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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1408

Personal Information and Privacy


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:09): My question is to the Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield. I refer to reports that Facebook has suspended the data-mining company Cambridge Analytica over its improper use of data from Facebook users. Can the minister advise the Senate what action the government has taken, if any, to protect Australians using Facebook and to guard against the improper use of their data for political campaign purposes?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaMinister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:09): There are codes of conduct and guidelines which social media organisations voluntarily subject themselves to that relate to the management of data issues, and there has been some coverage over recent times on some of those issues, perhaps going back as far as about 12 months ago. But I'll seek advice on those matters which are more recent, for colleagues.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Farrell, a supplementary question.



Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:10): Thank you, Mr President, I do have a supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate what laws are in place in Australia to prevent companies illegally accessing the private information of Australian Facebook users and then using it in political campaigns here in Australia?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaMinister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:10): In terms of laws which cover the privacy of data, there are a range of laws which aren't directly within my areas of portfolio responsibility. Colleagues would be well aware that we have the Privacy Commissioner, who has responsibility for looking at issues of privacy and inappropriate access to data. In terms of the arrangements specifically in relation to elections, that's something on which I'll need to take advice from, and consult with, relevant colleagues.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Farrell, a final supplementary question.



Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:11): I thank the minister for his answer, and I do have a further supplementary question, Mr President. I refer to a report in The Guardian on 5 April 2017 that Cambridge Analytica met with 'representatives of the Liberal Party, government staff and parliamentarians, including the veterans' affairs minister' at an event organised by the Liberal Party secretariat. Can the minister assure the Senate that any improperly obtained private information about Australian Facebook users will not be exploited by Australian political parties?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaMinister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:12): Obviously, I can't give any assurances about what the Australian Labor Party may do in terms of the data that they hold or, for that matter, how the Australian Labor Party obtained their data. And, while it doesn't fall within my portfolio responsibilities—responsibility for political parties, political organisations, including the Liberal Party—what I can say is that the Liberal Party always complies with relevant law.