The Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee has backed Government plans to dissolve the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), suggesting only minor administrative amendments to the legislation despite almost exclusive opposition to the move from public submissions.
In its first budget, the Abbott government unveiled plans to dismantle the OAIC and redistribute some of its functions amongst other Commonwealth authorities in an effort to streamline freedom of information processing and to save just over $10 million in four years.
In the past week, the Senate hobbled together a speedy review of the proposal, taking 32 submissions from members of the public.
Despite acknowledging a number of concerns - including the worthiness of such a dramatic move to save what equates to roughly $2.5 million a year - the committee endorsed the bill pending minor administrative changes that will formalise the accountability of privacy commission staff to their new home in the Australian Human Rights Commission.
"The committee considers that the bill implements a sensible structural efficiency measure which does not detract from the broader integrity of the FOI regime. The Government has made clear that the substantive rights of citizens under FOI are not being weakened by the changes made by the bill. In fact, they will be enhanced by a more streamlined review process."
- Legal and Consitutional Affairs Committee
The committee also gave the Government a gentle nudge to respond to the findings of the 2013 Hawke Review into federal FOI procedures.
But the two Labor and one Green members of the six person committee refused to add their names to the recommendations.
Labor came out in defence of the OAIC - a body it established in 2010.
"This reform, with the introduction of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) at its heart, is now being dismantled by the Abbott government with no mandate, no consultation and no justification," the Labor and Greens senators argued in a dissenting report.
The senators questioned the savings claims made by the Government in its budget, and suggested the costs had merely been passed onto agencies as internal reviews, and to members of the public as application fees.
"Any delays in the OAIC review process should be dealt with by reviewing and if necessary increasing the resourcing of that office, not abolishing it," they said.