Family Violence Protection Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017


RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) — I rise this afternoon to make some brief remarks to the Family Violence Protection Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017, which is a bill to establish a scheme for the sharing between prescribed entities of information relevant to assessing and managing the risk of family violence. The bill develops a new family violence risk assessment and risk management framework and intimates a number of recommendations which arise from the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The key provisions of the bill are in clause 7, which inserts new part 5A into the Family Violence Protection Act 2008. It establishes the key operative provisions of the bill, including the definitions, the circumstances in which information can be shared, which entities can share information and how information can be used. It provides that information can be shared by either a risk assessment entity or a protection entity for either a family violence assessment purpose or a family violence protection purpose without the consent of a perpetrator and where sharing without the consent of a victim is necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat. It also goes on to define confidential information as being health information or personal information, including sensitive information, unique identifiers and identifiers.

Clause 8 of the bill creates two new offences for unauthorised use and disclosure of confidential information, including a protection where information has been shared in good faith. Clause 16 establishes the family violence risk assessment and risk management framework. Clause 19 removes the requirement that a serious threat to life, health, safety or wellbeing be imminent before information can be lawfully shared, and clause 25 amends the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to create a new basis for making a document exempt if there is a risk of family violence.

The establishment of this information-sharing framework is an important step in developing a framework to manage family violence in all its forms in our community, and Mr Finn spoke about the range of family violence, which is not, as I have spoken previously about, only perpetrated against women or children. Family violence is far more complex than that. The victims of family violence are far more complex than that, and the perpetrators of family violence are far too complex to simply say, 'It's men'. Mr Finn's points were very valid in that regard. Establishing an information-sharing framework is an important step to managing and addressing family violence in all its forms in the Victorian community.

The development of this framework is an important shift in the way in which information, particularly personal information, is managed in the state jurisdiction. We have seen over the last decade in particular, 15 years perhaps, the use of privacy provisions certainly inserted in legislation but more particularly applied by way of policy documents to a range of government entities whereby the availability of privacy frameworks from a policy direction have been more often than not used in a public sense to impede accountability and scrutiny of acts undertaken by government entities.

All of us would have heard from time to time issues being raised around failure in government entities, be it state entities or be it federal entities, particularly in circumstances regarding the engagement of an individual with a federal or a state agency, and 99 per cent of the time the public response from the entity will be to say, 'We can't discuss the matter related to the individual because of privacy'. So privacy has become a shield. It has become a block to accountability and scrutiny of public entities, which was of course never the reason privacy frameworks were established in the first instance.

What we see with this piece of legislation is a move towards recognising that the sword and shield that has been those privacy frameworks is not always appropriate. The irony, though, with this legislation of course is that it is being introduced in the context — and indeed this was discussed in this house last sitting week — of a period in which the government has chosen to sack the privacy and data protection commissioner, who with the gazettal of the new legislation last week ceased to hold office. The Leader of the Government at the time indicated that this piece of legislation was in some way an exemplar for the policy development process which would follow, with the new combined FOI entity and the privacy entity being integrated under the one information commissioner. But of course we are seeing this legislation come forward today without the need for those entities to have been combined.

It will be interesting to see this legislation in its execution and to see how this framework works in a practical sense, because one of the big issues with the entities which are responsible for family violence, the entities which are generally engaged in the provision of the community service areas, is actually having appropriate accountability frameworks and lines of accountability within those entities to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks.

We see the Minister for Families and Children repeatedly having to account for failures in her portfolio within the Department of Health and Human Services. We see similar concerns in the broader community services sector where case management has failed, the accountabilities within the relevant agencies have failed and the ball has been dropped on providing the support that is required for individuals. While the intention of the information-sharing framework is a good one, its practical execution and the accountability for its practical execution are going to be paramount in ensuring that it actually does provide useful information as a pointer to where family violence is occurring or is likely to occur and that it is not simply something that is not embraced and used appropriately by the responsible agencies, so that the benefits do not accrue.

I understand a number of amendments have been proposed by the crossbench and I believe potentially also by the government, not that those have been circulated. If that does eventuate, we will obviously look to scrutinise it. But the coalition will not oppose this piece of legislation. We think there can be some useful outcomes from establishing the information-sharing framework, but the success of that framework will very much depend on the agencies which have access to it and which fall under it actually having appropriate accountability mechanisms in place to ensure that that information does provide the sorts of outcomes in preventing family violence that this legislation is intended to lead to.

Motion agreed to.

Read second time.

Ordered to be committed later this day.
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