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Chapter 2: Organisation Overview

Role

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is an independent statutory agency, established under the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010.

The OAIC was established as part of major changes to federal freedom of information law made during 2010. The former Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) was integrated into the OAIC on 1 November 2010.

The OAIC brings together in one agency the functions of information policy advice and independent oversight of privacy protection and FOI access.

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Functions

The three main functions of the OAIC are:

  • Information Commissioner functions – strategic functions relating to information policy and practice in the Australian Government

  • privacy functions – ensuring proper handling of personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) and other legislation

  • freedom of information functions – protecting the public's right of access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act).

The OAIC carries out a range of activities in these three core areas, including monitoring statutory compliance, conducting investigations, complaint handling, merits review of FOI decisions, the provision of advice to government agencies and businesses across Australia, education and awareness, and promoting responsible information handling in government and the private sector.

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Commissioners

The OAIC is headed by the Australian Information Commissioner, supported by the Privacy Commissioner and the Freedom of Information Commissioner.

Australian Information Commissioner – Professor John McMillan

Photo of Professor John McMillan Prof John McMillan AO was appointed Australian Information Commissioner on 1 November 2010, to head the new office.

John was formerly the Commonwealth Ombudsman from 2003-10; and the Integrity Commissioner (Acting) for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity in 2007. He is an Emeritus Professor of the Australian National University.

John was a founding member in the 1970s of the Freedom of Information Campaign Committee, which led the public campaign for enactment of the FOI Act. He is a National Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia; a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law; and former President of the Australian Institute of Administrative Law.

Privacy Commissioner – Timothy Pilgrim

Photo of Timothy Pilgrim Mr Timothy Pilgrim was appointed Privacy Commissioner on 19 July 2010.

Timothy was first appointed to the former OPC as Deputy Privacy Commissioner in February 1998. Prior to this he held senior management positions in a range of Australian Government agencies, including the Small Business Program within the Australian Taxation Office and the Child Support Agency.

Freedom of Information Commissioner – Dr James Popple

Photo of Doctor James Popple Dr James Popple was appointed Freedom of Information Commissioner on 1 November 2010. Before that, James worked for 12 years in the Attorney-General's Department, including six years as First Assistant Secretary. Before joining AGD, he was a judge's associate, then Deputy Registrar of the High Court of Australia.

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Organisational structure

The OAIC has offices in Sydney and Canberra and is divided into three Branches. Each Branch works across the OAIC's three functional areas – freedom of information, privacy and information policy:

  • Compliance – carries out activities such as investigations, reviews and audits in relation to compliance with the Privacy Act and the FOI Act.

  • Operations – supports the OAIC through provision of corporate, legal and public affairs services, and through managing the OAIC website. It plays a key role in raising awareness about privacy and freedom of information rights and responsibilities.

  • Policy – provides advice and guidance on the application of the Privacy Act and the FOI Act. It also examines and drafts submissions on proposed legislation and makes comments on inquiries and proposals that have the potential to impact on privacy, freedom of information and government information policy.

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Program and outcome structure

The former OPC had one outcome: 'The protection of individuals' personal information through investigating complaints and inquiring into potential privacy interferences, advice to Government, audits of personal information handling practices, community education, and research'.

This report describes the OPC's performance against this outcome for the period 1 July 2010 – 31 October 2010. For further information see Appendix 1 for the OPC's Outcomes and Outputs Structure.

The OAIC had one outcome for the period 1 November 2010 – 30 June 2011: Provision of public access to Commonwealth Government information, protection of individuals' personal information, and performance of information commissioner, freedom of information and privacy functions. The OAIC's 2010-11 Annual Report describes the OAIC's performance against this outcome during this establishment phase.

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Organisational Chart

Chart 2.1 Organisational structure and senior executive at 30 June 2011

 

Australian Information Commissioner

John McMillan

 

Freedom of Information Commissioner

James Popple

 

Privacy Commissioner

Timothy Pilgrim

Assistant Commissioner Policy

Rachael Spalding

  • advice and guidance
  • submissions
  • consultation

Assistant Commissioner Operations

Alison Leonard

  • awareness and education
  • information platforms
  • corporate and legal services

Assistant Commissioner Compliance

Mark Hummerston

  • privacy compliance, including investigating complaints and conducting own motion investigations, audits and data-matching inspections
  • FOI compliance, including investigating complaints, conducting own motion investigations and merit reviews, processing extension of time requests and monitoring compliance with the IPS
  • responding to enquiries

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The launch of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

The establishment of the OAIC heralded a new era in information management in Australian Government. To celebrate this occasion, the Hon Brendan O'Connor MP, Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, officially launched the OAIC on 1 November 2010 at Parliament House, Canberra.

At the launch, Australian Information Commissioner Prof John McMillan highlighted that the OAIC would bring together, for the first time, functions relating to freedom of information with the privacy functions of the former OPC and a new role relating to information policy.

"The OAIC fills a major gap in the system. We will champion open government, provide advice and assistance to the public, promote better information management by government and ensure that privacy is respected in Australia. We will have a comprehensive range of functions, including investigating complaints, reviewing agency FOI decisions, education and awareness, and reporting on compliance."

Prof McMillan used the event to release an issues paper, Towards an Australian Government Information Policy, to be a catalyst for a national discussion on the need for a rigorous policy framework that facilitates greater coordination in government information management.

The launch was attended by more than 100 people, including politicians, journalists and community representatives.

Photo of Brendan O'Connor MP and the OAIC executive.

The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP, Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, and the OAIC executive at the launch of the office, 1 November 2010, Parliament House

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