Since the publication of Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics, I’ve received a number of complaints and enquiries from people concerned about the book’s content. Each of those matters will receive the due consideration afforded to each of the 800 plus complaints and 9000 enquiries dealt with by this Office each year.
One of the complaints to my office was from the Green Party. It suggested that I should be investigating the reported disclosure by the Minister of Justice, of the contact details and job title of a public servant, to the blogger Cameron Slater.
The request for the investigation did not come from the public servant who was the subject of the disclosure. I advised the Greens that the Privacy Act gives me the discretion to refuse to investigate a matter where the complainant (in this case, the Green Party) does not have a sufficient personal interest in the subject matter of the complaint.
One commentator said last week that there was no point in having watchdogs that won’t bark.
The Privacy Act is fundamentally concerned with the preservation and promotion of individual autonomy. It protects the right of an individual to determine, or at least influence, the extent to which their personal information is placed into the public domain and becomes the subject of public discussion.
That purpose would not be served if we were to investigate a complaint in a highly politicised and publicised environment that is neither on behalf of, nor supported by, the affected individual.
As for the other complaints I have received, if we find barking is warranted, then the public can be assured we will bark. What we won’t do is howl at the moon.