The timing of aspects of the decision aren't entirely clear but from tonight's Budget statement:
.The Office of Australian Information Commissioner is to be abolished, with claimed savings of $10.2 million over four years.
.The Office of the Privacy Commissioner will be established as a separate statutory office within the Australian Human Rights Commission.
. FOI review functions will be transferred to the AAT from 1 January 2015. The change "will improve administrative efficiencies and reduce the burden on FOI applicants. The AAT will receive a funding boost to assist with the backlog and to better meet acceptable timeframes."
."Responsibility for handling FOI complaints will be combined with the Commonwealth Ombudsman function" but there is no additional allocation of funds for this purpose.
."The Attorney‑General's Department will take responsibility for the issuance of FOI guidelines, collection of statistics and provision of explanatory material on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982."
All pretty retrograde stuff. The changes wipe the review model adopted in the reform package of 2010, and it's back to where things used to be and we know they didn't work properly then. Not to mention the gaps: in effect no one has the leadership function so essential to the culture change talked about for 30 years but still a long, long way off and going in the wrong direction under this government; and no mention also of the what happens regarding the role the OAIC played in moving towards a government wide information policy. The AAT cannot provide inexpensive FOI review-the flagfall is $816, refundable but for $100 if the applicant meets with some success. And its lawyers at ten paces at least as far as agencies are concerned. As to speedy review, we live in hope.Sadly AGD, now to be charged with responsibility for 'guidance' across the service are no FOI champions, based on what I've seen of their inventive reasoning from time to time.
The OAIC disappointed in a number of respects, particularly the long delay in review decisions and the failure to really get stuck into those not playing fair and square, but it was under resourced and never had a minister who provided the leadership essential to back the message the government was serious about transparency and accountability, presuming it was.
More powers, more resources and strong ministerial backing were what was needed, not the return to the status quo ante 2009.
The Attorney General's Media Release and an extract from the Budget Papers follow.
Media release: Attorney General
Streamlined arrangements for external merits review13 May 2014
"The Abbott Government announced today its intention to streamline and simplify Australia’s external merits review system. The reforms will remove unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and deliver an improved and simplified merits review system for all Australians. This is in line with the Coalition’s commitment to streamline government and reduce duplication to deliver efficient, effective government. The measure is expected to save $20.2 million over four years.
From 1 July 2015, key Commonwealth external merits review agencies will be amalgamated—namely, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal, Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Classification Review Board. Merits review of Freedom of Information (FOI) matters, currently undertaken by the Office of the Australian Information Commission (OAIC), will also be transferred to the AAT from 1 January 2015.
The merger of merits review agencies will provide an accessible “one stop shop” for external merits review and will ensure that end-users have a review option that is fair, less confusing, just, economical, informal and quick.
Most states and territories have now established a similar ‘super tribunal’ for merits review, with considerable success.
The complex and multilevel merits review system for FOI matters has contributed to significant processing delays. Simplifying and streamlining FOI review processes by transferring these functions from the OAIC to the AAT will improve administrative efficiencies and reduce the burden on FOI applicants. The AAT will receive a funding boost to assist with the backlog and to better meet acceptable timeframes
Under the new arrangements, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner will be established as a separate statutory office and will continue to be responsible for the exercise of statutory functions under the Privacy Act 1988 and related legislation.
The Government acknowledges the valuable contribution of Professor John McMillan AO as the Australian Information Commissioner and Dr James Popple as the Freedom of Information Commissioner and the staff of the OAIC.
The Government is committed to an external merits review system that is more efficient, less complicated and more effective.
The Budget is part of the Government’s Economic Action Strategy to build a strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia."
An extract from Budget Paper No 2 Expense Items
"Smaller Government — Privacy and Freedom of Information functions — new arrangements
|Australian Human Rights Commission||‑||2.7||5.5||5.4||5.5|
|Administrative Appeals Tribunal||‑||0.3||0.5||0.5||0.5|
|Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman||‑||‑||‑||‑||‑|
|Office of the Australian Information Commissioner||‑||‑3.3||‑10.4||‑10.3||‑10.4|
|Total — Expense||‑||0.1||‑3.6||‑3.6||‑3.6|
|Related capital ($m)|
|Office of the Australian Information Commissioner||‑||‑||‑||‑||‑|
|Total — Capital||‑||0.4||‑||‑||‑|
Privacy functions will be undertaken by the Privacy Commissioner as an independent statutory position within the Australian Human Rights Commission. External merits review of FOI decisions will be undertaken by the Administrative Affairs Tribunal, while responsibility for handling FOI complaints will be combined with the Commonwealth Ombudsman function. The Attorney‑General's Department will take responsibility for the issuance of FOI guidelines, collection of statistics and provision of explanatory material on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
The savings from this measure will be redirected by the Government to repair the Budget and fund policy priorities."