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Monday, 30 August 2021
Page: 8884


Ms LANDRY (CapricorniaAssistant Minister for Children and Families and Assistant Minister for Regional Tourism) (16:09): In summing up, I thank all honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the Royal Commissions Amendment (Protection of Information) Bill 2021. The government takes violence against and the abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability very seriously. All forms of violence against and abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability are abhorrent. The government has listened to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, people with disability, their families and carers, and the broader Australian public about the importance of ensuring people have the confidence to come forward and tell their story. As a result, this bill provides confidentiality protections for certain sensitive information that is given to the disability royal commission by strengthening and expanding the existing protections to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 to remove any doubt about the safeguarding of confidential information beyond the life of the inquiry. It also expands existing protections in the Royal Commissions Act to provide clarity for people that a broad range of sensitive information given to the disability royal commission will be fully protected. The bill amends the act to ensure the confidentiality of certain information given by or on behalf of individuals to the disability royal commission is protected.

The use and disclosure of information given by individuals to the commission about their or others' experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation will be limited, where that information was given for purposes other than a private session, and the information was treated as confidential by the commissioner at all times. The amendments will provide that this category of confidential information is not admissible in evidence against a person in any civil or criminal proceedings in any court of the Commonwealth, state or territory. Further, a provision of any law of the Commonwealth, a state or a territory would have no effect to the extent that it would otherwise require or authorise a person to make a record of, use or disclose the information. In addition, it would be an offence to disclose or use this confidential information without authority. The other place also agreed to government amendments to the bill, following which the bill's protection will apply in the circumstances where information is given on behalf of another person—for example, a carer or parent giving information on behalf of a person with disability—and will also clearly cover accounts of systemic forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability, and not just individual accounts.

Records of the confidential information will be held securely by the custodian, the secretary of the Attorney-General's Department, when the inquiry ends. Just like private session information, a court will be unable to compel the department to disclose this information. It will not be admissible in court proceedings and third parties will be unable to seek this information under the freedom of information regime. The bill also provides for other technical amendments which will improve the efficiency of the disability royal commission and future commissions. The bill will streamline arrangements to enable directions to be made by differently configured groups of commissioners in or outside of a royal commission hearing. This will enable the disability royal commission and future commissions to move flexibly to make urgent directions for the non-publication of sensitive information to protect the identity of a person, locations or institutions.

Finally, the bill improves arrangements for Commonwealth royal commissions to communicate information and evidence obtained during the course of their inquiries with the royal commission and a commission of inquiry of a state or territory. This is an important and essential mechanism for the disability royal commission, which has been set up as a joint Commonwealth and state royal commission, established through the issue of concurrent letters patent under the respective royal commissions legislation. Currently, most evidence tendered in the Commonwealth disability royal commission must also be tendered for the concurrent state royal commissions. This is impractical and time-consuming. Streamlining these information-sharing arrangements will create important efficiencies for the disability royal commission and future royal commissions by enabling evidence tendered on behalf of the Commonwealth disability royal commission to be easily shared with all concurrent state royal commissions.

The government has carefully considered the development of the bill and has closely consulted with the disability royal commission to ensure it provides comprehensive protections to sensitive information. I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on this important bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Andrews ): The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Scullin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be disagreed to.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.