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Friday, August 01, 2008

NSWLRC on privacy sees long lost review quietly surface

The NSW Law Reform Commission has released a consultation paper on privacy reform in the state, a response to a reference from the NSW Government in early 2006.The paper confirms what everyone who has looked at the issues knows- that the laws are a mess of complex, confusing, overlapping provisions with more gaps than a six year old's smile. Here is the Commission's media release, and The Australian's report today "Twisted privacy laws to be opened up, says commission" Submissions on a raft of recommendations and questions that emerged (including the relationship between privacy, freedom of information and other laws) are invited by 17 October. The Discussion paper is here

One of the side issues raised by some content of the paper is how the NSW Government views statutory obligations and transparency.There must be something deep in the psyche that explains a cavalier approach to the former and a disinterest in the latter.

Way back in November 2003, the Attorney General Bob Debus, now occupying high office in Canberra, had a duty under the law to review the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act, and to table the report in Parliament by November 2004. Submissions were invited, but that was the last heard until the Minister sent things off to the Law Reform Commission in April 2006. This didn't remove the statutory duty to undertake and table the review. As far as anyone (well me and others who work in the field, at least) knew the silence continued, right to the present.

However readers of this week's discussion paper who get to paragraph 3.8, learn the review was tabled on 25 September 2007.To say this was without fanfare is an understatement. Buried away in footnote 40 they will find reference to the Government's response.Ditto. Missed them- thought they might get a word of elaboration? Both were tabled along with 178 other papers that day .

In between in the discussion paper, there are references to 22 recommendations and 70 submissions the Government has been sitting on for four years.None of this has surfaced publicly anywhere previously- nothing from the Attorney General, nothing on the Department's website or that of the Privacy Commissioner. I take it that it's never received a mention in the regular meetings since September last year of those who are responsible for privacy and freedom of information matters in NSW government agencies. So reforms that were suggested four years ago-we're yet to see the full list-are now part of another review process that has taken over two years to get to the discussion paper stage. And presumably Parliament didn't give a toss that a report was tabled three years late,without any explanation.

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