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Last man standing: information and privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim to retire

Timothy Pilgrim has announced his resignation from his dual-role as privacy and information commissioner, effective March 24.

Pilgrim started as the privacy commissioner in 2010, when the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner was a much better resourced body with a separate commissioner for FOI and an overarching information commissioner in John McMillan, who left in 2015, when the Abbott government intended to abolish the agency.

Soon Pilgrim was the only one of the three left, and was a steady hand during that period of uncertainty, explaining clearly what was going on even though it was not clear how long the OAIC would last.

The government accepted the Senate would not agree to abolish it so instead it drastically downsized its unwanted statutory body and Pilgrim has run it as the sole commissioner since 2016, with a reduced budget that forced him to scale back its work and put pressure on its ability to meet statutory timeframes like those that apply to FOI reviews.

Today, Attorney-General Christian Porter said the commissioner had done an “outstanding job” in both roles and the government would soon begin the “merit-based selection process” to replace him. Of course, he did not refer to his erstwhile leader’s failed plan to axe the OAIC:

“Mr Pilgrim built a strong reputation, both within government and the wider community, with his thoughtful and considered approach to privacy and information regulation.

“He has worked tirelessly to help Australia deal with global privacy challenges, particularly through building closer relationships with other privacy regulators domestically and internationally.

“Mr Pilgrim oversaw the implementation of the amendments to Australia’s Privacy Act in 2014, the most significant reforms since the Privacy Act 1988 was extended to the private sector in 2000. He was awarded a Public Service Medal in 2015, in recognition of his outstanding work overseeing these reforms.

Mr Pilgrim has effectively governed the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and has enhanced the Office’s relevance in a continually evolving policy environment.

“On behalf of the Australian Government, I would like to thank Mr Pilgrim for his distinguished service and wish him well in his retirement.”

The announcement comes two days out from the beginning of the Commonwealth’s new mandatory data breach notification scheme, and a few months after Pilgrim registered a new privacy code that applies specifically to federal government agencies.

“My intention in introducing the Australian Public Service Privacy Code is to ensure all Commonwealth agencies approach privacy management in an integrated way, as well as providing resources and support to build this capability,” Pilgrim told The Mandarin.

“The implementation of the Code will also provide Australian communities with confidence that a single, high standard of privacy protection exists across government agencies they deal with.”

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.