Last November a roundtable was held to discuss the Legislative Council’s orders for papers. Here’s what happened…
The idea for a roundtable came from the independent legal arbiter, the Hon Keith Mason AC QC. Mr Mason is appointed by the President to assess disputes on claims of privilege made on returns to order under standing order 52 (SO 52).
Recap: The dispute process
When the government returns documents under SO 52, those documents are classified as public or privileged. Privileged documents are accompanied by a claim from the government as to why the documents should be privileged.
Privileged documents can only be seen by members of the Legislative Council. If a member disputes the validity of a claim of privilege, the President appoints an arbiter.
The arbiter produces a report in which he recommends upholding or rejecting any privilege claims, and then it’s up to the Council whether to make the disputed documents public.
Still want to know more? Read one of our earlier blogs here and check out a summary of the process in the diagram below.
Back to the roundtable…
The arbiter suggested a roundtable because he was becoming increasingly frustrated by privilege claims, describing some of them as “inappropriate”, “generic” and “unfocused”.
Participants invited to join the arbiter for the roundtable included the President, members, ministers, representatives of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and the Clerk of the Parliaments.
You can find out what happened in the President’s roundtable report here. It’s not a long read, but here’s an even shorter version:
The participants acknowledged that the quality of some privilege claims had been affected by the significant increase in the number and scope of orders being made.
The government also emphasised that concerns about the publication of personal information – such as email addresses and telephone numbers – often led to overly expansive privilege claims, because agencies don’t have time to redact these details from large returns.
And so the Clerk has been asked to come up with a proposal to allow for the staged publication of returns to allow for personal information to be redacted.
In the meantime there was general support for the publication of a document outlining the principles used by the arbiter to adjudicate disputes. This document is attached to the roundtable report.
Discussion at the roundtable also emphasised the significance of a new project to move returns to orders to an electronic format. The project would enable the government to lodge returns with the Clerk online, and make it possible to access and search those documents from the parliament’s website.
As always, there’s lots happening in the orders for papers space… Stay tuned for updates on the blog.