Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Parliamentary Service Amendment (Freedom of Information) Bill 2013; In Committee
I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 7391 revised:
(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (lines 1 to 26), omit Schedule 1, substitute:
Freedom of Information Act 1982
1 After section 6A
6B Department of the House of Representatives, Department of the Senate and Department of Parliamentary Services
(1) This Act does not apply to any request for access to a document of the Department of the House of Representatives, the Department of the Senate or the Department of Parliamentary Services unless the document relates to matters of an administrative nature.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, the reference to a document of an administrative nature in subsection (1) includes a document to the extent that is:
(a) statistical information about the activities of the Department; or
(b) information about the expenditure of public moneys; or
(c) information about payments to a Senator or member of the House of Representatives; or
(d) information about services and facilities provided to a Senator or member of the House of Representatives; or
(e) information about assets, resources, support systems and other administrative matters of the Department.
(3) For the avoidance of doubt, the reference to a document of an administrative nature in subsection (1) does not include a document to the extent that it is:
(a) research or advice provided to a Senator or member of the House of Representatives; or
(b) information held on behalf of a Senator or member of the House of Representatives; or
(c) information about how a Senator or member of the House of Representatives performs their role as a Senator or member of the House of Representatives; or
(d) any advice provided to a Senator or member of the House of Representatives; or
(e) information that is otherwise subject to parliamentary privilege.
(4) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this section limits or infringes the powers, privileges and immunities of the Houses of the Parliament.
This amendment defines the FOI applications that can be made in relation to parliamentary departments and office holders. The amendment is that information relating to the parliamentary departments, office holders' use of public resources and departmental administrative functions should be subject to FOI, while information relating to parliamentary proceedings, matters of political strategy or an MP's activities—for example, when dealing with constituents—are not.
I would just like to spell it out and give you some examples of what that means. I would argue strongly that, when you look at the detail, it really is hard to understand why this is being opposed. FOI applications would be limited to statistical information about the department's activities; information about the expenditure of public money—including payments to members and senators, as well as payments to services and facilities to support parliamentarians in Parliament House; and information about the department's assets, resources, support systems and other administrative matters. The following would be excluded from FOI requests: research or advice to members of parliament provided by the Parliamentary Library; information held by the parliamentary departments solely as an agent for or on behalf of the House of Representatives, the Senate or a member of parliament, regardless of whether that information resides on facilities provided by the parliamentary departments; information held by a parliamentary department about a member of parliament in relation to the member's performance or his or her role and functions as a member; and advice provided by the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 staff, irrespective of whether or not parliamentary privilege applies to a member of parliament.
In fact, when you put those two together—what is in and what is out—it is very responsible. It is actually very limiting. As I said in the second reading debate, there is nothing in this group of amendments that limits or affects any privileges, immunities or powers of the House of Representatives or the Senate. That the Senate FOI regime would not apply to any matter subject to parliamentary privilege is clearly achieved. I commend the Greens amendment (1) to the Senate.