09 August 2009

Rehearsing evidence to Parliamentary Committees

In his op-ed piece Quest for the perfect trap in the Weekend Australian 8-9 August 2009 Paul Kelly says, concerning the prospect of an inquiry by the Senate Privileges Committee into the OzCar-Godwin Grech affair (see here):

If the Senate privileges inquiry proceeds, prepare yourself for some fearful hypocrisy, notably the claim that politicians are guilty of contempt if they rehearse answers with witnesses before giving evidence. Take a reality check and realise that public servants giving evidence regularly rehearse with their superiors or their ministers what they are likely to say. This is how the executive works, thank you.

For the record, in the course of almost thirty years in the Commonwealth Public Service, fifteen of them as an SES officer and four as a Department Secretary, I never encountered anything that could be remotely described as a rehearsal of what would be said before any Parliamentary Committee or inquiry. No Minister sought to inquire into or influence what I would say, no officer ever reported to me that a Minister had sought to coach him or her, no colleague ever reported having had this experience, and I never sought to coach or counsel any of my officers. The way we all approached these processes was that we would approach the business of the Parliament in a professional manner. We would be giving evidence under oath and we would either answer truthfully to the best of our knowledge and ability or we would decline to answer on the proper grounds for such denial – e.g., that the question went to matters of policy that should be answered by the Minister, or that the information sought was classified and could not be provided.

If Paul Kelly has evidence that things are different now, it would be interesting to have a bit of chapter and verse.

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