Privacy fight could become public
Victoria’s opposition wants a stoush between the State Government and Privacy Commissioner to be played out in public.
The Andrews government has put up a bill that would amend the Victorian freedom of information act, which opponents say forces independent bodies together.
The bill is touted as an enhancement to FOI rules, cutting down the default agency response time from 45 days to 30 days.
But it would also see the current FOI office and the office of the Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection merged.
Staff from both agencies would come under the leadership of a new independent information commissioner.
Privacy Commissioner David Watts – who would be sacked in the bill goes ahead - said information access and privacy were competing interests, and forcing them to stands under the same umbrella would cause “structural schizophrenia”.
Mr Watts has threatened to resign, and accused the government and public sector union of running a vendetta against him.
Shadow special minister of state Gordon Rich-Phillips wants to “ventilate” the issue in public.
He told Parliament that the bill was “largely about nobbling the two office holders, in particular the privacy commissioner”.
“We have seen how the relationship has developed between the government and the privacy and data protection commissioner over the last two years," he said.
“It is unacceptable for this government to terminate two statutory officers because it finds dealing with one inconvenient.”
Mr Rich-Phillips is seeking to send the matter to the upper house’s legal and social issues committee for review.
This would allow the privacy commissioner, the FOI commissioner, the Law Institute of Victoria, the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings to make comment.
The Opposition also wants a number of tweaks to the bill, including job protection for the current privacy and FOI office holders, before it would support it
Labor MP Cesar Melhem backs the bill, saying it “just makes sense”.
“I think it just makes sense to actually have the two offices merge into one instead of having two separate bureaucracies, because sometimes there might be a bit of debate about who is doing what,” he said.