Australia’s information and privacy watchdog has taken a step back to fulfilling its original purpose with the appointment of its first Freedom of Information commissioner in seven years.
Attorney-General Senator Michaelia Cash announced Leo Hardiman QC will fill the role left vacant since the Abbott Government tried to abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and subsequent governments starved it of funding.
Mr Hardiman comes to the office with extensive legal and public sector experience from the Australian Government Solicitor where he was deputy chief general counsel and national leader in the Office of General Counsel. He possesses more than 30 years’ experience advising the Commonwealth on a range of legal matters.
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Mr Hardiman arrives at an office with a chequered history. The bid to abolish the OAIC failed to pass the Senate, but funding cuts closed the Canberra office in mid-2015. It left Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim to not only do the job of the information and privacy commissioners, but also work from home.
Some funding was restored under the Turnbull Government, but the OAIC remained in limbo with functions farmed out to other agencies. Mr Pilgrim quit in 2018, leaving Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk to operate the office from Sydney.
Staffing levels have been rebuilt. According to the 2021 Budget papers, the OAIC has an average staffing level (ASL) of 147.
Ms Falk said Mr Hardiman brought extensive legal and public sector experience which would make a significant contribution to progress the OAIC’s important freedom of information work.
“We look forward to welcoming Mr Hardiman to the OAIC and advancing the important work to promote public access to information held by Australian government agencies and ministers,” Commissioner Falk said.
Senator Cash looked forward to working with Mr Hardiman in a new capacity.
“I wish him well as he undertakes this important role,” she said.
In 2020 Mr Hardiman was awarded the Public Service Medal for “outstanding public service through the provision of legal services to the Commonwealth”.
He holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Laws, and was admitted to practise as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of the ACT in 1991, becoming Queen’s Counsel in 2020.
From 1993 to 2021, Mr Hardiman held a variety of counsel roles with the Australian Government Solicitor, the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.