Former prime minister Paul Keating has again called for privacy law reform, saying “the current free for all” in the information age cannot go on.
Mr Keating also accused the media of using its muscle “to bully the government”.
He told a gathering at Melbourne University on Wednesday night that improvements were needed in ethics, accountability and basic journalistic standards.
He conceded the battle against the “evil of gossip” had “well and truly been lost” as the internet and the development of social media – Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites – have changed the media landscape.
Mr Keating said this change shouldn’t be the death knell for privacy.
“I take issue with and repudiate those who assert that privacy in modern times is dead and we should get over it,” he said.
“All of us should have a right to go about entirely personal business in the public domain.”
Mr Keating pointed to pictures of Lara Bingle in the shower and footage aired by the Seven Network of former NSW police minister David Campbell leaving a gay sex club.
“Ethics do not enjoy a high profile in the newsroom,” he said, adding the media wielded significant power and as a result had the ability to cause great harm.
“This framework is in fact key to the conditional exemption media organisations enjoy from the Privacy Act.”
He referred to a 2700-page report on privacy laws by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2008.
It recommended the reform of existing privacy laws, which were fragmented, confusing, outdated, complex and “full of gaps and inconsistencies”, Mr Keating said.
“It is naive in the extreme to believe that a clutch of large companies, in this case media companies, all can conduct their affairs on some sort of trustee basis, having permanent regard for the public interest,” he said.
Mr Keating said it should be noted that `in the public interest’ did not mean “anything the public might find interesting or titillating”.
“An innate right of humanity, indeed the human condition, is the right to individual privacy,” he said. “The current free for all cannot go on.”
In 1998, Mr Keating and his wife Annita refused to make public the reasons why their marriage ended after 23 years.
Their decision followed years of what they described as “malicious” rumours about Mr Keating’s private life after he quit politics in April 1996.
Last year, Mr Keating was enraged by what he described as an invasion of his family’s privacy.
An article in The Sunday Telegraph alleged his daughter, Katherine, kicked one of its photographers at a social event and said: “Do you want me to throw you down the stairs and kill you?”
Ms Keating denied the claims and accused the journalist who wrote the story of “wilful misrepresentation”.
This prompted a furious response from John Hartigan, chairman and chief executive of News Ltd, who accused Ms Keating of lying and her father of being motivated by self-interest in calling for privacy law reform.