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Tuesday, 15 August 1989
Page: 13

Senator COLSTON —Is the Minister for Consumer Affairs aware of a concerted campaign by several credit reference organisations and providers aimed at discrediting sections of the Privacy Amendment Bill? Will the Minister clarify the reason for one of the main objections by credit providers, namely, that the absence of positive reporting will jeopardise their ability to assess accurately the complete history of a credit applicant? Are there any grounds for objections that the exclusion of access to the commercial credit record of a small business owner or sole trader will increase defaults and bad debts, therefore encouraging fraudulent credit applications?

Senator BOLKUS —The short answer to the first part of Senator Colston's question is that there has in fact been a campaign, run very much by those who mouth commitment to privacy principles but who are not quite prepared to have the promise of those principles actually placed in concrete and the performance achieved. At the introduction of the Bill the Government made it clear that it had a number of objectives in this area. One was to tackle the whole question of positive reporting and another was to apply the privacy principles to the credit reporting industry. As I said at the time, and to representatives of the Credit Reference Association of Australia who came to see me on the day of the introduction of the Bill, we were prepared then, and are now, to have constructive consultations on the Bill. In fact, at that meeting we canvassed the question of amendments to the Bill and got a positive response to that. It is fair to say that since then there have been two strata of contribution to the debate: there has been a whole range of constructive bilateral discussions with sections of industry, and there has been the somewhat irrational campaign.

Senator Puplick —Mr President, I raise a point of order. This matter has been raised on a number of previous occasions. There is a difference between items which are generally listed for debate and specific discussion of a Bill which is on the Notice Paper. The question has invited the Minister to address not the issues but the specifics of a Bill which is now listed for debate and is therefore not in order. There is a standing order which prohibits the anticipation of debate on a particular piece of legislation as distinct from a wider canvass. The Minister should not be allowed to take the opportunity to make an amendment to his second reading speech about a Bill on the Notice Paper which is scheduled for debate.

The PRESIDENT —The point raised by Senator Puplick is valid. The Minister should not anticipate a debate on a Bill that is on the Notice Paper. I ask the Minister to conclude. He can refer to consultations that have taken place and I think that is where he should leave it.

Senator BOLKUS —Mr President, I will continue and take into account your direction. As I said, there have been some quite constructive consultations and there has been the alternative campaign, which has been based very much on deliberate misinformation. In those consultations the Government has made it clear to the people with whom it has been discussing the Bill that it will maintain the original intention of the Bill, which is to allow a whole range of credit providers-in fact, 90 per cent or thereabouts of the existing users. The Government also made it very clear that the whole question of whether there should be a distinction between personal and commercial files and a bar of access on one when accessing the other is very hard to maintain, although that matter initially came out of consultations and discussions with industry. There will of course be amendments to cover the constructive outcome of the consultations in those two areas and others as well. Out of the consultations has also come a growing awareness of the Government's position-a position that was adopted and endorsed by both the Opposition and the Australian Democrats, who were in opposition to positive reporting. The Government's position on that point has been getting growing support and recognition throughout the community.

In conclusion, the bilateral consultations with industry have been quite constructive and useful. They will lead to industry's legitimate concerns being taken into account. The Government's commitment ensures that the privacy of individuals with regard to this particular legislation will not be compromised. I must also say that the quite hysterical campaign which has been run has been of no real value to industry and individual members of organisations involved in it. Unfortunately, they will be concerned by some of the reports that have emanated from their peak organisation. However, we have had constructive consultations; they are continuing. I warn those who may be inclined to listen to the Credit Reference Association of Australia or the Australian Credit Forum to have a second thought about that.