Queensland, Victoria seen lacking privacy leadership

Acting commissioners are in an "impossible position," says Australian Privacy Foundation

Queensland and Victoria must immediately appoint new privacy commissioners, urged the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF). Each state has an acting commissioner, but the privacy group said that’s unacceptable in letters sent to each state's attorney general.

Queensland has been without a real privacy commissioner since the departure of Linda Matthews in October last year. The state appointed Lemm Ex as acting commissioner in December. Victoria has had an acting privacy commissioner since March this year, when it appointed Anthony Bendall to replace Helen Versey.

“An Acting Commissioner is in an impossible position,” APF chair, Roger Clarke, wrote in a 17 July letter to Queensland attorney general, Jarrod Bleijie. “Any new initiative needs to be undertaken very cautiously, because the initiative may or may not attract the support of the new appointee, and it will be at an uncertain stage of development when the new appointee arrives.”

Former Australian Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Crompton agreed: “A privacy commissioner like any regulator needs the independence that comes with security of office.

“It is very hard to be seen as independent and to provide leadership as an acting commissioner,” said Crompton, who is now managing director of Information Integrity Solutions. “I would welcome early appointments to the vacant positions.”

“Queensland legislated privacy protections many years after New South Wales and Victoria,” Clarke wrote in the letter. “There was then a long delay before a Privacy Commissioner was appointed. The first appointee left after a relatively short time. An Acting Privacy Commissioner has now been in place for a lengthy period. It is critical to the Queensland public's interest in privacy, and to its confidence in its public service, that the Privacy Commissioner performs their responsibilities effectively, and is seen to do so.”

Queensland’s privacy office “is rapidly losing such limited momentum as it had developed,” Clarke said. “Staff morale must inevitably be suffering. Agencies cannot be confident in the advice that they receive from the Acting Commissioner. With a start like this, the Office will take a long time to build credibility with agencies.”

The APF sent a similar letter in March to Victoria attorney general, Robert Clark. The Victoria official replied that he recognised the importance of privacy leadership, but four months later the state is still without a permanent privacy commissioner.

“Such a delay directly and seriously weakens any oversight agency, because all other agencies can safely snub the Acting Commissioner's approaches,” Clarke wrote in a 13 July letter to the Victoria attorney-general. “Is this your intention? If not, we urge you to make an appropriate appointment at the earliest opportunity, and request your assurance that an appointment is imminent.”

Computerworld Australia contacted the offices of the Victoria and Queensland attorneys general and is awaiting a response.

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