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Friday, July 22, 2016

Five time acting appointment for information commissioner position: what to make of that?

Attorney General Senator Brandis led the unsuccessful two year battle to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner that ended in May 2016 when the government announced it would not proceed, finally recognising the weight of numbers in the Senate that favoured an independent watchdog to keep an eye on information access practices.

Now reappointed, the Attorney General according to ZDnet will appoint Timothy Pilgrim for the fifth time as Acting Australian Information Commissioner next week

The office operated from January to June 2015 with two of the three commissioner positions parliament established when it created the office, and since that time with one.

Senator Brandis told Senate Estimates (Q&A pp 42-44) in May this year the decision in  2014 to abolish the office was a 'good economy measure-and we haven't changed our mind."

Following the election, numbers of those in the Senate who have a different view than the Attorney General certainly won't be less and maybe more, so abolition of the office isn't on the cards.

However executive government has control over the budget and the appointment of commissioners. 

As Senator Brandis in Opposition in 2009 said 
"..The true measure of the openness and transparency of a government is found in its attitudes and actions when it comes to freedom of information. Legislative amendments, when there is need for them, are fine, but governments with their control over the information in their possession can always find ways to work the legislation to slow or control disclosure...."
Attitudes and actions on display include the Attorney General presiding over two years of uncertainty about whether the office of the independent watchdog had a future, adding that he hasn't changed his mind and it should be abolished if he had his way, continuing the practice of acting appointments to run the show with only one of three top positions filled, a squeeze on the budget for the office, and maintaining silence as public service leaders disparaged freedom of information and went public in calling on government to legislate for tighter guarantees of confidentiality for advice.

According to the Prime Minister takeaways from the close election result are that the public is disillusioned with government, politicians and the major parties, and restoring trust is a priority. 

Different attitudes and actions - that positively promote transparency and accountability - might help.

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