Govt to appoint standalone privacy commissioner

A standalone Privacy Commissioner will be appointed by the Albanese government to complement the role of the Information Commissioner as the volume and complexity of privacy issues arising from data breaches grows.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced the reinstatement of the dedicate role on Wednesday, restoring the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) to a three-commissioner structure.

The role of Privacy Commissioner is currently held in a dual capacity by Information Commissioner Angelene Falk. Australia’s last dedicated Privacy Commissioner was Timothy Pilgrim, who retired in 2018.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Image: Twitter

Mr Dreyfus said a standalone Privacy Commissioner was needed to “deal with the growing threats to data security and the increasing volume and complexity of privacy issues”, which are contributing to OAIC’s rapidly increasing workload.

“Australians rightly expect their privacy regulator to have the resources and powers to meet the ongoing challenges of the digital age and protect their personal information,” Mr Dreyfus said in a statement.

“The large-scale data breaches of 2022 were distressing for millions of Australians, with sensitive personal information being exposed to the risk of identity fraud and scams.”

Mr Dreyfus criticised the former Coalition government for “scrapping the position of a standalone Privacy Commissioner”, as well as “failing to strengthen privacy laws”, which he said had “left Australia disgracefully unprepared”.

When the OAIC was established in November 2010, the office was meant to be staffed by three separate commissioners – one each for information, privacy and freedom of information.

But Coalition government funding cuts in 2015 left just a privacy commissioner to perform all of these roles, which has remained the case in the years since, with Ms Falk currently serving in all three roles.

In July 2021, the then-government sought to establish a dedicated Freedom of Information (FOI) Commissioner, with long-time government general counsel Leo Hardiman appointed to the role in March 2022.

But a year into the role, Mr Hardiman resigned as FOI commissioner, citing a lack of necessary powers to reduce the backlog of requests.

On Wednesday, Mr Dreyfus also announced a new acting Freedom of Information Commissioner in Toni Pirani to ensure the OAIC can “continue to undertake its FOI functions until a permanent appointment is made”. Ms Pirani, a first assistant secretary in the Attorney-General’s Department, will take up the role on May 20.

Ms Falk, who was appointed Information and Privacy Commissioner in 2018, will remain as Information Commissioner and head of the OAIC until a dedicated Privacy Commissioner is appointed.

“The Australian people rightly expect greater protections, transparency and control over their personal information and the appointment of the standalone Privacy Commissioner restores the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to the three-Commissioner model Parliament originally intended,” Mr Dreyfus added.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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