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Media Release - Law Reform Commission proposes overhaul of privacy laws (29 July 2008)


The NSW Law Reform Commission has today released a consultation paper that opens the way for major reform of the State's privacy laws.

The Commission believes that the legislation, particularly the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW), is unnecessarily convoluted and fails to provide an effective framework for the protection of the privacy of an individual. It is extremely difficult to identify which State Government agencies are covered by all or some of the Privacy Principles that underpin the legislation and which agencies and activities have complete or partial exemption from the legislation as a whole. Indeed, the current exceptions and exemptions run to several pages.

The Commissioner in charge of the project, Professor Michael Tilbury, has commented:

'The current state of confusion surrounding privacy laws suggests that it is the complexity of the provisions that is undermining their effectiveness.'

The Commission proposes structural changes to the legislation aimed at achieving greater simplicity, harmony, clarity and flexibility. We propose the following key reforms:

  • amend the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 (NSW) to transfer the handling of health information by private sector organisations to the Commonwealth;
  • consider doing away with a separate health information privacy Act so that the remaining health information held by public sector agencies is regulated under the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW);
  • limit the numerous exemptions in the legislation, particularly exemptions to the definition of 'personal information';
  • facilitate the exchange of information between agencies and organisations to improve the provision of services to vulnerable people, particularly in the area of child protection.

As well, the Chairperson of the Commission, the Hon James Wood, AO QC, has pointed out that:

'the fact that there are three separate regimes governing access to, and amendment of, documents held by public sector agencies has given rise to uncertainty about the way in which these pieces of legislation interact with one another. Many believe the three regimes are largely incompatible and have led to considerable confusion for both users and the public officials responsible for administering the relevant legislation.'

The paper looks at ways to eliminate duplication and inconsistencies between the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW), the Freedom of Information Act 1989 (NSW), the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW) and the State Records Act 1998 (NSW).

The paper is formulated in the context of the Australian Law Reform Commission's concurrent review of federal privacy laws, the cornerstone of which is the premise that privacy laws should be consistent across Australia. The Commission fully supports this premise and proposes that reforms of New South Wales privacy law should aim to achieve national uniformity.

For further information contact Mr Peter Hennessy, Executive Director, on (02) 8061 9270.