04 May 2016

OAIC off death row

Attorney-General George Brandis appears to have belatedly resiled from his recurrently-stated commitment to abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

Last night's Budget Papers feature the following item -
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is an Australian Government entity established under the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010.
The functions of the OAIC include:
• privacy functions - ensuring proper handling of personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 and other legislation
• freedom of information (FOI) functions - protecting the public’s right of access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act).
In the 2014–15 Budget, the Australian Government announced that the OAIC would cease operation as part of its commitment to smaller government. New arrangements for privacy and FOI regulation were to commence from 1 January 2015, following passage of legislation to implement these changes. Funding transfers to the Australian Human Rights Commission and other agencies to facilitate these changed arrangements occurred as part of the 2014–15 Budget.
The government has decided not to proceed with these proposed changes and the OAIC will have ongoing responsibility for privacy and FOI regulation. Ongoing funding for these functions is provided in the 2016–17 Budget. FOI funding is provided on the basis of the streamlined approach to FOI reviews adopted by the OAIC since the 2014–15 Budget. Accordingly, funding provided to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in 2014–15 will remain with the tribunal on the basis that some matters may be considered by the tribunal, where the OAIC determines under section 54W(b) that it is in the interests of the administration of the FOI Act for this to occur.
In 2016–17 and the forward years, the OAIC will focus on its strategic goals of:
• promoting and upholding information access rights
• promoting and upholding information privacy rights
• achieving organisational excellence by supporting and developing the OAIC’s people, systems and processes.
No indication of a commitment to ensuring more coherent privacy protection through introduction of a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy and no indication, amid the Turnbull Government's recent enthusiasm regarding open access, of a plan to disregard strange expressions by Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd about the supposed pernicious and inappropriate FOI Act.