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FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 07/02/2000 - department of the senate

CHAIR —I welcome the President of the Senate, Senator Reid, and officers of the Department of the Senate. Senator Reid, do you wish to make an opening statement?

The PRESIDENT —No, Mr Chairman.

CHAIR —Are there any general questions?

Senator ROBERT RAY —All mine are general. I wanted to ask when the proceedings of the Senate first appeared live on the Internet. What date did you kick that off?

Mr Evans —We will see if we can get that date for you.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Give us a ballpark, and we will leave it at that.

The PRESIDENT —No idea.

Mr Alison —I believe it was October or November.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Are you able to register the amount of hits on the system? Is that a method of feedback that you are getting as to how successful it has been?

Mr Alison —I believe so, and I can get that information for the committee.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Thank you. Through you, Madam President, to the Clerk: are there any changed implications for privilege with regard to broadcasting or is it just the same as any other electronic medium?

Mr Evans —The Senate passed the resolution authorising the publication of its proceedings by electronic means, including on the Internet, and that has the effect of making it a publication ordered by the Senate in accordance with the Parliamentary Privileges Act which gives it the absolute privilege under that act.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I had noticed, Madam President, when catching up on a bit of reading that the Sunday Age of 7 November reported that both you and the Speaker have issued instructions about the use of lifts in Parliament House during divisions or quorums; is that right?

The PRESIDENT —We reaffirmed what had been said previously that lifts near the chambers should be reserved for senators or members if there is a division called. That had been the case some years before I think it had been a decision of an earlier President. There had been some complaints at about that time and one exchange in particular with another occupant of the building in terms of use of the lift just on the walkway by the Senate chamber.

Senator ROBERT RAY —This is the famous one where seven of your coalition colleagues missed a division that night and blamed the lift

The PRESIDENT —That was early on, many years ago. But near the time that this article appeared there had been an incident between a senator and another occupant in the lift. So, in view of the fact there are changes of tenancies and people around the place, we decided that we should reaffirm what had been the previous position: once the division bells are rung, the lifts near the chambers should be reserved for senators or members attempting to get to a division.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Have you clearly marked which lifts can be used and which ones cannot?

The PRESIDENT —Yes, I believe so. I have certainly seen it on the lift in question. The lift in question certainly had an indication to that effect, and I think a notice was sent to others in the building.

Senator ROBERT RAY —How many complaints did you receive?

The PRESIDENT —One in particular in writing, but others had made comment about it.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Are former senators eligible for a permanent pass to the building?

The PRESIDENT —I believe so.

Mr Alison —Yes.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Are they aware of it?

The PRESIDENT —I think most people are told when they retire that they are able to obtain a pass. They have to get a photographic pass in the usual way. I have not heard of anybody not having one or not knowing that they should have one.

Senator ROBERT RAY —No, they ring my office and get us to come down and sign them in. I just wondered whether they could get a permanent pass.

The PRESIDENT —They probably just want to make sure that you know they are here.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Yes, well, I will now use your authority to remind them that they can get a permanent pass.

The PRESIDENT —They can get a pass and come in anyway.

Senator ROBERT RAY —That would be good. I just want to finalise a line of questioning that I have gone through four times now concerning the IPU and female representation on it. To encapsulate the history, originally a coalition delegate was added and now a Labor delegate has been added. We established last time that two trip entitlements for the Labor Party were reduced to have that permanent female rep there. I want to round off the thing by asking how many coalition trips were reduced when they were given the extra berth.

The PRESIDENT —I cannot answer that. I know there was a letter prepared after the last inquiry, which I have a copy of, setting out who had been to the IPU and there was no change in the numbers of three government and two opposition from April 1997 to October 1999 - apart from April and October when the opposition got an extra position. In September 1998 the numbers were down on both sides for obvious reasons.

Senator ROBERT RAY —The point being that, in order to put a permanent opposition female to the IPU, two trips elsewhere were taken off the Labor Party. I understand that; you have an overall cap. But I am asking whether the same was done when the coalition female permanent rep was added some two to 2[half ] years ago.

The PRESIDENT —You are talking about delegations in general, I think. The total number of trips over a three-year period is 150 on a formula covering the three-year period. It appears not to have changed on this document. I think this was with the letter you received in June of last year.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I will just repackage the question -

The PRESIDENT —We are looking at the total number of trips.

Senator ROBERT RAY —At the time in which a permanent female coalition rep went to the IPU, was there a consequential drop in the number of trips allocated to the coalition by two, equivalent to what some time later was imposed on the Labor Party? That is the simple question.

The PRESIDENT —I would need to get more information than is on this document to say whether or not that is correct.

Senator ROBERT RAY —If we can get that answer, then that is the end of that issue for all time perhaps.

The PRESIDENT —The total for the three years is Australian Labor Party, 95; and Liberal Party, 95. I will have to get the office to look at it more -

Senator ROBERT RAY —I want to know, at the time when the female delegate from the coalition was added, was a conscious effort then made to say whether that will be funded or supported -

The PRESIDENT —According to this list, it appears that the three government reps to the IPU have been maintained since 1997. One is the permanent representative, one is the female rep and one is other government.

Senator ROBERT RAY —It was explained to us previously that the coalition female rep was an additional position. It may be that it has now been absorbed within the three, I do not know.

The PRESIDENT —I think it may well have done, but this letter of 25 June from the Parliamentary Relations Office does not give that detail.

Senator ROBERT RAY —By all means, take it on notice.

The PRESIDENT —We will find out.

Senator FAULKNER —Just on that same issue, if I can follow it through for a moment: Senator Reid, in your answer a moment ago to Senator Ray I think you said three from the Australian Labor Party and three from the Liberal Party -

The PRESIDENT —Two from the opposition.

Senator FAULKNER —You actually used party affiliation, I think, when you mentioned it and you equated Labor Party representation with Liberal Party representation. I wondered if you meant coalition.

The PRESIDENT —No, on this formula for the three-year period the numbers were: Democrats, seven; Greens, one; Labor Party, 95; Greens (WA), one; Independents, three; Liberal Party, 95; and National Party, 22.

Senator FAULKNER —Yes, it is the National Party element that I wanted to understand.

The PRESIDENT —I will ask for a more detailed explanation of the numbers that are on this letter last June.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Thank you, I have no more general questions.

Senator FAULKNER —I have one general question. It is really only so I can understand where perhaps I should ask this question or if it is worth asking. Madam President, I am wondering if one of the officers at the table could advise the committee whether at any stage over the past, say, six to 12 months the issue of vandalism of furniture within the building has been a matter that has been noteworthy.

Mr Alison —The answer is no, Mr Chairman.

Senator FAULKNER —Can I ask specifically whether you are not aware of any damage to any furniture in any of the committee rooms?

Mr Alison —Mr Chairman, there is frequently wear and tear damage. I think Senator Faulkner may be referring to a scratch on a table in one of the committee rooms.

Senator FAULKNER —Could you tell us about the scratch on the table in one of the committee rooms, please?

Mr Alison —Quite a deep scratch, probably from a computer or somebody's suitcase, was put in one of the tables. It was surprising that the table had not suffered damage like that in the previous 10 years. Our investigations as to how it occurred were inconclusive.

Senator FAULKNER —I see. Was this damage repaired?

Mr Alison —Yes, Mr Chairman.

Senator FAULKNER —What was the cost of that repair?

Mr Alison —I believe it would be a minor amount. It was an hour's work by one of the Joint House Department's staff.

Senator FAULKNER —There was no suggestion that it was more than a scratch that might have been inadvertently caused by some sort of foreign object on the table? There was no, if you like, message? Was it just hieroglyphics or did it make a bit of sense to you? In other words, could you read what the computer or whatever had left on the table? Was there a bit of a pattern to it at all?

Mr Alison —Yes, Mr Chairman.

Senator FAULKNER —This was a really intelligent computer that could write something on the table as it was taken off or a briefcase that had been moved across the table in a particular way.

Mr Alison —Some of my staff had argued that there was the word `hi'. Frankly, I did not see it like that.

Senator FAULKNER —Could you say that again, I am sorry?

Mr Alison —The word `hi'.

Senator FAULKNER —The word `hi' was scratched on the table?

Mr Alison —You could look at it, in one way, like that.

Senator FAULKNER —But you did not look at it that way?

Mr Alison —I could not see it until it had been pointed out to me that that is what it could have been.

Senator FAULKNER —I am perhaps not as technologically literate as many others but, if the word `hi' had been scratched on the table, it is hard to believe that a computer or even a briefcase sitting on the table then being removed could write `hi' on the way out as someone has lifted it off the table. This seems a bit odd to me.

Mr Alison —It was just the nature of the scratch. I do not believe it said anything, but it was pointed out to me that it could be the word `hi'. I might say that, when we investigated, the problem was that the scratch was underneath plastic mats like the ones in front of you that are on the table. We could not be sure when the damage had occurred. The mats are not lifted after each meeting. That was the problem.

Senator FAULKNER —Did you check with the recent occupants of that particular meeting room after the damage had been discovered? Did you make some investigations with those who had booked the committee room?

Mr Alison —I do not believe so, but I would have to check on that.

Senator FAULKNER —It did not look like a doctor's handwriting, perhaps?

Mr Alison —It just did not look like handwriting.

CHAIR —As the Department of the Senate has been completed, we will now move on to the Parliamentary Library.

[9.22 a.m.]