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Chapter Two — Organisation overview


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 a major reform of federal freedom of information (FOI) law made during 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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The three main functions of the OAIC are:

  • Information Commissioner functions — advising the Australian Government and agencies on information policy and management practice
  • Privacy functions — protecting the privacy of individuals by ensuring proper handling of personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) and other legislation
  • Freedom of information functions — promoting awareness of the public’s right of access, under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), to documents held by the Australian Government.

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

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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

Professor John McMillan AO was appointed Australian Information Commissioner on 1 November 2010.

Professor McMillan 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.

Professor McMillan was a founding member 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

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

Mr Pilgrim was first appointed to the former Office of the Privacy Commissioner 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

Dr James Popple was appointed Freedom of Information Commissioner on 1 November 2010. Before that, Dr Popple worked for 12 years in the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD), 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.

The OAIC Executive team

The OAIC Executive team Back row: Rachael Spalding (Assistant Commissioner, Policy), Mark Hummerston (Assistant Commissioner, Compliance), Timothy Pilgrim (Privacy Commissioner), James Popple (Freedom of Information Commissioner) Seated: John McMillan (Australian Information Commissioner), Alison Leonard (Assistant Commissioner, Operations)

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Organisation structure

The OAIC is located in Sydney and Canberra and has three Branches. Each Branch works across the OAIC’s three functional areas — freedom of information, privacy and information policy:

  • Compliance — carries out investigations, reviews and audits in relation to compliance with the Privacy Act and the FOI Act
  • Operations — supports the OAIC through providing 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 comments on inquiries and proposals that may have an impact on privacy, freedom of information and government information policy.

Chart 2.1 Organisation structure as at 30 June 2012


Australian Information Commissioner

John McMillan


Freedom of Information Commissioner

James Popple


Privacy Commissioner

Timothy Pilgrim

Assistant Commissioner Policy

Rachel Spalding

  • advice and guidance
  • submissions
  • consultations

Assistant Commissioner Operations

Alison Leonard

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

Assistant Commissioner Compliance

Mark Hummerston

  • complaints, investigations and merits review
  • audits and data matching inspections
  • enquiries line

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Administrative arrangements

An Administrative Arrangements Order made on 19 October 2011 transferred responsibility for privacy and freedom of information matters from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Attorney-General’s Department. Under the Order the Attorney-General is responsible for administering the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010, the FOI Act, and the Privacy Act.

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Outcome and program structure

The OAIC had one outcome for 2011–12: Provision of public access to Commonwealth Government information, protection of individuals’ personal information, and performance of information commissioner, freedom of information and privacy functions.

In order to achieve its outcome, the OAIC focused on four key areas:

  • promoting open government by encouraging proactive publication of information by Australian Government agencies
  • participating in developing and implementing a national information policy framework
  • promoting and securing the protection of personal information
  • enhancing the OAIC’s capacity to achieve its vision of ‘an Australia where government information is managed as a national resource and personal information is respected and protected’.

The OAIC had one program (Program 1.1) related to the outcome: complaint handling, compliance and monitoring, and education and promotion.

The OAIC’s program objectives for 2011–12 were to:

  • conduct Information Commissioner reviews (IC reviews) of FOI decisions made by ministers and agencies
  • monitor, investigate and report on agency compliance with the FOI Act
  • assist agencies in implementing the Information Publication Scheme (IPS) under the FOI Act, and review agency compliance with the IPS
  • promote awareness and understanding of the FOI Act and its objectives
  • investigate complaints about interferences with privacy
  • inquire into acts or practices that may be interferences with privacy
  • conduct audits of the personal information handling practices of Australian and Australian Capital Territory Government agencies and other organisations covered by the Privacy Act
  • foster public discussion and conduct educational programs to promote proactive publication, access to information and privacy protection
  • advise on information management in Australian Government agencies.

The OAIC’s program deliverables and key performance indicators are set out in Tables 2.1 and 2.2 below. The tables set out information about the OAIC’s performance in 2011–12 against each of the deliverables and key performance indicators. The tables also indicate where further information on each of these deliverables and key performance indicators is available in this report.

Three of the program deliverables in Table 2.1 are to finalise 80% of privacy and FOI complaints within a period of twelve months, and 80% of IC reviews within six months. The complaints that are treated as being finalised within twelve months are those received before or after 1 July 2011 and finalised within twelve months of receipt. Complaints received after 1 July 2011 and still on hand at 30 June 2012 are not counted in this analysis. Similarly, IC reviews that are treated as being finalised within six months are those received before or after 1 July 2011 and finalised within six months of receipt. IC reviews received after 1 July 2011 and not finalised within six months are counted in this analysis as cases that did not meet the six month finalisation target.

Table 2.1. OAIC Program 1.1 deliverables
DeliverableOAIC’s 2011–12 performanceFurther information
Privacy and FOI complaint handling services   Chapters 6 and 8
80% of privacy complaints finalised within 12 months 89.7% of privacy complaints finalised within 12 months  
80% of FOI complaints finalised within 12 months 88.1% of FOI complaints finalised within 12 months  
Privacy compliance activities   Chapter 6
Audits finalised within six months No audits were finalised within six months  
FOI merits review services   Chapter 8
80% of IC reviews finalised within six months 32.8% of IC reviews finalised within six months  
Information Publication Scheme compliance reviews   Chapters 5 and 8
10 IPS compliance reviews completed No IPS compliance reviews completed  
Advice and assistance on information management practices across the Australian Government   Chapter 5
Promotion and educational activities   Chapter 4
Table 2.2. OAIC performance against key performance indicators
Key performance indicatorOAIC’s 2011–12 performanceFurther information
Australian Government agencies have implemented and comply with the FOI Act requirements for the IPS and disclosure logs The OAIC surveyed Australian Government agencies to measure compliance with IPS and disclosure log requirements Chapter 8
Reviews requested by the Government as part of the implementation of FOI reforms have been conducted The OAIC completed a review of FOI Act charges Chapter 8
The OAICPrinciples on open public sector information (May 2011) have been published and promoted The OAIC continued to promote the Principles on open public sector information Chapter 5
A methodology for measuring the economic and social value of public sector information has been developed The OAIC surveyed Australian Government agencies about their public sector information management practices Chapter 5
OAIC complaint handling and IC reviews meet timeliness and quality benchmarks The OAIC completed 253 IC reviews, 100 FOI complaints and 1383 privacy complaints Chapters 6 and 8
Information and education products on privacy, FOI and information policy have been developed and meet stakeholder needs The OAIC produced a range of information and education products on privacy, FOI and information policy Chapter 4

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