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Monday, June 27, 2016

The Coalition stands mostly on its record on open, transparent government.

Policy positions of the Liberal National Coalition on open transparent government

1. Open Government Partnership
No new policy.

Existing Policy
Committed to membership- "Goals of the OGP are consistent with Australia's long and proud tradition of open transparent government." OGP National Action Plan a work in progress.
Comment: No response from Prime Minister to submission by Australian Open Government Partnership Network Chair Dr David Solomon to take up to four months to broaden discussion of reform commitments and establish a formal process to bring government and non government together in the true spirit of partnership to finalise the plan, monitor implementation, report on progress.

2. Open Data, Digital Services 
New policy
Better and More Accessible Digital Services 
In summary:
"The Coalition is investing $50 million to modernise myGov.
Build on our ‘tell us once’ policy by providing Australians with greater control of their personal information. 
Deliver a digital transformation road map for government services by November 2016.
Refresh current shared services arrangements and trial cloud services for common non-sensitive desktop infrastructure and administration applications.
Establish a taskforce in the Prime Minister’s Department to reform government ICT procurement policies, identify existing procurement barriers and opportunities to streamline ICT procurement,
and opportunities to make it easier for startups and small and medium businesses to compete for government ICT contracts.
Release web services to approved third party websites to make it easier and faster for people to complete day to day transactions. 
Establish an Expert in Residence programme to make it easier for government agencies to access world class digital experts.
Work with the research, not for profit and private sectors to identify high value government datasets for release. 
Expand the use of a public dashboard to measure the performance of government services.
Expand the Data Start Programme to create opportunities for Australian startups to develop sustainable businesses through access to open government data."

Existing Policy
Public Data Policy 
Data Availability and Public Use referred to Productivity Commission for report by March 2017.
3. Public integrity/Anti-Corruption
No new policy
(Responses awaited to questions asked/commitments sought by Accountability Roundtable and Transparency International Australia.)

Existing Policy
Some commitments made in Australia's name (pdf) by Minister for Justice Keenan at the UK Anti Corruption Summit, including signing on to Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
Comment: Otherwise appears satisfied with status quo regarding political donations, use of entitlements, lobbying, whistleblower protection, and not in favour of national integrity commission.

4. Access to Information,Transparency, Accountability
No new policy 
(Responses awaited to questions asked/commitments sought by Accountability Roundtable and Transparency International Australia.)

Existing Policy 
Abbott government labelled at war with transparency and only a few signs of major differences (join OGP, not proceed to attempt to abolish OAIC) in the eight months since. 
Difficult to find anything from ministers including Prime Minister Turnbull and Attorney General Senator Brandis strongly supportive of freedom of information.
(In 2009 Senator Brandis said:
"The coalition’s commitment to open, responsible government is well known. It was the Liberal Party which pioneered freedom of information legislation in Australia. The Freedom of Information Act.. is the act of a Liberal government—the Fraser government. It is a vital measure to ensure that government remains open, responsible and accountable for its decisions.....The true measure of the openness and transparency of a government is found in its attitudes and actions when it comes to freedom of information. Legislative amendments, when there is need for them, are fine, but governments with their control over the information in their possession can always find ways to work the legislation to slow or control disclosure. That is the practice we are seeing now under the Rudd government, whose heroic proclamations of commitment to freedom of information are falsified by the objective evidence of their practice.")

Waged unsuccessful two year battle to abolish Office of Australian Information Commissioner until decision in May 2016 not to proceed. Office continues to operate with only one of three commissioner positions established by parliament. Attorney General Brandis later told Senate Estimates (see Q&A pp42-44) the decision to abolish the office was a 'good economy measure-and we haven't changed our mind."

No policy response to calls for change and modernisation of the FOI act, or to 40 recommendations for reform in the report by Dr Allan Hawke in 2013, said to be under review in 2014. Dr Hawke's first recommendation was for a comprehensive review of the law and practice, a review of the kind he was unable to undertake.

Claim by Dr Peter Shergold in a report to the government that the "Commonwealth's FOI laws are now arguably the most pro-disclosure among comparable jurisdictions in Australia and overseas" allowed to stand despite the fact the Australian law is ranked 51 of 103 laws in an international comparative survey.

No public ministerial reaction to statements by senior public servants about the law including Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd that FOI is "very pernicious," by Secretary of Treasury Fraser that important things don't get written down contrary to official guidance that records must be maintained, and by Secretary of Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Parkinson that added protections are needed if public servants are to offer frank and candid advice, notwithstanding the duty imposed by the Public Service Act to provide the Government "with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence."

5. Privacy protection 
No new policy
Existing policy
2/100 points in rating by Australian Privacy Foundation

Friday, June 24, 2016

Australian Privacy Foundation rates the parties: privacy protection doesn't rate

The Australian Privacy Foundation Election Challenge-party responses to
Ten Vital Privacy Issues cross-checked against their public platforms- presents a dismal outlook for the priority and approach they give to privacy protection.
(They didn't bother asking about position regarding the 2009 Australian Law Reform Commission recommendation that political parties exemption from the Privacy Act should be removed- the response too predictable I imagine.)
In descending order of inadequacy, the main players:
The Sex Party has a limited platform, but it has been consistently pro-privacy, it claims to have "a broad civil libertarian policy suite", and it has some specific policies that are significantly supportive of human rights. This includes a statutory right to privacy and stronger protections agains breaches of privacy, particularly in relation to data retention and CCTV. (20/100)
The Labor Party platform contains only 3 mentions of 'human rights', two relating to immigration and and one to a promised LGBTI Discrimination Commissioner. Of the 100 policy areas, 4 do relate to 'Workers Rights' (sic), and a dozen more to 'Tackling inequality and disadvantage'. However, the 'National Information Policy' and the policy on Comprehensive Credit Reporting include elements that are actively anti-privacy in nature. The Party had claims in relation to several initiatives some years ago, but its current stance is grossly deficient. Labor provided a Response, which in a number of respects was positive. But it did not score very highly at all in relation to the challenges that we posed. A vote for Labor is a vote for privacy-abusive laws. (19/100)
The Xenophon Group has a narrow platform, and its response was limited. The platform provides very little meaningful about human rights or privacy, but a couple of minor statements have been provided about betting agency access to personal data, and warrants for metadata collection (5/100).
The Liberal Party platform contains nothing whatsoever relating to human rights or consumer rights. The Party has been actively hostile to privacy in recent years, and its commitment to 'Combatting Terrorism' appears to be as unbalanced as ever. In addition, the Party failed to provide a response. From 11/100 in 2013, the Party's score has actually gone backwards. A vote for the Liberals is a vote for privacy-abusive laws, and against privacy protections (2/100).
The National Party appears to sub-contract its platform to the Liberal Party, and hence earns the same abysmal rating (2/100)."
1 Party may be privacy-supportive, but it's difficult to tell:
  • The Liberal Democrats (David Leyonhjelm) are strongly 'libertarian', in the US sense, ("favouring individual choice and freedom over government intrusion"), although they're less extreme than the word would imply in US politics. The Party has firm policies on freedom and civil liberties and democracy, but they're not detailed enough to apply a score.
2 further Parties responded to the APF's Challenge, but without sufficient substance to earn a score:
  • Consumer Rights and No-Tolls is generally supportive of human and consumer rights, but does not have any specific policies in place in relation to privacy.
  • Glenn Lazarus Team provided no meaningful response in relation to human rights or privacy.
The remaining 13 Parties offered virtually nothing of relevance to the analysis:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NSW Budget tight for Information and Privacy, looser for digital and data

No big news in the NSW budget for the Information and Privacy Commission with the allocation of funds for 2016-17, $5.46 million, close to the allocation last year. (See 7-35 in the Justice Cluster Budget Estimates.) 

Nothing in there in the narrative or the numbers that might suggest a move after all these years from a part time to full time Privacy Commissioner.

The IPC Service Measures in the budget paper include estimates of the number of reviews and complaints the office will deal with and how many hits are expected on the website but nothing that goes to measures of outcomes and results from all that activity during the year.

Not alone there-its an area where the NSW public sector generally hasn't moved far in a long time.

Over at the Finance Services and Innovation Cluster a lot of money for ITC and digital services, with Minister Dominello highlighting data initiatives:
The NSW Data Analytics Centre (DAC) has received $17 million over four years to continue its work in providing data driven insights to help inform policymaking.
In a world rich with data, the DAC can diagnose the problems confronting many in Government and allow agencies to provide the solutions,” Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello said.
Ten data analytics projects have already commenced including analysing the call out rate by NSW Fire and Rescue and the number of false alarms they attend; understanding commuter needs in off-peak hour travel time; identifying buildings at risk from non-compliant cladding; and identifying property overcrowding.
The 2016-17 NSW Budget also includes:
  • $418 million to regulate the function of workers compensation insurance, motor accidents compulsory third party insurance and home building compensation
  • $241 million in 2016-17 to provide shared corporate support and services to a number of Government agencies, including procurement, ICT, human resources, finance and business services- including via private providers in order to obtain higher service quality at lower cost
  • $124 million to enforce fair trading laws, administer licensing regimes, provide community grant assistance, and undertake regulatory reform and offer information and assistance to consumers and traders
  • $69 million in 2016-17 to drive whole of government strategies to achieve better value service delivery from ICT across government
And highlighting $2.4 billion in funding "to further expand and improve frontline services, boost job creation, and drive the Government’s innovative digital services agenda, while focusing on more efficient use of public assets."

The service measures for all this in Finance Services and Innovation Estimates (4-5 ) again won't tell you much about targeted outcomes and results.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What did cabinet consider on Medicare and contestability?

With Labor seeking to make the future of Medicare a central campaign issue, and the Prime Minister and other ministers adamant that Medicare will never be privatised, Freedom of Information is in the news.

The PM and others assert that "Cabinet has not considered outsourcing any part of Medicare services." 

While separately Sean Parnell and the Community and Public Service Union produce FOI decision notices refusing access to relevant documents regarding Medicare on the basis of the cabinet document exemption.

The decisions cite different sections of the exemption.

Parnell was denied access to parts of a letter from the Minister for Health to the Prime minister on the basis of S 34(1)(d) and s 34(3). 

Reasons given for the former claim are that parts of the document "contain information which is a draft of information ultimately included in a submission to Cabinet in relation to the payments contestability agenda," and for the latter, that disclosure would reveal "matters considered by Cabinet in relation to the payments contestability agenda."

Whatever was withheld-and none of us outside government know- the decision maker in the Department of Health confidently asserted it was information that had gone to cabinet or  if disclosed would reveal a cabinet deliberation or decision in relation to the contestability agenda.

The response to the CPSU request isn't evidence that something went to cabinet.

The decision maker cites (page 13-its a big document) S 34 (1)(a) in claiming exemption for some documents withheld which "were proposed to be submitted to cabinet" and were prepared for that dominant purpose, and S 34 (1)(c) in claiming others were brought into existence for the dominant purpose of" briefing the minister on a submission which is proposed to be submitted to cabinet." 

Now back to the politicians and who says what.....

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Transparency and accountability almost get attention in election campaign

From the audience on ABC TV Q&A last night, Mark McIver asked Opposition Leader Bill Shorten about Labor's willingness to " trust the people' and "repeal those provisions of the Border Protection Legislation and any other legislation that have the potential to keep the truth from our citizens." In the lead in he quoted from the 1972 campaign launch when Gough Whitlam said
 “The Australian Labor Party will build into the administration of the affairs of this nation that will prevent any government, Labor or Liberal, from ever again cloaking your affairs under excessive and needless secrecy. Labor will trust the people.” 
Shorten's initial response reaffirmed Labor support for whistleblower reform and in subsequent exchanges he said he wanted more transparency about offshore detention facilities.
"If I was Prime Minister it would have to be an amazing set of circumstances where we're not prepared to tell you what's going on," he said.When asked if a Labor government would "allow journalists, independent observers onto Nauru and Manus Island or any offshore detention centre"."Yeah," Mr Shorten responded."When I say that I do that on the basis that I don't want to see the people smugglers back in business."A Labor government will not be, will not be, any different to the Liberals in terms of our determination to stop the people smugglers full stop."When it comes to transparency and the way that people directly or indirectly in Australia's care are treated I do not see why that has to be a secret."
That's as much detail as you can squeeze in a Q&A exchange, so broader issues concerning 'other legislation that have the potential to keep the truth from citizens' didn't get a mention. A pity as transparency, accountability and open government have not featured in the campaign so far. 

Next week the PM is on Q&A-an opportunity for some probing on the subject?

The Whitlam 1972 speech from which McIver quoted foreshadowed the introduction of freedom of Information legislation, something that took nine years to finally make it on the statute book and then to the credit of the Coalition and Malcolm Fraser. 
(A fuller extract from the speech below.)

In 2016 one of Labor's 100 positive policies, National Information Policy includes passing reference to the Office of Australian Information Commissioner. 

The ALP National Platform (pdf) Chapter 10 Strong Democracy and Effective Government includes a commitment to preserve and strengthen the OAIC; review the operation of freedom of information and pursue further reforms if necessary. "Labor is committed to the principles of open government." Labor commits to "entrenching open government principles in the culture and practices of the Australian Public Service."

Back in 1972:

"We want the Australian people to know the facts, to know the needs, to know the choices before them. We want them always to help us as a government to make the decisions and to make the right decisions. Australia has suffered heavily from the demeaning idea that the government always knows best with the unspoken assumption always in the background that only the government knows or should know anything. Vietnam was only the most tragic result of that belief; the idea that the government must always know best permitted the Liberals to lie their way into that war. They could never have got away with it otherwise. Over the whole range of policy at home and abroad this corrupting notion of a government monopoly of knowledge and wisdom has led to bad decisions and bad government. The Australian Labor Party will build into the administration of the affairs of this nation machinery that will prevent any government, Labor or Liberal, from ever again cloaking your affairs under excessive and needless secrecy. Labor will trust the people.,,,,
 ....A Labor Government will introduce a Freedom of Information Act along the lines of the United States legislation. This Act will make mandatory the publication of certain kinds of information and establish the general principle that everything must be released unless it falls within certain clearly defined exemptions. Every Australian citizen will have a statutory right to take legal action to challenge the withholding of public information by the Government or its agencies."

Monday, June 06, 2016

Immigration's 'nothing to hide call' in withholding Manus documents open to conjecture

I had a cameo in ABC Lateline's story last Thursday on the release of a 68-page document obtained  under freedom of information concerning the alleged rape of a Papua New Guinean woman by three Australian security guards in July last year. The reporter Jason Om has written the story here.

ABC: Brigid Andersen
The most important issue of course is the incident, the allegation and the decision of the  Australian government contractor to whisk the three alleged perpetrators out of PNG as quickly as possible.

The Freedom of Information issue is that Immigration and Border Protection took six months to process the application for reports of the incident and ended up redacting just about everything the documents contained. 

All the pages (at the end of Jason Om's report), most completely blank, are marked s 22 (irrelevant material), s 33 (would or could reasonably be expected to damage international relations) and 47F (unreasonable disclosure of personal information and disclosure on balance contrary to the public interest.)

I only saw the notice of decision briefly in ABC studios before the interview but reasons given for the damage to international relations claim looked skimpy and hardly unconvincing.  

The Department in a media release next day highlighted the primary reliance on the personal information exemption, which was not mentioned in the ABC reports. They would seem to have merit although its hard to imagine just about every page has been properly withheld on that basis. 

The media release explains the basis for the damage to international relations claim is the "ongoing investigation by the Papua New Guinean (PNG) authorities.....As with investigations conducted by Australian law enforcement agencies, it would be inappropriate for the Department to release information regarding an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by another sovereign nation."
Whether their view about what's inappropriate equates to damage to relations and whether disclosure of just about everything in the 68 pages would cause further damage is open to conjecture . PNG wants the three returned for questioning.

The damage to international relations exemption as interpreted by the courts sets a low  threshold for the claim and as an absolute exemption comes with no public interest test.
It a bar that should be set higher.

In the meantime we will just have to take DIBP at their word:
"Media reporting and allegations that the Department has something to hide in relation to this matter are false.'
An external review of the FOI decision may or may not clear the air.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Michael McKinnon on stage in US

ABC Freedom of Information Editor Michael McKinnon speaking recently at Columbia School of Journalism FOI@50 Conference (26.00-36.00) provides a rundown on his FOI experiences in Australia. Mostly positive particularly about culture change in Queensland.

But at 1.26-1.29 in answer to a question pours a bucket on those who headed the Office of Australian Information Commissioner, says with regard to the decision to defund and abolish the office in 2014 we "had no problem with that", laments the decision to reverse this in the 2016 budget, and holds out hope for a post election reform package that focuses on giving those who run the OAIC the same security of tenure as a judge. 

The last point is fair enough but those leading up to it certainly don't represent the views of all journalists who know their FOI, or others of us of similar ilk.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Public service leaders maintain the FOI rage setting 'tone at the top"

Thirty three years ago, four years after government began considering FOI and five years before legislation passed, in notes to Prime Minister Fraser, then Secretary Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Sir Geoffrey Yeend in May 1977 wrote:
"Freedom of Information legislation would result in administrative chaos.. departments keeping dual filing cabinets...It is a can of worms, political commitments notwithstanding. The heads of Defence and Treasury are opposed to the legislation. Broader and in some cases blanket exemptions are necessary.
It has been a consistent theme pursued by the leadership of the public service since, with few public expressions of the contrary view.
The most recent public comments came in April from current Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Dr Martin Parkinson and head of the Public Service Commission John Lloyd as reported in The Canberra Times

Both spoke at a forum, picking up on the report by another of Parkinson's predecessors Dr Peter Shergold (Learning from Failure) in which Shergold recommended changes to the FOI act to better protect 'frank and fearless advice.'
"The FOI act does not afford sufficient protection to public servants," Dr Parkinson said. "As leaders we need to use exemptions appropriately, but I would support going further and advocating for changes to FOI laws to protect the deliberative process." "[This is] not to reduce our accountability, nor to protect us from stuff ups we may have made, but to enhance the capacity to give truly frank and fearless advice that good policy design needs."
His comments 
"were supported by Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd, who said the bureaucracy was subject to sufficient scrutiny and accountability beyond FOI laws. "We have a high level of accountability in the public service with at least three senate hearings a year, an auditor general, ombudsman, privacy commissioner, information commissioner, and a public service commission just to name some," he said. He continued to say he was "dismayed" by how many times he had heard public servants say "don't put it in writing" to deliberately avoid any chance of a mention in FOI documents."
(More on the Shergold report and 'frank and candid' in a post to follow.)

The Australian Public Service Commission acting on behalf of the Commissioner in response an FOI application has just confirmed the views expressed by Lloyd "are his own."

(The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is yet to respond to a similar request.asking about the status of Dr Parkinson's public comments. Update: PM&C "Dr Parkinson was asked to provide some closing remarks and commentary on the implications of the Shergold report for the Australian Public Service going forward. He did this in his role as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.")

The Commission's APS Values and Code of Conduct exhorts public servants in senior ranks (Section 6) to "consider the impact of public comments they might make particularly carefully" and in exercising the right to speak personally, to be mindful of the potential conflict between those views "and the ability to fulfil current and potential duties in an apolitical, impartial and professional manner."
(Section 4 contains plenty of guidance also on records and the importance of maintaining "in an accessible form decisions by Ministers, and the basis for them, including advice on options and risks; program decisions, including decisions affecting individuals or individual businesses that may be subject to administrative review, together with the basis for the decisions and the authority for making the decision; and significant events, including meetings and discussions with Ministers or stakeholders or members of the public which may be significant in terms of policy or program decision-making.)

As perceptions are everything we can only guess what the public might think of the impartiality Lloyd, Parkinson and Treasury Secretary Fraser (also on the record that important things don't get written down these days because of FOI) bring to information access issues.

However the message from leaders to the public servants they lead is clear, to paraphrase:
"FOI is an unfair challenge to public service professionalism. We've been trying to talk sense to government about this for years. So we understand if you can't do your job properly, particularly when it comes to writing down the sort of frank, honest and timely advice you might offer orally. Wink, wink, nod, nod."
Lloyd in April returned to a topic first explored last year when he said "FOI is very pernicious."
He subsequently explained at a Senate Estimates hearing that his remark was prompted by the fact FOI had departed from the original purpose of providing individuals with access to personal information held by government, and seemed unaware FOI was a foundation stone from the time it was laid in 1982 to underpin government transparency, accountability and the public right to know.

As to why he spoke:
"I think that, as Public Service Commissioner, I have a responsibility to at times comment on matters which go to the administration and management of the Public Service."
Lloyd told the committee he hadn't raised the issue with the minister for public service because responsibility rested with the Attorney General, and hadn't raised it there either - "They would have been aware of my comment. I did not see the need to actually take it further." Except of course to give it another run in April 2016 as a personal view.

Tone at the top
While public service leaders speak on FOI on some occasions because they see this as a responsibility, on others expressing a personal view, I can't recall a single positive statement from the Attorney General or other minister reinforcing the importance of FOI and why the law of the land should be implemented fully and fairly in accordance with the spirit and intent of the Parliament.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Abbott and Turnbull governments: same same or different on transparency, open gov?

The article below appears in "Criminalising The Truth Suppressing the Right to Know: The Report into the State of Press Freedom in Australia in 2016" (pdf p39) published on Friday by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. An update of course is the government's decision announced in the Budget this week that it will not proceed with legislation to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner.

There is plenty more of interest in the report-commend it to you!!

Little Intent behind the Promise

On the transparent, open and accountable government, front, it’s that familiar story six months into the Turnbull era. Hope and disappointment. 

On his first day in office hopes were raised when Prime Minister Turnbull said  we " need an open government, an open government that recognises that there is an enormous sum of wisdom both within our colleagues in this building and, of course, further afield. The statement reminded of the Liberal Party promise before the 2013 election to "restore accountability and improve transparency measures to be more accountable to you.” 

At the time of writing just ahead of the budget and the commencement of the real election campaign, there are still few markers of serious intent that the Federal government intends to put the dark Abbott days behind.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Hallelujah: wisdom in the interests of open transparent government prevails

From the Attorney General tonight:

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

The Government has decided not to proceed with the new arrangements for privacy and Freedom of Information (FOI) regulation, including the proposed changes to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).
Accordingly, the OAIC will receive ongoing funding of $37 million over four years to continue its privacy and FOI functions. FOI funding is provided on the basis of the streamlined approach to FOI reviews adopted by the OAIC since the 2014–15 Budget.
Details regarding the allocation to the Office are at  Page 261 of the Attorney General's Department Portfolio Budget Statement

As summarised by IT News
The funding includes $8.1 million in new funding, and $6.7 million per year for the next four years out of the budget of the Australian Human Rights Commission, which was set to house the Privacy Commissioner under the new arrangements. Another $600,000 per year will be allocated back to the OAIC from the Attorney-General's Department, which was set to recieve the FOI functions.The OAIC's full operating budget for 2016-17 is set to reach $14.4 million, which budget papers indicate is around $2 million more than it received in 2015-16.
In 2015-16 the agency employed an average of 72 full time equivalent staff.
Josh Taylor writing in Crikey:
After two years in limbo, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner can breathe a sigh of relief, with the Turnbull government abandoning Abbott government plans to shut it down.In the 2014 horror budget, the Abbott government announced plans to shut down the office responsible for privacy investigations and reviewing freedom of information requests and move its functions to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Human Rights Commission from January 1, 2015.

The plans stalled in the Senate, with Labor, the Greens and the crossbench refusing to pass legislation to shut down the office.

This forced Attorney-General George Brandis to provide funding to the OAIC to keep the lights on and keep the office functioning until legislation passed to shut it permanently.

When Turnbull rolled Tony Abbott, he promised a more open and transparent government, and late last year he committed Australia to joining the Open Government Partnership global group, focused on transparency in government.

Transparency advocates pointed out that this position might be inconsistent with shutting down the OAIC, but the Attorney-General’s Department insisted that closing the OAIC remained government policy.

But that has all changed. In the 2016-17 budget, the Turnbull government quietly announced it would abandon the plans to shut down the office.

It didn’t make the front page of the press release (after all, this is a “jobs and growth” budget, not a “transparency and open democracy” budget), and it was buried in the portfolio statement for the Attorney-General’s Department:

“The government has decided not to proceed with these proposed changes and the OAIC will have ongoing responsibility for privacy and FOI regulation.”

The government will spend $34 million to keep the office open over the next four years, including $8.1 million in direct funding over the four years, $6.7 million per year from the Human Rights Commission for privacy functions, and $0.6 million per year from the Attorney-General’s Department for FOI functions.

But before the OAIC pops the champagne, the government says it can’t go about giving out information willy nilly; it expects the office to operate in the same way it did while it was under threat of being shut down.

“FOI funding is provided on the basis of the streamlined approach to FOI reviews adopted by the OAIC since the 2014-2015 budget.”

This means that where FoI reviews are deemed too complex for the OAIC to deal with, it is to refer the matter to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, with an associated $800 application fee for people wishing to challenge the outcome of an FOI request.

The other factor to consider is that the office has operating on the smell of an oily rag. Many staff have left the organisation, and many of those remaining work on a part-time basis. To save money during the attempted shut down, one commissioner, John McMillan, was working from home.

Crikey understands that the Canberra office will not be reopened, with the OAIC working out of Sydney. The budget estimates that staffing levels in the OAIC will rise from 72 this financial year to 75 in the next financial year, but the office’s overall budget is lower than before the 2014 budget.