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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 10891


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (16:06): I am also pleased to rise to speak to this Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012. This bill, in many ways, has been a long time coming. It deals with a number of issues which I know my constituents care about greatly. It is amazing how much the world has changed. Back maybe 15 or 20 years ago, I 'accidentally'—I did it on purpose—went into one of those competitions where you could win a two-week holiday somewhere just by filling in the form. For the next three years, I was inundated with every time share proposal and holiday you could imagine because I had accidentally, as it turns out, got myself on a mailing list which was clearly for sale quite broadly.

Now, of course, the world is very much connected. Nowadays, we provide our details online all the time. I think that for the young, they probably do it several times a day, and we all know how quickly and easily that information can be shared. A lot of us suspect that it is shared much more than we would like and in ways that we would not expect.

In this online world, there is a need for privacy laws to be updated, and these amendments do just that. They will bring immense benefits to working families, and that is why we are tightening the rules around how companies and organisations can collect, use and disclose personal information. We are introducing a new privacy principle for direct marketing and stronger protections for consumers when companies disclose personal information overseas. Again, this is an issue that all of us hear about from our constituents: this concern that large databases that contain their personal information, their financial information, important identifying information, are moved overseas for business purposes—there is a lot of concern about that. The new direct marketing privacy principle also will more tightly regulate the use of personal information for direct marketing.

The privacy principles will also require a higher standard of protection to be afforded for sensitive information, which includes health related information, such as DNA and biometric data; again, some of the newer kinds of information that we see now. There is also an incredibly important area which is in the national consumer credit area: we are making it easier for consumers to access and correct their personal credit information. Again, we all hear stories of people who have, for one reason or another, ended up with some bad credit information—sometimes it is not even accurate, sometimes it is not even theirs—and the difficulty that they have in correcting that information. This is the first major reform since Labor introduced credit reporting way back in 1990. This bill well and truly modernises the provisions that will make the credit reporting regime more flexible and less proscriptive by emphasising industry-led complaint resolution, which the industry has been asking for.

It will also see the introduction of positive credit information for the first time so that not only will a credit report show when a payment was late but when payments were made on time line. Again, this is something that people in my community and in the community generally have been asking for for some time, as have banks and financial institutions.

There are three key reforms in the bill. The new unified Australian Privacy Principles will apply equally to both the private and the public sectors for the first time. The principles will deal with the handling of personal information, including the collection, storage, security, use, disclosure and accuracy of information. A new principle will be introduced to specifically deal with direct marketing. There will also be more comprehensive credit reporting which will for the first time include the positive information that I referred to before in consumers' credit reports, supported by strong privacy protections for the information. There will be new powers for the Australian Privacy Commissioner to handle complaints and give remedies to consumers. The new powers will include the ability to accept enforceable undertakings and the ability to pursue civil penalties for serious breaches of privacy.

The key elements of the reform include a new privacy principle which more tightly regulates the use of personal information for direct marketing. It is more power to consumers to opt out of receiving those incredibly annoying direct marketing materials. The companies will have to provide a clear and simple way of opting out. The statement from the company must be prominent. We are all inundated with direct marketing materials and I, like many others, would welcome the opportunity to be able to opt out of that. It will also extend the privacy protections to unsolicited information and provide stronger and clearer rules around data quality and data correction. It will make it easier for consumers to access and correct credit information held about them. It will tighten the rules on sending personal information outside of Australia. Before an agency or private sector organisation discloses personal information to an overseas recipient, it will have to take reasonable steps to make sure the overseas recipient does not breach the Australian Privacy Principles. The agency or organisation will still remain responsible for the personal information even when it is in the hands of the overseas recipient. It is only possible for responsibility to be passed on to the overseas recipient on extremely limited circumstances. That is incredibly important for those of us who give our information to an Australian company to understand that that company remains responsible for the information and has to conform to really quite strict rules if they pass that information to an overseas company.

The bill will also reform the consumer credit reporting system. Along with responsible lending reforms in the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009, these changes will mean that banks see more accurate information about the types of accounts families have and when they were opened and closed, current credit limits of accounts—but not the day-to-day balance, to protect privacy—and positive information about repayment history, for example when a credit card was paid off in time and not just information about overdue payments.

For consumers, the bill will promote transparency in the handling of personal information by requiring organisations to develop and publish more comprehensive privacy policies. It will make it easier for individuals to access and correct their credit reporting information and it will bolster the Privacy Commissioner's powers to enforce compliance with the act. It will protect victims of identity theft and fraud by providing them with the ability to prohibit for a specific period the disclosure of credit reporting information about them without their consent. It will protect minors by prohibiting the collection of credit reporting information about individuals under the age of 18. It 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 will prohibit the use of credit information for direct marketing and strengthen the protection for an individual's information where it is disclosed outside of Australia. These are is a comprehensive reforms and with this bill the Gillard government has implemented more than half of the Australian Law Reform Commission's recommendations in the 2008 For your information report.

It is also good for business. It will ensure that the new privacy principles are technology neutral, relevant to a technology driven environment and have the flexibility to adapt to new technology as it develops. It will modernise the credit reporting provisions to address the significant changes which have taken place since they were first enacted in 1990 and it will make the credit reporting regime more flexible and less prescriptive by emphasising industry led complaint resolution.

The changes to comprehensive credit reporting are very good for business. They will ensure that the credit reporting system includes accurate and up-to-date information to enable improved risk assessment, increased competition and efficiency in credit markets, decreased levels of overindebtedness and default, and more responsible lending.

These are very good reforms. They are reforms which reflect the changing use of technology and the changing way we provide and share information, particularly in the online environment. They recognise the speed of change—that whatever technology is around now will probably be quite different in a very short period of time—and they recognise concerns consumers have had about the way their information moves through the business world and around the world. They are very good reforms and I commend the bill to the House.