WA proposes Privacy Commissioner, to hold public servants accountable

By Shannon Jenkins

August 14, 2019

Source: Getty Images

The Western Australian government has announced whole-of-government plans to improve privacy protections under proposed legislation, which is open for public comment.

WA is one of only two Australian jurisdictions without privacy legislation. Currently, if someone thinks their information has been misused by a department or agency, they have no clear pathway to a solution.

The absence of privacy legislation has also made other jurisdictions reluctant to share datasets with WA’s researchers, according to Attorney General John Quigley and Innovation and ICT Minister Dave Kelly, who have released a discussion paper on the proposal.

The state’s lack of an overarching information-sharing framework forces members of the public to provide the same information to multiple agencies when updating simple details like change of address. Quigley and Kelly argued that departments are not making the best use of their combined knowledge when delivering public services.

The government has suggested a Privacy Commissioner be appointed to hold the public sector accountable, ensuring transparency and compliance. A new Chief Data Officer has also been considered, to support the using, sharing, linking and analysing of information. The officer would promote best practice in the management of data in the public sector by setting the standards for information sharing.

Kelly said the government has an opportunity to deliver effective, seamless services for the community, using data.

“Better use of data has the power to improve everything we do, whether it is something as simple as renewing a licence, as complex as improving research into children’s health, or as important as reducing cases of family domestic violence,” he said.

However, he noted the state needs to protect privacy for this to happen.

“We are acting on the calls of the Western Australian community for greater accountability and transparency around the way data is collected, used, stored and shared.”

Quigley said the government must “get privacy protections right”.

“We want to make better use of the information held by public agencies for the benefit of the community,” he said.

The government is seeking community feedback on the proposed plans. The consultation period will run until the end of October with written submissions due by Friday November 1, 2019. A public information session will be held at the State Library on September 4, 2019.

According to the discussion paper, the state government is”investing heavily in improving public sector cyber security, and will work to build the public sector’s ability to ensure the safety of information”.

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