Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
PLPR’s 100th issue
A decade ago the editorial in PLPR’s inaugural issue welcomed readers with the claim that:
There is a need for a forum for informed debate on privacy issues in Australia and New Zealand. There is a particular need for prompt and accessible reporting of complaint determinations and other rulings by privacy protection agencies, to facilitate the development of privacy law through the techniques of the common law.
By and large, we believe PLPR has achieved these aims. The extent to which PLPR articles continue to be cited whenever anyone publishes analyses of privacy issues in Australia is some evidence of this.
The first issue opened with Johns v ASC in the High Court, described as ‘an important step in the development of privacy protection under the general law’. The first few issues were very largely concerned with privacy in the government sector, and the second issue led with a ‘scoop’ on the demise of the Law Enforcement Access Network (LEAN). ‘Private Parts’ led with a report that NSW would soon have a Bill to replace the Privacy Committee Act — it took another four years. The brand new Privacy Act 1993 (NZ) was featured in issue No 1. Cases and complaint determinations worth reporting were few and far between.
Ten years later, only some things have changed. The private sector is now at least as major a focus as government. Australia has not made much progress on a privacy tort, but the NZ Court of Appeal has shown the lead. The NSW legislation, despite its flaws, continues to result in significant decisions by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal almost every month, and we are starting to have a much clearer idea of what that Act means. The position is similar in New Zealand, from where issue No 100 features four pages of significant case summaries. The contrast with the Federal Privacy Act 1988 is stark: after almost 15 years, there is not a single court decision on the Act. This is due both to the inherent flaws of the Act in not allowing appeals against determinations by the Privacy Commissioner, and to the ‘softly softly’ approach of successive Privacy Commissioners. They have combined an avoidance of making determinations in favour of ‘settling’ every complaint, with a failure to adequately publish details of how complaints are settled (still only partly rectified despite some recent complaint publication). It is still the ‘black hole’ of Australian privacy law: many complaints go in, but no law ever comes out.
PLPR has taken an editorial line which has been consistently in favour of stronger privacy laws and better and more transparent enforcement of those laws. We have balanced that approach by always welcoming articles which take a different view — and that has made PLPR a more interesting publication. Articles in PLPR by its editors have exposed and opposed the weaknesses in the proposed NSW privacy legislation, and more recently the proposed abolition of the position of NSW Privacy Commissioner. We predicted that John Howard’s ‘U-turn’ on privacy legislation would be futile, continued to argue the case for private sector privacy laws, and when the U-turn was reversed continued to criticise the weaknesses in the law proposed. In these areas and others I believe PLPR has played a small but valuable role in helping to shape Australian public policy and law.
Issue No 1 (described as ‘a bumper 20 pages’) was in March 1994, and issue No 100 is in April 2004, with it and almost all the intervening issues being the same 20 pages (or more). Organising about 13,000 words of good quality commentary every month has been a challenge, but it is gratifying that we have stayed on schedule over that whole period (one month’s ‘slippage’ in 10 years) — and with only a few stern words from our publishers.
Over those 10 years, it has taken the efforts of many people, month in and month out, to produce this journal. My particular thanks are to Associate Editor Nigel Waters, who has done more than anyone to keep PLPR going and was its most regular contributor even before he joined me on the editorial side. PLPR was originally at Prospect Publishing, where publisher Oliver Freeman was a constant source of enthusiasm and goodwill, and his staff were always patient and effective through our first seven volumes. Since the change of publisher to LexisNexis, our Managing Editor Elizabeth McCrone has insisted on high standards of production but always in the nicest possible way, and her team has been invariably effective and helpful. Our Editorial Board members, present and past, have been a major source of the content of PLPR, and they have my sincere thanks for supporting PLPR for so long. Ditto to Jill Matthews, who has read and indexed all 100 issues. Similarly, my thanks go to the hundreds of authors who have contributed articles over the decade, often unsolicited in recent years. The quality of their scholarship and advocacy, and their willingness to provide it to our readers, has been our greatest asset. l
Graham Greenleaf, General Editor.