Government appoints information watchdog Timothy Pilgrim but no one to fill top privacy, FOI jobs

The Turnbull government has named Timothy Pilgrim as its next Information Commissioner, a role he has acted in for more than a year.

But the government is unlikely to appoint separate watchdogs for privacy and freedom of information, despite federal law appearing to suggest they should not be the same person.

Instead, Mr Pilgrim will fill three senior statutory roles for the price of one.

Attorney-General George Brandis said on Wednesday he would ask the Governor-General to appoint Mr Pilgrim, who is presently the Privacy Commissioner, as Information Commissioner, a more senior role that Mr Pilgrim has acted in since Professor John McMillan left the job in June last year.

Senator Brandis also reappointed Mr Pilgrim as Privacy Commissioner, meaning he will formally hold both jobs.

Mr Pilgrim also has a third office: he is the acting FOI Commissioner, a role that has been vacant since January last year.


The legislation that set up the information office describes the trio of roles separately, saying the privacy and FOI officers report to the Information Commissioner.

While the act does not say explicitly the jobs must be held by different people, each has a separate salary package.

The Abbott government tried to abolish the office in 2014 but could not convince the Senate to vote for the legislation needed to shut it down.

The government instead withdrew most of the office's funding, forcing it to dismiss its staff and close its Canberra office.

The Turnbull government restored some of that funding this year, though Senator Brandis's office said on Wednesday that Mr Pilgrim would continue to perform all three roles himself.

The commissioners' jobs include arbitrating information-law disputes, investigating privacy breaches and encouraging government staff to provide more information to the public.

Senator Brandis said Mr Pilgrim had "established a strong reputation in the business community for his considered approach to regulation and understanding of business needs".

"Mr Pilgrim has worked internationally to help Australia deal with global privacy challenges, particularly through building closer relationships with other privacy regulators ...

"I wish to thank Mr Pilgrim for his distinguished service to date, and congratulate him on his further appointments."