Submissions to Parliamentary Commissions

So, Mary Gardiner, civic-minded lady she is, mentioned that she was going to have a go at making a submission to the senate on the FTA and it’s effect on Linux and free software and that she’d probably put whatever she came up with online.

Michael Davies replied that

You aren’t allowed to make your submission to either the lower house or senate committees public at all. The committee will make submissions public later at their own discretion.

This struck me as pretty unbelievable, but no, the Parliament House’s FAQ on Preparing a submission to a Parliamentary Committee Inquiry says:

Once a submission is received by a committee, it cannot be withdrawn or altered without the committee’s permission, nor can it be published or disclosed to any other person unless or until the committee has authorised its publication.

Pretty fascist, hey? But hey, you know the saying: don’t ascribe to maliciousness that which can be explained by stupidity. Here’s another one: don’t ascribe to stupidity that which can be explained by misinterpretation. Looking for more detail, specifically an explanation of where the heck that restriction comes from, leads to a page about Senate enquiries, which in turn gives you a pointer to more information about contributing to committee enquiries, which has a PDF about submissions to senate committee enquiries. That says:

5. A submission to a committee becomes a committee document, and must not be disclosed to any other person until it has been released (‘published’) by the committee. Unless you have requested that the submission remain confidential, it is normally published after the committee has received and examined it and authorised its publication. Once a committee has authorised the release of a submission, subsequent publication of it is protected by parliamentary privilege (see below). The content of a submission may be published in another form or for another purpose before the submission is released by the committee, but this publication will not be protected by parliamentary privilege.

8. Making a submission is protected by parliamentary privilege. It is an offence for anyone to try to stop you from making a submission by threats or intimidation. It is an offence for anyone to harass you or discriminate against you because you have made a submission. The content of the submission is also protected but only after the committee has accepted it. This means that what you say in the submission, once the committee has accepted it, cannot be used in court against you or anyone else. More information is available in another brochure, entitled ‘Procedures to be observed by Senate committees for the protection of witnesses’.

Three things to note:

One: Aside from some terminology, you can publish your submission yourself, but you might be better of not doing so.

Two: If you don’t publish it, you get to be protected by parliamentary privilege! How cool is that? Anyone you want to libel? Now’s your chance!

Three: While it’s forbidden to harass people for submitting, it doesn’t say anything about harassing people for not submitting. Ha! Consider yourself forewarned!

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