Advice on, and support for, proceedings of the Senate and its committees.
Leadership and strategic direction for the department.
Secretariat and advisory support to the Procedure and Privileges Committees.
Procedural information and related resources for senators and the department.
|Advice and support are sound and timely, and provided to the satisfaction of the President, other officeholders, Senate committees and senators so that they are able to fulfil their roles.
Senators and other recipients of advice on powers, privileges and proceedings continued to acknowledge its accuracy and value.
Advice and support was invariably provided in time to meet procedural and operational requirements.
|The capacity of the department and its employees to provide advice and support meets operational requirements.
||Activities under the learning and development framework underpinned the department’s advisory and support capacities.
|Governance structures advance the department’s accountability and the achievement of its outcome.
Governance forums achieved all significant targets for the year, including managing budgeting and staffing targets.
Contributions to interdepartmental forums advanced the strategic aims of parliamentary administration.
|Advice, documentation, publications and draft reports are accurate, of a high standard and produced to meet the required timeframes.
||All advice, documents and draft reports produced in support of committees supported by the office were of a high standard and met required timeframes; none were shown to be inaccurate.
Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice is updated to reflect significant changes in the Senate.
The Procedural Information Bulletin is produced after each sitting period and other procedural resources are updated and augmented as required.
The Procedural Information Bulletin was produced promptly after sitting periods and estimates hearings.
Procedural and administrative information for senators was published to intranet site, Senate Connect.
The Clerk of the Senate, Richard Pye, manages the department in accordance with the Parliamentary Service Act 1999. The Clerk is also the principal adviser to the President of the Senate and senators on proceedings in the Senate, parliamentary privilege, and committee proceedings and their outcomes in the Senate. The Deputy Clerk of the Senate, Maureen Weeks, supports the Clerk in these roles and, with the Clerk Assistant (Procedure), provides procedural and legislative advice and support to non-executive senators. The Deputy Clerk also has particular corporate governance roles, including as the department’s senior representative on the Audit Committee and as chair of the Program Managers’ Group. The cost of the office for 2018–19 was $1.1m ($1.1m in 2017–18).
Advice and information
The provision of advice, particularly to the President, senators and parliamentary committees, is a core function of the department and a priority for the Clerk’s Office. Much advice is provided orally and instantaneously, particularly in the Senate chamber, in private meetings of committees, and to senators who seek advice in person. Such advice is impossible to quantify in any meaningful way, but the number and kinds of written advices provide some indication of work undertaken.
As forecast in the last report, an election during the year saw a decrease in the number of requests for written advice. Topics on which senators sought advice included constitutional matters such as section 44 (qualification of senators) and the Senate’s new Qualifications Register, prorogation and casual vacancies. Perennial topics, such as the powers of committees and the protection of witnesses, continued to feature. Advice was also sought on a number of aspects of parliamentary privilege and on procedural matters. Figure 3 shows the number of written advices provided, by topic, while figure 4 shows demand over recent years. The trend to shorter, less formal advice continued.
Figure 3 – Types of written advice provided by the Clerk, 2018—19
Figure 4 – Number of advices provided by the Clerk’s Office, 2015—16 to 2018—19
Performance indicators for provision of advice focus on timeliness and accuracy. Senators and other recipients of advice continued to acknowledge its accuracy and value, and it was invariably provided in time to meet the purposes for which it was sought. Most advice is provided on a confidential basis and any decision whether to release it, and on what basis, is for the recipient to make. On several occasions during the year, recipients of advice published it as a contribution to public debate, at the same time subjecting it to public scrutiny. As this advice can inform the actions of senators, the Senate and its committees, as well as public debate, all advice is prepared to the highest standards and on the soundest possible basis.
Advice provided by the office was tested during estimates hearings and in other Senate and committee proceedings.
The Clerk produced issues of the Procedural Information Bulletin after each sitting period and each round of estimates hearings, covering all the major procedural developments and matters of procedural interest which arose. Updates on procedural and administrative matters affecting senators were also published to an intranet site developed for senators and their staff, Senate Connect.
A supplement to the 14th edition of Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice was being prepared at the end of the reporting period.
The Clerk and Deputy Clerk prepared and presented sessions in the department’s learning and development activities, and in other forums for parliamentary staff. They also provided introductory briefings to five senators whose terms commenced during the year. Eighteen new and returning senators participated in the two day orientation program presented by the Clerk and others prior to the commencement of the 46th Parliament.
The shift in the parliamentary calendar resulting from the May election and the associated reduction in the number of sitting days, created an opportunity to review and update critical documents. Procedural documents and templates including the manual for temporary chairs of committees were revised for the commencement of the 46th Parliament.
The office provided secretariat support to two Senate standing committees. Advice and support was acknowledged as meeting the needs and timeframes of the committees and their members.
The Clerk served as secretary to the Procedure Committee, which responds to references from the Senate or the President by evaluating, and recommending improvements to, Senate procedure.
During the year the committee met four times and presented four reports; two in September 2018, one in November 2018 and one in April 2019. The first of the September reports considered a proposal to replace the parliamentary prayer with an invitation to prayer or reflection. The reference required the committee to seek submissions on this inquiry and it received approximately 820. It concluded that there was no real momentum for a change and therefore did not recommend any amendment to the relevant standing order. The second September report considered the question of disorder occurring outside formal proceedings of the Senate. The committee did not recommend any change to the standing orders.
Recognising the 45th Parliament was drawing to a close, the 2019 report considered a range of matters, including the Closing the Gap statement and Indigenous Australian languages and changes to formal business. The committee flagged these matters as warranting further consideration in the next parliament. The committee also considered, but did not recommend, the adoption of a Parliamentary Code of Conduct for senators.
Committee of Privileges
The Deputy Clerk served as secretary to the Committee of Privileges, which met 13 times in 2018–19 (13 in 2017–18) and presented six reports. The committee protects the integrity of Senate and committee proceedings by considering matters possibly amounting to contempt of the Senate. Those matters, which arise from concerns raised by other committees or individual senators, are referred to the committee by the Senate.
The committee’s 172nd and 174th reports arose from a claim of privilege made over documents seized under search warrant. The 172nd Report recommended that the claim of privilege be upheld and was tabled and adopted by the Senate on 26 November 2018. The 174th Report considered whether, in the execution of the search warrants, there was a possible improper interference with the Parliament that required further examination. In the report tabled on 2 April 2019, the committee concluded the best course of action was to further amend the protocols for the execution of search warrants. The committee emphasised that current processes fail to recognise and respect the work of the Parliament.
A possible contempt relating to the improper interference with a senator in the free performance of his duties was investigated in the 175th Report and tabled on 2 April 2019. This matter related to party disputes between senators. The committee did not consider that a contempt had occurred and noted that parliamentary privilege and the associated resolutions of the Senate are designed to protect the Parliament, its committees and individual senators in the performance of their parliamentary duties, not as a mechanism to resolve internal party politics or quarrels between senators.
The committee also administers the right-of-reply mechanism for people seeking to respond to adverse comment made about them in the Senate. Three requests were received and reported on during the year in the 171st, 173rd and 176th reports. The Senate adopted the recommendation of each report that the replies be incorporated in Hansard.
The Deputy Clerk chaired the Program Managers’ Group whose focus included delivery of a new health and well-being strategy and further development of the department’s performance framework. The deputy is also the department’s senior representative on its Audit Committee
During the financial year, the Clerk attended four meetings of the Heads of the Parliamentary Departments. This group generally meets quarterly and provides a forum across the parliamentary departments on administrative matters and strategic direction across the parliamentary service. At the commencement of the calendar year, the department relinquished the secretariat duties of the group which is rotated on a yearly basis.
More broadly, the Clerk and other senior officers liaised with their counterparts in the other parliamentary departments on matters connected to parliamentary administration.
The Clerk approved a new Audit Committee charter, which takes into account the latest guidance from government on the role of audit committees. The new charter provides for an annual review.
More information on governance is in the ‘Management and accountability’ chapter.
The next reporting period, the first year in an electoral cycle, will see a return to a more extensive sitting pattern, increased legislative activity, and increased demand for the services of the Clerk’s Office. The number of requests for advice is also likely to increase. The office will continue to support new and returning senators in their parliamentary work.
After the opening of the new Parliament and the program for new senators early in the reporting period, the office will move to other matters, including publishing a supplement to the 14th edition of Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice. The supplement will take into account the recent procedural developments, as well as the succession of High Court judgments relating to disqualification of senators. Other priorities will include training for senators newly undertaking duties in the Chair of the Senate, and further learning and development for officers rostered at the Table of the Senate.
Work for the Procedure Committee will focus on those matters that were flagged as requiring further attention in the last report of the 45th Parliament, while in the parliamentary privilege space work on the development of a privilege manual will commence.
In the area of governance and administration the next year will see work commence on a new enterprise agreement for the department which is due in late 2020. The department will continue to monitor the maturity of its performance framework under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.