The Committee of Senators' Interests, established under standing order 22A, provides this report on its operations for the period 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2021. It provides background information on the registration of interests and the role of the committee and the requirements for the registration of interests and citizenship details. It also includes the requirements of the safe and respectful workplaces training program register, established in December 2021.
Registration of interests and the role of the committee
On 17 March 1994 the Senate adopted the Senators' Interests Resolutions. The resolutions act as a safeguard against conflicts of interest, and the perception of such conflicts, by requiring senators to lodge statements of registrable interests to enhance transparency in relation to the exercise of their public duties.
Registrable interests range from assets and liabilities, interests in trusts and partnerships, directorships, gifts, sponsored travel and hospitality, and certain relationships with organisations. Senators may also choose to declare things that would not, on their face, appear to engage any of the listed registrable interests.1 This is a matter for the judgement of individual senators.
From its inception, the committee has stressed that it is the responsibility of individual senators to interpret the resolutions and to determine which of their interests fall within its terms, rather than relying on external advice about what 'should' or 'should not' be declared. This reflects the unique status of members of Parliament as elected officers, responsible primarily to the electors and to the House to which they have been elected.
The committee has adopted Explanatory Notes to guide senators in meeting the requirements of the regime. It is to the resolutions, forms and notes, and to any other commentary by the committee, that senators should turn for assistance in determining how the disclosure regime applies to their own particular circumstances. Any senator may request from the committee clarification of any aspect or raise any matter relating to the form and content of the register. The committee may respond to such requests by providing individual guidance, by amending the Explanatory Notes or by proposing amendments to the Senators' Interests Resolutions.
During the reporting period, the committee received a submission in October from Senator Birmingham in his role as Leader of the Government in the Senate requesting the committee clarify what is required to satisfy the requirements of the Register in relation to the receipt of anonymous or 'crowd funded' donations to pay for legal expenses. After consultation with the committee, the Chair indicated that an earlier September communication with all senators, which had reiterated the importance of the explanatory notes in addressing the donations issue, was sufficient for these purposes.
No other submissions from senators or directions from the Senate in relation to the Senators' Interests Resolutions were received.
A senator's statement of interests includes a public statement of their personal interests and a confidential statement of the interests, of which they are aware, of their spouses or partners and dependent children.
Each senator must provide such a statement within 28 days of making and subscribing an oath or affirmation of allegiance AND within 28 days after the first meeting of the Senate after 1 July first occurring after a general election. Senators must also notify any alteration in these interests within 35 days of the alteration occurring.
Statements of registrable interests must accord with the Senators' Interests Resolutions and should be in the form determined by the committee.
The statements of senators' interests are kept on a public register. Since 2011 the register has been available online on the committee's web pages.
Statements of the registrable interests of a senator's spouse or partner and of any dependent children remain confidential, except where the committee considers that a conflict of interest arises, at which time the committee may table the declaration. To date the committee has not had cause to consider taking this action.
The Senators' Interests forms, explanatory notes and other relevant documents are published on the committee's website and have been compiled into a handbook, also published on the website.
Online publication of the Register of Senatorsʼ Interests
Statements of senators' interests are published online, in accordance with the following procedures:
- Statements are published under each senator's name.
- Statements are scanned without any watermarking or redaction.
- Notifications of alterations are added to the relevant senator's published statement.
- Updates are published at least weekly.
Maintenance of the Register
The committee requires the Registrar of Senators' Interests to write to all senators to remind them of their obligations under the resolutions at least twice a year. Senators were reminded of their obligations by the Registrar in May and November 2021.
Current statements (together with relevant alterations) are published to the online Register. Six-monthly compilation volumes of statements and alterations are also tabled in the Senate and published online.
During the reporting period, the committee tabled its annual report for 2020 (No. 1 of 2021).
On 13 November 2017, the Senate agreed to the establishment of a citizenship register which required senators to provide to the Registrar of Senators' Interests a statement containing a declaration that the senator did not hold citizenship of another country.
The resolution also required other details such as the place of birth of the senator and his/her parents and grandparents; citizenship held at birth; the date of naturalisation as an Australian citizen if acquired separately; and – if applicable – details of attempts to renounce foreign citizenship.
The resolution required statements to be made in accordance with the resolution and in a format determined by the Committee of Senators' Interests. The Citizenship Register was subsequently published on 4 December 2017.
The register has been updated since then as new senators have filled casual vacancies.
Safe and respectful workplaces training register
On Monday 29 November 2021, in response to recommendations made by the Review of the Parliamentary Workplace: Responding to Serious Incidents, the Senate agreed to a motion (see Appendix 1) establishing a register on which senators are required to declare that they have undertaken the Safe and Respectful Workplaces Training Program conducted by the Department of Finance.
The resolution authorised the Committee of Senators' Interests to determine how the statements are made and that the Registrar of Senators' Interests would maintain the register.
The register, which is available on the committee's website, was published on Wednesday 15 December 2021, and is updated as new declarations are received.
During the reporting period, the committee received one request only (discussed above) in relation to the form and content of the Register of Senators' Interests. No requests were received in relation to the Register of Official Gifts which is also administered by the committee. Similarly, no requests or submissions were made to the committee in relation to the Citizenship Register. Assistance was provided by the Registrar to a range of routine inquiries.
Enhancement of the Register of Senators Interests
In the previous report, it was noted that the committee had previously agreed to a proposal to enhance the transparency of the Register of Senators Interests, by developing a searchable database that will enable the Register to be searched.
The Senate endorsed the proposed enhancement to the Register by adopting the committee's recommendation on 13 November 2019.
It was intended that the database would be developed by the Department of Parliamentary Services Information Services Division in 2020, in consultation with the committee and the Registrar. However, the COVID pandemic required that ICT resources be redirected towards the development of flexible working arrangements to allow senators, members and parliamentary staff to work remotely, as well as other priorities.
Despite the optimism in the previous report, progress on the database remained, until very recently, stalled. However, it remains a priority and in November 2021 an ICT business analyst was made available to map out the scope of the project. It is hoped that the next report of the committee will be able to note significant progress.
1 The final item on the list of registrable interests is "any other interests where a conflict with a senator's public duty could foreseeably arise or be seen to arise".