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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 6062

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (12:13): I move Australian Greens amendment (9) on sheet 7143:

(9) Schedule 2, page 39 (after line 19), at the end of the Schedule, add:

Part 4—Refusal of assistance

Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987

57 After paragraph 8(2)(f)


(fa) the foreign country's arrangements for handling personal information (within the meaning of the Privacy Act 1988) do not offer a level of privacy protection similar to that afforded in Australia; or

As foreshadowed, this amendment effectively says that if a foreign country's standards for handling personal information do not offer a level of privacy similar to that offered in Australia, the personal information should not be shared. I would have hoped that that would be an utterly uncontroversial proposition. Perhaps we might seek to wordsmith it some, but I suspect that this amendment is not going to survive the next 20 minutes. Many submissions to the inquiry made to this point: the Australian Privacy Foundation, the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, the Electronic Frontiers Australia organisation, which does great advocacy in this space; and the New South Wales Office of the Privacy Commissioner. These are not people to be lightly disregarded, I would have thought.

They argued that personal information about Australian citizens should not be made available to foreign countries for the purpose of prosecuting individuals or for conduct which would not constitute an offence in Australia. Amendment (9) provides some grounds for refusal of assistance.

Perhaps Minister Ludwig will tell us, as he did in response to my comments previously, that, if we start refusing applications for help left, right and centre, the whole system will seize up. That is not the point I am making. The point I am making is that, given the medium that we now operate in, privacy protections can be absolutely rock-solid in Australia, but, if we are sharing data—intimate, personal details of people's lives—with law enforcement and intelligence agencies in foreign jurisdictions with lower standards of privacy protection than we have in Australia and that material leaks, then the privacy protections that they are afforded here in Australia are worthless, because that information can be back in Australia at the speed of light. That material can travel around the world uninhibited, at the speed of light, and there is nothing you can do to put this sort of stuff back in the box once it is out.

So I would have thought it is entirely sensible to say that the provisions that Australians have come to expect in Australia for the privacy of personal data have been insufficient to prevent the leaking of people's personal data in recent times, within the last 10 days or so—let alone larger breaches such as those by Sony and so on in recent months. Why would we allow this material to be shared with jurisdictions where privacy protections are even lower than the inadequate protections afforded to people here?

This is our final amendment. I will speak briefly on the final government amendment, but this is my last word on this bill. This is a missed opportunity. It should have been folded into the work that Senator Brandis and his colleagues were undertaking on the joint committee and it was not. There does not appear to be a huge rush. The government sat on its hands for 12 months. Why not take another two months to make sure that the proper context for this debate is considered by people who are going to spend three or four months evaluating submissions from the public, as is appropriate, forming a view and making recommendations? But this will have already gone through. We will have missed the opportunity to consider this bill in its proper context. I think the Australian Greens have proposed worthwhile amendments. None of them have been accepted by either the government or the coalition. I look forward to the day when there are more than half of us in this chamber so that some of these matters can be incorporated into the bill. I thank the chamber.