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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 9773


Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (13:21): I am very happy to be here to support the Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012 and to speak on the bill, which is about protecting people's personal information. That has been a very topical discussion in South Australia, especially in my electorate. Many people have been concerned about it. We hear about banking jobs being offshored and about telcos and a whole range of people offshoring. Only the other day we heard that Telstra will be sending approximately 600 jobs offshore, which will mean that when you pick up the phone to give details about your personal information a lot of it will already be over there. It is always good for the consumer to know that that information is being sent overseas. This bill will require companies to let consumers know that their private information is being sent overseas. It is very important in the context of a lot of the financial institutions, insurance companies and telcos offshoring. A lot of our private information is in call centres in India, Manila and a whole range of other places. This is a good step in ensuring the privacy of that information.

Privacy has been a particular topic on radio in South Australia. On talkback radio Leon Bynder took up the case of privacy and the many overseas call centres. He contacted me a while back to see what could be done about it. Back then I remember speaking to the minister about this particular issue and I am very pleased to see this bill come to fruition here today. It has been ongoing for a couple of years since this was first discussed. I know that Leon Bynder has been a very strong advocate on 5AA for the protection of people's personal information, especially when it is going overseas. I congratulate Leon Bynder for taking the initiative on his program in South Australia to raise this issue and make it topical. I am very pleased that the minister took it on board and today we see this bill.

It would be preferable for all of us if our information did not go overseas. When you talk to people in the community they usually say that they would prefer for their information to stay here rather than be stored overseas. I can understand that, especially when it comes to our bank accounts, our telephone bills, our insurance bills and a whole range of other things. It is very personal and private information. You would not want it going into the wrong hands. We heard earlier some stories from the member for Fraser of identity fraud that had taken place.

In today's modern world are huge credit companies, insurance companies and all sorts of multinational companies which operate in every country and have offices all over the world. Whether the companies are overseas or in Australia, it is impossible to avoid some of your information going offshore. What this bill will do is make sure that, if your information does go overseas, for whatever reason, the company will be held to account for what happens to it, which is very important. This bill will mean that an agency or organisation that sends your information overseas will have to make sure they have strong protections in place to ensure they keep your data safe. It is very important for consumers to know there are strong protections in the place where that information is going to keep your data safe.

But more importantly—and this is a big thing—under the new reforms, customers will now have to be told if their information is going overseas and where it is going to. I think every consumer of any service has the absolute right to know if their private information is going overseas. The onus will now be on those companies to tell their customers that the information they are giving them about their dates of birth, credit card numbers, where they work and a whole range of things is going overseas and where it is going to. This is a huge win for those consumers and customers. Before, companies had no real obligation to tell their customers when they were sending details overseas, even bank details. Many of us have picked up the phone to find that we are talking to someone in Mumbai, Manila or somewhere else.

I am delighted to be speaking here today on these real reforms delivered by this Australian government that has listened to the community's concern, taken it into account and taken action. That is very important. Again, this is something that has been big in South Australia on talkback radio through Leon Bynder's program. It is something that has been in discussion for a long time. I know that it is strongly supported in my electorate, in South Australia and across Australia. Ensuring that every action is taken to keep your private information safe is very important.

I would also like to thank some of the trade unions that have been involved in this debate. I know the FSU, the ASU and the CPSU, all of which cover members in the insurance, banking and telco industries, are very pleased with these privacy reforms because all too often when information is sent overseas it is because the jobs have been sent overseas as well in many cases. This is the first step in ensuring that consumers are aware that, when they are doing a transaction or doing business with a particular company, it is the consumer's right to know that their information is going overseas and then they can make a choice. If they do not want that information going overseas then they can seek another company that services the industry and its customers here in Australia.

The temptation for companies to send jobs offshore, we know, will only increase. But there has never been a more important time to support Australian jobs. A part of the problem lies in the fact that until now consumers had no way of finding out if their data and the jobs were going overseas. So I am very pleased that the consumer will be told that their information is being sent overseas. The best thing about this bill is that it will help to give consumers more choice. They will be able to make a decision when they are told that their private information is going overseas and can then support the companies they wish to support. If you can walk into a bank and see the terms and conditions on which your personal information will be sent overseas, that gives you the chance to say, 'No, thanks,' and walk into a credit union or the bank next door that is not sending information and its workforce overseas. It will give the consumer the choice. This bill actually has a lot of benefits in addition to protecting your privacy. It is quite a good new tool for the consumer. I will be doing all I can do to promote this bill in my electorate so that consumers know what their rights are when it comes to their privacy.

Another important aspect of the new bill is that it gives more power to the Privacy Commissioner. This is very important because then the Privacy Commissioner can sort issues out more quickly when they arise and can investigate better. This is great because too often we hear about an issue and take it to the authorities, whoever they may be, but for one reason or another they cannot actually investigate it. Giving the Privacy Commissioner new powers to sort these issues out more quickly is very positive for the consumer. This bill will give the Privacy Commissioner the teeth to take swift action when things go wrong, which will also encourage businesses to do the right thing in the first place.

There are a couple of other aspects of the bill which will make people's lives a bit easier. One is the new provisions about credit reporting, which are a real shake-up in favour of consumers. The bill will implement more comprehensive credit reporting, which will for the very first time include positive information in consumers' credit reports. For example, a credit report will show when a debt is paid on time, not just when it was overdue.

Secondly, the bill makes it easier for people to access their credit reports and to fix up mistakes when they occur. For example, quite often people come into my office—and I am sure all of us in this place have had the same experience—and tell me they have been denied a service, whether it be a new phone contract, a small banking loan or a credit card, because of a bad credit report. Even though that bad debt may already have been paid off and fixed, they still have it on their record. When they actually get their hands on a copy of the report, they find that the information is not correct. That has happened many times to constituents of mine. I have seen lots of cases where people have been given bad credit ratings and have fixed the issue by making the repayment or paying the bill but the credit report was never updated—that old information is still on there; there was never any onus to update it. Then they run into problems down the track—maybe many years afterwards—when they go to sign up for a new service. This bill will make it easier for those people to get their credit report and make sure that it is all correct. If it is not, the company will have the obligation now to help you fix it. They cannot just say, 'Go off and get the information.' They have the duty to help you fix it, and that is very important.

The last thing I wanted to mention is the new privacy principle in this bill that specifically deals with direct marketing. 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. It also prohibits the use of credit information for direct marketing. This is going to go a very long way towards ensuring responsible lending, so that vulnerable people do not get offered credit they cannot afford. In my electorate, someone with a disability came to see us who had racked up close to $50,000 worth of debt on a credit card because he kept on accepting the offers that the bank was sending him. This was a very sad case. This person was on a disability pension and could not afford to make the payments. He should never have been made those offers. His contract should never have been accepted by the bank, because he had an intellectual disability that affected him making contractual arrangements. This poor person came to see us and we finally assisted him. It took months and months to sort this problem out. This part of the bill is going a long way towards ensuring responsible lending, so that vulnerable people do not get given credit that they cannot afford. This is very important when there are vulnerable people in our community such as people with disabilities, as I said, and people from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

This is a very important bill for the consumer. The bill will set out new unified Australian privacy principles which will apply equally to the private and the public sectors. The principles will continue to deal with the handling of personal information, including its collection, storage, security, use, disclosure and accuracy. The provisions about disclosure and accuracy of the information are very important. A new principle will be introduced to deal specifically with direct marketing. Stronger protection for consumers will be included in the bill for the disclosure of information to overseas companies and organisations, and the bill will implement more comprehensive credit reporting, which will for the very first time include positive information for the consumers' credit reports. It is so important that we have that positive information for the consumer credit reports. As I said, a credit report will show when a debt is paid on time, not just when it was overdue, as we have seen in the past. This will be supported by very strong privacy protections for this information. These reforms will improve responsible lending and I am sure they will reduce levels of indebtedness and default. Very importantly, the bill will provide new powers to the Australian Privacy Commissioner to handle those complaints, to provide a wider range of enforceable remedies to the consumer and to direct government agencies to perform privacy impact assessments, which is all for the credit of the consumer. I congratulate the Attorney-General on her far-sighted reforms and thank my constituents, the listeners who rang in on the many, many times we raised this issue on FIVEaa, and Leon Byner for their support for privacy reform. I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired)