In September last year we posted about the orders for papers process and what happens when a member of the Legislative Council disputes the government’s claim of confidentiality over documents.
In brief, the Legislative Council has the power to order documents held by the government. This is referred to as an ‘order for papers’ and gives the Council the ability to carry out its function of scrutinising the government and holding it to account.
In providing documents, the government can claim that certain papers are ‘privileged’ and should remain confidential and may only be viewed by Legislative Council members.
A member may dispute this claim of privilege. To evaluate this, an Independent Legal Arbiter is appointed by the President. The arbiter considers the matter and produces a report. It is ultimately up to the Council whether or not to make the arbiter’s report and/or the disputed documents public.
The substantial rise in the number of orders for papers last year has also seen a rise in the number of disputes over confidentiality compared with the previous eight years.
Spike in orders for papers
From 2011-14 there was a total of five disputes, while from 2015-2018 there were only four. In the first nine months of the 57th Parliament there has already been six disputes relating to five orders for papers.
However these figures pale in comparison to the 53rd Parliament (2003-2006) which holds the record for both the total number of orders for papers (145) and disputes (24).
The index to all orders for papers and publicly released arbiter reports are all available on our website.
Process during the Summer recess
To keep the dispute process moving over the Summer break, the House referred to the Legislative Council’s Privileges Committee the authority to decide whether or not to publish arbiter reports and disputed documents.
At this stage two arbiter’s reports have been made public over the break. The Legislative Council starts sitting again on 25 February and responsibility for determining the publication of arbiters reports and disputed papers will return to the House.
We are expecting 2020 to be another busy year of orders and disputes!