question.

Lines said that advice found the data was effectively “muddled” and most likely could not be used in any meaningful way.

“In all of the circumstances, particularly noting the expert advice that it does not appear data was produced in any meaningful form, I determined, in my discretion, that it is not in the public interest to take further action in relation to the matter,” the ombudsman said in a statement today.

The former Government repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Responding to the findings, Speirs said “I think the Ombudsman is saying in terms of public perception it’s important to separate political parties from the actions of government administering the public service and services on behalf of the state”.

“That is a fair comment and I’m sure all political parties will be taking a look at that and ensuring they’ve got their houses in order,” he said.

“That software served a purpose for the Liberal Party in Opposition and that had been transitioned into government. It is what it is.”

Speirs took aim at Labor’s pursuit of the issue, accusing former government accountability spokesperson Tom Koutsantonis of over-egging the situation.

“This is another Tom Koutsantonis stuff-up,” Speirs said.

“He was standing there in Opposition saying this is the greatest scandal the state has ever seen.

“The hyperbole and the anger and the false over-the-top pronunciations by Tom Koutsantonis saying this was the biggest problem, there was criminal behaviour being covered up here, this was corruption at the highest level, well clearly that all turned into hyperbole.

“The Ombudsman has essentially said there’s nothing to see here and it would not be in the public interest to move forward with any further investigations.”

Koutsantonis hit back, saying “despite what the Opposition is saying, this is not an endorsement of their practice”.

“In fact I think the Ombudsman is quite clear that it was not wise to be using software that could track citizens when they opened their press releases, especially journalists,” he said.

“It’s a warning to political parties that being in government is not about furthering your own political party’s knowledge of what’s going on with its citizens.”

Koutsantonis said Speirs “should really apologise to the public rather than try and turn this into something else”.

“This sort of sloppiness run by Mr Marshall and Mr Speirs says that they don’t really understand the high expectations people have of governments,” he said.

“I’m glad we raised it, I’m glad it was investigated and I’m glad it’s been aired because privacy is one of the most important rights our citizens have from their government.”

-with AAP

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