The government has scrapped plans to force Australians to download a tracking app onto their mobile phones to trace coronavirus in the community.
The government has scrapped plans to force Australians to download a tracking app onto their mobile phones to trace coronavirus in the community.

PM backflips on controversial app plan

The Prime Minister has conceded the government won't force Australians to download tracking software after it was viewed by many as a draconian measure to trace coronavirus cases in the community.

On Friday, Scott Morrison said he wanted to make the app compulsory if enough people didn't sign up for it because at least 40 per cent of the population needs to be on board to make it effective.

But in a tweet this morning, he confirmed it "will not be mandatory".

"We will be seeking the co-operation and support of Australians to download the app to help our health workers, to protect our community and help get our economy going again," Mr Morrison tweeted.

Mr Morrison had spruiked the need to make the app compulsory in an interview on Triple M yesterday, likening the use of tracing software to national service.

"I know this would be something they might not normally do at an ordinary time but this is not an ordinary time," he said.

"If you download this app you'll be helping save someone's life."

Better contact tracing is one of three main benchmarks the government wants to meet before strict restrictions can be lifted. The other two are a broader testing regime and a greater capacity to respond to local outbreaks.

Mr Morrison says the app won't be used by police as evidence to prosecute people for breaching social distancing requirements.

Scott Morrison said at least 40 per cent of Australians would need to download the app for it to be effective (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Scott Morrison said at least 40 per cent of Australians would need to download the app for it to be effective (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Australia's deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly says its rollout will begin on a voluntary basis.

It would allow contact tracers to have information immediately rather than waiting hours or even days as they currently do.

"The app would be an extra piece to this puzzle and that timeliness element is the crucial thing," Prof Kelly told reporters in Canberra.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese - who found out about the app in the newspaper - was concerned about the prospect of forcibly being tracked.

"One of the things that would occur if that was the government response would be people would simply stop taking their phone to places," he told reporters. "It's up to the government, frankly, to explain exactly what it has in mind with this app and to be very clear with the Australian public about whether it is going to be voluntary or whether it is going to be some level of compulsion involved."

Privacy issues are being worked through before an opt-in app is launched. The app is being developed based on a Singaporean version, TraceTogether. It uses Bluetooth to plot people who had spent 15 minutes or more in proximity to a person with coronavirus.

They then share the records with authorities when asked to be part of a tracing investigation.

Originally published as PM backflips on controversial app plan


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