Jim Wilson: Senator Sarah Henderson is the Shadow Minister for Communications and she joins me live on the line. Senator, welcome back to the program.
Senator Henderson: Jim, wonderful to join you.
Jim Wilson: Do you welcome the government’s announcement to review privacy laws?
Senator Henderson: Look, I do, but unfortunately it is too little, too late. Julian Leeser, the Shadow Attorney-General and myself, called on the government to act urgently on online privacy protections back in July, building on the extensive work of our government. And it really fell on deaf ears Jim. And it is a real pity, frankly, that it’s taken the cyber attack on Optus for this government to wake up.
Jim Wilson: But the Coalition, in fairness, was in government for nine years Senator, so why weren’t online privacy laws already strengthened in that time?
Senator Henderson: Well, there was an enormous amount of work, Jim, to strengthen online privacy laws. The Attorney-General’s Department was conducting a very wide ranging review into the Privacy Act and in fact we recognised the urgency and brought forward a particular bill to deal with social media companies and large online platforms, including the telcos, dealing with things like ensuring consumers were able to give full consent in relation to the use of their personal information and giving them the right to ask a telco or a large platform to cease using or disclosing their personal information.
So we actually released that bill as an exposure draft. There was extensive consultation. Would you believe Optus even argued that it should not be required to comply with those tougher privacy laws? It argued it should be exempt, which is frankly outrageous. And that’s why we did ask the government to pick that work up. We understand there was a change of government. It was urgent. But frankly, this should have happened a number of months ago. And that’s why Julian Leeser and I have today called on the Attorney-General to bring those amendments to the Privacy Act into the Parliament in the next sitting week, not at the end of the year, not next year. We really need these urgently.
Jim Wilson: Telecommunications companies use a 100 point system to verify customer’s identity, and that data can be stored for up to a decade, even if the customer is no longer with that telco. I mean, do you think the laws should require telcos to erase that data?
Senator Henderson: Well, as part of the broader review of the Privacy Act, in fact, we canvassed the notion of a right of erasure. Now, both Telstra and Optus basically argued that was not necessary. But of course that was one of the important reforms that we canvassed.
Personally, I think consumers should have the right to erase their data, particularly if it’s no longer required, subject of course to any law enforcement or national security concerns or requirements. But clearly it’s really hard to understand, Jim, why Optus was holding the data of former customers way back to 2017. But now the onus is on the government. I mean, we have seen Labor changing its positions. It has been slow out of the blocks. There’s a lot of confusion, but now what they need to do is recognise that these online privacy protections are absolutely critical. We need these amendments in the Parliament in the next sitting week.
Jim Wilson: So telcos responsible for these sorts of privacy breaches have got to suffer some consequences. What should the penalties be for Optus?
Senator Henderson: Well, as part of our Online Privacy Bill, we proposed a dramatic increase in the penalties to $10 million. Now, that has been supported by the Privacy Commissioner. We need to make sure that there is enough of a deterrent so that large companies, social media companies, take these provisions seriously so that this is not a cost of doing business; so that was one of the recommendations.
And again, as I say, this fell on deaf ears. The Albanese Government, when we went out in July saying please pick this work up, make sure you progress it quickly. This is really urgent reform that is required and that’s why, as I say, it’s very disappointing that effectively we heard nothing from the government, including the Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, who has been completely missing in action on these important reforms.
So now, the chance is to get these reforms into the Parliament quickly so that Australians can be better protected online.
Jim Wilson: Thanks for your time this afternoon, Senator.
Senator Henderson: Great to chat to you. Thanks so much Jim.