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Privacy Law and Policy Reporter

Privacy Law and Policy Reporter (PLPR)
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Davies, Simon --- "The surveillance trade" [1995] PrivLawPRpr 114; (1995) 2(9) Privacy Law & Policy Reporter 170

Privacy after the Queensland State elections

Brett Mason

Until recently, the protection of privacy has not been a major political issue in Queensland. For several years following the Fitzgerald Commission of Inquiry and the subsequent election of a Labor government in 1989, attention focused upon reform of the criminal justice system, reform of electoral laws, and reform and implementation of a host of procedures designed to enhance the accountability of government. While the Fitzgerald Inquiry did briefly discuss issues relating to privacy, it did so mainly in the context of law enforcement. Commissioner Fitzgerald discussed, only in the most general terms, comprehensive privacy legislation. He did, however, recommend a reformed system for information management and criminal intelligence by the police.[1]

It is easy to forget that the first specific legislation to protect information privacy passed in Australia was Queensland's Invasion of Privacy Act 1971 as amended by the Invasion of Privacy Act Amendment Act 1976. Despite its promising title, however, this legislation deals only with the licensing and control of credit reporting agents and detective agencies and regulation of the use of listening devices.

In 1984 Queensland enacted the Privacy Committee Act modelled on the NSW legislation of the same name. Unfortunately, however, the Act had a sunset clause and the Queensland Privacy Committee was wound up at the end of 1992. More damning was the fact that there was never serious commitment to the administration of the legislation. At present there is no body dedicated to the protection of privacy in Queensland.

The recent Queensland elections, however, seem to have sparked renewed interest in privacy legislation. While not the biggest issue of the election campaign, it did receive the attention of the major parties as well as some media coverage. The Platform of the Labor Party government in Queensland includes a commitment to 'introduce legislation to protect privacy and regulate data banks' as well as appoint a Privacy Commissioner to, among other things, handle complaints and conciliate grievances about invasions of privacy and personal information practices; empower the Privacy Commissioner to make a determination if conciliation procedures are not successful; and to develop codes of practice in relation to privacy. Interestingly, the policy also includes a commitment to establish a statutory tort of privacy and quiet enjoyment of one's property.[2]

The National Liberal Opposition at the recent state elections were perhaps even more forthright in their commitment. The shadow Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Denver Beanland, was quoted as saying that a privacy watchdog would be appointed with powers to investigate all state government agencies including the Criminal Justice Commission. He said that the Commissioner would be given 'teeth' through the provision of specific legislative powers and privacy guidelines would protect information held by state government departments and agencies.[3]

The Coalition's policy indicates that they are taking the issue seriously. It is based upon the OECD's Information Privacy Guidelines and includes a commitment to research in issues relating to privacy, law reform, education, and, most importantly, to the investigation and enforcement of information privacy guidelines by a Privacy Commissioner.[4]

Prior to the election in July, this Reporter stated that with the winding up of the Queensland Privacy Committee in late 1992 the Government was 'examining the options for privacy protection.'[5] It still is - but with much more urgency than before. As recently highlighted, the 'Attorney-General Matt Foley is reported to regard privacy legislation as at the highest level of his department's priorities.'[6]

With the Queensland state election a cliff hanger it is a good time for human rights bodies such as the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties and the newly formed Queensland Branch of the International Commission of Jurists to influence the government in the direction of privacy protection.

Brett Mason teaches in Justice Studies at the Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology.

[1] See Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct (Commissioner G E Fitzgerald), Report, Government Printer, Brisbane, 1989, Ch 5.

[2] Australian Labor Party (Qld Branch), State Labor Platform: Building a Stronger Queensland, ALP, Brisbane, 1994, p 93.

[3] Courier Mail, 11 July 1995, p 8.

[4] See, National and Liberal Parties Policy on Privacy released 10 July 1995.

[5] (1995) 2 PLPR 40

[6] (1995) 2 PLPR 140

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