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Monday, July 13, 2015

Office of Australian Information Commissioner can't run on empty.

David Donaldson in The Mandarin OAIC to be left without statutory officers reports, well silence so far, on what will happen at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner after its two remaining statutory officers depart this month, "fueling speculation the government is abolishing the body by stealth." 

(Update: Announced on15 July that Privacy Commissioner Pilgrim will be acting Australian Information Commissioner from 20 July, so the OAIC will continue to function. Well sort of-one commissioner to do what the parliament thought needed three.)  

Freedom of Information Commissioner James Popple, left in December 2014 on appointment to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal; the term of office for Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim expires on 19 July; and Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan departs on 31 July to take up an appointment as NSW Ombudsman. 

Without at least one statutory officer, permanent or acting, the FOI review function cannot operate. An application to the OAIC is a mandated first external review step for most before a matter can taken to the AAT. The review function or the decision to wave it through to the AAT rests with a commissioner. These functions cannot be delegated.

The government plan to abolish the OAIC by legislation that has sat in the Senate for eight months.The bill does not enjoy majority support.

The 'good government' apostles on the government benches have spent a year on this ill conceived journey that would take the cause of open, transparent government backwards.

No one outside the tight circle within which the Attorney General, his cabinet colleagues and perhaps some senior public servants move think this is a step in the right direction. 

None have clarified the problem they seek to solve, or engaged with anyone outside the parliamentary triangle on how best to address it. 

Abolishing the office is out of step with prevailing 'good practice' in all peer group countries and with the systems operating in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, WA, the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania.

It's well overdue time for a rethink.

Pull the bill and set about some evidence based thinking how to streamline and modernise access to government information including the FOI act and implementation practices.

Outdated provisions in the FOI act, and inefficiencies and outmoded approaches to implementation abound.

I doubt if abolishing the OAIC would rank anywhere in a long list of initiatives likely to come out of such an exercise.

In the meantime and pronto, the government needs to announce how the OAIC will function after the last commissioner readies to turn out the lights. 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:13 pm

    so have they abolished the office of the information commissioner yet