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Thursday, May 28, 2009

New FOI oversight model attracts a modicum of interest

And yes,a few questions were raised during those 23 hours of hearings about the Government's Freedom of Information Reform proposals, when the Office of the Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis stepped up to the plate on Tuesday.(Finance and Public Administration 26/05/2009 at 38-45)

Senator Ronaldson (Liberal Victoria) seems to have a bee in his bonnet about 'conflict of interest" and security of data in the proposed Information Commission office, matters that don't appear to have led to problems elsewhere when FOI and privacy oversight have been placed in a single agency.(New Zealand even manages to include the Ombudsman in the same office, apparently satisfactorily, as well.) The answers suggest preparations have matters under control.

Privacy Commission officials said the Office has had 912 complaints this financial year. There were a couple of (justified) questions about the practice of measuring performance on the basis of dealing with complaints within 12 months. The score is 82% but 12 months is hardly a target time frame likely to bring plaudits from those with a gripe.Ten to 13 per cent of complaints are about the public sector, 17 per cent about credit-reporting and 60-odd per cent relate to the private sector.Health, finance and telecommunications providers are the three largest areas of complaint. The Commissioner rates public sector performance highly[41]:
"By and large the Australian Public Service does a great job at handling personal information. When you consider the huge number of transactions that occur on a daily basis with, say, Medicare and Centrelink, the fact that we receive in total probably a little over 100 complaints a year about public sector agencies—the ATO, Medicare, Centrelink and the Child Support Agency—I think our public servants do a very good job. That does not mean that there is not an opportunity to improve their performance."
According to officials the Office has never in anyone's memory had to go to Court to compel co-operation with an investigation of a complaint and gets 5 million hits from one million different visitors to its website in a year

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