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Privacy Breaches

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Ms Lee for bringing this very important motion before the Assembly today. I rise today to speak in support of an independent review of the government’s compliance with the Information Privacy Act.

As noted, information about workers compensation claims for 30,000 public sector employees has been publicly accessible online for the past three years because of a decision taken by this government. Despite Minister Steel’s assurance last week that he is not aware of any specific privacy breach, individuals have already been identified by means of the personal medical details that appear in this document. One would have to be wilfully blind not to acknowledge this as an obvious privacy breach.

It is equally obvious that this matter needs to be reviewed independently. I would be surprised if there are more than two dozen people in Canberra who actually trust the current ACT Government to adequately review its own violations of the Information Privacy Act, and 16 of them would have to be Minister Steel and his Labor and Greens colleagues opposite.

It is not the same thing, but on this point I am reminded of my four-and-a-half year struggle to see child protection decisions in this territory be subject to external review. During the budget debate last week, Minister Stephen-Smith stated that she has ‘shared [my] frustration over a number of years about how slowly this project has moved’, but this is pure historical revisionism. When I first moved a motion in this place calling for external review, the minister insisted that internal review was sufficient, and as a quick search of Hansard demonstrates, she continued to make that argument for several years.

I am glad that she has finally come around to seeing the need for external review in this area. I suspect it helped when the entire Human Rights Commission published an open letter telling her that I had been correct all along.

We can likewise see this government’s struggle to embrace external scrutiny in the fact that, three years after the recommendation was accepted, we still don’t have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner. Instead, the current budget only funds a temporary advocate, which Minister Stephen-Smith has acknowledged is a stop-gap measure intended to calm some of the community’s frustration about, quote, ‘the delay in moving forward on this recommendation’.

Further, when I asked in budget estimates hearings if the minister could assure us that this commissioner will actually have real power to scrutinise and intervene in government decisions, the best answer I could get was that this is, quote, ‘part of the conversation’. This a real concern because this government has an established history of creating offices that appear to provide external scrutiny but then very carefully not giving the officeholders any actual powers to do so.

If five years in this place have taught me anything, it is that ACT Labor and the Greens have an uneasy and often troubling relationship with openness. They absolutely love to talk about it, but when it comes to how they actually run this territory, they become positively allergic to the idea of external scrutiny. It happens across virtually every facet of governance, this one included.

But people can see right throu[69gm]gh the hollow assurances. Accurately, the Canberra Times editorial this past Sunday called out those opposite for their hypocrisy – hiding troubling information behind fake privacy claims whenever it suits them but not taking an actual privacy breach seriously enough. On behalf of the public servants whose private medical details have been divulged, and likewise on behalf of every honest, reasonable Canberran, I commend this motion to the Assembly.

Thank you.


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