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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 87


Mr SCHULTZ (3:07 PM) —Following that positive contribution, my question is addressed to the Attorney-General. Can the Attorney-General advise the House whether the Privacy Act provides protection for people whose personal details are being misused by organisations to which they belong?


Mr Kerr —I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. There has never been a more egregious example of seeking a legal opinion from the Attorney. It is out of order.


The SPEAKER —I listened closely to the question. I did not pick up anything about a legal opinion. It was asking for facts.


Mr Albanese —I rise on the same point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was quite clearly not within standing order 100.


The SPEAKER —The question was asking for information and details of an act. It was certainly in order. It was asking for details within the Attorney-General’s portfolio.


Mr Albanese —Because you did not hear the question—I think that was part of your response—I ask that the question be asked again.


The SPEAKER —The honourable member for Hume will ask his question again for the benefit of the House.


Mr SCHULTZ —Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. Would the Attorney-General advise the House whether the Privacy Act provides protection for people whose personal details are being misused by organisations to which they belong?


Mr Kerr —I rise on the same point of order, Mr Speaker: QED, Mr Speaker; QED.


The SPEAKER —The question was asking for details of an act that is the responsibility of the Attorney-General.


Mr McMullan —I rise on the same point of order, Mr Speaker. If a question asking for an interpretation of the implications of a piece of a legislation is not seeking a legal opinion, what is?


The SPEAKER —I say again to the honourable member for Fraser that this is very much in order. In fact, thanks to the Clerk, I would refer honourable members to page 543 of House of Representatives Practice.


Mr Bowen —Further to the points of order raised previously and to your reference to page 543 of the House of Representatives Practice, Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to the sentence which states:

Legal opinions, such as the interpretation of a statute ... should not be sought in questions.

This is clearly seeking the interpretation of a statute.


The SPEAKER —I thank the honourable member for Prospect, but there was more to that question than just that point. I rule the question in order and call the honourable Attorney-General.


Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) —I thank the honourable member for Hume for his question. I am delighted that there is so much interest in privacy matters.


Mr Albanese —I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a very clear breach of the standing order and of the House of Representatives Practice. We would ask you to rule this question out of order.


The SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. I have referred further to the House of Representatives Practice, including page 544. I rule the question in order and I call the honourable Attorney-General.


Mr RUDDOCK —I suspect that all members know where I am going, because the Privacy Act does provide protection for personal information that people hand over when they join an organisation. The expectation is that that information is needed for the organisation to be able to function or to be able to provide services to the person who is a member of that organisation. If the personal information is going to be used for other purposes or to be given to someone else, there is an obligation on that organisation to inform the individual at the time that they collect that information or to ask their permission.

For example, it might be of concern to some union members if their union were to collect personal details from its members and then give them to, for instance, a database company, like Magenta Linus, which can then match this up with other data about them, such as where they live and the electorate in which they live. They might be even more concerned if the union decided to hand the data to a market research company, like E-lect Interactive—


Ms Roxon interjecting


The SPEAKER —The member for Gellibrand!


Mr RUDDOCK —and to survey members about their voting intention and their attitude to various policy issues.


Ms Roxon interjecting


The SPEAKER —The member for Gellibrand is warned!


Mr RUDDOCK —After all, we do have secret ballots in this country. People are entitled to maintain the confidentiality of those matters. That concern might grow further if the union came back to them and started using all the information that they had collected without the person’s permission to follow the tactics that are outlined in the ACTU handbook and to lobby them about their voting intentions.

There are concerns about the way in which unions are using their members’ personal details. I want to inform members that the Privacy Commissioner is giving consideration to starting an own-motion inquiry in relation to the ACTU tactics on this matter. The Privacy Commissioner is an independent statutory officer. She makes her own decisions on these matters. But the Australian Electoral Commission examination relating to the handbook might provide some information which could be of particular interest to her. I would remind the community and members of unions generally that if their union seeks information from them they are entitled to know why and they should make sure that it is necessary for the union’s functions. If people believe their personal details are being misused in this way by an organisation that they belong to, they should make their complaints known to the Privacy Commissioner.