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About Orders for Papers

About Orders for Papers

The Legislative Council has the power to order the production of state papers by the Executive Government. The basis of this power is the common law principle that the Houses of Parliament possess such inherent powers as are reasonably necessary for their effective functioning.

The power of the House to order the production of state papers was confirmed by the High Court of Australia in Egan v Willis (1998) 195 CLR 424.

The Council routinely makes orders for the production of state papers. They assist the Council to fulfil its functions of making laws and holding the Government to account. They are also important because, under the system of responsible government that operates in New South Wales, the people have a right to know the information that underlies public debate and informs government decision-making.

Orders for the production of state papers are commonly referred to as ‘orders for papers’ or ‘orders for returns’.

Procedures for the production of state papers
The procedures for the production of state papers are set out in Standing Order 52  of the Legislative Council.

Under standing order 52, any member of the House may give notice of motion for an order for papers. Usually, the notice will relate to a particular decision of Government that has become a matter of broad public interest. If the House agrees to the motion, the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet is advised of the order and coordinates the preparation of the Government response – that is, the return to order.

The return to order is provided to the Clerk and is tabled in the House and made public, unless privilege is claimed.

Claims of privilege
Most documents provided in a return to order are made public. However, the Government may make a claim of privilege – that is, that the document should not be made public on certain grounds such as legal professional privilege or public interest immunity.

Privileged documents are available for inspection by members of the Legislative Council only.

Any member may dispute the validity of a claim of privilege. In such instances, the validity of the claim of privilege is considered by an independent legal arbiter. However, it is ultimately for the House to determine the validity of the claim.

More information
New South Wales Legislative Council Practice, Chapter 17.

Viewing returns to orders
The Legislative Council manages all documents returned to orders of the House. Returns can range from a single document to hundreds of boxes of documents. Documents returned to an order must be accompanied by an indexed list of the documents, showing the date of creation and author of each document, together with a description of the document.

The indexes are available online, in text searchable PDF. To locate an index, go to the Tabled papers  filter tab and filter by 'Tabled Papers and Reports' in the Paper type, and select “Return to Order” in the “Document Type” field to further refine your search.

Most documents returned to order are not available online and can only be viewed in the Council’s Procedure Office.

The Procedure office is open between 9.00 am to 5.00 pm business days. It is advisable to contact the office on 9230 2749 to make an arrangement to view documents.

Before viewing documents, visitors are requested to sign a register to indicate that they agree to abide by certain rules. A small fee is charged for making photocopies.

Click here to see rules for viewing documents.

Tabled paper contact details
Phone: 9230 2431
Fax: 9230 2876