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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3136

Senator BOLKUS —My question is also directed to the Attorney-General. It is prompted by reports recently of comments by the Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Mr Justice Michael Kirby, on the lack of decisive government response to reports of that Commission. When will the Government respond to one of the Commission's most important reports, that being the report on privacy?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I know this will be a great disappointment to Senator Durack which is, no doubt, why he is leaving the chamber, but the Government is not yet in a position to decide the exact nature of its implementation of the Australian Law Reform Commission report on privacy, which is a thumping great report which took some seven years to prepare and has a massive array of recommendations.

What is happening though is this: My Department is consulting other departments . I hope to be able to introduce legislation in the near future with respect to a number of aspects of the ALRC proposals relating to, for example, the giving of privacy functions to the Human Rights Commission, secret surveillance, information privacy and access to, and amendment of, personal records. Some aspects of the report may be the subject of separate specific legislative proposals because when the report was received progress had already been made on matters such as body cavity searches-my apologies to Senator Walters-and a review of the Telecommunications (Interception) Act.

We had to also take into account developments since the report was completed, such as the upsurge of requests under the Freedom of Information Act. If new rights and procedures for access to such records are introduced as recommended by the privacy report, they must not confuse the public or complicate administrative arrangements already in place under the FOI Act.

In the private sector the setting up of electronic funds transfer systems by major banks highlights the increase in holding of personal information credit and other financial records and the increasing transmission of it across territorial boundaries. These developments give greater weight to the urgency of settling privacy principles governing use of personal information and access to personal data banks.

It is a matter of regret that the private sector has not produced any particular visible reaction to the report. This may be because the significance of the ALRC proposals has not been fully appreciated. Therefore, I asked my officers to take specific steps to consult with representative private sector organisations. I hope if any of them are listening they will respond accordingly .

Finally, might I say this: The Law Reform Commission stressed the importance of a national approach to privacy protection, particularly in relation to information practices. In order to achieve agreement on the setting and enforcement of privacy standards throughout Australia my colleagues on the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General agreed to the privacy report being considered by officials for further study by the Standing Committee. I do expect some progress to be made in that respect.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, could we ask the Attorney-General to table the paper from which he has quoted? I am sure he made the insults up, but we might as well see the source of the rest of it.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister has tabled the paper.