Speeches

COVIDSAFE APP LEGISLATION

May 12, 2020

I rise to speak on the Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill 2020, which is another important part of Australia's response to the COVID-19 crisis. Before speaking on the bill, I want to pay tribute to the people of Shortland for the way they've been dealing with this difficult time these past few months. We really are living in unprecedented times. Although in some instances we've seen the worst of human nature and behaviour, overwhelmingly I have seen the very best in my constituents, and I thank them for their forbearance and their steady commitment to getting through this crisis.

In speaking on this bill, as a representative of the sixth oldest electorate in Australia, I particularly want to convey to the House issues elderly Australians—senior Australians—have with the COVIDSafe app. I want to begin by recognising that some of my constituents have expressed concerns about downloading the app. I recognise that these concerns, especially the ones around privacy, are entirely legitimate and understandable. The first point I say to those who have reservations is that it is entirely voluntary. It is entirely voluntary, and Labor's support for the app and this bill is on the basis that it is entirely voluntary. If you're uncomfortable downloading the app, you should not download it.

It's a matter of public record that I've downloaded the app. Like most people, I did my research, carefully considered what to do and then made the decision that I should download the app.

Many of my constituents have raised concerns about privacy and the storage of data, and I want to assure them that this legislation makes it an offence to collect, use or disclose app data except in limited circumstances. Basically, only state and territory health officials can access the data, and that is for the sole purpose of contact tracing those with the virus. Again, this should never change.

Another concern raised with me directly by my constituents was that the government has awarded the data storage contract to Amazon Web Services, meaning that COVIDSafe app data possibly could be obtained by the American government. This just doesn't seem right to most people I've communicated with about their concerns. Surely this contract could have been awarded to an Australian company?

I would also like to draw to the attention of the House issues my constituents have had in downloading the app. As I mentioned previously, I represent an elderly electorate. Over 20 per cent of my constituents are over the age of 65, people who are the most vulnerable in this crisis. My office has been contacted by dozens of constituents who have older mobile phones and who don't have the capacity to download the app. One of them, from Speers Point, was particularly annoyed because his phone is only four years old and he considers it a relatively new phone, yet he is still unable to download the app. He was particularly put out because some of his mates had a go at him, in a good-natured Aussie way, for having a hopeless phone.

The serious point I'm trying to make is that a lot of my elderly constituents have genuinely wanted to download the app but have been prevented from doing so because of this particular digital divide. In fact, I tried to assist my father in downloading the app. He has an older Android phone and he was particularly put out that he couldn't download it, given that he is in a high-risk category. There is clearly a flaw in the design of the app in that people who are volunteering to participate, as the government has requested, are unable to do so.

Finally, I want to draw to the attention of the House concerns about the app that have been raised by Diabetes Australia. Almost 9,000 of my constituents in Shortland have diabetes, a number which is above the average for a federal electorate, so this concerns me greatly. Diabetes Australia has warned users of certain glucose-monitoring systems that COVIDSafe could potentially cause problems and that the app has interfered with their monitoring. Let me repeat that: the best information we have is that this app cannot work alongside essential glucose-monitoring systems. It is of grave concern, and we're potentially excluding millions of Australians who have diabetes, most of whom are in a high-risk COVID category, from downloading this app. These are the very people we need to download this app, if they agree to do so. For them to be prevented doing that by a technical issue is of grave concern.

I will end where I began by saying it's good to make a contribution in the House on this very important bill. I commend the sensible amendment put forward by Labor to improve the COVIDSafe app, and I especially want to assure my constituents that I and my Labor colleagues will work constructively with the government in these extraordinary times. I am only supporting this bill on the basis that it is voluntary and that the data can be used only by state health officials for contact tracing. This bill achieves those ends, and that is the precondition for me supporting it. I commend the bill to the House.

You can view my full speech here.

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