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Australian Information Commissioner’s opening statement at Senate Estimates

24 October 2016

I would like to make a short opening statement. Thank you for the opportunity. Following the announcement, as part of the 2016 budget, that the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner would remain responsible for regulation of both Privacy and Freedom of Information Acts, the OAIC has continued to work to ensure that agencies, businesses and individuals understand their rights and responsibilities provided for in both the Privacy and FOI Acts. Our office is also working to ensure that it is managing its role in the most effective and efficient way.

Some statistics from the 2015-16 financial year highlight the community's engagement with our office and also some of the ongoing improvements and performance that we have achieved in both FOI and privacy. In 2015-16 we handled some 19,092 privacy enquiries, which is an 18 per cent increase from the previous year, and we received 2,128 privacy complaints. In that context, through a combination of improved triaging, conciliation and investigation processes, this has resulted in the OAIC resolving 97 per cent of privacy complaints within 12 months of receipt. Additionally, the OAIC has conducted 21 privacy assessments or audits of regulated entities, received and processed 107 voluntary and 16 mandatory data breach notifications, provided over 230 substantial privacy advises to regulated entities, developed and published 25 new privacy guidance resources and provided 27 privacy submissions on government legislation and policy.

Turning now to our FOI responsibilities, the OAIC has continued to implement efficiencies in our administration of FOI, particularly in the area of Information Commissioner or IC reviews of government agency decisions. In the financial year just concluded, the OAIC received 510 applications for an IC review, which is up 36 per cent from the previous year. In that same period, we finalised 454 IC reviews, with 87 per cent finalised within 12 months of receipt. This continues to exceed our 80 per cent benchmark. Indeed, 84 per cent, or 212, were finalised within six months. However, in saying that I do note, of course, that there are some complex matters that have taken significantly longer to resolve.

Importantly, of the 454 IC review matters finalised, only 18 per cent required a formal decision to be made by me as commissioner. This reflects our approach to work with government agencies, to build the knowledge and approaches required to resolve FOI requests efficiently and, where a dispute arises, to attempt to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement without the need for a formal decision.

To further assist in this area our office is currently working to update the FOI guidelines to assist agencies and individuals alike. Providing clear, plain English advice as to the scopes and limits of the FOI rights, as well as clear guidance to agencies as to how to best manage those rights in the first instance, is the priority.

This focus on guidance, education and public information is important because, while privacy and FOI formal decisions are occasionally more complex or precedent setting, the vast majority of inquiries to our office revolve around individuals seeking to have rights upheld in circumstances in which the law is clear and well established. What is important in that context then is that there is clear and accessible advice as to what individuals' privacy and FOI rights are and quick and effective mechanisms to uphold those rights. I am confident that the focus that the OAIC is placing on advice, education and conciliation, as well as our achievements in improving the access and efficiency of privacy and FOI support, will continue to provide effective delivery of our responsibilities to uphold both the FOI and the Privacy Acts.