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Senate Estimates: Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee (Attorney-General)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 24 Feb 2014

Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee




Australian Law Reform Commission


Senator RHIANNON: Professor Croucher, I would like to return to the secrecy provisions that you spoke about. With regard to the Secrecy laws and open government report, can you give us an update on how many of the recommendations were adopted and what has happened. Could you give us a brief run-down on where that is up to, please. 

Prof. Croucher : Certainly. The executive director, Ms Wynn, is just having a look in our annual report, where we track these observations. Our implementation rate overall is tracking at about 89 per cent of partial or substantial implementation. If there are any other questions, may I come back to give you the answer on that directly. 

Senator RHIANNON: Certainly. Going to the big picture with regard to that, part of the essence of that study was how it often sits uneasily between open and accountable government and secrecy. You can quantify the progress, but can you give a more qualitative assessment of how that is sitting between the secrecy provisions that governments need to some extent and how you maintain open and accountable government? 

Prof. Croucher : Once our reports are concluded, from our point of view that is the conclusion of the project. Senator Singh was asking me about how we deploy from one project to another. Once it is completed, the report then becomes a matter for government, not a matter for the commission. The secrecy report, having been completed, is now before government. I understand from our annual report that it is under consideration. A number of our reports are under consideration in that way. Each of our reports provides a thorough analysis and justification of our recommendations. It was one in the same light, but it is now under consideration and a matter for government. 

Senator RHIANNON: I noted that you had recommended a set of principles to guide the creation of new offences and a review of existing offences. I am trying to understand, because I think in your previous answer you were saying that once you have done the report it is all over. In some aspects of your work, considering you made this recommendation for this set of principles, are you following and giving advice on this very vexed issue of the balance between secrecy, accountability and transparency? 

Prof. Croucher : Thank you for your question. With respect to any inquiry, once it is finished, as I indicated, it is a matter for government. However, when bills, for instance, implementing our work are before the parliament we might, like other interested parties, put in a submission, usually by invitation, highlighting to the relevant committee the aspects of the bill that are consonant with our work or where there might have been other information that the committee might find relevant. But apart from such a role it is not for the commission to comment upon the reports. 

Senator RHIANNON: I did notice that you also undertook that very comprehensive and useful mapping exercise with regard to analysis of secrecy provisions. To ask the question in different way, do you keep analysing this in different ways? Is your brief wide enough that you are able to do that so you are able to track this? 

Prof. Croucher : We work under terms of reference from the Attorney-General and, insofar as terms of reference raise similar questions, obviously the first port of call in our research work is to go back to other reports where we have established a modus of working. We have a commitment to what we describe as the enduring nature of law reform and, given that we are in the Commonwealth sphere, a number of themes may come up in a range of ways—certainly information use, management and privacy. There are several themes of that kind that come up in a number of our inquiries, so we return to it by way of a body of work and an approach, a research base, but we are not advocates once our work is finished. We comment to bring our work to the attention where it is relevant or we speak about our work, but that is the appropriate role of an independent agency to behave in with respect to its body of work. 

Senator RHIANNON: Do you give any advice about the Open Government Partnership? 

Prof. Croucher : We are not a body to give advice. We work strictly under terms of reference from the Attorney. 

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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