Friday, 06 May 2016 10:44

Claims budget cuts undermine effectiveness of Privacy Commissioner Featured

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Claims budget cuts undermine effectiveness of Privacy Commissioner Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net/images

Savage funding cuts to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) have undermined the ability for the Privacy Commissioner do his job effectively, according to the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF).

The APF warns that the “long delays” in the handling of privacy complaints, and the large backlog of unresolved matters, have earned the OAIC a poor reputation – “and now it will get worse”.

Under the Federal Government’s Budget announced on Tuesday, the APF says funding for the OAIC had been slashed and “resources that should be spent on privacy will now be burnt on FOI matters”.

As the APF points out, the cuts in the OAIC’s budget come despite the fact that when the OAIC was created in 2010, it was given less funding than had been originally indicated.

Now, the APF says the staff-count working on privacy at the OAIC is already less than it was in 2010, and there have been significant increases in the scope of the Privacy Commissioner's work since then.

The OAICA funding cuts have prompted a call by the APF on all political parties and candidates at the upcoming election to commit to a properly-funded Privacy Commissioner, independent of government, “whose function is not to protect  government agencies and business, but to protect privacy”.

Reflecting back on the OAIC and cuts to its funding, the APF comments:

“Round 1 occurred when the Privacy Commissioner was shifted into the OAIC at the end of 2010, and some of its budget expropriated to run the Information Policy and Freedom of Information (FOI) functions.

“Round 2 occurred in 2014, when Attorney-General Brandis slashed the OAIC's budget, declaring that he was going to disestablish the agency.

“Round 3 has now occurred.  The Privacy Commissioner expressed it over-politely:  "the OAIC will not be restored to the same level of resourcing it enjoyed before the 2014 announcement that it would be disbanded.”

According to the APF, there’s also confusion over Timothy Pilgrim’s role as Acting Information Commissioner (which includes the FOI responsibilities).
It says Pilgrim’s role expired on 19 April this year and his 12-month extension as Privacy Commissioner expires on 19 October 2016, ”less than 6 months away”.

“Yet the current organisation chart shows the Privacy Commissioner position vacant (it isn't) and him as Acting Information Commissioner (that appointment's expired),” the APF notes.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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