Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 30 November 2021) . . Page.. 3878 ..
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 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 the 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 do not 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 stopgap measure intended to calm some of the community’s frustration about “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 “part of the conversation”. This is a real concern, because this government has an established history of creating offices that appear to provide external scrutiny but then very carefully do not give the office holders 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 through the hollow assurances.
Accurately, the Canberra Times editorial this past Sunday called out the government for their hypocrisy, hiding public 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.