MC17-009951
The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP
Minister for the Environment and Energy
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2600

11 October 2017

Dear Minister (Title crossed out and amended by hand to “Josh” (ed) )

I refer to the email you received dated 3 July 2017 from Mr Tim Smith, Chair of the Accountability Round Table, concerning the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC)’s resources and its ability to perform roles set out for it in the Open Government Partnership National Action Plan. In particular, Mr Smith is concerned that the OAIC does not receive sufficient government funding, and that all FOI and privacy functions are currently being undertaken by a single commissioner. I would like to reiterate some information that my office and department have previously provided in relation to these
matters.

The Australian Government recognises the importance of the OAIC in discharging Australia’s responsibilities under the Open Government Partnership, and believes that current funding levels are appropriate for the OAIC to exercise those responsibilities. In the 2016-17 Federal Budget the Australian Government provided ongoing funding to the OAIC to undertake its privacy and FOI functions. Funding and functions that had previously been transferred to other agencies in 2014-15 were mostly returned to the OAIC, and the unfunded functions that had transferred to the Commonwealth Ombudsman were also returned.

I am pleased to let you know that I have recently reallocated an amount of $0.5m per year, which was previously transferred to the AAT for FOI merits review, back to the OAIC to assist it to meet its growing FOI workload.

In relation to the single commissioner model under which the OAIC is currently operating, the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 allows the Australian Information Commissioner to perform all the functions of the FOI Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner under that Act, the Privacy Act 1988, and the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The Australian Government appointed Mr Timothy Pilgrim PSM, as Australian Information Commissioner and Australian Privacy Commissioner in October 2016, and the OAIC has continued to operate efficiently whilst ensuring that all of its FOI functions have
been fulfilled under this model since July 2015.

I believe that the OAIC has made significant efforts to streamline its procedures and consider that it is effectively managing its workload within the current funding arrangements.

Any proposals to increase OAIC funding will need to be considered in the context of the current fiscal environment and other competing priorities as part of the 2018-19 Budget process. However, I would like to reassure you that the Australian Government remains committed to maintaining a strong FOI and privacy regime in Australia.

The responsible adviser for this matter in my Office is Jules Moxon, who can be contacted at Jules.Moxon@ag.gov.au
Thank you again for referring Mr Smith’s concerns to me.

Yours faithfully

George Brandis

Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600 Telephone: (02) 6277 7300 Facsimile: (02) 6273 4102

(For our follow up see Tim Smith to George Brandis on OAIC )