Commonwealth Attorney General announces the (re) creation of the Privacy Commissioner.

May 3, 2023 |

Today the Attorney General announced that the Government will create a stand alone position of Privacy Commissioner. The statement provides:

The Albanese Government will appoint a standalone Privacy Commissioner to deal with the growing threats to data security and the increasing volume and complexity of privacy issues.

Australians rightly expect their privacy regulator to have the resources and powers to meet the ongoing challenges of the digital age and protect their personal information.

The large-scale data breaches of 2022 were distressing for millions of Australians, with sensitive personal information being exposed to the risk of identity fraud and scams.

This action is in significant contrast to that of the former Liberal Government, which left Australia disgracefully unprepared for this challenge by failing to strengthen privacy laws, and scrapping the position of a standalone Privacy Commissioner.

The Albanese Government takes privacy regulation seriously and has already acted to significantly increase penalties for companies which fail to take adequate care of customer data and give the Australian Information Commissioner improved and new powers.

The Australian people rightly expect greater protections, transparency and control over their personal information and the appointment of the standalone Privacy Commissioner restores the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to the three-Commissioner model Parliament originally intended.

Currently, the Australian Information Commissioner, Ms Angelene Falk, holds a dual appointment as the Privacy Commissioner. I thank Ms Falk for her dedicated service in this role since 2018. Ms Falk will remain Information Commissioner and head of the OAIC.

A merit-based selection process to fill the role of Privacy Commissioner will commence today. Ms Falk will continue as the Privacy Commissioner until this process is finalised.

Freedom of Information Commissioner

In light of the recent resignation of Mr Leo Hardiman PSM KC as Freedom of Information Commissioner, I am also pleased to announce that we have appointed Ms Toni Pirani as acting Freedom of Information Commissioner, effective 20 May 2023. I thank Mr Hardiman for his significant contribution and wish him well in his future endeavours.

Appointing an acting FOI Commissioner will ensure that the OAIC can continue to undertake its FOI functions until a permanent appointment is made.

A merit-based selection process to select the ongoing FOI Commissioner vacancy will also commence today.

 

This will mean the OAIC will have three statutory office holders: the Australian Information Commissioner (as agency head), a Privacy Commissioner and a Freedom of Information (FOI) Commissioner.

“I welcome this decision by the Attorney-General in Privacy Awareness Week to bolster the OAIC to carry out our important statutory functions,” Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said.

Commissioner Falk will remain Information Commissioner and head of the OAIC. She will continue as Privacy Commissioner until the Privacy Commissioner appointment is made.

The OAIC also looks forward to Ms Toni Pirani joining as acting FOI Commissioner commencing on 20 May 2023.

This is a return to the pre Abbott Government position.  Whether it makes a difference or not is more to do with the person who holds the position and the funding available. 

The story has received reasonable coverage, including the Guardian with Labor to appoint dedicated privacy commissioner to combat data breaches and the Financial Review’s Search on for new commissioner under privacy overhaul.

The AFR Article provides:

A new privacy commissioner will be appointed to “meet the ongoing challenges of the digital age” as the government proceeds with its planned overhaul of privacy laws.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said he would announce on Wednesday that the roles of privacy commissioner and information commissioner, which are currently held by Angelene Falk, would be separated.

Mr Dreyfus said the appointment would restore the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OIAC) to the three-commissioner model – information, privacy and freedom of information (FOI) – that was in place when it was founded in 2010.

He also said the government would start the search for a new FOI commissioner. Leo Hardiman, KC, resigned in March after only one year in the job, citing his frustration with the existing laws.

Mr Dreyfus said Toni Pirani, a first assistant secretary in the Attorney-General’s Department, would be the acting FOI commissioner after Mr Hardiman finishes up on May 19.

“Appointing an acting FOI Commissioner will ensure that the OAIC can continue to undertake its FOI functions until a substantive appointment is made,” Mr Dreyfus said.

The last standalone privacy commissioner was Timothy Pilgrim. He was appointed in 2010, and took on the additional role of information commissioner in 2015. He held both roles until 2018, when he was replaced by Ms Falk.

Mr Dreyfus said Ms Falk would continue as privacy commissioner during the search. Applications close on May 26.

He said the privacy regulator should “have the resources and powers to meet the ongoing challenges of the digital age and protect their personal information”.

“The large-scale data breaches of 2022 were distressing for millions of Australians, with sensitive personal information being exposed to the risk of identity fraud and scams.

“The former Coalition government left Australia disgracefully unprepared for this challenge by failing to update privacy laws and scrapping the position of a standalone Privacy Commissioner.”

The government has signalled a major overhaul of privacy laws after releasing a two-year review of the Privacy Act in February, which contained 116 recommendations. That included a statutory tort of privacy.

The move followed damaging cyberattacks on Optus and Medibank that revealed a lack of powers to force standards. The government has not offered any timetable for legislation.

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