The funding and resourcing limitations of Australia’s privacy office has been thrown in the spotlight again, as the wait for the appointment of a standalone FOI Commissioner continues.
The federal government provided nearly $1 million per year for the appointment of a new Freedom of Information Commissioner within the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) in last year’s budget.
Despite a job listing being posted in June last year, the government is still yet to appoint someone to this position, eight months later.
In this time, there has been a near-40 per cent increase in FOI review requests to the OAIC.
At a Senate Estimates hearing on Tuesday evening, Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said she expects an FOI Commissioner to be officially appointed within weeks.
Australian Information Commissioner Angelene Falk appeared before a Senate Estimates hearing on Tuesday evening, facing questions over protracted delays in processing freedom of information reviews.
Ms Falk said that the FOI funding boost has already seen an SES Officer and two support staff hired, and an acting FOI Commissioner appointed.
“This is and will continue to make a difference, at the same time we have continued to have a large number of matters on hand with the age of the matters increasing,” Ms Falk told the Senators.
“There’s a significant cohort of cases on hand, and currently the acting Commissioner and I are working through the modelling in terms of future funding requirements in order to address that backlog.”
Independent Senator Rex Patrick praised the work of the Commissioner but said that due to funding constraints she was restricted like a “one-armed juggler”.
The funding and resourcing provided to the OAIC has been questioned for several years, with the office’s workload across its privacy and FOI functions increasing significantly.
The OAIC is facing a funding cliff, despite a $3.5 million funding boost recently through the Digital Economy Strategy.
The office will likely receive more solid funding through the ongoing review of the Privacy Act, but this is not expected to be finalised in the near future.
As part of this review, the government has proposed implementing an industry-funded model for the OAIC, with businesses paying a levy to contribute to its operations.
The OAIC also wants to take on a more strategic and proactive role as part of the Privacy Act review, asking the government for more resourcing and powers.
The privacy watchdog has requested the power to make binding codes without industry input, additional enforcement powers and a shift to being a “regulator focused on addressing systemic privacy issues in the economy”.
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