Rights Night

Colin Biggers & Paisley’s Sydney office hosted the inaugural Privacy Rights Night on Tuesday 6th of December. This is one of five Rights Nights, a new social justice initiative based in Sydney run by a team of young professionals.

Privacy Rights Night attracted a crowd of lawyers, students, academics and privacy professionals. The panel, moderated by Colin Biggers & Paisley’s national head of ICT and intellectual property, Dan Brush, comprised five top privacy experts in Australia:

  • Professor Barbara McDonald (University of Sydney Law School)
  • Professor Graham Greenleaf (University of New South Wales Law School)
  • Peter Leonard (Partner, Gilbert and Tobin)
  • Olga Ganopolsky (General Counsel – Privacy and Data, Macquarie Group)
  • Dr Elizabeth Coombs (NSW Privacy Commissioner)

The discussion centred around the following questions:

  • What current privacy rights do people, governments, and corporations possess and why is there no general right to privacy?
  • How can this situation be improved?
  • What are Australia’s privacy obligations under international law?
  • How can people enforce and protect their privacy rights?
  • What are the powers of the Privacy Commissioner? Do they lack powers or scope? Are the remedies available sufficient?
  • What are the problems associated with the consent model of privacy?
  • How the “internet of things” is changing the parameters of privacy?
  • How have other countries dealt with the evolution of privacy laws, in particular remedies for citizens?

These questions yielded a broad ranging and exciting panel discussion. Professor Greenleaf lamented the “dismal” state of privacy law in Australia owing to its narrow scope and the difficulties surrounding its enforcement. Professor McDonald added that the lack of a common law right to sue for breach of privacy contributed to this, but that it would likely take someone of considerable financial means to bring about such a right. She noted that it took the infamous British phone tapping scandal, and the celebrity Naomi Campbell to sue the UK tabloid The Mirror, for English courts to bring breach of privacy into common law (through the equitable action of breach of confidence), and thus to mainstream attention.

Dr. Coombs defended the Privacy Commission as doing the best it could with limited public resources to deal with a high number of privacy complaints. She mentioned that an apology can serve as a remedy for a complainant, but the utility of this remedy was quickly rebutted by Peter Leonard and Professor Greenleaf. Greenleaf explained that, by contrast, corporations in South Korea are penalised for breaches to a citizen’s privacy by way of a small fine payable to that individual. This multiplies per person, and is not capped, leading to the potential for huge penalties for corporations in breach of South Korean privacy law.

Peter Leonard and Olga Ganopolsky discussed the prospect that without a common law remedy for breach of privacy, Australia may well bypass treating data as a creature of privacy law and rather, hot on the heels of the Productivity Commission’s recent report into data as an asset, treat data as a creature of property law.

After the event, guests were invited by the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation to speak with the panelists over sandwiches and drinks.

Refugee Night

The Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation, along with the University of Sydney, sponsored the Refugee Rights Night, held on the 9th December. This was the final Rights Nights event.

Gemma Livingston, the National Pro Bono Coordinator of Norton Rose Fulbright moderated the panel of experts for the Refugee Rights Night which comprised: Frances Voon, the Executive Manager of the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law; Sarah Dale, Principal Solicitor of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service; Dr Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International and a board member of the Asylum Seeker Centre; Dr Daniel Ghazelbash, Lecturer at Macquarie University Law School; and Phil Glendenning, Director of the Edmund Rice Centre and President of the Refugee Council of Australia.
With the UNHCR recently reporting that 65.3 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes, the night was very topical. The panelists discussed:

  • the factors driving people to leave their homes
  • the key rights provided by the Refugee Convention and how the Convention is applied in Australia
  • the state of Australian law and in particular the different processes for asylum seekers who arrived by boat pre August 2012, post 13 August 2012 – 31 December 2013 and post 31 December 2013
  • the restrictions placed on asylum seekers living in the community and how “waiting” for a visa can impact on their well being
  • the long-term impacts of mandatory and/or indefinite detention on asylum seekers, as well as the conditions faced by asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island and how these conditions align with the Refugee Convention

The panelists also provided their perspective on the government’s recent announcement of the deal between the US and Australia, whereby the US would take some refugees currently housed on Manus Island and Nauru, and the possible lifetime ban on ever coming to Australia for those asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.

The most moving part of the night was when an audience member, who was seeking asylum in Australia, stood up and shared his story. This really brought perspective to the discussion and highlighted the fact that asylum seekers are not just statistics but human beings with unique stories and reasons for fleeing their home countries.

After the panel, the audience members, panelists and organisations involved in this area had the opportunity to discuss volunteer opportunities and the current state of refugee law in Australia. The event was catered by Parliament on King, which is a social enterprise that uses the proceeds from its business to fund the refugee and asylum seekers projects and training provided at its premises. This also meant that all who attended got to sample some of the delicious food from the home lands of the asylum seekers and refugees working with Parliament on King.