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FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
24/05/2010
PARLIAMENT PORTFOLIO
Senators in attendance:

Senator John Hogg, President of the Senate


Dr Rosemary Laing, Clerk of the Senate

Mr Cleaver Elliott, Acting Deputy Clerk of the Senate

Mr Chris Reid, Acting Clerk Assistant (Committees)

Mr Richard Pye, Clerk Assistant (Procedure)

Ms Maureen Weeks, Clerk Assistant (Table Office)

Mr Brien Hallett, Usher of the Black Rod

Mr Joe d’Angelo, Chief Financial Officer

Mr Glenn Krause, Acting Deputy Usher of the Black Rod

Mr Simon Harvey, Director Parliamentary Education Office



Mr Alan Thompson, Secretary

Mr David Kenny, Deputy Secretary

Ms Roxanne Missingham, Parliamentary Librarian

Ms Liz Bryant, Acting Assistant Secretary, Product and Service Development Branch

Ms Judy Konig, Chief Finance Officer


Ms Nola Adcock, Assistant Secretary, Research Branch

Ms Judy Hutchinson, Acting Assistant Secretary, Information Access Branch


Ms Bronwyn Graham, Acting Assistant Secretary, Building Services Branch


Ms Freda Hanley, Assistant Secretary, Infrastructure Services Branch


Ms Therese Lynch, Assistant Secretary, Content Management Branch

CHAIR (Senator Polley) —Good morning and welcome everyone. I declare open this meeting of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee. The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of proposed expenditure for 2010-11 for the parliamentary departments, and the portfolios of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance and Deregulation, and Human Services. The committee may also examine the annual reports of the departments and agencies appearing before it. The committee has fixed 9 July 2010 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice.

The committee’s proceedings today will begin with its examination of the parliamentary departments, followed by the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio. Examination of the Finance and Deregulation portfolio and the Human Services portfolio will commence Wednesday. I propose to proceed by opening with the Department of the Senate and then calling on the outcomes and programs in the order listed on the program.

Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. 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, and which I now incorporate in Hansard.

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 (I) 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).

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)

CHAIR —The committee will begin today’s proceedings with the Department of the Senate and we will then follow the order as set out in the circulated program.

[9.02 am]