Reforms to Australia’s Privacy Laws

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The year 2022 could see a mammoth reform to the privacy laws of Australia. As we have already read in previous articles, Australia’s federal privacy law is the Privacy Act, 1988. Apart from this statute, there are various other state laws that govern the various territories of Australia. However, the changing landscape of the world of internet has led to the Government mulling over changes to the Privacy Act and also enforcing new codes of conduct that business entities must follow in order to regulate an unregulated and unorganised sector.

How did it all start?

In June 2019, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released a Digital Platforms Inquiry (DPI) Report focusing on 3 main entities: Advertisers, Media Content Creators and Consumers. This Report analysed the rise of social media engines like Facebook and Google and its impact on the consumption of news by the Australian citizens. 

Some glaring findings of the Report are as follows:

  • Google and Facebook are the major sources of news and content in Australia. They act as major behemoths dwarfing other social media sites like SnapChat, Instagram and the like.
  • Both attract consumers to their sites while simultaneously generating profit.
  • Due to the rise of Facebook and Google, numerous local and regional newspapers have run out of business thereby endangering print of authentic news, inadequate coverage of local and regional news and court proceedings. This can be frightening for democracy since Google and Facebook also contribute to the spread of fake news. 
  • Online news portals and social media sites are not subject to any kind of regulation. Not only do they now enjoy monopolistic power, but also run unfettered thereby leading to unfair competition and extensive redundancies. 

In response to the Report, the Australian Government released an Issues Paper in October 2020 listing out the various issues that can be reviewed by the Government and calling for inputs from the public on the issues listed in the Issues Paper. Some of the issues are as follows:

  • Changes to the definition of personal information in the Privacy Act, 1988
  • Increased powers to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC)
  • More rights to the citizens to enforce obligations under the Privacy Act
  • Introduction of statutory tort for serious invasions of privacy

In October 2021, the Attorney General of Australia put together a Discussion Paper compiling the inputs received from the public on the issues Paper. 

Online Privacy Code and the Online Privacy Bill:

In addition to the above reforms, the Australian Government is also contemplating the enforcement of an Online Privacy Code as provided for in the Enhancing Online Privacy and Other Measures Bill, 2021. Both these measures are aimed at strengthening the privacy framework in Australia and filling in the gaps in the existing privacy laws. 

The Bill and the Code is aimed at bringing within its purview large online platforms, social media applications and data brokerage services. The Bill sets out the minimum provisions of the Code which the above entities must comply with and can work upon to establish a consolidated Code. 

The highlights of the Bill are more powers to the OAIC in addition to the powers that it already enjoys under the OAIC. 


It is heartening to see that the Australian Government is seriously considering the threat to privacy of its citizens as posed by the emergence of large online platforms. It is also imperative to Australia to keep pace with the GDPR so that it is compliant with its European counterparts.