FOI commissioner quits, citing lack of power, delays
The Commonwealth Freedom of Information commissioner has quit less than a year into a five-year appointment because he says his powers aren't enough to overhaul a chronically delayed system.
Leo Hardiman KC, a former deputy chief general counsel in the Australian Government Solicitor, announced his resignation on Monday.
The experienced legal mind said he had been leading significant changes to the way the federal government's core FOI regulatory functions were undertaken.
"Further changes are, however, necessary in my view to ensure that the timeliness of IC (Information Commissioner) reviews and, consequently, access to government-held information, is increased," he said in a statement.
"The making of those changes is not within the powers conferred on me as FOI Commissioner.
"I have come to the view that I will not be able, in the absence of those changes, to increase timeliness of IC reviews and access in a way which best promotes the objects of the FOI Act.
"I have accordingly decided the most appropriate course is to resign my appointment."
The Centre for Public Integrity in September said FOI requests responded to outside the statutory 30-day period had increased from 11.5 per cent in 2011-12 to 22.5 per cent in 2021-22.
Requests over 90 days late have increased more than 10-fold, now making up one in every eight requests.
Appointed in March last year, Mr Hardiman was the first permanent FOI commissioner in nearly eight years after the Abbott government tried to abolish the office and subsequent governments ignored calls to fill the role.
He said he'd led significant changes to the way in which the Commonwealth's core FOI regulatory functions were undertaken, led and managed.
"One significant purpose of these changes is to enable larger numbers of IC review matters to be actively managed to conclusion, so as to reduce the current backlog of IC reviews and promote more timely access to government-held information," Mr Hardiman said.
He thanked the staff in his branch, who'd shown "enormous commitment".
Mr Hardiman said he would continue to focus on the implementation and bedding down of these changes until his resignation takes effect on May 19.