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Monday, August 24, 2015

Brandis considering options for future of Australian Information Commissioner

It's the first indication in 15 months that a rethink of sorts is underway about plans to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner.

In his announcement that Timothy Pilgrim has been appointed Australian Privacy Commissioner for a period of twelve months commencing 19 October 2015, Attorney General Brandis said Pilgrim's current three month appointment as Acting Australian Information Commissioner is 
"while the Government considers options for the future of the Information Commissioner position."
Options haven't been mentioned previously as the government single mindedly pursued abolition of the OAIC. Legislation before the Senate would eliminate both the information commissioner and FOI commissioner positions and a whole range of FOI oversight and information policy functions.There is no majority in support of the bill in the Senate.

Faced with this reality it's clearly time for a rethink.

Back in May 2014 Attorney General Brandis said abolition of the office was about savings, about simplifying, streamlining and improving efficiency and effectiveness in the conduct of FOI merit reviews, and reducing the burden on FOI applicants.

If the government sticks with those objectives there are plenty of options short of abolishing the office, a course of action that should never have made it to first base.

The better option however is withdraw the bill and look to ways to simplify, streamline and improve efficiency and effectiveness in provision of access to government information.

I was no fan of the limited Hawke FOI review process conducted in 2012-13 but that report has been sitting in Attorney General Brandis' in-tray since he took office two years ago. 

Dr Hawke's first recommendation was "..that a comprehensive review of the FOI Act be undertaken" and his concluding comment "I believe a complete rewrite of the FOI Act in plain language is now necessary, so that it is readily accessible and easily understood." 

If come 19 October when Pilgrim changes hats again things are no further advanced, the position of information commissioner will need to be filled one way or another.The commissioner is head of agency and as such the accountable authority responsible for governance functions under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act. 

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