History of privacy legislation

The timeline below summarises the background of privacy laws in New South Wales (NSW) with reference to the wider Australian context.


1972 – NSW Attorney General, John Madison commissions a report into privacy law by Professor Bill Morison.

1973 – Morison recommends the establishment of a permanent committee and staff to undertake research and handle complaints called the NSW Privacy Committee. 

1975 – The Morison report results in the Liberal Government led by Premier, Tom Lewis introducing NSW Privacy Committee Act 1975, creating a complaints/investigation/research organisation.

1976 – Coalition Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser gives the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) reference to research privacy concerns.

1978-1979 – Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) expert group is established; Sir Michael Kirby is elected chairman of the expert group. The group's purpose is to develop OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data.


1983 – The OECD expert group delivers its findings to Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

1984 – The Federal Government agrees to the OECD Guidelines, however no significant privacy protective actions are taken during this period.

1985 – The Federal Government drafts a bill to introduce a national ID scheme, named the ‘Australia Card’. A Privacy bill is woven into the framework of the Australia Card bill.

1987 – After the Australia Card bill was rejected twice by the senate, the Federal Government calls a double dissolution election. However little mention is made of the bill during the election. 

1987 – Following an election win, the Labor Government led by Prime Minister Hawke bows to public opinion and withdraws both the Australia Card and Privacy bills.

1988 – As an alternate to the Australia Card, the Hawke Government introduces new provisions for the Tax File Number scheme and the Privacy Act 1988 which introduces an Australian Privacy Commissioner. Both bills pass the Federal Parliament.

1989 – Mr Kevin O’Connor is appointed as the first Australian Privacy Commissioner. The Privacy Act 1988 and appointment of the Commissioner effectively create a guardian and establish practices and procedures in the public sector.


1990 – Amendments are made to the Federal Privacy Act 1988 which covers credit reporting and data matching.

1991 - Andrew Tink MP introduces a private member’s bill, the Data Protection Bill, which provides for information privacy protections in both the public and private sectors. Debate on the legislation is deferred until after the release of an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) enquiry that was in the process

1992 – The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) delivers the report "Roads and Traffic Authority, NSW Police Service and other NSW public sector agencies – unauthorised release of Government information", which reveals a massive trade in confidential government information, including information concerning individuals. Consequently, ICAC make a number of recommendations including the development of a privacy regime as a necessary pre-condition to rebuilding public trust in government.

1994 – Attorney General, the Hon. Bill Hannaford introduces the Privacy and Data Protection Bill, amended from the initial bill, in 1991. The bill is referred to the Select Committee of the Legislative Council for review. However, the bill lapses and there is a change of Government before the Committee is able to table the report. 

1996 – Andrew Tink, MP, again attempts introducing the Privacy and Data Protection Bill, which is defeated.

1998 – In NSW, the Carr Government establishes the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (PPIP Act), in addition to replacing the Privacy Committee with a NSW Privacy Commissioner and an independent authority – Privacy NSW.

1999 – Privacy NSW is established within the NSW Department of the Attorney General.

1999-2003 – Mr Chris Puplick is appointed NSW Privacy Commissioner.


2000 – NSW Ministerial Advisory Committee produces a report into privacy and health information entitled “Panacea or Placebo?”

2002 – The Health Records and Information Privacy Act (HRIP Act) is passed by NSW Parliament, specifically dealing with personal health information.

2004 – Mr John Dickie is appointed as NSW Privacy Commissioner.

2008  – Judge Ken Taylor appointed as NSW Privacy Commissioner.

2009 – Maureen Tagney appointed as NSW Privacy Commissioner.


2010 – John McAteer is appointed as Acting NSW Privacy Commissioner.

2010 – The NSW Law Reform Commission (NSWLRC) completes and tables a report “Protecting Privacy in NSW”, making a number of recommendations chiefly regarding the role of the NSW Privacy Commissioner.

2010 – In response to the report, the Labour Government under Nathan Rees as Premier, introduces a bill to abolish Privacy NSW and create a new agency – the Information and Privacy Commission NSW (IPC), to umbrella the NSW Privacy Commissioner and the NSW Information Commissioner. The creation of the IPC and the roles of Privacy Commissioner and Information Commissioner are “to ensure that agencies and individuals receive consistent information and advice” and that “there are strong and unbiased advocates for both privacy and access to government information” with both Commissioners reporting on the operation of the respective legislation to Parliament.

2010 – In May 2010, at the Federal level led by Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the Office of the Australian Privacy Commissioner is disestablished and folded into Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), which oversees FOI, Privacy and Information

2011 – The IPC formally commences in early 2011.

2011 - Dr Elizabeth Coombs is appointed as NSW Privacy Commissioner in November 2011.

2014 – Significant changes to the Federal Privacy Act are introduced that require businesses and Australian Government agencies to be more transparent about how they handle personal information.

2014 – The Liberal Government, led by Prime Minister Abbott announces disbanding of the OAIC, with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to be established as a statutory authority as part of the Human Rights Commission.

2017 – Samantha Gavel is appointed as NSW Privacy Commissioner.


The information provided here has been compiled from a number of sources, including but not limited to the following references:

NSW Parliamentary reports

Information Privacy and Health Records, Gareth Griffith, 2002

Privacy: The current Situation, Jason Arditi, 2000

Parliament of NSW Hansard

Privacy and Government Information Legislation Bill 2010

Government Information (Information Commissioner) Bill 2009


Report: Roads and Traffic Authority, NSW Police Service and other NSW public sector agencies - unauthorised release of Government information, 1992


A History of Privacy, Roger Clarke, 1998 (updated 2002)

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The timeline summarises the background of privacy laws in New South Wales (NSW) with reference to the wider Australian context.