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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Privacy reform won't be rushed

In his role as Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, Brendan O'Connor spoke at the Australian Institute of Credit Management National Conference yesterday, primarily on issues of credit reporting reform. On privacy generally, he outlined a series of steps to bring draft legislation before a Senate Committee in parts, culminating in a draft Bill for Parliament in the second half of 2011, and for the laws to be passed sometime near the middle of 2012. The Australian Law Reform Commission took 28 months to complete the report, provided to the Government in May 2008. By the middle of 2012 it will have taken 48 months to complete legislative action - if that timetable holds.

 The Minister said
The aim now, as we embark on the task of reforming and substantially re-writing the laws, is to ensure they strike the appropriate balance between the competing imperatives - that is, to acknowledge the primacy of the individuals’ right to privacy, but balancing it against the appropriate and lawful use and disclosure of the personal information that is collected.
Stage one, the new draft Australian Privacy Principles, is before a senate committee now and hearings are expected shortly; draft legislation for new credit reporting provisions can be expected by the end of 2010; then health services and research, with a committee report anticipated by the middle of 2011.

No specific mention in the timetable of when other Australian Law Reform recommendations will be considered, such as tightening up conditions for the media exemption, removing the exemptions currently enjoyed by some businesses and political parties, and enacting a statutory cause of action for an unwarranted serious breach of privacy. But on that score the Minister said:
 I am aware that there is a significant amount of debate about whether there is a need for a statutory cause of action for privacy in this country, or, to put it another way, an enforceable “right to privacy”. But there is at the very least an expectation in the community that individual privacy is to be respected and that personal information is to be appropriately protected.

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