The committee took evidence from the parliamentary departments on Monday, 26 May 2008.
Department of the Senate
The following issues of interest in relation to the Department of the
Senate are discussed below:
- appropriations allocated to the Department of the Senate;
- the participation by the Clerk of the Senate in the 2020 Summit
in a private capacity;
- the relevance of answers provided by Ministers to Questions on
- the registration of Member's and Senator's interests; and
- Parliamentary Privilege.
Appropriations allocated to the
Department of the Senate
The President of the Senate, Senator the Hon Alan Ferguson, explained to
the committee the rationale behind the reduction in various appropriations allocated
to the Department of the Senate. In addition to one-off efficiency dividend
saving of two per cent, the department sought to reduce its appropriation of
funds by $400 000 due to the low level of parliamentary activity caused by the
2007 Federal election.
The President also stated that the department reduced its unspent
appropriations from previous years by $11 316 000, and that an amount of $10
200 000 in unspent appropriations remains from previous years which is
available for various purposes:
An amount of $10.2 million remains...which is available to fund
ongoing technology upgrades and improvements in the senator's facilities, to
provide long-term cover for the department's balance sheet and to maintain the
ability to contribute to parliament-wide projects.
Senator Fifield questioned the Clerk of the Senate about his
participation in the 2020 Summit. The Clerk informed the committee that he
participated in a private capacity.
Senator Fifield sought information about which ideas the Clerk personally
presented to the summit. The Clerk stated that he presented a total of 20
proposals, five of which were adopted by the 'governance stream'.
A list of the 20 proposals was subsequently tabled.
Additional information also provided to the committee by the Clerk reveals that
six, not five, of his proposals have now been adopted in the 'absolutely final
version' of the 2020 Summit report which was issued after 26 May 2008.
Answers provided by Ministers to
Questions on Notice
Opposition Senators questioned the Clerk about Parliamentary procedures,
including: what options are available to Senators to pursue answers to
Questions on Notice provided by the government, that they believe may not have
been answered satisfactorily; the operation of the House of
Representatives and Senate schemes for the registration of interests; and the
application of Parliamentary Privilege and its possible effect on court
The Clerk informed the committee that an option is available for
Senators to pursue answers to Questions on Notice that they believe are not
satisfactory, whereby a committee agrees to report the matter to the Senate.
Registration of Member's and
On the question of the differences between the operation of the House of
Representatives and Senate schemes for the registration of interests, the Clerk
informed the committee that the Senate has no responsibility for the House of
Representatives scheme. Mr Evan's pointed out the differences between each
house's resolutions, but could not go to the detail of the House of
Representative's administrative arrangements. This information was subsequently
provided to the committee in an answer to a question taken on notice.
The Clerk also informed the committee that officials from the Senate are
not in a position to give advice to Senators about which particular interests
should or should not be on the register, as it would be contrary to the rules
of the scheme. For this reason it is up to individual Senators to decide for
themselves as to which interests they decide to register.
Opposition Senators also sought information about the relationship
between Parliamentary Privilege and legal proceedings. Senator Colbeck raised
with the Clerk allegations of bribery that had recently been aired in the
media. The Clerk informed the committee that statements given to the Senate and
evidence given to Parliamentary committees is protected by Parliamentary
Privilege. This was further qualified by the Clerk:
Part of that protection means that evidence cannot be examined
in any substantive way in a court or tribunal. It could be that if someone were
prosecuted for a criminal offence, they could claim in their criminal trial
that their inability to examine the parliamentary evidence meant that they
could not claim in their criminal trial and therefore the charge should be
dismissed. This is a problem that has been drawn to the attention of committees
over a number of years.
Department of Parliamentary Services
The following issues of interest relating to the Department of Parliamentary
Services (DPS) are discussed below:
- the appointment of a new Secretary;
- 20th anniversary celebrations of the opening of
Parliament House ;
- environmental impacts and performance; and
- media access within Parliament House.
The appointment of a new Secretary
Mr Alan Thompson appeared before the committee for the first time since
his appointment to the position of Secretary. The President informed the
committee of Mr Thompson's previous experience working with the New Zealand and
Australian State and Territory public sectors.
celebrations of the opening of Parliament House
The twentieth anniversary of the opening of Parliament House was
celebrated on 9 May 2008. The President informed the committee of the success
of various events that were held to mark the anniversary. This included the annual
Open Day, which was coordinated jointly by the three parliamentary departments,
and attracted 8622 visitors to the building.
Environmental impacts and
Continuing on from the committee's previous examination during
Additional Estimates 2007–08, the committee examined DPS's commitment to
lowering the department's impact on the environment. Of particular interest to
the committee were the topics of energy and water conservation.
The committee heard evidence that there have been considerable water and
energy savings since Parliament House opened over 20 years ago. The Deputy
Secretary stated that:
...[W]e have reduced the electricity consumption by just under 40
per cent... gas consumption by 74 per cent and CO2 equivalent
emissions by 52.4 per cent, and there has been a total energy
consumption reduction of 58.3 per cent...water consumption this year is down a
bit over 40 per cent, compared to what it was before our current level of
The committee welcomes the further improvements announced by DPS, and
given the high level of attention that Parliament House receives from the Australian
public, it believes that the improvements made over the last 20 years can act
as an example of best practice environmental building management to others.
DPS also informed the committee that there are plans underway to make
further improvements to energy and water use within Parliament House. These
plans include: the completion of an energy audit; inserting environmental considerations
in tender guidelines; and the completion of a review of the amount of water
used in landscaping which is expected to yield increased water savings of up to
50 per cent.
Senator Murray suggested that DPS's excellent track record on
environmental initiatives be promoted to a wider audience. Although various
methods including publishing information in annual reports and on DPS's website
is already used, DPS agreed with Senator Murray's assessment.
Subsequently the two documents from which DPS based its evidence were tabled.
These documents are available from the committee's website.
Media access within Parliament
With recent press reports relating to allegations that staff from a
Minister's office, and the Prime Minister's office, denied media access within
Parliament House, Senators questioned officials about what restrictions are
placed on journalists who wish to photograph or film within the building.
The President and DPS officials informed the committee that it is the Presiding
Officers who ultimately determine the policy relating to photography and
filming within the public and private areas of Parliament House.
The committee was told that the policy is set out in a document titled Guidelines
for Filming and Photography in Parliament House (October 2005). This
document was subsequently tabled before the committee.
With the suggestion that there had been some confusion about how the
Presiding Officer's policy for photography and filming should be applied, the
Secretary spoke of the need to communicate the intention of the guidelines more
clearly to others:
...These guidelines...are written very much to provide guidance
to the media reps about what their rights and obligations are. Two things come
out of that for me. One is that it would be useful for us to circulate them
through the ministers' offices so that the staff in those offices understand
the guidelines. It also may be useful...for us to simply clarify the rights and
obligations of the media...
Other matters of interest raised during the examination of DPS included:
- the functioning of the bollards;
- the allocation of available office space for DPS staff within
- allegations of damage to office suites for which contrary
evidence was adduced;
- Parliamentary Library staff turnover;
- the freeze of wages to Senators and Members;
the participation of Parliament House in Earth Hour;
- the booking of Parliament House facilities for functions during
- the participation of DPS staff in the 2020 Summit and costs
incurred to DPS;
- the application of an internet filter on Member's and Senator's
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page