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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
05/05/2016
Estimates
PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS

PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS

In Attendance

Senator Parry, President of the Senate

Department of Parliamentary Services

Secretary

Mr Robert Stefanic, Secretary

Parliamentary Library

Dr Dianne Heriot, Parliamentary Librarian

Mr Jonathon Curtis, Assistant Secretary, Research

Ms Liz Luchetti, Assistant Secretary, Collections and Databases

ICT Division

Ms Eija Seittenranta, Chief Information Officer

Mr Lou Nulley, Assistant Secretary, ICT Strategy, Planning and Applications

Mr Ian McKenzie, Assistant Secretary, ICT Infrastructure and Services

Building and Asset Management Division

Mr Rob Barnes, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Paul Cooper, Assistant Secretary, Security

Mr John Ryan, Assistant Secretary, Asset Development and Maintenance

Mr John Yanitsas, Assistant Secretary, Program Delivery

Operations Division

Ms Myra Croke, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Nicholas Creagh, Chief Finance Officer

Ms Jaala Hinchcliffe, Assistant Secretary, People, Strategy and Governance

Mr Luke Hickey, Assistant Secretary, Parliamentary Experience

Parliamentary Recording and Reporting Branch

Ms Christine White, Acting Assistant Secretary

Committee met at 09:00

CHAIR ( Senator Bernardi ): I declare open the meeting of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee. Today the committee will begin the examination of the budget estimates for 2016-17 for the parliamentary departments, the Finance portfolio and the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio. The committee may also examine the annual reports of the departments and agencies appearing before it.

Notwithstanding the expectation that a double dissolution election will be called shortly, the committee has fixed 17 June as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice. The committee also notes that a senator could move a motion in the Senate in the next parliament ordering that responses be provided to questions asked at an estimates hearing in the previous parliament. The committee is required to report to the Senate by 11 May 2016.

The committee's proceedings will begin with the Department of Parliamentary Services, followed by the department and agencies of the Finance portfolio as listed on the program. We will then commence examination of the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, beginning with outcome 1 of the department, followed by the Indigenous Land Corporation and outcome 2, then the Office for Women followed by the Australian Public Service Commission to conclude the committee's hearing this evening.

Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. 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 a 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.

The Senate by resolution in 1999 endorsed the following test of relevance of questions at estimates hearings: any questions going to the operations or financial positions of the departments and agencies which are seeking funds in the estimates are relevant questions for the purpose of estimates hearings. I remind officers that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has the discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise.

The Senate has resolved also that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth 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 and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance, the secretariat has copies of the rules. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised.

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)

Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirement 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.

Officers are requested to keep opening statements brief or to seek to incorporate longer statements into the Hansard. We are now going to commence with the Department of Parliamentary Services.