The Acting Commissioner said the OAIC seeks to provide
"timely case management processes within the resources we have been allocated for each of our functions.We have been managing both (Freedom of Information and Privacy) jurisdictions effectively within those available resources and the matters you refer to reflect the OAIC’s focus on finalising older matters while also providing a prompt and efficient response to recent matters."Fair enough.
And I accept Mr Pilgrim's point about the professionalism and commitment of staff "who have been working hard to ensure the provision of an effective and efficient service in the current circumstances."
But the statistics he cites show IC FOI reviews received and finalised in the last 12 months on average were finalised within 3 months of receipt leaving plenty that weren't; 10% (22 of 220) on hand are more than 12 months old; and 13% (61) finalised in the last year were closed with the applicant authorised to head off to the AAT ($861 for those who don't qualify for a concession) because of a finding that the "interests of the administration of this Act make it desirable.."
"(M)anaging.. within.. available resources" and "working hard.. in the current circumstances" suggest to me doing the best the OAIC can in light of the ongoing attempt by the government to abolish the office and the resulting uncertainty and effect on staff, and reduced funding for FOI functions in particular.
The events of the last 15 months must have impacted on OAIC capacity to carry out fully and in a timely fashion all statutory information policy, freedom of information and privacy functions assigned to the office.
The main purpose of the post in question was not to run the ruler over the OAIC in any detailed fashion but to encourage those who have had matters before the office that may have been impacted by the resource constraints and the failure to fill commissioner positions to contact me about the experience.
That invitation still stands: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr Pilgrim's letter (Email 5 August) follows:
Dear Mr Timmins
I refer to your recent article in Open and Shut noting the age of recent matters decided by the OAIC in both the IC review and Privacy Jurisdictions.
While I acknowledge that some matters have taken time to be finalised the examples you refer to in your article do not provide a complete picture of the OAIC’s service delivery and do not reflect recent evidence given by myself and Professor McMillan at Senate Estimates hearings and in public statements we have made about the OAIC’s recent performance.
In both the Privacy complaints and the IC review areas the OAIC has been working to finalise a legacy backlog of older matters while managing an increasing workload.
By way of example, in respect of privacy matters, we have received a significant increase in complaints (from 1357 in 2012/13 to 4393 in 2013/14 and 2838 in 2014/15). In 2014/15 we closed around 1976 privacy complaints.In 2014/15 the OAIC received 374 IC review applications and finalised 482 matters.
In this environment, the OAIC is endeavouring to provide a timely case management processes within the resources we have been allocated for each of our functions. We have been managing both jurisdictions effectively within those available resources and the matters you refer to reflect the OAIC’s focus on finalising older matters while also providing a prompt and efficient response to recent matters.
Of those IC reviews received and finalised in the last 12 months, on average they were finalised within 3 months of receipt. At this stage we assess IC reviews within 2 weeks of receipt and generally have a 4-6 week lead time in allocating IC review requests to a case officer.
We currently receive between 35 to 40 IC review matters per month and have about 220 matters on hand of which about 10% are more than 12 months old. In 2014/15 a small proportion of matters, around 13% (61) of IC review applications finalised, were closed under 54w(b).
Your comments sought to highlight some of the understandable frustration that people might feel if their matters are delayed. However, that is only one aspect of the current situation – a fair comment would also acknowledge the success of our revised procedures, introduced during 2014, which are working well to ensure older matters are brought to a close and new matters receive prompt attention. I would also like to highlight the professionalism and commitment of our staff, who have been working hard to ensure the provision of an effective and efficient service in the current circumstances.
Acting Australian Information Commissioner