Privacy Commissioner should be independent of AG

A NEW Privacy Commissioner will not be independent of government unless the commissioner does not report directly to the Attorney-General, the head of the Australian Human Rights Commission said on Monday.

AHRC president Gillian Triggs was one of several witnesses raising concerns about the end of the Australian Office of the Information Commissioner with a Senate inquiry examining proposed laws to abolish the AOIC.

The Abbott government plans to abolish the information commissioner, moving privacy functions to the human rights commission and giving Freedom of Information applicants only one costly appeal process through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Ms Triggs said while the AHRC supported either creating a whole new Privacy Commission or creating the position within the human rights commission, the legislation as drafted raised several concerns.

Chiefly, she said the current proposal before parliament would create a "new bubble" in the human rights commission that could lead to "all sorts of complications and conflicts".

The draft laws were not provided to the commission, as is usual practice, before being introduced to parliament, and would mean the new Privacy Commissioner reports direct to the Attorney-General, rather than the overall commissioner.

Ms Triggs said such changes would mean the human rights commission budget could be "bled away" from other functions, and questioned whether the Privacy Commissioner would be independent, if it only reported to the nation's top legal politician.

She said that after raising concerns with the Attorney-General's department about the legislation, the department adjusted the "explanatory memorandum" for the laws, but not the laws themselves.

Under questioning from senators, she said she did believe there was, as a result, a "contradiction" between the laws and the documents meant to explain them.

Numerous other witnesses, given just five days to complete submissions, told the Senate committee the AOIC should not abolished, as it would mean slower and costlier processing of FOI applications, returning to the system before major reforms by the Labor Government in 2010.


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