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FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 22/10/1996 - DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE

CHAIR --I welcome the Minister for Social Security and officers of the Department of Defence. The committee has before it a list of topics nominated by members relating to the proposed expenditure of the Department of Defence. Today's hearing will be suspended between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. for lunch, but the lunch break may be brought forward if the committee concludes the defence estimates earlier. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Newman --I do, just for consistency purposes. Having for the last 10 years complained about the number of officers Defence brings to estimates, I am glad to see that there are not nearly so many behind me now. That sounds much more efficient. But I am informed that there are a whole lot of officers not in this room but in the other. Perhaps the committee would look at whether so many people are needed away from their jobs for as long as we have them in estimates. Most departments can get by with having program managers and people who can give most answers, and other things can be taken on notice. I do not think it is very productive the numbers who come from Defence.

CHAIR --I would concur with that.

Senator Newman --Not being the minister, I am simply expressing a personal view that has been long held and publicly spelled out.

Senator CHRIS EVANS --I want to say something in response that might be helpful. Minister, part of the problem--it is not for me to defend the department on this occasion; I think it is for you--is that there has been some confusion in terms of identifying subprogram areas for follow-up today at supplementary estimates. That partly was brought about by the short timetable involved for response to the questions on notice, et cetera.

The other aspect of that was one we raised in our report, which is the way the particular defence portfolio programs have presented the subprograms. They were a little harder to identify than some other areas. One of the problems that I have always had is identifying whether I am asking the question under the right subprogram. We made a comment on that in our estimates report. If that could be taken on board, it would be quite useful. It would perhaps also facilitate estimates if we were a bit more specific, and that therefore would not require as many officers to attend.

In terms of today, I do not have any questions under program 5, to the best of my knowledge. The same probably goes for program 6. So, if there are specialist officers relating to those two programs, they would probably be allowed to go. If I have made a mistake in terms of the identification of the program, I am sure that the senior officers could handle the matters. If not, we could put them on notice, in any event. I am trying to be helpful so that people can get back to work.

Senator Newman --Thank you, Senator. That was the spirit in which I was trying to address the issue, too.

CHAIR --So, Senator Evans, there are no questions on programs 5 or 6?

Senator CHRIS EVANS --No, but I have the one caveat that I am never quite sure that I am in the right spot. But I am sure the senior officers at the table will be able to handle the sorts of questions we want to ask.

Air Vice Marshal Cox --With those two particular programs, there are quite often some cross-relationships with some of the others. So, although there may not be a specific question on those programs per se, it could well come up in other areas.

CHAIR --Thank you for that.

[9.53 a.m.]