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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Senate Estimates miss OAIC resource squeeze

The interest in the Open Government Partnership in Senate Estimates last week also meant there was no time for questioning about how the Office of Australian Information Commissioner is traveling. Of course operation of the office is an aspect of Dr Hawke's FOI review. 

Resource constraints at the OAIC have been an issue since commencement of the scheme and the squeeze continues. Professor McMillan's January letter to AG's outlining a way forward on the OGP mentions seven redundancies, six other staff to go, and some projects postponed, and all the while a growing workload. The absence of adequate resources for the leadership, review and complaints FOI functions makes assertions about the importance of accountability and transparency sound hollow, not to mention the impact on privacy  work.
The OAIC has signalled its willingness to be a lead Australian agency, but it is
currently beyond our capacity to undertake the substantial work that would be required to develop a country action plan, including consultation within Australia and with other OGP members. You will be aware from other meetings, of the concern that I have expressed about the adequacy of the OAlC's budget to support our statutory functions. The OAIC Executive has recently undertaken a thorough budgetary, staffing and workload analysis. The upshot is that we have offered voluntary redundancy to seven staff; we have decided not to renew the contracts of six other staff whom we might otherwise have engaged; we expect that staffing levels for this financial year will be reduced to between 70 - 75, including some positions that are funded under MOU arrangements with other agencies; and the staff reduction is disproportionately high at the EL level. We have also implemented workload reduction measures. There will be fewer meetings this year of the Information Advisory Committee, Privacy Advisory Committee and Information Contact Officers Network. Some projects will be postponed, such as the desktop review of agency compliance with Information Publication Scheme requirements. We also face a growing workload in handling FOI and Privacy complaints, Information Commissioner reviews, and implementing Privacy Act reforms. In the Annexureto this letter I estimate that if the OAIC was designated as a lead agency for OGP membership we would require an additional two staff, at ELI and APS6 level..
Letter from the Information Commissioner to the AGD providing advice on how Australia could join the OGP, what resources the OAIC could make available, and what further resources the OAIC would require (dated 10 January 2013) pdf

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