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Economics Legislation Committee
10/02/2016
Estimates
INDUSTRY, INNOVATION AND SCIENCE PORTFOLIO

INDUSTRY, INNOVATION AND SCIENCE PORTFOLIO

In Attendance

Senator Cormann, Minister for Finance

Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

Ms Glenys Beauchamp, Secretary

Office of the Chief Scientist

Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist

Ms Jane Urquhart, Head of Division, Science and Commercialisation

Mr Cameron Slatyer, Acting General Manager, Science Policy Branch

Committee met at 08:59

CHAIR ( Senator Edwards ): I declare open this hearing of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee. The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of proposed expenditure for 2015-16 and related documents for the Treasury and the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolios. The committee also examined the annual reports of the departments and agencies appearing before it. The committee is due to report to the Senate on 1 March 2016 and it has set Friday, 19 February 2016 as the date by which senators are to submit written questions on notice. The committee has fixed Friday, 1 April 2016 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice. Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session, this includes answers questions on notice. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance, the secretariat has a copies of the rules. In particular, I draw the attention of witnesses to the order of the Senate of 13 May 2009, specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised. Witnesses are specifically reminded that the statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

   (a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

   (b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

( 13 May 2009 J.1941 )

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders)

I remind senators and witnesses that microphones remain live, unless I instruct otherwise—for example, at the suspension or adjournment. I would ask photographers and cameramen to follow the established media guidelines and the instructions of the committee secretariat. Please ensure that senators and witnesses' laptops and personal papers are not filmed. I remind members of the public and everyone in the gallery that they are not permitted to speak or interfere with the proceedings or the witnesses at any point during the hearing. Security is present and they will be asked to remove anyone who does not follow these instructions.

The committee's proceedings today will begin with the examination of the Office of the Chief Scientist from the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio, before we commence with the Treasury portfolio. The hearing will then follow the order as set out in the circulated program. The committees' scheduled break times are listed in the program.