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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2453

Senator ALSTON (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) —Mr President, I seek leave to give a notice of motion in the terms contained in the document which I was proposing to table.

  Leave granted.

Senator ALSTON —I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move:

  (1)That, for the reasons set out in paragraph (2), there be laid on the table, by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Evans) not later than immediately after Question Time and any motions to take note of answers to questions on 24 August 1994, either:

    (a)a copy of the legal advice prepared by the Office of General Counsel for the Treasury, and referred to by the Attorney-General in the House of Representatives on 2 March 1994, on the powers of a House of the Parliament or of a parliamentary committee to order production of documents for the purposes of the House or the committee; or

    (b)a considered legal opinion by the Office of General Counsel on the question whether, and if so to what extent, a House of the Parliament or a committee has power to order production of documents and enforce such an order if it is disobeyed.

  (2)The reasons referred to in paragraph (1) are:

    (a)the refusal, on 29 June 1994, of the Attorney-General (Mr Lavarch), voluntarily to make available a copy of the advice prepared for the Treasury;

    (b)the otherwise quite regular practice of the Government in releasing important legal advice, for example, the undertaking given by the Minister for Family Services (Senator Crowley) to Senator Teague on 1 June 1994 in regard to legal advice concerning the Employment, Education and Training Legislation Amendment Bill 1994;

    (c)the great significance of Attorney-General's Department advice in setting out the approach of the Commonwealth Government to legal principles, interpretation and practices, particularly in relation to constitutional matters, for example, the major advice concerning the powers of parliamentary committees from the Solicitor-General, Mr Gavan Griffiths QC, tabled in the Senate on 16 August 1991 by the former Attorney-General, Senator Evans QC;

    (d)the apparent willingness of the Attorney-General to change his mind when he appreciates that misjudgements have been made in attributing confidentiality when as a matter of principle it is not warranted, for example, concerning details of the individual payments made to counsel appearing on behalf of the Commonwealth Government which, in spite of precedents and requests by Senators, were withheld by the Attorney-General until 26 May 1994;

    (e)the fact that the First Report of the Select Committee on the Print Media has published major advices from Mr David Jackson QC and Mr Anthony Morris QC concerning the powers of the Houses or parliamentary committees to obtain documents and, given their import, the view of the Government's senior legal advisers in the Office of General Counsel should be in the public domain alongside these other opinions to ensure that the Parliament and the public are properly informed of the available range of current legal opinion on this most important of issues for the effectiveness of the Parliament in ensuring the accountability of government.