CovidSafe App

May 12, 2020

It is a real privilege to be back here and able to address this place on a piece of legislation, the Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill 2020, that will hopefully be a key tool in the steps that we're taking towards a new normal, and hopefully it will lead us to a recovery from what has been an extraordinary health challenge and an extraordinary challenge for our economy. I want to speak for my constituents. Like many people in this place, we've experienced calls by the droves from people who are feeling anxious, desperate, unsure, confused, and baffled by what is going on. Some of them are lonely. We've certainly reached out to those people, too.
When it comes to the app, many of them are really keen to download it, to have it on their phone, because it is something they can do that might help make a difference. They include people like Ken from Blaxland and Jeanette, Ros and Eric from right across my electorate. But, unfortunately, they have older phones. They're retired. They don't necessarily have a lot of money lying around to do the latest upgrade. They're really disappointed that the technology isn't able to be supported on their phones and that there isn't a fix for it. They've basically had to accept that they won't be able to be part of a communal effort to help contain and monitor outbreaks of coronavirus as we go forward. In an electorate like mine, in Macquarie, we have a lot of retired people who are very keen to be active members of the community, so it is a real disappointment for those people who have older android phones.

It is also one of the reasons we won't, at this stage, be able to meet the 40 per cent target the government set for mobile phone users—which I note has now been revised down to 40 per cent of smart phone users. Currently, only 20 per cent of the population has uploaded it. There are also technical problems for people running iPhones. Hopefully there will be a fix for them. We come to this place trusting that those things will be progressed by the government, even when we leave this place. So, as a responsible opposition, we're being as constructive as we can about these measures. We're not saying, 'You have a total blank cheque to do what you like,' but we appreciate that we need to be able to support the measures and we trust that this government will not betray our trust or the trust of the community.

There are obviously a lot of people who still don't quite understand what they have to do to make sure the app is running when they're out and about. I would urge the government to have a very strong campaign around that—an education campaign not about downloading it but about how we operate it—otherwise all of us who have downloaded the app, like I did, risk it not doing its job. We obviously believe that a contact tracing app can be a really valuable tool for protecting Australians from the spread of coronavirus, but for it to be a valuable tool not only does it have to work but Australians have to have confidence that there are sufficient safeguards in place so that their privacy is protected. And that's the other group of calls that I've had from people who don't have the highest level of trust in this government to roll out technology.

I'm not going to list the various examples that we have seen that have created a lack of confidence in people, but I want to speak for those people who are concerned about the privacy of their data and really commend the government on working with us to ensure this legislation includes a number of our suggestions and amendments that ensure greater oversight by the Privacy Commissioner and require regular public updates. It is obviously a stronger piece of legislation thanks to collaboration, and isn't that the way we'd like the parliament to work. Of course, we're conscious it can't just be done once and then ignored; it can't be a set and forget. We will urge there to be constructive ongoing engagement between Labor and the government about this.

I guess there's one thing I am disappointed about—that there wasn't the ability to have more public discourse and to allow Australian companies to vie for the data storage contract, which has obviously gone offshore to Amazon. Now, I appreciate there was a need for speed in that, but we know that Australian companies can provide the sort of security needed, and so that is a disappointment for me.

When I was asked about why I was so fast to download the app, which I did on the evening of the day it was released—and I got my mum to download it to her phone. My dad's phone isn't up to the job. I did that in spite of my really deep reservations prior to this legislation being drafted and refined with our input. What I told people was that it is time to do everything we can as individuals to survive this health crisis. When I look at the double blow of bushfires and coronavirus on my local Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury economies—and, of course, we had floods and landslides as a bonus there—I think as a community we are willing to do extraordinary things to allow a new normal to emerge.

We have empty shops in the picturesque village of Leura. We've got cafes and restaurants in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury going all out to diversify their food offerings to make up for the lack of sitting customers, and there are way too many wondering if they will get their jobs back or if they can reopen their business. Our local economy relies heavily on domestic and international travel, and we're not a two-month closed economy; we are into our sixth month of people staying away from local businesses because of smoke, floods and now disease. The workers who rely on these businesses and the owners of these businesses, all of whom are just hanging on, are trying to recover from bushfire while surviving coronavirus, so they will need a range of ongoing support. If this app provides a way for people to move around but still be identified quickly if they come in contact with the virus, then that may prove to be a really important tool for our local economy.

I want to commend the innovation of my local businesses in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury, particularly their use of technology to do contactless bookings and deliveries. Many have not been online before and have taken the leap to do that. Whether it's cocktails or gin or cider, platters or frozen home-cooked meals or takeaway dishes, technology, including this app, has a role to play. The people of the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury are coping with so much. They might be coping with working from home and/or homeschooling or not working and the financial stress that brings. It's been an extraordinary effort, and in this parliament we should match it with extraordinary efforts, which is very much what we have been trying to do on this side of the parliament, working with those opposite.

The last thing I'd like to say is to really urge the government to ensure that people don't think this app is some sort of magic shield and that, just because it's on their phone, they're safe and protected, because we know that they're not. We need to keep reinforcing that handwashing is essential, and coughing into your elbow and not going to work when you're sick and keeping your distance from people is even more important as we start to move around, even when we have the app on our phone.