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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1103

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (09:31): In accordance with the resolution of the Senate, I provide information in relation to responses to three categories of questions taken on notice, or, in the third case, documents ordered to be produced. The notice lists in paragraph (a) 57 questions on notice. I can advise the Senate that, of the 57 questions taken on notice by me, either in my own capacity as the Attorney or as minister representing the Prime Minister and the foreign minister, 45 of the questions asked of me in my capacity as the minister representing the Prime Minister have been tabled, three questions asked of me in my capacity as the minister representing the foreign minister have been tabled and nine questions are awaiting a response.

In relation to the answers referred to in paragraph (b), 139 questions were taken on notice by me at the supplementary budget estimates, including the spillover day in December. Two of those questions have been withdrawn. Of the 137 relevant questions, answers to 103 have been tabled; 34 are awaiting response. In relation to the documents referred to in paragraph (c) of the resolution, all of those documents have been produced.

I will make a couple of observations about the compliance with these orders. My officers have checked the statistics very carefully. Both I personally and ministers in this government generally have a much better record for timely compliance with the time limit for responding to questions taken on notice than was the case for ministers under the previous Labor government. It is, I think, understood as a matter of common sense that on occasions, particularly with long and complex questions which involve departments assembling a large body of material, not always will the time limits be able to be met. But of course a best endeavours attempt to meet the times limited should be made and it is made.

The other observation I would make to you, Mr President, is that, in particular in relation to questions taken on notice at estimates hearings, there is an expectation and a custom that those answers should be provided in a sufficiently timely manner in advance of the ensuing estimates hearing, so that senators pursuing matters of interest to them in estimates will have plenty of opportunity to consider those answers before the ensuing estimates hearing. In this case, the vast majority of the questions taken on notice at the supplementary estimates, including the spillover date, have been tabled a fortnight before the next estimates round.

There is absolutely no comparison whatsoever between this government's and my compliance with that obligation and the default of compliance which we well remember during the time of the previous Labor government. Mr President, as you know, during the time of the previous Labor government, I was the shadow Attorney-General, and the Attorney-General's portfolio was represented in this place by Senator Ludwig. It was the most common thing in the world for the answers to questions taken on notice at previous estimates rounds to be tabled in bulk the night before that estimates round or on the morning or not at all. It was the most commonplace thing in the world for that to be done. It was the standard procedure.

I was not the shadow minister for the finance portfolio, but I have taken out the statistics of Senator Wong's compliance with her obligations when she was the finance minister. Since Senator Wong tabled this motion and I anticipate she will be the Labor Party spokesman on the matter, this was Senator Wong's record: of the 975 questions that Senator Wong took on notice in the relevant period, 772, or 79 per cent, were late; 221, or 23 per cent, were late by over two months; 179, or 18 per cent, were actually answered after the ensuing estimates round had begun; and 16, or two per cent, were never answered or were answered after the ensuing estimates round was over.

I anticipate that Senator Wong, having made such a song and dance about this matter with the resolution that she has tabled, is going to say that there has been default of compliance by me, to which the answer is twofold. Firstly, there has been substantial compliance and, secondly, the extent and sufficiency of compliance has been vastly better than was Senator Wong's when she was the respondent to questions asked in estimates rounds.