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Wednesday, 18 September 2002
Page: 4425

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (5:44 PM) —The government acknowledges the right of the Senate to seek information to assist in its deliberations; this is reflected in the significant number of orders for the production of documents that are complied with. However, it should be noted that the use of orders for the production of documents has increased considerably over recent years. This is particularly so in the figures for the year to date. Often the orders seek large volumes of information and impose unrealistically tight time frames. The result has been significantly increased administrative costs and the diversion of officers from other tasks. The government already has set out its reasons for withholding the documents relating to the financial affairs of higher education institutions. These reasons we believe to be reasonable and cogent and compelling. Moreover, as the Senate was advised on 16 September, the minister is willing to write to all third parties, the vice-chancellors, seeking agreement from each to provide their data to the Senate. Senator Carr's motion requires officers of the Department of Education, Science and Training and other departments to appear before the Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Committee to answer questions about the documents and reasons for withholding them. Senators would be aware that a decision to withhold documents subject to a Senate order is a matter for the minister, not officials. The reason for the minister's decision was put to the Senate on 26 August. Officials will not be able to add anything to that explanation or discuss documents the minister has chosen to presently withhold.

Question agreed to.