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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 580

Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (11.04 a.m.) —Whoever was doing it and whoever was giving it, they were doing it in a fast and loose way. It was fast and loose from Senator Spindler and it might have been a bit fast and loose from those who drafted this legislation. The government has concerns not just with the detail but with the policy and commitment that has been made with respect to the policy. We find it interesting, and there may be capacity for it to be pursued further, or possibly discussed in the current House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs which has been examining some privacy issues. It could look at this particular aspect.

  I say that the advice is fast and loose because it is, and someone is trying to get his snout into the constitutional trough. I do not know whether it is Senator Spindler or whether it is the way the advice has come out through the clerk's office. With my suspicious mind, I presume guilt in this case until someone proves himself innocent. What we have here may be good intentions on Senator Spindler's part but, when one looks at the proposal that has been drafted, there could be no greater grab for intervention, not just across the federal government but across every tier of government in this country—every bureaucracy, every aspect of it—than the words that are before us today.

  Senator Spindler might want a role for the Privacy Commissioner. We in government think there always has to be a balance, and I will get to that balance later. But Senator Spindler's proposal is a bit over the top. It allows for a member of parliament to seek advice from the Privacy Commissioner direct. It would probably be good for Senator Harradine to listen to this because I know he has an interest in these sorts of issues. Under Senator Spindler's definition in clause 84C, a member of parliament can seek advice from the Privacy Commissioner with respect to a proposed law prepared on behalf of the government of the Commonwealth or of a state or the administration of a territory.

  Senator Spindler is saying that, in relation to an initial draft on anything by any government across the spectrum—state, territory or whatever—without looking at this issue any further, as Senator Vanstone rightly says, a member of parliament can snap off a letter to the Privacy Commissioner, with disregard for any constitutional balances in place, and ask for that advice to be made public. Senator Spindler is also proposing that this cover a proposed law prepared on behalf of a minister of state of the Commonwealth or a minister of a state government or a Territory administration. The old driftnet is broadened. If that is not sufficient, it also covers any proposed law prepared on behalf of `a body established by law that has the function of recommending proposed laws of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory'. If we have not got everyone by then, it also covers an instrument proposed to be made under a law of the Commonwealth, a state or a territory.

  What Senator Spindler is basically saying is that, without due consideration in this place, someone has drafted at his request a law that will allow the Privacy Commissioner, at the snap of a letter, a request or a fax, to investigate not just a law before a parliament but the idea of legislation that might be developed in a particular forum. I think that shows that someone has been playing fast and loose with this proposal. Someone wants to get his snout in the constitutional trough.

  I think Senator Vanstone is right when she says that, because Senator Spindler has come up with one idea, it does not mean that that is the only idea in the ballpark. What I have just shown is that Senator Spindler's idea has a few problems. Let us acknowledge this as being one idea. Despite the intention and desire on the part of some of us on this side of parliament to take over the states—that is something we have been accused of having secret aspirations for for a long time—what Senator Spindler is doing here is putting up something that, I must say, is a little half-baked and really needs to be thought through in terms of its implications.

  We say on this side of the parliament that this legislation is an inappropriate way for such a major policy change to be addressed, particularly when we view that policy change in the way I have just described. We also say that this sort of proposal would have massive resource implications for HREOC and the Privacy Commissioner. It is not very hard to contemplate those resource implications when any reasonable reading of Senator Spindler's proposal would show that it would include any proposal for law reform from any ministerial council, any body such as the Law Reform Commission, the Family Law Council and the Administrative Review Council, any advisory committee I might have working for me on immigration, and any advisory committee that might be set up under a law of the Commonwealth—and everything is set up under a law of the Commonwealth; we cannot appropriate funds without that. So it has huge resource implications.

  We say that we try to strike a balance. I can go into that, but I do not know that I need to. What I have done so far has shown that the proposal that has been put has got problems. Without going to the principle, without going to what we think is a need for balance, without going to those sorts of issues at this stage—I can go into those later, if necessary—the government opposes this particular proposal.