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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 9758


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (12:13): The majority of Australians, especially the younger generation, frequently share their personal information online through everyday tasks, such as paying bills, purchasing concert tickets, online shopping, entering competitions and social networking sites. In fact, in today's technologically driven society, most people no longer think twice about the potential dangers of constantly sharing private personal information in the online world, but there are serious risks to doing so. That is why it is so vital that there are rules and restrictions placed on companies and organisations that specify how they can collect, use and disclose customers' personal information. The Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012 seeks to make Australia's privacy protection framework relevant to the modern era of online information sharing.

I turn now to the specifics of the bill. The bill seeks to amend the Privacy Act 1988 to implement the first stage response to the Australian Law Reform Commission's report, For your information: Australian privacy law and practice, published on 25 June 2006. That report contained 295 recommendations, 197 of which are addressed in this bill. The principal amendments proposed in this bill are to (1) establish the Australian Privacy Principles, a single set of privacy principles applying to both Commonwealth agencies and the private sector, to replace the existing Information Privacy Principles for the public sector, and the National Privacy Principles for the private sector; (2) introduce more comprehensive credit reporting with improved privacy protections; (3) introduce provisions on privacy codes and the credit reporting code, including powers for the Privacy Commissioner to register codes that are binding on specified agencies and corporations; (4) clarify the functions and powers of the commissioner, including those to resolve complaints, encourage the use of external dispute resolution services and conduct investigations; and (5) insert a new part to deal with civil penalties for contraventions. Maximum penalties are $220,000 for an individual and $1.1 million for a corporation, for serious and repeat contraventions.

This bill is lengthy and complex and contains important changes to the regimes governing credit reporting and the use of personal information. The aspect that has generated most stakeholder comment concerns the transition from negative to positive credit reporting. Industry stakeholders strongly support positive credit reporting, which enables lenders to assess the maintenance of credit accounts rather than simply instances of default. Positive credit reporting is seen as a much more reliable guide to a person's ability to service a loan and is likely to have considerable value to consumers. However, there are reservations with the proposed regime: for example, access to new data by telecoms and utilities is excluded, despite the value this should represent to them and to consumers.

The proposed restrictions on access to data by offshore entities has also been criticised as overlooking potential safeguards, and stakeholders suggest that there should be a carve-out for trans-Tasman data flows, given the interconnectedness of the Australian and New Zealand economies. In addition, the civil penalties regime is seen as unduly harsh, especially in the case of human inadvertence, despite the existence of secure and tested data management systems.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs are both inquiring into the bill but have not yet reported, which is surprising given that we are debating it here today. It does seem to be part of an increasing practice by the government to bring bills on for debate in this chamber without the House committee even having a chance to report. To the opposition, that does seem like putting the cart before the horse.

One of the more notable submissions to the Senate inquiry was from the Australasian Retail Credit Association, who represent Australia's credit reporting agencies and major banking and financial services organisations. They had four key areas of concern, which are shared by other industry stakeholders who submitted to the Senate inquiry. The first area of concern to the association is the issue of cross-border data sharing. They recommended that the bill be amended so that:

In the case of offshore disclosure, APP8—

Australian Privacy Principle 8—

applies to credit information in the same way it applies to other forms of personal information; and

If there is a privacy breach, in respect to data disclosed offshore, liability for the breach rests with the disclosing entity and individuals are able to seek redress for the breach through the regulator, unless that breach has been made despite reasonable steps taken by the disclosing entity to prevent a breach, and the offshore entity improperly discloses the data.

The association's second area of concern is restrictions on the use of de-identified data. They note in their submission:

De-identified information is, by definition, credit reporting information that is no longer personal information. ARCA considers it unnecessary and inappropriate for the use and disclosure of this information to be regulated by the Privacy Act.

The third area of concern addressed in the association's submission is commencement arrangements. They explain:

… the Bill provides for the commencement of the new credit reporting regime nine months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. By trying to implement the reforms in a nine month window, there is a risk that consumers will experience real negative impacts from the credit reporting changes …

The fourth, and last, area of concern to the Australasian Retail Credit Association is corrections and complaints. As they detail in their submission:

Unless the complaints handling process in the Bill is amended, it will require a complex system to be developed between the multitude of Credit Providers and CRBs—

credit reporting bodies—

who use the credit reporting system to manage the finalisation of consumer complaints. Such a system would increase the risk of inadvertent disclosure, remove the ability of the consumer to deal directly with the cause of the complaint, and is against industry practice and good business practice regarding customer service.

The coalition urges the Senate committee to further investigate the recommendations made in this submission and made by others who had similar concerns about the bill and who took the time to make submissions.

This is a very important bill with significant implications for the financial sector. While the coalition welcomes the bill and key stakeholders have welcomed the introduction of positive credit reporting, there are serious concerns as to cross-border data sharing and the use of de-identified data. The concerns are likely to be reflected in the House and Senate committees' reports, and amendments are likely to be recommended. In these circumstances, you really wonder why we are debating this bill in the House today, when those committee reports have not been finalised. When stakeholders make submissions to committee inquiries, which is often a very time-consuming process that they put a lot of effort into, I think they could reasonably expect that the parliament would not discuss the legislation until it had had time to consider the committee reports. This is yet another bill that we are debating this week where we have not had the chance to do that.

I call on the government to take the parliamentary committee process seriously. Obviously, a lot of government members sit on committees—for example, committees are chaired by government members—and I am surprised that the government has so little regard for the committee process whereby we are debating bills here before the relevant committees have had a chance to report on references that they have been given or that they have chosen themselves.

On behalf of the opposition I thank industry stakeholders who have contributed to the important reforms in this bill. I apologise that the parliament is looking at the bill before some of the concerns of these stakeholders can be readily examined. We support the aims of the bill as an opposition; however, considering the number of amendments it is making, we believe that it is important that the bill be thoroughly and properly examined. It would have been far better if we could have had a look at the pending House and Senate committee reports before we examined the bill. Doing this would have been particularly essential given this government's well-earned reputation for incompetence. Rushing legislation through without proper consideration and attention to detail is just a recipe for incompetence to be perpetuated and is not good legislative practice. While the opposition supports the bill and its aims, I urge the government, when it is moving legislation that is obviously complex and is going to impact on particular industries very heavily, to let this House and the Senate do their job properly.