Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee
On 19 April 2016, the Senate referred the following matter to the
Finance and Public Administration References Committee (committee) for inquiry
and report by 4 May 2016.
legislative provisions relating to oversight of associated entities of
political parties, with particular reference to the adequacy of:
- the funding and disclosure regime
relating to annual returns;
powers of the Australian Electoral Commission with respect to supervision of
the conduct of and reporting by associated entities of political parties; and
related matters; and
Sinodinos appear before the committee to answer questions.
The committee has decided to table this interim report in order to
report non‑compliance of the Senate order by Senator Sinodinos to the
Steps taken by the committee
Following the referral on 19 April 2016, Senator Sinodinos' office was
contacted informally by the secretariat on the morning of 20 April 2016 in
order to obtain details of a contact for correspondence and to indicate the
possible hearing dates under consideration by the committee in order to provide
early advice of those dates. No issues with the possible hearing dates were
raised with the secretariat.
Following a committee meeting later that day, formal correspondence was
sent to Senator Sinodinos (at Appendix 1) indicating the hearing dates agreed
by the committee and indicating that the secretariat would work with his office
to find a suitable time. The committee asked for a response by midday 22 April
2016. Despite the secretariat following up with phone calls to his office and an
email to the contact officer, the committee received no response to this correspondence.
On 26 April 2016, the committee considered the lack of response from
Senator Sinodinos and agreed to send a further letter advising him of the time
for him to appear on 28 April (at Appendix 2). Again the committee received no
Receipt of the response
The committee received a response from Senator Sinodinos to the
secretariat in hard copy at approximately 4.45pm on Wednesday 27 April 2016. The
response was provided to the Chair and not distributed to the committee until
the next morning on 28 April 2016. However, the letter appeared in media in the
evening of 27 April 2016. Under Standing Order 37 the 'evidence taken by a
committee and documents presented to it, which have not been reported to the
Senate, shall not, unless authorised by the Senate or the committee, be
disclosed to any person other than a member or officer of the committee'. As
there appears to be a prima facie case of unauthorised disclosure, the committee
is investigating the matter.
The committee notes that in his response Senator Sinodinos cites his
unavailability on the hearing dates. This was never conveyed to the committee.
If the Senator was unaware of the inquiry agreed by the Senate on 19 April 2016,
there were two and a half days between initial contact with his office and the
initial deadline and over a week from the initial contact with his office until
the actual response was received. The committee finds the lack of a timely
response to a Senate Committee conveying an order of the Senate disappointing.
The committee notes that the week starting 26 April 2016 was originally scheduled
to be a sitting week
and as such senators would have been expected to have commitments to the
chamber in Canberra.
The committee further notes the short inquiry timeframe set by the
Senate for the committee to work within, resulting in limited flexibility to
rearrange hearings to accommodate witnesses. In this case, the committee
offered to work with Senator Sinodinos to find a suitable time for his
appearance during the days that the committee had set aside for hearings. It is
important to note, Senator Sinodinos’ attendance was not requested by the
committee: it was directed by the Senate. The onus is on Senator Sinodinos to
make himself available to appear at the public hearing, not for the committee
to reschedule its hearing to accommodate Senator Sinodinos.
In his response, Senator Sinodinos concedes that hearing dates and
availability aside, he does not intend to comply with the order of the Senate.
This action by way of the Senate order is clearly provided for in the
standing orders of the Senate (SO 177(3)).
The committee notes the following possible responses available to the
Senate, including motions:
requiring Senator Sinodinos to attend the Senate chamber in order
to explain the reasons for his non-compliance to the Senate;
directing Senator Sinodinos to attend a further hearing of the
referring the non-compliance with a senate order to the Senate Standing
Committee of Privileges, consistent with Parliamentary Privilege
to censure Senator Sinodinos;
to consider whether a contempt has been committed, under Standing
Order 82; and
to pursue other remedies which may be available under the Parliamentary
Privileges Act 1987.
Senator Jenny McAllister
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