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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

OAIC continues to operate while bill to scrap it awaits the return of the Senate.

The Office of Australian Information Commissioner wouldn't be in business these days if the government had its way in the Senate late last year. 

But as the OAIC explains, it is soldiering on with reduced resources still in anticipation of closure because the bill to abolish the office remains on the Senate Notice Paper and Attorney General Brandis apparently intends to bring it on for debate after Parliament resumes on 9 February:
The Bill proposing the closure of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) on 31 December 2015 was not considered before the end of the 2014 parliamentary sitting period. The OAIC continues to process Information Commissioner reviews and Extension of time applications. We are operating with reduced resources in anticipation of closure and we will continue to review our processes to provide a limited service within our reduced capacity.  The Commonwealth Ombudsman will continue to handle all FOI complaints. The OAIC continues to administer the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (Privacy Act).
Australian Information Commissioner Professor McMillan told Senate Estimates in December that the OAIC Canberra office had closed and he was working from home. The same day Freedom of Information Commissioner Dr Popple was appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal from 1 January.

At that hearing it emerged the OAIC while it continued to operate had available the resources allocated in the budget including $1.4 million surplus from the first six months of operation, and around $2.7 million for the Privacy Commissioner for the second half of the year, funds that would transfer with those functions to the Australian Human Rights Commission if/when the amendment bill passed.

At the time AGD FAS Matt Minogue said the Department was in discussions with Professor McMillan as to how best to deal with the consequences arising from the fact the Bill had not been considered by the Senate. "(W)e are in discussion with Professor McMillan" about the best way to deal with external review mechanisms "given that it is not just the interests of the department or the office but the interests of applicants as well. And those conversations are continuing." He later referred to ongoing discussions about the retention by the OAIC of the surplus funds held by the Office as at 31 December 2014.

I lodged FOI applications today with Attorney General's and the OAIC for documents concerning these discussions including proposals for funding and staffing and any agreement or understanding reached on these and related matters. 

Disclosure would contribute to public discussion about an important topic, the exercise of citizen rights of access to government information. That's a weighty public interest consideration. Let's see what they say.

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