The state counterparts of Australia's Information Commissioner have stepped up to support the continuation of the OAIC as legislation to disband the office heads to the Senate.
The Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014 was referred to the senate legislation and constitutional affairs committee on October 30.
It will undergo a speedy review before the Government moves to pass the new laws and redistribute the functions of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner between a handful of other Commonwealth agencies. The committee is due to report by 25 November.
Representatives of the NSW and Queensland information commissions, however, have now stepped in to support the OAIC and protect its independence.
Speaking at the National Investigations Symposium yesterday, Anne Edwards from the Queensland Office of the Information Commissioner said it would be “terrible” to see the OAIC dissolved.
“As practitioners we really do draw on the expertise of the information commission. The decisions they make and the guidance they provide is critical,” she said.
Her boss, Queensland information commissioner Rachael Rangihaeata, formally submitted to the senate committee that the Government risked losing efficiencies that arise from combining FOI and privacy experts in one place.
“Community expectations on government to proactively publish more information, including raw data, require agencies to ensure they carefully consider and deal with privacy issues appropriately to safeguard personal information," she wrote.
“Providing guidance and advice to government agencies on these issues necessarily requires broader expertise than is more easily provided when functions sit within the one entity."
NSW information commissioner Elizabeth Tydd also argued that the new setup would not be more efficient, as the Government had reasoned, because the office had recently made significant progress getting through its complaints backlog and trimming its average processing times.
“Effectively the [Information Commissioner] can quite bluntly state that this is not about operational issues, as they have addressed the operational issues,” Tydd told the Symposium audience.
President of the Australian Human Rights Commission - which is set to house the privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim and his staff - Gillian Triggs said she would prefer if the new function operated as a separate legal entity.
She raised concerns that bringing the privacy commission into the AHRC could mean crossed lines between its statutory independence and accountability to her as AHRC president.
Triggs did, however, stress that her office was “committed” to making its merger with the privacy commission “work effectively and efficiently”.