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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Program 1—Departmental policy coordination
- Committee Name
Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Program 1—Departmental policy coordination
Senator ROBERT RAY
Mr Vo Van
- Sub program
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Table Of ContentsPrevious Fragment Next Fragment
Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
- Start of Business
- DEPARTMENT OF THE SENATE
- Program 1—Clerk's Office
- Program 3—Procedure Office
- Program 4—Committee Office
- Program 5—Corporate Management Office
- Program 6—Black Rod's Office
- DEPARTMENT OF THE PARLIAMENTARY REPORTING STAFF
- DEPARTMENT OF THE PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY
- Program 3—Corporate management
- JOINT HOUSE DEPARTMENT
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
- Program 3—Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor[hyphen]General
- Program 1—Departmental policy coordination
- Program 1—Departmental policy coordination
- Program 6—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission
- Subprogram A.1—Commercial
- Subprogram A2—CDEP
- Subprogram A3—Corporate Development Corporation
- Subprogram A5—Program support
Program B—Social and Cultural
- Subprogram B1—Heritage, Environment and Culture
- Subprogram B2—Legal Aid and Human Rights
- Subprogram B3—Home ownership
- Subprogram B4—Community Housing and Infrastructure
- Subprogram B5—Native Title and Land Rights
- Subprogram C—Corporate and strategic
- Program 4—Portfolio policy advising agencies
Program 5—Public administration and accountability
- Subprogram 5.1—Public Service and Merit Protection Commission
- Subprogram 5.2—Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman
- Subprogram 5.3—Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security
- Program 1—Departmental policy coordination
- Program 1—Departmental policy coordination
Content WindowFinance and Public Administration Legislation Committee - 02/06/98 - PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO - Program 1—Departmental policy coordination
Senator ROBERT RAY —Corporate services is no longer a separately listed program, so probably at some stage I will ask questions about that program in general. I think that is the appropriate thing to do.
CHAIR —I think that is okay.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Could I ask about a question taken on notice? Just to confirm the answer, questions from, I think, the November estimates committee were cleared and provided by 2 February 1998; is that correct?
Ms Harrison —That is correct.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Minister, can I have an explanation why it took over three weeks from PM&C providing the answers for the committee to receive the answers?
Senator Hill —Sorry, I could not hear the question.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I will give some background to it. We asked at the last estimates committee when the department provided questions taken on notice at the November hearings. We were informed that it was 2 February. My question is why it took three weeks from that for the questions to be provided to the committee. In other words, where was the hold-up?
Senator Hill —I do not know the answer to that. I presume it was the ministerial examination and consideration of the draft answer. Is that what the story is? We think that is substantially correct.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It is a matter that you used to express some concern about when you were in opposition.
Senator Hill —I beg your pardon?
Senator ROBERT RAY —You used to raise these issues when you were in opposition—the length of time that it took to clear them. You would realise that most of those answers came in only days before the next lot of hearings. That timing makes it very hard to read them and take them further.
Senator Hill —I presume that the pressure of work in the Prime Minister's office would probably make out a better case for taking longer than some other ministers, but I understand what you are saying.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Could I ask what the performance is like this time? It looks better on the surface but I just thought that I would ask. When were answers provided to the office on this occasion? How long did it take to clear them to the committee?
Dr Watt —Senator, I do not have the detail of when a definite series of answers were provided to the office this time. We provided the answers to the committee at a number of different stages.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Yes.
Dr Watt —So it was a more complex process this time and I think we took more questions on notice than we had previously. I do believe that we did much better in terms of providing material to the committee by or around the due date than we did previously, and I am sure that that was a better performance by both PM&C and everyone else involved in the ministerial clearance process.
Senator ROBERT RAY —That is good, then. Could you tell me how many questions on notice you have not answered yet?
Dr Watt —We have two outstanding questions.
Senator ROBERT RAY —What are they?
Dr Watt —Senator, Mr Bonsey might be best equipped to talk about those.
Mr Bonsey —To my knowledge or in my area, there are two questions which were taken on notice on 25 February and which have not been responded to. One of those was a question from Senator Ray about the two aide-memoires of September 1993. The second outstanding question—I cannot remember whether it was a question from Senator Ray or Senator Faulkner relating to Mr McGauran—substantially overlaps a question on notice on the Notice Paper from Senator Faulkner. The situation with those is that they are both awaiting clearance.
Senator ROBERT RAY —When were the answers provided to the Prime Minister's office for clearance?
Mr Bonsey —In the case of your question about the aide-memoire, you would understand that the content of the answer is peculiarly within the knowledge of the Prime Minister's office. There was discussion at an early stage about the handling of that response. A possible response was provided, I think, on some date in March.
Senator ROBERT RAY —In March?
Mr Bonsey —Yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Do you think we will ever get an answer, Senator Hill?
Senator Hill —I will make some inquiries. I think that if you are not going to get an answer, you ought to be told that you are not going to get an answer.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You see, this morning I did not bother to go to Legal and Constitutional because I have been asking there over several meetings who walked the aide-memoire around to the Prime Minister's office. I think you now understand the context in which it was first raised. Naturally, you had not been across it. We asked a question because evidence given at that committee suggested that the Attorney-General personally viewed all the originals and signed off the photocopies as part of his duties and they were then walked around to the Prime Minister's office.
The Attorney-General was asked who walked them around. His first answer was that he had no direct knowledge. So then we asked him to make inquiries and now he has just answered yesterday that he does not wish to add to his answer. So we have the sort of mystery of these two aide-memoires, some mysterious figures walking them around to the Prime Minister's office, giving them to some mysterious figure and then they disappeared. Pardon me for just being a little suspicious about why this set of answers that interrelate to each other never get answered.
Senator Hill —As I understand it, there are two outstanding of some 71, so in a way good progress is being made. I was not personally aware until this morning that there were two still outstanding. I will follow those up and see if I can get a response.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I think that it is important, because if indeed the Prime Minister and the Treasurer want to actually label colleagues in the parliament as perverters of the course of justice and evidence—at least disputable evidence, anyway—and then it emerges that they were, in fact, innocent and we cannot get to the bottom of how these documents were not passed on at the time, that does raise a little bit of Nixonian overtones, that is all. Anyway, we will leave it in your hands to see whether we can get those two questions followed up.
Senator Hill —I will do that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —My second general question has been raised here before. Minister, you would realise that there has been a problem in terms of claiming travel allowance during an election period post policy speech. I think we have been able to establish at the estimates committee that in 1993, PM&C, through some method, issued guidelines on this that were not quite as strong in 1996, which led to problems on both sides of politics not understanding it. My question now is: on the assumption that there will be an election at some stage in the next nine months, will PM&C write not just to party secretaries but to all office holders explaining the precise situation in terms of eligibility for travel allowance for ministers, for the Opposition and Democrats, who I think the last time they forgot entirely? Senator Murray just got left holding the bag for your party. Have you got plans to do this and will you do it?
Mr Bonsey —The situation with that issue is that a lot of work has been done within PM&C and within Finance and Administration. A paper on a series of issues related to entitlements during election periods is currently with the government. I think all involved are very conscious of the need for all senators and members to have a very clear understanding of how the conventions are to be applied.
Senator ROBERT RAY —When do you think you will issue these guidelines?
Mr Bonsey —I cannot give you a timing on that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Can you assist us, Minister?
Senator Hill —I do not know what the state of progress is, but there is no doubt that it does need clarification. There is no doubt that it needs to be brought to the attention of all relevant parties before an election is called. I think we are all conscious of that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —That would be good if that could be done this time in a very clear and precise way.
Senator Hill —Yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator Bolkus, Senator Minchin and Senator Crane actually had a legal entitlement to that.
Senator Hill —I agree with that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Some of us with a better memory remembered back to 1993 and did not commit the sin, but others did. If you could put that in bold type, it would be very good. Could I ask a question on a topic that we have covered before? I do not want to go into any depth on it, but it goes to the convention of governments not going into previous governments' records. We have been through all this in depth so I do not want to go back through it. There is, is there not, a provision that you can go into the records of previous governments for reasons of continuity?
Senator Hill —Yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —And presumably the issue of Christopher Skase is a continuous one.
Senator Hill —What do you want to know?
Senator ROBERT RAY —Does the issue of Christopher Skase involve continuity?
Senator Hill —I have not seen a formal trail of justification, but that may be what is used to justify—
Senator ROBERT RAY —Has the department been asked in terms of going into the records of the previous government like you were in terms of the cost of inquiries? Have you been approached on this by A[hyphen]G's or anyone else—foreign affairs?
Mr Bonsey —I believe there were some inquiries from foreign affairs. I do not know whether the test is so much continuity of administration, but that is certainly a reason why one would provide to an incumbent government details, including even cabinet details, in summarised form. I think in many ways the test is whether the document is of a deliberative nature or a factual matter.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I really now want to go to the points. It is not so much that there is not continuity here—I believe there is—but it is the use to which they have been put in terms of feeding the matter to journalists, et cetera. That, in fact, would be a moral breach of the continuity rule—that is, you are entitled to the records for the purpose of continuity quite clearly, but not for the purpose of feeding the matter to newspapers—a co[hyphen]purpose, if you like.
Senator Hill —This is the issue as to why the previous government gave him a new passport?
Senator ROBERT RAY —No, it is more to advice given to the previous government as to whether it should or should not have. On balance that comes down on the side of continuity that the government needs to know all these details, unlike in other areas. I am not challenging that. It is the use to which it is then put. If it was—and I am not saying that it was—then put out to journalists, they were shown documents, et cetera, whether that is an abuse of the privilege of being able to go back into the records of previous governments on the basis of continuity, which I do not challenge—
Senator Hill —In relation to the usage of the documentation, I do not think there is a rule book as such. Whether it is fair and reasonable in all the circumstances I think will be the judgment of the community. This is an issue of high interest to the community. There is great concern about the difficulty that authorities have had in recovering Skase for the purposes of legal matters in Australia. I think there is considerable public interest in all matters that relate to his avoidance of legal authority in this country. If the decisions were taken by the previous government that in some way facilitated his capacity to avoid facing up to Australian law, I do not think that the process of making that public is something to be condemned, but I take it from your question that you have a different assessment of that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Sure, it is a matter of public interest, but what triggers your access to those documents is based on a series of conventions and principles which says, `You do not have access to them, except in the following circumstances', and one of the key following circumstances in this case and in some other cases is continuity. That is one principle overriding another principle that we accept. Then if you are going to use it for what you see as political purposes as a sort of additional bonus, I think that impacts on the original principle.
Senator Hill —Firstly, I am not sure, as I said, if the principle was used in the circumstances to entitle the current government to the previous decision[hyphen]making process. Beyond that, as I understand it, there is not a specific guidance as to accepting the legitimacy to provide that information, which you do not seem to be challenging—there is not a specific guidance as to the appropriate use of it. I think that would depend on the circumstances. In my assessment, for example, a personal matter may be treated very differently. If it is a matter of higher political moments such as this matter, then I can understand the circumstances by which it was wanted to demonstrate to the community what appeared to be a failure of adequate process or adequate care in the issuing of the new passport, which may have facilitated Mr Skase in avoiding legal procedures in this country.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It would be true to say under another one of these principles—maybe Mr Bonsey's—he would be better to answer it, but if the previous minister seeks, say, that self[hyphen]information, they can only do it on the basis of refreshing their memory, not publishing the documents. That is correct, is it not?
Mr Bonsey —Certainly refreshing memory is the basis upon which access would readily be provided. I am not aware of any guidance or direction or surrounding wisdom which goes to the use that is then made by a former minister who has refreshed his memory.
Senator ROBERT RAY —What exactly was the nature of the foreign affairs department seeking appropriate guidance, as it should, from the premier department, Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Mr Bonsey —They sought guidance on, I think, 9 September—I cannot recall the dates precisely—on a 1993 memorandum, which I think has been tabled in the House of Representatives. Again, from memory, I do not think it was a completely factual piece of paper dealing with the issue.
Senator FAULKNER —I saw a couple of newspaper articles indicating that the Prime Minister has hired a new speech writer, Mr Tony Rutherford. I am just wondering if those reports that you might have seen were accurate.
Mr Bonsey —Mr Rutherford is certainly engaged on the Prime Minister's staff. He is, in fact, engaged under part 2 of the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act as a ministerial consultant on a full[hyphen]time basis.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I understood he was employed as a consultant.
Mr Bonsey —Yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Is he full[hyphen]time?
Mr Bonsey —Yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So he did not fill an existing position?
Mr Bonsey —I am not quite sure. That is certainly not an existing staff position.
Senator ROBERT RAY —The arrangement, as I understand it, in the Prime Minister's office is that it started off with a consultant part[hyphen]time, then a second consultant came on board, which was then the equivalent of one full-time consultant. I am trying to establish when Mr Rutherford became the second consultant.
Mr Bonsey —I think you would be best to characterise it as 1[half ] full[hyphen]time equivalents.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So which is the half that dropped off?
Mr Bonsey —Mr Cousins, the communication strategist, is a part-time consultant.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Prior to him arriving there was another part-time consultant?
Mr Bonsey —Yes. Mr Mansfield was previously engaged as a consultant in the Prime Minister's office. Again, I cannot recall the precise date, but I think in February of this year he was appointed as the strategic investment coordinator, which is the head of a separate unit reporting to the Prime Minister but serviced by Industry, Science and Tourism.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So he is employed by that department?
Mr Bonsey —He is appointed under section 67 of the constitution, with a reporting relationship to the Prime Minister but being budgeted and serviced from the Department of Industry, Science and Tourism.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Who pays his consultancy fee?
Mr Bonsey —The Department of Industry, Science and Tourism.
Senator ROBERT RAY —They employ him, they resource him, but he reports to the Prime Minister, not to the minister?
Mr Bonsey —That is the arrangement.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Why do you not put him on staff? Is it because it would add one to the numbers? Is that right?
Senator Hill —There is no secret about the numbers.
Senator ROBERT RAY —The numbers are 35, Senator Hill. It appears that they should be 36[half ].
Senator Hill —That would be right, yes.
Dr Watt —Senator, the strategic investment coordinator is serviced by the Department of Industry, Science and Tourism by Invest Australia in that department. I can only assume that, because of that servicing relationship, it extends to salary.
Senator FAULKNER —Can we go back a step? The office of the strategic investment coordinator, that is, Mr Mansfield—what title does he now have? Does he have a title?
Dr Watt —He is the strategic investment coordinator.
Senator FAULKNER —Where is the office of the strategic investment coordinator located?
Dr Watt —Mr Mansfield maintains an office in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator FAULKNER —How many other staff are in the office of the strategic investment coordinator?
Dr Watt —There are two other staff—one on secondment from DPIE and one on secondment from DIST.
Senator FAULKNER —Is the strategic investment coordinator position now a full-time position?
Dr Watt —I am not sure. I do not believe it is a full-time position, no. I should emphasise that the strategic investment coordinator is a separate office within the portfolio of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and is not related to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet except in so far as we give him an office in the building and provide him with some limited office services and things like that.
Senator FAULKNER —Who pays his salary?
Dr Watt —The Department of Industry, Science and Tourism pays his salary.
Senator FAULKNER —I just cannot believe it.
Senator ROBERT RAY —When were the changes made?
Dr Watt —Mr Mansfield was appointed by the Governor-General, as Mr Bonsey said, under section 67 of the constitution on 18 December. I believe the appointment took effect from 1 February this year.
Senator FAULKNER —Until that time would I be correct in saying that Mr Mansfield was a part-time consultant to the Prime Minister? After that date the arrangements in terms of his salary package were changed in the manner that you have outlined to the committee. Is that right?
Dr Watt —That is my understanding, yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Do you provide him with accommodation?
Dr Watt —We provide him with accommodation and some limited office support—nothing more.
Senator FAULKNER —The two officers who are seconded from other departments—are they both full-time officers?
Dr Watt —I believe they are full-time secondees, yes. We have a representative of Mr Mansfield's office here who is available to take questions on this issue if you wish to pursue it. Given, however, the lack of relationship to the department, it might be better taken under part 4 of the portfolio area.
Senator FAULKNER —It is of sufficiently strong relationship for us to be provided with a letter on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet letterhead from Mr d'Angelo outlining some of these arrangements. Mr d'Angelo, the final paragraph of your helpful letter says:
I have sought advice from the Department of Finance and Administration as to whether any other action will be required in relation to this.
Could I ask you why you have sought that advice?
Mr d'Angelo —It is only in the past week or two that we have come to realise that perhaps Mr Mansfield's office should have been included within the PBS. You would have noted that it is not included. The confusion arose as to whether it should, since it received no funding in the budget papers. There is no mention there either. We sought advice from the Department of Finance and Administration as to the appropriate course of action.
Senator FAULKNER —For the office of the strategic investment coordinator to be examined by a Senate estimates committee, what I assume is appropriate is that we undertake that examination through the Finance and Public Administration Committee in its consideration of the estimates of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Would that be right?
Mr d'Angelo —It is definitely considered to be a separate agency. That part is definite.
Senator ROBERT RAY —But it is funded by more than one department.
Ms Harrison —It is funded primarily by the Department of Industry, Science and Tourism. However, one of the staff assisting Mr Mansfield is funded by the Department of Primary Industries and Energy.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Plus accommodation?
Ms Harrison —There is little support that we provide as a department in that regard.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Returning to Senator Hill, what we are struggling to understand is why you transferred Mr Mansfield from the Prime Minister's staff, having him basically report to the Prime Minister but having another department fund it. Why not PM&C? Why not have it on the same lines?
Senator Hill —I can only surmise that it is because the ongoing functions that he has assumed are closer to the department that is funding him. It is interesting to see where his support people are coming from, that is, the related industry development areas. Why them? That seems to me to be all quite logical. The question then is: what is the relationship to Prime Minister and Cabinet? I think it is probably simply the desire of the Prime Minister to keep driving these major industry development proposals along.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Program 1.1 exists for that exact purpose and for giving that sort of advice, does it not? That is the logical place that it would be in. If it were closer to DIST, they would report to Minister John Moore. It seems a very elaborate process to have one department fund something, yet the minister is not responsible for it. The person reports to another minister, albeit the Prime Minister.
Senator Hill —I do not think it is illogical in these circumstances. He was brought in because of his particular talents and experience. It is an area that the Prime Minister regards as vitally important. I think we are all aware of circumstances where major developments run into significant roadblocks and the combination of somebody with Mr Mansfield's skills and experience plus the PM's determination to break through those roadblocks gives the best chance of achieving that goal, so that does not strike me as particularly—
Senator ROBERT RAY —In theory and principle and everything else, how is this different from the Cabinet Policy Unit? It advises the Prime Minister; it is actually included on the Prime Minister's staff. Basically, you set up a unit to advise him solely—that is what you have said—off[hyphen]staff, so that it does not show up. So he has got at least two what you would call equivalent to DLOs and a consultant, all in this unit reporting to the Prime Minister. So he should be at 38[half ] now in his staff. It is just a disguise method for his staffing.
Senator Hill —I do not know that in these circumstances that is quite fair, actually, because it seems to me that the role he is playing is different from that which one would normally identify as the role of his personal staff. It is a role closer to the industry portfolio, or really a range of other portfolios, than simply servicing the Prime Minister in his political needs.
Senator ROBERT RAY —That all depends on the reporting method, Senator Hill. If the reporting method was through PM&C or through DIST on to the Prime Minister, your point would be valid, but it is direct to the Prime Minister, unless I have misheard the evidence.
Senator Hill —I think that could be best characterised as an attempt to break through the road blocks as well.
Senator FAULKNER —Could I ask this question, which I am sure would assist the committee, just so we understand what motivated this: who took the initiative to remove Mr Mansfield from a consultancy to the Prime Minister and make these convoluted arrangements? I just wondered who took the initiative.
Dr Watt —The announcement of Mr Mansfield as strategic investment coordinator was, I think, made in the Prime Minister's industry policy statement Investing for growth in early December.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, but who took the initiative to change the consultancy arrangements? It was the Prime Minister's initiative, was it?
Dr Watt —I am not able to comment on who took the initiative.
Senator FAULKNER —Could someone tell me the departmental processes that have led to this chain of events that you have been kind enough to inform us about?
Senator Hill —It was not best characterised as a bureaucratic process in the way that you ask. It really came out of the whole issue as to what was the best way in which the government could facilitate these major investments, and that is part of what the Investing for growth policy was all about. As I recall it, just from memory, Mr Mansfield came in originally and in the early days, I think, was identifying what were the road blocks and giving advice. As I see his role now, it is a much more hands-on role of actually ensuring that the road blocks are removed and that the investment processes reach fruition. So that is why I think you are being a touch unfair, because I think his role has substantially changed.
The appointment under section 67 of the constitution, I think, demonstrates that, and the fact that it was all part of the Investing for growth program demonstrates that it was to be an ongoing function in which he was clearly to play a key role. The only thing that remains a touch unusual is the fact, to me anyway, that he reports to the Prime Minister direct rather than through Minister Moore. As I said, I think that is simply an attempt by the government to keep things moving.
Dr Watt —If I can just follow up, the announcement of Mr Mansfield's appointment in Investing for growth made clear that his role had changed. Previously, it had been one of investment facilitation. Investing for growth indicated that the government would consider on a case-by-case basis the possible need for investment incentives, and in order to do that a new position of strategic investment coordinator would be created and would be filled by Mr Mansfield.
Senator FAULKNER —Senator Hill probably answered another question that was not asked. That is the only conclusion I could come to with that answer. But I was interested in knowing how this decision was arrived at and whose idea it was. Was it the Prime Minister's idea to change the consultancy arrangements into the Office of Strategic Investment? Was there any departmental advice from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet suggesting this course of action?
Dr Watt —This issue came up, I think, in relation to the original Mortimer report on investing for growth when Mortimer made a number of recommendations in relation to investment incentives. It was also raised in the Goldsworthy report on IT initiatives, which the government considered at the same time. It responded to both reports in Investing for growth . As part of that, the department would have provided advice to the Prime Minister on a number of issues raised in those reports.
Senator FAULKNER —That is very helpful, but what I am trying to find out is who took the initiative. How did the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet change the arrangements in relation to Mr Mansfield's consultancy? Who took the initiative? What were the departmental processes that led to this occurring?
Senator Hill —They would have changed the arrangements as a result of the government's decision to engage Mr Mansfield in a different way. Whether the department gave the Prime Minister or somebody else advice that that should occur, I do not—
Senator FAULKNER —That is what I am asking. I am just wondering where the initiative came from.
Senator Hill —Do you recall whether the department was the originator of this idea? It seems to be a sensible idea, so do you want to claim credit for it?
Senator FAULKNER —You described it as a touch unusual a moment ago.
Senator Hill —Because it is unusual does not mean that it is not a sensible idea.
Senator FAULKNER —It is a touch unusual but it evolved into a good idea?
Senator Hill —Yes.
Dr Watt —The department would have provided advice on Mr Mansfield's new position. Whether the department initiated the advice or whether the department responded to a request, I am not sure.
Senator ROBERT RAY —This is not a case of someone coming up with a bright idea, a necessary idea, and then sticking DIST for the cost? Is this the simple explanation for all this convoluted discussion? You have just stuck them with the cost, rather than subprogram 1.1?
Dr Watt —Senator, I think the rationale for the funding through the DIST portfolio is the link between Mr Mansfield and Invest Australia. Invest Australia is primarily responsible for serving Mr Mansfield. I would make another general point: there is much more tendency within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and indeed from the bureaucracy generally, to draw more flexibly on resources and use them efficiently. For example, I am sure you are aware that the forest task force, which resides within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, receives contributions for its funding not just from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet but also from the environment and primary industries portfolios.
Senator ROBERT RAY —With respect, if I stop you there, they gave advice via the department. I sat in on a lot of them, and I assume they do, too. This is one that is giving advice directly to the Prime Minister. There is a distinction.
Dr Watt —And through the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator ROBERT RAY —That has not been made clear yet. You might like to explain that part.
Dr Watt —That is quite clear. Again, in the Prime Minister's original statement Mr Mansfield's job is not just to advise the Prime Minister; it is to advise the Prime Minister and through him the cabinet on matters of investment incentives.
Senator ROBERT RAY —That is late but helpful.
Senator FAULKNER —Was the position of strategic investment coordinator advertised, Dr Watt?
Senator Hill —I doubt it, because—
Senator ROBERT RAY —A bit like the World Bank and some of the other ones.
Senator Hill —No, it is a bit like when the previous government appointed investment ambassadors and so forth. I doubt if that was advertised, either. They identified individuals they felt were particularly suited to particular jobs and appointed them. Mr Mansfield, as I said a while ago, has quite exceptional skills and experience in this area.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You save 30 finance officers from applying for it, like they did for the two bank jobs, and that was awarded without interview. So it was probably sensible, was it not, if you had already made up your mind?
Senator Hill —Which bank job?
Senator ROBERT RAY —The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development that Senator Short got, and Mr Baker's appointment to the APEC one—they all went to advertisements, and everyone wasted their time because they already had someone else in mind.
Senator Hill —I do not know the circumstances of the first one, but the second one I know a little about.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You would have been relieved.
Senator Hill —There is no doubt that he was regarded as the best applicant for the job.
Senator ROBERT RAY —But there were no interviews, were there?
Senator FAULKNER —At least there were applicants for the other jobs. I am just asking—and I still have not received an answer—whether the strategic investment coordinator position was advertised.
Senator Hill —My answer was: I do not think so. But the officials might be able to confirm—
Dr Watt —My understanding is that it was not advertised.
Senator FAULKNER —Can you now supply the committee with details of Mr Mansfield's consultancy which has been terminated? One assumes the contract has been terminated.
Mr Bonsey —Details of his consultancy would have been included in an annual report provided by—
Senator ROBERT RAY —Just assist us.
Mr Bonsey —I cannot recall—
Senator ROBERT RAY —Was it $34,000?
Mr Bonsey —The terms and conditions of his employment would not be included in the annual report, because ministerial consultants generally have not had their remuneration published.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We know Mr Cousins's, do we not? That was published, I am sure.
Mr Bonsey —What I can say is that Mr Mansfield is on a daily fee.
Senator ROBERT RAY —In this new job?
Mr Bonsey —In this present job. There was no change in his remuneration between moving from his ministerial consultant's role to this appointment, save for the application of a sort of—
Senator ROBERT RAY —What was the amount of the daily fee?
Mr Bonsey —I would like to take that on notice, if I may.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I think you would be able to find out fairly quickly with a bit of encouragement, could you not?
Mr Bonsey —Yes.
—I would like to follow that up. I do not know what the arrangements were for Mr Mansfield. What I know about it is that, certainly with respect to the previous consultancy, there was no doubt that there was a considerable element of public service in the contract on the part of Mr Mansfield, and everyone I heard speak about it said that he could have demanded in the public sector a much greater sum but he was prepared to contribute to
the public good in this area, which is really quite tricky and calls for unique skills and experiences.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So in that case he would even be encouraged to answer the question.
Senator MURRAY —I think you have mentioned that three times.
Senator Hill —I missed the start of the question, I am sorry.
Senator MURRAY —I just wonder which skills and experience he has that particularly suit him to this role. I am not sure exactly what he is doing, but I think it includes matters of infrastructural decisions. It includes financial investment areas and so on. I understand he was a capable fast food operator. I am not sure what other skills and experience he has. He may have many others, but that is the role in which I know him. Was it the consideration of the government that his general skills and his dynamic approach to things were the most valuable attributes?
Senator Hill —That was part of it. I think it is a combination of his experience, his personal knowledge and relationship with key business figures, his dynamism and enthusiasm, his capacity to get things done and, as I said, to break through road blocks. I have come across many business people who would claim all of those attributes. I cannot think of any who strike me as more able to meet that difficult task than Mr Mansfield. I think he is quite an exceptional person. As I said, as far as the government is concerned, we are grateful that he is prepared to do this work at this stage of his career when he could be doing other than government service and earning a lot more money.
Senator FAULKNER —Let me not be diverted from Mr Rutherford by Mr Mansfield or others. I think you were telling us, Mr Bonsey, that Mr Rutherford is now a full-time consultant to the Prime Minister. I think you were also saying that Mr Cousins had his continuing two days a week, $45,000 per annum, as I recall it, consultancy—that is if that is unchanged, I assume.
Mr Bonsey —My understanding is that Mr Cousins is still a part-time consultant.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Do consultants have to fill out a pecuniary declaration form?
Mr Bonsey —Ministerial staff are required to do that, yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So Mr Cousins would have declared his involvement in Crown Casino and Hudson Conway?
Mr Bonsey —The declaration would be made within the office. I have no knowledge of his interests.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It is a particularly sensitive position to be holding, working in the Prime Minister's office, being on the board of Hudson Conway, working with the Federal Treasurer of the Liberal Party, which is the largest stockholder in Crown Casino, and resigning in such controversial circumstances. So I imagine it would have been declared when he took up the job.
Senator FAULKNER —Would it be true to say that with Mr Rutherford—who I gather is on board, is he?
Mr Bonsey —I understand so.
—So even though the Prime Minister has at times argued the case that he does not enjoy delivering set[hyphen]piece speeches, we have a situation now where we have had a number of set[hyphen]piece speeches, all of which have fallen particularly flat. But does he
actually have three speech writers on staff, even though previously he has been saying he does not have many? Mr L'Estrange is still doing some speech writing, is he not?
Mr Bonsey —I have nothing to add to the answer we gave you in response to your question on notice.
Senator FAULKNER —Let me ask this question: is Mr L'Estrange doing speech writing for the Prime Minister?
Senator ROBERT RAY —You could say `Yes' or refer us to the question.
Mr Bonsey —We answered, and I have no knowledge of anything different, `Yes, staff of the unit provide input to speeches for the Prime Minister as required from time to time, particularly in relation to whole-of-government issues.'
Senator FAULKNER —Mr Gerard Wheeler is writing speeches for the Prime Minister, is he not?
Senator Hill —Just qualifying the L'Estrange answer, I doubt if he would spend a lot of time speech writing. I would not want you to get the impression that that is so.
Senator FAULKNER —That is the answer the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet provided. If that is wrong, you had better—
Senator Hill —That is not what was just said then.
Senator FAULKNER —Can you tell us precisely what the situation is then, if you are dissatisfied with the answer Mr Bonsey has given?
Senator Hill —I was dissatisfied with the way you interpreted it, and I was concerned you might have been misled.
Senator FAULKNER —I try not to put any interpretations on answers. As you know, I am in an information[hyphen]gleaning exercise here, and I would not want to misinterpret anything I hear. It is true, is it not, that Mr L'Estrange had input into the Prime Minister's speeches?
Senator Hill —From time to time, but I actually think it is a very small part of his workload. I certainly would not characterise him as being engaged as a speech writer.
Senator FAULKNER —Isn't Mr Wheeler a speech writer, too?
Senator Hill —I am advised that he is an adviser who also makes a contribution to speeches from time to time.
Senator FAULKNER —And Mr Rutherford is going to be a full-time speech writer; would that be right?
Mr Bonsey —I do not know for certain what his duties will be.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It does mean now, though, that the Prime Minister's staff has gone up from its official figure of 35 to, what, 35[half ]?
Mr Bonsey —We always have this issue about what is included. In terms of MOPS act staff, we have 33[half ] positions, not including the four positions of the cabinet policy unit, three of which are staffed.
Senator ROBERT RAY —The most recently tabled figure from DoFA, which was tabled in the Parliament last Thursday, lists the Prime Minister's staff at 35.
Mr Bonsey —We have 35 bodies. There are two bodies who are part time and sharing one receptionist position. One of the consultants, as we have discussed, is part time.
Senator ROBERT RAY —But the figure that appears in that column is for the staff establishment. It is not the staff reality. Clearly, some positions right down that list would not have been filled. They have a staff establishment of 35, according to DoFA. Does that include the cabinet—
Mr Bonsey —I expect that that would include the cabinet policy people, possibly not the consultants. I do not know. I have not seen how they have that organised.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I am just trying to establish what the staffing situation is. Would you like to add up the total staff just to make sure, because we have had a query on previous occasions about the mathematics of the allocation of opposition staff. I am really asking whether Mr Rutherford is one additional staff member over the establishment.
Senator Hill —Is Mr Rutherford in addition to the previous establishment?
Mr Bonsey —Yes, I think that probably is the case.
Senator Hill —But does that make sense in relation to the figures tabled in the parliament? You mentioned a figure that was lower.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Those figures have a lag effect. We do not expect them to have been accurate as of Thursday, if this appointment has been made in the past two weeks. Those figures were finalised almost six weeks before, apart from some corrections. So we think we have added one more to the staff?
Mr Bonsey —Yes.
Senator FAULKNER —Can you tell us a bit about Mr Cousins' role in the Prime Minister's office, please?
Mr Bonsey —I am afraid that I cannot provide you with any further detail on that.
Senator FAULKNER —Can someone tell us what his consultancy is all about?
Senator Hill —As I understand it, he advises on issues relating to government communications. Communications is his background and skill.
Senator ROBERT RAY —According to an article written by the former chief political writer for the Age , Mr Cousins' job was to review ministers' media performances. This is a claim; I am not asserting that this was the case. He was appointed to advise ministers on their media performance. He was to request videotapes of their media performance and to evaluate them. Is that true?
Senator Hill —I do not know of any assessment being made of me.
Senator ROBERT RAY —They may not have thought that was necessary in your case; you are such a good media performer!
Senator Hill —I have not heard that said.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It was on page 3 of the Melbourne Age .
Senator Hill —I know. But I have not heard it said in terms of any authority, with respect to the Age .
Senator ROBERT RAY —I thought the story must be true, because Peter Costello appointed that person as his chief media officer. There cannot be any doubt about the credibility of the story, especially as it was sourced to Mr Tony O'Leary, a close friend. Basically, what I am asking is: was it just a beat-up? Is he there for that purpose or is he doing other things?
—As I understand it, he is employed with the Prime Minister as a communications consultant. Basically, he performs the range of tasks within that description that the Prime
Minister requires. I am not aware of his doing work to assist any particular minister, but I would not rule it out, either, because I do not know.
Senator FAULKNER —The suggestion was that in fact he would be scrutinising tapes of all ministers. Was he going to produce written reports of this?
Senator Hill —If he has, they have gone to the Prime Minister. I have never seen any written reports.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Can we ask to see Senator Rodney Kemp's report, if there is one?
Senator FAULKNER —Was Mr Cousins responsible for some of the changes we have seen? For example, was the Prime Minister's US presidential podium type approach, for want of a better description, to press conferences outside the Prime Minister's suite changed as a result of a recommendation from Mr Cousins?
Senator Hill —I do not know.
Senator FAULKNER —You do not know?
Senator Hill —No, I do not know the answer to that question. That style has been used by Prime Ministers from time to time in this country.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, and some of them seem to carry it off a lot better than others.
Senator Hill —I do not know whether that is correct. That is your judgment.
Senator FAULKNER —I do not want to make any partisan point about this.
Senator ROBERT RAY —They had to pay for the podium. It cannot be used by anyone else; he is too short.
Senator FAULKNER —I wish you had not said that. The reason I asked the question, Senator Hill, is that these changes came about after Mr Cousins was engaged for his consultancy.
Senator Hill —I am not sure that that is correct. I do not know what advice Mr Cousins has given the Prime Minister. That is between them.
Senator FAULKNER —He might be playing a very valuable role. He would be the sort of person who would advise a Minister for Workplace Relations and Small Business to do interviews while not wearing his glasses and that sort of thing. I am trying to find out what Mr Cousins is doing for his $45,000 for two days' work a week.
Senator Hill —He is doing what the Prime Minister requires of him in terms of advice and assistance on government communication matters.
Senator FAULKNER —That is the point. It is not just the Prime Minister he is dealing with; it is a range of ministers, is it not?
Senator Hill —I have said that I do not know. He does what the Prime Minister asks. That is what he is engaged to do.
Senator FAULKNER —You do not know what the Prime Minister has asked him to do?
Senator ROBERT RAY —He has got Senator Alston to do that. What does he need Mr Cousins for?
Senator FAULKNER —Can I ask the department what sort of facilities have been provided to Mr Cousins. We might try to make a bit of ground on that. For example, what sort of IT support does he have?
Dr Watt —We are not aware that anything has been provided by the department to Mr Cousins other than the normal support that we provide to members of the Prime Minister's office.
Senator FAULKNER —What about any audiovisual material for the scrutinising of the videotapes?
Dr Watt —Not that we are aware.
Senator FAULKNER —I see. Perhaps you could take on notice for me whether Mr Cousins' work in the Prime Minister's office has meant that the department has had to provide any facilities or equipment, be it computers, software, a mobile phone, a laptop, audiovisual equipment, flags, lecterns, media training and that sort of thing—cosmetic surgery—anything that takes your fancy? I would appreciate it if you could take that on notice.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Just in relation to the corporate services area, thank you for providing me with the material relating to the Travel Search Australia report. I have two or three quick questions in relation to that. That Travel Search Australia report indicated a 15 per cent to 20 per cent saving on travel expenditure. Has that target been met by the department?
Senator Hill —Serious consideration has been given to it.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It is like waiting in an Ansett line, is it not?
Senator Hill —I think we will have to take it on notice.
Senator ROBERT RAY —If you would take that one on notice, that would be good. Has Ansett delivered a satisfactory booking service? Often when someone gets an exclusive contract, sometimes departments have problems sorting things out and getting the same sort of booking service that they received when they had other alternatives. Has it provided a satisfactory booking service?
Ms Harrison —We have not had any complaints that relate to the booking service.
Senator ROBERT RAY —That is good. We will leave it at that.
Ms Harrison —I think so.
Senator ROBERT RAY —As a result of the Travel Search Australia report, has any evaluation been done in the department about the comparative value of travel versus video conferencing?
Ms Harrison —We recently had an internal audit of travel arrangements but, as far as I know, it did not cover that aspect.
Dr Watt —Most of the department's travel is related to things that would not normally be handled, I would imagine, through video conferencing, such as interstate cabinet meetings, which you could not video conference as a note taker—
Senator ROBERT RAY —I do not know.
Dr Watt —or it is not related to what often works best in video conferencing and I assume is widely used in the Commonwealth, that is, head office talking to state or local offices, because, of course, we do not have a representative—
Senator ROBERT RAY —I understand that. What success has the department had in using its frequent flyer points?
Dr Watt —They are certainly used.
Ms Harrison —I do not know that we could say that we have had any greater success than any other departments have had.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It has proved difficult, has it not, because quite often you have to travel at specific times?
Ms Harrison —That is right, yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I thought that might be the case. Finally, I noted in one of these reports that one of the aims of the department was to get from Ansett reports based on actual travel rather than on travel booked. How are you going with that?
Ms Harrison —We are still negotiating with Ansett on that. We will resolve that issue in the context of the negotiation of the new contract later on this year.
Senator ROBERT RAY —If you manage to get a solution from those negotiations, would you do the comradely thing and let DoFA know how you have done it so news can spread?
Ms Harrison —Yes, of course.
Senator ROBERT RAY —There were various discussions reported between the Prime Minister and Mr Zammit, the then Liberal member for Lowe. At any stage, was the department asked to provide any briefing to the Prime Minister on those discussions? I am not referring to the nature of the briefings.
Dr Watt —The answer is no.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Was Mr Zammit's appointment to the ASIO committee withdrawn or not? Even though party leaders may suggest it, it is eventually a direct appointment by the Prime Minister and not by parliament.
Mr Bonsey —It was certainly under consideration. I do not know what the outcome is.
Senator ROBERT RAY —They have not had a meeting for a while. That is why I asked. I have not seen him there. I wanted to know whether that was going to be changed.
Senator FAULKNER —Mr Bonsey, as I understand it, on a regular basis you update the incoming Prime Minister's brief. Is that right? That has been evidence that you have given previously to the estimates committee. There is such a thing as an incoming Prime Minister's brief, is there not?
Mr Bonsey —It is incorrect to suggest that it is kept up to date on a rolling basis. An incoming government brief or an incoming Prime Minister's brief would be prepared at the time it was likely to be needed.
Senator FAULKNER —Obviously the election cycle, I assume, would have some sort of impact on that, would it?
Mr Bonsey —It is the practice that once the election has been announced, the parliament has been dissolved and the writs have been issued that Prime Minister and Cabinet—as would all other departments—would prepare briefings for an incoming Prime Minister.
Senator FAULKNER —When there is a change of departmental secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is there any sort of internal briefing process? Is a brief prepared for an incoming secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Mr Bonsey —It is not such a frequent occurrence that there is a pro forma or well[hyphen]established practice, but one would certainly expect any department to prepare information for an incoming secretary.
Senator FAULKNER —I appreciate that. Is there a framework that you have that you can build upon in those occurrences?
Mr Bonsey —Not to my knowledge, no. The circumstances would vary. In 1991, there was a very quick transition when Mr Codd had his appointment terminated. Dr Keating was in on Christmas eve at the time of the formation of the Keating cabinet. Especially over that Christmas time, I think the briefing would have been a bit on the not terribly well organised or preplanned basis. With an incoming secretary whose date is fairly prospective, one might discuss with them what kind of briefing they wanted. They may wish to have an oral briefing on many aspects. One would certainly expect division heads to be asked to prepare material on current issues.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Did you actually answer the question on how many government appointments departmental secretaries have had since the formation of the Howard government? I do not recall seeing the answer. We said that there were only two unanswered ones, so I presume that we got an answer to that one.
Mr Bonsey —I am not sure that that was a question on notice.
Senator Hill —I remember that we were asked it in a previous hearing.
Mr Bonsey —We certainly have had to deal with it previously.
Dr Watt —That was not a question on notice in the last estimates. It may have been a question on notice at the previous hearing, in which case we believe we answered it.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You could have. I saw a blank on one of the lists that I have. You might check to ensure that that has been answered. I have a memory that it has been. Could you take that on board? If it has not been answered, we would like an answer. I have some recollection that it may have been answered.
Senator FAULKNER —Does Mr Moore[hyphen]Wilton still have his role in scrutinising ministers' pecuniary interest declarations? Is that still the current role?
Mr Bonsey —The arrangement is very much for the Prime Minister to decide when there is a particular issue or when there is a particular series of declarations to be considered. It is on the public record that Mr Moore-Wilton has on occasions reviewed ministers' returns and provided his findings to the Prime Minister.
Senator FAULKNER —I was just checking as to whether it was a formal responsibility of the Secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or basically they are saying to me it is something that the Prime Minister may care to delegate and delegate to any particular officer he may care to nominate.
Mr Bonsey —What consideration the Prime Minister gives to the declarations that are made to him is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Could we ask about the government and members secretariat originally allocated by the Prime Minister into DAS. It was a responsibility of Mr Jull that Minister Minchin inherited. When we asked a question of Senator Minchin about it, in a later considered answer after question time he indicated that this body had been transferred to the Chief Whip's office in the House of Representatives. Is this a matter that the Prime Minister determines, having originally determined that it was in DAS and then DoFA?
Mr Bonsey —That is correct.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So when did the Prime Minister make this decision to transfer responsibility for the government and members secretariat to the Chief Whip's office?
Mr Bonsey —I cannot recall the precise date, but I expect in February or early March.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Did you give written advice on this? I am not seeking what it was, but did you?
Mr Bonsey —I recall being involved with the issue. I cannot recall the actual processes that were associated with it.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Minister, where are they now accountable in the estimates process?
Mr Bonsey —Senator Minchin, in his role as Special Minister of State, continues to have a role on all ministerial staff, so I would expect that questions could be directed to the Department of Finance and Administration.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Was it the Prime Minister's intention that that would still be subject to parliamentary scrutiny through the estimates process? You realise that if it is regarded as a House of Representatives matter we cannot scrutinise it because of comity issues. Are they saying we can continue to scrutinise this unit?
Senator Hill —It is not House of Representatives. We think, as far as the Senate estimates are concerned, the accountability line would be through Senator Minchin.
Senator ROBERT RAY —When the Prime Minister made this decision to transfer responsibility to the Chief Whip's office, did he make a decision as to the funding? I mean, they are funded under the MOPS act, so I understand where all the salary and all the rest comes from. But is their equipment and their ongoing cost a charge still to the Department of Finance and Administration? Was that part of the decision or were any of the costs moved to the Department of the House of Representatives?
Mr Bonsey —You would be best asking that question of the Department of Finance and Administration, obviously, but my understanding is that it would have remained with that department.
Senator ROBERT RAY —My question was more whether the Prime Minister had made a decision on this. Did he simply make a decision to transfer what I assume is day-to-day supervision to the Chief Whip's office or was it a more detailed transfer? That is what I am asking.
Mr Bonsey —I think his consideration would have been just in relation to the responsibility, rather than the details associated with it.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So, in summary, you still think they are answerable at an estimates committee—not here, obviously.
Senator Hill —I think the financial accountability would remain through Senator Minchin, but perhaps we should check that for you. It seems to me to be the logical financial chain.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You see, Minister, you and others at this table have given the rationale for the existence of the government and members secretariat. I am trying to get to whether any abrogation of that rationale that you or Minister Short or others have given before this committee can in future be questioned or whether the transfer was deliberate, simply trying to hide them away from scrutiny.
Senator Hill —I certainly do not think that was the purpose. It was basically a day-to-day management issue. That is why I do not think the financial accountability would have changed. I am not sure of all the details of the matter. I would prefer to get some advice.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We will use your wise guidance when we are questioning tomorrow; rely on your authority that they can be questioned as to their activities. Could I follow up a line Senator Faulkner raised in part. Do you know when the first tranche of ministerial pecuniary interest declarations came in? There were time lines.
Mr Bonsey —The first tranche I would have expected to have come in in May 1996. I think a letter would have gone out to ministers in April and I would have expected the returns to have been provided in May or June 1996.
Senator ROBERT RAY —There was a ministry meeting on 11 March. That is John Howard 96/0002 Min 1. It noted, did it not, the importance of avoiding conflict of interest between public duty and private interests? So that was right up front. It would have started from there.
Senator Hill —I got distracted on another matter, I am sorry.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We are trying to establish when the first tranche of ministerial pecuniary interest forms came in. I just asked Mr Bonsey. This was basically the first crucial decision of government, at the first ministry meeting, so it would have started from there. I do not know what his response was going to be.
Mr Bonsey —I was not going to comment. You put it in terms of a matter dealt with in the first ministry meeting and I was not going to provide any comments on what may or may not have taken place in the first ministry meeting.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Okay. Who checked the first lot that came in?
Senator Hill —We have had this debate before, I think. The issue of checking them was really under the authority of the Prime Minister rather than the department, as I understand it, and they report to the Prime Minister. He adopted the processes as determined by him. Exactly what they were I do not know.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I was just trying to confirm. It is no trick question. I thought you had indicted in an answer to me or someone else that, in fact, the Prime Minister personally read these when they came in. You do not recall that?
Senator Hill —No, I do not recall saying that personally.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We can check that. I am pretty certain that it was in a further answer to a question that you took on notice.
Senator Hill —He may have read them all, but I do not know the answer to that. I do not recall the answer.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I am just trying to check the chronology.
Senator Hill —I do not recall having answered in that way.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Good, I will accept that, but I am just trying to get the chronology right so I can get a fix on the relationship between the Prime Minister and the department on these issues. Do we know whether these forms were rechecked after Senator Gibson's resignation and the controversy around Mr Moore? Were they rechecked at that period which, excuse my ignorance, I think was about October 1996?
Senator Hill —My memory is that at some time the Prime Minister asked the head of his department to check.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I think we have a later date for that. I was just asking whether they were checked again at this stage in October 1996. You might not be able to answer that.
Senator Hill —No, I do not know that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We do know in statements by the Prime Minister that he delegated to the secretary of the department the task of checking them and he undertook that task between 7 and 9 May 1997. That is correct, is it not?
Senator Hill —I do not recall the date.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I think your officers might be able to help you.
Senator Hill —I can recall the Prime Minister saying that he asked Max Moore-Wilton to do a check on the statements.
Senator ROBERT RAY —That is correct, is it not? People at the table must know.
Senator Hill —I am sorry?
Senator ROBERT RAY —People at the table must know.
Senator Hill —Whether the dates were correct?
Senator ROBERT RAY —Take our word that the dates are correct, but Mr Max Moore-Wilton was given the task of checking that.
Senator Hill —That is as I recall it.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Over a two[hyphen]day period.
Senator FAULKNER —It is very hard to hear you, Senator. You are a long way away.
Senator Hill —It is hard to hear you, for a change, too, I might say. The acoustics of this room do not make it easy.
Senator FAULKNER —Could you just speak up a bit?
Senator Hill —I will do my best. I do not know whether he was given two days in which to check.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I am not saying he was; I am saying that he took two days. That is a slightly different context.
Senator Hill —I do not know if he took two days.
Senator ROBERT RAY —The main point of the question, Senator Hill, is that I think we know from the public record that between 7 May and 9 May the secretary looked at these. My question is: were any other officers of PM&C involved in the checking of these documents?
Mr Bonsey —No, not to my knowledge, Senator.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Where are these records currently being kept? In the Prime Minister's office?
Mr Bonsey —That is my understanding, Senator.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I asked were there any other members of PM&C. From my understanding, they were not consulted. I ask the question of you, Senator Hill: what then prompted the Prime Minister's media adviser to do a gallery crawl accusing PM&C officers of leaking material about Senator Parer?
Senator Hill —I do not know what you are talking about.
Senator ROBERT RAY
—I just thought that you might. If no other PM&C officer had access to material—and it is inconceivable that the secretary would ever breach his confidential relationship with the Prime Minister—I am just wondering what prompted a member of the Prime Minister's staff to go through the gallery and say that material being put on the public
record about Minister Parer has come from current or former PM&C officers when, by definition, none of them had access to this material.
Senator Hill —You are making a case whereby it does not make sense.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Other than a grubby little exercise.
Senator Hill —So perhaps you may have been misinformed.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Would you like to put some hard earned on that? I do not think so.
Senator Hill —I do not know the circumstances.
Senator ROBERT RAY —In fact, this all stopped when Senator Parer himself realised the source of the material.
Senator Hill —I cannot see what would be gained by it, in any event. It does not make sense to me.
Senator FAULKNER —It was reported by at least one journalist—the claims that Senator Ray is speaking of—quite extensively, albeit in electronic form.
Senator Hill —It does not make sense to me. I cannot see who would benefit from that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Minister, Mr Max Moore-Wilton checked them on 7 and 9 May 1997. Has he been requested subsequently to recheck them at all?
Senator Hill —No, not to my knowledge. I cannot recall. Not to my knowledge. If you want me to make inquiries, I will make inquiries.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Sure, if you could. Thank you. Has anyone done an audit of Minister Parer's statement that he declared absolutely everything in his original statement some time, we presume, in May 1996? To your knowledge, has anyone gone back to check his statement? We cannot; it will never be a public document and we do not even ask for it. We understand it should be a public document, but has anyone gone back and audited that claim?
Senator Hill —I think that it is reasonable to assume that when the issues related to Senator Parer's statement and alleged conflicts of interest became of public interest, the statements would have been re[hyphen]examined, but I do not know by whom or in what circumstances or in what depth.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You might put that to your list of questions that you will take on notice. It may or may not be responded to. I understand that.
Senator Hill —Yes, I think that that fits really within the province of the Prime Minister as to what analysis he wishes to make of other statements.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator Hill, you talked about alleged conflict of interest. Would you like to assist the committee, representing the Prime Minister here, and tell us what is a definition of `conflict of interest'? Is it potential, perceived, apparently, actual, or hand in the till? Do you want to actually assist us here?
Senator Hill —We have had this debate at some considerable length in the parliament. I think that the guidance that we should accept is to avoid potential conflicts as well as actual conflicts.
Senator ROBERT RAY —And you still maintain the view you put to the Senate?
Senator Hill —What is stated in the book is one thing, but I think we all operate on the basis of seeking to avoid potential conflicts.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Do you still stick by your statement of 4 May 1992 that it was not necessarily some just financial or pecuniary conflict; that is, related to a registrable interest? Do you still hold that view or was that just a good idea to kick Graham Richardson at the time and ignore it when you were in government?
Senator Hill —I can remember the issue. I remember thinking at the time that it is not a straightforward issue. Pecuniary interests are the overwhelming concern, but it is possible to argue in certain circumstances that other interests ought to be on the table if the public are to appreciate the full circumstances under which we make those decisions or other decisions. I do not think that it is a black[hyphen]and[hyphen]white issue.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It has got a bit greyer over the past six years, has it not? With the maturity of your political development, it has got a little greyer.
Senator Hill —I think there has always been an element of greyness in it.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I do not intend to pursue that any further because, as you say, we did debate it out in the chamber. Could I ask a question about leaks. Firstly, I want to go to two issues and then mention a third one. You are the custodians of cabinet documents. Have you put the leaking of certain Treasury or Finance budget matters in the hands of the Federal Police? I refer to the two-page spread in the Australian Financial Review on Monday, 4 May, relating to budget proposal documents on 6 April. You can show Mr Bonsey and others. I am referring to this article which you probably read on the day it came out.
Dr Watt —That would be a matter for the department involved. Simply because it is a cabinet document does not mean that PM&C is necessarily the department that makes the decision about involvement of investigations or otherwise. If that was a department of finance document, it would be a matter for the Department of Finance and Administration.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So the same would apply. What about the fact that your comments on digital television appeared in the Australian Financial Review —did that at least set inquiries going with the department of communications that your views had been reproduced in the Financial Review ? Did that prompt the police inquiry, do you know?
Dr Watt —Again, it would be a matter for the department authorising or producing the cabinet material and the minister concerned, not the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Can you just assist the committee then? Do you have any knowledge that these matters have been put in the hands of the police for investigation?
Dr Watt —I had no knowledge in relation to the digitalisation issue. I simply do not know. I understand that Federal Police are involved in the thing that you related to first in the Financial Review of early May—or purportedly, I should say; in each case they were purported. There have been discussions with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet officers as part of that investigation.
Senator ROBERT RAY —As we go through the programs, we might later get on to CabNet and how that may affect things. To your knowledge, have any of these police investigations—because there have been numerous investigations into leaks, missing documents and all the rest—actually come up with a culprit yet?
Dr Watt —I am not aware that the police have finished their investigation into any of the cases, so I cannot comment.
Senator ROBERT RAY —There have been some going back two years—not in your department. That was just a generalised question.
Senator FAULKNER —Are you aware of any in your department since the change of government that have actually been resolved—or finalised?
Dr Watt —No, I am not aware of any that have been resolved—I am not aware of any that have been finalised rather than resolved because `resolved' implies a—
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, sure. That is why I used the word `finalised', which means they might be ongoing or they just might be in the too[hyphen]hard basket or they might not have a very high priority.
Dr Watt —I assume the AFP is still pursuing those investigations with appropriate zeal.
Senator FAULKNER —Why do you make that assumption?
Dr Watt —I could assume nothing else if the investigation is still open.
Senator ROBERT RAY —How do you go about determining the criteria for referring something to the Federal Police? How much effort do you put into making an accurate referral?
Dr Watt —In the circumstances I am aware of—and they are the ones that impinge upon the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet—we take the matter extremely seriously. We would put a great deal of effort into ensuring that the referral was accurate and soundly based.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You would not just very quickly read a Hansard extract and refer it to the Federal Police without analysing it, thereby possibly making a totally inaccurate summation of what was said in Hansard and then refer that to the Federal Police? You would actually give it a lot of thought.
Dr Watt —I assume that the first thing you would do would be to try to check the accuracy of the purported information. There are many leaks, as you would be aware, that are not necessarily accurate leaks. I would then assume that you would also check which departments might or might not have had access to the information and, within any individual department, which individuals. I would think you would take all of that into account in deciding whether or not you referred an issue.
Senator ROBERT RAY —But you would put full analysis into it. That is what I am saying. You would not just take a half[hyphen]baked view of what has been said and then refer it straight off to the Federal Police without mature consideration, would you?
Dr Watt —I am reasonably sure we would never take a half[hyphen]baked view.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It looks like you will never be Minister for Justice by the sound of it.
Dr Watt —I am sorry, I missed that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It is all right; it was a sarcastic aside. Could I ask Mr Bonsey a question?
Senator Hill —Apparently one inquiry has been finished. Perhaps we should, for the sake of completeness—
Senator FAULKNER —You have been able to wrap that one up, have you?
Mr Bonsey —Just for the sake of completeness, on a referral to the AFP relating to the possible handling in cabinet of the consideration of a Human Rights Commission matter, I think the police have closed the file.
Senator FAULKNER —How many are, to use Dr Watt's terminology, ongoing, not finalised, or whatever you prefer? One matter has been finalised. How many others are there?
Mr Bonsey —I am not aware of how many others. I am aware of one from last November, obviously, as it affects my own division. Apart from that, I am not aware of others.
Dr Watt —I am aware of three that are ongoing in addition to the one Mr Bonsey has indicated has now been finalised.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I am not sure I should give you another one.
Senator FAULKNER —But he is going to.
Senator ROBERT RAY —No, I am not sure. I quoted before—and Mr Bonsey was not too happy with it—the first Howard cabinet minute which I have. But I thought it was too old to bother with even sending it back to you. It was fairly old. That minute would have had a circulation of 35, I presume?
Mr Bonsey —For the first ministry meeting?
Senator ROBERT RAY —Yes.
Mr Bonsey —It would have gone to the ministers and the parliamentary secretaries.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So it is much bigger. Do you know how I know this was leaked to me—even though I have no idea who sent it? I know it is not a minister and I know it is not a parliamentary secretary because it has a great bureaucratic blue note thing on it with an arrow where to look. That is typical bureaucracy, I think. You could look there for that one. I do not think a politician would do that.
Mr Bonsey —We are always interested in the return of all cabinet records.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You can have it back. It is here. You can get it later. I do not know if there is a copy of it somewhere else. You could say that, but I could not possibly.
Senator Hill —I have been told in relation to the Parer matter that at that time Mr Max Moore[hyphen]Wilton was asked to recheck all pecuniary interest forms, which he did. So there was that recheck.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We do not know the results of the recheck, but we know it was rechecked.
Senator Hill —Yes. We had one correction to another answer.
Mr Bonsey —That is in relation to the issue of whether Mr Rutherford actually amounts to an increase in the Prime Minister's office establishment. In a sense, there have previously been two consultants, and we discussed that: Mr Mansfield and Mr Cousins. Mr Mansfield's appointment ceased on 31 January and Mr Rutherford was appointed in March. Obviously, at that stage there was an increase. There is an increase to the extent that we now have one full[hyphen]time person and one part-time person.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So we are going to compromise and say it is a 0.5 increase. So you now have 315.5 ministerial and government staff, rather than 315.
Mr Bonsey —I am not commenting on the overall numbers.
Senator ROBERT RAY —No, but this answer provided by DoFA now calculates it at 315. I think they are verifiable, unless there have been additions since, and we will find that out tomorrow.
Dr Watt —Just while we are clearing up loose ends, you asked about the question taken on notice in relation to departing secretaries. That was taken in the November hearings and it has been answered.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Thank you for that.
Senator FAULKNER —Just in relation to the government's position, Mr Bonsey, what role did you have in the establishment of the EN structure and in the employment arrangements that Employment National has with its own staff?
Mr Bonsey —Very limited involvement. The particular piece of legislation which provides for the transfer of Public Service Act staff from DEETYA to Employment National is, I think, section 81 of the Public Service Act. It involves a role for the Prime Minister or a minister authorised by him in relation to declaring that the function previously performed in the Public Service is to be performed separately from that. When that declaration has been made, it is then open to the Public Service Commissioner to exercise her statutory powers in relation to the movement of staff. There then follows from that a paragraph related to the terms and conditions of the employees to facilitate that transfer.
We would have had no involvement in it but for the fact that Dr Kemp—who would normally have exercised that prime ministerial power as minister assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service matters, because he also had the capacity as being the relevant portfolio minister and also a minister associated with the Employment National structure—felt it was more appropriate for him not to exercise that power under section 81(1). So the matter was brought to the Prime Minister's attention to deal with it.
Senator FAULKNER —I think I understand what you are saying. Dr Kemp has either sought the agreement of the Prime Minister on these EN employment arrangements or effectively asked the Prime Minister to make the decision; it is one of those two, I assume, is it?
Mr Bonsey —He thought it was more appropriate that he not exercise that power under section 81(1).
Senator FAULKNER —So in this instance he, as I understand it, has written to the Prime Minister outlining that situation; would that be right?
Mr Bonsey —That would be correct.
Senator FAULKNER —Could you let us know then what the Prime Minister's response was?
Mr Bonsey —The Prime Minister signed the instrument on 1 May.
Senator FAULKNER —So the Prime Minister signed the instrument?
Mr Bonsey —Yes. He signed the instrument under section 81, subsection (1), which deals with this issue of declaring the functions to be functions which are moving from the Public Service to Employment National. I am sorry, I should correct that: it is section 81C, subsection (1).
Senator FAULKNER —Did the government division then have a role in preparing a reply to Dr Kemp's letter? I understood that a draft reply might even have been prepared for the Acting Prime Minister's signature at the time?
—I do not recall the correspondence actually. It was correspondence requiring an action rather than a reply. I cannot recall that a letter was actually sent from the Prime Minister to Dr Kemp. It may have been. But the actual outcome of the process was prime
ministerial signature of the instrument, which then opened the way for the Public Service Commissioner to exercise her powers in relation to the transfer of staff.
Senator FAULKNER —But was a draft reply to Minister Kemp prepared by your division and forwarded to Mr Fischer's office, as Acting Prime Minister? That is a draft reply, and I stress `draft reply'.
Mr Bonsey —I do not recall necessarily the issue of a reply as distinct from handling the issue. The issue did arise at a time when the Prime Minister was about to go overseas, and at one stage there was certainly consideration given to the question of `Given that Dr Kemp does not think it is appropriate for him to sign this instrument, who should do it?' In the end, the decision was taken that the Prime Minister would handle it.
Senator FAULKNER —This issue caused a fair bit of consternation, did it not, at an SES meeting in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Mr Bonsey —I do not think it caused particular consternation, but I have no intention of going into the deliberations on departmental—
Senator FAULKNER —That is all in the eye of the beholder, of course. Sadly, as I was not there, I am not a direct party to it. Can I ask if the secretary of the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Mr Moore[hyphen]Wilton, directly intervened in this particular issue?
Mr Bonsey —I think you are going into matters of internal administration of the department which—
Senator FAULKNER —I certainly am. It has always been perfectly reasonable to ask about matters of government administration at committees like this, as you would well know. I am not asking a question about government policy.
Mr Bonsey —I appreciate that. I suppose I was reacting to the level of detail—who said what, where and when in an SES meeting.
Senator Hill —Wisely, too, I think.
Senator FAULKNER —It seems reasonable, I think, to ask a question of the most senior officer. What I am asking about is the intervention of Mr Moore[hyphen]Wilton in this particular matter, which was canvassed, as I understand it, at quite some length at an SES meeting. As I say, a number of sources have told me that. They may or may not have been accurately reflecting what occurred, but I just took my informants at face value and wondered if, as a result of that, there had been some alterations made to the material that finally went for the signature of either the Acting Prime Minister or the Prime Minister.
Senator Hill —The question is legitimate, but I think it is also legitimate to answer in terms that that does go to the internal running of the department, and who within the department played what role in a final advice or determination I do not think is something that is normally put on the public record.
Senator FAULKNER —Why would that be the case, minister? I would have thought this is a nuts and bolts issue about government administration.
Senator Hill —In part, that is the answer, because officers in their internal workings have the right to expect that government will protect their professional privacy in effect, otherwise they may well in future not be prepared to offer the sort of objective advice that we would seek of them. In other words, they are entitled to a certain amount of protection, I think, from government in doing their duty. I think it would cross the line to put on the public record what was the view of any particular officer in relation to any particular internal matter.
Senator FAULKNER —But what we are inquiring here is: what are the internal departmental processes? I have never heard the case pleaded on the basis of privacy. I am not interested in finding out what the attitudes of different individuals are. I am approaching this from a process perspective and a process perspective only. So if Mr Bonsey were able to couch an answer to my question in process terms, I would be absolutely satisfied.
Senator Hill —I think that if he answered the processes that were adopted that led to a particular position, that is legitimate.
Senator FAULKNER —I am only interested in—
Senator Hill —When I talk about privacy, I talk about it in terms of professional privacy, not personal privacy.
Senator FAULKNER —Professional privacy might be a case you would care to plead at an estimates committee hearing like this, but it is certainly not a concept that—unless there are some very good reasons, and there might be some good reasons on occasions—I would be willing to accept as a precedent for the way these committees ought to work. But in this particular case I have got to say, Minister, that I am only interested in the process. I am not interested particularly in any individual—I do not even know who they are—whose privacy you would be interested in protecting.
I think there is a public interest in this, but I would be more than happy for Mr Bonsey to limit his answer to a process response. That would be fine. Mind you, I am not accepting for one moment that the newly developed concept of professional privacy at estimates committees is one that I am going to sign up to or warmly embrace. Nor would you, Minister, if you were on this side of the table, nor have you in the past—nor has anyone in the past.
Mr Bonsey —I am quite happy to give a partial answer, Senator. My objection is, I think, to questions going to details of internal deliberations of the department which, frankly, I find quite deplorable. Discussions in senior meetings in the department have been provided to you and I do think that is deplorable. Having said that, let me give you—
Senator FAULKNER —As you would be aware, Mr Bonsey, often the internal operations of departments of government have regularly been canvassed at great length at meetings like this—
Mr Bonsey —I have no problem with that. I am just making—
Senator FAULKNER —whether or not you find it deplorable. I mean, I might happen to find the behaviour of the secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet deplorable, but these are value judgments, and I do not try to engage in value judgments at meetings like this. This is an information gathering exercise at this stage.
Mr Bonsey —What I am happy to say is that there was some discussion at an SES meeting on the subject of Employment National. To some extent it reflected a lack of familiarity with the particular statutory framework that was involved in section 81C. Actually, as a result of discussion in that meeting, I think there was very little change to such documentation as was ready for consideration at that stage. Subsequently, because the circumstances as I recall them were changing, there were the normal processes of consultation, clearance and comment involving areas of the department that had a relevant interest. The secretary was involved in that and in clearance of the draft that finally went. But actually as a result of the meeting there was not a significant change made to the material that had been prepared.
Senator FAULKNER —So the changes occurred after the meeting, did they not?
Mr Bonsey —The changes occurred after the meeting as a result of a changed situation which had developed that was ongoing at the time.
Senator FAULKNER —I am pleased to hear that the meeting was conducted in such a positive atmosphere. That is good. By the way, can someone tell me: have the renovations been completed down at the department—the foyer and the like? Is that all finished?
Dr Watt —Renovations in the foyer have been completed.
Senator FAULKNER —Looking good?
Senator Hill —That is probably in the eye of the beholder as well—a value judgment.
Senator FAULKNER —It always is.
Dr Watt —My personal opinion—and I am not an interior decorator—is that it looks very functional and professional.
Senator FAULKNER —That is good. Is there a fair bit of wood panelling down there now? I have not been in, of course. I do not think I am likely to be invited either.
Dr Watt —I am sure the department would be delighted to have you visit, Senator. I am not sure I would call it wood panelling. I suspect it is a veneer.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you know what that cost?
Dr Watt —We do have a figure for the cost of the renovations. If you bear with me for a minute, I will give you that.
Ms Harrison —The cost of the project to the department was $110,200. This comprised $95,000 for the construction costs and $15,200 for the design documentation project management. That covered not only the foyer but also the lift lobby area.
Senator FAULKNER —I just asked in relation to the wood panelling. Would it be possible just to take it on notice and provide us with that?
Ms Harrison —I could not give you a figure on that at the moment.
Senator FAULKNER —I appreciate that, but maybe you could give me a breakdown. I do not want to progress that now because the chairman is very keen to break for lunch. We can talk about these things after lunch, but I will not ask you that. You might just let me know. You do not have to do it today.
Dr Watt —The only point I would make is that we would not be able to give you any more than the breakdown that was given to us after the bill was finished. I am not aware how the contractor would have broken down his estimates.
Senator FAULKNER —I am just relieved to hear that it is completed. I assume that the photographs of the prime ministers are back on the wall.
Dr Watt —The photographs of all the prime ministers are on the wall.
Senator FAULKNER —Can you now confirm that the current Prime Minister's photograph is bigger than everyone else's?
Dr Watt —Senator, I can, and I understand that the model has been based on the way in which these photographs appear in this building, I believe.
Ms Harrison —Apparently the arrangements are the same as those that have been adopted in the Parliament House galleries, where photographs of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Senate President and the Speaker are significantly larger than those of other members and senators. We have followed parliamentary practice, it seems.
Senator FAULKNER —I think everyone will be terribly relieved to hear that. So we can finalise before lunch: was that always the case with the photographs in the foyer of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Dr Watt —It was not. That has not always been the case.
Senator FAULKNER —So you are only following parliamentary practice to have Mr Howard's photograph larger now?
Dr Watt —We might be latecomers, but we are getting it right now.
Senator FAULKNER —I am sure he will be relieved to know that the practice of generations has been changed and you are now following parliamentary precedent to make sure his photograph is larger.
Dr Watt —I suspect it is not generational.
Proceedings suspended from 1.02 p.m. to 2.04 p.m.
CHAIR —The committee will resume. Thank you, Minister and officers. We are still continuing with general questions on the PM&C portfolio. Any there any questions?
Senator FAULKNER —When we broke for lunch we had established that the foyer of the department had been finally refurbished, which was good news. I just wondered if you can let us know whether there has been any progress since our last estimates hearing on the Prime Minister's campaign to have a building named after Sir William McMahon?
Mr Bonsey —I do have some information on the Sir William McMahon building, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER —Or other suitably appropriate edifice.
Mr Bonsey —I think I have some information. Bear with me for a minute, Senator.
Senator Hill —To fill in time, in view of Senator Andrew Murray's interest in the CV of Bob Mansfield, I would like to table that CV. Certainly, he has worked within the food industry, but he is also chief executive of Wormald, he was chief executive of Optus and he was chief executive of John Fairfax Holdings. I am told that his fee is $500 a day, which is, I think, the lowest professional fee of that type I can recall.
Senator ROBERT RAY —But he does not have a law degree.
Senator Hill —Senator Gibson might like to know that he is a fellow of the Australian Society of Accountants and he also has a bachelor of commerce in accounting. If I can table that. We have also got a figure on the woodwork.
Ms Harrison —The cost of the wood panelling was $29,500, which includes all the wood panels and the associated joinery work. The product itself is 95 per cent particle board. It is made from waste product from Australian softwood plantations.
Dr Watt —It is not panelling proper; it is a veneer, a wood veneer.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Appropriate to PM and C.
Senator Hill —We have information on the Sir William McMahon Building.
Senator FAULKNER —It is 95 per cent particle board and a veneer over the top.
Mr Bonsey —The Department of Finance and Administration is making arrangements for a ceremony to rename an office building in Sydney with the title `The McMahon Centre'. It is expected there will be a ceremony on 3 August for that purpose.
Senator FAULKNER —Which actual building?
Mr Bonsey —477 Pitt Street, Senator.
Senator ROBERT RAY —477, is it?
Mr Bonsey —Yes. I gather it is currently named the `Sydney Central Offices'.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Who is going to open it, do you know?
Mr Bonsey —There is an expectation that the Prime Minister would unveil the plaque on the occasion.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So this will be one of the milestones of the department. It is a big achievement.
Mr Bonsey —I think I said that it was the Department of Finance and Administration that was making the arrangements.
Senator ROBERT RAY —They have actually been able to do it? You have not been able to, I see. That is because they use state managers, I assume.
Mr Bonsey —I expect that is the case.
Senator FAULKNER —There is a bit of history, though, isn't there, Mr Bonsey? We have to be frank. This is not an idea that was warmly embraced by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Mr Bonsey —I do not think that we have had a particular warmth or frigidity towards it.
Senator FAULKNER —Of course, the Department of Foreign Affairs was very quick to get off the bandwagon.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It is Treasury.
Senator FAULKNER —I am sorry. Of course it is Treasury. Treasury was very quick to get off the bandwagon. They did not want any of their buildings named after Sir William McMahon.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Isn't 477 Pitt Street up for sale?
Mr Bonsey —That is correct, Senator.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So you will insist on naming rights for a 20 or 30 year period?
Mr Bonsey —My understanding is that it is for a specified number, but I do not know the period.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It won't depress the price of it at all, will it?
Mr Bonsey —I make no comment on that, Senator.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Leaving Sir William McMahon aside, if you insist on naming rights, sometimes that can affect the price of the building. We might check that out tomorrow.
Senator FAULKNER —The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has no view that it would be more preferable to have a building that remains in Commonwealth ownership named after a former Prime Minister?
Mr Bonsey —I think the decisions on precisely which building it would be and whether or not it would be sold were probably taken after we had any involvement in it.
Senator FAULKNER —Can I just ask one other question about the naming of buildings? And we know that the Prime Minister has worked assiduously on getting this one up. Has he been actively involved in attempting to see any other Commonwealth buildings or other buildings named after former prominent persons?
Mr Bonsey —Without accepting the premise in your question about the Prime Minister's involvement in this building—
Senator FAULKNER —As you would be aware, Mr Bonsey, there has been a lot of evidence at previous estimates committees that this is actually one of the Prime Minister's own ideas.
Senator Hill —We are not aware of any other naming proposals.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you for that. I was wondering if there had been any attempt to ensure that the offices for the executives of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet had been adequately furnished with artworks, be they paintings or sculptures or other pieces of art? Could you just let me know if there have been any developments in that area?
Dr Watt —Senator, perhaps I can speak from personal knowledge. I think the answer is no. I do not think there have been more than marginal changes in furnishings in the last several months as people have come and gone—nothing of any significance.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you know if there is anything in the pipeline?
Dr Watt —Not that I am aware of, Senator. I would hope that I would know because it might be my office that they are refurbishing.
Senator FAULKNER —I see. Are there any proposals in the pipeline at all for any refurbishment of the current secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's office?
Dr Watt —Not that I am aware of.
Ms Harrison —No, there is no proposal to change any of the accommodations of the secretary of the department. We are proposing to replace some of the carpet in the area.
Senator FAULKNER —Some of the carpet in the area?
Ms Harrison —Yes.
Dr Watt —Senator, I stand corrected. When we signed our lease last year one of the incentives was that the building owners would recarpet the executive area. That has not happened yet. It will be done by 30 June 1999 but not necessarily before.
Senator FAULKNER —Are there any proposals for any artworks? I am using a fairly broad definition of artworks, be it sculptures, paintings, statues or other works of art.
Mr Bonsey —Not that I am aware of.
Senator FAULKNER —This is not limited to the executive officers of the department.
Ms Harrison —No, there are no proposals.
Senator FAULKNER —I see. I wish to ask about an article I read in the Canberra Times on 23 May. I do not know whether you have seen it. It was headed `Mandarin of the PS in lather over leather'. I do not know whether you are aware of that article. It went to the discovery of Mr Moore-Wilton that his vehicle did not have the leather seats that were in a very similar vehicle being driven by another secretary of a Commonwealth department. Apparently, Mr Moore-Wilton asked why that secretary could get leather seats and others could not. Can someone answer that question for me? No doubt it has been on everyone's lips, given that it has had so much focus in the media.
—I think you are incorrect in your paraphrasing of the article in that you said that Mr Moore-Wilton's vehicle did not have leather seats. The story is that since August 1996 Mr Moore-Wilton has had a Calais with leather trim fit-out, and that vehicle is approaching the end of its lease. When the department came to make inquiries about a new order—and I should emphasise that Mr Moore-Wilton is seeking a car that is identical in all respects to
his present car, with no additional level of trim, options or anything of this kind—it was found that the Holden pricing policy was such that an additional amount this time around seemed to have to be paid for leather seats, and that the leather seats plus the car took it over the price cap which was then applying. In the interests of consistency of trim and fit-out provided in those four vehicles—which I understand to be a Fairmont Ghia, a Mitsubishi Verada EI and XI and a Toyota Vienti Grande—and the Holden Calais, the Department of Finance and Administration has increased the price cap.
Senator FAULKNER —So Mr Moore-Wilton's executive vehicle has recently been changed, has it?
Mr Bonsey —No, I did not say that.
Senator FAULKNER —I am just asking you. That has not occurred?
Mr Bonsey —It has not occurred. Mr Moore-Wilton has had his present vehicle since August 1996. In accordance with the usual practice for the executive vehicle scheme, vehicles are normally replaced at the 40,000 kilometre or the two-year mark. So consideration is being given to a replacement, which Mr Moore-Wilton wants to be an identical replacement.
Senator ROBERT RAY —The last paragraph in that article states that it is understood that the Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business has determined on a rule change about leather seats which is already in effect, if not quite yet generally promulgated. Is that what you were referring to when you said that there has been some change?
Mr Bonsey —That paragraph is inaccurate to the extent that it ascribes responsibility for it to the Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business. The function is properly exercised by the people in the Department of Finance and Administration who look after the contract management arrangements with DAS Fleet.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Are the original conditions for what a secretary can get dependent on DoFA, or are they dependent on workplace relations, with DoFA being the interpretive and administrative body?
Mr Bonsey —Hitherto, the administration of the executive vehicle scheme was handled by the Department of Administrative Services and, of course, the fleet was actually run by the Department of Administrative Services.
Senator ROBERT RAY —But the actual entitlement was set by whom?
Mr Bonsey —I think the entitlement would have been set by the caps and what vehicles it made sense to use as the particular limits for particular levels of seniority of officers was, I think, the responsibility of the old Department of Administrative Services.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Not Workplace Relations?
Mr Bonsey —I do not think so.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Yet we have heard in other answers to questions that Workplace Relations has been working on certain guidelines, has it not?
Mr Bonsey —Yes. One important thing to understand with the executive vehicle scheme is that in a sense we are in a stage of transition not only in the ownership of the fleet, but it is the case that with respect to vehicles for Senior Executive Service officers the scope for greater remuneration flexibility that has come from AWAs has enabled vehicles to be the subject of the overall remuneration package.
As part of their role for the central oversight of remuneration policy, Workplace Relations and Small Business is saying to agency heads, `Yes, these are the caps that go with the various
vehicles, but in terms of your remuneration for SES officers it is up to you, the agency heads, to decide whether or not you necessarily want to be bound by those caps.' It would be possible for me to have an agreement with the secretary that I should have some different sort of car which would then be factored in in the total balance of the remuneration package. That flexibility does not yet exist for secretaries, and so the cap is a relevant consideration.
Senator FAULKNER —To whom does the executive vehicle scheme apply, apart from departmental and agency secretaries?
Mr Bonsey —Cars for the SES and members of Parliament. It is the DAS Fleet operation.
Senator FAULKNER —But I assume that the cap is different in different cases.
Mr Bonsey —That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER —The cap that would apply to a departmental or agency secretary would apply only at that level; is that how it works?
Mr Bonsey —That is right. It is described as departmental secretaries and equivalent.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It does not apply to the Reserve Bank Governor, does it?
Mr Bonsey —I suspect not.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Apart from the triviality of the story, I would have thought that the minister would be concerned about the lack of esprit de corps. Clearly, the source of this story has to be another departmental secretary if it came about through a departmental secretary meeting?
Senator Hill —I knew of the issue, but I have never read the article. It is probably not appropriate for me to speculate on the source.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I was not asking for the source. I just said that it must be disappointing from an esprit de corps point of view that you have hand[hyphen]picked so many departmental secretaries and these stories still come out. You have got rid of 11 so far and the stories keep flowing.
Senator Hill —That is, in effect, raising the issue of the source.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I think it is fairly hard to argue that the source was not a departmental secretary.
CHAIR —Are there any other questions?
Senator FAULKNER —In relation to works of art, does the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have any relationship with Artbank at all?
Ms Harrison —Yes, we do.
Senator FAULKNER —I think there may be one in the foyer of the PM&C. I think there may now be an Olsen in the foyer.
Ms Harrison —In the foyer—that is correct. That is leased through Artbank.
Senator FAULKNER —That is leased through Artbank.
Dr Watt —It used to reside in the residence of the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia.
Senator FAULKNER —I see.
Senator Hill —That is a useful piece of information.
Senator FAULKNER —It is as useful as some other information that has been gleaned over the years at estimates committees.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We will not go into any regime analogies.
Senator FAULKNER —Can I ask whether your comments in relation to my questioning about refurbishing offices in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet also go to the issue of any leasing from Artbank? Would I be right in assuming that?
Ms Harrison —There is no proposal to lease any further artworks from Artbank, if that is what you had intended in your question.
Senator FAULKNER —That is helpful. Have there been any recent leasings of artworks from Artbank that might be of interest to us?
Senator Hill —I do not know about of interest to you. Have there been any recent leasings of artwork?
Senator FAULKNER —I admit that it is hard to make a judgment on what artwork may be of interest.
Senator Hill —I would have thought they would be turned over from time to time. We have a leasing arrangement.
Ms Harrison —We may have swapped a painting or two in recent times, but we would not have made any new acquisitions. There may have been some changes in the artworks, but they would have been minor and would not have added to the collection.
Senator FAULKNER —Are Artbank leasings used liberally in the executive area of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Ms Harrison —They are used there.
Senator FAULKNER —They are used. Could you give me a bit of an indication as to what extent they are used there?
Senator Hill —What does that mean?
Senator FAULKNER —How many are there, in other words?
Senator Hill —How big is the area?
Senator FAULKNER —Are you arguing about my use of the word `liberally', Senator Hill?
Dr Watt —The executive area consists of the secretary's office, conference room and three offices for deputies.
Senator FAULKNER —For the heck of it, why don't we just limit ourselves to the secretary's office and the conference room?
Senator Hill —You want to know how many paintings leased through Artbank are in the secretary's office. Is that what you want to know?
Senator FAULKNER —I am just asking.
Dr Watt —And the conference room.
Senator Hill —Let us take one at a time. How many paintings are in the secretary's office? Do we know?
Dr Watt —One, perhaps two. One that I am aware of.
Senator Hill —Do we know?
Dr Watt —No.
Senator Hill —Well don't speculate. You don't know.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Will you take it on notice?
Ms Harrison —We will take it on notice.
Senator FAULKNER —That should not take a long time to establish. Could you include in your answer paintings and works of art?
Senator Hill —Works of art.
Senator FAULKNER —I do not know whether Artbank goes beyond paintings.
Senator ROBERT RAY —That is excluding the Prime Minister's photo.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, excluding that. Perhaps photographic works of art would not quite count. I was thinking, for example, that there might be statues or sculptures or something like that. I do not know. I am not that well apprised of what Artbank does to be able to make that judgment. But if you can let us know, that would be helpful.
Senator Hill —That is for the secretary's office and the conference room.
CHAIR —Are there any further questions?
Senator ROBERT RAY —No, not on that subject.
Senator FAULKNER —I would like to ask some questions about the outsourcing of corporate services. I think it is appropriate to do that here, unless the officers can direct me to a more appropriate program under which to ask it. Are such questions more appropriately asked under general questions or a program area? If you can help me, I am happy to cooperate.
Senator Hill —I do not think it makes much difference. You might as well ask it now.
Senator FAULKNER —The issue of the considerations that the department has been giving to the outsourcing of its corporate functions has obviously been canvassed at previous estimates committees. I wondered whether the Ernst and Young report would be able to be made available to the committee at some stage. It was not clear whether that was a confidential document. I assume that a report and recommendations have been made to the department by Ernst and Young.
Senator Hill —I am trying to clarify the status of that report. I would like to take that on short notice so I can do a check and see whether there is any reason why it should not be put on the public record.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you, Minister. That would be helpful. As I understand it, there is a fair bit of work being done on issues like customer satisfaction surveys. I think that is accurate. I wonder whether you would now be able to indicate to the committee what the results of those surveys have been. It might be useful if Mr Vo Van could give us a quick outline of how this has been handled within the department.
Mr Vo Van —I will try to have a go at it, Senator. Part of the exercise occurred before I took it over. Back in March of last year the department initiated what we called a streamlining exercise to review the way the corporate and support services are being provided in the department to see whether or not there is any capacity for improvement and greater efficiency. The department then engaged Ernst and Young as a consultant to assist in that review. As part of the review there were a number of surveys. I understood that there was one survey in particular—the one that you are referring to—to gauge the reaction and level of satisfaction or otherwise on the part of the staff to the services that are being provided by the department. That formed part of the consultant's report. Then, in December of last year, the Ernst and Young people submitted the report to the executive, which was then accepted in part. We are now in the process of implementing some of the recommendations of the Ernst and Young report. I could go on a bit more if you wish, but that is the background.
Senator FAULKNER —That is a useful background. Thank you for that. How do the department or the consultants actually expect that outsourcing is going to enhance customer satisfaction levels?
Mr Vo Van —You are asking how the consultants expect the level of satisfaction to be increased?
Senator FAULKNER —I am asking how either the consultants or the department might have this expectation.
Mr Vo Van —All the consultants did was simply identify the areas where the department may wish to take some action. For example, it recommended that in certain areas we could re-engineer, which is jargon for changing the way that a particular function is being performed. In particular, I refer to what we call the ministerial correspondence unit in the department. In that area the report recommended that the function be re[hyphen]engineered to see whether or not a number of practices could be amended or changed to get better efficiency or better satisfaction for the clients. In a number of other areas the report recommended that it could be market tested, meaning to put it out to the market to see whether or not any firms would be interested in putting in a bid to provide that service to the department. So you could imply from there that that would be one way of seeing whether or not, by doing things in a different way, the services could be provided better or otherwise.
Senator FAULKNER —Are the terms of reference for the Ernst and Young study available?
Mr Vo Van —Yes, they would form part of the Ernst and Young report.
Senator FAULKNER —I understand that. But would they be able to be made available to this committee?
Senator Hill —We will get the terms of reference.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you. What I am interested in understanding is what the scope of this potential outsourcing was as advised to Ernst and Young. Can you let us know that?
Mr Vo Van —The Ernst and Young report recommended that a number of functions could be market tested. Off the top of my head, it was saying that certain functions in the financial management area, for example, could be put out to the market to see whether or not they could be done by people other than those officers in the department.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, but what I am asking is: what did the department provide to Ernst and Young as the scope for this outsourcing exercise?
Mr Vo Van —I believe that is not the case. I think the terms of reference simply requested Ernst and Young to look at the way things were being done and come up with a recommendation as to how and in which way things could be improved.
Senator FAULKNER —So there were not really any limitations on Ernst and Young; it was a pretty general brief that they had?
Mr Vo Van —I understand that is the case.
Senator FAULKNER —How were Ernst and Young selected as consultants for this exercise?
Mr Vo Van —That was before my time, but I believe there was a proper selection process by calling for tenders. A colleague of mine here may be able to help me with that. I am not quite sure, but I understood that it did go through that tendering process.
Dr Watt —I can confirm that there was a selective tendering process that selected Ernst and Young in June 1997.
Senator FAULKNER —Who made the decision to go with Ernst and Young?
Dr Watt —It would have been a decision made in the department, I would assume, by either the then head of corporate services or the executive coordinator responsible for the corporate services area on the basis of tenders submitted.
Mr Vo Van —We could check that.
Senator FAULKNER —It might be worth while checking it. I appreciate your making the assumption, and that may well be the case, but it would be useful to know. So I would like to know who made that final decision. I would also appreciate knowing the cost, if that is possible.
Mr Vo Van —I could give you the cost. I believe that the cost of the Ernst and Young report was to the tune of $97,600.
Senator FAULKNER —To what extent has there been an involvement with pre-existing corporate services staff in the outsourcing process? Have they been involved in any of the determinations about those services to be covered and the like?
Mr Vo Van —It may be a bit pedantic on my part, but I would like to be able to put on the record that it is not so much an outsourcing exercise; we are really in the process of market testing to see whether or not there is a business case out there to outsource. So having said that, I can then answer your question, if you wish. To the extent that the staff have been consistently and regularly briefed and informed about where the department is at or has been in the process, and throughout both the Ernst and Young review as well as in the past six months or so, when I have been responsible for the implementation of the exercise, they have been involved in the sense of being informed and being consulted about what they are doing and then providing the implementation team with information necessary for the market testing.
Senator FAULKNER —How long did you say this exercise has been going on for?
Mr Vo Van —If you are talking about the moment the decision was made to look for a consultancy firm you could say that the exercise started in March or April of last year, 1997.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you have any more details, Dr Watt, on the selective tendering process that you talked about?
Dr Watt —No, I do not. Beyond knowing that it was a selective tendering process, I am afraid I do not. However, we can check.
Senator FAULKNER —It would be an assumption on my part, but I assume this would be right, that a number of firms—and I do not know what the number is—would have been invited to tender for this; would that be correct? I am assuming that because of your use of the terminology `selective tendering process'.
Dr Watt —Those are the words I have in front of me. I think that is a fair assumption on your part, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER —Can you tell me the number of firms?
Dr Watt —No.
Senator FAULKNER —Could you please take that on notice, too? When was the Ernst and Young report actually finalised and provided to the department?
Mr Vo Van —I believe that the final report was submitted in early December last year.
Senator FAULKNER —Can you let me know whether all the recommendations of the Ernst and Young report are being progressed?
Mr Vo Van —In a sense the answer would be yes, because the Ernst and Young report recommended that the departments take action to test the market in a number of areas, which we are doing. As I said earlier, it is also looking at ways of improving the provision of services in a number of areas by re[hyphen]engineering. So in a way the recommendations have been accepted and progressed in some fashion.
Senator FAULKNER —Did I hear you use the word `re[hyphen]engineering' then?
Mr Vo Van —Yes, I did. Part of the recommendations of Ernst and Young was to re-engineer certain functions and the other was to market test.
Senator FAULKNER —Did Ernst and Young recommend the re[hyphen]engineering of library services?
Mr Vo Van —Yes, I believe that it did.
Senator FAULKNER —Are library services now being proposed to be outsourced?
Mr Vo Van —No, the library services subsequently were included in the scope of market testing.
Senator FAULKNER —Why did that happen?
Mr Vo Van —It happened because, subsequent to the receipt of the recommendations by Ernst and Young to initially re-engineer the library services, when the implementation was put in place we were advised that the industry found that it was somewhat difficult to provide services to the department in other areas without having an opportunity to also express an interest in the provision of library services.
I should perhaps take a bit of time to take one step back. The Ernst and Young report in one part suggested that it might be helpful for the department to consider consolidating in one area all of the so-called information related services. It had in mind the information services and the IT area—what we call in the department the record management unit, which also handles information, and the library. So it made the recommendation that those three parts of the services in the department should be grouped together in one section. It went on to recommend, however, that only the library should be re-engineered and the record management unit and the IT areas should be subject to market testing as part of the APS-wide initiative.
So both the department and the consultant whom we subsequently engaged to assist us in the implementation were thinking that it would be very difficult to split the so-called information suite, the basket of services, into some for re-engineering and some for market testing. The department then decided, for the sake of testing, to include the library services to see whether or not the market is capable of providing those sorts of services—
Senator FAULKNER —When was the decision made to knock over the Ernst and Young recommendation of re-engineering of library services?
Mr Vo Van —The decision to extend the scope of market testing was made in April, I believe. I have to check that, but I would say early April.
Senator FAULKNER —I understand that that was done at the direct intervention of the secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Is that right?
Mr Vo Van —The implementation of the exercise is under the direction of a steering committee, and the steering committee did meet on that occasion to consider this particular aspect. I would have to check the records, but I do not believe that is the case. I think, from memory, the steering committee made the decision and then advised the secretary to that effect.
Senator FAULKNER —Are you saying that, on the re-engineering of library services, the secretary did not have any input prior to the steering committee meeting?
Mr Vo Van —Subject to my having to check the record, I am almost 100 per cent sure that it was the steering committee that considered it and then advised the secretary to that effect.
Senator FAULKNER —Have you been able to determine yet what the level of expected savings is from the outsourcing process?
Mr Vo Van —No. The tenders will close on Friday the fifth—this coming Friday. Obviously, we do not yet know what the bids will be. So that question has not arisen.
Senator FAULKNER —So you will be able to make judgments about that obviously after the close of tenders?
Mr Vo Van —Yes.
Senator Hill —But did the Ernst and Young report suggest savings up to a particular level?
Mr Vo Van —Ernst and Young did. When you are talking about outsourcing, once again I have to be careful of what I say. I was assuming that you were talking about after the assessment of the tenders.
Senator FAULKNER —Was part of the steering committee's considerations comparing the Ernst and Young re-engineering proposal or the secretary's outsourcing proposals? Were the variations in outcomes given a great deal of attention by the steering committee?
Mr Vo Van —The steering committee did not go into that level of detail at the time because the thinking was that it is very much up to the outcome of the market testing. The steering committee was working on that basis. It had not made up its own mind as to whether or not a particular function, if any, would be outsourced. It is very much a case of wait and see until the evidence comes in.
Senator FAULKNER —Who conducted the actual market testing, in a technical sense?
Mr Vo Van —In the technical sense the department is doing that, but with the assistance of a specialist consultant company called PSI. We have engaged them to assist with the technical advice on how to go about doing it.
Senator FAULKNER —Was there a tendering process for that work, too?
Mr Vo Van —It was selected in accordance with the competitive tendering and contracting procedure by the Department of Finance and Administration.
Senator FAULKNER —I assume this would be a smaller contract than the Ernst and Young contract. Would that be right?
Mr Vo Van —It depends on how long it would take in the phases. For example, evaluation of the tenders may indicate that there may not be a business case—I am talking hypothetically here—and the status quo remains and there may not be a need for further engagement of the consultants to assist.
Senator FAULKNER —So that consultancy is ongoing, is it?
Mr Vo Van —Yes, it is ongoing for now.
Senator FAULKNER —What about the projected employment effects if the outsourcing proceeds? You have obviously been having discussions with the staff who are currently filling these positions and the like, have you?
Mr Vo Van —We have talked to them consistently in the sense of keeping the staff aware of where the implementation progress is and the like, but the issue of whether or not there would be staff implications would not be apparent until after the evaluation of the tenders.
Senator FAULKNER —So are you able to say where that is going at the moment? Are you looking at a clean break or a pass to a contractor with entitlements intact? Is it up in the air? Can you give us any advice on that at all?
Mr Vo Van —Only in the context of giving the tenderers some indication as to what the thinking may be. The department has said in the tender document that, should a decision to outsource be made, it is the intention of the department to observe the clean break approach so far as staffing matters are concerned.
Senator FAULKNER —Is there an issue here for recruitment, particularly at, say, the ASO1 to ASO4 levels? As I have understood it in the past, really you have got corporate services being one of the very few areas of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet recruiting and employing significant numbers of staff at those levels. That used to be correct. I do not know whether Dr Watt or you can say if that is still correct. It certainly used to be the case, did it not?
Dr Watt —There is still some employment of staff at that level in divisional support units. Over the last several years some of the corporate functions have been devolved to divisional support units. Regardless of what might be the outcome of market testing in the corporate services area, all the functions provided by divisional support units would continue.
Senator FAULKNER —But it is going to have a pretty significant impact on entry of staff at that level, is it not?
Dr Watt —It would have some impact. I am not aware how much. Even in the corporate services area these days, one point to remember—and Ms Harrison can perhaps talk to our structure—is that far from all people employed in corporate services areas are ASO1s to ASO4s.
Ms Harrison —We do have a number of staff that are employed at that level; however, we also have other staff employed at higher levels. I cannot give you a specific number. We would have to inquire into that.
Senator FAULKNER —So what is your timing for the rest of this process now?
Mr Vo Van —The indicative timetable is for the tenders to close on 5 June. We will aim at finalising the evaluations by the end of June to early July. A decision will then be made at that point as to whether or not we either preserve the status quo or outsource. If we do that, I would say it may take another one to two months to look at the other technical matters such as due diligence, the establishment and negotiation of contract and those sorts of processes. If that is to be the case, then I would say that the new arrangement could be in place by September.
Senator FAULKNER —Have you been actively engaged with the unions on this?
Mr Vo Van —We have had some dialogue with the unions.
Senator FAULKNER —Is there likely to be any limitation on staff transferring to successful tenderers; in other words, it is only perceived to be proper if the staff did not have any role in the tender assessment process, selection of contractor and the like? Is that an issue that has exercised any minds there?
Mr Vo Van —In so far as the issue of probity is concerned, those staff who are involved in one way or another with the evaluation of the tenders will be affected by the arrangements that have been put in place, such as asking them to sign undertakings to observe normal probity requirements, conflict of interest and those sorts of issues. For the other staff who either do not have a direct involvement in the exercise or who are not expected to, I do not think that there are any particular problems should the situation arise whereby a particular function could be outsourced and the provider would like to look at the possibility of employing them. I would say that perhaps that is a matter for consideration in due course.
Senator FAULKNER —Has there been any capacity for in[hyphen]house bids in this?
Mr Vo Van —I do not believe that there is any indication at this stage that there would be an in-house bid for any of the services.
Senator FAULKNER —Do you mind, Ms Harrison, if I ask you about what occurred at the last estimates round? In fact, Senator Ray was asking some general questions on outsourcing of corporate services. He asked, `Could we have an update on outsourcing?' You said that the department has had a review of corporate services with a set of recommendations handed down. Those deal primarily with re[hyphen]engineering and market testing in certain areas of corporate services. You went on to say, `But there is no intention at this stage to outsource services.' I would be interested to hear your comment on that because that does appear to me as if there is quite a significant intention to outsource corporate services, but maybe I am putting a different interpretation on this.
Ms Harrison —I think, as Mr Vo Van has said, that at the time that was the situation. We were working strictly in accordance with the recommendations of the Ernst and Young review. We have moved on since then. Mr Vo Van has given you an account of what has happened since then. I believe my statement at the time to be correct. It is just that we have changed our approach somewhat since then.
Senator FAULKNER —What do you think drove that change of approach?
Ms Harrison —I think Mr Vo Van has answered that question for you.
Mr Vo Van —May I add something to that? In fact, in so far as the issue of outsourcing is concerned, as Senator Faulkner touched on, I do not think the department has changed its view or approach in relation to outsourcing. That is to say that a decision to outsource has never been made. In other words, at the moment the department is only engaged in the exercise to test the market to see whether or not it will be possible to outsource certain corporate and support services. Not until a business case has been made, namely at the end of the evaluation of the tenderers' bids expected at the end of this week, would the department be in a position to determine whether or not it would outsource.
Senator FAULKNER —But I notice Mr Moore[hyphen]Wilton's note on 21 January 1998 in the circular to all staff headed `Changes to the department's corporate and support services', which was kindly made available to me after the last estimates round. That particular note, for example, gives a pretty clear indication that the department was really well down the track on outsourcing and that there was a pretty broad range of services under contemplation at the time.
Ms Harrison —I think it would be fair to reiterate the comment that Mr Vo Van has made that the department is moving down the path of market testing. Whether that leads to outsourcing is a decision that yet has to be made based on the evaluation of the tenders that come in. I think that point has to be stressed very strongly.
CHAIR —Senator, could I ask if you have many more general questions to ask because Senator Reynolds wanted to ask a question on program 1.
Senator FAULKNER —There are some more general questions. Obviously, there will be a lot fewer questions in the programs themselves, but she is welcome to come in and ask the question if she wants. I know Senator Ray has some questions and I have some more questions in this area. I think we are basically asking some of the corporate people what have previously been—
CHAIR —I remind the committee that we are due to finish with these programs of PM&C at 3.45 this afternoon and then we are moving to Indigenous Policy and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission at 4 o'clock. But if you only have a few questions to go on the general policy, let us get that over and done with and we can get onto the programs.
Senator FAULKNER —I have some and I know Senator Ray has some. Can I just ask if there have been any changes to the secretary's range of allowances since we last met?
Ms Harrison —No. There have been no changes.
Senator FAULKNER —That would include rates, purposes of the allowances and the like?
Ms Harrison —That is right, yes.
Senator FAULKNER —Is the taxpayer still picking up the tab for Mr Moore[hyphen]Wilton's cleaning lady? Is that arrangement still current?
Ms Harrison —I think we reported at the last hearing that we had included the cost of cleaning of the secretary's apartment in the total cost of providing his accommodation, and we continue to do so. We did that, as you might recall, to ensure that the secretary's accommodation was of a standard that was desirable for him.
Senator FAULKNER —Have there been any reviews of Mr Moore[hyphen]Wilton's allowances since the last estimates round?
Ms Harrison —No, Senator, there have been no reviews.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Dr Shergold's note for file of 14 January indicated that Mr Swails from the Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business had recently completed a rewriting of the determination to clarify the intended position that all periods can be extended at the secretary's discretion. Has that been done or sent on?
Ms Harrison —We do have a new consolidation of the determination for domestic conditions of service. Those areas to which Mr Swails was referring are included in that determination. But the provisions that relate to temporary accommodation allowance, as far as I am aware, remain unchanged.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Could we have a copy of that consolidation?
Ms Harrison —Yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —That would be a semipublic document?
Ms Harrison —We could certainly do that, yes.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Thank you.
Senator FAULKNER —Could you just confirm that, in fact, Mr Moore-Wilton only found out about Dr Shergold's December review of his allowances as a result of evidence at this estimates committee? Is that the case?
Senator Hill —I am not too sure how we would know the answer to that.
Senator FAULKNER —I know that you would not know, Minister. I just thought that one of the officers might know.
Senator Hill —I am not sure they would know either.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Let us go to it in another way. The file note that I referred to before refers to inquiries relating to circular 1997/10, allowances for secretaries. Who made the inquiries?
Ms Harrison —Are you referring to Dr Shergold's file notes?
Senator ROBERT RAY —Yes.
Ms Harrison —I think we have indicated previously that we are not aware of who made the inquiries.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I think you may have. So there has been no blinding light revelation since?
Ms Harrison —No.
Senator FAULKNER —Was Mr Moore-Wilton informed of the outcome of Dr Shergold's review?
Ms Harrison —I think my recollection is that Mr Blick may have informed him of the outcome of that. I cannot be certain about that or when that might have occurred, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER —Could you take that on notice and perhaps let us know?
Senator Hill —The question is: was Mr Max Moore-Wilton advised of the outcome of the Shergold review?
Senator FAULKNER —And when, which is what Ms Harrison says she is not certain of; those two elements. You might also take on notice whether Mr Moore[hyphen]Wilton was apprised of the review that Dr Shergold undertook prior to that review taking place. I just put that one on notice. I do not think that you have the answer now.
Senator Hill —Was he aware that there was to be a review?
Senator FAULKNER —I am interested to know. I think that it is actually comparatively well known, but we may as well get it confirmed, Minister, that Mr Moore[hyphen]Wilton did not know about the review that Dr Shergold was carrying out. I am just trying to get to the bottom of why he was not told about it. If he was told, he certainly was not told about it before, but we will check that out and we might find out when he was told about it after the outcome of the review. It is up to Dr Shergold's successor to basically explain to us other details in relation to the review.
Senator Hill —We will see what we can find out.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you very much.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I am just getting something checked for a moment. You recall that I raised a possible unanswered question relating to former departmental secretaries. You have been kind enough to provide me with an answer about payouts to departmental secretaries. Again, you may have answered this, but I do not recall you doing so. A subsidiary question was: have any of these 11 experienced people been appointed to other government positions, a la boards, et cetera, subsequent to their leaving the service? What you have provided did not really answer that. It was on page 225, Wednesday, 12 November 1997.
Senator Hill —I think on the last occasion we did make mention of some appointments.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Again, it is this problem that sometimes it is unclear as to whether a question we asked was officially taken on notice or not. We have been enjoying this time to go back and state that, yes, you are taking that on notice. On that, I asked:
Have any of the 11 departed departmental secretaries . . . been employed as a consultant in any part of the government?
Mr Blick said:
I believe there have been some employed in that way.
They do not come to mind though?'
Mr Blick said:
I cannot give you a detailed list here, but I am certainly aware of at least one.
That was taken by us as a question on notice; it may not have been by you. Could you give that a bit of thought and give us an answer? It is certainly listed on our committee list as an unanswered question.
Senator Hill —We will pursue that further.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Thank you.
Senator FAULKNER —Are there still conferences of departmental secretaries? Are they still taking place? I do not know whether this is done under the auspices of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or not.
Dr Watt —Yes, they do still take place.
Senator FAULKNER —I think there has been at least one I recall at the Reserve Bank training facility in Kirribilli.
Senator Hill —Subject to some press and parliamentary communication, I think.
Senator FAULKNER —Are they held regularly? Is it once or twice a year? Is there a particular plan of action for these conferences?
Mr Bonsey —I do not think you can say that they have been held regularly. I think there have been two, subject to correction, since the election, both in the Reserve Bank facility.
Senator FAULKNER —Are they thematic in nature? Who sets the agenda for these things?
Mr Bonsey —The Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, in a sense, would be the convenor of the meeting. I expect he would consult his colleagues about matters that would be of general interest and utility for discussion.
Senator FAULKNER —Are any outside speakers invited?
Mr Bonsey —That has been the case, yes.
Senator FAULKNER —For the last couple, can you let us know what sort of outside speakers might have come along to pass their wisdom on to the secretaries?
Mr Bonsey —We could take that on notice, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER —Yes, that would be good. Is there any private sector sponsorship for these sorts of things?
Mr Bonsey —Not to my knowledge, Senator. No.
—I have some information on Artbank. In the secretary's office, there are two paintings and one ceramic pottery plate. In the secretary's conference room there are two paintings. I am advised that those items have been in place for over 12 months and there has
been no increase in costs over those for the previous secretary. In addition to such items, there are two Artbank paintings in the main departmental conference room.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Can I take you to a different area, Minister? I could ask these questions when we come to other programs or I could ask them under this program. As they cross three programs, I thought I would ask them here. I also notice, if we are worried about timing, that I have already asked some of the questions that I have for specific programs. So that is good news in that sense. Could I ask, with regard to the somewhat controversial ACIL and Webster reports: were copies of these given to the Prime Minister?
Senator Hill —I do not know, but I would not answer without taking further advice. It is very difficult to know the bounds of the current litigation that is taking place.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Come on! I accept that you do not have to answer it and that you may want to take advice, but you cannot talk about current litigation as to whether the Prime Minister has seen them or not. I am not asking for them.
Senator Hill —Conspiracy cases cast a very wide net.
Senator ROBERT RAY —He is not a litigant—
Senator Hill —I do not think now is the appropriate time to do a pre[hyphen]run of cases that are currently before the courts.
Senator ROBERT RAY —On what basis?
Senator Hill —Because it might prejudice future hearings. There are other parties in—
Senator ROBERT RAY —It is not a jury trial, Minister.
Senator Hill —A jury trial is not the be-all and end-all, it is a—
Senator ROBERT RAY —It is according to every legal interpretation given so far to us.
Senator Hill —It is one issue.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Could I ask for copies of the ACIL—
Senator Hill —I must say that, looking at those precedents on jury trial, I think they put more weight on that particular aspect of the trial than I might. In any event, I do not think that that distinction is quite as important as some other people might say.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You might like to give some mature consideration to whether you answer the question or not. I am not pressing you to say yes or no, but to give us an answer at some stage.
Senator Hill —I said that I would do that. I would want to satisfy myself that it could not in any way prejudice any aspect of the current litigation.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I recommend that you read the Clerk of the Senate's view on it. At least that is one view.
Senator Hill —I have read most of the views on this subject.
Senator ROBERT RAY —This morning, yes. Were copies of the ACIL or Webster reports given to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Senator Hill —I will take that on notice as well.
Senator ROBERT RAY —They surely are not going to be involved in litigation here. It is simply a question of whether the reports—
Senator Hill —The government is involved in litigation here. Nobody knows the full bounds of that litigation at the moment. Discovery is in process. There may be interrogatories that follow. From memory, there are about 24 parties to the litigation.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So you are not going to answer whether or not copies went to PM&C?
Senator Hill —No, I will take that on notice as well.
Senator ROBERT RAY —It is not a question of taking it on notice. You are taking it on notice to get advice as to whether you can answer it rather than whether officers at the table can answer it.
Senator Hill —Yes, that is correct. I am sorry if I misled you. I am taking on notice whether or not I should answer your question.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Were copies of the ACIL and Webster reports given to the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet? I will take your previous answer as read.
Senator Hill —I give the same answer.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Do you know whether it was the Prime Minister who recommended Mr Webster to work for Mr Reith?
Senator Hill —I do not know. I will also take on notice whether I should answer.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Are you aware that in the chamber Senator Alston took a similar question on notice but has never answered it?
Senator Hill —I remember that questions were asked of him to produce certain documents. Subsequent questions were asked of him and me to produce practically everything possible that related to the issues currently before the courts.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Let me ask you about the employment of Mr Webster in terms of the responsibility of the Prime Minister. He is responsible for allocating staff to ministers. Is it not true that Mr Webster was employed and paid for by the department, but reported to Minister Reith and Minister Sharp and then later to Minister Reith solely?
Senator Hill —I do not know the answer to that. I suspect I would be able to answer that. Again, I would want to take advice from the government's legal advisers. I suspect I could answer the question in relation to the nature of the contract.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I do not think it has anything to do with the court case. What it has to do with is whether it is an acceptable process to employ ministerial staff being paid by departments, when the departments have no control, no influence, no direction and when the sole reporting in this case—as reported by your information coming from the government—was to Sharp and Reith. Why are they not on ministerial staff?
Senator Hill —In normal circumstances, I would have no hesitation in having a go at answering that; but in the circumstance of this litigation, the bounds of which we are uncertain at the moment, and on the basis of the legal advice I have to date, I would want such specific questions to be canvassed by our legal advisers before I attempted an answer.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You are saying that the mode of employment of Mr Webster is relevant to these court cases. Is that what you are arguing to me?
Senator Hill —I am saying that I will seek advice as to whether it is. The trouble is that once I have a go at defining that line it becomes an impossible position, really.
Senator ROBERT RAY —What I am trying to seek from you, Senator Hill, is not—at this stage, anyway—having a go at Dr Webster but at government policy which says that a department has to employ Mr X who has no responsibility back to that department, works solely to advise ministers and is not employed under the MOPS Act. It is just a way of hiding government staff, as you have with DLOs and everything else. You do it on such a basis of having put on a hairshirt, beaten your chest and told everyone that you are reducing overall staffing—not for the Democrats, not for the Greens, not for the Independents, just for the government and the opposition—then you fill it up with a record 67 DLOs. When you lift government staff, you are very slow to adjust opposition staff. You come into the chamber and complain that we are not up with legislation when we have 22 staff fewer than you had when you were in opposition plus, in terms of electoral staff, another 60[hyphen]odd. Then we find that there are other people working directly for ministers and not on their staff, and so that does not come into the ratio. It is just sleazy.
Senator Hill —I do not think that has anything to do with the build[hyphen]up in the legislative program. That has been largely caused through the very long time taken on a number of key debates—record long periods in the chamber. In relation to the issue of whether—to use your expression—staff are being hidden, that is obviously a perfectly legitimate issue to pursue within estimates, which you do at each estimates committee hearing. In relation to the specific personnel to whom you refer to here, it may be interpreted that there is some linkage with this litigation. I therefore do not wish to risk crossing that line.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I suggest that, if you do not want to delay the legislative program by our going to the only method that we have left to us, you should try to seek some answers in terms of the ACIL and other reports in the next couple of weeks. I am no lawyer, and I know the ambit of conspiracy cases, but I really think it is a long bow to say that any of the questions so far will impinge upon that. It is a serious question in terms of telling a department—
Senator Hill —If that is the advice that I get from counsel, I will be pleased to come back and have a go at answering questions. If the questions are simply related to staff numbers and whether in some ways we are hiding staff or misleading you as to staff, that is an entirely different issue. Even you, I think, would concede that the instance that you raised does have a relationship to certain litigation. Where the line should be drawn is something that I do not want to have a guess at.
Senator ROBERT RAY —The relationship of where the ACIL reports went, if they went entirely to Mr Reith and Mr Sharp, reinforces my view that Dr Webster and Co.—I think it was Mr Davies, but I am not sure of the name of the person who was on a similar contract—were in fact working directly to ministers. My understanding is that the ACIL reports eventually found their way to the secretary of Transport, but then they were reclaimed because they were basically ministerial documents. You have a situation, at least with Dr Webster as far as we can understand from the words of the government, where he was chosen by ministers, the department was told to employ him, and Dr Webster was told to report to ministers. Therefore, the only role of the department was to pay for it, which to me means that they were basically additional ministerial staff in one form or another. Maybe the reason you did it that way is that you are so proud that you only ever appoint consultants to PM&C, but you have in fact been disguising them.
Senator Hill —As I said, but for the issue of the litigation I would regard the questions you are putting as perfectly legitimate and that it was our responsibility to have a go at answering them.
Senator FAULKNER —In relation to the government division represented at the table, I have purely a process question. I am not interested in the nature of advice, but I would like to ask whether the government division has provided advice to government regarding the sorts of issues that Senator Hill is talking about—perhaps some of these legal issues involved. That seems to be perfectly in order and not even Senator Hill, I suspect, could object to a question like that.
Senator Hill —Whether the PM&C bureaucrats have advised us on the law?
Senator FAULKNER —Whether they have advised government in relation to these sorts of issues.
Senator Hill —What sorts of issues?
Senator FAULKNER —In relation to any of the legal issues involved that you are referring to. I understand that ordinarily this would be a matter for advice from the department of the Attorney-General, but I am asking whether any advice has been forthcoming from the government division.
Senator Hill —The PM&C does not give the government legal advice, does it? Do you give legal advice?
Mr Bonsey —Certainly not in the sense of professional legal advice that the Australian Government Solicitor is employed to give, no.
Senator Hill —I am not even sure what your question is.
Senator FAULKNER —Mr Bonsey has indicated that no professional legal advice has been given. Has the government division given other advices to government in relation to this particular issue? Again, this is something that is perfectly reasonable and cannot possibly be of concern to the minister.
Senator Hill —You would assume that the Prime Minister's department would be giving the Prime Minister advice as these matters progress.
Senator FAULKNER —I am not asking for an assumption. I am just asking for an answer to the question of whether the government division has been involved in providing other advices to the Prime Minister on this issue.
Senator Hill —That may well be subject to the issue of discovery that is currently being fulfilled. The government is being accused of being part of a conspiracy. It is difficult to draw the bounds around that in terms of advices that it has received, how it has acted and who has been involved in the action. It becomes very difficult to answer these questions.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You seem to be saying that the conspiracy is very wide.
Senator Hill —A conspiracy is always wide. That is what is alleged.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Do you have written guidelines covering the legal costs incurred by ministers in performing their role as ministers?
Senator Hill —Are there general guidelines?
Mr Bonsey —Yes, there is a set of guidelines, which goes back to previous administrations, for the payment of ministers' costs and potential damages.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Could you pass those on to us for perusal, or are they not available for that?
Mr Bonsey —I will take that on notice.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Pardon?
Mr Bonsey —We will look at that for you.
Senator ROBERT RAY —In the meantime, whilst those guidelines cover ministers' costs, do they cover damages incurred by a minister?
Mr Bonsey —Potentially, yes. In some ways the most frequent application in the past may have been in defamation cases.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Yes, defamation cases. What about conspiracy cases? Has that never come up?
Mr Bonsey —I am unaware of any.
Senator FAULKNER —You would have to go back to the Sankey precedent, if it was ever considered then.
Mr Bonsey —I do not recall.
Senator FAULKNER —Would you have any precedents where a minister has sought and been granted indemnity for a legal action where the central allegation relates to a breach of the legislation that an individual minister has responsibility for?
Mr Bonsey —I am certainly not aware of any. I ought earlier to have made the point that this is a set of guidelines that is the responsibility of the Attorney-General's Department. Under those guidelines, the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Finance and Administration have a role in deciding cases, except when one of those three ministers is involved. In the course of doing that, we would provided advice to the Prime Minister, but it is not as though we have responsibility for those others.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Could you tell us for how many ministers, since 11 March, cabinet or otherwise has agreed to cover their legal costs because of action taken against them in performing their duty as a minister?
Mr Bonsey —I do not know that detail.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Is there more than one?
Senator Hill —We will take that on notice.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Could you take on notice how many are involved and what the nature of it is? By that, I mean whether it is defamation or something else. I do not particularly want the names of the ministers.
Mr Bonsey —My preference would be for that question to be referred to the Attorney-General's Department because it administers the scheme.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We have the difficulty that they are running simultaneously with us at the moment. That is why we have asked the question here.
Senator Hill —We will take it on notice and confer with the Attorney-General's Department.
Senator ROBERT RAY —The guidelines properly indemnify ministers for acts they take as ministers. What if the minister—and this is theoretical; I am not relating it to any particular person—is guilty of an illegal act as opposed to an indiscretion in terms of defamation or something else? Is that person still indemnified at that stage?
Senator Hill —Would it not be better if we see whether we can table the guidelines? If they have been around for a long time, I do not immediately see why we cannot do that. I would like to take advice, then they will stand as they are rather than having somebody give an interpretation of them, which is just an opinion.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We will have a look at those. If they can be provided promptly, that would short[hyphen]circuit any questions on that aspect. I do not think this next question transgresses on the case, but a variety of statements have been made by Mr Harris, Mr Wells and Mr Kilfoyle that Mr Corrigan had contacted the Prime Minister's department for assistance in relation to passports. That has been repeated ad nauseam. Did Mr Corrigan contact PM&C for assistance with regard to passports?
Senator Hill —I am not sure whether it has been asked of PM&C. It has certainly been asked of Foreign Affairs, and answered. But I think anything that relates to the scope of this litigation—and this arguably might—is inappropriate for me to canvass without seeking specific legal advice in relation to the question.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I find that an incredible dodge in this case. I accepted it in respect of the other issue, but I fail to see the relevance here.
Senator Hill —I intend to err on the side of caution if I err at all. If my legal advice is that it is not within the ambit of the litigation and that it cannot be relevant to litigation, I will get the answer for you as quickly as possible.
Senator ROBERT RAY —But it is relevant to our deliberations. I think we are entitled to ask about it. Since the case was launched in the Federal Court, I have heard Mr Reith comment ad nauseam about the conspiracy case. You will not even answer a question about whether Mr Corrigan contacted PM&C seeking a contact in the foreign affairs department or help with passports. I am struggling to see the consistency.
Senator Hill —There may be consistency or not, but I think that is irrelevant to the consideration that I have to give. How Mr Reith determines to answer questions asked of him is his business. What I do not intend to do is canvass anything that could relate to the litigation without seeking a specific legal clearance to the question.
Senator ROBERT RAY —While you are seeking that advice, I have some basic questions, such as: did Mr Chris Corrigan contact PM&C for assistance with the passports? Who did he contact? Was advice given to contact Mr Middlewick of DFAT? Was advice also given—even if it was not accepted—that a contact point was Mr Tweddell in Mr Downer's office? And are there any memos, notes, emails in the department relating to that, and can we have them? You might like to take all of those on notice.
Senator Hill —In the terms that I have said I will take the other questions on notice.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Is there a cabinet subcommittee on the waterfront, or are we not entitled to know that?
Senator Hill —How cabinet is addressing the issue of waterfront reform—bearing in mind that the issue of waterfront reform has now been embroiled within this litigation—would require me to answer in the same way.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You are joking. You cannot tell us whether there is a cabinet subcommittee on waterfront reform?
Senator Hill —No.
Senator ROBERT RAY —You cannot tell us that?
Senator Hill —No.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So you cannot tell us how often it has met?
Senator Hill —No.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Do you know what day it is? Could you let us know that?
Senator Hill —You might think this is amusing, but there are other—
Senator ROBERT RAY —I think it is pathetic.
Senator Hill —You can think what you like.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I really do. None of us wants a transgression into a court case, but if you are arguing here in the ultimate that you cannot tell us whether there is a cabinet subcommittee on the waterfront because there is a court case going on, you are joking. That is all I can say.
Senator Hill —This is not a normal court case. In many ways it is unprecedented.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So you think the solicitors for the MUA are going to, in the discovery process, ask whether there is a cabinet subcommittee on the waterfront and the disclosure here is going to materially affect a court case?
Senator Hill —The way in which the government has conducted its business re waterfront reform is part of the issue.
Senator ROBERT RAY —My colleague asked had there been any advice given. I notice that, in the Attorney-General's estimates, they have not claimed sub judice on any of these questions. Why is that?
Senator Hill —You had better ask them that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —So we just have an inconsistent attitude in government; A-G's has one view and you have another view. Peter Reith has never found a bad microphone yet. He is off and running on all these issues, and we cannot find out whether there is a cabinet subcommittee on the waterfront.
Senator Hill —I will seek an early clearance from our legal advisers.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Do you think an early clearance might see the light of day before 8 o'clock tonight?
Senator Hill —I do not know the answer to that.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I am asking you for your best endeavours. You, along with the rest of us—hopefully—will have a little break now when ATSIC comes on in 20 minutes' time. We are not due back here till 8 o'clock tonight. I just thought you might be able to get some clarification on whether you can answer whether cabinet has a subcommittee on the waterfront.
Senator FAULKNER —Can I ask Mr Bonsey a question as to whether advice had been sought from the government division of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the issue of a Commonwealth indemnity for any minister in the government? That certainly cannot be subject to your concerns, Minister. I am asking whether advice has been sought from the government division of the department on the issue of a Commonwealth indemnity for any minister.
Mr Bonsey —The answer is no. It is not normally a matter of where we are asked to provide advice so much as correspondence initiates the process, and advice and correspondence will be prepared in response to that. I am unaware of any correspondence on the matter you raise.
Senator FAULKNER —Thank you for that. Can I ask whether there has been any advice given or sought from the government division regarding any of the applications of the Workplace Relations Act in relation to the waterfront dispute?
Senator Hill —I do not think that is appropriate to answer in the circumstances.
Senator FAULKNER —Why is that?
Senator Hill —For the same reason I have been outlining for the last 20 minutes. Mr Bonsey can seek to have that cleared by the government's legal advisers and, if so, can answer it.
Senator FAULKNER —Perhaps he might also clear whether the government division has been involved in advising on the position taken by government ministers. He might also advise whether the division has been asked for any advice in relation to the involvement of the Prime Minister himself.
Senator ROBERT RAY —I think we are finished with general questions. I have just had a discussion with a couple of colleagues about the best way of proceeding. We will certainly have to consult Senator Gibson. We thought that maybe at 8 o'clock the best thing to do would be to go through the agencies first—ONA, Inspector[hyphen]General, Public Service Commission, Merit Commission and Ombudsman—and try to roll them out, because I think subprogram 1.1 will take some time. We might try to roll them out at 8 o'clock as quickly as we can—in half an hour if we can—and then go back. Does that suit you?
Senator Hill —Okay.
Dr Watt —Senator, there are a few loose ends we might pass on to you. We have a copy of the Ernst and Young report on corporate services. We are happy to provide that. Included in the report is a copy of the brief to the consultants on the report. In terms of the decision to select Ernst and Young, it was made by the first assistant secretary of the corporate services division at the time, Mr Richard Mills. Eight firms expressed interest in the consultancy and four firms were short-listed for proper consideration.
You also asked about the structure of the department in terms of ASO 1s to 4s. I understand that, at the moment, there are approximately 40 ASO 1s to 4s in the corporate services division of the department compared with 94 in the department as a whole.
Senator FAULKNER —So the point I made there is pretty accurate: it has been an area of the department where there has been a capacity for entry of officers at that level.
Dr Watt —That is correct. It is equally accurate to say that it is far from the only area of the department. Indeed, the bulk of the entry is not—
Senator FAULKNER —It would be the main area. I think that was the point I was making.
Dr Watt —The largest single area of entry.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Would it be possible to get a staff flow chart of PM&C in a few weeks' time? You are going up to deal with kangaroos, are you not? I read that in the paper the other day. Mr Blick has gone. There have been a few changes.
Dr Watt —I am sure that when the new senior executive positions are filled, we would be delighted to—
Senator ROBERT RAY —Let us wait until they are filled for this current round—whatever it is—and if we could have one of those charts you have provided in the past we can keep up with it.
Dr Watt —Certainly.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Did you want to reply about the kangaroos?
Senator Hill —No. I think he regrets that you have raised it.
Senator ROBERT RAY —We heard evidence earlier today that they are under control, so we will be watching your efforts.
Mr Bonsey —And contented. Just by way of confirmation rather than clarification in relation to your question about the funding for GMS, the funding is still from the Department of Finance and Administration.
Senator ROBERT RAY —Good. That will be helpful for tomorrow.
Dr Watt —Senator, you also asked a question of speakers at the secretaries' conferences. I think Barbara Belcher from our government division can answer that one for you.
Ms Belcher —At the last meeting, which was in August of last year, Mr Stan Wallis spoke and Mr Daniel Petrie attended to talk about on-line matters. The meetings are held, if at all possible, on an annual basis.
Senator FAULKNER —I noticed a wire report saying that the Mansfield job, the strategic investment coordinator, was advertised. I thought the answer to my question was that it was not advertised. I just wondered if you could clarify that.
Dr Watt —We will be happy to clarify that. Our understanding is that it was not, but we will be happy to clarify it.
Senator FAULKNER —That was the evidence I thought you gave.
Senator Hill —Perhaps we were wrong.
Senator FAULKNER —I think it was probably just that someone misheard.
Proceedings suspended from 3.46 p.m. to 4.07 p.m.