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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 9769

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (13:06): I rise to speak in support of the Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012 and I particularly commend the contribution by the member for Greenway. I am chair of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, and, as discussed by earlier speakers, my committee is looking into this bill; nevertheless, I am going to make a contribution to this debate.

Consumer protection is a topic of importance to people in the Moreton electorate and throughout Australia. As noted by the member for Greenway, whilst we do have a good regime and we can hold our heads up high in terms of looking after people's privacy, perhaps second only to the French in some areas in protecting people's rights, there are always opportunities to look at the legislation and improve it. Every day people are faced with handling or disclosing personal information or trying to gain access to credit. Credit is obviously one of the great opportunities for people without money to generate wealth. It is the boon of the middle class, and in Australia where we have such strong banks it is an opportunity for people with secure employment to give their children a greater opportunity in life. So anything that secures good credit is to be commended and endorsed. Obviously we have seen in the United States the problems that come with bad credit, so we do take this area of law very seriously.

The bill before the chamber will implement key aspects of the government's first-stage response to the Australian Law Reform Commission's report into strengthening consumer protection. There are three key reforms in the bill. The new unified Australian Privacy Principles will apply equally to both the private and public sectors. The member for Greenway talked about this because of her previous calling as a privacy lawyer, and I thank her for her contribution because it was a great expose of some of the pitfalls that might confront people. The new unified Australian privacy principles will continue to deal with the handling of personal information, which includes the collection, storage, security, use, disclosure and, most importantly, accuracy of information.

A new principle will be introduced to deal specifically with direct marketing. Stronger protections for consumers will be included in the bill for the disclosure of information to overseas companies and organisations. This is something that people are aware of. We saw Telstra announce the other day—yesterday, it might have been—that they were outsourcing some of the jobs that were undertaken in Australia to overseas entities. It does happen in the banking sector. I met with the Financial Services Union, who talked about their members' jobs being exported overseas and the protections being enforced by contract and Australian law rather than only Australian law. Whilst lawyers can do many things, there is obviously that element of risk associated with any overseas contractual relationship enforcing Australian law.

More comprehensive credit reporting will for the first time include positive information in consumers' credit reports supported by strong privacy protections for this information. For example, a credit card report will show when a debt is paid on time and paid on time regularly, not just when it was in default or overdue. I used to be an articled clerk and a lawyer who had the joy of going through some of these processes, especially in the low-level articled clerk procedures, where you would trawl through some of these things, and standard lawyer procedure in terms of setting up companies and the like, as any lawyer would do. So it will be great to see that people have a positive credit history rather than just looking at the black marks.

These reforms are expected to improve responsible lending and reduce levels of indebtedness and defaults. It does not happen every week but it is not uncommon for people to come into my office to talk about the black marks that are on their credit report, that are on their credit history, which then mean that they cannot move into housing, they cannot buy cars—the things that set you up in life. As anyone who has dealt with homelessness knows, as soon as someone loses that roof over their head and starts couch surfing or, heaven forbid, living in their car, the whole world can fall apart for that individual or for a family when the family has to change schools and face all the stresses that come with such things. So I particularly commend the minister for this initiative in getting rid of the black marks that too often have been indelible. Black marks for what someone thought was normal behaviour when they were a university student can stay with them into their 40s and 50s.

There are new powers for the Australian Privacy Commissioner to handle complaints and to give remedies to consumers. The new powers will include the ability to accept enforceable undertakings as well as the ability to pursue civil penalties for serious breaches of privacy. In terms of the carrot and stick approach to legislation, modern legislation seems to have different sizes of stick, and enforceable undertakings have been an important part of that in changing behaviour. There are gradual steps up in the enforcement process so that you can come down very hard on the rogues at the end of the process if need be or just give a guiding hand to someone early on in the process so that they are on the straight and narrow and good corporate citizens.

The Privacy Amendment Bill will modernise Australia's privacy law framework by creating a single, technology-neutral set of privacy principles for both the private sector and Australian government agencies. Importantly, this will benefit consumers by promoting transparency in the handling of personal information by requiring organisations to develop and publish more competitive privacy policies. This makes it easier for everyday people to access and correct their credit reporting information. Bolstering the Privacy Commissioner's powers to enforce compliance with the act will further protect victims of identity theft and fraud by providing them with the ability to prohibit, for a specified period, the disclosure of credit reporting information about them with their consent. This is an interconnected world and a world of social media. The NBN being rolled out around the nation will bring incredible benefits and is a big part of our productivity agenda, but it does mean that identity theft and fraud can take place anywhere now. We were down in your part of the world recently, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, speaking to seniors about the benefits and the challenges that come with the interconnected world. I thank you for that contribution. It was a great community area. I have forgotten the name of it but it was a great experience.

This bill will also protect minors by prohibiting the collection of credit-reporting information about individuals under the age of 18.

This bill will more clearly and tightly regulate the use of personal information for direct marketing by introducing a specific privacy principle directed at direct-marketing activity and will prohibit the use of credit information for direct marketing. Too often, people are disrupted by the telephone or a knock at the door, with telemarketers trying to push a certain product—and I note that the member for Hindmarsh, who has spoken on this topic as well, is in the chamber. This bill will more tightly regulate the use of personal information for direct marketing. It will give more power to consumers to opt out of receiving direct-marketing materials, with the onus on companies to provide a clear and simple way for consumers to opt out.

The movement of information across borders offers significant social and economic benefits, particularly in the context of e-commerce. The existing Privacy Act regulates the disclosure of personal information to people outside Australia. The reformed Privacy Act will enhance that protection by requiring an agency or organisation to have in place, before any disclosure occurs, arrangements to ensure that any overseas recipient will protect the personal information—for example, by making appropriate contractual arrangements. However, the agency or organisation will still remain responsible for the personal information even when it is in the hands of the overseas recipient. This will strengthen the protection for an individual's information where it is disclosed outside Australia.

The bill will also reform the consumer credit reporting system. This is the first reform since Labor introduced credit reporting in 1990. Along with our responsible lending reforms in the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009, these changes will mean that the banks see more accurate information about the types of accounts families have and when they were opened and closed; the current credit limits of accounts, but obviously not the day-to-day balance, as that privacy will still be protected; and the positive information about repayment history, as I touched on before—when a credit card was paid off on time, not just the default sort of information about overdue payments.

Access to more accurate information will mean that the banks can assess credit risks more accurately. Normally, the more accurately they can price the risk, the cheaper it is. It is expected that it will enhance existing responsible-lending obligations, leading to decreased levels of overindebtedness and lower credit default rates. It is also expected to create more competition and efficiency in the credit market, which may in turn lead to more affordable credit and mortgage insurance for consumers. I know that some mortgage insurance companies have some concerns, but I am optimistic that those concerns will be addressed in this process.

Consumers will now also have more power to manage and check their credit report, including improved rights to access and correct their credit report. Credit providers will have positive obligations to help consumers correct their credit information. It will be easier to make complaints about incorrect credit-reporting information. The bill will also prohibit the collection of credit-reporting information about individuals reasonably known to be under 18.

This bill will not only further protect consumers but will provide businesses with a more flexible and less prescriptive credit-reporting regime by emphasising industry-led complaint resolution. The new privacy principles are technology neutral and relevant to a technology-driven environment and have the flexibility to adapt to new technology as it develops. This bill will modernise the credit-reporting provisions to address the significant changes that have taken place since they were first enacted in 1990 and will allow more comprehensive credit reporting to ensure that the credit-reporting system includes accurate and up-to-date information.

This bill will not only make it easier for people to appropriately access credit but will give people the opportunity to make businesses and banks aware of their positive credit history. As a member of parliament with 19,000 small businesses in my electorate, I know how important that is—how people with the right opportunity, the right idea and the right support can then go on to create jobs. The millions and millions of jobs and employees in the small business sector need as much protection as possible.

The bill will also further protect consumers by tightening regulations for people's personal information and by giving consumers the ability to opt out of direct-marketing campaigns. This is a very interconnected world. Whilst I personally am not moved too much by ads, obviously direct-marketing campaigns are a boon in that they talk about things that you are interested in, whether it be through Facebook, your magazines or the like, so that is a good thing. If you are not interested in golf, there is no point in your being bombarded with ads about golfing, but, if you are, obviously that sort of direct-marketing campaign would be more appropriate.

This bill, in terms of having a logical approach to direct-marketing campaigns, will give a bit of protection, particularly to the vulnerable whom we hear of who can be targeted in some direct-marketing campaigns, particularly Indigenous communities or the CALD, or culturally and linguistically diverse, communities and also the elderly. This bill will keep pace with the ever-changing nature and modernisation of the consumer industry by placing more stringent conditions on access to offshore personal information. Obviously it will not stop every rogue. Knowledge about people is sought after by rogues, be they criminals or people who utilise sharp practice in their selling of products. But the bill before the chamber is delivering on the Gillard Labor government's response to the Australian Law Reform Commission's report, and I welcome any reform that seeks to strengthen consumer protection. I commend the minister for this bill and I also commend the bill to the House.