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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Page: 3359

Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Government Whip) (10:52): Before I comment on the bill, Acting Deputy President Bishop, I acknowledge your service to the parliament. I was here when you gave your valedictory speech this week. May I say, it demonstrated the significant contribution you have made to this place over a long period of time. I note that your wife was in the gallery. I know that she and your family have been tremendously supportive of your services to this place. I would like to put on the record my appreciation. We worked very closely together on the foreign affairs committee. When I came to this place, I did not expect military justice to be one of the things that I would understand and become an expert at. I can thank you for putting that on my radar so that I could have greater comprehension of all matters in relation to military justice, as well as other matters in the defence arena. Enjoy your retirement from this place, although I know that there will certainly be no retirement in a professional sense.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Mark Bishop ): Thank you, Senator Kroger.

Senator KROGER: My pleasure.

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator KROGER: Senator Bilyk, I would be happy to offer one for you, but it is not your time yet. Good luck to you. I hope your time does not come too soon at all. I come to the Privacy Amendment (Privacy Alerts) Bill 2014. I will share some observations that have been made not only this morning but at other times in relation to the bill that has been brought to the chamber by Senator Singh. I notice, as has already been stated, that this bill is similar to a bill that was introduced by the former government in 2013. We heard that the bill was passed by the House of Representatives on 6 June 2013 and there was a very brief inquiry undertaken by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. I understand the inquiry was particularly brief and the committee reported on this bill on 24 June 2013.

Before I start my comments, I note the interjections across the floor from Senator Singh to Senator Fawcett. Senator Singh said that consultation happened for years and years. The fact of the matter is that, if that had happened, the bill would have been introduced to parliament by the former government before June last year. The facts just do not stack up.

The government, as has been appropriately recognised, support the essence of what is being sought here. What concerns us is the process. Process is incredibly important. That is what the Senate is all about. It is our responsibility to ensure that all proper processes, inquiries and considerations are undertaken so that, when legislation comes here and is finally passed or denied, it is done in the most authoritative way. That is the role of the Senate. We are very different to the House of Representatives in terms of our mandate. It is the mandate of the Senate to review all legislation so that we can ensure that, as Senator Fawcett so properly characterised, unintended consequences of legislation, even in the best interests of any parliament, do not have adverse effects, particularly on stakeholders. That is our primary concern here.

When I was looking at the detail of the explanatory memorandum that Senator Singh put together—and I commend her for that—I was reminded of a website that raised the issue of privacy concerns. There are many examples of overt breaches. One in Australia particularly concerned me. I think it was raised here earlier. It was the allegation of a privacy breach with the very large superannuation fund called Cbus. My concern is that this breach could have happened to any superannuation fund. If you think about the degree of private information we have to provide to all these funds, then every citizen would be concerned. In the case of Cbus, it was alleged that the personal information of hundreds—not just one or two but hundreds—of Cbus members was leaked to a union boss as part of an industrial campaign. Someone inside extracted the private details of individual members so that they could be contacted for an industrial campaign. Those allegations, I might add, were sent to the Australian Federal Police for investigation. Such was the significant nature of that breach. The allegations were forwarded not only to the Australian Federal Police but also to the Australian Privacy Commissioner. What was alleged at the time was that a senior employee of Cbus leaked names, birthdates, postal and email addresses, and even phone numbers—information that, I am sure you would agree, we would hope would remain private when we provide it to any superannuation fund and that it would be retained with that intent. But in this case, it was not. Superannuation contribution details of the more than 400 members were provided. Most of those people, though, were not members of any union and, in fact, they were not union members to the New South Wales Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

It was sent to that union's branch secretary without their consent. It is the nature of these sorts of breaches, where they are direct and overt, that we have serious concerns, because we all know in this modern age just how much information we have put out there to providers. If you subscribe to a private health insurance provider, you have got to provide all sorts of very intimate details. It is information that we would not want to get out, because of the nature of it.

We have had conversations in this place many times about a national identity card. It could be used for all sorts of purposes. In fact, I have been involved with the current and ongoing JSCEM inquiry into the conduct of elections. One of the issues there is the validation of those turning up to vote, who are not required to provide a form of identity and that gives an opportunity for someone to vote in another person's name. Many, many examples have been raised in the inquiry where people use another name—perhaps not Senator Catryna Bilyk, but Catryna Bilyk, for example, in Tasmania—and they may vote in her name. In that case there is no way notionally to identify that the person is not Catryna Bilyk. There is nothing to attest to the fact that they are not that person.

Identification and the determination of registration and details—and all of that sort of thing—is really important in today's modern age. But what is more important—and I raised the national ID card—is that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to that ID card is the fact that people are concerned, and rightly so, about the way in which their personal details may be breached and misused. We have it here, as I said, and that was reported to the AFP and the Australian Privacy Commissioner. This is just one example in Australia where privacy details have been abused and used by an insider.

Yes, in essence, we support what this bill seeks to do. I have sat here in this chamber—well, I am going into my last week before I leave next week—for six years and watched as legislation has been passed without the proper scrutiny that it deserves. When that happens, you get unintended consequences. I can cite numerous examples of legislation that was rushed through without proper consideration. We have prosecuted it quite extensively, but it was legislation that had come through without being given proper consideration. There has been significant, significant consequences.

Senator Bilyk: What about your Infrastructure Australia legislation?

Senator Singh: What about the Racial Discrimination Act?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Senator Bilyk and Senator Singh, standing order 197 says that interruptions are disorderly. You will not interrupt Senator Kroger.

Senator KROGER: Senator Bilyk and I just think that we are having a drink outside and we are having the usual argy-bargy. I appreciate your ruling. If I can try to go back to where I was—you have very successfully interrupted my train of thought—the one that comes to mind, because it affected some stakeholders and some constituents of mine in Victoria, was the introduction of the pink batts insulation scheme. It was introduced on the run and it is one we can all relate to very well. We know why it was suggested: it was necessary to inject capital into the economy so we did not go into the GFC. We know the arguments for it. There has been a judicial inquiry held into that. This is one thing that every Australian man and woman can identify with, because what it demonstrated was that the stakeholders were not consulted prior to the rollout of that program. It did not come here for due consideration; there was no proper inquiry before it was rolled out; it was literally policy done on the run, which was legislated and rolled out straightaway.

Departmental staff have indicated that they were not aware of the various consequences of the way in which they rolled out that program. If I can take you back, we know that there were literally hundreds of fires. I visited a house in in Victoria, where the retired lady was so lucky; she had a fire in her kitchen; they had installed the insulation. She did not know there was a choice. The provider called up and said, 'You know, you can get this and you won't have to pay for it.' She thought, 'Oh, okay.' She did not understand, because the details were not provided to her. She had the insulation installed; they installed it over the current insulation; it blocked and created a huge problem with the electricity in her kitchen. She was in the bedroom when a fire started in her kitchen. It was a neighbour who alerted her to it. She was one of the lucky ones. I went in, and you could see this extraordinary situation where she was very lucky. There was a fire in her kitchen ceiling. Thankfully, she was in the bedroom. She was not intoxicated by smoke.

The whole point of that was that the stakeholders—electricians, for instance—who are skilled and licensed to install insulation were not consulted on what the process here should have been. This could so easily have been averted, and it was not. Alarm bells were ringing at various levels from the Prime Minister and the minister responsible down—we know all that—but no-one took any note. That is probably a very stark but very good example of unintended consequences.

That brings me back to this, because we are just seeking to ensure that, for legislation that comes here, we as a Senate do the task that is set out for us. It is our mandate to review legislation, so we can consult properly, consult widely and ensure that everyone who has significant input has the opportunity to provide that and that what we end up doing is not just creating another layer of red tape, another layer of bureaucracy, but ensuring that the proper processes are put in place.

There is a fantastic booklet that has been put out by the Abbott government. It is this booklet, entitled The Australian Government Guide to Regulation. I would suggest that every person in this place should pick it up and have a read, because it is like a plumber's guide to plumbing. It is our guide to legislation. Everybody in this place should take the time to read this because it will save time, ultimately, for senators of this place and members in the other chamber if they pick up this guide and read it to ensure that the proper processes have been undertaken in bringing any legislation into this place.

I go to page 40 of the guide. There are many areas. This one covers the area of stakeholders. I am not going to go through it. Everybody in this place is bright enough to consult it, pick it up and have a read. But there are various aspects of it which I really commend to the senators in this place to read. They include 'Proper consultation delivers better outcomes'. In that section, we have 'Understanding the attitudes and likely reactions of the people affected', 'Making sure every practical and viable policy alternative has been considered', 'Confirming the accuracy of the data on which your analysis was based'—these are all subheadings which detail ways in which you can do this. Others are 'Ensuring there are no implementation barriers or unintended consequences', 'Affected groups will feel you have listened and considered their views'—and it goes on. It also talks about 'the right consultation tool' to use for the particular job that you are seeking to undertake.

This is not a guide that has been put together for legislators. It is a guide for all agencies, for all departments, which should pull out this little book to literally do a checklist when they are looking at introducing or considering policy. There are also options for the way in which you can consult stakeholders, including 'full public consultation', 'targeted consultation', 'confidential consultation' and 'post-decision consultation'.

In closing, I refer to the committee that inquired into this bill for a very, very limited time. I have to acknowledge the work that former Senator Humphries and outgoing Senator Boyce did on this. They made a number of recommendations in additional statements, if you like, to the report. I do not have time to go through those additional recommendations, but I commend these additional comments to the chamber for consideration.