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Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Page: 2226

Senator BROCKMAN (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (11:28): I too rise to speak on the Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill 2020 and thank all colleagues who have come previously for their contribution. It's good to see what I think is unanimity around this chamber on the benefits of having a contact-tracing app such as this one in place to assist us in dealing with what has been an absolutely shocking pandemic. None of us could have predicted just a few short months ago where we would be today and what we would be discussing today. We probably all thought a few months ago that we would be talking significantly about economics. We would have just seen a budget handed down, and obviously that is not the case. Instead we are dealing with one of the most serious crises to hit the globe in a very long time.

As we look at the way we have so far—and there is a long way to go—dealt with this global pandemic in Australia, I just say the Australian people have been absolutely magnificent in working with the government, both our government and the state governments, and in dealing with this pandemic. I think the Australian people have done themselves very proud indeed. We see them taking the steps required to make sure we deal with this pandemic in a responsible way, in a way that protects the most vulnerable in our community.

As many senators have already said, this app is not a panacea unto itself. This app doesn't mean we can stop washing our hands or coughing into our elbows or maintaining safe social distance or not gathering in large crowds for the foreseeable future. But what this app does do is it adds a very important tool to the toolkit of the public health officials who are attempting to do the contact tracing, which is so important. We've all heard it: the test, trace, suppress. When someone has become exposed and contracted this very dangerous virus, this app will assist greatly those state public health officers who are trying to track down the contacts of that person as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible.

It's designed to help keep you safe. It's designed to help keep your family safe and your community safe, by slowing down and, as I said, by tracing and suppressing this virus. Early notification of possible exposure is extraordinarily important in dealing with those local outbreaks, which we know will happen and we've seen already—the meatworks in Victoria and the outbreak in Tasmania a little while back. We've seen these outbreaks, and we know that this app will help quickly track and trace the people involved in those outbreaks.

There are significant protections involved, and, like my colleagues, I congratulate the ministers responsible in this area. In particular I'll thank my colleague from Western Australia Christian Porter for his responsiveness in dealing with some of the concerns about the treatment of data when the idea of this app was initially being discussed and as the initial phase of development was underway. I think all the ministers involved in this process have been extraordinarily responsive in making sure we get the balance right. There are understandable concerns and there is a balance to be struck, but I think the fact that this place seemingly will support this bill in a unanimous fashion recognises that those ministers have been responsive and that the correct balance has been struck.

There are a number of layers of volunteerism about this app. First of all, you choose to download it, and I absolutely encourage you to do so. For those millions of Australians who have, I thank you. When you're thinking about the rest of Australians who are thinking about when and whether to download the app, I would just absolutely urge you to think about why we adopt something like this. We adopt it to help protect our families, our parents, our grandparents. We adopt it to help protect our essential service workers, who many in this place have thanked. I certainly add my voice to the thanks to our many essential service workers, from the health system to those who have been continuing to work in our grocery stores making sure we've got food to eat, right across the economy. Those essential parts of the economy that have kept going at risk to themselves will help to be protected if you download this app.

We are helping to protect the vulnerable, those with a suppression of their immune system due to an underlying health condition. We're helping to protect the old. When my family is out walking in the park, we want to say 'G'day' to the older Australian who lives up the road from us. We want to do that in the confidence that we have as many systems and structures in place as we can to protect as many of our vulnerable Australians as we can.

Of course there's a secondary voluntary point in the app, and that is: unless and until a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, no contact information collected in the app is disclosed or able to be accessed. I think that is a very important second part of the way this app functions. It's very important to providing that balance and providing that level of certainty to the Australian public. I really do urge all Australians to think seriously, if you haven't already, about downloading this app, about doing everything we can to make sure that our path out of this pandemic is as smooth and as efficient and as quick as it possibly can be.