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Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts References Committee
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS
Program 3—Broadcasting, online and information services
Subprogram 3.6—National Office for the Information Economy
- Committee Name
Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts References Committee
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS
Program 3—Broadcasting, online and information services
- Sub program
Subprogram 3.6—National Office for the Information Economy
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Table Of ContentsPrevious Fragment Next Fragment
Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts References Committee
- Start of Business
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS
Program 1—Arts and heritage
- Subprogram 1.4—Australia Council
- Subprogram 1.5—Australian National Maritime Museum
Program 2—Film and Intellectual Property
- Subprogram 2.2—Australian Film, Television and Radio School
- Subprogram 2.4—Australian Film Finance Corporation
- Subprogram 2.5—Film Australia
- Subprogram 2.6—Australian Film Commission
- Subprogram 2.3—National Film and Sound Archive
- Subprogram 2.1—Film and intellectual property policy
- Program 3—Broadcasting, online and information services
Program 1—Arts and heritage
- Subprogram 1.1—Arts and heritage policy
- Subprogram 1.2—National Archives of Australia
- Subprogram 1.6—National Gallery of Australia
- Subprogram 1.8—National Museum of Australia
Content WindowEnvironment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts References Committee - 10/06/98 - DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS - Program 3—Broadcasting, online and information services - Subprogram 3.6—National Office for the Information Economy
Senator LUNDY —Referring to page 96 of the Portfolio Budget Statements, the running costs variations cite the funding for raising community awareness of online services. Can you describe the nature of this particular initiative?
Mr Field —That was the funding announced in the investing for growth statement in December, which is why this is in as a variation. There have been a number of announcements on how those funds will be expended. Do you want me to go into the detail of those?
Senator LUNDY —Yes, please.
Mr Field —The minister made an announcement on 4 May which outlined that initially at least there would be four main elements of initiatives which fit under the funding. Firstly, there will be an information economy day which will be on 5 September. Secondly, there will be up to 15 regional summits dealing with information economy issues. There will also be an awareness campaign targeted at small and medium enterprises. Finally, there will be a focus on CEOs of large companies.
Senator LUNDY —What expenditure can be attributed to each of those initiatives?
Mr Field —It is difficult to say at this point, although we have some nominal figures which we can give you. For example, we have gone out to tender for a company to manage the information economy day. But we anticipate that day will be in the order of, say, $400,000. The regional summits could cost something similar or possibly up to $500,000. The focus on SMEs is a bit difficult at this stage because we are talking to other departments to ensure that we all do not go off on tangents.
Senator LUNDY —Who are you talking with?
Mr Field —Industry, Science and Tourism mainly and Foreign Affairs and Trade also, with their focus on trade policies. That could cost, for this coming year, in the order of $100,000 or $200,000. That is a very nominal figure because we need to see what the resources are. The focus on large company CEOs will probably be very low cost because it will involve either our CEO or other CEOs from companies giving presentations to small groups of senior people. So there will not be large costs associated with that. There might be some small travel expenses, for example, but that would be all. All that adds up to around $1.2 million. Against that as part of our organisation, particularly of the summits and information economy day, we have formally gone out and sought expressions of interest from sponsors. We will be going through those. If that goes well, that will help defray those costs.
Senator LUNDY —Have you advertised for consultants to run both of those events?
Mr Field —The day and the regional summits, yes.
Senator LUNDY —Can you provide the committee with the tender briefing and any associated information?
Mr Field —Yes.
Senator LUNDY —And also a copy of the approach you are making to the corporate sector in terms of sponsorship. Are those efforts to secure sponsorship being made by NOIE or is that element of the consultancy included in the tender?
Mr Field —What we have done initially is gone out and sought expressions of interest from consultants to manage the event—a straightforward tender—as well as then sought expressions of interest to NOIE and from sponsors. We will then hand those to the IE day consultant. Part of what they have to do is come up with a sponsorship plan based on expressions of interest. Depending on what the sponsors are proposing, we will then go through a process of how we select the sponsors. If, for example, there is a competitive environment, we may go out to a formal tender or it may fit together where there is not a need to do that. We just need to await the response.
Senator LUNDY —Expressions of interest from sponsors could in fact influence your tender process. Is that what you are saying? I did not quite follow that last bit.
Mr Field —What we will do is get expressions of interest from sponsors, and they are still emerging. We will then give those to the consultant to develop a sponsorship plan.
Senator LUNDY —The consultant who won the tender for the project?
Mr Field —Yes, for organising the event.
Mr Stewart —Those tender documents are also on our web site, Senator.
Senator LUNDY —I will still get you to provide them to the committee. In fact, I have them right here, from the web site. With respect to the regional and rural summit consultancy, you mentioned about 15 would occur.
Mr Field —Yes.
Senator LUNDY —On what basis are you selecting where these forums will occur?
—As part of the facts and the tender brief we have a set of selection criteria, which we will refine. They comprise the need for the area to demonstrate support from various players in the community in terms of interest in the issues. There is also a need for support in terms of organisation of the events and finally we need to ensure a good geographic coverage so that if, for example, we get lots of expressions of interest from Victoria and none
from, say, South Australia, we would need to be active in going into South Australia and generating some interest.
Senator LUNDY —So part of the request for tender is for the consultant to determine and assess those criteria?
Mr Field —No.
Senator LUNDY —Or is that your job?
Mr Field —For the IE day, the consultant will manage, by and large, the whole event. They will be the project managers. For the regional summits, the role of the consultant is far more limited, because we will be selecting the locations, and we also want to put a lot of work in up[hyphen]front before the summits so the regions can articulate what the issues are for them and they can be addressed at the summit, rather than just having a travelling road show that comes in and does the standard presentations. Therefore, the role of the consultants for the summits mainly will be on the ground organisation—a bit of local media, the arrangements for the event. So that is a far more limited role. Initially, what we will do is just pick someone to do a couple of summits and see how it goes before we then roll out the full number.
Senator LUNDY —So you will limit the tender that is out at the moment to a couple of summits?
Mr Field —Yes, I think that is our current thinking, because we do not want to impose or get locked into a model right across these summits. It would be good to try a few, see how they go and see whether that model works.
Senator LUNDY —In NOIE's processes of determining where the summits will occur, you have mentioned that obviously you want it to have some local relevance and to consult with local regions. What departmental infrastructure, such as department of regional affairs an local government, will you be liaising with to support you in that task?
Mr Field —We are in the process of writing to a whole range of community organisations, regional development organisations, relevant state government agencies, and I think we have already written to relevant Commonwealth agencies, and we will be getting together a small group to ensure that we are coordinated. So it is very much a coordinated effort. It would be absolutely silly for us to go off independently. A number of state governments are either active or planning to be active in this area. Therefore, it is eminently sensible that we deal directly with the whole range of players.
Senator LUNDY —Does the minister have to tick off where you are going, which places you ultimately choose? Or is that something that will be handled within NOIE?
Mr Field —My understanding is that we would be doing that within NOIE.
Senator LUNDY —Has NOIE got to the point where you have established any sort of priority zones within the regions where this sort of information needs to be distributed?
Mr Field —No, we have not, and that touches on a good point in the sense that if a region is so well developed our going into it and organising this sort of operation is not going to add a lot of value. We have to try to take that into account as well so we are actually adding something, yet there is something there to build on. It is a question of how we do that at this stage until we start getting back expressions of interest from people.
The other thing I would say is that there is a fair amount of knowledge and street[hyphen]wise understanding of what the lie of the land is. There are people within NOIE who have a good feel. Also, we are dealing on a very close basis with the staff who are operating the networking
the nation program within the department. That is a source of information also on what is out there and where the likely areas are. So out of this whole process of direct approach and drawing on the knowledge of other agencies we will then decide where the best places are to go.
The other thing we might find too is that if we can gain good sponsorship we can extend the number within the given budget.
Senator LUNDY —Say that again, sorry.
Mr Field —If we get either good local sponsorship or larger sponsors coming to the party, we may be able to have more than the planned 15 summits and therefore we can get a greater spread. The other thing we have been doing is talking to people who are planning their own conferences in rural and regional areas. In some ways, we can piggyback on those as well.
Senator LUNDY —What is NOIE's concept behind the information you are likely to present in these forums?
Mr Field —It is a mixture. It is trying to do a number of things. One is general awareness to the general public.
Senator LUNDY —Of what?
Mr Field —Of the advantages and possibilities, I suppose, of on[hyphen]line technologies. The other is, as I said, drawing on the pre[hyphen]summit processes to try to home in on what the concerns and potentials are in a particular area and trying to bring real examples, case studies and experience to bear on that.
One of the other aspects is to try to act almost like a broker. If, say, a small business in a local area is someone inspired by what they hear and they want to get involved, one of the things we need to be able to do—and we plan to do this, for example, through our web site—is to provide a list of people and bring together the suppliers of training or technology with those who are interested. One of the aspects through this is working with the various industry associations, professional organisations.
Senator LUNDY —Just going back to your earlier point about networking the nation and utilising some of that data backdrop, given that the series of projects have been funded through networking the nation, is it your intention to analyse the nature of those projects and use that information in preparing your particular brief for a given region? Is it that sort of coordination?
Mr Field —The types of projects that are funded in a particular area will obviously be just one of the variables in this area. So, yes, to an extent it would come in, but I do not think it is a direct link. Clearly, we would hope that, if we decide to move in that area, the funded organisations would be contributing strongly to that end of the summit itself. So there will be a link, but it is hard to say precisely what it is until we get into the detail.
Senator LUNDY —But you will use that as part of your database?
Mr Field —Yes.
Senator LUNDY —Obviously, this decision was made and announced pre[hyphen]budget. Was this announced pre[hyphen]budget—this particular regional one?
Mr Field —It was 4 May.
Senator LUNDY —Just pre[hyphen]budget—essentially, it was a budget initiative?
Mr Field —No, the funds came from the Investing for Growth industry statement which was announced last December.
Senator LUNDY —That is what I thought you said. With respect to this particular concept—the rural and regional summits—when was that particular program initiative decided upon? Was it very much a part of the budget considerations or did it emerge back in December, when the—
Mr Field —No, I do not think it was part of the budget considerations. I think it was a separate decision making stream and it happened close to the date of announcement. Basically, the funding was provided in December. Work was then done on a program to put in the detail. Some of these things were announced quite early. I think the information economy office was announced back in February.
Senator LUNDY —And what is the time frame for this particular initiative?
Mr Field —The summits?
Senator LUNDY —Yes.
Mr Field —We are working towards having the first two in July or early August. That will depend on the response we got to the tender and our ability to identify areas that can move within that time frame.
Senator LUNDY —How will you select those two regions in the first instance?
Mr Field —Again, subject to those broad criteria, I would think—given the time lines, if we are going to do it in those time lines—we would want areas that have got a reasonable level of development and interest so that we can build on that quickly.
Senator LUNDY —I have not had a chance, obviously, to read through the detail of the tender documents. What requirement is there upon the consultant to either establish a relationship with the region prior to going in, or to have a pre[hyphen]established knowledge of the given region?
Mr Field —For the summits, because the consultancy—and I have not got a copy here either—is quite a narrow task, which is almost like an events management task, I do not think there is a requirement to have a prior contact. Clearly if that is there we must have asked for it, but I am sure we did not ask for it as it is more the skills for those sort of events because we want to put a lot of—
Senator LUNDY —So hiring the venue, getting the lights and technology together—
Mr Field —Yes. For those summits, it is more that we will do the bringing together of the various players in the area and getting them to focus on what the strategies for the region are, prior to the summit. So we will be doing a lot of the management of each summit.
Senator LUNDY —Is it your intention to trot the minister out at each of these rural and regional summits?
Mr Field —To chop the minister?
Senator LUNDY —Trot. Is he going on show?
Senator Alston —Did you say chop or trot?
Senator LUNDY —Trot—it is okay.
Senator Alston —I thought you said chop!
Senator LUNDY —Minister, is it your intention to participate in each of these summits?
Senator Alston —It is very kind of you to offer. I am not sure that we have had that discussion as yet.
Mr Field —No, we have not got to that—
Senator Alston —There are something like 15 proposed, so it may be a trifle onerous.
Senator LUNDY —You may only get two in.
Senator Alston —We may have to pick out some selected highlights, yes.
Senator LUNDY —We will watch with interest as to which of the two regions you select prior to the election, by the way. Just moving on to the other operations of NOIE. Can you perhaps give me an update as to where you are at with your staffing resources, the changing relationship between NOIE's staff and the department and any other changes that have occurred in relation to your arrangement structures—such as chains of command, who you are responsible to and all that sort of stuff, please?
Mr Blewitt —The arrangements with the department are now fairly settled to the extent that the group that came across from the department are now well established in NOIE and the funding arrangements have been settled. We have, just in the last few weeks, finalised the appointment of a number of general manager positions—most of whom you see here. They will be leading teams on a bunch of key initiatives, including international, legal and regulatory and the whole of government delivery of services. These are some of the key positions that the chief executive has been anxious to get in place. We can now move on and operate with full capacity—certainly from 1 July 1998.
We anticipate that next financial year NOIE will be operating with something approaching 30 staff. We currently have about 18 staff on board and we are seeking to recruit to a number of key project positions to support some of those initiatives that you have just heard about, and also to give us some support in terms of corporate activities to ensure that we maintain our accountability and other processes. The relationship with the department is that we are a separate office within the department reporting direct to the minister—
Senator LUNDY —Where are you located?
Mr Blewitt —We are currently located in the Department of Communications and the Arts building in Forrest. We will be moving to separate accommodation—probably in the next month or so—in a building adjacent to that called the Burns Centre. Effectively we will seek to maintain links with the department—obviously to link to their key operational systems, to the extent that they will allow that—to ensure that NOIE's prime effort goes into its program activities with a minimal amount of administration. We are negotiating that with the department now. I think there is good agreement on the process there.
Senator LUNDY —On that point about the relationship with the department—I never get right the status of the heads of separate bits of departments—but where does NOIE sit in relation to Mr Stevens? Is anyone in NOIE answerable to Mr Stevens or are they answerable to the minister?
Mr Stevens —Dr Twomey, as the head of NOIE, reports directly to the minister, so there is no direct relationship between NOIE and the department.
Senator LUNDY —It has obviously been a long evolution of NOIE's to get these things sorted out. Minister, what is the logic behind your decision to separate NOIE so distinctly from the department?
Senator Alston —It is no reflection on the department, but we wanted to ensure that it had the necessary contact with a range of departments as well as an ability to become involved in the private sector, and therefore it needed maximum flexibility. We thought that was best achieved by structural separation.
Senator LUNDY —So, in the same way that OGIT and OASITO are structured under the Department of Finance, NOIE is similarly structured?
Senator Alston —Yes, it is, as far as I know.
Senator LUNDY —I am just trying to get my head around how you have structured it. The board of NOIE has been in existence practically since you made the announcement; the first public announcement was about the establishment of the board. Can you describe the board's role with respect to NOIE, particularly its relationship with the minister's office and how that relates back to the chief executive? Is that how you describe the head of the office, Paul Twomey?
Senator Alston —Yes, he is the CEO. Essentially, they are people who are active in the community and, therefore, in a position to give us forward advice on issues of concern, looking ahead to what might be happening in other places. So they are a very good contact point, they are people who have varying degrees of expertise, but essentially they are all computer literate. I suppose that is understating it; they are people who have a keen interest in the area, even though they might not have been technology specialists. We think that positions them very well to give general advice, which may mean matters being put before the ministerial council, which may result in initiatives being taken by government, and which may mean discussions across various departments. It seemed to us to be a good private sector point of reference for high quality advice.
Because Dr Twomey is on the board, the office itself would work to the board in delivering outcomes. It is currently looking at an overall strategy for ensuring that Australia is achieving world's best practice when it comes to the information economy, and is giving us advice on the appropriate legal and regulatory framework. It will be making representations in international forums—Dr Twomey is in Sabara at this moment, I think. There have been a number of contacts with the US administration, particularly over domain names, and that then feeds back into the advice that they give us.
Senator LUNDY —While we are on that point, so I do not spend all afternoon finding out what your international involvement is, perhaps I could ask Mr Dale, as the appropriate officer, to provide the committee with a description of all of the international boards, authorities, committees—
Senator Alston —Nice of him to call in, actually.
Senator LUNDY —that NOIE is participating in on behalf of the Australian government. It is a very important area of work, after all, if we are to be a player.
Mr Dale —Certainly. Contrary to the minister's observation, I do spend most of my time here rather than around the world. As you say, there is a great deal going on. The work in international e[hyphen]commerce issues across the board is being overseen or coordinated by NOIE, but there is certainly no capacity or intention on our part to replicate the great deal of work that is already going on across a number of agencies.
In the key multilateral fora you have the WTO, for example, which is developing its own work program, which started earlier this month, on e[hyphen]commerce. That is clearly an ongoing function for DFAT, but we have a great deal of liaison with it. Similarly, the work on a legal framework for e[hyphen]commerce, for example, which is being developed within UNCITRAL flows logically to the Attorney[hyphen]General's portfolio. There is a linkage there to the recent experts group—
Senator LUNDY —So you liaise with all of these different departmental groups?
Mr Dale —Yes, we do. There is a senior level officials committee on international matters convened by NOIE and chaired by Dr Twomey which, I guess, at its most basic level ensures that all those agencies are aware of each other's activities because, as I said, it covers a very wide range. We have a more direct involvement in the work of bodies such as the OECD where the issues are as much analytical and research based as regulatory, and we are developing our involvement there in work such as their working party on the information economy.
Those are a range of multilateral activities. In electronic commerce there is a view held by a number of countries that bilateral initiatives, or perhaps joint statements of intent, serve some useful function in terms of building business and consumer confidence, and we are pursuing a number of activities there. The minister announced today, or perhaps yesterday, the outcome of some meetings with his Malaysian counterpart earlier in the week, and we will be pursuing some intensified consultation and coordination with the Malaysian authorities. We will also be following up on the visit from Mr Magaziner earlier in the year for the e[hyphen]commerce summit. We are having discussions with the US administration concerning closer cooperation on e[hyphen]commerce activities there as well. That is a fairly quick overview, but we could provide more information if you wanted it.
Senator LUNDY —Thank you. What is NOIE's involvement with respect to—is it the South[hyphen]East Asia Region Computer? I am trying to work out the remainder of the acronym.
Mr Dale —Is it the SEARC conference in Darwin?
Senator LUNDY —Yes, in July.
Mr Dale —Mr Stewart might be able to give you more information.
Mr Stewart —A number of NOIE staff may be in attendance at that particular session. There is a regular Commonwealth[hyphen]state senior officials meeting which supports the online council, which has been scheduled to meet in Darwin on Monday and Tuesday of that week, 6 and 7 July, so there will be a number of Commonwealth and state officials up there. We will probably be staying on to participate in some of the conference. Senator Alston is a speaker at one of the sessions at that conference. I think that is probably about the limit of our involvement. We are taking an active interest in it and probably we will be attending it.
Senator LUNDY —That is good to hear. Are there any international delegations in Australia at the moment that NOIE is involved in looking after?
Mr Dale —None that I am aware of that we are directly responsible for, although most official visits are coordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. If there is an e[hyphen]commerce or an information economy dimension to those visits, they normally contact us for assistance with meetings or direct consultations. I am not aware of any major delegations as such at the present time.
Senator LUNDY —I might come back to that point. But, Minister, back to the relationship that the board has with your office and the Chief Executive of NOIE. You mentioned that the Chief Executive works to the board's agenda. Given that the construct of the board is very much one, as you said, of current industry participants, what checks and balances have you got in place to ensure that the agenda to which they are working is in fact your agenda and satisfies issues of probity with respect to their prioritisation?
Senator Alston —At the end of the day they are an advisory board.
Senator LUNDY —But that is precisely my point. If they are an advisory board but they have a chief executive working to them, how does that work?
Senator Alston —He reports to me, though. So, ultimately, if the arrangement is to function effectively, and it certainly has to date, then you would expect regular contact between the major players, so that you are all singing from the same song book, as they say. That explains why Mr Mercer, who is the chairman, rang me at lunchtime today to brief me on a particular aspect. I think he also wanted advice on his golf handicap but I could not help him. Similarly, Dr Twomey is in regular contact with me and my office, and I have found that it works effectively. Whilst they want to make sure that we are aware of particular issues, they are not really straining against what we have in mind because we are essentially wanting to achieve the same objectives. There may be differences of priorities from time to time, but certainly we have not noticed any problems in that regard today.
Senator LUNDY —I am trying to get my head around the board's role, given from what you just said the implication is of course that the board are political appointees because they are working to the same tune as you are, which is obviously quite a specific policy agenda. But you have described their strength as being the fact that they are independent players out in the private sector, and that is what they bring to the board. I am just having difficulty reconciling their effective operation unless there is a very close relationship between the board and your own office so you can continually express your view and give them policy direction.
Senator Alston —It is not unusual to appoint people on merit because of their involvement in the community and their awareness of the issues. Each of these people is a proven performer.
Senator LUNDY —I am not challenging their credentials in that respect.
Senator Alston —When you say running a political agenda, I certainly would not regard the work that they are doing in any shape or form as party political. They are really trying to inform the government of the day, whoever it might be, about what is going on out in the marketplace. It is then a matter for the government to take that advice or to ask them to pursue issues to a greater extent. At the end of the day it is our call what we do with that advice. But, beyond that, they are really people who are there because they deserve to be. We have deliberately tried to avoid having people on because they represent particular segments. They are overwhelmingly chosen because they have personal qualities that we think make them very well qualified in that regard.
Senator LUNDY —On that basis, would you, for example, have any objection to a committee such as this having access to the minutes of their board meetings and information like that? Do you know what I am saying? They are not tight in a policy sense. They are there for their expertise but it is essentially a non[hyphen]partisan operation. It is about progressing issues and concerns relating to electronic commerce.
Senator Alston —I think the board itself might find that a bit exquisite because they are not really wanting to see their advice debated in the public arena. They are not calling public meetings and passing on the minutes. They are having in[hyphen]house discussions which may involve dealing with areas of sensitivity. It may reflect on particular players in the industry. At the end of the day they do their best; they offer their advice to the government. If the government accepts or rejects it, it should not compromise what they are doing.
CHAIR —Is that the end of that portfolio?
Senator LUNDY —No.
Senator Alston —I do not think I have got anything to add to that.
Senator LUNDY —I accept that. I am not trying to get any information that will compromise their considerations. I certainly understand that some of it might be sensitive. What I am more concerned about is establishing what your checks and balances are on issues of probity, given that many of the board members do have a current and direct interest in the issues being discussed.
Senator Alston —By probity, do you mean declaring any potential conflict of interest?
Senator LUNDY —Declaring interests—that sort of thing. It is about the public perception of the operation of this board too.
Senator Alston —It is a perfectly legitimate concern. I would certainly expect any member of the board to declare a conflict of interest, to abstain from voting if a matter came up and probably to bring it to the attention of the minister if a board member was involved in a decision that directly or indirectly affected a personal interest. Beyond that, I suppose we would simply exercise our own scrutiny. If we had any basis for suspecting that any one or more board members were offering advice that might not be arms[hyphen]length because of their commercial activities, then we would no doubt raise it with them and ask them why this did not constitute a conflict of interest.
I have no reason at all to think the board will not be scrupulous in volunteering any situation that might arise, but similarly we will also be very careful to ensure that we do not overlook any apparent conflict. You have got two levels of sensitivity. Beyond that, you do your best, don't you? You appoint people because you think they do have integrity. Certainly I know each member of the board. Apart from the most recent appointee, I have known—
Senator LUNDY —Who is that?
Senator Alston —Mr Veeneklaas. I have known all the others in other manifestations whilst I have been in the parliament. If I had any hesitation about their personal integrity, I would not be wanting to appoint them. So you start off on a basis of trust and you assume that they will be very concerned. I suppose they read the newspapers about conflict of interest issues too and they would be pretty careful to avoid finding themselves in the middle of a public brawl. I think there is likely to be little concern on that front, but we all remain eternally vigilant.
Senator LUNDY —What opportunity therefore exists for public scrutiny or parliamentary scrutiny of those issues, apart from directly questioning you—or is that the only process?
Senator Alston —I suppose until governments take decisions on the area—so any decision affecting the information economy—you could legitimately ask me whether NOIE had an input into that process. But beyond that I think it is probably a matter of them offering private advice and government accepting or rejecting it. You do not normally scrutinise private advice.
Senator LUNDY —The way in which Finance dealt with such questions of a conflict of interest was interesting. It was quite a different circumstance relating to contracts, but they engaged a probity auditor to try to inspire confidence. But I accept that you—
Senator Alston —To try to inspire confidence?
Senator LUNDY —To inspire confidence in the industry.
Senator Alston —If there were any basis for concern in this area, I imagine we would be doing the same. But we have got no reason at all to think that there are any problems.
Senator LUNDY —With respect to the board's appointments, what sort of remuneration is payable to board members, if any?
Senator Alston —Basically, it is all approved by the Remuneration Tribunal. There are different levels and salary packages. We can provide the details, if you want them, but they are all effectively on the public record.
Senator LUNDY —If you could take that on notice.
Mr Blewitt —We will take it on notice.
Senator LUNDY —Thank you. What appointments to NOIE occurred before you separated from the department and which ones occurred after?
Senator Alston —I think every one except the last would have been appointed prior to formal separation.
Senator LUNDY —What was the process of those appointments to NOIE, in a general sense: for example, recruiting strategies? Did you advertise the selection criteria?
Senator Alston —You are talking about the members of the advisory board, aren't you?
Senator LUNDY —No, I am not now.
Senator Alston —Staff members?
Senator LUNDY —I am talking about staff and appointed officers within NOIE.
Senator Alston —Mr Blewitt can help you there.
Mr Blewitt —The staff from the department were, I guess, chosen because of the area that they were working on before, which really was a carry[hyphen]on of the work that they started there. They brought a lot of that across to NOIE. As I mentioned earlier, about 10 staff were involved in that. The next layer of staff, including the chief executive, was recruited on the basis of public advertisements and we are still doing that. We scan the broadest possible range of people, both in the public sector and in the private sector, to engage. They are all employed under the Public Service Act, ultimately. Dr Twomey is employed under section 67 of the constitution but with Public Service conditions. That is the process we have gone through.
Senator LUNDY —How many current employees of NOIE were from the department and how many came in new?
Mr Blewitt —I think about 10 came from the department.
Senator LUNDY —How many are there altogether?
Mr Blewitt —We have got eight others on board at this stage and we will be seeking to recruit probably about 10 or so additional staff over and above that 18.
Senator LUNDY —Minister, was your office involved in recruiting any of those eight officers?
Senator Alston —No, I do not think so.
Senator LUNDY —To your knowledge?
Senator Alston —I think a few names might have been run past me at a late stage but more by way of information than seeking any advice.
Senator LUNDY —You are not aware of anyone within your office actively recruiting?
Senator Alston —No.
Senator LUNDY —Or approaching people for positions within NOIE?
Senator Alston —No, I do not think so.
Senator LUNDY —Do you want to take that on notice?
Senator Alston —Yes.
Senator LUNDY —That might be an idea. There has been some re[hyphen]advertising of some of the lower level positions within NOIE. Why is that?
Mr Blewitt —Essentially to ensure the processes are open for access to people in the department, to people in the Public Service and to external people.
Senator LUNDY —I do not understand.
Mr Blewitt —Pardon?
Senator LUNDY —Sorry, I do not understand why.
Mr Blewitt —Essentially to try and get the skills that we need to actually promote the key programs we have talked about.
Senator LUNDY —So you might move people from NOIE back to the department and bring in other people?
Mr Blewitt —That has happened on a couple of occasions. Secondly, NOIE is established for three years, so at the end of that period some of those staff will return to the department because they are essentially seconded to NOIE during that period.
Senator LUNDY —Are any currently on secondment?
Mr Blewitt —Sorry?
Senator LUNDY —Are any in NOIE currently on secondment from the department?
Mr Blewitt —I think the permanent employees of the Public Service who originated from the department would regard themselves on secondment for a three[hyphen]year period to NOIE.
Senator LUNDY —Are they the people that are going to be asked to apply for these positions that are advertised?
Mr Blewitt —No, they would come across in established positions as a transfer of that particular function from the department to NOIE, and that would comprise the 10 personnel that I mentioned.
Senator LUNDY —Will these advertisements bring more people into NOIE?
Mr Blewitt —Yes, they will.
Senator LUNDY —How many?
Mr Blewitt —About eight or 10. We have got 18 staff. We expect to come to the ultimate establishment of NOIE in the next two or three months and that will be up to 30 people.
Senator LUNDY —Minister, was it always the intention for you to have NOIE around that size—about 30 people?
Senator Alston —Yes. It might have been a bit less. I have a figure of 23 in my mind.
Senator LUNDY —I just recall earlier discussions about it being a much tighter unit like a secretariat style setup working to a board.
Senator Alston —Yes, I think it is pretty much on target. Maybe they have all halved their own salaries so we can employ twice as many!
Senator LUNDY —Would you provide the committee with a graphic explanation of the positions within NOIE, including these new positions that are coming on board, and a description of their classification, the types of work they are doing and the projects, as identified, that they are working to if they are allocated to specific projects.
Mr Blewitt —Certainly.
Senator LUNDY —That would be most useful.
CHAIR —Is that all of your questions in that area?
Senator LUNDY —No, I have some more but I need a minute or so to have a think.
CHAIR —I cannot give you time to think. It is just that we are now getting very behind time.
Senator Alston —I am sure Senator Schacht will enable us to speed up.
CHAIR —What's that?
Senator Alston —I am sure Senator Schacht will help us catch up.
Senator SCHACHT —Do you want to be provocative, Minister?
CHAIR —If you two would just stay out of it.
Senator SCHACHT —We have all day tomorrow, too.
CHAIR —I can hardly wait.
Senator LUNDY —What is the involvement of NOIE with the Australian delegation to APEC?
Mr Dale —Is this to the APEC e[hyphen]commerce task force?
Senator LUNDY —Yes, that is the one. CommunicAsia? Is that different? To APEC and CommunicAsia. Are there two different ones?
Mr Dale —The function I think you are referring to concerns events last week in Singapore. Is that correct?
Senator LUNDY —Last week? It must have been. I am referring to a press release from the minister's office. In terms of Australian delegations to anywhere relating to the information economy, is it NOIE's charter to look after that in conjunction perhaps with DFAT or some other agency?
Mr Dale —To ensure consistency and coordination across those, yes.
Senator LUNDY —What about issues relating to the social implications of new information technologies? Does that come within NOIE's charter?
Mr Dale —Do you mean at a domestic or an international level?
Senator LUNDY —I mean at any level.
Senator Alston —Not specifically, but you would fairly expect them to bring the social implications to your attention.
Senator LUNDY —My question goes towards how broad is NOIE's reach in policy involvement with information technologies per se, as opposed to the information economy and electronic commerce.
Senator Alston —We would regard the term `information economy' as embracing IT, on[hyphen]line services, the Internet, electronic commerce and any other manifestations, so it is broad.
Senator LUNDY —So issues of access and equity to the Internet that we have debated many a time would all come under the auspices of NOIE?
Senator Alston —Absolutely. Yes, very much. It is a deliberately very broad term to cover not just—
Senator LUNDY —I would argue that it is deliberately narrow, but I am just exploring further your definition, so please keep going.
Senator Alston —What would your broader definition be?
Senator LUNDY —It would relate more than just to the information economy. It would embrace in some symbolic way or expressive way the social implications, but that is just my view. Please continue with your definition.
Senator Alston —So we understand each other: we saw it as covering all of the areas—not just the hardware side, not just computers and not just IT issues but indeed all the areas that economic policy covers, which of course has to take account of social implications. All I can say is that it was intended to be a very broad description.
Senator LUNDY —Thank you. Was the electronic commerce summit held in Canberra funded through NOIE's budget?
Mr Field —NOIE contributed to the cost of it.
Senator LUNDY —How much?
Mr Field —About $53,000.
Senator LUNDY —How much did it cost all up and who paid for the rest?
Mr Field —Telstra paid for the rest. I do not know what the total cost was. That was borne by Telstra as part of their overall marketing.
Senator LUNDY —Whose initiative was it—Telstra's or the government's?
Senator Alston —It was a joint venture.
Senator LUNDY —But you do not know the overall cost of it. You were not advised of the overall budget.
Senator Alston —I personally was not. It was not a matter of particular concern to me. I simply wanted to make sure it went well and it exceeded my wildest expectations, and indeed the community's.
Senator SCHACHT —It got bagged in a few places. It was run by the usual suspects from the bureaucracy, including yourself.
Senator LUNDY —Minister, how much did it cost?
Senator Alston —I do not know.
Senator LUNDY —Will you please take that on notice, and also the nature of the partnership or joint venture between Telstra and NOIE?
Senator SCHACHT —Were any people who applied to come to the conference refused an invitation?
Senator LUNDY —Only you, Senator.
Senator SCHACHT —I got an invitation but I could not attend for legitimate reasons—like looking after my electorate in South Australia.
Senator Alston —I can well understand the need for that. It was by invitation only. We started out with a guest list. We may have added one or two who may have approached us but it was generally not meant to be open slather.
—The criticism—and this is second hand so I am cautious about its veracity—was that the conference invited a lot of people from overseas and from within the
public sector to speak, but there was not a proportionate number from the private sector within Australia who may have had interesting views or ideas to put.
Senator Alston —You have to concede that the US is leading the pack and therefore it is pretty relevant to know what the President's principal adviser thinks. It is also relevant to look at case studies of organisations like FedEx and IBM which have some very interesting examples of how electronic commerce has transformed their businesses. There was an opportunity on the second day for small business presentations and I think there were some Australian ones there. We had Telstra and the tax office making presentations. I think people found that illustrative of the wider point because in some ways they are also at the cutting edge—more so than a number of businesses.
Senator SCHACHT —Was anybody from Customs there? Customs have been a leader in electronic systems and electronic commerce, particularly abolishing the paperwork that is required with importing and exporting—particularly importing material. As a former customs minister I know that that is something they could rightly take pride in. They actually briefed APEC at several conferences during the mid[hyphen]1990s. They were asked to do it because they were world leaders. Were they invited to give a briefing about where they were leading in e[hyphen]commerce? As minister I was invited one day to attend an advisory board meeting that comprised industry, themselves and relevant people advising on the uptake and the development of electronic commerce to assist in the reduction in cost and time for businesses in importing and exporting.
Senator Alston —The three principal examples of the success of electronic lodgment in the public sector are Customs, Medicare and Tax. Although I did not make the decision, I imagine that they simply selected one of those and Tax was it. I also have a recollection that my opening speech referred to the fact that there had been some world[hyphen]class examples of lodgment in Customs and Immigration.
Senator SCHACHT —Is the conference a one[hyphen]off special or will it be revisited in one form or another?
Senator Alston —There has been a lot of popular demand for a repeat but we have not yet taken that decision. We have instead decided to focus more on raising awareness amongst large corporations on the one hand and SMEs on the other, on 15 regional conferences and on IE day. Once all of that has been achieved we may well look at another conference or seminar. There are a lot of interesting examples that keep coming forward. We may have quite a different agenda to the one we had only a few months ago.
Senator SCHACHT —Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you to the officers from the National Office for the Information Economy.