The OAIC FOI Experiment
AIAL Forum, no. 78, November, pp. 31-43, 2014
17 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2014 Last revised: 24 Aug 2018
Date Written: November 25, 2014
On 13 May 2014, the Australian Government announced that it intends to disband the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). The OAIC has had freedom of information, privacy and information policy functions since it was established on 1 November 2010. The Attorney-General announced in a Budget media release that, from 1 January 2015, the OAIC's FOI merits review function will be transferred to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (the AAT). The AAT will be the first avenue of external merits review of FOI decisions, as it was prior to the 2010 reforms. This change will be part of the amalgamation of various merits review bodies into a single "super-tribunal". The Commonwealth Ombudsman will resume sole responsibility for investigating FOI complaints. The Attorney-General's Department (AGD) will take on the OAIC's function of issuing FOI guidance material for agencies and collecting and collating FOI statistics. An Office of the Privacy Commissioner will be re-established as an independent statutory office to administer the OAIC's privacy functions. The OAIC's information policy functions will not be transferred to any other body. The positions of Information Commissioner and Freedom of Information Commissioner will be abolished. This article discusses how the FOI landscape in Australia was changed by the 2010 reforms, and how it will change again when the Government's announcement is implemented. With data for three full financial years (plus the first eight months) of the OAIC's operations, it is not too early to reflect on how well the OAIC has performed in the exercise of its FOI functions. This article also does that: it undertakes a (pre-mortem) evaluation of the OAIC FOI experiment — admittedly, not from a completely impartial position.
Keywords: Freedom of information, FOI, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, OAIC
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