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Annual Report 2013–14: 54% more FOI matters resolved, 183% more privacy complaints received

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has today released its 2013–14 Annual Report. In the 12 months ending June 2014, the OAIC handled record numbers of complaints and review applications, while also managing to increase the closure rate of matters.

‘The OAIC made excellent progress in resolving freedom of information (FOI) matters, completing 646 Information Commissioner reviews, an increase of 54% from last year. Another success was to reduce the time taken to commence work on new review applications, down from 206 to 40 days,’ said Australian Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan.

‘The OAIC was delighted with this turnaround in individual case handling. This success stems from two years of the OAIC actively seeking and trialling different methods of efficient case handling. The OAIC also processed 2456 extension of time requests and notifications and responded to 1903 phone and written enquiries about FOI,’ Professor McMillan said.

With significant reforms to the Privacy Act 1988 taking effect in March 2014, there was a heightened focus this year on privacy protection. The OAIC played a pivotal role in publicising the changes, providing expert guidance on legal principles and practical implementation steps.

‘We were pleased with the strong response we received across government and business. They participated actively in OAIC consultations and were generally keen to change information handling practices to accord with the new privacy rules and the OAIC’s guidance,’ said Professor McMillan.

The privacy reforms also raised awareness and acted as a reminder to the community of their privacy rights. This year, the OAIC experienced a 30% increase in the number of written privacy enquiries and a hefty 183% increase in the number of privacy complaints. It was notable that for the first time two significant data breaches resulted in a large number of individual complaints being lodged with the OAIC.

The OAIC’s 2013–14 Annual Report records high levels of activity across the FOI system. Agencies and ministers covered by the FOI Act received 28,463 FOI requests in 2013–14, an increase of 14% on the previous year. The number of non-personal information requests continued to grow — by almost 13% this year. Agencies and ministers decided 23,106 requests and access to documents was granted, in full or in part, in just over 86% of all requests determined. The cost to government of administering the FOI Act has decreased by 7.5%.

‘This year was the third full year of operation for the reforms to the FOI Act that commenced in November 2010. The OAIC’s general impression is that FOI principles are, on the whole, better understood and respected across government. However, there is still room for improvement. The most frequently raised issue in FOI complaints continues to be processing delay,’ said Professor McMillan.

The OAIC’s information policy work provided an opportunity not only to reiterate core FOI and privacy themes, but to connect and unify them in a broader policy setting focussed on responsible information management.  During the reporting period, the OAIC continued to work with Government agencies to embed the Open Public Sector Information Principles and to strengthen links between information policy and the OAIC’s other functions.

The 2013–14 Annual Report is expected to be the last for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). A Bill currently before the Australian Parliament proposes the abolition of the OAIC by 31 December 2014, and introduces new arrangements for the exercise of the OAIC’s privacy and FOI functions.

‘OAIC Commissioners and staff have acted promptly to implement the Government decision. We nevertheless have great pride in the OAIC’s substantial record of achievement,’ Professor McMillan said.  ‘The OAIC’s vision has been an Australia where privacy and information access rights are respected and public sector information is managed in the public interest. We look to that vision being taken forward by others, and the establishment of the office of the Australian Privacy Commissioner from 1 January 2015,’ he said.

The following Commissioners are available for interview:

  • Professor John McMillan (Australian Information Commissioner)
  • Timothy Pilgrim (Privacy Commissioner)
  • Dr James Popple (Freedom of Information Commissioner)

Media contact: Ms Tessa Loftus     0407 663 968     media@oaic.gov.au

Background

New arrangements for privacy and freedom of information

The Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014 (the Bill) was introduced into the Australian Parliament on 2 October 2014. The Bill proposes the repeal of the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 including abolition of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), and the amendment of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), Privacy Act 1988 and related laws.

See the OAIC’s statement for more information about what happens to FOI and privacy matters if the Bill is passed, and how FOI and privacy matters will be dealt with until the new law commences on 1 January 2015: http://www.oaic.gov.au/news-and-events/statements/australian-governments-budget-decision-to-disband-oaic/.

OAIC’s 2013–14 Annual Report

The OAIC’s 2013–14 Annual Report can be accessed here: http://www.oaic.gov.au/about-us/corporate-information/annual-reports/oaic-annual-report-201314/. A summary of the OAIC achievements in 2013–14 is available in Chapter 1 of the Annual report.

OAIC achievements from 1 November 2010 to 30 June 2014

Since its commencement in November 2010, the OAIC has worked consistently to protect the community’s information rights and the advancement of information policy within government. A selection of the OAIC’s achievements from 1 November 2010 to 30 June 2014 is available on pages xxi to xxiii of the Annual Report.