Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012; In Committee
I do note that Senator Xenophon has an issue with one, as I understand it. It would seem that we could move government amendments (1) to (40), but noting that government amendment (17) is in conflict with Senator Xenophon's. It is a question of whether you want me to pull that one out and move (1) to (40), save (17) and then deal with that afterwards? It is probably an easier way of doing it, and then we could deal with that one separately. In doing otherwise, we then have a problem.
So, I seek leave to combine (1) to (40), save (17)—
I am happy to do that as well. By leave—move government amendments (1) to (16), (18) to 26) and (28) to (40) on sheet BP262 together:
(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table item 2), omit "9 months", substitute "15 months".
(2) Clause 2, pages 2 to 3 (table items 3 to 9), omit the table items, substitute:
(3) Clause 2, page 3 (table item 11), omit "9 months", substitute "15 months".
(4) Clause 2, pages 3 to 4 (table items 13 to 15), omit the table items, substitute:
(5) Clause 2, page 4 (table item 17), omit "9 months", substitute "15 months".
(6) Clause 2, page 4 (table item 19), omit "9 months", substitute "15 months".
(7) Schedule 1, item 88, page 23 (lines 4 and 5), omit the item, substitute:
88 Subsection 95(1)
After "privacy", insert "by agencies".
(8) Schedule 1, item 104, page 29 (line 6), at the end of paragraph 2.2(b) of Australian Privacy Principle 2, add "or who have used a pseudonym".
(9) Schedule 1, item 104, page 30 (after line 24), at the end of Australian Privacy Principle 3.4, add:
Note: For permitted general situation, see section 16A. For permitted health situation, see section 16B.
(10) Schedule 1, item 104, page 34 (after line 4), at the end of Australian Privacy Principle 6.2, add:
Note: For permitted general situation, see section 16A. For permitted health situation, see section 16B.
(11) Schedule 1, item 104, page 35 (line 7), omit the heading to Australian Privacy Principle 7.1, substitute:
(12) Schedule 1, item 104, page 39 (after line 3), at the end of Australian Privacy Principle 8.2, add:
Note: For permitted general situation, see section 16A.
(13) Schedule 1, item 104, page 39 (line 34), omit "Note", substitute "Note 1".
(14) Schedule 1, item 104, page 39 (after line 35), at the end of Australian Privacy Principle 9.2, add:
Note 2: For permitted general situation, see section 16A.
(15) Schedule 2, item 39, page 52 (lines 24 and 25), omit "an act relating to the collection of", substitute "the act of collecting".
(16) Schedule 2, item 69, page 63 (line 12), at the end of subsection 6L(3), add "or a person prescribed by the regulations".
(18) Schedule 2, item 72, page 84 (lines 2 and 3), omit "the assessment of the credit worthiness of individuals", substitute "credit".
(19) Schedule 2, item 72, page 84 (line 10), omit "the assessment of the credit worthiness of individuals", substitute "credit".
(20) Schedule 2, item 72, page 84 (lines 15 and 16), omit "the assessment of the credit worthiness of individuals", substitute "credit".
(21) Schedule 2, item 72, page 100 (line 11), omit "complaint.", substitute "complaint;".
(22) Schedule 2, item 72, page 100 (after line 11), at the end of subsection 21B(4), add:
(i) whether the provider is likely to disclose credit information or credit eligibility information to entities that do not have an Australian link;
(j) if the provider is likely to disclose credit information or credit eligibility information to such entities—the countries in which those entities are likely to be located if it is practicable to specify those countries in the policy.
(23) Schedule 2, item 72, page 101 (line 25), omit "complaint.", substitute "complaint;".
(24) Schedule 2, item 72, page 101 (after line 25), at the end of subsection 21C(3), add:
(e) whether the provider is likely to disclose credit information or credit eligibility information to entities that do not have an Australian link;
(f) if the provider is likely to disclose credit information or credit eligibility information to such entities—the countries in which those entities are likely to be located if it is practicable to specify those countries in the credit reporting policy.(25) Schedule 2, item 72, page 102 (line 3), after "scheme", insert "or is prescribed by the regulations".
(26) Schedule 2, item 72, page 102 (line 22), after "licensee", insert "or is prescribed by the regulations".
(28) Schedule 2, item 72, page 105 (line 12), omit "and the body corporate has an Australian link".
(29) Schedule 2, item 72, page 105 (lines 13 to 17), omit paragraph 21G(3)(c), substitute:
(c) the disclosure is to:
(i) a person for the purpose of processing an application for credit made to the credit provider; or
(ii) a person who manages credit provided by the credit provider for use in managing that credit; or
(30) Schedule 2, item 72, page 105 (after line 32), at the end of subsection 21G(3), add:
Note: See section 21NA for additional rules about the disclosure of credit eligibility information under paragraph (3)(b) or (c).
(31) Schedule 2, item 72, page 106 (lines 7 to 10), omit paragraphs 21G(5)(c) and (d), substitute:
(c) the credit provider discloses the credit eligibility information under paragraph (3)(b), (c), (e) or (f); or
(d) the credit provider discloses the credit eligibility information under paragraph (3)(d) to an enforcement body.
(32) Schedule 2, item 72, page 111 (line 18), omit paragraph 21M(1)(b).
(33) Schedule 2, item 72, page 111 (lines 19 and 20), omit "for the purpose of the collection of payments", substitute "to the person or body for the primary purpose of the person or body collecting payments".
(34) Schedule 2, item 72, page 111 (after line 26), at the end of subsection 21M(1), add:
Note: See section 21NA for additional rules about the disclosure of credit eligibility information under this subsection.
(35) Schedule 2, item 72, page 113 (after line 9), after section 21N, insert:
21NA Disclosures to certain persons and bodies that do not have an Australian link
Related bodies corporate and credit managers etc.
(1) Before a credit provider discloses credit eligibility information under paragraph 21G(3)(b) or (c) to a related body corporate, or person, that does not have an Australian link, the provider must take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that the body or person does not breach the following provisions (the relevant provisions) in relation to the information:
(a) for a disclosure under paragraph 21G(3)(b)—section 22D;
(b) for a disclosure under paragraph 21G(3)(c)—section 22E;
(c) in both cases—the Australian Privacy Principles (other than Australian Privacy Principles 1, 6, 7, 8 and 9.2).
(a) a credit provider discloses credit eligibility information under paragraph 21G(3)(b) or (c) to a related body corporate, or person, that does not have an Australian link; and
(b) the relevant provisions do not apply, under this Act, to an act done, or a practice engaged in, by the body or person in relation to the information; and
(c) the body or person does an act, or engages in a practice, in relation to the information that would be a breach of the relevant provisions if those provisions applied to the act or practice;
the act done, or the practice engaged in, by the body or person is taken, for the purposes of this Act, to have been done, or engaged in, by the provider and to be a breach of those provisions by the provider.
(3) Before a credit provider discloses credit eligibility information under subsection 21M(1) to a person or body that does not have an Australian link, the provider must take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that the person or body does not breach the Australian Privacy Principles (other than Australian Privacy Principle 1) in relation to the information.
(a) a credit provider discloses credit eligibility information under subsection 21M(1) to a person or body that does not have an Australian link; and
(b) the Australian Privacy Principles do not apply, under this Act, to an act done, or a practice engaged in, by the person or body in relation to the information; and
(c) the person or body does an act, or engages in a practice, in relation to the information that would be a breach of the Australian Privacy Principles (other than Australian Privacy Principle 1) if those Australian Privacy Principles applied to the act or practice;
the act done, or the practice engaged in, by the person or body is taken, for the purposes of this Act, to have been done, or engaged in, by the provider and to be a breach of those Australian Privacy Principles by the provider.
(36) Schedule 2, item 72, page 125 (line 20), at the end of the heading to section 22E, add "etc.".
(37) Schedule 2, item 72, page 125 (lines 26 and 27), omit "for use in managing credit provided by the provider".
(38) Schedule 2, item 72, page 126 (lines 3 and 4), omit "in managing credit provided by the credit provider", substitute "for the purpose for which it was disclosed to the person under paragraph 21G(3)(c)".
(39) Schedule 2, item 72, page 126 (lines 8 to 10), omit all the words from and including "information" to the end of subsection 22E(3), substitute:
(a) the disclosure is to the credit provider; or
(b) the disclosure is required or authorised by or under an Australian law or a court/tribunal order.
(40) Schedule 4, item 189, page 193 (after line 18), at the end of section 80Z, add:
Note: In determining the pecuniary penalty, the court must take into account all relevant matters including the matters mentioned in subsection 80W(6).
In dealing with these amendments, I may also touch on government amendments (17) and (27) on sheet BP262. I note that the addendum to the explanatory memorandum was tabled in the Senate on 22 November 2012. It addressed recommendations made by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in its report on the bill, which was tabled on 26 September 2012. The government is introducing certain amendments to items in schedules 1, 2 and 4 of the bill. Many of these amendments, as I think I indicated in my second reading speech, respond to the recommendations of the committee report on the bill.
The amendments to schedule 1 of the bill respond to recommendations 1, 2 and 8 of the committee's report and will improve the effectiveness and operation of the proposed Australian Privacy Principles. These amendments are as follows: amendment (8), clarify the pseudonymity principle in Australian Privacy Principle 2; amendment (11), remove the word 'prohibition' from the subheading of APP 7, which deals with direct marketing, to more accurately reflect the content of the provisions; amendments (9), (10), (11), (12), (13) and (14) will add notes under those APPs that refer to permitted general situations and permitted health situations to provide useful cross-references to those meanings of those terms; and amendment (7) makes a minor amendment to the provisions dealing with medical research. The government will also expand the list of provisions that will be reviewed 12 months after commencement. The review commitment was given in response to a recommendation of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. As a result of discussions with the opposition, the government will add APP 7, which deals with direct marketing, to that list of matters to be reviewed.
The amendments to schedule 2 of the bill respond to recommendations 10 and 15 of the committee's report about the credit reporting provisions. The amendments to schedule 2 will also address a number of additional stakeholder concerns. These amendments are as follows. We will deal with amendment (27) shortly. Amendments (18), (19) and (20) broaden the identification provisions to permit research to be generally about credit. The Australian link requirement will be redrafted to ensure credit providers can continue to undertake various offshore processing activities in relation to credit eligibility information, clarify the scope of the managing credit and debt collection provisions, and make a number of related changes. We will deal with amendment (17) later. Amendments (16), (25) and (26) add regulation, making powers to allowed prescribed credit providers that are not licensees, such as Indigenous Business Australia, to access repayment history information, exempt and prescribe credit providers, such as IBA, from certain obligations to be a member of an external dispute resolution scheme and allow additional relay services that may be developed in the future to be exempt from the requirements to obtain prior written authorisation where the prescribed service is used to assist an individual and access seeker to communicate for the purpose of obtaining access to their credit reporting information.
Amendments (1) to (6) will extend the commencement period of the bill to 15 months after royal assent. This longer commencement period will ensure industry has sufficient time to make necessary changes to their systems and procedures. Amendment (40) will add a note to the civil penalty provisions in schedule 4 of the bill to clarify the matters that a court must consider in determining an appropriate penalty for multiple breaches of the act. That will ensure that a court will take into account all relevant circumstances in deciding on the total penalty to impose where there have been multiple breaches relating to the same conduct. In summary, we may be able to deal with any questions related to those issues that may have arisen, but I commend those amendments.
Before I conclude, it seems I could, by leave, add government amendment (17) on sheet BP262 to the government amendments, as it is a more efficient way of dealing with it, if there is no objection. I understand that there is not, but I seek leave to do that.
I move government amendment (17) on sheet BP262:
(17) Schedule 2, item 72, page 77 (lines 7 and 8), omit all the words from and including "recipient" to and including "licensee", substitute:
recipient of the information is:
(a) a credit provider who is a licensee or is prescribed by the regulations; or
(b) a mortgage insurer.
Having moved that amendment, I will speak briefly on it. Amendment (17) permits credit reporting bodies to disclose repayment history information to mortgagee insurers.
I just want to say a few words on behalf of the opposition in relation to the government's amendments. The bill, in its exposure and first reading considerations, attracted a great number of representations and submissions from affected stakeholders, including from the telecommunications, utilities, banking, insurance and direct marketing sectors.
Fifty-nine submissions were received by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which reported on 25 September.
I want to take the opportunity to thank the committee for the comprehensive nature of its hearings and its report. I want in particular to thank my colleague and, indeed, my parliamentary secretary, Senator Gary Humphries, for his tremendous industry in the work of the committee. The majority of the committee made 21 recommendations including substantive amendments, new transitional provisions and a comprehensive review within 12 months of the passage of the bill. The coalition members of the committee made an additional four recommendations.
I will speak momentarily to amendment (17) among the government amendments. That amendment is to substantially the same effect as an amendment jointly circulated in my name and the names of Senators Xenophon, Williams and Wright. Given that government amendment (17) is to substantially the same effect, I just indicate to the minister that we are happy for it to be considered among the government amendments. But let me speak briefly to it.
That amendment, government amendment (17), raises an issue specifically identified in the hearings by coalition members of the committee. In their report, the coalition members of the committee said:
Proposed new subsection 20E(1) (item 72 of Schedule 2) of the Privacy Act prohibits a 'credit reporting body' which holds 'credit reporting information' about an prohibits a 'credit reporting body' which holds 'credit reporting information' about an individual from using or disclosing that information. There are a number of exceptions to this general prohibition (proposed new subsections 20E(2)-(3)); however, under proposed new subsection 20E(4) a 'credit reporting body' cannot disclose 'credit reporting information' derived from 'repayment history information' to recipients who are not 'licensees' under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009, including, for example, lenders mortgage insurers (LMIs), … which are regulated by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.
The Insurance Council of Australia highlighted that LMIs assume the same risk as lenders:
[I]mpeding their ability to assess this risk by denying direct access to the full range of credit information is likely to significantly affect the LMI providers' ability to actually provide [lenders mortgage insurance]. This will impact on the availability and accessibility of borrowers (particularly first home buyers).
Coalition Senators note that such an outcome would be contrary to some of the benefits of privacy reform identified by the Attorney-General in her second reading speech and, in particular, the enhanced ability of the finance and credit industry to make more accurate risk assessments. Consistent with the introduction of more comprehensive credit reporting, Coalition Senators consider that, with the appropriate safeguards, there is no sound justification for disallowing LMIs from receiving 'credit reporting information' from a 'credit reporting body'.
And that is the effect of the amendment, government amendment No. (17).
I acknowledged Senator Gary Humphries a moment ago, but I should also acknowledge Senator John Williams, who was a participant in the hearings of the committee and who, I think, had a particular interest in this amendment. As to the rest of the government amendments, as I have indicated, the opposition supports them. They are in each case a reflection of the recommendations of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and their adoption is the result of a very productive discussion that took place between the Attorney-General, myself and Senator Humphries last Tuesday afternoon. So the government amendments have the support of the coalition.
I note the comments of Senator Brandis and also acknowledge the role that Senator John Williams has played in relation to that particular amendment with mortgage lending insurance, because it would have been quite anomalous for this bill not to include that. To not give mortgage lending insurers access to credit reporting information would have caused chaos in that industry and would have had quite severe effects.
I am also grateful for the discussions that I have had with Senator Wright from the Australian Greens in relation to this. I think that common sense has prevailed. The weight of numbers in any event is such that the combination of the coalition and the Greens and myself would have been overwhelmingly one of needing to fix up the anomaly, and so it has been fixed. I am very pleased that the government has moved this amendment which, in effect, reflects the amendment that was in the joint names of Senators Brandis, Williams, Wright and myself. I am pleased that this has been fixed, much to the relief of the mortgage lenders, and I think to home lenders and intending homeowners in Australia as well.
I would just like to add some comments following Senator Xenophon. For some 46 years, I think, mortgage insurance companies have had access to individual credit history and I believe that it is very important that the status quo remains. Those mortgage insurance companies have got to provide the insurance and they need to know who they are insuring.
I do not know whether this was an oversight by the government or by the Attorney-General when this legislation was brought in to the other place. I hope it was just an oversight not with some other meaning as far as the mortgage insurance companies go. I do welcome the government's amendment, which is basically the amendment put forward by Senators Brandis, Xenophon, Wright and myself. It was a serious problem and I am glad that that problem has been solved.
I thank Senator Brandis for his input to this very important issue, and his staff. I thank Senator Xenophon and I acknowledge Senator Wright as well. Through the weight of numbers, as Senator Xenophon said, I am glad the government has listened to this very important issue. No doubt they have had plenty of meetings and plenty of people knocking on their door, saying, 'You have got this wrong.' The Senate inquiry has obviously had the problem highlighted by coalition senators, and it is a pleasing result. Mortgage insurance companies will have that problem fixed so that they can access credit history, knowing what sorts of individuals they are dealing with when they put their money at risk. That is only fair and, as I often say, life is about fairness.
I want to make a few comments on all the amendments the government has moved, except amendment (17). I welcome this raft of amendments, which in part exhibits a responsiveness and attentiveness to coalition senators' concerns in a dissenting report. We are unaccustomed to this but welcome that tendency by the government in this case at least to take these matters on board and to move amendments that respond to them. I particularly welcome the extension of the commencement date of the legislation. It was very clear from the inquiry that the new regime will be very complex and the stakeholders themselves made clear that the time frame originally provided for—nine months from royal assent for the commencement of the legislation—was too short. The Australian Bankers Association, for example, said:
… as far as the general privacy provisions are concerned, the proposed implementation timeframe in the Bill will be insufficient for our members to implement those reforms effectively.
It has taken four years since the Law Reform Commission initiated this process of improving our privacy regime until the legislation was tabled this year. It would be a pity if such a long period of time had elapsed and then the implementation were so rushed that the process was not effectively consummated.
I also note what the minister said about Australian Privacy Principle 7 and the issue of direct marketing. I welcome the fact that the drafting of that privacy principle has been amended to make it clear that not all direct marketing is prohibited—except that which is expressly exempted by the principle. I want to put on record that I am aware of still serious concerns in some parts of industry, in this case particularly the online sector, that this issue is not yet resolved. They have concerns that the model used for marketing on platforms such as Yahoo, Facebook and so forth is not accommodated by this legislation as currently drafted. They remain concerned that they may not be able to deliver, because of the arrangements in place with our privacy principles outlawing direct marketing based on the private information supplied to those platforms by their customers, a product to Australian customers which they can deliver to customers pretty well anywhere else in the world.
I believe the minister said he would be ensuring a review was conducted. I welcome that. I hope that inherent in that there would not be any prosecution of parties in circumstances where current business practices were continued which have been thought and understood by suppliers of those services to be acceptable under these new arrangements but which in fact are not covered by the new legislation. Those matters are not clear. I hope the government will exercise restraint in addressing its discussions with the online sector as to how it overcomes any differences of view about how these changes are to be implemented.
Having said that, I think these amendments take this legislation to a better place. I personally welcome them.
Some concerns were raised in the inquiry process by stakeholders. We feel that the majority of these have been addressed through the government's response to the committee report. They are actually now in the form of these amendments. As a result, we feel the bill has been significantly improved. I acknowledge the government's willingness to be responsive in this event both to the report and to concerns raised by the Australian Greens, my colleague Senator Xenophon and the coalition about mortgage insurance as well. However, there are two additional amendments I will be moving in order to improve consumer protection in the bill.
I want to deal with Senator Humphries's last issue. I think it is worth putting on the record the way the government would expect it to work. For the online group, if I can generally call them that, the Privacy Commissioner will develop guidelines. You would expect the commissioner—and I cannot direct the commissioner—would develop those guidelines in consultation with the online industry. That will take a certain amount of time, one would expect, but in doing that the online community can express the issues Senator Humphries also raised. That would fall prior to the review, so one would expect that those issues would be managed in that way.
Question agreed to.
by leave—I move Greens amendments (1) and (3) together:
(1) Schedule 2, item 69, page 65 (after line 27), after paragraph 6Q(1)(b), insert:
(ba) at least 30 days have passed since the day on which the notice was given; and
(3) Schedule 2, item 72, page 102 (line 35), omit "a reasonable period has", substitute "at least 30 days have".
These amendments relate to the time period after which notice is given before a default credit listing can occur. The Australian Greens are of the view that a default listing should not occur until at least 30 days after a default notice has been given. In practical terms that gives a borrower sufficient time to receive the notice, to become aware of the fact that there is an amount owing—there may be vagaries of the post that interfered with the delivery of that notice—to contact the credit provider and/or to try to rectify the default before a listing can be made. This is consistent with other credit laws.
In some cases the listing may arise out of an event of which the borrower is not aware—for instance, if there is a bank error—and it will give them time to become acquainted with that and to do something to rectify it. This was a recommendation that was made by the Consumer Credit Legal Centre of New South Wales, which submitted that the current provisions in the bill essentially enabled a credit provider to list a default immediately after issuing written notice to an individual. That is clearly procedurally unfair as it is the notice itself that is important in notifying the consumer that there actually is a default. It is more than possible to be unaware of the default where, for instance, it is out of the control of the borrower—as I said with the bank error.
The Consumer Credit Legal Centre has significant expertise in providing consumer assistance advocacy and representation and it sees how these sorts of legal provisions work in practice and how they can impact on vulnerable Australians. I think it is important that we respect this expertise and avoid unintended consequences by applying on-the-ground knowledge, and it often speaks on behalf of consumers. The Consumer Credit Legal Centre recommended that the bill should be amended to require 30 days to have elapsed from the date for the written notice before listing can occur. The submission of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network also suggested that a listing should not occur until the credit provider had made reasonable attempts to contact the debtor and provide a specific warning regarding the default listing.
We recognise the practical reality for consumers who face financial strain and we think that it is important that they are provided with sufficient notice about overdue payments and the consequences of failing to pay such overdue payments. For that reason we support the recommendation by the Consumer Credit Legal Centre that the bill should be amended to require 30 days to have elapsed from the date of the written notice before a default listing occurs.
The government does not support the motion. The government has, in the alternate—and as I think we will be doing—accepted the committee's recommendation to require at least 14 days to elapse after a notice has been provided to an individual before default information about the individual can be included in the credit reporting system. The government has agreed with the committee's view that a 14-day period provided sufficient time for an individual to receive the final notice warning them that a default would be listed for the overdue payment and to contact the credit provider to make appropriate arrangements for the payment of the overdue amount. The government has looked at the issue of extending it to 30 days and does not believe it is appropriate. I note, if you put it in this context, that an individual must be 60 days overdue in making a payment before a credit provider can send the individual a notice warning them that their default will be listed. A 30-day period before listing would mean that the individual was overdue by at least 90 days and has not contacted the credit provider in that time to make alternative arrangements. The government considers that that is an excessive period of time. It is more important that the credit provider can contact and talk to the creditor in those instances. It is, of course, only a minimum period. The government notes that the credit reporting code of conduct may provide additional obligations in relation to listing defaults, including addressing situations where a longer time period may be appropriate. The credit reporting code will be developed by all stakeholders and, once registered by the Information Commissioner, compliance with the code will be mandatory for all credit providers. Having given that short synopsis, those are the reasons why the government will not be supporting the Greens amendments.
The opposition will not be supporting Greens amendments (1) and (3) either, essentially for the reasons recited by the minister. Under the way the legislation works, a notice cannot be issued until there has been a default of at least 60 days so the mischief identified by Senator Wright, which these amendments would correct, really does not arise because already there has been a default for a period of two months. While I am on my feet I might say that Greens amendment (2) does seem to us to be reasonably innocuous and therefore we have no objection to it.
I move Greens amendment (2) relating to the threshold for overdue payments:
(2) Schedule 2, item 69, page 65 (line 31), omit "$100", substitute "$150".
The Australian Greens are seeking to extend the threshold from $100 to $150. There was evidence given in the committee inquiry from various stakeholders, including the Consumer Credit Legal Centre who said:
We now have a generation of young people with mobile phones. Over 50 per cent of the default listings on the current credit reporting list are for telcos. It should not be, under any circumstances, that people's lives completely stop for five years over a hundred bucks. A hundred bucks is just too small an amount. We need to put that up tojust too small an amount. We need to put that up to $300. Another example is electricity: many, many people are struggling with paying their electricity bills. A hundred dollars for a default listing is catastrophic; it should be higher. I understand that some of the energy and water ombudsmen are advocating for that minimum listing to be increased. I also understand the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is as well.
In its submission, the centre said:
The overdue amount needs to be commensurate with the detriment caused by a default listing. A listing for $200 being a small amount remains on a consumer’s credit report for 5 years. This is a severe detriment for a small amount of money overdue. … The overdue amount needs to reflect rising loan amounts. Many years ago $100 would be a reasonable amount but now as loans get larger, it is inappropriate to list a default over such a small overdue amount. For example, it is possible to have a home loan and an investment loan and suddenly be unable to refinance due to a mix up at the bank on the payment amount over a 60 day period in the amount of $200 on a $400,000 home loan. … There are a number of utilities where it is very common for consumers struggling with living expenses and other financial hardship to be a bit behind on payments. As it stands that “bit behind” in the Bill would be $100. With rising electricity prices and problems with capping costs on mobile phones, it is essential that consumers are given a bit more leeway than $100 overdue before they are prevented from getting a home loan, credit card, personal loan etc. for 5 years.
That came from the submission by the centre.
Comments by the Consumer Credit Legal Centre for increasing the overdue amounts from $100 to $300 were supported by the Energy and Water Ombudsman New South Wales and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network. The purpose of increasing the threshold of overdue amount is to exclude small utility bills from the adverse consequences of credit listing. It also recognises increases in the cost of living over recent years.
The Australian Greens agree that there should be an amendment here to reflect recent changes in costs of living and, after some negotiation and an awareness of what is likely to be agreed to by the chamber, we suggest that the threshold amount be changed from $100 to $150. We also note that there is a provision in the bill for a higher amount to be prescribed by regulations, which provides flexibility in responding to consumer concerns down the track that $150 is not in fact sufficient. However, we do think that this minor change will go some way towards a more realistic situation. We feel that these changes will improve consumer protections in the Privacy Act.
As I said, the opposition supports the amendment as well. But I cannot let the occasion pass by without making the observation, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President: Senator Wright, if you are so concerned about the rise in the cost of living and the effect upon poor people of rising electricity prices, why are you imposing upon this country the world's greatest carbon tax for no environmental gain and whose very purpose is to force up electricity prices and will hurt poor people most?
Question agreed to.
I move government amendment (27) on sheet BP262:
(27) Schedule 2, item 72, page 102 (line 35), omit "a reasonable period has", substitute "at least 14 days have".
This amendment refers to the 14-day issue. It is just putting it back on the record.