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Monday, November 23, 2009

Senate looking to muscle-up on refusal to answer

The recent debate in the Senate about commercial in confidence claims as reasons for refusal to provide information in response to questions led to this Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee inquiry into a process for determining public interest immunity claims. The Committee is seeking submissions by 27 November on a proposal that in the event of a stand-off an independent arbiter shall be appointed. Where commercial confidence is claimed the arbiter is to be the Auditor-General; in other cases an independent arbitrator appointed by resolution of the Senate.
"The independent arbitrator shall, as soon as practicable, report to the Senate on whether the reasons given for withholding the documents or information are justified. Where the independent arbitrator reports that reasons given for the withholding of information or documents are not justified, the documents or information shall be produced in accordance with the order of the Senate or the requirement of the committee, subject to any further order of the Senate."

While welcome a pity that this further step in enforcing accountability to the parliament comes just as Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans, a great upholder of the rights of the parliament, and a stickler for detailed reasons for any public interest immiunity claim, retires. Evans will be just another interested spectator when the Committee reports in February next year.

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