Australian news, and some related international items

Did she lie to the Senate? – Samantha Chard, Chief of National Radioactive Waste Management Facility Taskforce

Public servant accused of lying to Senate committee,  Sally Whyte  15 Sep 20

A senior public servant has been accused of lying to a Senate committee and only correcting the evidence given when a Freedom of Information request was set to expose her.

Independent senator Rex Patrick made the accusation under parliamentary privilege in a dissenting report on a government bill on radioactive waste management.

In a hearing for the inquiry in June, general manager of the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility Taskforce Samantha Chard was asked whether she had been involved in discussions around judicial review of decisions made under section 14 of the bill.

Ms Chard said she didn’t recall talking about it in her personal discussions, but Senator Patrick said he would use Freedom of Information to see if that was the case.

The Freedom of Information request was sent three days after the hearing, and Ms Chard clarified her evidence to the inquiry after it was sent, saying she had been involved in policy discussions about the proposed legislation’s effects on judicial review, including having the effect of reducing or avoiding the risk of potential legal challenges.

“It is completely implausible that Ms Chard was unable to recollect being involved in discussions on the new bill about the bill’s effect of removing judicial review of the site selection decision,” Senator Patrick said in the report.

“She was dishonest. She lied to the committee.”

Senator Patrick accused Ms Chard of only updating her evidence because of the FOI request.

A spokesman for the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources said Ms Chard answered all questions truthfully to the best of her ability.

“The committee has already reached out to the government and asked if it would like to respond to any aspects of the report including minority or dissenting reports, which the department will,” he said.

“All members of the department who appear at proceedings in Parliament are aware of their obligations to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their ability, which Ms Chard did.

In a further exchange between Ms Chard and Senator Patrick at a hearing in August, Ms Chard again said she had been truthful.

“In my clarification of the evidence I make it really clear that I have been involved in policy discussions related to the proposed legislation having the effect of reducing the risk of potential legal challenges, including through judicial review,” she said.

“At the time, the questioning was specifically related to section 14 of the act and whether this bill was designed to remove judicial review, and I maintained that it was not the intention of the bill to remove scrutiny under section 14 of the act.”

It is not the first time Senator Patrick has used parliamentary procedures to call out what he believes is a growing tendency for public servants to choose protecting their ministers over being open and transparent.

“I am absolutely determined to protect the integrity of the Senate’s oversight processes,” he said to The Canberra Times.

Senator Patrick said he would be calling ministers who make “erroneous public interest immunity claims” to the Senate chamber to explain themselves.

“I will be not be tolerating officials who are evasive, misleading or untruthful in their answers.”

He also threatened to publicly name FOI officials who make “blatantly cavalier” exemption claims that are then overturned by the Information Commissioner.

“Ministers and officials who meet their public service obligations and are fulsome and truthful in their responses to the Senate need not fear anything,” he said.

“FOI officers who make decisions consistent with the objectives of FOI act need not fear anything.”

September 17, 2020 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump

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