Recent events have renewed the focus on issues of privacy, particularly in the face of technological developments.  As a result, on 21 July 2011 the Minister for Privacy, The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, announced that the Commonwealth Government will seek the views of the public on introducing a right to privacy in Australia.  A public issues paper will be issued shortly which will canvas the prospect of introducing a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy.  A period of public consultation will follow.

In his Media Release, the Minister stated that:  “Privacy is emerging as a defining issue of the modern era, especially as new technology provides more opportunities fro communication, but also new challenges to privacy”.  He also acknowledged that “privacy is a growing concern for every day Australians – whether it is in our dealings with individuals, businesses, government agencies or the media”.

In 2008, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) reviewed privacy laws and made 295 recommendations for changes to privacy regulation and policy, including a proposal to introduce a statutory cause of action for serious breaches of privacy.  The public issues paper and the public consultation builds on this recommendation.

On 11 August 2008, Senator John Faulkner, the then Special Minister for State and Cabinet Secretary, announced that the Australian Government would respond to the ALRC’s Report, For Your Information:  Australian Privacy Law and Practice, in two stages.  The Government issued the first stage of its response on 14 October 2009 which addressed 197 of the 295 recommendations in the ALRC Report.  On 24 June 2010, the Senate referred an exposure draft of new Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for inquiry and report.  In January 2011, this was followed by exposure draft credit reporting provisions.  The Committee reported on the exposure draft APPs in June 2011.  The exposure drafts are the first in a series of exposure draft amendments to privacy legislation anticipated to be referred to the Senate committee for consideration and public consultation. The legislation will then be consolidated in a revised Privacy Act.  The Government has indicated that once the first stage reforms have been finalised, Stage Two of the response will consider the remaining 98 recommendations in the ALRC Report that the Government has not yet accepted or rejected, including a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy.

In light of recent world events, it appears that this particular recommendation has assumed greater significance hence the Minister’s announcement on 21 July 2011 that a public issues paper will be issued shortly followed by a period of public consultation.