The office provided secretariat support to two Senate standing committees. Advice and support was acknowledged as meeting the needs and timeframes of the committees and their members.
The Clerk of the Senate served as secretary to the Procedure Committee, which responds to references from the Senate or the President by evaluating, and recommending improvements to, Senate procedure.
During the year the committee met four times and presented two reports; one in December 2017 and the second in June 2018. Both reports considered the routine of business and hours of meeting resulting in amendments to the standing orders following the Senate’s agreement on 26 June 2018 to the 2018 report’s recommendations.
The 2017 report also considered how to track public interest immunity claims, among other matters.
Committee of Privileges
The Deputy Clerk served as secretary to the Committee of Privileges, which met 13 times in 2017–18 (11 in 2016–17) and presented five reports. The committee protects the integrity of Senate and committee proceedings by considering matters possibly amounting to contempt of the Senate. Those matters, which arise from concerns raised by other committees or individual senators, are referred to the committee by the Senate.
The committee’s 168th report addressed the use of intrusive powers and questions of parliamentary privilege. It recommended that the Presiding Officers and the executive develop protocols to ensure that questions of privilege can be raised when law enforcement and intelligence agencies exercise intrusive powers. The recommendation was adopted by the Senate on 21 June 2018.
A possible contempt relating to the improper influence of a witness to a Senate committee inquiry was investigated and reported in the 166th report. The committee did not consider that a contempt had occurred, but noted that any decision to give evidence to a Senate committee or the nature of that evidence should not be part of commercial negotiations.
The committee also administers the right-of-reply mechanism for people seeking to respond to adverse comment made about them in the Senate. Four requests, two relating to the same matter, were received and reported on during the year in the 167th, 169th and 170th reports. The Senate adopted the recommendation of each report that the replies be incorporated in Hansard. The redress considered in the 167th report related to references made in a document tabled in the Senate. The committee considered whether the procedure extended to tabled documents and concluded that, in this case, the preparation of the document constituted part of parliamentary proceedings.