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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Federal Privacy Act amendments address a couple of gaps

The Federal Parliament has passed amendments to the Privacy Act. These amendments extend the definition of personal information to cover genetic material and provide for notification by a medical practitioner to a “genetic relative” of information where necessary to prevent a serious threat to life or health. They also give legislative authority to doctors to access data concerning prescription shopping.

The details of the legislation and some interesting commentary is contained in this Bills Digest prepared by the Parliamentary Library. See [PDF 134KB

The Digest includes information about the Government’s position concerning the 140 recommendations contained in the Australian Law Reform Commission 2003 Report on genetic information (mostly accepted but yet to be acted upon).

There were no amendments made during passage of the Bill. Senator Stott Despoja of the Australian Democrats expressed some reservations about the scope of the prescription shopping proposal, and unsuccessfully sought a broader amendment that would remove the current exemption from the Privacy Act enjoyed by political parties and small business.

The Government has also introduced a bill to enhance information exchange between Federal Government agencies, state and territory authorities, private sector organisations, non government organisations and others in emergency or disaster situations. The Bill is aimed at addressing practical issues that were highlighted during events such as the Asian tsunami in December 2004. The text of the Bill, explanatory memorandum and the second reading speech of 13 September can be accessed here.

The Bill seeks to remove limitations on disclosures between those who may be involved in efforts to locate or identify persons in disaster or emergency situations. It won’t overcome any impediments in laws that apply to state public sector bodies – the government hopes the states will introduce complimentary legislation to achieve this purpose.

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