Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Unanswered Estimates Questions on Notice

One of my purposes in writing this blog is to address in my own modest way what I consider to be a poor record of transparency by governments generally in relation to public policy generally, and in particular Indigenous affairs policy. Poor transparency increases the likelihood of accountability lapses by and within governments, and undermines the capacity of citizens to hold governments to account.

On 27 October 2017, Senator Scullion fronted the Senate Finance and Public Administration Estimates Committee. The transcript can be found at the link here.

During the Hearings or immediately thereafter, over 40 Questions on Notice were lodged by Senators relating to the responsibilities of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in relation to Indigenous affairs.  A call to the committee Secretariat elicited that the deadline for the submission of answers was 8 December 2017.

The Committee web page (link here) lists the Questions on Notice arising from the most recent Estimates Hearings, and provides an indication of their status (ie answered or unanswered) and where answered provides a link to the answer.

The normal process for dealing with questions on notice is for the Department to draft responses and provide them to the Ministers Office for approval prior to submission to the Senate Committee.

As of today (20 December 2017), over 40 questions relating to Indigenous policy form the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet remain unanswered, almost two weeks after the deadline.

There appears to be three possible explanations: departmental incompetence, ministerial incompetence, or a deliberate strategy to withhold these answers until the holiday season is well underway. If the latter, one might wonder just what information is so embarrassing that the Minister is reluctant to release it in a timely fashion?

One would hope that the Opposition and the Greens would seek an explanation from the Minister at the next Estimates Hearings, including seeking from the Department the dates that answers were provided to the Minister’s Office.