The primary rule applying to public officials who are required to attend and give evidence before parliamentary committees is that officers may only give evidence of a factual nature and should refer questions seeking opinions or judgements of a political nature to the Minister (when in attendance) or take them on notice for a written response from the Minister.
The General Purpose Standing Committees of the Legislative Council will shortly be holding hearings into the Budget Estimates and related papers.
It is timely that I draw your attention to requirements applying to public officials who are required to attend and give evidence before parliamentary committees.
A summary of the relevant guidelines is attached. These guidelines were last issued under Circular 2003-47 and, before that, under Circular 1999-52.
As you will see, the primary rule is that officers may only give evidence of a factual nature and should refer questions seeking opinions or judgements of a political nature to the Minister (when in attendance) or take them on notice for a written response from the Minister.
Could you please ensure that all officers who are required to appear before parliamentary committees are made aware of and adhere to the guidelines.
Department of Premier and Cabinet
Guidelines for public servants appearing before Parliamentary Committees
Requests to appear and produce submissions
- Where a request has been made for officers to attend a parliamentary committee hearing to give oral evidence, and the Minister has agreed that they should attend, the Minister is to nominate the appropriate officers.
- The Committees have power to summon the attendance of witnesses (other than members of Parliament). If an officer is summoned, the officer should inform the Minister and attend as ordered.
- A Committee may request written submissions or answers to questions on notice in advance. Any submission or answers must be approved by the Minister before being sent to a committee. If the submission is likely to impact upon other portfolios or affect the whole of government, the Premier's approval of the submission must be sought.
Oral evidence before Committees
- Officers should only give evidence of a factual nature and should refer questions seeking opinions or judgements of a political nature to the Minister (when in attendance) or take them on notice for a written response from the Minister.
- Where a question falls within the administration of another portfolio, the officer should request that it be referred to the appropriate body.
- The Committees only have power to ask 'lawful questions' under the Parliamentary Evidence Act. Failure to answer a question which is not a 'lawful' question cannot result in the punishment of the witness. A question may not be a 'lawful question' if the answer is privileged (e.g. legal professional privilege, public interest immunity - which includes the confidentiality of Cabinet documents - or the privilege against self-incrimination) or if the question falls outside of the Committee's terms of reference.
- A question may also not be 'lawful' if an officer is under a statutory obligation not to reveal information which is the subject of a question.
- Where an officer is in doubt whether a question is 'lawful' or how to respond, the officer should take the question on notice and seek legal advice from the Crown Solicitor's Office.
- Officers should be aware that the Houses of Parliament have the power to require the production of documents (other than Cabinet documents) regardless of claims for privilege. If a Committee requires an officer to hand over documents in the officer's possession at the hearing, the officer should request that the Committee refer the matter to the relevant House for a formal order to be made pursuant to the Standing Orders.
- Not Mandatory
- Date Issued
- Oct 20, 2011
- Review Date
- Oct 20, 2016
- Replaced By
- Contact us
- 02 9228 5555
- Publishing Entity
- Department of Premier and Cabinet
- Issuing Entity
- Department of Premier and Cabinet