Chapter 19 - Relations with the executive government

Statutory authorities and public interest immunity

As noted in the Clerk’s advice to the Select Committee on Certain Aspects of Foreign Ownership Decisions in Relation to the Print Media in September 1994 (see above), it has not been settled whether the executive government may seek to make a claim of public interest immunity in respect of, or on behalf of, statutory authorities or statutory office-holders.

On several occasions the Senate has, by resolution, asserted the principle that, while statutory authorities may not be subject to direction or control by the executive government in their day-to-day operations, they are accountable to the Senate for their expenditure of public funds and have no discretion to withhold from the Senate information concerning their activities (9/12/1971, J.846; 23/10/1974, J.283, 18/9/1980, J.1563; 4/6/1984, J.902; 19/11/1986, J.1424; 29/5/1997, J.2042; see also report of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations on ABC Employment Contracts and their Confidentiality, 3 December 1986, PP 432/1986, and the government’s response, SD, 17/11/1987, pp 1840-4; Privileges Committee, 64th report, PP 40/1997, 29/5/1997, J.2042).

Officers of statutory authorities, therefore, so far as the Senate is concerned, are in the same position as other witnesses, and have no particular immunity in respect of giving evidence before the Senate and its committees.

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