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Privacy Law and Policy Reporter

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Private sector privacy Act passed (at last)

Graham Greenleaf

The Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Bill completed its passage through the Australian Federal Parliament on 7 December 2000, almost two years since the Liberal Government abandoned its opposition to privacy laws for the private sector. The passage was a political compromise, resulting from government acceptance of the substance of some of the amendments proposed by the Labor Party. The Act covers the 6 per cent of Australian businesses estimated by the Government not to be ‘small’ businesses, plus ‘small’ businesses that trade in personal information, and those that decide to voluntarily ‘opt in’. The Act is likely to be proclaimed before the end of this year, and come into force in a year’s time at the end of 2001.

Twelve Christmases after the Privacy Act 1988 covered part of the public sector, Australia has made a small step toward complying with its 1984 commitment to adhere to the OECD Privacy Guidelines ... but still fails to comply. Nor will the Act comprise ‘adequate’ privacy protection in relation to most Australian businesses for the purposes of the EU Privacy Directive.

The amendments that formed the basis of the compromise can be summarised as follows.

Attorney-General Williams was accurate when he hastened to assure businesses that the amendments only mean that the Bill has been strengthened in ‘minor respects’.

There are other minor amendments:

Opposition tinkering rejected

Some of the amendments proposed in the Senate by Labor and the Democrats were rejected. Among those left on the cutting room floor were amendments to create:

Labor did not even propose amendments to repeal some of the most objectionable aspects of the Bill, such as the ‘small’ business exemption. It was content to tinker at the edges of the flawed approach of ‘privacy-free zones’ (see 7(1) PLPR 1). As a result, the political process has failed to deliver Australian citizens, consumers and businesses privacy legislation of world standard.

Graham Greenleaf, General Editor.

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