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Monday, 21 September 1987
Page: 404


Mr IAN ROBINSON(5.25) —I rise to support strongly the comments made by the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter). This chamber listened at an earlier stage to a seven-page outline of the legislation presented by the Deputy Prime Minister and Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen). We now have a last opportunity at the committee stage to express a response, and that response must take into account some of the pertinent statements made by the Attorney-General. First of all, he told this chamber that at common law there is no enforceable right to privacy as such. However, there are various existing legal rights that protect aspects of what are generally regarded as individual privacy. He admitted that, in recent times, there have been enormous developments in technology for processing information and providing opportunities for building up and using information on individuals. He went on to say:

This has focused attention on the need to provide more comprehensive measures for protecting privacy against the threat posed by misuse of this technology.

The really significant point is:

This has been recognised during the development of the Australia Card by the decision to establish the Data Protection Agency . . .

All of this significantly draws attention to the fact that, despite this legislation which the Committee is now considering and its relationship to the Australia Card legislation, the real truth of the matter is that privacy is at risk. The real truth of the matter is that, if this legislation is passed, all Australians will find themselves at risk from the point of view of reasonable privacy. What do we find in the information before us that we must take into account? We find that this is really a smokescreen to try to give the impression that there is a legislative process that will create protection. The truth of the matter obviously is that, in the modern day of technology advancement and so on, there can be no guarantee.

It is also very apparent from statements by people who have the technical capacity to know the answers to these questions that what is proposed, and what this Committee now has a last opportunity to deal with, is a fictitious proposition. I put it to the Committee that the protests from people in my electorate far exceed anything since the days of bank nationalisation in the number of petitions that have been signed, the number of letters that have come in, and so on. Why? It is largely because of the import of what is contained in the legislation before this Committee: an attempt to claim that provision is being made for privacy when this is not the case. The honourable member for Barker sounded a warning in a very appropriate way and I am sure that honourable members on both sides of the chamber will have taken notice of that warning. I urge the Committee at this stage to move to recommit this Bill and the related Australia Card legislation. If it is not done in this place, surely in another place it would be appropriate for the whole matter to be recommitted so that we can get to the truth and the import of the legislation that we are now dealing with.

One of the clauses before us relates, of course, to the title of the Bill. That title is misleading. That title is intended, without a doubt, to mislead the Australian people on this very vital issue. Unless there is a move by the Government at this last moment, the Australian people are justified in seeking a recommittal in another place and some further action to clarify the claims that have been made in order to elucidate the truth of the matter and to enable the people of this country to see clearly that present day technology does not provide protection; the opposite is the case. It creates the risk, the very premise, upon which privacy would be lost. The mere existence of this legislation would be an inadequate protection. I believe that the majority of members of this House, if they were given a free vote, would throw out this legislation. The Bill still has to pass the third reading stage. I hope there will be time before this legislation becomes law-if it is not done now-for it to be reassessed so that the facts can be brought to light. If that were done, there is no question that a vote against it would occur.

On behalf of my constituents, the people who have approached me in recent weeks, those who now realise the dangers, I say very strongly that we on this side of the chamber oppose this Bill with all the vigour and capacity that we have, and we will go on doing so regardless of what occurs during the remainder of the committee stage this afternoon.

Progress reported.