Freedom of Information Commissioner Resigns

Australia’s Freedom of Information Commissioner has quit less than 12 months into his five-year appointment, with Leo Hardiman announcing his resignation on LinkedIn.

Frustration over the difficulties in overhauling the FOI system to enable timely response to FOI requests were cited as his reason behind abandoning the role.

“The Commonwealth FOI system is a small but important adjunct to the doctrine of responsible government inherent in our Westminster system of government. It provides one check on the integrity and apolitical nature of the Australian Public Service.

“Essential to the proper functioning of the FOI system in that context is the provision of timely access to information in accordance with legally robust access decisions, including Information Commissioner (IC) review decisions.

A 2023 Budget estimates hearing was told there were thousands of outstanding FOI reviews, many going back at least five years, and more than 200 dating back to 2019.

During the February 13 hearing, Australian Information Commissioner Angelene Falk said her office was currently trying to clear a backlog of 2,010 matters.

Hardiman said that under his leadership some changes had been made to the way in which Commonwealth’s core FOI regulatory functions are processed, but these were not enough.

“Further changes are, however, necessary in my view to ensure that the timeliness of [Information Commissioner] IC reviews and, consequently, access to government-held information, is increased. 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.

FOI requests responded to outside the statutory 30-day period have increased from 11.5 per cent in 2011-12 to 22.5 per cent in 2021-22.

Prior to taking up the role, Hardiman was deputy chief general counsel, and national leader, Office of General Counsel at the Australian Government-Solicitor.