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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 91

The PRESIDENT (3:37 PM) —During question time Senator Allison asked me some questions about the Parliamentary Library, including my understanding of its independence. I remind the Senate that it was due to my own motion in the Appropriations and Staffing Committee, later adopted by the Senate, that the recommendation in Mr Podger’s report on parliamentary administration relating to the Parliamentary Librarian was in fact strengthened so that this position will be a statutory position.

I also note that the Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill, which received bipartisan support in the Senate, explicitly provides for the functions of the Parliamentary Librarian—namely, to provide high quality information, analysis and advice to senators and members of the House of Representatives in support of their parliamentary and representational roles—and that this must be done (a) in a timely, impartial and confidential manner; (b) maintaining the highest standards of scholarship and integrity; (c) on the basis of equality of access for all senators, members of the House of Representatives, parliamentary committees and staff acting on behalf of senators, members or parliamentary committees; and (d) having regard to the independence of parliament from the executive government of the Commonwealth. Senator Allison will note that the bill takes the approach that all senators and members, regardless of their political allegiance, must be treated by the Parliamentary Library equally. This has been the credo of the Parliamentary Library since its establishment and is now rightly to be set out in law. I do not believe it would be appropriate to single out any group or groups of parliamentarians for greater or lesser support from the Library.

The continued independence of the function of the Parliamentary Library will be protected by these provisions. It will also be protected by the statutory position of the Parliamentary Librarian, who will be appointed for a five-year term and can only be dismissed after the Presiding Officers have received a report from the Parliamentary Service Commissioner. The Parliamentary Library will be further protected by the requirement of a resource agreement with the secretary of the department, which must be approved by the Presiding Officers after receiving advice from the Library Committee. As well, the enhanced role of the Library Committee and the requirement and ability for the Parliamentary Librarian to independently report to the parliament will protect the Library’s independence.

Senator Allison also asked me a supplementary question about new terms of reference for the proposed Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library. A discussion paper has been circulated to the current Library Committee members for their consideration. It includes a possible draft resolution. I make clear to the Senate that it will be the Senate and the House of Representatives which determine the role and functions of this committee, just as they do for all other committees. The current Library Committee is not being asked to determine its own terms of reference; it is being asked to comment on a possible resolution for later consideration by all honourable senators and members. I also make the point that the draft resolution provides for representation on the proposed new committee by Independent and minor party senators and members.

Senator Faulkner —I raise a point of order, Mr President. I am sorry that I missed the commencement of your statement but I did notice that it was described as a statement on the televisions in the building. Would you mind indicating whether that was a formal statement to the Senate or a response, as I assumed it was in listening to the content of your statement, to the question and supplementary question asked by Senator Allison in question time today?

The PRESIDENT —It was a response to the question asked by Senator Allison. I notified her of making the answer and she was going to observe the answer from her office, I believe.