In the last fortnight, the New South Wales Attorney General tabled in Parliament two reports of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission (LRC):

  • The Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioners (Report 125)
  • Access to personal information (Report 126)

These reviews were conducted against the background of broad ranging reform of the regime governing access to government information in New South Wales. These reforms include the establishment of the Information Commissioner, as an independent statutory office, envisaged as a ‘champion of open government’ and empowered with ‘robust investigative powers’, who will play a critical role in the administration of the recently enacted Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW) (GIPA Act) (see our earlier Legal Update).

In Report 125, which was presented to the Attorney General in December 2009, the LRC considers the relationship between the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) and the newly established Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC). The LRC makes 18 recommendations dealing with the institutional structure of the OPC and the OIC. The Report considers various models for integrating the functions and offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioners and examines institutional models in other jurisdictions. The LRC, together with most stakeholders consulted, favoured the adoption of a single office as the best model for achieving the objects of privacy and government information access legislation and for creating operational efficiencies.

The LRC’s key recommendation is that the OIC should be the sole statutory authority responsible for the administration and oversight of legislation governing privacy and access to government information. Under the LRC’s proposed model, the OIC would contain a ‘Privacy Division’ responsible for administration and oversight of privacy legislation, with the Privacy Commissioner, who would also be a deputy to the Information Commissioner, heading that division.

In Report 126, which was presented to the Attorney General in February 2010, the LRC makes 17 recommendations dealing with access to and amendment of personal information under the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW) (PPIPA) and the GIPA Act. The Report identifies a number of areas of potential conflict and overlap in the existing regimes under which an individual may obtain access to, and amendment of, his or her personal information or seek access to personal information of a third party. The LRC’s recommendations propose a series of amendments to PPIPA and the GIPA Act that would clarify and consolidate these regimes to ensure that there is a clear avenue for people to gain access to personal information and for the purposes of amending their personal information.

In tabling the Reports, the Attorney General foreshadowed the release of a detailed government response to each of the LRC’s recommendations followed by the introduction of legislation dealing with key recommendations later in 2010. The Government will also engage in consultation on the LRC’s recommendations for the OIC and the OPC with the incoming Information Commissioner, who is yet to be appointed.

The Reports can be accessed and downloaded from the Law Reform Commission.