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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
30/08/2007
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007
STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
Senate committee
Thursday, 30 August 2007
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007
Final

CHAIR (Senator Fifield) —I declare open this meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration. This hearing is for the committee’s inquiry into the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007, which the Senate referred to the committee on 16 August 2007 for report by 4 September 2007. The bill seeks to allow the Australian Electoral Commission to undertake any plebiscite on the amalgamation of any local governing body in any part of Australia. The committee has received 92 submissions for this inquiry. All submissions have been authorised for publication and will be available on the committee’s website.

These are public proceedings; although the committee may agree to a request to have evidence heard in camera or may determine that certain evidence should be heard in camera. At the end of today’s formal program, the committee will be holding an open microphone session for 30 minutes where interested members of the public gallery will be invited to give their views on the bill. There will be a strict time limit of two minutes per person. The secretariat has witness sheets available so that members of the gallery can signal their intention to speak before that session commences.

I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to the committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. If witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken, and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may, of course, also be made at any other time.

The Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy. It does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

[9.04 am]