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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
30/11/2015
Estimates
COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS PORTFOLIO

COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS PORTFOLIO

In Attendance

Senator Fifield, Minister for the Arts, Minister for Communications and Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Mr Mark Scott, Managing Director

Mr Michael Millett, Director Corporate Affairs

Mr David Anderson, Director Corporate Strategy and Planning

Mr David Pendleton, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer

Committee met at 19 :30

CHAIR ( Senator Reynolds ): I declare this public hearing of the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee open. These are supplementary budget estimates proceedings and the agencies heard during these estimates are those which have been nominated by various senators. The committee's proceedings today will examine the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The committee set Wednesday, 27 January 2016 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice at the hearing today.

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. The Senate has resolved also that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinion 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 opinion on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policy or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

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. I incorporate an extract of that order.

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, pp 124-125)

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 this requirement. 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.

I welcome Senator the Hon. Mitch Fifield, Minister for Communications and Minister for the Arts, and officers of the ABC. Before we go to opening statements, I note we have some media here this evening. Does any witness have any issues with photographs being taken during these proceedings? There being none, I ask the photographers present to abide by the usual guidelines—not to take photographs behind the senators and to be mindful of those giving evidence.