GREENS communications spokesman Scott Ludlam has urged a privacy tort, saying that if it were carefully drafted it would not endanger freedom of speech.
Senator Ludlam said that, in the context of the debate about the radio prank that tragically backfired, such a tort would protect someone from having medical information improperly sought while they were in hospital, which was a ''particularly egregious breach of privacy''.
He said he had been impressed by the argument that if Parliament did not legislate, the courts would continue to define privacy by their judgments, which might eventually have the effect of eroding the implied right of free speech.
A tort would give people the right to sue for invasion of privacy. The issue went well beyond just the debate about journalists' pursuit of free speech versus the public's right to privacy, he said.
The Law Reform Commission has recommended a privacy tort and the government is considering it, in the context of its media policy, which has now been postponed until next year.
Senator Ludlam said that if there was a tort of privacy ''you can legislate protections for freedom of speech and publication and protect the right of journalists to do their work''.
Asked whether this would prevent a radio station making a call to someone and putting it to air without their permission, he said people would ''second-guess some of this kind of stuff''.
''I think the idea of an action like this is that it would be used relatively infrequently, and that would actually prevent some of the dumber behaviour from occurring in the first place.''
It was possible that ''we can actually learn'' from the recent prank tragedy. ''Put something, fairly carefully crafted, to Parliament to preserve free speech, but also to legally embed people's rights to privacy,'' he said.
A privacy law would not trespass on, for example, journalists knocking on the door of a corrupt official, trying to get something on tape, he told Sky News.
He said that at the moment there was no Australian jurisdiction under which a person could sue somebody for a really damaging or outrageous breach of privacy.