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Thursday, 9 December 1976

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

The document read as follows-

Guidelines to Apply to Appearances by Public Servants Before Party Committees

1.   Ministers may authorise officers of their departments 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.

2.   Briefing of this nature will be authorised on the principle of promoting the freest possible flow of factual and background material to permit informed consideration by the committees and parties concerned of the issues involved, consistent with preserving the necessary confidence of Government and maintaining the traditional political impartiality of officials.

3.   Committee requests for briefing in the above terms will be directed to the Minister concerned. If he agrees, the Minister will authorise his department to put the necessary arrangements in hand. It will also be open for a Minister himself to initiate proposals for briefing of committees, where he considers this to be desirable.

4.   Officials will not be expected or authorised to express opinions on Government policies, policy options or matters of a party political nature. The discussions may, however, include administrative arrangements and procedures involved in implementation of the proposed policies or legislation.

5.   If matters are raised which in the judgment of officials seek expressions of opinion on Government policies or on alternative policies, the officials would suggest that the matter be raised with the Minister.

6.   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 parry political nature.

7.   Where the Minister does not attend the committee proceedings, he will have the right to be kept informed by officials of the nature of the discussions and of any matters not able to be resolved by the officials to the committee's satisfaction.

8.   Where an official considers that questioning by a committee goes beyond the authorised scope of the briefing arrangements, he should so indicate to the committee, and before answering will be at liberty to raise the matter with his departmental head and the Minister, and if he so desires, with the Public Service Board.

Guidelines Relating to Access by Members of Parliament to Public Servants

(a)   Much will depend on the nature of the request. There will, for example, be occasions when a request by a Member of Parliament amounts to no more than a request for available factual information equivalent to any request from a member of the public. In these circumstances, the information should obviously be provided;

(b)   there will be other occasions when the request is sensitive, or where answering it would necessitate the use of substantial departmental resources. In such cases it would be appropriate to suggest that the member write to the Minister requesting the information;

(c)   the officer should, as appropriate, inform his Permanent Head or Minister of a request for information and of the outcome;

(d)   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.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - In response to the royal commission's suggestion that greater attention is required to the provision of more realistic objectives for staff training and development activities, the Government has decided that all departments should be asked to review their overall arrangements in these areas. In the light of those reviews, the Public Service Board has been asked to review the nature of its own role in relation to training and personnel development matters and to report its findings to the Government by mid- 1977.

The Government did not take up the commission's recommendation that the special statutory provisions for the appointment of exservicemen in section 47a of the Public Service Act be not re-enacted when the Act is amended. We do not believe that there should be any suggestion of a lessening of the Government s special concern for veterans who have served Australia.

The Government has noted that the commission highlighted the proliferation of Commonwealth statutory authorities, particularly in recent years. For its part, my Government endorses the commission's conclusion in favour of adopting the departmental form of organisation for government agencies unless a clear necessity can be demonstrated for the functions concerned to be carried out by a body which is wholly, or in some desired way, separate from ministerial and departmental administration. In conformity with this approach, we have decided that formulation of broad guidelines for the creation of statutory authorities would be desirable. Accordingly, a working party of officials is to be established to prepare a guideline document as soon as possible for the Government's consideration. We would expect that the guidelines ultimately approved by the Government would be applied not only in circumstances where creation of a new statutory authority was being proposed, but also for pur- poses of assessing whether existing statutory bodies continued to satisfy the guideline criteria. This would not preclude Ministers from proposing particular structural arrangements where they felt there were worthwhile advantages to be gained.

As reflected in the terms of the decisions which I have now announced, my Government is conscious of the need for consultation with staff organisation on matters arising from the royal commission's recommendations which have major industrial relations implications. Such consultation will take place with the peak councils of the staff organisations and with other bodies as appropriate.

Legislation introduced recently on appointment of Permanent Heads of Public Service departments and on early retirement, followed the Government's acceptance of the main thrust of the Commission's recommendations on these matters.

Because of the wide-ranging terms of reference of the royal commission it was obviously not in a position to prepare detailed implementation plans for its recommendations. I believe that we nave made substantial progress in our initial examination of the report and have set in train work to prepare such detailed plans. I have no doubt that, when implemented, these reforms will lead to a more efficient administrationa matter which should be of concern to all Australians. I add that as the Government examination of the royal commission's recommendations progresses, obviously there will be other reports to the Parliament concerning the decisions taken.

Sitting suspended from 12.54 to 2.15 p.m.

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