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Government refutes fears of Privacy Act compliance

THE Federal Government has dismissed concerns that new privacy legislation for the private sector will be a burden on business similar to the compliance nightmares associated with Y2K and GST.

Federal Attorney General Daryl Williams told 190 Perth business people at last week’s Business News privacy breakfast that the new regime, set to come into force in 18 weeks, was designed so it would not be a headache for business.

“This is not the GST,” Mr Williams said. “There are no detailed rules, procedures or reporting requirements that must be complied with from the start date or else business is in breach.

“The privacy regime we have put in place is flexible. It is designed to ensure there is not too much red tape or unnecessary burden for business.”

But other delegates differed with the Attorney General’s belief that the new regime would be simple, noting with some alarm that the guidelines are not expected to be published until October.

Deacons partner Mark Fitzgerald and BDO Chartered Accountants and Advisers managing partner Geoff Brayshaw both pointed out that the practical application of the legislation was far from simple.

Mr Fitzgerald said that, in preparing for his talk, he had agonised over one section of the legislation for hours.

“The guidelines are presently 100 pages long. Although these are expected to be simplified, we do expect that they will be interpreted strictly in favour of consumers,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

Mr Brayshaw reflected on a comment by industry sources which suggest the privacy regulations are commercially naive because they assume companies have ‘a whole of customer view’ integrated data already operational.

The Government seems to be overestimating the level of technological sophistication of business.

“Its not just the law. It’s bloody good business” Mr Brayshaw said, underlining similar comments from the other speakers.

Mr Brayshaw told business to get started on addressing privacy issues.

“Early movers will get a major competitive advantage from the promotion of good privacy practices. They will become the norm for business,” he said.

As the architect of the legislation, Mr Williams said privacy was an important issue both for consumers and for our trading partners, such as Europe, which expects Australia to match its efforts in this sensitive area.

“Consumers are irritated by unsolicited marketing,” Mr Williams said.

“They don’t like the idea that big companies know where they live and what they buy. They are concerned about who knows what web sites they visit. They are concerned that their email may not be private. They don’t want other people to know about their financial details or their medical history. And perhaps most understandably, people want to know why their mobile phone has taken it upon itself to start advertising brand name products.

“In many ways the new privacy laws are simply common sense. They are about handling other people’s information in the same way you would want others to handle your information.”

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