Budget estimates 2014–15
On 13 May 2014, the Senate referred the following to the Senate
Environment and Communications Legislation Committee (the committee):
Particulars of proposed expenditure in respect of the year ending
on 30 June 2015 [Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2014–15]; and
Particulars of certain proposed expenditure in respect of the
year ending on 30 June 2015 [Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2014–15].
The committee is required to report to the Senate on 24 June 2015.
The committee has responsibility for examining the expenditure and
outcomes of the following:
Environment portfolio; and
The committee held public hearings on the Environment portfolio on
Monday, 26 and Tuesday, 27 May 2014. Public hearings on the Communications
portfolio were held on Wednesday, 28 and Thursday, 29 May 2014.
The committee took evidence from Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann,
Minister for Finance, and Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Parliamentary
Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, representing the Minister for
the Environment; Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Assistant Minister for Social
Services, representing the Minister for Communications; and officers of the
relevant departments and agencies. The committee thanks the Ministers,
departmental secretaries and officers for their assistance.
Low Carbon Australia was not required to attend the hearings.
Use of videoconference
Representatives of the Office of the Supervising Scientist appeared
before the committee via videoconference. This method of appearance, a first
for an estimates hearing, resulted in significant savings for the authority
while not impeding the work of the committee.
Questions on notice and Hansard transcripts
The committee notes that it had set Friday, 11 April 2014 as the date
for the return of answers to questions taken on notice during the additional
estimates hearings held in February 2014. At that date, 209 of 220 answers from
the Department of the Environment were outstanding and all 446 answers from the
Department of Communications were outstanding. Many late answers were submitted
just prior to, and during, the May budget estimates hearings. The committee
reiterates its expectation that answers to questions on notice should be
provided to the committee by the due date.
In accordance with standing order 26(9)(a), the committee has set
Friday, 11 July 2014 as the date for the return of written answers or
additional information in response to questions placed on notice during the
budget estimates hearings.
Written answers and information provided to the committee in response to
questions on notice are tabled in the Senate and posted on the committee's web
page. Links to the Hansard transcripts of these public hearings and to
answers and additional information are available.
Public interest immunity and commercial-in-confidence claims
The committee notes that two agencies, while providing a general
response to a number of questions on notice, declined to provide specific
information on the ground that the information was 'commercial-in-confidence'.
The committee refers agencies to the procedural order of the Senate of
30 October 2003 which that states that:
The Senate and Senate committees shall not entertain any
claim to withhold information from the Senate or a committee on the grounds
that it is commercial-in-confidence, unless the claim is made by a minister and
is accompanied by a statement setting out the basis for the claim, including a
statement of any commercial harm that may result from the disclosure of the
In addition, the Senate's order of 13 May 2009 relating to public
interest immunity claims provides that where there is a claim that disclosure
of information would not be in the public interest, the committee is to be
provided with a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the
harm to the public interest.
The Senate orders make it clear that a claim for not answering a
question on the ground that the information is 'commercial-in-confidence' must
be based on specified potential harm. The committee expects that this
information will be included in any future answers to questions on notice which
include commercial-in-confidence claims.
The committee thanks the Department of the Environment for providing an
updated guidance document for budget estimates. The document clearly detailed
the department's new post-budget outcome structure and assisted committee
members in establishing the correct area in which to raise their questions.
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