Process of reform

Advisory Committee and Sub-committees

1.80 It is standard operating procedure for the ALRC to establish an expert Advisory Committee to assist with the development of its inquiries.[96] In this Inquiry, the Advisory Committee includes current and former Privacy Commissioners; representatives from the business and government sector; privacy and consumer advocates; privacy professionals; health and social service professionals; academics and practising lawyers with expertise in privacy, health law and e-commerce; and public and private sector officers with responsibility for privacy-related issues. Given the breadth of this Inquiry, the ALRC also has established three Sub-committees of the Advisory Committee in the areas of health privacy, developing technology and credit reporting.[97]

1.81 The Advisory Committee and Sub-committee members have particular value in helping the ALRC identify the key issues and stakeholders, as well as in providing quality assurance in the research and consultation effort. These committees also assisted with the development of questions and proposals for reform in the community consultation documents published by the ALRC during the course of the Inquiry. The Advisory Committee also assisted with formulation of the final recommendations contained in this Report. Ultimate responsibility for the final Report and recommendations, however, remains with the Commissioners of the ALRC.

Community consultation and participation

1.82 Under the terms of its constituting Act, the ALRC ‘may inform itself in any way it thinks fit’ for the purposes of reviewing or considering anything that is the subject of an inquiry.[98] One of the most important features of ALRC inquiries is the deep commitment to extensive community consultation.

1.83 There were several ways in which those with an interest in this Inquiry could participate. First, individuals and organisations could indicate an expression of interest in the Inquiry by contacting the ALRC or registering online at <>. Those who asked to be added to the ALRC’s mailing list for this Inquiry received notices, press releases and a copy of each of the consultation documents published.

1.84 During the course of this Inquiry, the ALRC undertook its largest ever consultation program, conducting 250 meetings with individuals, public sector agencies, private organisations, community groups and peak associations. The consultations were designed to capture the views of a wide cross-section of interested stakeholders, including: corporations; privacy advocates; academics and lawyers with expertise in privacy; federal, state and territory government departments; state bodies such as the childrens’ commissioners of New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania; the Victorian Government Office of the Health Services Commissioner; federal, state and territory privacy commissioners; privacy commissioners from Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Germany; business, consumer and health representatives; organisations and agencies representing children and young people; the Access Card Taskforce; the National Health and Medical Research Council; the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. A list of those with whom the ALRC has consulted is found in Appendix 2 of this Report.

1.85 In addition, the ALRC conducted a series of roundtables with individuals, agencies and organisations on a variety of themes including: credit reporting, exemptions under the Privacy Act; the privacy principles; children and young people; and health and research. The ALRC also organised well-advertised public forums in Melbourne (focusing on consumers and privacy), Sydney (focusing on business and privacy) and Coffs Harbour (focusing on health privacy and research). Finally, specially designed youth workshops (ages 13–25) were conducted in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Hobart.

1.86 Finally, individuals, organisations and federal, state and territory government agencies made written submissions. During the course of the Inquiry, 585 submissions were received by the ALRC—a complete list of submissions is found in Appendix 1 of the Report.

1.87 The ALRC is grateful for the outstanding contribution made to its work by stakeholders interested in the operation of the Privacy Act and other privacy-related legislation. Privacy regulation is an area in which strongly divergent views are expressed by individuals, public sector agencies, industry, consumer representatives and privacy advocates. Despite conflicting views about, and interests in, reform of privacy regulation, stakeholders engaged with the ALRC, and with each other, in a positive and constructive manner.

1.88 The stakeholders involved in the review of the credit reporting provisions, discussed in detail in Part G, warrant specific mention. Industry associations, especially the Australasian Retail Credit Association, were active in brokering a significant new consensus within the credit industry on a number of issues. In addition, consumer and industry representatives, and privacy advocates, engaged constructively in discussions related to reform of the credit reporting system. Through these discussions, positions were clarified and consensus on a number of important issues was reached.

ALRC National Privacy Phone-in

1.89 On 1 and 2 June 2006, members of the public were invited to contact the ALRC—either by telephone or via the ALRC’s website—to share their experiences of privacy breaches and protection. The National Privacy Phone-in attracted widespread media coverage, and in total the ALRC received 1,343 responses.

1.90 The majority of respondents (73%) nominated telemarketing as their main concern.[99] Other prominent issues included:[100]

  • handling of personal information by private companies (19%) and government agencies (9%);
  • protection of privacy in the internet age (7%);
  • identity cards and smart cards (7%); and
  • problems accessing and correcting personal information (7%).

1.91 The fact that callers could remain anonymous facilitated frank disclosure. The views expressed included support both for extending and reducing the scope of privacy protection, and provided useful examples of the impact of privacy law in a wide range of circumstances.

Talking Privacy Website

1.92 In early 2007, the ALRC developed a website called ‘Talking Privacy’, which was accessible from the ALRC’s home page. Designed specifically to appeal to young people, the website contained information about the Inquiry, links to further information about privacy law, and encouraged young people to send in comments to the ALRC about their privacy issues or experiences. The site also contained information aimed at teachers and students considering law reform or privacy as part of a school curriculum.

1.93 The aim of the Talking Privacy website was to engage young people using a familiar and well-used medium. A number of young people took the step of submitting comments for consideration by the ALRC.

[96] A list of Advisory Committee members can be found in the List of Participants at the front of this publication.

[97] Lists of the members of the three sub-committees can be found in the List of Participants at the front of this publication.

[98]Australian Law Reform Commission Act 1996 (Cth) s 38.

[99] This was possibly influenced by the fact that a number of media stories about the Phone-in focused on telemarketing as a possible concern.

[100] Callers were able to nominate more than one concern, which is reflected in the statistics.