Paper Access to Information by the Legislature Mr Wilson Tuckey MP House of Representatives
Tabled Paper 2416
Tabled Papers for 7th Assembly 1994 - 1997; Tabled papers; ParliamentNT
Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory under Standing Order 240. Where copyright subsists with a third party it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.
There is no doubt that the power of either House to require the Government to provide information can, in political terms, be strengthened by the reality that legislation, including financial measures (and therefore the means to govern), may be delayed until the information is provided. Normally, compromise is reached the political constraints on employing such power mean that no House would contemplate using it except in the most extreme circumstances Committee proceedings are 'proceedings in Parliament, and therefore privileged. Parliamentarians and others participating, such as witnesses giving evidence, are thereby protected from being sued or prosecuted for anything they may say during such proceedings. The powers of committees to compel the giving of evidence and the rights of witnesses to be protected ensure that committees are generally able to get comprehensive, factual and truthful infonnation without using or threatening to use any of those powers. Some examples of committees gaining or attempting to gain important information from Government are set out below. Executive accountability Annual reports of departments and government authorities stand referred to House of Representatives standing committees for any investigation the committees may wish to make. Reports on investigations by the Auditor-GeneraTs office may be referred to House of Representatives (or Senate) standing committees for examination and, if appropriate, report. This enables committees, if they so elect, to examine in detail particular areas of government activity. In addition, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts has a statutory responsibility to inquire into and report upon all reports of the Auditor-General. In addition to being required to report on matters referred to them Senate Legislation committees have a general power to inquire into the performance of agencies, and this aspect gives them power to initiate their own inquiries into matters of government administration without a reference from the Senate or a Minister1. On 16 November 1993 a report by the Auditor-General on an efficiency audit of the Community Cultural, Recreational and Sporting Facilities Program was referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Aits. The Auditor- Generals report revealed that the Minister, who had taken a prominent personal role in the distribution of financial grants, had failed to keep adequate records and that, therefore, allegations of possible political bias in the distribution of the grants could not be resolved. The lack of documentation also meant that there was no audit trail and it was not possible to M y assess the Ministers decision making process.2 The Minister faced a sustained attack in the House while the House's Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts examined the Auditor- Generals findings. In the course of its inquiry the committee examined departmental documents and questioned officers of the Ministers department and the Auditor-Generals office. Finally, the Minister also agreed to appear before the committee. In a majority report tabled on 28 February 1994, the committee found that the Ministers record keeping was seriously inadequate but left the question of whether this amounted to incompetence for the House of Representatives to decide. In a minority report tabled simultaneously, opposition members of the committee went further and 1 Senate standing order 25(2Xb). , 2 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts, The Community Cultural, Recreational and Sporting Facilities Program: A review ofa report on an efficiency audit by the Auditor-General, (Parliamentary Paper 20/1994) page viii. 5
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