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Thursday, 28 September 1972
Page: 1331


Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition12.9) - I support in principle what has been put by the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Drake-Brockman). It is extremely important that in respect of the Estimates we do not have evidence taken in camera except in the most special circumstances. After all, the purpose of the Estimates Committees is to examine on behalf of this chamber, in effect, the public accounting of expenditure for the previous financial year and the necessity for and details of the proposed expenditure for the current financial year. It is not consistent with the role of this chamber in examining the Estimates for evidence to be taken in camera, except in extremely special circumstances. Therefore it is only proper that the Senate itself should agree, on a strong case being put to it, whether any evidence should be taken by an Estimates Committee in camera. I support the proposition which has emanated from the Standing Orders Committee and which has been put by the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate, but I would suggest, in order to bear out what I conceive to be what the Standing Orders Committee had in mind, that there be a slight amendment to the recommendation.

What I understood to be the basis of the recommendation was that no evidence should be taken in camera by an Estimates Committee unless the Senate decided otherwise. That would be the case if we were to adopt the principle that any decision to the effect that an Estimates Committee take evidence in camera should be made only by the Senate itself upon receiving a special report from the particular (Estimates Committee. Actually the recommendation that has come from the Standing Orders Committee is slightly different from that. The Standing Orders Committee has recommended that any decision with respect to any Estimates Committee taking in camera evidence should be made only by the Senate itself.


Senator Webster - Including a refusal.


Senator MURPHY - Including a refusal or anything at all that would mean that the Committee would be paralysed - that it would not be able to say yes or no on the question. There may be a clear case before a Committee on which it says: 'We are not going to take evidence in camera'. If we were to adopt the recommendation as it stands that would be open to argument Some may think that the intention is quite clearly that it would not be open to argument. To put the matter beyond doubt, I move:

At the end of the motion add: 'but that the recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee be amended to read: "The Standing Orders Committee has recommended to the Senate that any decision that any Estimates Committee take in camera evidence should be made only by the Senate itself upon receiving a special report from the particular Committee.

I do not think the Standing Orders Committee would mind if I were to say that this was the expressed intention of the Committee, although some of the members of the Committee thought the slight change I am proposing in the verbage was not necessary. I should point out that I am putting forward this proposition as a member of the Standing Orders Committee. I do not think that there will be any objection by anyone to what I have proposed. I understood the intention of the Committee to be exactly as I have said. Some mem- bers may think that it is not necessary to express the recommendation so precisely as I am suggesting, but I do.


Senator Drake-Brockman - I accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

Sitting suspended from 12.15 to 8 p.m.

General Business Taking Precedence of Government Business at 8 p.m.







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