The federal government's controversial plan for a tracing app to help fight the spread of COVID-19 has met with a mixed response from Tasmania's 12 senators and five lower house members.
The Examiner asked whether federal representatives would be personally downloading the app and the responses crossed party lines. However, none of the 11 representatives who responded believe the app should be mandatory.
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The government hopes about 40 per cent of Australians will download the app which would help trace a person's contacts if they came into contact with an infected person. Prime Minister Scott Morrison backflipped on a suggestion the app may not be voluntary after former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said he would not be signing up.
Their views came as Premier Peter Gutwein called on Tasmanians to download the app "in droves" and to view it as a tool to save lives.
"I would ask Tasmanians to keep an open mind to this," Mr Gutwein said.
"Whenever government asks for something like this to occur there can be resistance. But we need at least 40 per cent of people to sign up to this for it to be effective."
Mr Gutwein said contact tracing presently relied on people being interviewed and their memory of their movements which can be unreliable. He said the app would collect the data of the phones in its close proximity via a Bluetooth network.
However, Mr Gutwein said that data would only then be accessed by public health authorities if and when the person who had the app downloaded tested positive for coronavirus.
"Authorities could then use the data provided for contact tracing with certainty and the full details of a person's close contacts," he said.
Burnie-based independent senator Jacqui Lambie said she would not be downloading the app. "At this stage, the answer is no - but if things get worse it may be worth considering," she said.
"I don't think any app like this should be mandatory.
"Australians have to be given the choice to opt in once they have all the information. And if they do the government will need to reassure the public that once this crisis is behind us the data would be deleted and the app disabled."
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said his instinct was against such government measures especially if they were compulsory. But he said his reservations may be overcome if the app helped facilitate the reopening of the economy.
"Reopening our economy as soon as possible is absolutely vital and the app's applicability to facilitate this is another factor," he said.
He said big government and privacy issues were genuine concerns.
"On the other side of the ledger are the health-monitoring aspects and the potential to preserve lives," he said.
"I'm waiting to be provided with all the details before making a final decision.
"Another consideration is the return of our fundamental liberties to mix and associate with others. So we will be trading the return of one liberty at the expense of another that of not being monitored by government."
Senator Abetz will be weighing up all these considerations exceptionally carefully and encourages everybody to do likewise.
Franklin Labor MHR Julie Collins said the government needed to ensure the public had all the information it needed to decide privacy and consent. "Labor supports in principle efforts to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and track infections of the disease," she said.
Bass Liberal MHR Bridget Archer and senators Jonathon Duniam and Claire Chandler said they would be downloading the app, while Greens senators Nick McKim and Peter Whish-Wilson said they would not.
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"I'd urge people to think carefully about their privacy before they make a decision," Senator McKim said.
"This government has an appalling track record of data security and has repeatedly released people's personal and medical information to the media for political gain.
"It also has a long history of eroding rights like privacy, and of increasing their own powers during an emergency and never winding them back. Scott Morrison only has himself to blame for people's lack of trust in his government."
Liberal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said he had no issues. "It is one of the important tools to manage the spread of the virus and save lives by speeding up the process of tracing," he said.
"It only holds data for 21 days and only activates in the circumstance that a close contact contracts the virus."
Launceston-based Liberal senator Wendy Askew said she was looking forward to signing on but does not believe it should be mandatory.
"The app will record the phone number of people who've been within 1.5 metres proximity of you for at least 15 minutes," she said.
"This will eliminate the manual process health workers currently undertake when they sit down with someone who tests positive to trace their contacts from memory, saving time and potentially saving lives."
Labor senator Helen Polley said she would consider signing up. "There remain questions to be answered around privacy and legitimacy," she said.
"Some Liberal MPs have already said they do not agree with the Prime Minister's plan for a tracing app."
Labor Senator Carol Brown said her party was seeking assurances concerning privacy and consent, while colleague Catryna Bilyk wants more information.
"Australians have demonstrated that they are willing and able to do what it takes to combat the spread of COVID-19," she said.
"Australians will embrace the app if it helps in the fight against the virus but first they deserve to know how it works, what information it shares and why it is necessary for the app to collect this information. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has backtracked on his previous suggestion about making the app mandatory.
"Such an approach would be counterproductive."
Lyons MHR Brian Mitchell said he would consider the app. "The government must be open, upfront and transparent with Australians about the app and what data privacy protections will be included," he said.
"As long as the government is open, upfront and transparent about data privacy protection I will download the COVID-19 tracing app."
Labor Senator Anne Urquhart said she had not yet decided if she will download the app.
"Many North West Coasters who have contacted me have expressed strong reservations about privacy issues, a lack of trust and the prospect of 'Big Brother' monitoring their every move," she said.
"This government has a very poor record on implementing technology and keeping data about Australians secure and there is no supporting legislation to guarantee the end of the app and the erasure of its information.
"The saddest thing is the complete failure of Scott Morrison to introduce this app in a considered and reassuring way.
"Instead he went on Tasmanian radio and accused a NW Coast worker of lying about where they had been and used that as an argument as to why we must have the app."
Braddon Liberal MHR Gavin Pearce was unable to be contacted, Independent Clark MHR Andrew Wilkie refused to comment to The Examiner.
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