In their submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Dr Gabrielle Appleby, Dr Judith Bannister and Ms Anna Olijnyk have opposed the abolition of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). The Senate Committee is currently reviewing the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014 (Cth).
If passed, the Bill will abolish the OAIC. The 2014 Budget papers have already stated that the OAIC will no longer be funded from 1 January 2015. FOI complaints investigative functions will be transferred to the Ombudsman, merits review to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and some oversight and reporting responsibilities to the Attorney-General’s Department. Other oversight functions currently exercised by the OAIC will disappear altogether.
In the 1996 Open Government report the Australian Law Reform Commission and Administrative Review Council recommended that the Commonwealth establish a statutory office of Information Commissioner to oversee the administration of the FOI Act that had been in operation since 1982. The report considered that many of the problems being experienced with the FOI system were due to the lack of constant and independent monitoring of the way agencies administered the Act. It took until 2010 for those recommendations to be implemented and the OAIC has been in operation for only 4 years. If passed the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014 (Cth) will take a step back into the past and return to a system of fragmented oversight mechanisms.
The PLPRU submission can be viewed on the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee website (click here).
The reporting date for the Committee is 25 November 2014.