Published: 09 April 2021

A FED up Legislative Council may call in an independent arbiter in future when governments refuse to hand over documents to parliamentary committees.

The recommendation was contained in the report of a Legislative Council Select Committee inquiry into the Production of Documents.

The inquiry came about following high-profile disputes over documents between the government and committees, with MLCs expressing a need for options to break future deadlocks.

Production of Documents inquiry chair Ruth Forrest said while the Legislative Council had the authority to treat refusal to produce documents as contempt of the house – with a range of processes available to exert political pressure to respond to a refusal – these processes had not been fully exercised.

“The Committee recommended the Legislative Council and its committees consider the use of available punitive and coercive remedies to address disputes over the production of documents for when they may arise in the future,” Ms Forrest said.

“The Committee further recommended an additional dispute resolution process be considered … and consider the use of a suitably qualified independent adviser on claims of public interest immunity.”

The Committee cited three key examples of incidents where governments concealed crucial information from inquiries by refusing to hand over documents.

In 2018 then-Health Minister Michael Ferguson refused to hand over a report critical of health system funding to an inquiry into Acute Health Services.

The minister declined to give the committee a KPMG report of Estimates of Growth in Prices in the Tasmanian Health Services and their Contribution to Growth in Expenditure, saying the document was “internal for the government”.

In 2017 then-Treasurer Peter Gutwein defied a summons from the Public Accounts Committee by refusing to hand over a full copy of a letter relating to the potential sale of the Tamar Valley power station.

The committee viewed the letter as a missing piece of the puzzle in the energy crisis, and failed in multiple attempts to get the state government to hand over the full document.

In 2012, a committee inquiring into health budget cuts was frustrated in its attempts to gain key information from the Labor government.

Both Mr Gutwein and former premier Will Hodgman declined invitations to give evidence to the Production of Documents inquiry.

The Mercury, Friday 4 April 2021 

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