Programming and procedural support to the Senate and the legislative process.
Publication of formal and informal records of Senate business.
Receipt, dissemination and storage of documents.
Secretariat support for the Appropriations, Staffing and Security; Publications; Selection of Bills; and Senators’ Interests committees.
Procedural advice and legislative documents are accurate and timely.
Advice was given as required. Legislative documents were accurate and produced within required timeframes.
Order of Business, Notice Paper and Journals of the Senate are accurate and published within required timeframes.
Other publications are accurate and timely.
|All information resources were accurate and published according to required timeframes, including the Order of Business and Notice Paper published in advance of each sitting day and proof Journals of the Senate published at the end of each sitting day (followed by final Journals before the next sitting period).
Tabled documents are processed and stored, and available online wherever possible.
Senate records were accurately recorded and safely stored and documents were distributed in a timely manner.
Inquiries assistance is effective and supported by online information services.
Inquiries were responded to immediately, or within reasonable or agreed timeframes for more complex queries.
Committees are supported; advice, documentation, publications and draft reports are accurate and timely.
Committee meetings were held, documents provided and reports prepared within agreed timeframes.
The Table Office is led by the Clerk Assistant (Table) and has three functional areas, as shown in figure 6.
Figure 6 – Elements and responsibilities of the Table Office
|Executive and programming
Tim Bryant, Clerk Assistant
Procedural advice to government senators, programming support and production of the Order of Business.
Secretary to the Selection of Bills and Senators’ Interests committees, and Registrar of Senators’ Interests.
Ivan Powell, Director
Processing and custody of documents
Secretary to the Publications Committee
James Warmenhoven, Director
Production of the Notice Paper and Journals of the Senate
Processing questions on notice, orders for the production of documents and petitions
Secretary to the Appropriations, Staffing and Security Committee
The Table Office provided support for the Senate on each of its 58 sitting days in this reporting period which, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, represents a reasonably typical number of sitting days. All performance results, as outlined in the above table, were achieved within established timeframes. Project work was completed or has continued, as forecast.
Much of the work of the Table Office involves direct contact with senators and their staff, as well as other clients. This presents an ongoing opportunity to receive and respond to feedback about the services provided by the office. Responses to a survey indicated high levels of satisfaction with the services provided by the Table Office. In addition, ad hoc feedback was almost invariably positive.
Staff numbers remained steady during the reporting period, with an average full-time equivalent level of 13.4. The cost of the office was $2.1 ($2.3m in 2018–19).
Programming and procedural support
The Table Office supported the operation of the Senate by providing programming support, preparing procedural scripts for use in the chamber (1,286 in 2019–20, averaging 22 per sitting day) and providing a broadcast captioning service of Senate proceedings. The Order of Business (the program for each day’s sitting) was prepared in draft form to assist senators (especially the whips) and published as a final edition prior to each sitting. The Clerk Assistant (Table) and other staff of the office provided procedural advice to government office holders in relation to programming and the management of government business in the Senate, and also worked closely with the Parliamentary Liaison Officer (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet) to facilitate government business in the Senate.
The Notice Paper is the formal agenda of the Senate. The Notice Paper was produced and published by the Table Office in advance of each sitting day excepting the opening of Parliament on 2 July 2019. The Journals of the Senate is the official record of decisions made by the Senate. Proof Journals were published online shortly after the end of each sitting day, and printed versions distributed the next morning. Final Journals were subsequently produced following thorough checking of source materials.
The office facilitated the legislative work of the Parliament by processing all bills considered in the Senate, preparing legislative documents including third reading and assent prints of bills passed, and processing assent messages.
The office also prepared the formal messages by which the two Houses communicate on legislative and other activity. In 2019–20, 212 messages were prepared, of which 168 related to the passage of bills (the remaining related to matters such as committee memberships). These figures compare to 182 messages, of which 155 related to the passage of bills, in 2018–19. Figure 7 reflects the level of legislative activity in recent years.
Figure 7 – Senate legislative activity, 2016–17 to 2019–20
Questions on notice, notices of motion and petitions
Senators continued to use the questions on notice process – written questions to ministers on the administration of public policy – as an important accountability mechanism. Throughout the reporting period, 1,677 questions were asked on notice. These were processed and published to a searchable database on the Parliament’s website within established timeframes.
In 2019–20, the office processed all notices of motions received for inclusion in the Notice Paper – 878 for this reporting period compared to 657 in the previous period. These notices signal senators’ intentions to move particular motions on specified days. The office also processed 12 petitions (with 45,747 signatories) which senators had lodged for presentation to the Senate (compared to eight petitions with 132,917 signatures in 2018–19).
Another frequently used means of obtaining information about matters of concern to the Senate are orders for the production of documents. During 2019–20, the office processed the 78 orders for the production of documents made by the Senate, some of which were then the subject of follow-up orders, and four of which were continuing orders.
The office received and processed all of the 4,576 documents provided for tabling in the Senate in this reporting period, recorded their details in the Journals and Index to the Papers Presented to Parliament, and archived them. This figure is comparable to the 4,126 documents tabled in the previous period. The documents presented to the Senate in 2019–20 added approximately 18 metres of boxed documents to the archive. Figure 8 shows the number of documents tabled in the Senate in recent years.
Documents from the President, ministers, the Auditor-General and committees may also be presented when the Senate is not sitting. The office administers this procedure, which facilitates the timely publication of material of interest to, or required by, the Parliament. In 2019–20, a total of 506 documents (or approximately 11 per cent of all documents tabled in the Senate) were presented using this procedure. This compares with 752 documents (or 18 per cent of all documents tabled) during the previous year.
All documents presented to the Senate in the reporting period were digitised and made publicly available on the Parliament’s website or on the Federal Register of Legislation by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.
Significant work was also undertaken in the reporting period to organise and rationalise the office’s holdings of hardcopy materials. This work will continue in the next reporting period to ensure the preservation of historically important material and the efficient use of the office’s document storage areas.
Figure 8 – Documents tabled in the Senate, 2016–17 to 2019–20
Hard copies of all documents presented to the Senate are made available on request through the inquiries and distribution services provided by the office. The inquiries service also fields a range of queries about Senate proceedings from senators and their staff, government agencies and others. In 2019–20, 3,021 inquiries were received (approximately 24 per cent from senators or their staff). This compares to 2,918 inquiries in the previous reporting year. The majority of inquiries – which are communicated face to face, by telephone or email – were responded to immediately, with other more complex inquiries responded to within timeframes agreed with the requestor. While these figures are drawn from formal statistics kept for performance reporting purposes, the staff of the office (as do other staff of the department) also respond to considerably more requests for information from senators and their staff as they go about their duties on sitting days.
Support for committees
During the year, the office provided secretariat support to four committees. All committee meetings were convened, papers prepared (including draft reports as required) and other administrative support provided within the timeframes required by the committees.
The Clerk Assistant (Table) is secretary to the Selection of Bills Committee which meets and reports each sitting week on recommendations to refer bills to the legislation committees for inquiry. He is also secretary to the Senators’ Interests Committee and the Registrar of Senators’ Interests, with responsibility for administering the Register of Senators’ Interests, which is published online. In this reporting period, a new online system was implemented for senators to make their interests declarations and to support the new Register of Senators’ Qualifications requirements commencing at the start of the 46th Parliament.
In addition, the office’s two directors provided secretariat support to the Senate Publications Committee and the Senate Appropriations, Staffing and Security Committee.
In 2020–21, the Table Office will continue to serve as the secretariat to the Senate, and to certain committees.
The existing timeframes set for the provision of various services remain appropriate, with a few minor adjustments reflected in the office’s 2020–21 work plan. The office will continue to monitor its performance through the collation of a range of statistics and feedback and exception based reporting of non-compliance.
The key procedural publications – Order of Business, Notice Paper and Journals – produced by the office will continue to be refreshed to reflect the evolving style of Senate and departmental documents, and a continued emphasis on publishing procedural material in digital formats to support accessibility and efficiency and to reduce printing costs.
The office will also continue to support various ICT related activities, including contributing to the ongoing maintenance, enhancement and testing of existing systems that support the work of the office and the Senate, as well as involvement in projects such as the development of a new system to facilitate the receipt and publication of tabled documents in digital format, which will be implemented in the 2020–21 reporting period.
The key staffing focus for the next reporting period remains the sharing of skills and knowledge to ensure sufficient back-up is available to fill in for staff who may not be able to come in to the office, as well as bringing in staff from other areas of the department from time-to-time, to ensure that expertise in relation to specific tasks is not unduly concentrated.