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ENVIRONMENT, RECREATION, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 25/09/1996 - DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION AND THE ARTS - Program 1--Department of Communications and the Arts - Subprogram 1.1--Policy, regulatory and operational framework

Senator SCHACHT --Minister, I noticed today--I have not read it in detail; I just got it--you issued a statement about the digitisation ISDN program for the telecommunications network. Is it easier to take that tomorrow when we have Telstra present? I think it probably is.

Senator Alston --I am happy to take it now or then.

Senator SCHACHT --I may wish to ask some of the questions when they are here. If that is okay, we will put it together.

Minister, since we last met there has been further press speculation about cross-media ownership rules. Some major articles have been published in a couple of newspapers. Can you give us an indication of when the government will meet its promise to hold a cross-media ownership inquiry or are we going to get a green paper process instead?

Senator Alston --I have read some speculation. I do not think you have seen any official statements and you will not see any official statements in the near future.

Senator SCHACHT --The range of articles that have been published seem to indicate that Mr Costello is apparently taking over the policy running in this area. Is that correct?

Senator Alston --No, that is not correct.

Senator SCHACHT --It is still in your hands?

Senator Alston --Yes. The article does defame us in other ways, but we will not go to that now.

Senator SCHACHT --Geoff Kitney's article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 20 September talks about you and Mr Costello sharing a flat.

Senator Alston --It is even worse than that; he said we were living together. It is just appalling.

Senator SCHACHT --Is this the new version of the odd couple? Which is Felix and which is Oscar amongst the two of you living together?

CHAIR --Where Senator Alston lives I do not think has any relevance to estimates questions.

Senator SCHACHT --The point is that it says here that over breakfast Senator Alston and Mr Costello discussed these matters. The article said:

Alston has continued to press his case, suggesting more names for an inquiry panel. Costello has not been convinced that the names being proposed were sufficiently independent.

CHAIR --Senator Schacht, what they discussed over their breakfast last week is of no relevance to you.

Senator SCHACHT --This is a significant policy issue.

Senator Alston --What we had for breakfast?

Senator SCHACHT --No, the fact that on the issue itself of cross-media ownership rules--

Senator Alston --Whether Geoff Kitney is writing--

Senator SCHACHT --When you spoke to Mr Kitney about this--

Senator Alston --I didn't speak to Kitney.

Senator SCHACHT --So all this information he has in his article he has got from somewhere else?

Senator Alston --Apparently.

Senator SCHACHT --It looks like he must have got it from Mr Costello because the story is written in a way that indicates that Mr Costello has taken charge of the policy.

Senator Alston --I have told you that that is not right.

Senator SCHACHT --And then it led to further discussion by Mr Kitney in articles. There is a very triumphant looking Mr Costello talking about the issue that `all the major media proprietors had been to see him'.

Senator Alston --I think it says two.

Senator SCHACHT --Two?

Senator Alston --The article says two.

Senator SCHACHT --In Australia that is probably over half of them, actually, I suppose.

Senator Alston --I am sure you and I could think of a number of others.

Senator SCHACHT --We could think of a couple of others, I suppose, at some level. Have the same media proprietors been to see you to discuss these issues?

Senator Alston --I talk to all the relevant players on a regular basis.

Senator SCHACHT --All the players? Do they understand that Mr Costello has now got charge of the policy in this area?

Senator Alston --No. I am sure they do not have any such belief, no.

Senator SCHACHT --Are they just taking out insurance by making sure that they keep Mr Costello informed of their interests?

Senator Alston --You are asking me to comment on a speculative piece, but there is nothing unusual about leaders of industry in a range of sectors talking to senior government ministers.

CHAIR --Maybe that is something unusual for the former government, Senator Alston,--

Senator Alston --That is right. I think the deals were probably done in a more surreptitious manner as far as Senator Schacht is concerned.

CHAIR --Let us move on, Senator Schacht, to some relevant questions.

Senator SCHACHT --No, I haven't finished. There are a couple of other interesting things which the minister can confirm or deny as he wishes. The article says:

Recently, Costello has taken a strong interest in Alston's portfolio, and particularly, the media aspect of it.

That is certainly true, isn't it?

Senator Alston --Sorry? That is true?

Senator SCHACHT --I am just asking you: it is true, isn't it, that Mr Costello has taken a strong interest in your portfolio and particularly the media aspect?

Senator Alston --I do not know that it is any truer of my portfolio than of a number of others. The Treasurer--and the Deputy Leader, in fact--needs to be across a whole range of portfolios. Most of them have financial implications. I talk to him about media and other issues. I do not think there is--

Senator SCHACHT --Over breakfast.

Senator Alston --Not just over breakfast. We talk to one another. We get on very well together. We do not have these deep tribal cleavages that so characterise the Labor Party.

Senator SCHACHT --I must say that I see here in the same article that you were described as being close to the former Elders boss and former Liberal president, John Elliott. But, of course, things have all changed in the Liberal Party, so we won't go into that, I suppose. You still cannot confirm to us an outcome that clearly already is a broken promise: that when this green paper process--

Senator Alston --How can something be a broken promise when no announcement has been made?

Senator SCHACHT --All right, I will hold you to that. I will note that and then when--

Senator Alston --All right. I am just asking you a question. Your logic seems to be fatally flawed.

Senator SCHACHT --Everybody else, including Mr Costello, who has obviously been happy to have much of this material published--much of it favourable to him, I must say--indicates that the media inquiry which you promised is a dead duck and that we are going to have another process.

Senator Alston --All I can say is that I talked to a number of my colleagues about a range of issues. There is nothing sinister about ministers taking an interest across portfolios. That is why you have a cabinet--

Senator SCHACHT --Yes, I do not disagree.

Senator Alston --Otherwise no-one would know anything about any issue except their own.

Senator SCHACHT --Yes, but I presume the shadow cabinet approved your policy promise at the election that there would be a media inquiry.

Senator Alston --I am not about to start discussing what our shadow cabinet did. You know what our policy was.

Senator SCHACHT --You are taking about a policy process.

Senator Alston --The policy document was there.

Senator SCHACHT --It was there with a promise in it. I presume that, like all reasonable processes--even for the Liberal Party--at some stage or other you probably got a tick for it in your then shadow ministry.

Senator Alston --I am not in the business of discussing the processes we followed, but there are usually a range of bodies within the coalition who have an input into the policy formulation process.

Senator SCHACHT --Okay. We will obviously revisit some of this--

Senator Alston --We actually discuss this in the party room. We do not just stitch up deals in caucus for factional reasons.

Senator SCHACHT --Well, did the party room approve your promise?

Senator Alston --I have just told you: I am not about to discuss the process that was followed other than to say the document is there for all the world to see.

Senator SCHACHT --Which is a specific and explicit promise to have a media inquiry.

Senator Alston --You can read it.

Senator SCHACHT --An independent media inquiry.

Senator Alston --I do not know that it used that terminology. I think it said a `comprehensive public review', didn't it?

Senator SCHACHT --Oh, I see. Now we get refinement of the words--

Senator Alston --I am just telling you. It has nothing to do with refinement. I would have thought you would have read the document and you would be able to quote accurately from it.

Senator SCHACHT --For six months following the election it was standard practice for either you or your office to confirm to the press that an announcement was imminent, that within a couple of weeks a senior person or an independent person would be appointed and terms of reference would be announced.

Senator Alston --Don't you think you got a good run out of this during an estimates hearing last week? Do you want to have another go?

Senator SCHACHT --The only reason, Minister, I am having another go is that, clearly, Mr Costello has been more than happy to brief at least one member of the press in detail about his interest in wanting to change your policy on media ownership.

Senator Alston --That is your inference from an article that I do not think quotes anyone in direct terms. It follows that you are speculating.

Senator SCHACHT --I presume that, if this article is substantially and significantly wrong, either you or Mr Costello will write a letter to the editor pointing out that Mr Kitney had it all wrong.

Senator Alston --Well, that is your assumption. You could spend all your time in this game responding to speculative pieces, backgrounding and the like. We are not in the business of doing that.

CHAIR --Senator Schacht, could you move on now, please?

Senator LUNDY --Can I get clarification as to whether subprogram 1.1 includes the refurbishment of Old Parliament House, or is that in subprogram 1.2?

Senator SCHACHT --It is subprogram 1.1, isn't it? I think this is a problem we had and in one sense discussed last week about the break-out or the break-in of artistic matters or cultural matters and communications matters. I think Mr Stevens took note of the fact that in the preparation--

Senator Alston --If Senator Lundy wants to ask questions about it, we are happy to respond to them.

Senator SCHACHT --Yes, I know. Mr Stevens would be pleased to know that since then at subsequent estimates hearings a number of other ministers and secretaries have also commented about problems in the way this has to be laid out.

Mr Stevens --That is unfortunate. We follow the guidelines given to us.

Senator LUNDY --With respect to the refurbishment of Old Parliament House, can you advise the committee of the breakdown of the $5.47 million allocated for the refurbishment of Old Parliament House this financial year?

Ms Santamaria --Senator, it will take me just one second to find the breakdown. Stage 4 of the refurbishment of OPH has now begun. It was approved in the 1995-96 budget, and it covers works, totalling $11.3 million, to arrest further deterioration and meet safety standards. The elements of this are made up of re-roofing; removal of asbestos; storm water and sewage lines; electrical switchboards and supply reticulation; mechanical facilities, boilers and chillers; upgrading of airconditioning services; provision of new electrical services; provision of fire escape routes; sprinkler system upgrading--I am almost through--smoke exhaust and detection systems; electronic security system and PA system; drainage; and plumbing. The stage 4 works that have been actually undertaken to date are: courtyard service replacement, landscaping, upgrading of the courtyard toilets, and the essential works to relocate the cafe.

Senator LUNDY --Given that $6.3 million was appropriated last financial year, why was the budget underspent in 1995-1996 by about $1.1 million? What was the reason?

Ms Santamaria --It was really a matter of positioning the works themselves. There were some difficulties in moving the kitchen and that slowed down the works--not considerably, but it rather slowed down those works. Now that that has been accomplished, the rest of the stage four works have been able to be pursued.

Senator LUNDY --Who is managing Old Parliament House and overseeing the restoration work?

Ms Santamaria --The department.

Senator LUNDY --Okay, but can you give me further detail about the processes in the specific area within the department?

Mr Stevens --It is Mr Palfreyman's area, Senator.

Senator LUNDY --Sorry. Mr Palfreyman, can you describe the process in overseeing that work? Do you directly liaise with the management of Old Parliament House? Is there any committee involved in that process?

Mr Palfreyman --We have a section within my division which looks after Old Parliament House and the centenary of Federation activities. We have a director in charge of that who is actually located in Old Parliament House, along with a number of other staff. We have a building manager here who is on staff and he liaises with the appropriate contractors to oversee the work.

Senator LUNDY --Thank you.

Senator SCHACHT --I think that somebody is out for questions on the arts area. I do not know whether some of them are actually 1.1 and 1.2 that flow backwards and forwards. I think we agreed that that is unavoidable.

Mr Stevens --That is fine.

Senator SCHACHT --Minister, the coalition gave an undertaking at the election to maintain existing levels of Commonwealth funding to the arts as well as spending an additional $60 million over three years. What baseline figure have you or the government used to judge the extent to which this promise can be met?

Senator Alston --I do not know if that is a question of whether you have got a baseline figure to enable you to judge whether the promise has been met. You simply look at, presumably, what we announced in the budget and assess that. What we did announce was the implementation of all our pre-election commitments, other than in money terms. There were only two that were not implemented in full: the $1.5 million for the National Museum and the $11.4 million for the library on-line program. For those we allocated $1.5 and $2 million respectively. The reason is that, in relation to the National Museum, it is necessary to do an assessment of the most appropriate site. We did say in a policy we preferred Yarramundi, but we do have an obligation to take into account all the possible locations--and, indeed, structural proposals--that might be put forward. There is an advisory committee working on that project right now. In a number of respects the library on-line proposal has been overtaken by events, in the sense that several state governments have announced similar initiatives. We think that we can achieve the essence of that commitment with a significantly lower amount of money.

Senator SCHACHT --Maybe this could be taken on notice. Minister or Mr Stephens, is it possible for you to provide us with information--noting that your promise said to `maintain existing levels of Commonwealth funding for the arts as well as spend an additional $60 million over three years', or $20 million per year, or something in that latitude--to disaggregate this table? The table I am referring to is on pages 9 and 10, which is your definition of the arts area of activity.

On page 11, and going over a couple of pages, you have a heading `Arts and heritage services', but I look at some things in the Department of Communications and Arts, like, I have to say, assistance for the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, and I think that may be considered as a arts expenditure. Is it possible, rather than my having a stab at it, to try to work out which is actually an arts expenditure and which is a communications expenditure? Could you provide on notice a breakdown of the figures to show the total arts expenditure in this budget in the portfolio?

Senator Alston --The short answer is, yes, we can.

Senator SCHACHT --Okay.

Senator LUNDY --I wish to ask a follow-up question in respect to libraries on-line. You promised to provide $11.4 million to that. That promise was broken, with you stating that the full amount was no longer necessary. Minister, what evidence have you got to prove that, in fact, the full amount, the $11.4 million, is no longer necessary and only $2 million is required?

Senator Alston --The Victorian and Western Australian governments have made announcements that are substantially designed to ensure that libraries are community access points, and that was one of the principal functions of that initiative. There will still be scope for ensuring that various cultural institutions are linked through the National Cultural Network, and libraries may access those as well. But the essence of the commitment was to enable areas where there might not otherwise be adequate Internet access facilities to be available at a central community point, and we think we can achieve that.

Senator LUNDY --What consultation in ascertaining what community access was available to the Internet did you undertake before you reduced that? Could you describe the process?

Senator Alston --As I understand it, we consulted with the governments that I mentioned. We certainly were aware of their public announcements.

Senator LUNDY --Did they provide you with any details as to the number of libraries which had on-line access and those sorts of details to assist you in making your decision?

Senator Alston --I cannot tell you offhand.

Mr Stephens --Senator, we would have to have a look at what we could provide, but there were quite detailed discussions of all state governments in regard to this particular area of activity. I myself had some discussions with state government officials. We were given a lot of information and the department has a lot, so we will look at it.

Senator LUNDY --Minister, do you think it is a responsibility of the Commonwealth to ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to access the Internet through such a public library initiative?

Senator Alston --I think you have to ascertain the level of interest in the first instance. Given that there is likely to be increasing interest over time, particularly as a result of today's announcement, I think it is reasonable for people to expect that they will be able to get relatively easy access. There are always rural and remote areas where life is more difficult, but if you are talking about the metropolitan areas, I think it is a reasonable proposition to say that you should not end up with some people who simply cannot get physical access or who cannot afford the cost of access.

Senator LUNDY --What sort of watching brief has the department got over the ability for all Australians to have access to the Internet, given that you have obviously embarked upon a program to devolve some of that responsibility for on-line facilities being available to the states?

Senator Alston --The extent to which people want to get access to the Internet will be, in most instances, a personal decision. That will be a reflection of their priorities--whether they want to purchase PCs. Not everyone can afford to, but the great majority of people can if they think it is sufficiently important.

One of the great inhibitors to date has been the speed of downloading and, indeed, just calling up graphics. That is why it is important. Initiatives such as the ones we announced today in relation to the modernisation of local exchanges, conversion to digital and access through ISDN technology to a range of services will provide that sort of high speed access, and that will increase demand. I think there need to be some community access points, but you always have to make a judgment about how many of those are realistically required, given the level of true demand.

Senator LUNDY --One of the greatest barriers to access is not speed but in rural areas it is the fact that to access the Internet requires a long-distance call--a timed STD call. What initiatives is your department canvassing with respect to getting rural people and remote communities access to the Internet at local call costs if that access is not provided through public library facilities?

Senator Alston --It does not follow that by having access through a public library in a remote area you will magically be entitled to access at local call rates. You will be subject to the same geographic constraints as everyone else.

Senator LUNDY --My point, Minister, is that whether or not people may be able to afford a PC in a remote rural area, it is the access time with dialling up the Internet that becomes a barrier.

Senator Alston --It is the distance between the caller and the Internet service provider that is the critical distance. It is cost sensitive. I can understand those concerns, in the same way that many people outside the metropolitan areas do not like the fact that most of the calls they make are timed.

Senator LUNDY --But do you support the notion of those people having access?

Senator Alston --I am not sure that that is a major factor in dissuading people from accessing the Internet. It may simply be that it costs more, and that is a legitimate concern. It does not mean that it is actually discouraging the use. To the extent that there are more Internet service providers locating in those areas to pick up on the level of demand, the cost of accessing the service will be reviewed.

Mr Stevens --Indeed, that has happened in a number of states. In Victoria, for example, widespread access points have been established in rural areas so that people can access at the cost of a local call.

Senator LUNDY --Would you be able to provide some sort of diagram or map to show what areas of rural Australia have access to the Internet via a local call as opposed to an STD call?

Mr Stevens --We will see what we can do.

Senator LUNDY --Minister, would you agree that it is an idealistic aim or an ideal situation that everyone in Australia at some point in the future will have local call access to the Internet? I am not asking whether or not it is feasible at this point in time; I am asking you whether it is an ideal position to aim for.

Senator Alston --I think it is a noble aspiration for every user of the service. What you are putting is that somehow it is the responsibility of government to ensure that people get access to services at local call rates. You will find that after 1 July next year there will be a lot of competition that will drive prices down in a whole range of areas. At the moment you have five calling zones for telephones around Australia. It may well be, if the Economist is right and we have seen the death of distance, that you will see a lot more flat price charging. Those sorts of zones will not be as significant and that will obviously then reflect on the cost of access to the Internet as well.

Senator LUNDY --Yes, but I am sure you would agree with respect to competition that there will not be a large amount of control over where that is applied. In fact, there may be differentials as to where the various carriers and service providers have the opportunity to make a profit. I am looking for some sort of policy commitment from your government to reach the situation where at some point in the future every Australian has access to the Internet through a local call.

Senator Alston --Part of the intention behind the review of the standard telephone service is to look at the level of demand for a whole range of new technologies to the extent that you ultimately reach a situation where the great majority of the population already has access. I think this point has been made to Senate committees and elsewhere. Perhaps if you got to a level of 80 per cent usage of fax machines, there may be an argument that it ought to be compulsory to make them available to the rest of the population. I am not endorsing or unendorsing that; I am simply saying that over time, as the price of these services becomes cheaper and as people's level of interest and therefore demand for the services increases, you make those judgements.

But you do not start off on the basis that we are going to ensure by hook or by crook, irrespective or price, that everyone has immediate and cheap access to a whole range of services that we would like them to have. You look at how the market develops, you see if there are any gaps, you see what is affordable and therefore what is reasonable for the taxpayer to incur and you adjust the rules of the game accordingly.

Senator LUNDY --Do you believe that people in rural or remote Australia need some sort of specific assistance, given the tyranny of distance and the issue of local call access to the Internet and that they are at a disadvantage?

Senator Alston --I just said to you that I think the tyranny of distance is no longer relevant to a large extent.

Senator LUNDY --It is if you can only access the Internet through an STD call. Distance is very much a real barrier to usage. At this stage the only satisfaction you have given me in response to this question is that competition will somehow take care of putting rural people on line at local call rates. I do not believe that there is a lot of money in it for carriers to put rural people on line at local rates. I am asking you whether it is a policy direction that you are prepared to support in principle, given the fact that unless there is some sort of government intervention or addressing of this issue, it is not likely to occur.

Senator Alston --I do not know whether it is likely to occur. There are new technologies emerging all the time. As I said to you, it is now possible to make an international call for 25c on the Internet. Now that is a pretty dramatic breakthrough. Given that on 1 July it will be possible for people to come in and provide flat rate pricing, you may see quite fundamentally different configurations, which will make it attractive. But in any event I would not assume that there will not be a significant usage of the current system simply by speeding up access, even though it might be what you would regard as relatively expensive. A lot of people are prepared to pay for that service.

Senator LUNDY --Minister, putting aside people's personal choice to hook up to the Internet, I will go back to what brought us to this subject anyway, which was the provision of access to the Internet through community or public library facilities. Do you see that as a way of providing a service to a community without those burdens being imposed upon individuals who choose to seek access?

Senator Alston --As I have said to you, it is much easier in metropolitan areas to cater for those who might not otherwise have access to a service by establishing a community access point, like a library. It is much more difficult in country areas where at most you have got hamlets and quite often you have got people dotted all around the countryside. In those circumstances, it may not make as much sense or it may be much more expensive.

But tele-cottages are not an uncommon feature in rural areas these days. In a sense this is an extension of that approach. So I am not saying that there is not a role for government to play, but I think the government ought to be coming along, if you like after the event, on a moving basis to fill in the gaps if it is apparent that the service will not otherwise be provided.

I thought what you were asking me was to really commit to some sort of overall blueprint that we will do certain things in rural areas almost irrespective of market developments and new technologies. I am not prepared to do that.

Senator LUNDY --As I said, we arrived at the line of questioning through the issue of public on-line facilities in libraries. The other thing I wanted to ask you was: with respect to tele-cottages, are you aware that the government through the former department of housing and regional development has cut off funding to a major tele-cottage study and implementation proposal that had the aim of putting in place a pilot and a mechanism to put rural people on-line?

Senator Alston --Are you talking about Gungahlin?

Senator LUNDY --No, I am talking about Bega tele-cottage.

Senator Alston --I have just been told that that is the case.

Senator LUNDY --And that that project was designed to address some of the problems that we have been discussing about putting rural people on-line.

Senator Alston --I am not across the detail of that. I could certainly come back to you on it.

Senator LUNDY --I would appreciate that, Minister. I would also like to move to another issue that was raised in your response to Senator Schacht's question regarding the National Museum siting study. I want to know how much money has been spent to date on the museum siting study--not with respect to the one recently announced by the government but previous siting studies that have been conducted. I will understand if you have to take that on notice.

Mr Stevens --Yes, we certainly will.

Senator LUNDY --With respect to the announced National Museum siting study, $1.5 million has been allocated under this program to conduct that study. Could you provide some details as to how that will be expended and what time frame?

Mr Stevens --It will be expended in the course of this financial year on the study.

Senator LUNDY --Yes, I understand that. But I also have read media reports that it will be completed within the next three months. I was wondering if you could confirm that.

Ms Santamaria --It is certainly the intention of Mr Jim Service, the chair of the advisory committee, to complete it within three months. A number of studies are under way at present. I am not sure whether you saw the terms of reference for the advisory committee--

Senator LUNDY --I have seen them briefly, but it would be useful if you could provide them to the committee.

Ms Santamaria --Yes, all right. I can do that now, if you like.

Senator SCHACHT --On the same question of the National Museum, with reference to the coalition's promise to build `a fully-fledged new national museum in Canberra', what advice has the minister received on the likely cost of such a proposal?

Senator Alston --As I understand it, there has been advice provided over recent years by the department to relevant ministers and, presumably, that advice will continue to be updated. There will be, no doubt, inputs from the National Museum Council, of which the chairman is the chairman of the advisory committee. That will obviously be--

Senator SCHACHT --So, since you have been in government, you have not specifically received advice from that advisory body or from your own department or anywhere else on--to use the quote from the coalition--what would be `a fully-fledged national museum'?

Senator Alston --I have received advice from the department as to the possible parameters of the cost, depending upon different locations. That is one of the matters that will be the subject of advice.

Senator SCHACHT --I might come back to that particular point. I just have a couple more questions. Is that advice at the moment still confidential to the government?

Senator Alston --Yes.

Senator SCHACHT --Do you expect that the private sector will make a contribution to this project?

Senator Alston --That is one of the terms of reference for the advisory committee. But, yes, that would certainly be our hope and expectation.

Senator SCHACHT --What advice have you received on the infrastructure costs associated with the Yarramundi research site, which is apparently the coalition's preferred site from its policy documents.

Senator Alston --That is part of what I was referring to a moment ago.

Senator SCHACHT --So you have not received that advice yet on the infrastructure costs for the Yarramundi site?

Senator Alston --I think I have had broad indications of the possible--

Senator SCHACHT --Can you give us some idea of the estimates of what those broad indications are?

Senator Alston --No, there is a number of variables that will ultimately determine what is a reasonable estimate. It would be irresponsible for me to speculate prematurely on things which might turn out to be wide of the mark.

Senator SCHACHT --You have allocated $1.5 million `to determine the best possible site, employ architects and establish an appropriate tendering process', is that correct?

Senator Alston --Yes.

Senator SCHACHT --Is any of the money being used for actual design work?

Senator Alston --I think we said a moment ago that we would get back to you on just how much has been spent and what it has been spent on.

Senator SCHACHT --Do you want to take that on notice?

Senator Alston --I do not think it has been spent on design.

Mr Stevens --It could not be at this point until we know where the site is.

Senator SCHACHT --Is there a mention in your budget papers about money being set aside for design?

Mr Stevens --Yes, on page 23.

Senator LUNDY --Is that included in the $1.5 million?

Senator Alston --That is the heading rather than the brief.

Senator SCHACHT --That is the heading. The heading is wrong then?

Senator Alston --No, it is indicating the general concept and then the money is being allocated in pursuit of that concept. In other words, the stages you need to go through before you get to the design stage.

Senator SCHACHT --Good try, Minister. I think that is a bit misleading having `design of facilities' included in the heading, which some people would take as--

Senator Alston --That is a real killer point.

Senator SCHACHT --No, it is not a killer point. I am just pointing out that people reading this quickly might take that point.

Senator LUNDY --Going back to the siting study, what involvement will the NCA have in conducting the siting study?

Senator Alston --Do you mean to what extent will the council of the National Museum have an input into the work of the advisory committee?

Senator LUNDY --No. The question is: what involvement will the National Capital Authority have with respect to the siting study?

Ms Santamaria --Senator, the National Capital Authority is an observer along with the department. At meetings of the advisory committee, the National Capital Authority will certainly be either commissioning or undertaking some of the studies that the advisory committee will be requesting.

Senator LUNDY --Minister, are you aware that the National Capital Authority has quite a specific view as to the siting of the museum?

Senator Alston --I do not think they have communicated it to me, but I think I have been given advice to that effect.

Senator LUNDY --Do you believe there is a conflict in existence whereby the National Capital Authority, given that they do have a specific view, will be providing services and advice to the advisory committee on the siting of the museum?

Senator Alston --No, I think the advisory committee makes its own judgments. It is entitled to get inputs from a range of players, and the NCA obviously has some valid insights.

Senator LUNDY --Minister, this issue of the siting of the museum has a very long history in the ACT and it is quite a contentious local issue. Can you tell us how and if and when the ACT government and the ACT community will be consulted during the consideration of the siting of the National Museum?

Senator Alston --I assume that the ACT government is taking a keen interest in the process and is speaking with members of the advisory committee and may be putting in a formal submission to them. I am not aware of the detail of that, but it would be very surprising if they suddenly lost interest in the issue.

Senator LUNDY --Is there any formal mechanism that has been provided through the advisory committee to allow the community of the ACT to have input as to the siting of the museum?

Ms Santamaria --Senator, I just want to correct something I said about the NCA. In fact, the department is commissioning the studies. The NCA will manage some of them. The ACT community will have the opportunity to participate. I think an advertisement will appear in the press this weekend and will, in fact, call for submissions from the community. The ACT government also has observer status on the advisory committee.

Senator LUNDY --Could you clarify for me, with respect to the terms of reference for the advisory committee, what impact other decisions relating to some of the sites bring to bear on their considerations. I refer to the Kingston-Acton land swap, given that Acton is currently listed as one of the options for siting of the museum.

Ms Santamaria --Can you repeat that question?

Senator LUNDY --Sorry. I am asking what consideration has been given with the advisory committee on the consideration of siting, given that one of the sites listed is subject to other negotiations between the ACT government and the Commonwealth government.

Ms Santamaria --The advisory committee is not taking into account the land swap. The ACT government will pursue that separately. In fact, the advice that the ACT government gave this committee was to pursue the sites and not to be moved by the land swap.

ACTING CHAIR (Senator Ian Macdonald) --Senator Allison, I believe you have some questions.

Senator ALLISON --I just wanted to follow up on one of the terms of reference, and that is the options for private sector investment and the likely extent of private sector involvement. Minister, does the government have a bottom line on this issue in terms of private sector funding and involvement? For instance, would the government consider full private sector funding, full private sector management and/or full private sector cost recovery? If not, what role do you see the government playing in terms of each of those areas?

Senator Alston --The terms of reference require the advisory committee to examine the options for private sector investment and advise on the likely extent of private sector involvement in the development. We are not prejudging the outcome of those--

Senator ALLISON --Does this mean the government does not have a bottom line and that if the committee made--

Senator Alston --I do not know what you mean by `bottom line'. We are simply asking for advice on those issues.

Senator ALLISON --So if the committee came back to the government with a recommendation--

Senator Alston --I am not going to speculate about hypothetical advice they might or might not give.

Senator ALLISON --So the government does not have a position in terms of--

Senator Alston --You do not have a position without predetermining the outcome. We are not predetermining it. We are going to wait and see what advice they give us. Then we will weigh it up and make judgments accordingly.

Senator ALLISON --Thank you.

Senator SCHACHT --If you are not predetermining, Minister--and Senator Allison, this might be useful--then why in February 1996 did Senator Margaret Reid, the Liberal senator for the ACT, state unequivocally that the museum would proceed at the Yarramundi site? She also stated that the only reason there has been confusion about its location is because the Labor government had vacillated for so long. Could you indicate whether that is actually pre-empting your inquiry--that Senator Margaret Reid, distinguished President of the Senate, said it is going to proceed at the Yarramundi site? Is that now--

Senator Alston --That may have been Senator Reid's position on the issue. I do not have any objection to people expressing views. I presume Senator Lundy has said a few things about how it ought to be and how it ought to work.

Senator SCHACHT --Senator Margaret Reid is not some fly-by-night, Johnny-come-lately to the Liberal Party in the ACT. You were willing to vote her in as the President of the Senate.

Senator Alston --I hope you are not reflecting on other senators from the ACT in saying that, are you?

Senator SCHACHT --No, I am saying you are just reflecting that she may have said it--

Senator Alston --We know they are all local members in the ACT.

Senator SCHACHT --So that is the end of Margaret Reid--down for the count.

Senator Alston --Not at all.

Senator SCHACHT --Three bags of spuds over the side--never to be heard of again.

Senator Alston --I will have a word--

Senator LUNDY --Senator Schacht, it is no secret that the Liberal government breached quite specifically a promise with respect to the siting of the museum. As I said, it was something that was unequivocally stated by both--

Senator Alston --You can have it debated. Caucus is not terribly relevant--

Senator LUNDY --It was stated by both the former member for Canberra and Senator Margaret Reid. In fact, Mr Smyth stated on more than one occasion on local radio that the museum would be located on the Yarramundi site.

Senator Alston --What has all this got to do with the current estimates and--

Senator LUNDY --Minister, I would like to ask you, given the commitments to the museum at the Yarramundi site and given that there has been a previous siting study clearly identifying Yarramundi as the best site for the museum, what justification is there for allocating $1.5 million to reopening an investigation into the siting of the National Museum?

Senator Alston --You might like to think that the issue is cut and dried. It seems, from the advice that I have had, that it is still a very lively and contentious issue. Since Yarramundi was first proposed, probably some 10 years ago, by John Mulvaney's committee, there has been furious debate on this on a regular basis. As you know, there were all the machinations that the previous government went through to pretend that they were somehow committed to a national museum. There are a lot of other matters that need to be taken into account before we simply assume that Yarramundi is the--

Senator SCHACHT --So it might be reliving those--

Senator Alston --I have said to you that Senator Reid is perfectly entitled to have a view on where she would like it to be, and it may well be a strongly expressed view. I would not dispute Senator Lundy's right to press a similarly--

Senator LUNDY --Minister, has the ACT government indicated to you that they would fund the infrastructure for other sites as they have in the past with respect to the Yarramundi site?

Senator Alston --They may have indirectly communicated with me, but they have not put that proposition directly.

ACTING CHAIR --Can I just return to Senator Allison, who was asking questions. Have you finished on this line?

Senator ALLISON --Yes, I have.

Senator LUNDY --I am sorry, Minister. I did not hear your response.

Senator Alston --I am not directly aware, but there may be something that has come in.

Ms Santamaria --No.

Senator LUNDY --Has there been any formal consultation between yourself and the ACT government on the siting of the museum?

Senator Alston --I did meet with Kate Carnell and Gary Humphries at one stage, but I think that is some months ago now.

Senator LUNDY --Did they express a particular view with respect to the siting?

Senator Alston --I think we had a bit of a chat about issues. I cannot remember now.

Senator SCHACHT --Minister, with your style of response to these questions on the National Museum, I would tell the Liberal ACT government not to hold their breath about your support for it. You are utterly dismissive in style and content.

Senator Alston --I am simply saying to you, with a degree of tolerance--

Senator SCHACHT --You have just dismissed Kate Carnell with the comment, `Oh, I may have had a chat with her, I'm not sure what we talked about.'

Senator Alston --If you want me to say that I had formal discussions with them, I will say that. But I am just saying that, yes, I have had discussions. But I am not about to divulge--

Senator SCHACHT --At least you are getting a bit more het up about it; at least you sound a bit more committed than with the way you were just drifting around--

Senator Alston --Keep provoking me and I will--

Senator SCHACHT --shuffling paper backwards and forwards as though this issue was of absolutely no interest to your portfolio. If you would like, we could ask Ms Santamaria to answer the lot. She seems to be much more across the issue than you are.

ACTING CHAIR --Does anyone have any questions of any more significance?

Senator SCHACHT --Yes, I have quite a few more.

ACTING CHAIR --Can we move on with them then?

Senator SCHACHT --To save time in a moment, I might put some of these on notice, because it is quite clear that the minister has no intention of treating them seriously--so perhaps the department might. Minister, I will give you a number of questions. I am happy to put all of them on notice.

Minister, will you be able to table a detailed breakdown of the proposed expenditure of the $1.5 million allocation for the review? What sites will the committee examine?

Senator Alston --I think we have already answered that one.

Senator SCHACHT --I am not sure that--

ACTING CHAIR --If you are going to put these questions on notice, you do not have to read them out. The staff will be able to read them when you put them on notice.

Senator SCHACHT --All right, I will ask them now. I am just trying to save you time, Mr Acting Chairman.

ACTING CHAIR --I am just saying that you do not have to read them out if you are putting them on notice. I thought you might have misunderstood the system.

Senator SCHACHT --I do not misunderstand the system at all.

ACTING CHAIR --If they are on notice, they just need to be tabled. Are there any questions?

Senator LUNDY --Yes. Perhaps, Senator Schacht, while you are preparing your questions, I could ask mine.

Senator SCHACHT --All right.

Senator LUNDY --I would ask the minister to respond to an earlier question I had about the factors taken into consideration when making the decision to reopen the siting study. Minister, you said that there were various factors that led you to that decision, but you did not embark upon an explanation of what they were.

Senator Alston --I said to you that there were a lot of manoeuvrings pre-election. There were discussions and offers made between the Commonwealth and the ACT government. Also, as far as I was aware, there was community controversy about the optimum location and, indeed, the costs of the various proposed museums that would be built on those sites, depending upon the size of the project.It seems to me to be irresponsible to simply go in with a blank cheque.

Senator LUNDY --Are you saying that it was at the encouragement of the ACT government that you re-opened the siting study?

Senator Alston --No, I do not think so.

Senator LUNDY --At this stage, it is the only thing you have offered as to why you have reviewed the siting decision after clearly stating a policy.

Senator Alston --I cannot recall the detail now, but I can remember Bob McMullan making some statement about the museum and what Labor would commit to. Obviously, all of these matters needed to be assessed in terms of what was feasible and affordable and, indeed, what arrangements, if any, had been entered into. They are all, I think, part of a responsible approach to the issue, getting it right. We did not want to rush in and simply do something which, with hindsight, might have turned out to have been not the most sensible way to go.

Senator LUNDY --Minister, two sites included on that list were the foreshores of the lake in the Parliamentary Triangle and Kings Park. One of those sites has been advocated by the National Capital Authority, and the other site has not really entered into the public debate in any major way. Why were those two sites included in the siting study option?

Senator Alston --The terms of reference do not nominate any particular sites to be examined. They simply seek advice on the most appropriate site, which is precisely what our pre-election commitment was. `We will honour Labor's broken promise and establish a National Museum of Australia. In the first year $1.5 million will be allocated to determine the best possible site' et cetera. I cannot see why much has changed in that sense.

Senator LUNDY --Four sites have been identified publicly.

Senator Alston --They may have been, but they are not--

Senator LUNDY --Can I ask the department then what the process was for identifying those four sites?

Senator Alston --We did not identify them. Our terms of reference do not nominate them. I am simply saying that someone might come up with a fifth or sixth site. All we want to do is examine all of the options. It is open to any member of the community to suggest any site that might appeal to them.

Senator LUNDY --Are you saying that this study could go beyond the four sites that have been publicly identified?

Senator Alston --Perhaps I should say that I am advised that at the time of making the announcement--in other words, publicly releasing the terms of reference--I may have indicated what were regarded to be the four that presumably you have in mind. But, of itself, that does not preclude any interested party from suggesting additional sites because the terms of reference leave that open.

Senator LUNDY --Again can I ask you this question: why were those two sites--being Kings Park and the foreshore of the lake in the Parliamentary Triangle--included on that list as part of your release?

Ms Santamaria --My understanding is that over the years 12 sites have been considered for the National Museum. The four that the minister announced are the four to which most of the studies and the most enthusiastic response has pertained.

Senator LUNDY --Yes, that is the very point I am questioning the minister on. One of those sites, the lake foreshore within the Parliamentary Triangle, has clearly been publicly advocated by the National Capital Authority, and the site of Kings Park has not really reached any high degree of public debate within the ACT. I am questioning the process upon which they were included in that siting study.

Senator Alston --Presumably what we listed were the possible sites rather than the probable--a ranking.

Ms Santamaria --Yes. I also think that, in view of the fact that those four sites had received more attention than the other eight, it was in part a decision to narrow the study. All 12 could have been considered and, as the minister has just said, can be--and, I guess, any others.

Senator LUNDY --Minister, my point is that, in the allocation of funding to a siting study, much of the work has been done over the years, as has been outlined by Ms Santamaria. I think that is the very point: to re-open it to even four sites represents a broadening of any study that is not necessary, given the level of public debate.

Senator Alston --You might have a very confident and sure-footed view on what is the appropriate location. If it is as uncontested as you seem to believe, then presumably that will be advice that is put before the committee and that is the advice they will give us. But we--

Senator LUNDY --Hence, my point overall: $1.5 million of taxpayers' money to yet another siting study which, according to your own policy, is entirely unnecessary.

Senator Alston --According to our own policy is entirely unnecessary?

Senator LUNDY --Your own policy says that Yarramundi Reach--

Senator Alston --The policy said that the coalition will honour Labor's broken promise and establish a National Museum of Australia and that in the first year $1.5 million will be allocated to determine the best possible site, employ architects and establish an appropriate tendering process. Where does it say anything about this being unnecessary?

Senator LUNDY --Minister, your own policy stated unequivocally, prior to the election, that Yarramundi was where the museum was going to go.

Senator Alston --No, no, no. What it said was that it is the coalition's preference that the National Museum be located at the Yarramundi site, which has been earmarked for this purpose for well over a decade. You do not just draft these things off the top of your head. We clearly stopped short of saying it would be at Yarramundi--

Senator LUNDY --Yes, and so you have told us consistently since the election.

Senator Alston --Not since the election. This is a pre-election document.

Senator LUNDY --You should have heard what your local candidates were saying during the federal election.

Senator Alston --I am not interested in which and how people read policy documents.

Senator LUNDY --Obviously not.

Senator Alston --I am simply telling you what the policy was. If you were able to point to a policy that said it will be built at Yarramundi and goes on to say we are going to throw in another $1 1/2 million to determine the best possible site, you would be able to say to me that this is pretty silly stuff. But that is not what the policy was. We deliberately stopped short of anointing Yarramundi because we thought it was sensible to take the best advice. We certainly were not going to rely on all the confused noises that had been made by the government over the years. I am sure you are acutely aware of what Keating said prior to the 1993 election and what he said afterwards about the issue. There have been a lot of contradictory statements made.

Senator LUNDY --In view of the fact that the minister, Warwick Smith, said on local radio, `Yes, we'll be building the museum at Yarramundi,' and then later had to retract that after he read the fine wording of the policy, I think it is a reasonable assumption that, regardless of the semantics of the wording of your policy, there was a very high expectation, both locally and nationally, that the National Museum would be built at the Yarramundi site.

Senator Alston --Did you read the policy prior to the election?

Senator LUNDY --I did not need to, Minister, because in the ACT we heard it very clearly from the horse's mouth what the policy was.

Senator Alston --You did not need to read the policy and yet you want to argue with me about what is in it.

Senator LUNDY --We asked the question quite specifically, because it was a very important issue for people in the ACT--in fact, for people around Australia.

Senator Alston --I do not know why anybody bothers to put out policies. Maybe we will have to rethink our approach. If even our opponents are not going to read the policies, what is the point of putting them out?

Senator SCHACHT --Well, you break them so openly and so regularly that they do not mean much, do they?

Senator Alston --You will find this is the daddy of them all if you look at what Keating said before and after the 1993 election.

CHAIR --We do not want to enter into debate on l-a-w tax cuts and that sort of thing. Are there any other questions on subprogram 1.1? If not, we will move to subprogram 1.2.

Senator SCHACHT --Yes, I have some. Minister, page 12 of the draft annual report from the National Museum of Australia shows that, in 1995-1996, $10 million in total was provided to the National Museum in their budget. They say in their report the estimate is $7.3 million for 1996-1997. Isn't that a significant reduction in the general budget for the National Museum, or have I got that--

Mr Stevens --I wonder if that might not be a better question to ask the National Museum people under the appropriate program item.

Senator SCHACHT --But you give them the money. They do not have access to the mint, do they?

Mr Stevens --I think Ms Santamaria can explain those figures very fully, Senator.

Ms Santamaria --Senator, that money was previously to be allocated to extend the museum's presence in Customs House in Sydney.

Senator SCHACHT --So the saving has been made in knocking off the extension of Customs House?

Ms Santamaria --No; not so. The museum is focussing, as I am sure you will find out when you talk to its people later, its activities in Canberra and has decided to pull that $2.8 million back and not to extend its presence in Customs House. That money is still available to the museum for other activities.

Senator SCHACHT --But why is that not put in here? Unless I am reading this wrongly, and I stand to be corrected, it says for 1995-1996 the approved estimate is $10.2 million and then it says the 1996-1997 estimate is $7.3 million. It is about $3 million off. Where has the $3 million gone, apart from back into revenue?

Ms Santamaria --Sorry, Senator. Their appropriation was reduced by that amount this year, but they have the money in the bank.

Senator SCHACHT --The appropriation was reduced?

Ms Santamaria --Yes.

Senator SCHACHT --Didn't they spend it last year?

Ms Santamaria --No, because the money was to be spent on a presence in the Customs House in Sydney.

Senator SCHACHT --I see; so they saved the money.

Ms Santamaria --They saved the money.

Senator SCHACHT --Finance did not let them roll it over?

Ms Santamaria --They currently have it in their bank account.

Senator SCHACHT --In relation to that gain in resources or elsewhere in resources down in the bottom summary, is it mentioned anywhere else that there is now nearly $3 million sitting in their bank account?

ACTING CHAIR --With respect, Senator Schacht, it was indicated to you that all would be revealed by the National Museum if we left it to them.

Senator SCHACHT --I am just trying to work out where the money is sitting. This has gone into one of their hollow logs.

Senator Alston --It has not gone to Rio.

Senator SCHACHT --I know that.

Ms Santamaria --It has gone into their trust account. The fact of the matter is that the lease for the Customs House was not signed until the end of last year. It would have been impossible for the museum to have spent it.

Senator SCHACHT --In the table on page 13, in relation to the cash on hand at the beginning of the financial year, which is $3.1 million and in 1996-97 it is $2.9 million, is that the cash in hand?

Ms Santamaria --Yes; I am advised by the museum that that is the case.

Senator SCHACHT --They can spend that or hold it for a length of time to spend it on something in Canberra; is that right?

Ms Santamaria --I think they can for the present, yes.

Senator SCHACHT --I am surprised Finance let them get away with that; never mind. Mr Stevens's hand was probably in this little arrangement; congratulations--

ACTING CHAIR --Are there any other questions on subprogram 1.1?

Senator SCHACHT --Mr Chairman, I have gone through and I am prepared to put some questions on notice.

ACTING CHAIR --That is very helpful to the committee; thank you, Senator Schacht. If no-one else has questions, we will move onto subprogram 1.2.