Royal Commission Amendment (Confidentiality Protections) Bill 2020

Monday, 15 February 2021

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) (17:56): I move:

That the second reading be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

The government is moving for this message to be made an order of the day for the next sitting, not be dealt with today, as the government does not support this bill, the Royal Commissions Amendment (Confidentiality Protections) Bill 2020, which has passed in the other place. The government agrees this is a significant issue and it is important to ensure that people with disability can engage and fully take part in this nationally significant inquiry. The government has listened to people with disability, their families and carers, and the broader public about the importance of ensuring that people have the confidence to come forward and tell their story. While there are extensive protections after a royal commission has ended, we understand that there may be some concerns about the willingness of some to come forward. Of course we want people to come forward, but we cannot support the Greens bill today, as it does not fully capture what is needed for this particular royal commission. On 20 October 2020, the government announced it would introduce measures to protect the confidentiality of information given to this royal commission. We've been carefully considering the full implications of these protections on criminal prosecutions and civil proceedings, and the government's bill will be sensitive to the various ways in which people have given information to the royal commission. The government intends to bring forward its bill in the coming weeks.

There are issues with the bill, which I will briefly outline. There are several problems with the Greens bill. First, the bill appears to try to replicate section 60N of the Royal Commissions Act, which protects information if the commission has indicated that the information would be treated as confidential after the inquiry ends. However, this may be problematic as the disability royal commission has said publicly that some information may not be confidential. It's important that the legislation protects information which was not provided on an understanding of confidentiality by the commission. Second, the Greens bill does not attempt to identify the types of sensitive information caught by this provision. Item 600 of the Greens bill appears to try and replicate section 60N of the act but has removed the description of the types of information the section is intended to apply to. By contrast the government's bill will provide comprehensive protections to appropriate categories of information, for example in relation to the child abuse royal commission protections where applied to the accounts of an actual person's experiences of child sexual abuse and also accounts of what happened to other people.

Unlike the Greens bill, the government's bill also includes other amendments to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 sought by the commission's chair—amendments to streamline information-sharing between Commonwealth royal commissions and concurrent state royal commissions, and amendments to address practical issues raised by the chair, including the issue of non-publication orders. This is important as they often need to be made in urgent circumstances to protect a person's identity and they currently need to be made by a number of commissioners together, despite them being geographically located in different states and territories. With that, I reiterate to the House that the government is moving for this message to be made an order of the day for the next sitting, not be dealt with today, as we do not support this bill.