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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back to the future for Commonwealth FOI and Privacy

The Prime Minister in unveiling widespread changes to the ministry yesterday announced that Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information Brendan O'Connor is to be appointed  Minister for Human Services and Minister Assisting for School Education. And Nicola Roxon "will be appointed as the nation’s first female Attorney-General. The Attorney-General will take on additional responsibility for Privacy and Freedom of Information."

Thus endeth a 15 month experiment with a separate minister carrying the privacy and FOI title. Hard to see from the outside that it all amounted to much. Privacy reform is still to happen with deadlines about the only things that have passed since the  Australian Law Reform Commission recommended action in 2008 and then Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig in 2009 accepted many and announced a two stage timetable for action. Wheels are still spinning on these issues.  Minister O'Connor was there for the start up of changes in FOI in November last year, but it's hard to recall any public contribution that inspired or went beyond safe grounds.

With the decision in October to move the public service policy function from the Prime Minister's department to Attorney General's, the circle is complete. Down come the neon lights and privacy and FOI are back where they always were prior to the election of the Rudd government in 2007.

Nicola Roxon is not new to these issues having shown interest while Shadow Attorney General before then, and since in the Health portfolio where transparency  and privacy issues loom large. She has a strong law background including as an associate to then High Court judge Mary Gaudron.

The Prime Minister also announced some administrative changes including that responsibility "for the National Archives will move from my portfolio to the new Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport."  A shift  from the center of government to an agency likely to be known as RALGAS is unlikely to excite the troops at NAA I imagine.

No mention of the bundle of integrity and related issues or the minister responsible Gary Gray -presumably no change.


  1. Anonymous4:03 pm

    Ms Roxon may find some glaring problems within her new portfolio when it comes to release of documents and problems in relation to record management. Even audit reports around national security issues highlight failure of the AFP and AGD in finding relevant documents.

  2. Anonymous11:24 am

    Moving NAA to somewhere that isn't interlinked with overarching information management policy is a missed opportunity. Wouldn't 'cradle to grave' handling of commonwealth records and information policy be handled better in one agency?

  3. Of course, but logic plays a small part if any in many of these decisions. The creation of RALGAS reminded me that in the late 80s a similar conglomeration was said to be emerging in the minds of those who think about such things in PM&C-Recreation, Arts, Tourism, Sport, Heritage, Islands and Territories-until someone realised an acronym like RATSHIT meant they would be doomed in the Canberra bureaucracy from the start.