Review of Privacy Act will be with govt by end of year

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The long running review of Australia’s privacy law will present a final report to government by the end of the year, as new Attorney General Mark Dreyfus seeks to curtail the “highly invasive” use of personal information online.

Mr Dreyfus on Friday also revealed Labor will introduce new legislation to ensure future appointments to the Australian Human Rights Commission are made via a “transparent and merit-based selection process that is publicly advertised”.

The commitment follows the controversial direct appointment of the current Coalition-linked Commissioner.

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus: the Privacy Act needs reform for the digital age

The review of Australia’s privacy laws was launched in December 2019 following the competition watchdog’s landmark report on digital platforms, which made a number of recommendations for reforms to the Act.

Instead of backing these recommendations, the former Coalition government opted to launch another review into the wider Privacy Act, which has attracted significant interest throughout a protracted consultation process.

After announcing the review, it took nearly a year to launch an issues paper, then another year for a discussion paper. Together the papers received 372 public submissions, many calling for significant reforms.

A final report was originally planned to be with government by late 2021. It will now be presented to the government “later this year”, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said on Friday, and would be used to reform the Act for “the digital age”.

He told Australia’s leading human rights conference “one of the greatest dangers to privacy and personal information in the modern era is people losing control of their own information”.

“But in an increasingly online world, people’s personal information is being used in ways that are highly invasive, in a manner which they have not truly consented to, and which is ultimately not fair or reasonable,” Mr Dreyfus said at the Castan Centre conference.

“Privacy laws are also vital for the protection of human rights where personal information may be used to unlawfully discriminate. Strong privacy laws are therefore critical both for the right to privacy and the right to non-discrimination.”

Mr Dreyfus also committed to introducing a Bill within weeks to amend relevant legislation to ensure that all future statutory Commissioner appointments to the Australian Human Rights Commission will be made using a merit-based and transparent process that fully complies with international human rights standards.

Last year, the former government appointed West Australian lawyer Lorraine Finlay as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner. Former Attorney General Michaelia Cash appointed her without a public selection process because she was an “eminent person”, despite concerns within the department.

Ms Finlay has previously criticised the Australian Human Rights Commission and Australian racial discrimination law.

A former Western Australian president of the Liberal Women’s Council, Ms Finlay has flatly refused to consider gender quotas for candidates. She participated in right-wing think tank the IPA’s campaign against enshrining an Indigenous voice to Parliament, saying it was “patronising” to Indigenous people and a “form of political segregation”.

The changes flagged by Dreyfus would mean the next Commissioner could not be appointed directly “without a merit-based and publicly advertised process”.

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