The PRESIDENT (14:18): Honourable members, you will recall that during question time yesterday the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, in answering a question from the Hon. Justin Hanson, began his answer by stating:
I will read the headline of an email, ‘The temporary closure of the Kangaroo Island Visitor Centre’, from 24 March.
I gave an undertaking to the Leader of the Opposition that I would consider the matter as to whether the minister could be called to table the email from which he quoted. Having considered the matter and explored the practices of other jurisdictions, I provide the following comments. Standing order 452 states:
A Document quoted from in debate, if not of a confidential nature or such as should more properly be obtained by Address, may be called for at any time during the debate, and on Motion thereupon without Notice may be ordered to be laid upon the Table.
The minister did not indicate at the time that the document from which he was quoting was of a confidential nature and unless the minister now claims that the email from which he has quoted is of a confidential nature, I will call upon the minister to table a printed copy of the document at the earliest possible opportunity.
Obviously, this standing order has been drafted at a time that would not have foreseen the development of a digital technology to the extent that we now experience. However, the minister was, by his own admission, reading from an electronic document in the form of an email. As such, an email could readily be printed and therefore be presented in a form that could be tabled in the council, should it be called on.
In the digital age, these are situations that all houses of parliament are dealing with. An examination of other houses of parliament within Australia reveals that, while there is no strict uniformity in either standing orders or approaches, it is the expectation that should a member quote from a document from a digital device, such as a mobile phone, tablet or laptop and the document be called on to be tabled, the document should be provided in printed form as soon as possible. Members should be aware that when they read from a mobile phone or other mobile device when answering a question or during debate, they run the risk of a member calling on the electronic document they are quoting from to be tabled under standing order 452.
I advise the council that I intend to adopt the following process should a member call for a document quoted from material on an electronic device. I will ask the member to identify the type of electronic document quoted from and whether the document is of a confidential nature. In the first instance, I will give consideration to the member’s claim that the document is of a confidential nature. However, if I am unsure as to whether the claim can be substantiated, I will take the matter into consideration and consult with the member and deliver a ruling at a later stage.
Of course, regardless of any ruling from the President, the council, in accordance with standing order 452 and on motion without notice, may order the document to be laid upon the table. Should an electronic document be called on to be tabled, the tabling of a printed version of the electronic document will then be considered as sufficient compliance with standing order 452. There is no provision or requirement within the standing orders for the actual electronic device to be tabled. I ask the Hon. Mr Ridgway if the email to which he referred was confidential.
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Am I allowed to read it to check?
The PRESIDENT: Order!
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: I was waiting for your ruling. I do not believe it is. If it is not—
The PRESIDENT: Order! This is a serious matter.
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: They cannot even help themselves.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Ridgway, what I propose to do, out of courtesy to you, is that I ask that you provide me with a copy of the email. I will form a view and then advise the chamber on the next day of sitting.
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Thank you.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Point of clarification, Mr President: is your ruling such that it is in the judgement of the member concerned that it is confidential, or is it your ruling that even if the member claims it to be confidential you as the President have the authority to override the view of the member that it is confidential?
The PRESIDENT: My ruling is such that in the first instance I would be showing courtesy to the member and respecting their advice that it is confidential. Of course, if it is insisted upon by another member, they can seek a motion in the chamber. In the event that assurance is required, then I am happy to review the document and give advice to the chamber. If the chamber is unsatisfied, then they can move a motion to retrieve the document. I have taken the approach of showing initial courtesy to the member to alleviate the chamber from the necessity of another member moving the motion. Does that satisfy your inquiry, Treasurer?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Yes.See full session on Hansard