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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 311


Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security) —For the information of honourable senators, I table the government guidelines for official witnesses before parliamentary committees and related matters. I seek leave, Mr Acting Deputy President, to make a short statement in connection with the guidelines, to have the guidelines incorporated in Hansard, and to move that the Senate take note of the guidelines.

Leave granted.


Senator GRIMES —The Government's guidelines respond to a recommendation by the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration that conventions relating to appearances of officials be set down in a consolidated form for the guidance of officials. The previous Government informed Parliament of its own proposed guidelines on 28 September 1978, and undertook to review them in the light of experience. The Government's guidelines take into account that experience and the helpful comments made by parliamentary officers and others. As well they are guided by the principles of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 as further elaborated by this Government's legislation and draw on relevant recommendations in the exposure draft of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.

The guidelines are grounded in the principle that it must be for Ministers to advocate or defend policy, but recognise the rights and duties of officials as citizens and the importance of informed public debate. The Public Service Board' s guidelines on official conduct of Commonwealth Public Servants relating to public comment have been revised commensurately and will be issued shortly. While the Government's guidelines are primarily for officials, they will nevertheless be of considerable interest to honourable senators.

The guidelines read as follows-

GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES FOR OFFICIAL WITNESSES BEFORE PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES AND RELATED MATTERS

Contents

Paragraphs

Introduction 1-2 A. Parliamentary Committees 3-14 Preliminaries to an inquiry 5-7 Preparation of written material 8-15 Conduct during hearings 16-21 Protection of submissions and witnesses 22-23 Claims by ministers that information should not be disclosed 24-32 Evidence provided in confidence 33-36 Publication of evidence 37-40 Statutory committees 41 Committees concerned with administrative aspects of government 42 Committees investigating the actions of individual ministers or officials 43 Official witnesses from statutory authorities 44 B. Party Committees 45-51 C. Non-Parliamentary Public Inquiries (Including Royal Commissions) and Speeches 52-60 Speeches 52 Foreign Service 55 Royal Commissions 56-58 State inquiries (parliamentary and other) 59 Courts 60 D. Guidelines relating to access by Individual Members of Parliament to Public Servants and Officers of Statutory Authorities 61-67

GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES FOR OFFICIAL WITNESSES BEFORE PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES AND RELATED MATTERS

Introduction

1. These guidelines are based on the proposition that reasoned public discussion of the factual and technical background to policies and their administration leads to a better understanding of the objectives and process of government. In the Australian system of parliamentary government, and consistent with the traditional understanding of ministerial responsibility, the public advocacy and defence of government policies and administration has traditionally been, and should remain, the preserve of ministers, not officials. But subject to this, the guidelines are aimed at encouraging the freest possible flow of information between the public service, the Parliament and the public.

2. The guidelines apply primarily to the preparation of submissions and the provision of evidence to parliamentary committees by officials. The relevance of the guidelines to contexts outside parliamentary committees, including party committees, royal commissions, speeches, public inquiries and court appearances is noted in sections B and C. Section D contains guidelines for the provision of information to individual members of parliament by officials.

A. Parliamentary Committees

3. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist officials appearing before parliamentary committees, by informing them of the principles they are required by the Government to follow, recognising that the Parliament is entitled to be properly and adequately informed on the operation of the Executive.

4. The Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege (the ' Privilege Committee') has prepared an 'exposure report' for consideration by Senators and Members. Although the report has not yet been considered, officers should note the recommendations which have particular relevance to the guidelines as indicated below.

Preliminary to an inquiry

5. As a matter of practice, requests for an official to attend a committee inquiry in an official capacity, or to provide material to it, are made through the relevant Minister.

6. A Minister may delegate to the departmental Secretary the responsibility of deciding the official(s) considered by the Government most appropriate to provide the information sought by the committee from the department. It is important that the official(s) selected should have sufficient responsibility or be sufficiently close to the particular work area to be able to satisfy the committee's requirements.

7. Witnesses are to prepare themselves thoroughly before hearings including, as appropriate, by consultation with the Minister (and, if required, the Minister representing him or her in the other House), e.g. on possible claims that it would be in the public interest to withhold certain documents or oral evidence or requests for the hearing of evidence in camera. Officers might also make themselves aware of recommendations of the Privilege Committee relating to the rights of witnesses (R.35, based substantially on current Senate practice) and matters which may be treated as a contempt of the Parliament (particularly R.28) .

Preparation of written material

8. In the normal course, a committee should be provided with a written statement on which subsequent oral evidence will be based. In addition, where written questions have been forwarded by the committee, written replies should also be provided. All initial and supplementary written material (authorised in accordance with these guidelines) should be forwarded to the secretary of the committee.

9. When the interests of several departments are involved, adequate consultation is to take place in preparing material and making arrangements for witnesses to attend.

10. Departmental submissions to parliamentary committees should be cleared within the department, and normally with the Minister, in accordance with arrangements approved by the Minister(s) concerned.

11. Any such submission should not take policy positions, that is, it:

(a) should not advocate, defend or canvass the merits of government policies ( including policies of previous Commonwealth governments, or state or foreign governments)

(b) may describe those policies and the administrative arrangements and procedures involved in implementing them;

(c) should not identify considerations which have led to a ministerial or government decision or possible decision, in areas of any sensitivity, unless those considerations have already been made public or the Minister authorises the department to identify them;

(d) may after consultation with the Minister, and especially when the Government is encouraging public discussion of issues, set out policy options and list the main advantages and disadvantages, providing that it does not reflect on the merits of any judgment on those options which may have been made by the Government, or is otherwise partisan to a particular viewpoint.

The Privilege Committee has recommended that 'A departmental officer (should) not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy, and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of him to his superior or to the appropriate Minister, (R.35 (14).)

12. In relation to the matters prescribed in 11 (a) above, the proper course is for ministers to make written submissions or to appear-or to arrange for ministers representing them to appear-personally before committees, or to invite committees to submit questions on policy issues in writing.

13. In relation to 11 (c), the normal course is for ministers to canvass the material in these categories, but departments should ensure that if departments are to canvass such material, it is clearly brought to attention when the submission is submitted for clearance.

14. Other matters may be considered for inclusion in a submission which are factual or are only background material, but which also have wider implications because they are within an area of public or party political controversy, or because of the timing, e.g. in a pre-election period. This points to the need for those preparing material to give thorough consideration to any wider ramifications of the matter under inquiry, and to bring any such matters to the Minister's attention.

15. A request for more time to prepare evidence may be made to a committee by the Minister (or the department acting on his or her behalf) if the notice is considered insufficient. (The Privilege Committee has recommended that 'a witness shall be given reasonable notice . . . and an indication of the matters expected to be dealt with' (R.35 (3)).)

Conduct during hearings

16. The role of an official witness is to speak to any statement provided to the committee and to provide factual and background material to assist understanding of the issues involved.

17. The guidelines outlined above relating to written material apply also to oral evidence.

18. In addition, officials should not answer questions nor undertake to provide documents which could give rise to a claim of public interest immunity, unless the question of immunity has already been considered (see paragraphs 24-32 below ) and a decision arrived at.

19. It is envisaged that an officer may ask the person chairing the committee to consider whether questions are in order, in accordance with paragraph 11. If an official witness is directed to answer such a question, and has not (in line with paragraph 7) previously cleared the matter with his or her Minister, the officer should ask to be allowed to defer the answer until such clearance has been obtained.

20. As an alternative to the approach suggested in paragraph 19, it may be appropriate for the official witness to refer to the written material provided to the committee and offer, if the Committee wishes, to seek elaboration from the Minister or to request that the answer to a particular question be reserved for submission in writing.

21. It is important as questions are answered during hearings that witnesses should take care not to intrude into responsibilities of other departments and agencies (see also paragraph 9 above). Where a question falls within the administration of another department or agency, an official witness may request that it be directed to that department or agency or be deferred until that department or agency is consulted.

Protection of submissions and witnesses

22. Where a written submission is made to a committee at the invitation of the committee, whether it be of a general nature or directed specifically to the department concerned the preparation and making of that submission is protected by parliamentary privilege if received as evidence by the committee. In particular, it would follow that such a submission would enjoy absolute privilege with respect to defamation. However, protection would not automatically extend to copies or the substance of the submission unless the committee authorised publication. The privilege would also not extend to any unauthorised disclosure of the submission. Where written material that has not been sought by a committee is prepared and submitted to it, it cannot be assumed that such material would be protected by parliamentary privilege until such time as it had been formally received as evidence or publication authorised by a committee (see also paragraph 40). (The Privilege Committee has recommended legislation to declare that absolute privilege cover, among other things ''all things said, done or written . . . by any persons ordered or authorised to attend before . . . any Committee, sub-committee or other group or body of senators or members appointed by or with the authority of (Parliament).'' (R.1). )

23. It should be noted that officials who appear as witnesses before a parliamentary committee may be obliged to answer questions or produce documents which might tend to be self incriminating (see also paragraph 41). In such cases parliamentary privilege protects them against only that evidence itself being used against them outside the parliament, e.g. as evidence against them in proceedings before the courts. A witness may request the committee to take the evidence in camera in those circumstances. (The Privilege Committee has recommended a procedure for considering claims by a witness that he or she not answer a question on grounds of self-incrimination (R.35(9)).)

Claims by ministers that information should not be disclosed

24. Claims that information should be withheld from disclosure on grounds of public interest (''public interest immunity'') should only be made by ministers (normally the responsible Minister in consultation with the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister).

25. The guidelines, and particularly paragraphs 11 and 30-40, should be read in the context of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The Act establishes minimum standards of disclosure of documents held by Commonwealth departments and statutory authorities. Any non-public document or material which would not be exempt under this legislation should (with the knowledge of the Minister in sensitive cases or where the Minister has a particular interest or has been involved) be produced or given, on request, to a parliamentary committee. Moreoever, it may be in the public interest to provide to the Parliament a document or information which would technically be exempt under the Act, and the exemptions in the Act should thus not be applied without proper regard to the role and functions of the Parliament. In particular the following different circumstances apply in relation to Parliament:

(a) the possibility of evidence being tendered confidentially to a parliamentary committee and being protected against disclosure or publication ( see paragraphs 33-36); under the Freedom of Information Act the exemption provisions represent the only protection from disclosure to the world at large;

(b) the need to balance the public interest in protecting the documents with the public interest in parliament pursuing its investigative functions.

26. A number of the exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act relate to matters in respect of which a claim of public interest immunity might be made- see guidelines 30 and 31 below. In the case of the other exemptions, the matters with which they are concerned would not ordinarily provide a basis for a claim of public interest immunity but do provide guidance as to circumstances in which it would be appropriate to raise the possibility of evidence being tendered in confidence to a parliamentary committee-see guideline 34 below.

27. As far as practicable, the question whether a claim of immunity should be made should be decided before a hearing, so that a certificate by the Minister can be produced.

28. As a matter of practice, before making a claim of immunity, a minister might explore with a committee whether the information it seeks can be provided in a form or under conditions which would not give rise to a need for the claim (including in camera, as provided below). (Note also that the Privilege Committee has recommended that ''A witness (should) be invited to produce documents or records relevant to the committee's inquiry and an order (should) be made only where the committee has resolved that the circumstances warrant such an order'' (R.35(2).)

29. If an official witness, when giving evidence to a committee, believes that circumstances have arisen to justify a claim of immunity, the official should request a postponement of the evidence, or of the relevant part of the evidence, until the Minister can be consulted.

30. Documents-or oral evidence-in respect of which ministers may wish to consider claiming immunity depending on the balance of public interest, may include matters which fall into the following categories that coincide with some of those appearing in Part IV of the Freedom of Information Act dealing with exemption provisions (for a more detailed understanding of these, reference should be made to the Act and to separate guidelines on its operation issued by the Attorney-General's Department):

(a) documents whose disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause damage to

national security, defence, or international relations; or

relations with the States;

including disclosure of documents obtained in confidence from other governments ;

(b) Cabinet documents and other documents disclosing any deliberation or decision of the Cabinet, other than a document by which a decision was officially published or to the extent that the document contains purely factual material where its disclosure would not reveal a decision or deliberation not previously officially published;

(c) Executive Council documents and other documents disclosing any deliberation or advice of the Executive Council, other than a document by which an act of the Governor-General-in-Council was officially published or to the extent that the document contains purely factual material where its disclosure would not reveal a decision or deliberation not previously officially published;

(d) internal working documents which would disclose matter in the nature of, or relating to, opinion, advice or recommendation obtained, prepared or recorded, or consultation or deliberation that has taken place, in the course of, or for the purpose of, the deliberative processes involved in the functions of the Government of the Commonwealth, where disclosure would be contrary to the public interest;

(e) evidence affecting law enforcement or protection of public safety which would, or could reasonably be expected to:

prejudice the investigation of a possible breach of the law or the enforcement of the law in a particular instance;

disclose, or enable a person to ascertain the existence or identity of, a confidential source of information, in relation to the enforcement or administration of the law; or

endanger the life or physical safety of any person;

(f) evidence subject to legal professional privilege.

31. In addition the following considerations may affect a decision whether to make documents or information available:

(a) secrecy provisions of Acts: the requirement on officials to observe the secrecy provisions of enactments may vary from case to case and advice should be sought from the Attorney-General's Department when occasions involving such provisions arise;

(b) court orders: in circumstances where the giving of evidence would appear to be restricted by a court and public disclosure could be in contempt of court the advice of the Attorney-General's Department should be sought.

32. Documents, and oral information relating to documents, given one of the usual national security classifications of 'confidential', 'secret' or 'top secret' would normally be included under one of the categories in paragraph 30, particularly 30 (a). Before producing a document bearing such a classification, an official witness should seek an appropriate clearance. (Note: It does not follow that documents without formal security classification may not be the subject of a claim of immunity. Nor does it follow that classified documents may not in any circumstances be produced. Each document should be considered on its own merits and, where classified, in consulation with the originator.)

Evidence provided in confidence

33. There may be occasions when a minister (or, on his or her behalf, the department secretary) would wish, on balancing of the public interests involved, to raise with the person chairing the committee the possibility of an official producing documents or giving oral evidence in camera, and on the basis that the information be not disclosed or published except with the Minister's consent ( see also paragraph 37 below).

34. These circumstances might include:

(a) cases where, although a claim of immunity could be justified under 30 (a)-( f), the Minister considers that the balance of public interest lies in making information available to the committee on the basis that it be heard in camera and not disclosed or published except with his or her consent;

(b) cases where, while a claim of immunity may not be justified, there are other special considerations justifying the committee being asked to take evidence privately. Examples, which parallel other exemption provisions in Part IV of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, are:

(i) evidence affecting law enforcement or protection of public safety which would, or could reasonably be expected to

prejudice the fair trial of any person or the impartial adjudication of a particular case

disclose lawful methods or procedures of law enforcement in a way that might prejudice the effectiveness of those methods or procedures

prejudice the maintenance or enforcement of lawful methods of protecting public safety;

(ii) evidence public disclosure of which would have a substantial adverse effect on financial or property interests of the Commonwealth;

(iii) evidence public disclosure of which would prejudice the attainment of the objects or effectiveness of procedures or methods for the conduct of tests, examinations or audits of a Commonwealth agency;

(iv) evidence public disclosure of which would have a substantial adverse effect on the management or assessment of personnel, or on the proper and efficient conduct of the operations of a Commonwealth agency including the conduct by the Commonwealth of industrial relations;

(v) evidence unreasonably disclosing information relating to the personal affairs of any person; (note also that the Privilege Committee has recommended that a committee may consider taking evidence reflecting on a person, in camera (R. 35 (10));

(vi) evidence which would reveal business affairs, including trade secrets or other commercially sensitive information;

(vii) evidence, public disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to have a substantial adverse effect on the management of the economy or on the conduct of business generally;

(viii) evidence containing material obtained in confidence;

(c) cases where similar or identical evidence has been previously given in camera to other hearings of the committee or other committees of the Parliament and has not been made public.

35. If when giving evidence to a committee an official witness believes that circumstances have arisen to justify a request that evidence be heard in camera, the official should make such a request if the possibility has been foreshadowed with the Minister (see paragraph 7) or should ask for the postponement of the evidence or of the relevant part of the evidence until the Minister can be consulted. (The Privilege Committee has recommended that ''A witness who makes application for any or all of his evidence to be heard in camera (should) be invited to give reasons for such application, and may do so in camera. If the application is not granted, the witness shall be given reasons for that decision in public session (R. 35 (6)).)

36. In the event of an official being asked by a committee to give evidence ' off the record', the official should request a postponement until the Minister can be consulted, unless the possibility has been clearly foreshadowed with the Minister.

Publication of evidence

37. Authority for the publication of evidence, whether in public or in camera, is vested in the Houses and invariably delegated to committees (see sub-section 2 (2) of the Parliamentary Papers Act 1908, standing order 340 of the House of Representatives, standing order 302 of the Senate and resolutions of appointment of committees). It is to be noted that evidence taken in camera is confidential and its publication without a committee's consent could be determined to constitute a contempt of either or both Houses (see Privilege Committee report, R. 29). It should also be noted that section 46 of the Freedom of Information Act respects privilege in relation to material submitted to parliament.

38. If a committee proposes to publish in camera evidence given by an official witness and seeks concurrence of that witness, the matter should be taken up first with the Ministers or with the Secretary to the Department acting on the Minister's behalf. It is normal practice for a committee not to authorise the publication of in camera evidence without the concurrence of the witness, although such concurrence is not legally required. (See also paragraph 41.)

39. After perusing the record of their evidence, official witnesses should propose for the committee's consideration any necessary corrections for incorporation or noting in the published record. Where these affect the substance of the evidence previously given, it may be necessary to seek the agreement of the committee on the way in which the correction should be made, e. g. by tendering a subsequent statement. The Privilege Committee has recomended that ''Reasonable opportunity (should) be afforded to witnesses to request correction in the transcript of their witnesses to request correction in the transcript of their evidence and to put before the committee additional material supplementary to their evidence (R.35(15)).

40. If an official witnesses believes, after perusing the record, that he or she has omitted to give some relevant evidence, the official should, having consulted with the Minister (or department Secretary), seek leave of the committee to lodge a further statement supplementing the earlier evidence or to give further oral evidence. All supplementary written material (authorised in accordance with these guidelines) should be forwarded to the secretary of the committee. Note, however, that it cannot be assumed that such correspondence, other than that either sought by the committee or formally received as evidence or ordered to be published, would be protected by privilege (see paragraph 22).

Statutory committees

41. The Public Works Committee Act and the Public Accounts Committee Act provide for the summoning of witnesses and raise some special considerations, e. g. in section 23 of the Public Works Committee Act special provision is made in relation to the hearing of evidence on confidential matters and in section 19 of the Public Accounts Committee Act and section 25 of the Public Works Committee Act in relation to self incriminating evidence. In these and similar cases, the special provisions of the relevant Act take precedence.

Committees concerned with administrative aspects of government

42. Where a committee is one which, by its nature, concentrates on the administrative aspects of government and the subject of the committee's inquiry is directed towards the examination of departmental administration and practice, it is for the Secretary to the department, with the general consent of the relevant Minister, to use his or her discretion as to the extent to which aspects of these guidelines, such as the clearing of written evidence and the selection of witnesses, are to be followed.

Committees investigating the actions of individual Ministers or officials

43. Where a committee is inquiring into the personal actions of a minister (or official) and seeks information from officials, there may be circumstances where it is not appropriate for the requirements set out above for clearance of evidence to be followed.

Official witnesses from statutory authorities

44. Members of authorities which have statutory public information and education roles clearly are able to express views on the policy responsibilities of their authorities. However, care should be taken to avoid taking partisan positions on matters of political controversy. In other respects these guidelines should be followed as far as is relevant including in relation to claims of public interest immunity (see paragraph 25). The guidelines apply fully to the staff of statutory authorities.

B. Party committees

45. Officials are made freely available to brief Party committees to assist them in understanding the technical and factual background to government policies and proposals. The guidelines for submissions to and appearances before parliamentary committees apply, subject to the following, to briefing of Party committees by officials.

46. Ministers may authorise officers of their departments, or of statutory authorities for which they are responsible, to appear before Government and Opposition Party committees to provide briefings or background material on government or ministerial decisions and proposals, including details and/or explanations of proposed legislation.

47. Committee requests for briefing in the above terms should be directed to the Minister concerned. The Minister may then authorise the department or authority to take in hand the necessary arrangements. It will also be open to ministers to initiate proposals for briefing of committees, where they consider this to be desirable.

48. In providing briefing, officials will not be expected or authorised to express opinions on matters of a policy or of a Party political nature (see paragraph 11).

49. Where considered necessary or desirable, ministers may elect to be present at discussions with Government Party committees, to deal with questions of a policy or Party political nature.

50. Where the Minister does not attend the committee proceedings, officials should keep the Minister informed of the nature of the discussions and of any matters not able to be resolved by the officials to the committee's satisfaction .

51. Party committees do not have the powers or privileges of parliamentary committees, and consequently officials appearing before them do not have the protection afforded to witnesses before parliamentary committees (see paragraphs 22 and 23).

C. Non-parliamentary public inquiries (including royal commissions) and speeches

52. The guidelines for submissions to and appearances before parliamentary committees are to apply to officials' submissions to and appearances before other public inquiries, and to the preparation and presentation of speeches by officials in their official capacity, with the exceptions and additions contained in paragraphs 53-60.

Speeches

53. Officers, other than in areas where national security or other reasons demand confidentiality, and subject to these guidelines, should regard it as a normal part of their duties to make themselves available to attend and address conferences in their areas of professional expertise. Speeches in such circumstances should aim to provide the necessary factual information and analytical material to promote informed public discussion. Such speeches and appearances should be regarded as part of the normal interchange of information with community groups.

54. In the case of submissions and speeches in non-parliamentary contexts the Minister may decide to authorise the Secretary to the department to clear material himself or herself, with reference of the material to the Minister at the Secretary's discretion. Within ministerial guidance the Secretary will institute such rules in the department as he or she considers appropriate. Apart from prepared submissions and speeches, officials will often find it necessary to speak in their official capacity without having the opportunity to clear the substance of their comments (for example, in relation to open discussions at public seminars). In such cases officials should pay particular regard to rules laid down by the departmental secretary, and the Public Service Board Guidelines on Official Conduct concerning public comment by public servants. In particular, they should avoid taking partisan positions on policy issues or matters of public controversy.

Foreign service

55. Heads of Australian diplomatic or consular posts and senior officials serving abroad have the responsibility in countries to which they are accredited to explain, advocate or defend the Government's international and domestic policies through public speeches, conferences, media inquiries, appearances before host government parliamentary committees, etc. The opportunity may not arise for clearance by ministers or department secretaries, as appropriate. It is expected, however, that public comment will be consistent with authorised policies in all respects.

Royal commissions

56. Officials appearing before Royal Commissions established by the Commonwealth should also take note of the provisions of the Royal Commissions Act 1902. The categories of evidence enumerated in paragraph 30 above are appropriate also to claims of public interest immunity before a Commonwealth Royal Commission. The circumstances in which the Commission might be asked to hear evidence in camera are also likely to be the same as those listed at paragraph 34 above.

57. Except in limited circumstances, an official appearing before a Commonwealth Royal Commission may not refuse to answer a question (or to produce a document or other thing) on the ground that the giving of the answer or the production of the document or thing might tend to be self-incriminatory. This rule does not apply where the offence in respect of which the official might be so incriminated is an offence with which the official has been charged and the charge has not been finally dealt with by a court or otherwise disposed of.

58. Where guidance is required regarding counsel for officials-including about legal aid-advice should be sought from the Attorney-General's Department.

State inquiries (parliamentary and other)

59. Where additional guidance or counsel is required regarding officials' appearance before and evidence to State inquiries, advice should be sought from the Attorney-General's Department. Similarly where a claim of public interest immunity may be under consideration, advice should be sought from the Attorney- General's Department.

Courts

60. Where officials require further guidance or counsel in respect of their appearance before and evidence to courts of law-particularly concerning possible claims of public interest immunity-advice should be sought from the Attorney- General's Department.

D. Access by individual members of parliament to public servants and officers of statutory authorities

61. Requests for information are usually made through the responsible Minister, but it is recognised that direct approaches to officials for routine factual information, particularly on constituency matters, are traditional and appropriate.

62. In any event, an official should inform the department secretary of any request for information and the response, and inform the Minister of any matter which is likely to involve him or her.

63. When a request by a member of parliament amounts to no more than a request for readily available factual information, the information should obviously be provided.

64. There may be other occasions where, in the judgment of officials, a member' s request raises sensitive issues, for example, where expressions of opinion are sought of government policies or alternative policies, as distinct from explanation of existing policies. Officials will not be expected or authorised to express opinions on government policies, policy options or matters of a Party political nature. Information provided may, however, include details of administrative arrangements and procedures involved in implementation of approved policies or legislation.

65. Where a request is made which seeks expressions of opinion on government policies or policy options, it would be appropriate to suggest that the member pursue the matter with the Minister. Similar action would be appropriate if a request raised other issues of a sensitive nature, or where the answering of a request would necessitate the use of substantial resources of the department or authority.

66. Care should be taken to avoid unauthorised disclosure of classified or otherwise confidential information, for example, where a breach of personal or commercial privacy could be involved.

67. Where an official considers that the terms of a request would require going beyond the authorised scope of the above arrangements, the official should so indicate to the Member, and will be at liberty to raise the matter with the Secretary to the department or authority and the Minister and, if desired, with the Public Service Board.


Senator GRIMES —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the guidelines.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.