The Australian Freedom of Information Commissioner handpicked by the Morrison government two months before the election has resigned just a year into the job, saying he does not have the necessary powers to reduce a backlog of requests.
Leo Hardiman was appointed one year ago by then Attorney-General Michaelia Cash to be Australia’s first Freedom of Information Commissioner in seven years.
Ms Cash bypassed a selection panel to hire the deputy chief general counsel at the Australian Government Solicitor, who had not applied for the role.
Mr Hardiman took the role on a five-year term at a time of unprecedented workload in terms of freedom of information review requests, know as an Information Commissioner (IC) reviews.
While the number of ICs being resolved has increased, the number being received is outpacing it. Mr Hardiman has previously warned the agency does not have sufficient resources to address the backlog.
On Monday, Mr Hardiman announced on LinkedIn that he has resigned his appointment as Commonwealth Freedom of Information Commissioner, with effect from May 19, because he does not have the powers needed to speed up reviews.
“As FOI Commissioner, I have identified and have been leading the implementation of significant changes to the way in which the Commonwealth’s core FOI regulatory functions are undertaken, led and managed,” he wrote in the post.
“One significant purpose of these changes is to enable larger numbers of IC review matters to be actively managed to conclusion, so as to reduce the current backlog of IC reviews and promote more timely access to government-held information.”
But Mr Hardiman said further changes are needed to ensure the timeliness of IC reviews and the access to government information they may provide.
“The making of those changes is not within the powers conferred on me as FOI Commissioner. I have come to the view that I will not be able, in the absence of those changes, to increase timeliness of IC reviews and access in a way which best promotes the objects of the FOI Act.
“I have accordingly decided the most appropriate course is to resign my appointment.”
Mr Hardiman has advised the Commonwealth on legal issues for more than 30 years and was recognised with a Public Service Medal in 2020.
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