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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2303


Senator COLSTON(10.47) —I will move shortly a further recommendation Estimates Committee D made concerning the status of written answers to questions. As most honourable senators will be aware, after Estimates committees are held often a number of questions remain unanswered and departments provide those answers to honourable senators as they become available. The normal practice seems to be that when the answers are made available, the Committee secretary circulates the answers to those honourable senators who are on the Committee. On this occasion some difficulty arose because a senator who was not a member of the Committee asked for copy of the answers before they were formally tabled in the Senate. There was some discussion then about whether these should be made available or whether certain areas of privilege would be breached if they were made available. After some time had elapsed it was decided to release the written answers to the person who was not on the Committee. This does not seem, to Estimates Committee D, to be a satisfactory situation. More satisfactory would be a situation where the written answers are made available not only to those members of that Committee but also to any other honourable senator who may ask for those answers, even though they have not been tabled in the Parliament. I will therefore quote a section of the Committee's report which covers this matter in detail. It states:

During consideration of the additional estimates a series of prepared questions were put to all Departments. In a number of cases answers to some or all of the questions were provided in writing after the committee had completed its hearings. A Senator who was not a member of this Committee sought access to these answers prior to their release by the Committee, which would not usually occur until they had been tabled in the Senate as 'additional information'.

In the case of this Committee the matter of access was satisfactorily resolved after a short delay, by the Chairman authorising release of the documents. However, given the pressure of time on the work of Estimates Committees, and the need to facilitate consideration of information received by an Estimates Committee, the Senate might consider whether there is a need to review the status of written answers to questions (as distinct from Committee correspondence) to provide a more expeditious and uniform approach to their release.

The Committee believes that this matter does not require examination by the Standing Orders Committee. It therefore recommends that,

the resolution referring in Appropriation Bills to Estimates Committees include a paragraph authorising the immediate release of written answers to questions asked at hearings of Estimates Committees.

The Committee went on to indicate in its report that it intends to review progress made in this area after it has considered the Estimates in the 1984 Budget session of Parliament. I therefore move:

That the resolution referring the Appropriation Bills to Estimates Committees include a paragraph authorising the immediate release of written answers to questions asked at hearings of Estimates Committees.