The provision of advice, particularly to the President, senators and parliamentary committees, is a core function of the department and a priority for the Clerk’s Office. Much advice is provided orally and instantaneously, particularly in the Senate chamber and to senators who seek advice in person. Such advice is impossible to quantify in any meaningful way, but the number and kinds of written advices provide some indication of work undertaken.
There was an increase in the number of requests for written advice this year following a reduction in the previous period, as might be expected in an election year. Some of the matters on which senators sought advice flowed from those in the previous year,
including the reference to the High Court of questions about the qualification of senators; the allocation of three-year and six-year terms to senators in the new Senate, particularly in light of the disqualification of senators; and the establishment of a citizenship register for senators. Perennial topics, such as the powers of committees and the protection of witnesses, continued to feature, while advice was also sought on a number of aspects
of parliamentary privilege. The Clerk made submissions to a number of parliamentary committees, notably the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry into the proposed Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. Figure 3 shows the number and kinds of written advices provided, and each kind as a proportion of the total, while figure 4 shows demand over recent years. Anecdotally, there has been a trend to shorter, less formal advice in many circumstances.
Performance indicators for provision of advice focus on timeliness and accuracy. Senators and other recipients of advice continued to acknowledge its accuracy and value, and it was invariably provided in time to meet the purposes for which it was sought. Most advice is provided on a confidential basis and any decision whether to release it, and on what basis, is for the recipient to make. On several occasions during the year, recipients of advice published it as a contribution to public debate, at the same time subjecting it to public scrutiny. As this advice can inform the actions of senators, the Senate and its committees, as well as public debate, all advice is prepared to the highest standards and on the soundest possible basis.
Advice provided by the office was tested during estimates hearings and in other Senate and committee proceedings, with senators seeking and relying on such advice throughout the year.