Aug 16, 2007

Communications Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing and Datacasting) Bill


16 August 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12.05 p.m.)—I rise to speak to the Communications Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing and Datacasting) Bill 2007. This bill seeks to amend the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 to provide for sharing of information between the Australian Communications and Media Authority and third parties; to amend the Radiocommunications Act 1992 to allow the ACMA to vary the spectrum identified in a datacasting transmitter licence; and to amend the Datacasting Charge (Imposition) Act 1998 so that a fee is not payable where a licensee provides datacasting services on a channel B datacasting transmitter licence.

The bill before us fails to address two key issues. The first issue relates to the datacasting provisions of the bill. In order to utilise additional spectrum, the government has determined that it will auction two digital datacasting licences. Channel A is to be used for narrowcasting and will allow for new free-to-air, in-home digital television services, while channel B will be used for a wider range of services such as mobile television.

The bill proposes to amend the Radiocommunications Act such that ACMA can vary the licence conditions that apply to a datacasting transmitting licence. In practical terms, this would allow ACMA to move a datacasting service from one channel to another. However, there is nothing in this bill to ensure that the government consults with licence holders prior to making such variations to the conditions of a licence. Such a practice could place licence holders at a significant disadvantage. Labor believes that the bill should include provisions to ensure consultation with stakeholders is undertaken and a thorough assessment of the impact of a change in frequency, or indeed any other variation that may adversely affect licence holders, is carried out.

The second issue that this bill fails to address relates to privacy and the protection of confidential information. ACMA frequently receives information through the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers in relation to the regulation of broadcasting, the internet, radio communications and telecommunications that would be relevant to other regulatory or administrative bodies or personnel. The bill seeks to clarify ACMA’s ability to share the information it has gathered with relevant agencies and authorities. Labor can appreciate the need to disclose and exchange broadcasting, telecommunications and radio communications information to relevant third parties, particularly where this would improve the activities carried out by ACMA and the parties in receipt of the information. However, Labor believes that the privacy provisions in the bill do not provide adequate protection of confidential information.

During the Senate inquiry undertaken into this legislation, the submissions of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and Privacy Victoria made perfectly clear their concerns about the inadequate privacy provisions. Their major concerns included the disclosure of personal information to agencies and bodies in jurisdictions that do not have privacy regulations. In practical terms, this means there is no way to prevent the unintended secondary use of an individual’s personal information. Labor believes that the public interest is best served when information sharing can facilitate cooperative work between authorities and preserve the right to privacy. Labor does not believe that the bill in its current form adequately strikes that balance. For that reason, at the conclusion of my contribution I will move a second reading amendment to address those two issues.

In conclusion, the way in which this legislation has been dealt with once again shows the Howard government’s profound disrespect for parliamentary process. As if we needed another reminder after having to suspend standing orders to introduce special legislation in this place. It appears that this government not only has stopped governing but also carries out a stunt on the last Thursday morning of every sitting fortnight. At every turn this government makes a mockery of parliamentary and democratic processes. The inquiry process exists so that stakeholders can be heard and legislation can be improved.

That some members of the committee did not receive submissions is inexcusable. Labor senators were expected to immediately submit a minority report having received the chair’s report only hours earlier. That is an inexcusable breach of due process and, indeed, demonstrates contempt for the important role that the Senate plays in our system of government. This government has not only stopped governing in the national interest; it has also stopped governing altogether. It is focused only on the next 10 weeks, not the next 10 years. It has forgotten that the next 10 years will present Australia with many challenges that will require well thought out policy solutions, and among them is our transition to the digital world. This bill will impact on practices in the coming years, so it is critically important that every piece of legislation is dealt with seriously. Political expediency cannot be prioritised above better outcomes for Australians. There is simply no need to push legislation such as this through the parliament with such haste, and Australians are certainly not better off as a result. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) is concerned that the bill does not:

(a) provide for consultation with licence holders prior to varying the frequencies on which datacasting transmitter licences operate; and

(b) address privacy concerns or provide adequate protection of confidential information; and

(2) therefore demands that:

(a) the Government make every attempt to carry out spectrum planning for new digital mobile services to ensure that consumers and licence holders are not disadvantaged; and

(b) the Government undertake consultation with all stakeholders prior to varying the frequencies on which datacasting transmitter licences operate”.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Quick)—Is the amendment seconded?

Ms King—I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.