Govt appoints standalone privacy, FOI watchdogs

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Australia will have dedicated privacy, information and freedom of information watchdogs next year after the Albanese government announced the appointments of state regulator Elizabeth Tydd and human rights lawyer Carly Kind on Monday.

It restores the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) to its intended structure of standalone commissioners for privacy and information for the first time since 2015 and ends almost a decade of uncertainty for the regulator.

Carly Kind, a former lawyer and consultant to rights groups around the world, has been appointed as Australia’s standalone privacy commissioner.

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has restored the OAIC to a three commissioner model.

Ms Kind is currently on maternity leave from her role as the inaugural director of UK-based research organisation the Ada Lovelace Institute.

She will take up the privacy role in February, allowing Angelene Falk to become the dedicated information commissioner for he last six months at the OAIC.

Elizabeth Tydd, the New South Wales information commissioner for the last decade, has been appointed as the national Freedom of Information (FOI) Commissioner for a five-year term from February.

The FOI Commissioner role had been without a permanent replacement since Leo Hardiman, the first FOI commissioner in seven years, quit lasy May after less than a year, citing a lack of resources.

The Albanese government committed to restoring the OAIC in the election campaign with Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus confirming the move to a three-commissioner model earlier this year.

“For the first time since 2015 the OAIC will have a standalone FOI Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner and Information Commissioner, as Parliament originally enacted,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“Unlike the Coalition, which sought to abolish the OAIC and refused to appoint standalone commissioners, the Albanese Government takes the seriously the privacy of Australians and freedom of information.”

The standalone commissioners will lead a regulator that is under resourcing pressure and facing a backlog of FOI requests. But it is a significant return to model originally envisioned but degraded by former governments.

The Abbot government sought to abolish Australia’s privacy and freedom-of-information watchdog, but could not get the necessary changes through the Senate, instead cutting funding that closed the Canberra office and forcing the information commissioner to work from home with the support of staff in Sydney.

Some funding was restored by the Turnbull government but commissioners were forced to take on dual roles and for most of the decade Australia was without a dedicated FOI commissioner.

The move back to dedicated roles is a “significant and welcome step” for the the OAIC, its current head, Information and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said.

“The new commissioners will bring considerable expertise to promote and uphold privacy and information access rights. These are both areas that impact all Australians in our daily life across the economy and our democracy. It is exciting to consider how the background and experience of the new commissioners will contribute to our purpose and meet the regulatory challenges of the future,” she said in a statement.

Ms Falk will hand over her privacy commissioner role to Ms Kind in February next year but is expected to continue as information commissioner until August.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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