ONE STEP FORWARD…..

At last we have a major win. Thanks to some tireless and extensive lobbying from ART and others concerned with transparency, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has been re-funded. Furthermore, some special  attention has been paid to reinforcing funding for Freedom of Information by transferring it from the Attorney General’s department.

However its not all good news. That the Government had decided not to proceed with its Bill to abolish the OAIC seems to be the only clear win. The government may still be continuing with its de facto abolition by providing insufficient resources.

The $8.1 million direct funding is averaged out over four years, and added to the annual amounts of $6.7 m and $0.6 m, so this totals $9.3 m over three years and $9.4 m for the fourth.  Compare this with the $13,430 m annual funding reported by the Commissioners annual report of 2014 – 2015, (see p 146) before the Abbott government’s defunding in the last budget.

Furthermore, there appears to be a significant reduction in human resources. One of the most troubling pieces of actual  evidence in the budget papers is the figure that the staff numbers will increase by only 3.  That suggests that the funding increase will be very small or directed away from restoring staff numbers.

Alternatively, that might be for the appointment of the 3 permanent Commissioners (you will recall that at the moment Commissioner Pilgrim is filling the three positions on an acting basis) .  In either case, it won’t’ just be the FOI Refusals Review jurisdiction  that will need to operate on a “ streamlined” basis;  the OAIC will also need to streamline all its other statutory functions of the OAIC such as the considering of complaints about the handling of FOI requests, and the key functions of monitoring the FOI system, providing guidelines to departments and  agencies  and  advice to government.  

Details from the budget papers are reproduced below.

Link to reference. Budget Paper 2.

Budget:

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner — continuation

Expense ($m)
2015‑16 2016‑17 2017‑18 2018‑19 2019‑20
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner 9.3 9.3 9.3 9.4
Attorney‑General’s Department ‑0.6 ‑0.6 ‑0.6 ‑0.6
Australian Human Rights Commission ‑6.7 ‑6.7 ‑6.7 ‑6.7
Total — Expense 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0

The Government will provide $8.1 million over four years from 2016‑17 to continue the operations of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

Additionally, $6.7 million per year for privacy functions will be transferred to the OAIC from the Australian Human Rights Commission, and $0.6 million per year will be transferred from the Attorney‑General’s Department for Freedom of Information functions.