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Second Reading

[3.21 p.m.]

Mrs JACKSON (Denison - Minister for Justice and Industrial Relations - 2R) - Mr Speaker, I move -

That the bill be now read the second time.

This bill responds to community concerns that government bodies respect and properly control the personal information they collect and hold. The growth of the information economy, and the increasing provision of the Internet to deliver government services highlights the importance of implementing appropriate mechanisms to safeguard personal information to ensure that it is secure and used in an appropriate manner. Over the last decade, governments worldwide have enacted legislation to apply minimum requirements and responsibilities in relation to the collection, storage, use and exchange of personal information by and between organisations.

At the national level, current privacy legislation regulates the activities of the private sector as well as the Commonwealth public sector.

And just as a little aside to that, which I found very interesting, a few years ago, the Commonwealth Public Service - the bureaucrats - did not wish the Commonwealth to introduce legislation governing privacy legislation in the private sector. The Howard Government as it was then, in its earlier days, concurred with that, but then pressure actually came from the private sector, particularly the banks and multinational companies that were trading overseas who had to have this type of legislation to enter overseas markets. They put the pressure on the Howard Government to bring in this legislation. It was a few years after they brought in the legislation to govern the Commonwealth Public Service too, so it is interesting. It is the only time I can think of when the private sector has actually asked for - you could say demanded - more regulation.

This legislation is not just as it was perceived to be in its initial stages, as being something that was punitive and regulatory; it is something that can also facilitate commerce.

New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory have also enacted privacy legislation. In developing Tasmanian legislation, which will apply to both State and local government, a consultative approach was taken involving all government agencies, the local government sector, together with other key stakeholders.

From this process, this bill has been developed and will apply to all State government agencies, statutory boards and statutory office holders, government business enterprises - GBEs - ministers, the University of Tasmania, and all municipal councils.

This legislation does not apply to State-owned corporations, which currently operate under the requirements of the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988.

The key objective of this bill is to ensure that the way in which the State and local government sectors collect, use and disclose personal information is fully transparent. To achieve this objective, minimum standards will be applied to regulate how personal information is collected and used, and to ensure that individuals are made fully aware of the purpose for which their personal information is being collected.

The existing right to amend any information that is found to be incorrect or inaccurate is reinforced by this legislation. Under the proposed legislative regime, the disclosure of a person's personal information to another organisation can only occur with the knowledge of the individual concerned.

The concept of transparency is not new and is currently applied by both State and local government organisations in meeting their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 1991. This bill takes this concept further to apply stringent requirements to protect personal information within these sectors. The legislation will take a similar enforcement approach to that currently applying under the Freedom of Information Act. That is, responsibility for applying the legislation is vested in the individual State government agency, or GBE, or council, rather than the responsibility of a central body, such as a privacy commissioner.

It is the Government's view that Tasmania is too small to have a number of commissioners all operating in discrete areas of specialisation. There is a limit to the bureaucracy that can be created. The Government must be fiscally responsible and not overburden taxpayers with unnecessary costs. Having said this, in keeping with the FOI Act approach, agencies, GBEs or councils will deal directly with complaints from individuals.

The Ombudsman will act as final arbiter in the event that a complaint is not resolved to the individuals' satisfaction by an agency, GBE or council. The Ombudsman's expertise in handling complaints and improving standards of administration is well recognised. Providing for a dual role in relation to personal information protection and freedom of information will promote an integrated and coherent approach to information handling. This in turn will foster a proper balance between the right to privacy and other important rights and interests, such as public safety or government accountability.

Where Parliament has determined that the use and disclosure of personal information is appropriate in specific circumstances, this legislation will not override that process. Consistent with other privacy legislation within Australia as well as overseas, the Tasmanian Personal Information Protection Bill allows for various exemptions from the requirements. These are:

Public Information - information that is publicly available is exempt for obvious reasons. For example, information that is required by relevant legislation to be available for examination by the public.

Courts and Tribunals - the exercise of the judicial or quasi-judicial functions of courts or tribunals are exempted, as well as some administrative functions, such as the management of personnel records.

Law Enforcement Information - certain provisions relating to the collection and use or disclosure of personal information will not apply in relation to law enforcement activities.

Use of Basic Information - the efficient storage of limited information by the public sector is also exempted from collection and use requirements. This provision would apply to any whole-of-government arrangement that may be implemented to enable public sector agencies to meet their obligations under the act to ensure the quality of the data they hold.

Better management of an individual's basic information will provide an opportunity for improvement in the delivery of government information and services to the citizens of Tasmania by ensuring that people are contacted for business purposes at the correct address. Better management of basic information will also allow individuals to deal with the Tasmanian government faster and easier. 'Basic Information' is defined as comprising the name, address, date of birth and gender of an individual.

Employee Information - as some employment areas are extremely sensitive, provision is made in the legislation to allow for the collection of personal information from a person or persons other than the individual concerned, or to collect sensitive information, in relation to employee information.

Debate adjourned.