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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
23/02/2015
Estimates
PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS
Department of the Senate

Department of the Senate

[09:03]

CHAIR: Dr Laing, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Dr Laing : I advise the committee that the department does not have anything in the appropriations bills and therefore has not prepared a portfolio additional estimates statement for this round of estimates. However, as always, we are here to assist the committee with any inquiries they may have about our operations.

Senator LUDWIG: I go to security arrangements. I noticed the other day that there was an AFP officer in the attendants chamber. Have you made a statement to the chamber or, more broadly, to the Senate about what the security arrangements are and how long they are going to be in place for? I only saw him the once. I looked again to see if he was around but I did not spot him again.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Ludwig. I have briefed the leaders and crossbench senators privately about this exact arrangement you are referring to. I think it would be in the interests of the parliament for me not to go into detail about who, where, what, how, length of duration et cetera, but I am very happy at any stage—and I know we cannot go in camera in the estimates process—to brief the committee privately on some of the detail you may be seeking. It would be foolish of me to go into what the security arrangements contained within the building are, especially in the nature that you have gone to, in relation to a particular person in the chamber.

Senator LUDWIG: It would be clearly visible from the gallery. Notwithstanding that, can I go back to some what I would call the process questions then, if we put the security issue aside for a moment. Was there a report that was commissioned by you, Mr President, around security issues? Does that underpin the changes?

The PRESIDENT: There are two things in relation to that. Firstly, the Speaker and I receive constant advice from agencies, particularly the AFP and ASIO, and that advice is trickling in on a constant basis. We have regular meetings with the AFP commissioner and sometimes with the minister. Subsequent to that—in fact, as a follow-up from the meeting that I held with the leaders and crossbench senators—I got verbal advice that the AFP have been providing on a long-term basis in written form, which the leaders of key parties in the Senate have been made aware of.

Secondly, advice has been sought on a more formal basis for a renewed security threat to the building. Can I stress that the renewed security threat assessment of the building is merely to get it into a more formal structure, because that is an ongoing thing. We have constant updates about threats to the building of a verbal nature. This is now to formalise that and partly to satisfy the leaders and crossbench senators from that last briefing that I gave them.

Senator LUDWIG: Is that a threat assessment you have asked for, and when did you ask for that? I am happy for you to take it on notice.

The PRESIDENT: It would have been within the last fortnight; certainly over a week ago. I can get the exact date, if you need the exact date. That has been formally requested. Again, I stress that the security threat of the building is an ongoing thing that is monitored on a fairly regular basis. This is just formalising at a particular point in time what the security threat of the building is and where we currently sit.

Senator LUDWIG: But you are not doing it in an ad hoc way? What you are saying is that yes, people do monitor security issues. But let us talk about what your response is. You are not saying to the Senate that as the AFP provide ongoing advice and assistance you then make ad hoc changes to our security arrangements in the sense of whatever it might be. You would surely do a proper threat assessment, see what needed to be done and then implement it accordingly, with consultation. That is as I would imagine it. If that is not right, can you put me straight?

The PRESIDENT: That is basically correct. We go back to September last year. This is where a threat assessment and an analysis of the building from every security perspective was undertaken. I have been asked what the most recent security threat assessment is. We are having another one formalised so it gives me and the Speaker some comfort that we have a formal assessment. As I am sure you would appreciate, the security environment changes. When you say 'ad hoc measures'—ad hoc measures in relation to improvements to the building; they are carefully considered and thought out, based upon information that is received. It is not just a one-day event and then building changes are implemented. It is an ongoing thing. I am sure we could go back 25 years and find that the security changes have been incremental in the life of this building. There would be peaks and troughs, depending on what is happening around us and what advice we receive. You would have to be blind Freddy not to realise that we are certainly in heightened security awareness at the moment. Prior to the Canadian parliament incident, the Speaker and I undertook some measures and that was based upon information and security advice that we received.

Senator LUDWIG: How do I as a senator understand what changes you have made and what arrangements have been put in place prior to you formally now asking for a threat assessment? You have indicated that you have made changes. You may not want to go into them in detail, but put yourself in my shoes for a moment: I am sitting in the chamber or wandering around the corridors, as you do, and you notice changes. How am I to respond to those? Are we under video surveillance? There are issues which I would want to know about that may impact upon the work that I do.

The PRESIDENT: Can I tell you one thing, Senator Ludwig. What is always foremost in the mind of the Speaker and I, particularly in relation to where we are at the moment, is that all the building occupants need to be safe. That is everyone—visitors, staff, senators and members. Secondly, senators and members have to go about their duties and their tasks knowing they can do so unimpeded. There should be no additional surveillance. There should be no concerns about a senator or member going about their duties in relation to what they do on a day-to-day basis or feeling as though they are under any form of additional surveillance or security, which I think you were alluding to, apart from the fact that we are ensuring this building remains as secure as possible.

A dilemma that I am sure you will appreciate—and every parliament basically faces this dilemma—is that we want the parliament building to be open so people can be engaged and participate in the democratic process. At the same time, we want to make sure it is secure so that it cannot be impeded by people who wish to do harm in the building. That is a dilemma and it is something that we wrestle with on a daily basis. For you to be more assured about that, I extend again my offer earlier. There are matters that I will not discuss in the public arena, for a variety of obvious reasons, but I am very happy to go into more detail with this committee if the committee wishes to convene a private meeting at some later stage.

Senator LUDWIG: In the ad hoc changes—my words—that were made prior to a threat assessment, who did you consult? Let us say there were five, for want of a number; you can correct me if I am wrong and tell me what number it is. There must have been changes that you and the Speaker have agreed upon and implemented that I am not aware of. Let us say there were five, unless you want to tell me another number. Outside of yourself, as President, and the Speaker, who was involved in the decision making to implement those?

The PRESIDENT: There are a number of issues in relation to what you have just asked. Firstly, forget the number of five. I am not going to confirm or deny any particular number. There are measures that are physical in nature, personal in nature and policy in nature that are constantly reviewed, updated and modified, as necessary. The consultation process is wide and varied. A number of these emanate from the security task force, which includes the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, the chamber departments from time to time, the office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Attorney-General's Department and the Department of Parliamentary Services. The Security Management Board has a role to play also. Different people need to be consulted on a variety of issues. For example, if it impacted on a particular senator's or member's office, there would be consultation with that senator or member. There are committees that I have been engaged with privately in relation to concerns about security. The consultation is exceptionally wide. It depends on what the issue is. If you wanted to narrow it down to a single issue that we could discuss, yes, I could tell you the consultation process. When I think it is an issue that had—

Senator LUDWIG: I do not mean to interrupt you, but here is the dilemma: I do not know what you have implemented so I cannot tag what consultation went with that. I am happy for you to take it on notice. I spotted one change. I do not know whether that is ad hoc or whether it is ongoing. I do not know for what purpose, for how long or what consultation occurred. I know that you did not consult me. I know I am not worthy much of that consultation, but—

The PRESIDENT: On the contrary, Senator.

Senator LUDWIG: it does cross my mind that I cannot ask when I cannot identify what it is.

The PRESIDENT: You can ask. The problem I have is that I cannot tell you in this forum. That is the only restriction. Why would I want to flag to anyone who had wanted to do us harm—

Senator LUDWIG: No, I appreciate that.

The PRESIDENT: But I am happy to do so individually with you, with the committee or with groups of senators. I am more than happy to do that.

Senator LUDWIG: Here is the process question. You can now, because I have flagged it. What I am more curious about are the ones that have already been done—what the consultation process was with those. It certainly was not flagged with me in a formal sense, or with other senators, I assume. Maybe some of the crossbenchers know; I do not know. What I am looking for is not the actual security measure, because I understand that for a whole range of reasons we do not want to talk about it here. What I am really curious about are the three types. There is a policy change, there is a physical change and there might be a procedural change that has occurred. All of these have been ongoing since and prior to a threat assessment. What is the consultation with the public who come through? Maybe not very much. What about the businesses in Parliament House? What consultation has occurred with them? What about the media? All of that might impact on their day-to-day work as well. I am curious to know whether or not consultation was undertaken in a formal sense with a range of businesses or organisations that work within parliament, including the senators themselves. I am interested to know whether or not in each one of those changes the PM's office was involved or whether it was just the Speaker and you. How did it all come about? There have been changes. I think you are entitled to tell us that.

The PRESIDENT: Yes, there have been changes. There will be further changes. Some will be obvious. Some will be more public than others. Some will be more covert. Some will be changes that are just so subtle to building design and structure that most people would not even notice. I cannot advance my answer any further in relation to the consultation.

Senator WONG: Mr President, I understand the rationale behind the assertion that you cannot talk about it. Given that is your position, could you explain how it is that changes to the arrangements ended up in the media before senators were, in fact, advised? Do you have any knowledge of how that occurred?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, you were present at a meeting I convened in my office—

Senator WONG: And I am giving you the opportunity, to perhaps clarify how it is that something like that got into the media.

The PRESIDENT: It leaked from that meeting.

Senator WONG: Is that your belief?

The PRESIDENT: Someone from that meeting who was in possession of that information must have leaked that information to the media. That is the only possibility because that was the only group of people that was briefed. It was every leader of every party, as well as every crossbench senator.

Senator WONG: A lot of detail of the burqa process, shall I put it, non-judgementally, got into the media without any briefing of senators.

The PRESIDENT: Correct.

Senator WONG: Which would suggest, actually, there is a briefing of the media which is completely unrelated to any meeting of crossbenchers and party senators around security arrangements.

The PRESIDENT: We are talking about two completely different issues. Yes, they both related to security but completely different issues. There were different groups of people involved in the first issue—the facial covering issue—and there were different groups of people involved in this particular meeting where information was leaked shortly after the meeting took place.

Senator WONG: Who else, other than that group, was aware? The Prime Minister's office was aware of your intentions?

The PRESIDENT: No.

Senator WONG: The Speaker's office was?

The PRESIDENT: Yes.

Senator WONG: Who else?

The PRESIDENT: Only of the intentions to have that meeting.

Senator WONG: No; I am sorry, of the information which was made public in that article online and then I think subsequently published in the prints, I am asking: who else, other than those who attended the meeting about which you have given evidence, was aware of the detail of that?

The PRESIDENT: It would have been the Australian Federal Police, the Speaker's office, my office and every participant in that meeting.

Senator WONG: I think you called it the security management committee. Is that the name?

The PRESIDENT: The Security Management Board.

Senator WONG: That has a representative of the Prime Minister's office?

The PRESIDENT: No.

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister's office does not attend that meeting?

The PRESIDENT: No.

Senator WONG: Does a representative of the Prime Minister's office attend any meeting associated with security associated with Parliament House?

The PRESIDENT: Not on the formal board.

Senator WONG: I did not ask that.

The PRESIDENT: I am just going through my mind for any possible meeting. There would be meetings from time to time—and I cannot recall one this year so far—with the Prime Minister's office, with the Prime Minister himself and staff, where the Speaker and I have been present for a briefing in relation to the broader security threat as it relates to Parliament House or may have implications for Parliament House. That would be from time to time. But the Prime Minister's office is not invited to, or is not a participant in, any of the more formal structures within the Security Management Board or the Speaker and the President's office—and that is not the Prime Minister's office—with the exception of the security task force, where the PM&C secretary or representative attends.

Senator WONG: I am sorry. That is actually the task force I was referring to. The security management committee is an internal DPS—

The PRESIDENT: That is correct—DPS, the Senate and the Reps.

Senator WONG: So the task force has a PM&C representative—

The PRESIDENT: Correct.

Senator WONG: but is not attended by members of the Prime Minister's office?

The PRESIDENT: No.

Senator WONG: Were the Prime Minister's office advised at any point, prior to the meeting with senators that you have discussed, of the content of the same information that was put into that briefing?

The PRESIDENT: No.

Senator WONG: You say no, and then the Prime Minister's office—

The PRESIDENT: Not from my office.

Senator WONG: Not from your office.

The PRESIDENT: Certainly not from my office.

Senator WONG: So it is possible that the Speaker's office advised the Prime Minister's office.

The PRESIDENT: I would think that would be unlikely, but there is a potential possibility. But I would think that would be highly unlikely.

Senator WONG: Mr President, one of the committees that is appointed under the standing orders is the House Committee. Previously your predecessor, Senator Hogg, utilised that committee for the purposes of briefing on security matters. Have you taken a decision not to involve that committee in these issues?

The PRESIDENT: No. I am just trying to recall the last agenda. The Joint House Committee has only met once since the September escalation, if you like, of security arrangements. I think they have a meeting scheduled very shortly.

The Clerk is advising me that the House Committee meets on domestic matters normally, but it is open for anyone at the House Committee meeting to ask questions about security. They can be canvassed there.

Senator WONG: Obviously it is a matter for you, Mr President, but given Senator Ludwig's concerns, which I do not think—

The PRESIDENT: I am advised, Senator Wong, and my memory has been refreshed, that we did discuss security at the last Joint House Committee meeting. Also, prior to the House Committee meeting, the joint one, I convene a Senate-only House Committee meeting, where anyone can raise anything pre the House Committee meeting, the joint one, just to give senators an opportunity to have anything that they particularly want discussed at that other meeting. The House Committee has no formal structure, as opposed to the appropriations and staffing meeting, which would have a greater formal structure in relation to matters pertaining to security. The House Committee is an advisory committee to the Presiding Officers, really, in that sense.

Senator WONG: I want to move on from this. There are plenty of other questions. As you would know, the concerns raised by Senator Ludwig are not unique. I suppose my question about the House Committee is searching for a mechanism which enables perhaps a process of consideration and consultation, which I know is important to you, about these matters that does not transgress any security concerns. I am happy to have that conversation.

The PRESIDENT: I need to stress this: information is not being withheld from senators. It is just the appropriate place and time in which to discuss these matters. Estimates is fantastic because it is open and transparent, but when it comes to security matters it is very difficult.

Senator WONG: Sure, and I am not pressing it. I am raising a process issue and I am happy to move on. Can I move now to the questions from Senator Faulkner.

CHAIR: Just before you do, Senator Wong, has Senator Ludwig completed his line of questioning on that?

Senator LUDWIG: I have.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Senator Faulkner's questions of you, Mr President, from, I think, November—I assume that at some point they will be responded to?

The PRESIDENT: Can you refresh my mind as to which questions?

Senator WONG: I do not have all of them here.

The PRESIDENT: Were they questions on notice?

Senator WONG: I think so, from November 2014.

The PRESIDENT: Every single question that Senator Faulkner asked on notice has been responded to.

Senator WONG: I am not sure that is correct, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: It is because it happened in the last sitting week, and I was assured that every single question has been responded to.

Senator WONG: Are these the ones filed last week?

The PRESIDENT: Yes.

Senator WONG: Right.

The PRESIDENT: Or the week before.

Senator WONG: Were they filed within the time frame required?

The PRESIDENT: They may have been just outside the time frame. There was quite a lengthy list of questions. It was quite a complex area.

Senator WONG: The privileges committee report of December 2014—the 160th report of the committee—made some very serious findings in relation to the Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services. Evidence received by the committee, in the words of the report, 'cast considerable doubt' on the evidence of the secretary to this committee relating to the use of CCTV. As you are probably aware, the report finds that this committee was misled about the secretary's knowledge of the events. I am wondering, and you may wish to answer only in the most general terms, if you have taken any action in response to these findings. I have not asked what the action is, Mr President; I am just asking if any action has been taken.

The PRESIDENT: Firstly, is this the right area? Should this come up when we go to the DPS matters? I know it is a privileges matter—

Senator WONG: It is a matter for you and it is matter about privileges, which goes to the work of the Senate and this committee. I know that you share this—we have our political barneys on this committee, on all committees, but I think that senators across the divide would say to you that our expectation is that officers answer truthfully and accurately and when they are mistaken they correct the record promptly. I would hope that all officers across all departments would take that obligation seriously. I accept that public servants and officers may not give me the answers that I want, but I certainly do not expect people to mislead Senate committees.

The PRESIDENT: I share that view strongly, Senator Wong. In relation to the privileges committee matter, one comment I will make up-front is that when the committee was going through its deliberations, a delegation from the committee met with me and asked what our reaction would be in relation to the security cameras and the release of information from security footage, or the release of footage. The Speaker and I instantly changed the policy so that every single request had to come to us for release. That is the first item. We particularly demonstrated that we take seriously the privileges committee concerns. In relation to the secretary, I think it would be fair to say that the secretary may wish to address those matters in her opening remarks. I think it would be fair to allow her to do that before we move any further.

CHAIR: May I just interrupt. The committee is privy to information which you are obviously not, Mr President, and maybe you are not, Senator Wong. The secretary has responded to the Privileges Committee findings in a letter to this committee which has not been made public. It is still to be considered. Until that point when it has been considered it probably should not be in the public domain. This is for your information, Senator.

Senator WONG: I do not know about that letter, and I am not a member of the committee.

CHAIR: She has responded. That is all I am saying, and the committee has to consider that response.

Senator WONG: That is fine. But we have got a committee report which makes a certain set of findings. My question to the President was: what action, if any, was he proposing to take?

The PRESIDENT: Can I ask that the Clerk talks about the process of what will happen, and then I can respond further?

Senator WONG: Sure.

Dr Laing : Just to clarify the process, the report of the Privileges Committee on the use of CCTV material in Parliament House was tabled at the very stroke of our last bit of business in December. It was only in the last sitting week that a notice of motion to adopt the recommendations was put to the Senate and it was agreed to, again, on the last sitting day of the Senate. The formal adoption by the Senate of the committee's findings has, in effect, just occurred. That formally kicks off the next stage which is the President's consideration of a response to those recommendations. I thought it would just be useful to clarify that process issue.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that, Dr Laing.

The PRESIDENT: If I could add, Senator Wong, this matter also involves the Speaker, because it involves parliamentary security. It is a matter that I will be discussing with the Speaker. We have regular weekly meetings, and this is on our agenda.

CHAIR: Once again, there was a response received by Ms Mills last week, which I am sure the appropriate people will need to consider in following up on this.

Senator WONG: I was not aware of that until you said that, Chair. So I will wait for the DPS evidence. I know parking is a DPS issue, but I did want to ask you whether or not you, or anyone in the Department of the Senate, had been consulted on a proposal, or any proposal, to extend paid parking arrangements to the Senate car park?

Dr Laing : If I could say this: the paid parking issue has been on the horizon for some time. There has been a lot of work in the background, which the Senate department has fairly recently become aware of. I would suggest that DPS can answer the detail of the consultant's report they commissioned in November 2013, and further advice from PricewaterhouseCoopers that was commissioned about the status of our fringe benefits tax liability. The Senate department saw those reports for the first time in, I think, November 2014.

Senator WONG: So the two reports are the PwC on FBT liability?

Dr Laing : Yes.

Senator WONG: What was the other one?

Dr Laing : The other one is by an outfit called Grosvenor consulting, and that was on the broader question of how we might respond to the imposition of paid parking in the Parliamentary Triangle.

Senator WONG: Who commissioned the Grosvenor consultants?

Dr Laing : I believe it was DPS.

Senator WONG: Okay. Do you know approximately when those reports were commissioned and received?

Dr Laing : I believe Grosvenor was commissioned in November 2013. I am not sure about the PwC report, but in any event the Senate department was shown those reports in November 2014 in the context of urgings by the heads of the chamber departments and the Parliamentary Budget Officer to form a working group of officers to attack this issue and to get some information up to the Presiding Officers as a basis for making decisions about where we go from there. In short, the Senate department is crucially concerned about this issue.

Senator WONG: Do you have any knowledge as to why it took a year for those reports to be provided to you?

Dr Laing : No, I do not. I believe that the Pricewaterhouse one was not received until reasonably recently, reasonably shortly in advance of November 2014, when we were shown the Grosvenor report for the first time.

Senator WONG: You obviously have some concerns about it. Could you outline your concerns about that possibility or the prospect of paid parking being introduced into the Senate car park?

Dr Laing : Obviously my concerns as an employer are that there will be a fringe benefits tax liability on the department as the employer in respect of the staff the department employs. There are a number of employers in the building, and therefore it is a question of concern to all employers in the building, and we need to come up with an equitable option that ensures that we have a way of covering the FBT liability with the broadest consideration to the interests of our staff as well.

Senator WONG: Given the hours the Senate sits and the hours your staff work, public transport is a problematic option in Canberra.

Dr Laing : Absolutely, yes. Canberra, although it is the national capital, does not have the range of public transport options that other cities in Australia have. We have buses, we have shanks's pony—

Senator WONG: Sorry?

Dr Laing : Shanks's pony—legs!

CHAIR: You learn something every day!

Senator WONG: That is not a South Australian thing.

Dr Laing : Well, you do not want to get me started on the derivation of it, but I could! And then we have taxis and private cars. So, there is a high dependency on private cars in Canberra, generally. And given the hours that are worked in this building, not just by Department of the Senate staff but by staff of senators, by staff of DPS and by ministerial staff, then yes, it is an issue that we really need to get on top of.

Senator SMITH: Could you give us an update on filling the vacancy left by former Senator Faulkner?

Dr Laing : The President received Senator Faulkner's resignation from the Senate late on Friday, 6 February.

CHAIR: At 4.50 pm.

Dr Laing : Yes, at 4.50 pm, and first thing on Monday morning he wrote to the New South Wales Governor under section 21 of the Constitution notifying the vacancy in the representation of New South Wales. So, the next steps from here are up to New South Wales. Section 15 of the Constitution sets out the options for filling the vacancy. Normally the two houses of the New South Wales parliament would be convened to choose a replacement. There is also an option under section 15 that provides for what happens if the parliament is not in session, and that involves the Governor of the state, on the advice of the state executive council, appointing a person pending ratification, if you like, by the two houses within 14 days of their next meeting. Now, we know that there is an election coming up in New South Wales. The parliament is not yet technically prorogued. So, at this stage it is a matter for New South Wales as to how they choose to fill that vacancy.

Senator SMITH: Is there any expectation on the Senate's part around the timeliness of filling vacancies?

Dr Laing : Yes. The Senate has resolved on a number of occasions in the past encouraging state governments to fill casual vacancies as expeditiously as possible. There were a number of episodes in the earlier nineties involving Western Australia, your own state, where the Senate considered that there was unseemly delay in filling the complement of Western Australian senators. And there are a number of resolutions on the books that encapsulate the principle that delays in filling casual vacancies should be minimal.

Senator SMITH: Specifically with regard to the section 15 provisions, from my own experience, and observing the practice of other senators who have come in on casual vacancies, the practice—I am not sure that it is correct to call it a convention—is that internal party processes are put in train and then the premier of a state makes a nomination. What is the expected practice, or the precedent, if a senator is an Independent senator, not formally of a party grouping? I do not mean if someone should retire and then there is a Senate election, but if someone should resign before the completion of their term.

Dr Laing : Section 15 provides that a replacement for a senator who has left the Senate before the end of their term shall be of the same political party under which that senator stood for election. In other words, the process goes to replacing a retiring senator with someone of the same party as that senator was when that senator was chosen by the electors. So, although a senator may be an Independent, they may nonetheless have stood as a member of a registered party or registered group. In that case, the practice continues that the registered party or group for which that senator stood would nominate the replacement. If I can give you an example from long ago, Senator Harradine in Tasmania, an Independent for many years, had nonetheless a registered group, so he and his candidates stood under the Brian Harradine group. Should his retirement from the Senate have been between elections, then that group would have had the right to nominate the replacement. In the event that someone is truly an Independent, in that they do not have the backing or have not registered under the electoral law a group—

Senator SMITH: That is an important point. There is a registration process to be recognised, if you like, as a party to be in the group voting—

Dr Laing : That is right, under the electoral law. But should someone be truly independent, then we fall back to the principle that it is up to the state parliament to choose a replacement. The precedent here I think goes back to Steele Hall in the seventies in South Australia. When he retired from the Senate and created a casual vacancy, the state parliament at the time indicated that its choice of a replacement would follow practice and convention as far as possible. In other words, they would select someone as close as possible to Steele Hall's political and philosophical outlook, and they in fact chose Janine Haines, before the formation of the Democrats, because she was associated with the same political movement as Steele Hall.

Senator SMITH: So we could not rely on that as a convention or a practice if that occurrence or way of dealing with that situation had been (a) in the hands of the South Australian parliament and (b) used in such a rare exception.

Dr Laing : I am not sure what you mean when you say we could not rely on it. It is a precedent.

Senator SMITH: A precedent, yes.

Dr Laing : And I think it is a fairly persuasive one. I think since the changes were made to section 15 in 1977, after the events of 1975, the idea has been fairly firmly accepted that you replace like with like, because if you do not you get into trouble.

Senator SMITH: Over the recent year we have had senators elected as part of political parties who have become Independents. Should they resign—let's use the resignation scenario—would the mechanism for appointment or filling that vacancy be more like the South Australian experience?

Dr Laing : No, it would not. In that case the Constitution is very clear that the right to replace lies with the political party under whose banner the senators originally stood for election. The key is: what were they at the point of their election, when they were chosen by the people of the states? That determines the replacement.

Senator WONG: Senator Joyce resigned in August 2013 and Senator O'Sullivan was sworn in I think in February 2014. Does that accord with your recollection?

Dr Laing : It was some time, yes.

Senator WONG: A five-month delay.

Dr Laing : Yes, because Senator Joyce retired from the Senate to contest a seat for the lower house.

Senator WONG: Five months was a reasonably unusually long period.

Dr Laing : Well, I think it was reasonably unusual, but there are always things to explain delays. For one thing, the federal parliament was not active, because it was prorogued for an election.

Senator WONG: But he was not actually preselected until 11 February, I think.

Dr Laing : I am not sure of the details.

Senator SMITH: I have one more question, on a pet issue, if you do not mind: the Magna Carta. To be fair, I have seen some of the advertising around some of the public events, but I am keen to know what is planned and also, behind the scenes of that, what groups or committees have been established, what the Senate might be doing and what you might know of other activities.

Dr Laing : There is an interdepartmental committee that Attorney-General's is organising that is coordinating input from interested parties. The Department of the Senate sends a representative along to that coordinating committee and is aware of some of the things that are being planned. I must admit that my own knowledge is fairly much confined to what we are doing, and our very modest program of events includes that we have invited the British high commissioner to give the occasional lecture in June, on the date that is closest to the 1215 anniversary in June of the original sealing of the Magna Carta—not that it was called the Magna Carta then, but I do not want to go into that detail. That will be one thing. We have the Magna Carta—the Australian parliament's copy of the 1297 issue. That is on display in the public area. That display was refreshed some time ago to bring the Magna Carta into a much more visible and prominent place and to surround it with interpretive and historical material. So that will continue.

You may have seen a rather attractive little B5-size booklet on the Magna Carta, which sells in the bookshop. And another of our initiatives is to reissue that with further contributions by a range of eminent people. That will be something that we hope to do in the first half of the year. It will be a second edition revised of that booklet, which I described at a previous hearing. We are also collaborating with the Rule of Law Institute and hosting a symposium in October which will gather together a range of eminent speakers. We are able to confirm that the Attorney-General will open it, and we have a number of eminent judges and historians who will be contributing to that one-day symposium on the Magna Carta. The Rule of Law Institute also is very interested in celebrating the 800th anniversary of the original sealing, and it has invited the Presiding Officers and the Chief Justice of the High Court to be the patrons of that initiative.

Senator SMITH: So the Rule of Law arrangements are separate from the interdepartmental working group?

Dr Laing : Yes. Although I believe the interdepartmental working group does include representatives—yes; they are invited to attend that IDC. They are the things that I am most aware of, and they are the things that the Senate department has planned for this year.

Senator SMITH: Mr President, is there anything to add to that?

The PRESIDENT: The Speaker and I are delighted to be co-patrons with the Chief Justice. I think it is a very significant anniversary, and we will do anything we can to facilitate public awareness and celebration of that event.

CHAIR: There are no further questions for the Department of the Senate. I thank Mr President and officers for your attendance today.