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Thursday, 17 February 2000
Page: 13724


Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) (9:41 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

As we approach the centenary of Federation, our minds naturally turn to trying to understand the nature of Australia today, 100 years after its move to Federation in 1901. The 2001 census provides a unique opportunity to provide such a window on Australian society in 2001.

This bill will ensure that name-identified 2001 census information from households which provide explicit consent on their census form will be kept by the National Archives of Australia. The information will be then preserved for future genealogical and other research, after a closed access period of 99 years. This will be a valuable commemorative activity for the centenary of Federation and will give today's Australians the chance to provide a gift to future generations, in the form of a comprehensive picture of the people and the society we are 100 years after Federation.

All name-identified information from past censuses has been destroyed. The retention of such information in future censuses was recommended by the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in its report, Saving Our Census and Preserving Our History. The government agrees with the committee that saving name-identified census information `for future research, with appropriate safeguards, will make a valuable contribution to preserving Australia's history for future generations'.

Australia has a justifiably strong reputation for the quality of its census information, which provides the statistical foundation for decision making by the public and private sectors. This reputation has been achieved not only by the Australian Bureau of Statistics' sound work but also by the public trust that the information collected will be protected. The government believes that nothing should be done which will put at risk public cooperation and hence the quality of census information. For this reason, and in keeping with good privacy practice, the bill requires the consent of households before the name-identified information is kept. This information from households which do not consent will be destroyed as soon as statistical processing is completed. The Australian Bureau of Statistics will be working with the Privacy Commissioner on how that consent should be sought and to ensure the requirements of the PrivacyAct1988 are met.

Also, the bill ensures that in the closed access period, the retained name-identified information is completely protected whilst held by the ABS and by the National Archives of Australia. The information will not be available for any purpose within the 99-year closed access period, including use by a court or tribunal. The public can be confident this picture of Australia will, in a very real sense, be preserved in a time capsule, unavailable for 99 years, but available as a message to our descendants in 2101.

The bill relates only to information from the 2001 census and not to all future censuses. Given the importance of high quality censuses, the government believes a decision on future censuses is best made in the light of the experience in 2001.

The bill also allows for an administrative change in the form of a name change for the Australian Archives to the National Archives of Australia.

I commend this bill to the House and commend the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Swan) adjourned.