The Australian Greens today called on the government to exempt the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OIAC) from budget cuts and to increase staffing levels at the OIAC to those promised when the office was launched in November 2010.
"It is difficult to shine a light when there is not enough staff to hold up a torch bright enough to make government open and accountable", said Greens Senator and democracy spokesperson Lee Rhiannon.
"The finance department has exempted five tribunals from budget cuts but not the Office of the Information Commissioner.
"The government's FOI reforms are not worth the paper they are written on if the Information Commissioner is not adequately resourced.
"Information Commissioner John McMillan predicted in an interview in November 2010 that there would be an increase in applications for review. There is currently a backlog of more than 340 review applications.
"Forcing budget cuts on the OIAC will lead to job cuts, put immense pressure on the remaining staff and see an even bigger blow-out of the backlog of review applications.
"The Greens are calling on Attorney-General Nicola Roxon to heed calls from Mr McMillan and restore staff levels and funding to that forecast when the OAIC was established.
"FOI should be at the heart of accountable government yet Federal Labor seems intent on down-grading its importance.
"In October last year, the OIAC was transferred out of Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Attorney-General and Ms Roxon has so far refused to join the Open Government Partnership.
"The Open Government Partnership will be co-chaired by the US and UK governments and 46 countries have signed on. Australia's absence speaks volumes about the government's commitment to FOI.
"When the Minister for FOI and Privacy Brendan O'Connor launched the OAIC in 2010 he said the FOI reforms 'mark a new era of Government transparency'. The era seems to have been very short-lived," said Senator Rhiannon.