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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 10 Hansard (14 October) . . Page.. 3207 ..

MR SPEAKER (continuing):

Assembly. It must therefore be regarded as inevitable that, on occasions, general purpose committees may seek to examine witnesses from another portfolio area when the subject of an inquiry encompasses areas of shared portfolio responsibilities. As long as the subject matter of an inquiry falls within a committee's terms of reference, that committee clearly has the power under standing orders 239 and 240 to examine witnesses from another relevant portfolio area.

Although the standing orders have operated in spirit rather than by force, there has been one occasion where a Minister, on the basis that the request was not from the relevant portfolio committee, has declined to provide departmental witnesses for a committee's inquiry. The committee did not press the issue and alternative arrangements were made.

The Standing Committee on Administration and Procedure has noted that the Government's Protocol for Government Interaction with Assembly Committee Inquiries of June this year reiterates the Government's earlier view that it is Ministers who determine whether the attendance of an official or officials before a committee is appropriate.

The committee wishes to emphasise the view expressed in its March 1999 report on the protocol that it is the standing orders of the Assembly which clearly give its committees power to call any witness, including departmental officials, to contribute to a committee's inquiry.

The committee has grave concern for the future of the portfolio committee system if Ministers, when requested to nominate appropriate officials to appear before a general purpose standing committee which focuses on another portfolio area, were to take the stance that they would prohibit the appearance of officials before any committee other than the relevant portfolio committee. The committee believes that a willingness to provide the relevant departmental officials will further the work of committees and strengthen the spirit of cooperation that has generally been the hallmark of Assembly committees' relationships with the Executive to date. In the vast majority of cases, there has been, and no doubt will be, cooperation in providing departmental officials to appear before committees.

MR QUINLAN: I seek leave to make a short statement in response to that.

Leave granted.

MR QUINLAN: Mr Speaker, as you will be aware, my very hardworking committee has addressed the question of committee structures. We have concluded, quite naturally, that, with the changes to administrative orders, to some extent the committee structure we now have is out of kilter with those particular administrative orders. I am happy to advise the house that my committee has written to the Speaker, as Chairman of the Standing Committee on Administration and Procedure, suggesting a minimalist change to the committee nomenclature and minimalist changes to the terms of reference to accommodate the administrative orders as they stand today.

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