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17. History of Australian privacy legislation

Graham Greenleaf and Nigel Waters, 2001- ; last revised 12 March 2003 by Graham Greenleaf

The following is a snapshot of the current scope of statutory privacy protection under Australian law, and how Australia arrived at that position. Much of the material is expanded in other Reading Guides, but it is best to read this outline now to gain an overall picture.

 For more detail on some points than in our outline below, see also:

17.1. Public sectors

Pre-history (before the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth))

Federal: the Australia Card, TFN, and the Privacy Act 1988

States and Territories

New South Wales

"The Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 is a reasonably strong piece of 1980's-style information privacy legislation for the less important (ie non-exempt) parts of what remains of the NSW public sector after corporatisation and privatisation. "
"In the unnecessarily limited realm in which it applies, it is likely to provide some individuals with an effective and inexpensive means of obtaining redress for unjustifiable invasions of privacy. In many other important areas where State-owned corporations and State investigative agencies affect people's privacy, they will simply be told 'the Act does not apply. "
"The other down-side of this Act (as with much other privacy legislation) is that it will make it easier for successive governments to use it as a justification for extending surveillance activities, by stressing that 'it will all be done in accordance with the privacy Act' and 'the Privacy Commissioner will be consulted'. Few people in the public or in public affairs will appreciate just how limited the Act's protections are, and it will serve to assist in the extension of surveillance activities."


The Northern Territory

Other States and Territories

17.2. Private sector

Piecemeal developments

The self-regulation dead end

The 2001 'private sector amendments' to the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)

Post-enactment history

Canadian comparison

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