Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Australia’s Federal Attorney-General has announced that the Privacy Commissioner’s office (currently, the Privacy Branch of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) will be established as a separate statutory Office of the Privacy Commissioner, in line with recommendations of a review of HREOC in 1994–1995.
The change, welcomed by the Privacy Commissioner, will provide greater financial autonomy (a source of some friction in the past), though the Commissioner may choose to stay co-located with HREOC and share some facilities.
At the same time, the Government announced its intention to reorganise HREOC and re-name it as the ‘Human Rights and Responsibilities Commission’, by legislation yet to be introduced. The existing structure of a president and six Commissioners each with one specific portfolio (sex, race, disability, Aboriginal social justice, human rights and privacy) will be replaced by a president and three deputy presidents. The commission as a whole will share general responsibility for human rights protection but each deputy commissioner will have a number of specific portfolios. The government states that the previous ‘top-heavy structure was creating in-fighting and placing territorial concerns above the effective protection and promotion of human rights’. It says that the re-organised functions of the Commission will retain the existing complaint investigation role, but balance it with more emphasis on education and information for business and the community about responsibilities to protect human rights. The reorganisation is taking place within an overall cut of the Commission’s budget of about 40 per cent following the 1997 Federal budget.
The separation of the Privacy Commissioner’s office is very significant in this context, as it means that there will still be a full-time Privacy Commissioner (though with a 40% budget cut), which might not have been the case if privacy had stayed within the Commission.
The Head of the Privacy Branch within HREOC, Nigel Waters, who has effectively been the deputy to the Privacy Commissioner since the Privacy Act came into force in 1989, has decided to leave the public service in order to work as a consultant in privacy and related policy areas.
Before coming to Australia, Nigel was a senior officer of the UK Data Protection Registrar — perhaps this makes him a human ‘trans-border data flow’! Nigel was the loyal and valued deputy to Commissioner Kevin O’Connor throughout his term in office, and has been invaluable to Commissioner Moira Scollay in her smooth transition of office. Nigel was also seconded for a year to the Administrative Review Council, where he was the principal researcher and author of its report on administrative review tribunals, Better Decisions. He is widely respected within government, the business sector and privacy and consumer groups as a privacy advocate with a balanced view of the needs of business and government.
Nigel has already taken up two new roles in the privacy world. He has succeeded Julie Cameron as executive Vice-President of the Australian Privacy Charter Council, following his long involvement as one of the drafters of the Charter. He is also the new Associate Editor of PLPR, where his expertise will benefit us all (see Editorial this issue).
Back issues of PLPR are available for free access on the world-wide-web at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/plpr/ At present, the full text of Volumes 1 and 2 (1994–1995) are available, and Volume 3 (1996) will be available soon. Our policy is to make the back issues available on an annual basis. The full text of the back issues can be searched.
Fresh on the heels of its privacy enquiry, Queensland’s Legal, Constitutional and Administrative Review Committee (LCARC) is calling for submissions on the protection of individual rights and freedoms in Queensland. The committee is reviewing the recommendation of the former Electoral and Administrative Review Committee that Queensland introduce a bill of rights. The LCARC Issues Paper and the Draft Queensland Bill of Rights Act 1993 are available at http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/committees/legalrev.html
Julie Cameron has stood down as executive Vice-President of the Australian Privacy Charter Council (Janine Haines is the President of the Council), as a result of new business obligations. Julie took over the running of the Council in late 1993 at a time when the creation of an Australian Privacy Charter had stalled. She drove the process that resulted in the successful creation and launch of the Charter within a year, and has worked to encourage its adoption since then. The Charter’s influence in Australian and overseas policy debates is in no small part due to her determination.