Real Estate Agent

PHOTO: Real estate agents. FILE

Real Estate Institute of Australia president says additional layer of responsibility could force smaller agencies to close down

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Real estate agents are pushing back against proposed privacy law changes, saying small businesses should not face more red tape to keep customer and tenant data safe.

The Real Estate Institute of Australia president, Hayden Groves, said that an “additional layer of responsibility is really not necessary” on top of agents’ existing duties, saying that increased regulatory risks could be “the last straw” for smaller agencies which may shut up shop.

Groves acknowledged in the wake of major data breaches at Optus and Medibank that there was legitimate debate about the extent of personal information collected by agents. Franchises of real estate agents Harcourts and LJ Hooker were also hit by data breaches in 2022.

But Groves suggested a code of practice could help guide agents to collect only necessary information, without bringing them within scope of the federal Privacy Act.

In February the attorney general’s department released a review calling for Australians to gain greater control of their personal information. Users would have the ability to opt out of targeted ads, erase their data and sue for serious breaches of privacy under the proposed reforms.

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Despite a consensus on the need to update privacy laws, aspects of the proposal are under attack from social media and tech companies concerned about limits on “targeting” of users and media organisations who want an exemption from the proposed right to sue.

Now the REIA has called on the government to retain the small business exemption to the Privacy Act, because otherwise an estimated two-thirds of agencies with a turnover of less than $3m will be captured. REIA’s submission also proposes that a new penalty regime should be delayed until 2025.

Groves said that “unilaterally” removing the exemption “might not bring tangible benefits to consumers, while adding unnecessary additional risks on small businesses” such as estate agents.

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“We’re not against protecting consumers, of course,” he said. “They’re our customers, as agencies we need to make sure we’re protecting [them].”

He said the REIA had reminded members to only collect “sufficient” data that they need to assess prospective tenants’ ability to meet obligations under a lease, check that “they are who they say they are” and nothing further.

Groves noted agents are already subject to state and territory legislation that they exercise “due skill and diligence” in all aspects of their business including collection of private data.

“We are already, as an industry, heavily regulated, and appropriately so … this would be another component of risk that might prove detrimental to free enterprise.”

But consumer group Choice has submitted that the reforms do not go far enough, suggesting that the requirement that data collection be “fair and reasonable in the circumstances” could be strengthened with a duty to act in the best interest of consumers.




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