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FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 07/02/2000 - DEPARTMENT OF THE PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY

Senator FAULKNER —I have a quick question to close off an issue that I raised at the previous estimates committee in relation to the Parliamentary Handbook. Mr Templeton, it might be useful for the committee to understand why the Parliamentary Handbook - and I think we are well aware of the faults that were contained in it - required extensive proofreading when it was first provided to the library. Why was there a need to actually check the Parliamentary Handbook in the library itself as opposed to the contracted printer not undertaking this task?

Mr Templeton —I will ask Ms Adcock to answer that, but I would imagine it was because they had actually been delivered and we were checking them on receipt.

Ms Adcock —We had them delivered and we were in fact assured that they were correct copies and that they had been checked by the printer. As part of our acceptance process, we needed to check them at our end to convince ourselves that they were of a high quality. When we started to check them, we found random inconsistencies throughout. We subsequently then had a meeting with the printer and the printer then rechecked at their end and agreed that the copies were not of a sufficient quality - with inconsistencies and with biographies left out and so on. They were random checks, so we did check a number to see whether there was a pattern to the problem.

Senator FAULKNER —So the first proofing or checking, if you like, was just a random exercise?

Ms Adcock —Yes.

Senator FAULKNER —But 70 hours of a librarian's time is quite substantial, is it not?

Ms Adcock —We checked a bit over 100 in order to get a picture of approximately how many of the copies were faulty. The decision was made at our end to check approximately 100 - it was just a few more than that.

Senator FAULKNER —Was consideration given to the possibility I suppose an alternative stratagem of just rejecting the faulty handbooks and saying to the printer, `You fix this up. You contracted to do this job; you weed out the problem handbooks.'

Ms Adcock —We were in a position of greater information by having checked a number of them and being able to then go back to them to say that approximately 20 per cent were faulty and that that was the pattern throughout the bundle, that order of fault. Sometimes you may get an occasional fault.

Senator FAULKNER —Have you been able to establish now the cost of the time of the parliamentary librarians engaged in this particular task? I think you have been able to establish that that is reasonably substantial, and I assume it has been deducted in accordance with the contractual clauses for liquidated damages from the actual value of the contract itself. Is that a reasonable assumption to make?

Mr Templeton —The library will be discussing with the printer - in fact this afternoon - the question of liquidated damages and the quantum that we will be subtracting from the contracted price, and that is obviously an element of what we will be saying we want to take off the contracted price.

Senator FAULKNER —So where this is this up to at the moment?

Mr Templeton —The handbooks have been delivered, have been accepted, have been provided to senators and members, and the negotiations are now going on with the printer as to the quantum of liquidated damages which we will be seeking.

Senator FAULKNER —Given that you are going to have a meeting with the printer, you are saying, this afternoon -

Mr Templeton —I will not be, but staff of the library will be.

Senator FAULKNER —Given that that is going to occur this afternoon, I might leave further questioning until after the event, Madam President, because I would not want to disadvantage the library in its negotiations by asking any questions on the public record prior to the meeting. So we might come back to that. I thought this might be the last occasion we address it but we might wrap it up either at this forum or at the library committee where we can get a final report of what this all means. So that is that one, Mr Chairman. I think is best left there because of the proximity of the meeting that we have just been discussing.

There is just one other question that I was going keen to ask the library about. It goes to a general question of the requirements on the Parliamentary Library staff to log on the computer which jobs they are doing, the details of the requests, who the job is for and so forth. This is something I have had some concerns about for some time. I wondered if that was, in a sense, the situation and whether those computer records are in fact accessible for most if not all the staff of the Parliamentary Library.

Mr Templeton —Obviously in order to keep track of the work that staff are doing, the nature of the requests that we are getting, we do have a tracking system. The acronym for it is SPIRIT, but I could not tell you what SPIRIT stands for. We have had it for a number of years. The output from SPIRIT has very limited circulation - I think basically Dr Verrier and Ms Adcock. It is used for a number of reasons, one being partly to analyse the sorts of issues that are emerging, and waxing and waning. Secondly, it is used to analyse our costs in terms of negotiations with the Department of Finance and Administration but also to assist us when Dr Verrier and Ms Adcock are talking with individual senators and members if they have a problem with the services of the library or as part of the regular series of calls that Dr Verrier and Ms Adcock make to our senators and members just to talk to them about the nature of the requests they are making. We are very conscious of the need for confidentiality of that information. It is kept extremely tight.

Senator FAULKNER —That is of course the reason I ask the question - because I think there is a significant issue there. You are saying to me that that there is a very limited accessibility to those sorts of records?

Mr Templeton —Dr Verrier is probably the best person to talk about this. I will ask her to address it.

Dr Verrier —The operating principles are on a need to know basis. I see everything. Ms Adcock sees everything. The relevant director of a work group will have access to all of the work records that his or her staff create in the nature of responding to senators' and members' requests. That is because the director of a group needs to assess work pressures, workloads who is doing what and whether it is manageable. The individual officers only have access to their own records unless there is a need to know basis again across the group. Subject groups - for example, the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade group - have created work drives so that an officer on duty at night on his or her own can in fact find out by going in - if you ring up inquiring about your request - and having a look to see where that request is, what it was and establish the details. We work on a need to know basis. There is a very strong culture in the organisation of only talking about requests or handing out this information to others who need to know. No officer has access to it all. Directors have access to all of their groups. Their officers have access on a need to know basis.

Senator FAULKNER —So what you are saying to me is that this information is not broadly accessible amongst library staff?

Dr Verrier —Not unless they have a need to see it, no.

Senator FAULKNER —And who makes that decision?

Dr Verrier —I do. We have as a program made that decision along the lines I have just described - that as a general principle I am not sitting there every moment of my day deciding who needs to know about the request a member or senator may have made. We have some working principles, which are that I can see it or Nola can see it - that directors can see everything pertaining to their work group. Some groups go across the group -if another director thinks there might be an interdisciplinary aspect to the request and the request may need to be handled across different work groups.

Senator FAULKNER —I understand the principle of the need to know basis that you described, but you can assure me that that information is not generally accessible to library staff.

Dr Verrier —I might pass on that aspect of the request to Ms Adcock in terms of the technology in terms of whether it is possible for a curious member of staff to scrutinise the broader record.

Ms Adcock —You can search for a particular request or a particular issue on the system on a one-off basis. You cannot print-out broad reports on a member or issues in any wider context. If a member of staff is sitting at our inquiries desk and a senator or member rings up and asks where a particular request is at, particularly if that is in the evening, then it is possible to search on that individual request and check where it is at.

Senator FAULKNER —So it is possible to do that?

Ms Adcock —It is possible to search on an individual request but not to do it in a broad context.

Senator ROBERT RAY —In the process of doing that, does the person who does that search leave an imprint somewhere on the computer that they have done so that the divisional and other heads can always check who has been checking on what?

Ms Adcock —There is not an audit trail, no.

Senator ROBERT RAY —It is not possible to have one?

Ms Adcock —Not with the software we have, but we are now looking at -

Senator ROBERT RAY —You are aware that an increasing number of organisations - police and many others - in order to protect privacy, are required to log on to the computer which leaves a record that they have looked at a file and therefore will have to justify it down the track. You think that long term that might be possible?

Ms Adcock —Yes.

Senator FAULKNER —Can I just say, Mr Templeton, that I do think there is an issue here that might be worth the Parliamentary Library giving some thought to. We might address it at a later stage. As I said, you might even have been aware of it. I have had this concern for a while. I do not believe there is any cause for concern in the sense that I am aware of any problem that has arisen as a result of this, and I think we are very fortunate with the integrity of the staff that we have and I think that ought to be said. But if there is a technical capacity for this, I think the problem arises with the concerns members and senators might have about this question of confidentiality, and it is in that spirit that I raise the question. Perhaps it is something that we might again address at a later stage.

Mr Templeton —As Ms Adcock said, we are looking at replacing the current system anyway, and questions of privacy are first and foremost in the design specifications for that new system, but we will take on board what has been said. As I said, we have had this system for a number of years. To the best of my knowledge, no-one has ever brought to my attention any concerns with it, and we do, as you said, have a very good tradition and culture in the library of people respecting the need to not broadcast what they are being asked to do.

CHAIR —Any further questions?

Senator MURRAY —I have a follow-up. The people who use the library - I am aware that members and senators and their staff and the staff of the Senate or of the House of Representatives can use the library. What other people can use the services of the library?

Mr Templeton —Broadly, the client base is as you have described: it is senators, their staff, members of the House of Representatives, their staff, staff of the five parliamentary departments - and the members of the parliamentary press gallery have very limited access on the basis that they do not incur resource time for library staff in their request. Basically, they can come in and borrow from the collection and look at our information files - they are the clippings files. But they are the only accredited clients, with the exception that former senators and members when in Canberra have access to the library and can borrow from the collection, provided they are in Canberra.

Senator MURRAY —So the gallery uses it as a reference service, not as an information service?

Mr Templeton —The parliamentary press gallery would use it essentially to check the newspaper clippings files and also as a lending library. They have lending rights but the rule is that they must do it all on a self-help basis.

Senator MURRAY —What about academics?

Mr Templeton —There is scope in the library statement of client entitlements for me to, if you like, grant special access to the library's resources. As a general rule, we do not do that because we find that our staff are, by and large, pretty busy almost all the time and the disruptive effect of having outsiders coming in and seeking to use the resources of the library can distract us from our principal task - which is service to senators and members.

Senator MURRAY —Can a minister use the library in their capacity as a minister of the government, not in their capacity as a senator or as a member?

Mr Templeton —A minister can use the library in their capacity as a senator or member of the representatives. The policy the library has had for many years is that all senators and members have equal access to library services and those services are allocated on a first come, first serve basis.

Senator MURRAY —How would you know if a minister or their staff were using the library for government purposes as opposed to the purposes of being a representative?

Mr Templeton —To a large extent, we are not there to seek to divine the purpose of a request that is made to the library. There are a number of natures of request which fall clearly outside our remit - work for constituents is one, work which is clearly for academic purposes is another, but by and large the library's remit is to provide services to senators and members for their parliamentary and representational roles. We do not start querying people as to what is the purpose of their inquiry unless it clearly falls outside the generally accepted run of requests.

Senator MURRAY —But I concur with the remarks of Senator Faulkner. Given the very high reputation - and deservedly so - that the library has for the quality of its information, ministers may be tempted to use your services rather than the research services available in their departments. You do not have any of those fears or concerns as to the use of your time?

Mr Templeton —The starting point, I suppose, goes back to the point that ministers are still senators and members. Ministers do not comprise a large proportion of our request load but they are clients, along the lines of the statement of client entitlements which successive library committees for many years have endorsed.

Dr Verrier —If I may add to what Mr Templeton is saying: if an issue is running in the parliament any member or senator may ask us for a review on it, so that includes a minister. There is a view that there are some things we can do that departments do not have time to do in the sense of the in-depth or thought through kind of research that is not traditionally done in many departments - never has been to the same degree. If there is something running in the parliament, a minister or a shadow minister may ask us for a view and opinion and a bit of work on that in the same way as another member.

Senator MURRAY —If an email or fax request comes in or -even a telephone request -from somebody claiming to be a staff member of the senator or member, is there any way that you know that is so? Is there a list of who are accredited staff that you automatically check, or is it mostly taken on a trust basis?

Mr Templeton —It is a combination of both. We do have a list of staff of senators and members and, obviously, given the small number of staff allocated to senators and members, we get to know them reasonably frequently. But there is a large measure of trust taken. We would check if someone was totally new whom we had not had dealings with before. I think our staff would automatically check in that case. There is a further complication of course that some senators and members do have volunteer staff who are not paid by the Department of Finance and Administration, which is where we get our list of staff of senators and members from. So there is that slight complication. The other cross-check we have is people who have been issued with the white Parliament House passes by the security control.

Senator MURRAY —But the alarm bell as such, if it ever rings for you, is generally in terms of the nature of the request rather than the origin of the request isn't it? If you think it is overtly party political or not within your normal remit, that is when -

Mr Templeton —The alarm bell would ring either by the nature of the request or the obvious unfamiliarity or newness to the system of the person making the request - that is, the way they would make the request.

Senator MURRAY —Who filters out that sort of thing? Is it the officer receiving the request? Does it go to a senior person such as Dr Verrier?

Mr Templeton —It would rise, if you like, up through the system. If it went to the central enquiry point and there was a concern expressed by someone manning the CEP at the time it would probably initially go to the manager of the central enquiry point. If they had concerns it would go up the system to either Nola Adcock or June Verrier.

Dr Verrier —Again if I may add, we do not deal anonymously with client requests. We certainly make a point of talking about any request of a substantial nature. That is to protect us; it is to protect the member; it is to make sure we have got it right. We do not waste resources on aspects of requests that the member is not interested in. We tend to know officers quite well. We think the personal follow-up works extremely well with bigger requests. As Mr Templeton says, we do know who is in the office and, if there is a strange name, we check it.

Senator MURRAY —I saw something the other day which surprised me, and it was on a table. It had on there:`Not for attribution.' Senators and members who use your services will go out into the public arena and say, `Such and such a percentage is something' or `Such and such a fact is so', and sometimes you are asked, `Where did you get that thing?' and you would say you have had it researched and sometimes you would add that you asked the library to give you some information on it. Why would you use the words `not for attribution' when you have done research for a client which the client is going to rely on?

Mr Templeton —The work that the Parliamentary Library does falls roughly into two categories. There is the publicly available material, which we have given the name `general distribution papers' to. They are publicly available. They are on the Internet. They are provided to all senators and members if they wish them. That material, obviously, is clearly attributable to the Parliamentary Library.

The overwhelming majority of the work which the Parliamentary Library does for senators and members is on a one-to-one basis. It is often the case that senators or members will be asking a question or seeking information or seeking to construct an argument which has a particular line they wish to develop in their contributions either in the parliament or outside. It is to prevent us, if you like, being drawn into at times fairly partisan debates that we ask that material and work that is done privately not be attributed, because the material which we provide may have been provided in response to a specific set of riding instructions, or when it is used subsequently we have no way of knowing the context in which it is going to be used.

With our publicly available general distribution products, we set the context. We put them up in the public domain whole and complete. It is for that reason that again for many, many years that has been the policy of the Parliamentary Library - that where the resources of the library have been used to furnish information, to help construct arguments or to help develop particular themes, the ownership, if you like, of that argument, that theme or that particular construction of a contribution must remain pretty fairly and squarely with the senator or member.

Senator MURRAY —I can understand that for an argument for an assessment of alternative ideas, but why would you do so for factual matters, for tables of figures?

Senator ROBERT RAY —What is fact? It is in the view of the person who produces it, for heaven's sake.

Senator MURRAY —I can hear your academic training coming through there!

Mr Templeton —The other point would be - taking Senator Ray's point as well - if we were to provide to a senator or member, for argument's sake, a set of statistical tables which we had found and which had been produced originally by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as part of a normal sequence, the attribution for that is the Australian Bureau of Statistics, not us. We did not go out and do the research and devise the table. What we did was find the table. We have said to a senator or member, `These statistics are relevant to the issue which you are interested in discussing or going to make a contribution on but they are not our original creation.' So if we said, `Here's a set of ABS statistics which goes to the heart of your particular concern,' we would expect the senator or member to say, `Statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show this.'

Dr Verrier —If I may add another point, there is also the issue of the time lines in which a lot of the work is produced and the quality control, if you like, or its absence in the case of one-on-one work. For the GDPs - the general distribution products - that Mr Templeton has described, we have a very rigorous quality control process, workshops, external readers and internal readers to make sure we have done the best possible job in presenting the case on whatever it may be.

In the case of individual work, it is done under a lot of pressure often. We do not have the time and the resources to ensure the hierarchy of checking and control. Indeed, if we did, we would miss many of your deadlines. That is another reason that the nature of the work is different. It is short, sharp and quick. We encourage our officers to say to you, `I think this is a 90 per cent job. I've had time to cover the bases pretty well, but beware on that bit of 10 per cent I haven't had time to look at'; or, `This is only a 40 per cent job I've managed to do in the time available.'

So all of those factors added to the ones that Mr Templeton was describing suggest that it is to protect us and to protect you that we say, `Thank you very much, we would prefer not to have attribution for work of that nature.'

Senator MURRAY —Thank you.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Isn't the main reason you do not have attribution that we live in a world of adversarial politics? If Senator Murray quotes library statistics, facts or opinions against me, I am likely to rip up the library for being wrong, aren't I?

Dr Verrier —Yes.

Senator ROBERT RAY —And that is the reason basically you stay out of the loop.

Mr Templeton —To pick up Senator Ray's point, we are in the background helping, if you like, fashion the bullets but we do not shoot the bullets ourselves. We are not part of the front line.

Senator ROBERT RAY —You are like the Red Cross of the parliament, aren't you?

Mr Templeton —I have never thought of us like that.

Senator MURRAY —Given some of the things which have emerged in Switzerland over recent years, that is probably not a good analogy.

CHAIR —That concludes the examination of the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

[9.50 a.m.]