Freedom of Information Commissioner handpicked by Cash in final days of government

Australia’s first Freedom of Information Commissioner in seven years has been appointed to the post despite not officially applying, after the previous coalition government bypassed its selection committee to appoint one of its legal advisers.

Australian Government Deputy Chief Solicitor General Solicitor Leo Hardiman was appointed Freedom of Information Commissioner in March this year by the Coalition Government, two months before the federal election.

Crikey can reveal that Hardiman was cast in the role by then-Attorney General Michaelia Cash after not applying for the role.

The Coalition had received 20 applications for the post and had appointed a panel, which included the Civil Service Commissioner, to sift through them and make a recommendation. But that process was circumvented with the nomination of Hardiman, who did not apply for the position, according to a response to a Senate question on notice provided by Attorney General Mark Dreyfus.

“Mr. Hardiman was not a candidate in the panel proceedings,” Dreyfus said in his response.
The 2021-2022 Federal Budget allocated $1 million per year for the appointment of an FOI Commissioner to serve in the Australian Information Commissioner’s Office, the first to fill this role individually since 2015.

A selection committee was established to provide a recommendation to the Attorney General for the position. The panel included then Secretary of the Attorney General’s Department Iain Anderson, Australian Civil Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott and Information Commissioner Angelene Falk.

The committee received 20 nominations and made a recommendation to the government. But Hardiman, who was ultimately selected by the coalition government, did not apply and was not recommended by the selection committee.

In his response, Dreyfus revealed that Hardiman had been appointed by the previous government using a clause in the merit and transparency policy, which allows a minister to appoint someone not recommended by the panel with the Prime’s permission. minister.

“The then-Attorney General wrote to the then-Prime Minister outlining the reasons for recommending Mr. Hardiman’s appointment,” Dreyfus said.

Under the APS Merit and Transparency Policy, a government minister may choose not to accept a selection committee’s endorsement for a role and may instead write to the Prime Minister requesting approval. another person’s approval.

The list of FOI commissioner positions was made public in June 2021, with Hardiman’s appointment announced at the end of March this year by Cash.

Hardiman has significant legal and public sector experience with the Australian Government Attorney, where he previously served as Deputy General Counsel and National Head of the Office of the General Counsel.

In 2020 he was awarded the Public Service Medal for “outstanding public service through the provision of legal services to the Commonwealth”.

Hardiman took on the role of FOI Commissioner at a time when the office had an unprecedented workload of freedom of information review requests.

While the Australian Information Commissioner’s Office increased the number of cases finalized by 35% in the past financial year, the number of reviews it received increased by 60%.

The office now has over 2,000 access to information cases on hand, and over 1,000 of them have been under review for over a year.

Addressing Senate estimates earlier this month, Hardiman said the office needs more funding to properly fulfill its role.

“In my view, given the current backlog and influx rate of IC review requests to the office … there are not enough resources,” Hardiman said.

Dreyfus and Cash have both been approached for comment.


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