House debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020, Data Availability and Transparency (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020; Second Reading

5:43 pm

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

It may surprise the member for Maribyrnong to know that I probably agreed with nearly 90 per cent of what he said there. We are in this brave new world where big data poses a grave threat to individual rights and privacy, and big data collected by government that is enjoined with big business is probably the scariest situation that I can imagine arise for privacy and for our freedoms. The one thing that I didn't agree with the member for Maribyrnong on was the words that this work had achieved the right balance. Sure, I acknowledge that there has been a lot of discussion between the government and the opposition on this bill, which has taken out of the original bill a lot of the problematic areas. There have been Senate inquiries that have looked into this bill that have taken out a lot of the problematic areas of the bill. But being better doesn't necessarily make it good.

There is a litmus test that we should have in this place when a bill comes before us: did any of your constituents ever email you about government sharing data with different departments or sharing data with state governments or sharing de-identified data with universities? Did anyone ever walk into your office and ask you, as an MP, to vote for this bill, or say that there was a problem they saw that necessitated this proposed act? Did anyone ever stop you in the street? Did anyone ever phone you or one of your staff members about it? I'd say by and large the answer for every single person who inhabits this chamber would be 'no' on this front.

So why are we doing it? Where does it come from? I've heard from the government and now the opposition the argument that, if there's a natural disaster, an extreme event, we can easily get payments to people. If they don't have the data that they need to present to get that payment, we can look at Medicare or we can look at something else and get their data for that purpose. But there's an old saying that hard cases make bad law. That is an extreme situation. Sure, it happens from time to time, but it's still an extreme situation. I don't know that we need to up-end our privacy provisions in this country for that extreme situation. I actually haven't heard another argument beyond that for this bill. I have not heard one. If one exists, I'd love to know. What I would really love to know is an argument that exists for this bill that is actually for the benefit of the people rather than the benefit of government.

Sure, as I said before, a lot of the problematic areas from how it was drafted originally have been knocked out of this bill through the process that it's gone through, but here are some questions. Apparently the data that's going to go to external organisations, which would be universities for research purposes, is going to be data that's de-identified. How is it going to be de-identified? Can it be re-identified? Is there the potential for that? I don't know.

I'm told the data that's going to go inter governmental, whether it's between Commonwealth government departments or the Commonwealth and states, is only going to be for the benefit of individuals, and that that data sharing cannot be used for anything that is investigative, punitive or for any other negative measure against a citizen. But what happens if it is? Sure, there might be a smack on the wrist for someone, but what happens if it is. What happens if it is used in that fashion? Is the Commonwealth going to suddenly drop all proceedings against someone because the data was used in a way that it shouldn't have been? I don't know. I hope that the answer would be that, yes, all proceedings against that individual would be dropped. But the fact is that we've got data sharing, so it could potentially happen. I'm very worried about this bill and the trajectory that we're going down. This bill now has bipartisan support. It doesn't have my support. It might have bipartisan support, but it does not have my support.

I fear that what's behind this is the digital identity push. I've got to tell my colleagues on all sides of this House: do not ever do that. Do not ever accept a national digital identity system in this nation. That will be the end, not the beginning, of privacy in this country. What it will be the beginning of is big government intruding into our lives far too much. I'm afraid that this legislation, having originally been crafted for the purpose of sharing data with private corporations, is also the beginning of something else. We can have all the protections in this bill right now, but 10 years down the track what's going to happen to those protections? Where is this going to lead? Are we going to have data sharing between big government and big corporations? I don't want to be part of that, and that's why I'm stating right now on the record that I do not support this bill.


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