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Thursday, 17 September 1987
Page: 256

Mr RUDDOCK(4.26) —I have a view about the way in which members ought to conduct themselves in this House. I very much regret the comments of the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Brumby) who preceded me and personalised the discussion. Let me deal with some of the aspects of his speech which, if I were gentle, I would describe as grossly misleading. I will comment on his speech in three respects: Firstly, he suggested that during the recent election campaign the question of the identity card was not raised by the Opposition and its Leader. I did not attend all our campaign meetings, but I attended a number of them and I can say unequivocally that that question was raised, it was spoken about and the issue was there to be taken up by anybody in the media who wanted to write about it. I could also say-the honourable member may have seen the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television clips provided by our political party-that the question of the identity card was also raised on the ABC in the free time made available by it.

The second matter I want to address is his allegation that the Opposition has a lack of interest in privacy. He suggested that as early as 1974 the Opposition, when it was in government-the last Liberal-National Party Government-had before it a report from the Australian Law Reform Commission on privacy.

Mr Brumby —Correct. Professor Morrison.

Mr RUDDOCK —That is correct. That was the report on privacy by the Australian Law Reform Commission. It was in 1984 and it has developed--

Mr Brumby —Professor Morrison's report was in 1974.

Mr RUDDOCK —That was to the New South Wales Liberal Government by Professor Morrison, whom I happen to know. The result was the formation of the Australian Privacy Foundation in New South Wales which has contributed so much to the development of discussion about privacy in this nation.

Mr Porter —He did not know what he was talking about.

Mr RUDDOCK —No, of course he did not. But the privacy report which was brought down by this Government was initiated on terms of reference given by the Law Reform Commission by R. J. Ellicott, QC, MP, a former Liberal Attorney-General. This report has been in the hands of the Government since 1983 and could have been acted upon at any time if it had wished. In 1987 the Government wants us--

Mr Brumby —You are opposing it.

Mr RUDDOCK —Of course we are opposing it. We are opposing it because the Privacy Bill the Government is putting up is a pale shadow of the recommendations that it has from the Privacy Foundation as to what should be done if we are to develop an adequate scheme for the protection of privacy in this country. That is the fact of the matter. The honourable member deserves to be chastised most severely for the way in which he has dealt with the truth in this debate.

The third matter is his suggestion that the Government has not suffered for the way in which it treated the elderly of this country by the implementation of the assets test. The Government has not been vindicated in any way at all by the way in which it treated the elderly in relation to the assets test. It has lost irrevocably the support of the elderly in the community and any assessment of voting trends gives proof to that. The Opposition is the Party that has been supported by the elderly because of the view that it has put over and over again on the question of the assets test.

This debate is about privacy. I do not mind joining issue on the identity card. In fact I welcome the opportunity on behalf of my colleagues, who will no doubt be able to join the debate because of the breadth of the ruling from the Chair. I want to talk about privacy because I see it as being of the utmost importance that the terms of this Bill are examined in this House and this Bill is thrown out now because of the inadequate way in which it deals with the subject. Privacy is of the utmost importance. When the Australian Law Reform Commission put down its report in June 1983, it spoke about the year to follow, 1984. It had this to say:

Ever since George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, that year has stood as a symbol of the way in which authoritarian attitudes and intrusive modern technology could undermine freedom and individual privacy. Now, on the brink of 1984, the Law Reform Commission publishes the results of a seven-year inquiry into the threats to privacy in Australia. It concludes that privacy is in danger, both in actuality and, even more so, in prospect. This report describes the chief sources of the danger. They include:

Growing Official Powers.

If there had been an identity card proposal at that time, it would have written about it in this context. It continues:

The powers of increasing numbers of public officials to intrude into the lives and properties of Australians are growing.

New Business practices. New intrusive practices have developed in recent years, such as electronic surveillance, credit reporting and direct marketing.

New Information Technology.

Just listen to what the report had to say. It was a forewarning of what this debate on the identity card is all about. It continues:

The computerisation of personal information has enormous advantages, but it also presents Australian society with new dangers, now well documented and understood. The amount of personal information that can be collected and distributed has grown enormously. The ever-increasing speed and the ever-diminishing cost with which it can be retrieved puts a great deal of information about all of us at the fingertips of a few. Computers can now manipulate information supplied from many sources, match and compare it and build detailed personal `profiles'. The linkage of computers by telecommunications bring such information across the street or across the world. The computerists, those who operate computers, do not, as a group, have even the imperfect checks and restraints that the older professions are subject to. The new technology is international. Control of it can be readily centralised in relatively few hands.

The Government's identity card legislation is just about that. The report, which was there to guide the Government in relation to this legislation, was an effort to ensure that there was statutory control in relation to the sort of legislation that the Government is bringing forward-the ID card legislation. Of course, the Government recognises that it has to come to grips with that. When one looks at the outline of the Bill, if one reads it without looking at the detail of the legislation, one would think that that is fine, and that the Government is trying to protect us from the way in which computerised information can be misused and also the way in which this legislative approval, through the Australia Card, could legitimise the collection of that information. On the Privacy Bill, the explanatory memorandum states:

The Privacy Bill 1986 will establish rules of conduct, called Information Privacy Principles . . .

The explanatory memorandum continues:

The IPPs are based on a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission in its Report No. 22 entitled `Privacy' . . . and presented in December 1983.

* * * *

A breach of the IPPs is deemed to be an interference with privacy . . . although interferences with privacy do not give rise to any civil liability in damages or criminal penalties. An individual alleging an interference with privacy will be able to complain to the Data Protection Agency (DPA) to be established by the Australia Card Bill . . .

One reads about that and one thinks that it is fine. There is a scheme to deal with the problems that the implementation of the Australia Card Bill brings forward. However, the fact of the matter is that the Government has brought forward a defective Bill as demonstrated by my colleague the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Reith) from the criticism developed by the Law Council of Australia in its advice.

That advice has been before the Government for a considerable time. The Privacy Bill was not a double dissolution Bill. It was not one of those Bills, like the Australia Card Bill, which justified the election, and which the Government might be able to present to a joint sitting. It is not a Bill which the Government cannot amend for fear of breaching section 57 of the Constitution which would mean that had it been amended it could be struck out by the High Court if it passed a joint sitting. The Privacy Bill can be amended at any time by the Government as it passes the House. The defects in the Bill as it relates to privacy could be examined, catalogued, and we could be given a Bill designed to deal with privacy adequately. However, in the speech made by the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) when he introduced the Bill, he acknowledged that amendments had been made to the Bill from the time that it was presented to the last Parliament. The Attorney-General in his second reading speech said:

These Bills are the same Bills as were passed by this House on 14 November 1986. The only changes made are to take account of the passage of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 and minor drafting corrections.

Here we have this important question of privacy. We have a Bill which is clearly defective and inadequate to address the questions raised about privacy, an opportunity to amend it, and to take those criticisms into account, and members are going to come into this House and tell us that this is a Bill that adequately addresses those problems. If I were wont to describe people as hypocritical, I think that this would be a situation where that label would be amply justified. The fact of the matter is that the Minister has had the opportunity, and if the Government were of good intention and valued its reputation, we would not see the Bill that passed the House in November 1986 before us but today we would be seeing a new Bill.

In the remaining time available to me I want to take the House through the provisions of the Bill and detail in the time that I have some of those matters that ought to have been considered if the Bill were adequately to address the question of privacy. Four points were made in the advice from the Law Council of Australia which make it clear that this Bill is defective. Those points were these. The first is that the Bill lacks adequate remedies for breach of privacy. In fact, in clause 15 (6) there are specific provisions which limit access to other remedies. If one went to the United Kingdom, where that much maligned Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, brought in legislation dealing with the question of privacy, one would be aware that access to the courts for civil remedies arising from a breach of a statutory duty imposed by legislation exists. Yet here in this Bill, where we are enacting statutory duties and where, to all intents and purposes, under the common law tortious remedy would exist, we are being asked to provide a specific statutory bar to the courts for a civil remedy in the event of a breach of a statutory duty. Quite frankly, I regard that legislation as being severely defective. The Law Council would endorse that view, as its comments make clear. The legislation also denies any access to criminal remedies.

The only additional matters raised by the Attorney-General in his second reading speech were that there may be access to injunction or one may be able to bring some action in defamation arising from the way information is dealt with. The second matter raised by the Australian Law Reform Commission is that the Bill is too narrow. Interestingly, the Law Council of Australia said that the Law Reform Commission report was a narrow document; that it did not canvass the field adequately. Yet we have legislation before us which deliberately reads down the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission as to what it saw as being the appropriate way the subject should be dealt with.

The third point made by the Law Reform Commission is that the title `Privacy Bill' is severely misleading. If one wanted to describe adequately what this legislation represents one would give it the title `Bill dealing with personal information' because that is really all it deals with. In terms of the wider questions that are addressed in the Law Reform Commission report-matters relating to eavesdropping, interference with the mail, the way medical research and other information is dealt with-the Privacy Bill that we have before us is quite effective.

The fourth and, I think, most telling criticism is that this Bill will deal only with information that is established after the legislation is enacted. In other words, any information that is held by government now on a person will not be subject to any of the remedies available or any inquiries that might be initiated. Presumably under the Australia Card legislation the Government will be able to draw upon earlier information that might be available about a person. I regard those matters that I have raised as being severe limitations, ones which the Government ought to be taking into account. They should prompt the Government to withdraw the legislation and re-present it to the Parliament at a later date.

In the appendix `Comments on proposed information privacy principles' the Law Council of Australia made a number of more specific comments. I will draw out some of those points for the benefit of members of the House who are interested in this subject. The first point raised was one that I made earlier; that is, that records collected after the date of the enactment of the legislation would not be covered by the privacy legislation. It makes the second point that the principles apply only to personal information collected for inclusion in the record. In other words, if other information of a non-personal nature is brought forward, this legislation might not apply. The Law Council dealt with the definition of personal information. It drew out the point that in the Canadian Privacy Act a much wider definition applies. The Canadian legislation states:

Personal information means information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing . . .

(c) any identifying number, symbol or other particular assigned to the individual,

(d) the address, fingerprints or blood type of the individual . . .

(f) correspondence sent to a government institution by the individual that is implicitly or explicitly of a privately or confidential nature, and replies to such correspondence that will reveal the contents of the original correspondence,

(g) the views or opinions of another individual about the individual . . .

That legislation in Canada clearly had a much wider definition of personal information than is proposed in our Bill. Thus it is more adequate for the purposes. The next comment by the Law Council deals with the relevant lack of social justification. The New South Wales Privacy Committee suggested a social justification principle in its guidelines for the operation of personal data systems. This legislation ignored that recommendation. I want to read from the Law Council's comments in relation to that matter because those comments are particularly pertinent:

It is not possible to infer from the Principles any limit on how broadly a record-keeper may define the purposes of the system. The possibility is therefore left open of so broad an initial definition of purpose that vast amounts of information are `relevant'. For example, the creation of one central bureau for the purpose of gaining a complete picture of a person's socio-economic history by recording credit, tenancy, employment, medical insurance and other insurance details would not seem contrary to these Principles.

These important points ought to be examined in detail by the Government. They deserve to result in the rejection of this legislation and a fresh Bill before the Parliament.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.