The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Bill passed its first reading in Parliament on 13 December, after being introduced to the House five days before. The Bill forms the basis for the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki (MVCOT).
The Privacy Commissioner John Edwards questions the process that has been followed in developing the Bill. Mr Edwards said, “The Bill was developed without consultation with the children, families and their advocates whose information will be shared and those who will be required to share information such as doctors, midwives, women’s refuge, truancy officers and others.”
The Bill was introduced before an operating model for the new MVCOT has been designed. “These drawbacks risk creating a regime that is unworkable, with potential negative consequences, including deterring the most vulnerable from getting the help they need”, said Mr Edwards. The lack of consultation has meant that the full range of risks could not be explored in the Ministry’s Regulatory Impact Statement.
“We raised concerns with the Ministry during the policy development process and we recommend that the process be slowed down to ensure high quality legislation that achieves the policy objectives and addresses the concerns of this Office and other stakeholders.
“It’s important to have thorough consultation with the full range of people, agencies and professional bodies affected by the proposed framework, in order to reduce the risks in design and implementation before the Bill is progressed”, Mr Edwards said.
Mr Edwards has previously raised concerns with officials and Ministers about the information sharing provisions in the Bill. While the Privacy Commissioner supports the policy intent of the information sharing provisions, the provisions are complex and fragmented, lacking coherence and will be harder to understand than the current legislative regime.
“While the aim appears to have been to simplify and create certainty, I am concerned that the Bill will have the opposite effect” he said.
The Bill as currently written requires mandatory sharing of information in sections 66E and 66F (inserted by clause 38). The Privacy Commissioner opposes compulsory information sharing as it may erode trust with clients and between professionals, potentially resulting in worse outcomes for children.
“These changes have not been tested with the agencies that will be required to comply with them”, Mr Edwards said. “The breadth and nature of the information that can be obtained and shared with a broad range of agencies is also concerning.”
The Commissioner pointed out that the way the new section 66C(a) of the Bill has been drafted means that the purposes for which information may be used and disclosed are also too broad and difficult to interpret.
The Privacy Commissioner’s reservations are explained in more detail in Appendix Two of the Departmental Disclosure Statement for this Bill and can be read here.