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Estimates: Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee: Department of the Senate

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 24 May 2017

Monday 22 May

Senator RHIANNON: I want to go to the register of interests. Is there a reason for using scanned PDFs as opposed to a digitalised form or something similar—something that could be searched easily?

Mr Pye: The Senate in 2011 agreed to the particular form for the register at the moment. There has been some work done in the background to bring the register into a more useful form, but, at this point in time, that work is incomplete. I should add: it would have to be a matter for the Committee of Senators' Interests then to agree to move to a different form of recording that information.

Senator RHIANNON: That was going to be my next question. If I understand correctly, for there to be any change from the current PDFs, a recommendation needs to come from that committee.

Mr Pye: That is right.

Senator RHIANNON: I will go back and ask you to elaborate on your earlier answer. You said there has been some work.

Mr Pye: That is right.

Senator RHIANNON: What does that mean?

Mr Pye: There has been some work done, but, at the moment, there is not a technological solution that fits onto the computer infrastructure of the parliament. We have been talking to the Department of Parliamentary Services about how we might address that.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say there is not a technological solution, do you mean it is not possible for them to host a searchable database?

Mr Pye: No. That is not what we are trying to achieve. I think that what we ultimately want to achieve is a system whereby senators can enter their interests information directly to a data source and have it all flow straight from there, rather than, for instance, having senators continue to put in their forms in a scanned or a written form and then have somebody here interpret them. We much prefer the idea that we could actually have a seamless system that allows senators to enter their information from their devices and have it automatically flow through. That is what we are looking to build, and we would hope to have that in a form for the Committee of Senators' Interests to look at this year so that, by the beginning of the next parliament, we could have something in place.

Senator RHIANNON: So, this year? There is about seven months to go. Will it be soon? Will it be late?

Mr Pye: I would say 'late', because it is an IT project.

Senator RHIANNON: Point taken. You talked about a seamless system. Does your definition of seamless also allow it to be readily searchable by the public?

Mr Pye: That would certainly be my preference, but that would be a decision for the committee and ultimately the Senate to make, as to the form that it finally approves.

Senator RHIANNON: This is about how the system works, not about the searchable aspects of it: if a member does not provide details, what happens if they do not actually fill in their form?

Mr Pye: If a senator does not fill in their form then it is a matter for other senators or the committee to pursue.

Senator RHIANNON: So it is purely up to that committee to pursue?

Mr Pye: Or other senators or the press. I think that quite an eye is run over the filling-in of these forms at the moment by the press environment.

Senator RHIANNON: Haven't there been cases where some people have not filled it out fully, or not regularly, and nothing has happened?

Mr Pye: I do not know that there have been cases of people not filling them out regularly. There have been issues with particular senators from time to time, and they do tend to get picked up in the press. It is not the role of the Senate department or the registrar to oversee the quality or the level of detail that is put in there.

Senator RHIANNON: Or the timeliness?

Mr Pye: Or the timeliness, other than to publish—as we do—the forms that come in within one business day of the form's arriving.

Senator RHIANNON: In terms of process, it is really up to the committee if they chose to follow up something that might have been reported in the paper or they heard or they wanted to be checked?

Mr Pye: It is a matter for the committee. It is a matter for individual senators. It is a matter that is regularly taken up in the press.

Senator RHIANNON: Although you would not really call that part of the process of parliament, would you?

Mr Pye: Well, actually, I would. The whole purpose of the Register of Senators' Interests is to instil a degree of transparency. The whole point of the transparency, I suppose, is so people are aware of senators' interests and can make their own judgements on how well those interests are represented. 

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