Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP asks the AG about privacy act review

13 June 2023

To the Attorney General. Media publication of leaked private material produced for a police investigation undermines trust and confidence in the criminal justice system for victims. Both the Privacy Act review and the Australian Law Reform Commission have each recommended strengthening the privacy standards that media organisations should consider prior to publication.

What steps is the Government taking to review the exception to the Privacy Act for journalism, as journalists have an inadequate self-regulated code of ethics and Australia does not have a statutory tort for the breach of privacy?

Give a call to the Attorney General.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. And I do thank the Member for Warringah for raising some very important questions, particularly her question concerning the Privacy Act review. The Review made a range of recommendations for law reform, as did the Australian Law Reform Commission. Both of those have been subject to a further consultation process, and the Government is now considering all of that.

As Attorney General, I am deeply concerned about the apparent unauthorised publication of material produced as a result of a subpoena in the criminal trial of Mr Bruce Lehrmann. Material produced to a court in response to a subpoena is subject to an implied undertaking from the parties who receive it that it won't be used for purposes other than for those court proceedings. So a rule, known as the Harmon Rule or the Harmon undertaking to breach it, may constitute a contempt of court.

I do understand that the Australian Federal Police have received a complaint in respect of this matter and that the AFP is currently assessing that complaint. In terms of my own portfolio, I'd say this.  It's vital that victims of alleged sexual assault have confidence that if they come forward and report what happened to them, they will be treated fairly by our justice system. And I would add, all who come forward are entitled to be treated with complete respect by everyone.

We know that rates of reporting sexual assault are low and conviction rates are even lower. Many victims are deterred from ever talking about what happened to them, which means perpetrators are more likely to escape responsibility. It's an issue that the Albanese government takes extremely seriously.

In the most recent budget, we announced $6.5 million for measures in my portfolio to strengthen responses to sexual violence. It'll include an Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into justice responses to sexual violence, with a focus on law reform proposals to strengthen sexual assault laws and improve experiences of victims and survivors in the justice system. It'll include a ministerial level National Roundtable on addressing sexual assault, which will bring together victim survivors and relevant services and advocates and state and territory ministers. It's in addition to other work which is underway in the Standing Council of Attorneys General with the National Plan to end violence against women and children.

We all have a responsibility, those of us in this Parliament and in the media to discuss this issue in a careful and responsible way which properly respects the interests of victims.