Standing up for Canberra

Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Protection) II Bill 2012

The reforms in the Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012 will improve responsible lending and reduce levels of indebtedness and defaults. In another significant amendment, the bill will provide new powers for the Australian Privacy Commissioner to handle complaints and to provide a wider range of enforceable remedies to consumers and direct government agencies to perform privacy impact assessments.

The bill implements key aspects of the Gillard government's first stage response to the report by the Australian Law Reform Commission. Let me briefly run through the main components of this bill. First, it will improve and update Australia's privacy law framework. Through these measures, it will create a single set of privacy principles that will be technology neutral for both the private sector and Australian government agencies. It will introduce a new, more comprehensive consumer-credit-reporting system. It will clarify and enhance the powers of the Privacy Commissioner, to advance the commissioner's ability to resolve complaints and to undertake investigations. It will also promote privacy compliance.

In terms of what this bill will mean for consumers, it will uphold transparency in the handling of personal information by requiring organisations to develop and publish more comprehensive privacy policies. It will make it easier for people to access and correct their credit-reporting information, which is particularly important. The Privacy Commissioner's powers to enforce compliance with the act will also be enhanced. Most importantly, this bill will protect victims of identity theft and fraud by providing them with the ability to prohibit for a specified period the disclosure of credit-reporting information about them without their consent. It will protect minors by prohibiting the collection of credit-reporting information about individuals under the age of 18.

Something I am sure will be very welcome is that this bill will clearly and tightly regulate the use of personal information for direct marketing by introducing a specific privacy principle directed at direct-marketing activity. It will prohibit the use of credit information for direct marketing. I know that this will be widely welcomed. I know that I get many complaints in my electorate from people who are being harassed through direct-marketing phone calls. Just on the weekend, I was clearing a whole lot of messages that had been left on my machine and noticed that there were a whole lot of overseas calls. I just wondered how many direct-marketing messages or calls have been made while I have been at work or out at night in the electorate. I was quite alarmed by the number and thought to myself, 'I must get on that list.' The bill will the strengthen the protection for an individual's information where it is disclosed outside Australia.

What this bill means for business is this—because it has an impact on business as well as on consumers. It makes certain that new privacy principles are technology neutral. It makes certain that the privacy principles are relevant to a technology driven environment, and it makes certain that they have the flexibility to adapt to new technology as it develops. It updates the credit-reporting provisions to take in hand the major changes that have taken place since they were first enacted in 1990. Furthermore, it makes the credit-reporting regime more flexible and less prescriptive by emphasising industry led complaint resolution. It also introduces a much more comprehensive credit-reporting system.

The specifics of this comprehensive reporting system will now include correct and timely information to enable improved risk assessment, increased competition and efficiency in credit markets, decreased levels of over indebtedness in default, and more responsible lending.

Let me briefly touch on the credit reporting aspects contained in this bill because they will permit some extra information about individuals to be included in the credit reporting system, including some repayment history information. The more inclusive credit reporting will ensure that the credit assessment process operates more effectively by providing sufficient information to credit providers so as to allow them to more accurately assess the risk of lending. Importantly, the bill includes safeguards to protect against the misuse of credit information, which is incredibly important. The example that has been used is that credit providers will now be obliged to help consumers correct their credit information if there is an error on their credit report. As I have noted, this bill will prohibit the collection of credit reporting information about individuals reasonably known to be under 18. This bill is the result of an extensive consultation process that began several years ago and the credit reporting industries in particular want to see this bill introduced. I commend this bill to the House.

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