It will be “extremely difficult” for civil society to properly contribute to a range of current tech-focused government consultations with submission periods running over the summer break.
The government is consulting on significant pieces of legislation with submissions open mostly from mid-December to mid-January. There are also several relevant parliamentary inquiries also taking place over the same period.
Submissions to the next stage of the Privacy Act review, on the social media anti-trolling laws, electronic surveillance reforms, and the inquiry into social media are all due next month or in early February.
Putting these consultations on at the same time and over the Christmas break hampers the ability of civil society to contribute to the policy development program, Digital Rights Watch program lead Samantha Floreani said.
“The public consultation process is an important opportunity for civil society, industry, advocacy groups, academics and other members of various communities to offer important feedback and expertise in the development of Australian tech policy,” Ms Floreani told InnovationAus.
“Stacking up submission deadlines in rapid succession over the holiday period makes it extremely difficult for people to participate, and what’s more, it calls into question how much the government is willing to meaningfully engage with community concerns and feedback.”
The government launched a parliamentary inquiry into social media at the start of the month, with submissions due by 12 January. The inquiry has a broad remit and is looking into the algorithms used by social media firms and what safety precautions are being used.
The Coalition is also looking for submissions on its controversial anti-trolling laws, which would allow Australians who believe they have been defamed on social media to request to have their identity disclosed.
An exposure draft of this bill was unveiled on 1 December, with submissions on it due by 21 January.
Home Affairs is running a broad review of Australia’s electronic surveillance laws, with a 100-plus page discussion paper released and submissions due by 11 February next year.
The review of the Privacy Act is also still ongoing, with submissions on the discussion paper due by 10 January.
On top of this, pre-budget submissions to Treasury are due on 28 January, while consultation on proposed reforms to Employee Share Schemes come with a deadline of 4 February.
It’s the continuation of a worrying trend for this government, Ms Floreani said.
“It was only earlier this year that the Online Safety Act received over 300 submissions and then the bill was introduced only 10 days later. Anyone can see that is not enough time to meaningfully consider community concerns,” she said.
“Running a parliamentary inquiry over Christmas while many are hoping to take a break and spend time with loved ones after another tough year in the pandemic is not conducive to the kind of robust and productive debate that we need in this space.
“We want to see legislation that is fit-for-purpose, practicable and upholds our human rights. Digital Rights Watch and many other organisations have a wealth of expertise to offer, and we genuinely want to help make sure the outcomes actually reduce harm online.
“When government bodies make it hard for the community and civil society to contribute, it is to the detriment of us all in the long run.”
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