Page 2439 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 1 July 2008

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the five documents requested and I explained why the other two could not be provided to the committee.

I assumed that the committee had said, “These are important documents. We need them and we want you to provide them.” The bottom line, as far as I can tell, is that the committee did no such thing. How is it that a chair of a committee can assert the authority of the committee to demand documents of a minister? That is the effect of this letter. Imagine if I had said, “I am going to ignore that; it is not a resolution of the committee.”

I took it seriously because I assumed the committee wanted it. The committee made no such resolution. That is the problem. This is not just some procedural matter. This is a serious, detailed request putting a minister on notice that certain documents must be provided to a committee inquiry. A requirement for documents by a committee is a serious matter, Mr Speaker. It is a serious matter. It is not some minor procedural trifle. It is a serious matter when committees request documents, particularly executive documents.

I assumed, quite reasonably, that when the committee said, “We want the Stuart Ellis report,” which is a cabinet-in-confidence document, the committee itself had resolved to pursue the matter and to seek that document. I therefore treated the request with much seriousness. But it would appear that that was not the case, that this was Mr Stefaniak, acting of his own volition, going around demanding documents from ministers with no authority from the committee.

Mr Speaker, it is simply not acceptable for committee chairs, of their own volition, to make such serious demands of any minister. They should get the agreement of their committee.

Opposition members interjecting—

MR CORBELL: I know the Liberal Party do not like this because they feel they have been caught out on this matter; they have been shown up on this matter. Any decent committee chair should say to their committee, “I believe these documents need to be pursued. Do you agree for me to ask the minister to require that he bring them?” That is what this letter does.

But this chairman apparently did not do so, and I acted on a false premise. I believed that the committee required these documents. That is how I read the letter, and any sensible minister would read it that way. I read the letter to mean that the committee was saying, “We want the documents; bring them.” That is how I read it. But the committee required no such thing. Mr Stefaniak, on his own authority, did so.

I am quite happy to get to the bottom of how this information came to my attention. I have no problem with that whatsoever. I am happy to appear before a privileges committee and explain it. I have got no problem with that. The privileges committee can ask me any questions they like about that, and I will very happily answer them.

The issue at stake here is: are we going to allow committees and the powers of committees to be abused in this way? It is an abuse for a committee chairman to run

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