13 May 2014

OAIC deconstructed

Tonight's Budget papers indicate
The Government will achieve savings of $10.2 million over four years by establishing new arrangements to deliver privacy and Freedom of Information (FOI) functions.
Privacy functions will be undertaken by the Privacy Commissioner as an independent statutory position within the Australian Human Rights Commission.
External merits review of FOI decisions will be undertaken by the Administrative Affairs Tribunal, while responsibility for handling FOI complaints will be combined with the Commonwealth Ombudsman function. The Attorney General's Department will take responsibility for the issuance of FOI guidelines, collection of statistics and provision of explanatory material on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
The savings from this measure will be redirected by the Government to repair the Budget and fund policy priorities.
The Attorney-General's media release (under the title 'Streamlined arrangements for external merits review') states that
The Abbott Government announced today its intention to streamline and simplify Australia’s external merits review system. The reforms will remove unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and deliver an improved and simplified merits review system for all Australians. This is in line with the Coalition’s commitment to streamline government and reduce duplication to deliver efficient, effective government. The measure is expected to save $20.2 million over four years.
From 1 July 2015, key Commonwealth external merits review agencies will be amalgamated — namely, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal, Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Classification Review Board.
Merits review of Freedom of Information (FOI) matters, currently undertaken by the Office of the Australian Information Commission (OAIC), will also be transferred to the AAT from 1 January 2015.
The merger of merits review agencies will provide an accessible “one stop shop” for external merits review and will ensure that end-users have a review option that is fair, less confusing, just, economical, informal and quick.
Most states and territories have now established a similar ‘super tribunal’ for merits review, with considerable success.
The complex and multilevel merits review system for FOI matters has contributed to significant processing delays. Simplifying and streamlining FOI review processes by transferring these functions from the OAIC to the AAT will improve administrative efficiencies and reduce the burden on FOI applicants. The AAT will receive a funding boost to assist with the backlog and to better meet acceptable timeframes
Under the new arrangements, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner will be established as a separate statutory office and will continue to be responsible for the exercise of statutory functions under the Privacy Act 1988 and related legislation.
The Government acknowledges the valuable contribution of Professor John McMillan AO as the Australian Information Commissioner and Dr James Popple as the Freedom of Information Commissioner and the staff of the OAIC.
The Government is committed to an external merits review system that is more efficient, less complicated and more effective.
Change to the legislation will need support in the Senate.

The OAIC has released the following statement under the heading 'Australian Government’s Budget decision to disband OAIC' -
Statement by the Australian Information Commissioner (John McMillan), Freedom of Information Commissioner (James Popple) and Privacy Commissioner (Timothy Pilgrim).
We acknowledge the Australian Government’s Budget decision on Tuesday 13 May 2014 to disband the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) by 1 January 2015.
We note that the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act), which confer valuable information rights on the Australian community, will continue to operate (as amended to reflect the abolition of the OAIC). The Privacy Act will continue to be administered by the Privacy Commissioner and supporting staff from an office based in Sydney. The FOI Act will be administered jointly: by the Attorney‑General's Department (advice, guidelines, annual reporting), the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (merits review) and the Commonwealth Ombudsman (complaints). The information policy advice function currently discharged by the OAIC will cease.
We are committed to ensuring that the FOI Act and Privacy Act continue to operate effectively prior to 1 January 2015 and that a smooth transition to the new arrangements will occur.
The Commissioners take this opportunity to draw attention to the substantial achievements of the OAIC since its commencement on 1 November 2010.
Information Policy
  • Published the Principles on open public sector information (2011) (Open PSI Principles) that are widely referred to across government 
  • Published two reports that promote Open PSI and the development of a national information policy — Towards a national information policy (2010), and Understanding the value of public sector information in Australia (2011) 
  • Conducted a survey and published two reports of the information management practices of 191 Australian Government agencies regarding their compliance with the FOI Act Information Publication Scheme and the OAIC’s Open PSI Principles — Information publication scheme: survey of Australian Government agencies (2012), and Open public sector information: from principles to practice (2013) 
  • Promoted key information policy concepts that now have a defining influence in government agency information practices, including that government information is a national asset to be used for public purposes, and concepts of ‘public sector information’, ‘open data’ and ‘proactive disclosure’ 
  • Hosted a National Information Policy Conference (2011) attended by over 300 people 
  • Liaised with other government agencies to build a strong inter‑agency network for coordinating information policy developments
Freedom of Information
  • Resolved 1191 applications for Information Commissioner review (between 1 November 2010 and 30 April 2014), publishing reasons for decision in 186 of those cases 
  • Closed 394 FOI complaints 
  • Dealt with 1237 applications for an extension of FOI processing time for complex and voluminous FOI requests
  • Dealt with 4521 phone enquiries and 1891 written enquiries about FOI 
  • Conducted an own motion investigation into administration of sensitive and high profile FOI requests to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship 
  • Published clear and comprehensive FOI guidelines (250 pages), 16 Fact Sheets for the public, and over 30 detailed agency guides on processing times, calculating charges, administrative access, third party objections, anonymous requests, statements of reasons, redaction, FOI training, website publication, disclosure logs, sample letters and frequently asked questions 
  • Conducted a public consultation on FOI charges and prepared a lengthy report to Government (2012)
  • Made two substantial submissions to the review of the FOI Act by Dr Allan Hawke AC in 2013 (many of the OAIC’s reform proposals were endorsed by the Review) 
  • Promoted the ideals of transparency, accountability, participation and better decision–making that underlie the FOI Act
  • Closed 5303 privacy complaints 
  • Dealt with 34,739 phone enquiries and 5845 written enquiries about privacy
  • Conducted 91 own motion investigations and 10 audits 
  • Received 193 data breach notifications 
  • Implemented substantial changes to the Privacy Act that commenced in 12 March 2014, by undertaking or commencing preparation of nearly fifty legislative instruments, codes (including a comprehensive Credit Code), guideline statements and information sheets, and conducting an extensive public consultation process (receiving more than 90 public submissions on draft guidelines) 
  • Published guidance on emerging privacy issues, including Data Breach Notification Guidelines (2012), a Guide to Information Security (2013) and Mobile privacy: a better practice guide for mobile app developers (2013) 
  • Conducted and published a Community Attitudes to Privacy survey (2013) 
  • Annually hosted Privacy Awareness Week, and arranged participation by government agencies and private sector bodies (over 200 in 2014) 
  • Administered the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities Forum, that includes members from the United States, Mexico, Hong Kong, South Korea, Canada and New Zealand
  • Participated in global forums that aim to build a coordinated approach to regulating cross‑border data flows and challenges, including the Global Privacy Enforcement Network under the auspices of the OECD, and the APEC Cross Border Privacy Enforcement Arrangement
Corporate, public relations and community engagement
  • Established an integrated office and scheme for managing freedom of information, privacy and information policy advice 
  • Hosted regular meetings of the Information Officers Contact Network for agency FOI and privacy officers, attended by approximately 130 agency staff 
  • Convened the Information Advisory Committee and the Privacy Advisory Committee, that comprise senior government officers and external representatives with experience in archives, libraries, journalism, banking, medicine, trade unions, copyright law, information technology, disability access and community services 
  • Managed a dynamic website that receives up to 1.5 million visits annually 
  • Provided policy advice to agencies or organisations on 715 occasions, made 113 submissions to inquiries and undertook 100 consultations
OAIC resources and performance
  • The OAIC appropriation for 2013–14 is $10.6 million. 
  • At the end of March 2014 the OAIC had 63.3 Full‑Time Equivalent (FTE) staff in budget‑funded positions. An additional 15.82 FTE staff are funded under Memorandum of Understanding arrangements with other agencies to undertake specific privacy work such as work relating to the eHealth initiative 
  • The OAIC’s workload has steadily increased in most areas over the last two years by between 10‑20%. Privacy complaints are set to increase by over 100% in 2013–14, written enquiries by 20% and website visits by 27%. 
  • The OAIC completion rate has continued to improve — for example, by 31 March 2014 the completion rate for IC reviews had climbed to 4.7 cases per day (from 0.37 cases per day in the first 18 months), the FOI complaint closure rate to 1.1 per day (from 0.21 per day in the first 18 months) and the privacy complaint closure rate to 20.1 per day.
Unsurprisingly, the OAIC has continued to conflate activity with outcome.