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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Outcome 1—An equitable and accessible system of federal law and justice
Output 1.1—Maintenance and development of the federal system of justice and the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families, business and the community
- Committee Name
LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Outcome 1—An equitable and accessible system of federal law and justice
- Sub program
Output 1.1—Maintenance and development of the federal system of justice and the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families, business and the community
- System Id
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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(SENATE-Tuesday, 30 May 2000)
- Start of Business
- Attorney General's Portfolio
- Australian Federal Police
Outcome 1—An equitable and accessible system of federal law and justice
- Output 1.3—Administration of payments for, and the delivery of, government programs including legal assistance, family law related services, and financial assistance to the states and territories under s. 200 of the Native Title Act 1993
- Output 1.1—Maintenance and development of the federal system of justice and the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families, business and the community
- Outcom 1.---Support for the Attorney-General as first law officer and advice on constitutional policy
- Outcome 2—Coordinated security, crime prevention and law enforcement arrangements
- Outcome 1—An equitable and accessible system of federal law and justice
- IMMIGRATION AND MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO
- MIGRATION REVIEW TRIBUNAL
DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION AND MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS
- Outcome 1—Lawful and orderly entry and stay of people
Content WindowLEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 30/05/2000 - Attorney-General's Department - Outcome 1—An equitable and accessible system of federal law and justice - Output 1.1—Maintenance and development of the federal system of justice and the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families, business and the community
Senator LUDWIG —Could you explain some figures in relation to the appropriations for output 1.1, the maintenance and development of the federal system of justice. Effectively, there is a jump from $24.4 million to $45.2 million. Note 5 on page 33—which is not as fulsome as I would have expected—explains:
The 2000-01 estimate includes additional resourcing for the Administrative Review Tribunal, transfer of funding from the Family and Federal Courts for the Federal Magistrates Service and additional resourcing for native title litigation.
Is that the sum total or are there other matters that fall outside that? Perhaps you need to take that on notice. Could you also provide a breakdown of how that figure of $45.2 million was reached.
Mr Hine —I can answer that question. The federal magistracy is some $6.3 million. There is $10.17 million for the Administrative Review Tribunal. There is $2 million for native title litigation, and there are some internal movements following a re-allocation of corporate overheads amongst the various elements that account for the remaining $3 million.
Senator LUDWIG —That does not add up to $45.2, though.
Mr Hine —The amount carried forward was $24.4 million.
Senator LUDWIG —I see. That is the difference between $24.4 million and $45.2 million. Is the $24.4 million an increase or a decrease from last year?
—I would have to take that on notice, Senator.
Senator LUDWIG —Do you see what I am getting at? How is that broken down? Has that been split up accordingly? It just comes under the one heading of output 1.1.
Mr Hine —That is the total allocation across output 1.1. That would be split across the various divisions that are providing services to enable the government to achieve output 1.1.
Senator LUDWIG —Perhaps you could take that earlier part that I referred to on notice. In respect of output 1.3, Administration of payments, there is a decrease from $4.949 million to $3.360 million. What is the reason for the decrease in funding in that area?
Mr Hine —With respect to 1.1, during the course of the current financial year, we have been reviewing the allocation of our corporate overheads. Originally they had been allocated on the basis of average staff numbers to each of the divisions. During the course of the year, we have been looking at better measures to try to attribute corporate costs. For example, the library was originally allocated across all divisions. It is now allocated mainly to the legal divisions because they are the primary consumer of the library services.
Our IT costs have been allocated on a per capita basis. In reviewing that, we are finding a number of areas have desktops, laptops and other IT equipment, so we have looked at attributing that more towards the actual users of the system. As a consequence of that, the total cost of providing output 1.3 has come down by about $1.4 million. As I indicated earlier, some of those costs have been reallocated to 1.1.
Senator LUDWIG —Is it possible to provide a breakdown of the allocation of these funds to the particular classes of assistance referred to in the output descriptions?
Mr Hine —I would have to take that on notice. It will depend on how well we have set our systems up to get to that level of extraction.
Senator LUDWIG —In relation to output 1.5, Administration and regulation of personal insolvency system, it also shows a decrease from $30.299 million to $27.303 million. What is the reason for the decrease in that area?
Mr Hine —The basic reason for the decrease in that area is an application of savings to that area, and also reallocation of the corporate overheads I indicated to you earlier.
Senator LUDWIG —Is there a pattern developing here in relation to corporate overheads?
Mr Hine —Yes. With the introduction of outputs and accrual based budgeting for the second year—having had regard to that sort of information—we are trying to get a better system for attributing the corporate overheads to the areas that consume those services and, as a consequence of that, be in a better position to develop an appropriate price for a particular output. All divisions, as part of the savings program for this year, have had savings universally applied to them at this particular point in time. Those savings have then been attributed to the relevant outputs.
Senator LUDWIG —Similarly, is it possible to get a detailed breakdown of how that $27.303 million is going to be expended? You might need to take that on notice.
Mr Hine —Yes.
Senator LUDWIG —In relation to output 1.7—this will test you as to whether or not you have had significant corporate savings—it has gone from $1.62 million to $4.12 million. You have spent it this time. Can you provide an explanation of why there is an increase in machinery of government obligations?
—Once again, that was during the course of this year. We have looked at the activities we undertake, and we have gone through and reassessed those levels of activity. With respect to the current financial year, we have now allocated the public affairs area to that activity—the work of the ministerial and parliamentary section, the funding for the ministers' offices, the divisional departmental liaison officers that are located in the Attorney's and in the minister's offices. Our core performance areas have all now been attributed to that particular output.
Senator LUDWIG —Could you similarly provide a breakdown of how that $4.12 million will be spent? What you are showing is that there have been some savings in the corporate area and significant expenditure in a machinery of government obligations which go to the provision of ministerial services, media support, and management of ministerial correspondence and submissions and the like. Is that about right?
Mr Hine —Yes, that is correct. We have looked at our internal costings. Previously these costs might have been attributed across all areas but, with the benefit of the accrual accounting framework and the outputs and outcomes frameworks, we have started to look at whether that is an appropriate way of distributing those costs or whether they are more appropriately attributed to a particular output.
Mr Cornall —I think the answer is that there has been some internal reallocation of expenses from one output to another.
Senator LUDWIG —Yes, that seems to be the thrust of it. In relation to revenue from other sources and the maintenance of the federal system of justice, there is a decrease in revenue from $237,000 down to $69,000.
Mr Hine —That relates to the current financial year. We received a one-off transfer of $165,000 from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator LUDWIG —What was that for?
Mr Hine —My understanding is that it was to meet some costs associated with the transfer of functions from the native title division.
Senator LUDWIG —Could you explain what functions they were?
Mr Hine —The native title division, or parts thereof, were originally located in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. That responsibility for the administration of the native title legislation now resides with the department.
Senator LUDWIG —Looking at page 34 of the portfolio budget statement, table 2.2, entitled `Performance information for outcome 1', talks about performance measures for each of the administered items. Have there been any changes to those performance measures? Is there a standard performance measure used or do they vary? Or is that a generic term that you use?
Mr Hine —The words `performance measure' would be a generic term, but we would be seeking to identify performance measures for each of the individual items there.
Senator LUDWIG —So there are performance measures?
Mr Hine —That is what we have indicated at the moment. The performance measures are that, with respect to grants to Australian organisations, `The grants will be made in accordance with agreed arrangements.' That is a performance measure for the success of that particular activity.
—Have they changed in the last 12 months or have they remained the same?
Mr Hine —I will have to take that on notice. I know we have been reviewing our performance measures, but I am not sure which ones have changed and what the level of change has been.
Senator LUDWIG —If you could do that, it would be helpful to us to see where the changes have been wrought. At table 3.6 on page 53, under the heading `Dividends', the dividend has dropped from $12.246 million to $5.872 million. Can you explain why a dividend drop of such significance has occurred?
Mr Hine —As Mr Riggs indicated yesterday, that figure includes a dividend from the AGS, and that dividend is declining in the next financial year.
Mr Cornall —Note 7 on page 57 is relevant to that item.
Senator LUDWIG —When will they be responsible for paying that?
Mr Hine —I am not sure when the dates are. I think there is an interim dividend and then a final dividend, but I am not sure of the actual dates on which those dividends are to be paid in accordance with the agreement to the shareholder ministers.
Senator LUDWIG —Would you take on notice for both the AGS and the APS as to when they will be responsible for actually paying the dividends, as per the note on the table itself. Additionally, under the heading `Other sources of non-taxation revenue', the figure of $23.261 million is broken down on page 59 and includes a loan payment in the 2000-01 year of $3.5 million. What does the loan payment of $3.5 million in this year relate to?
Mr Hine —That relates to an overdraft facility that is available to the Australian Protective Service if required. The arrangement is that that overdraft needs to be repaid in the year in which is actioned. I refer you to page 43, and you will see there `Overdraft facility (for payment to the Australian Protective Service)'.
Senator LUDWIG —Yes.
Mr Hine —That is the contra item, if you like.
Senator LUDWIG —Has it been used or is it just shown as an overdraft facility that has not been drawn?
Mr Hine —That is correct. It has not been drawn at this stage.
Senator LUDWIG —Was it there last financial year?
Mr Hine —Yes, but I cannot recall the amount.
Senator LUDWIG —And the question was that it was not drawn on in the last financial year. Perhaps you can take that on notice.
Mr Hine —It was not drawn on, Senator.
Senator LUDWIG —Turning back to other sources of non-taxation revenue, at page 53, what do the items `subsidies' and `grants' comprise?
Mr Hine —I will take that question on notice. I do not have that information with me.
—It increases from $6.567 million to $9.402 million this year. Perhaps you can provide me with a reason as to why the amount for subsidies increases, and similarly for the amount of grants increases—from $153.916 million to $230.395 million this year. What do those two things relate to and why has one increased significantly more than the other? I refer to page 60. Am I correct in saying that what has occurred—and I had some questions to the AFP about this—has been a compression of the amount of data that has been available to us in this financial year as compared to other financial years in the past, where the output groups such as 1.1.1 and 1.1.2 and so on have been reduced, compressed or brought together, amalgamated, into high level outputs such as groups? Does this mean that the future budgets will include less detail than what was provided in the previous year and, if so, why?
Mr Cornall —That change to a smaller number of outputs was announced at estimates in February and it is partly to consolidate what was a significant number of outputs and also to make the accounting processes easier by bringing costings to account under the various items that were previously listed in the 59 outcomes.
Senator LUDWIG —But it gets to the heart of the issue though. Is there less information going to be provided?
Mr Cornall —The information will be provided in future against the outputs that are now agreed—the 11 outputs.
Senator LUDWIG —Is it fair to say that I then have to go through this process, unfortunately, of trying to unpack them again with each particular agency or with yourself if I want to find out how the matters are broken down or how the money is expended? Is it necessary for me to go through the questioning process of asking the particular officer to tell me the figure, break down the figure and then come back to me? Is that what I will need to do in the future?
Mr Cornall —We will have to provide you with the information that you require. There is still a level of questioning under the old system as well.
Mr Hine —If I can just add something: what we have looked at is part of the Burdekin report and everything else. Originally we had 59 outputs. We have now come down to a more manageable number and over time we will be able to compare this year with next year and with the next year. So I think that for comparative purposes it will be much easier to have information available. The level of detail will always be available either at the hearing or as a consequence of questions.
Senator LUDWIG —Perhaps I am at a disadvantage in the sense that I am relatively new and I have not had the ability to watch over time or read the Burdekin report. It looks like I will have to go and get it and read it to see where you are up to. That is available, is it?
Mr Hine —Yes, it is.
Senator LUDWIG —Turning to page 52, it appears—and perhaps you can also look at page 32—that the average staffing level will fall from 698.4 full-time equivalent staff to 625.9 full-time equivalent staff. It seems to be a drop of more than 10 per cent. How do you account for that and what have you done about advising staff of this outcome?
Mr Cornall —When we were fixing the budget for this year, we were in a situation of having a reduced allocation. At the time of preparing the budget, it was necessary for us to allocate expenses as we have done here. We have allocated them in the budget evenly across outcomes. Given that our budget is largely made up of staff and staff related costs, to achieve savings it is necessary to look at staff numbers.
The situation was fully explained to staff at the time the budget was announced, in an email I sent to all staff on 10 May 2000 at 9.12 a.m. I also indicated to them that, against the background of those figures in the budget papers, we would be looking at a range of areas in which to achieve potential savings. Those areas were fully spelt out in the email. Following the receipt of that email, some staff then had further questions about how the budget was constructed and how the savings came about. I sent out a subsequent email on 11 May at 12 o'clock addressing the concerns that had been raised with me. I have both of those emails with me and they are available to the committee if you would like to see them.
CHAIR —Thank you.
Mr Cornall —I should also add that we have had some ongoing discussions with staff about the issue of the change to devolution of functions. There are working groups appointed for that purpose. We have also had a meeting with the CPSU about that process. We are also in the process now of reconstituting our workplace relations group to move forward on discussions for our next certified agreement.
Senator LUDWIG —The budget indicates that there will be a need for an across-the-board saving of about $2 million per year, as I understand it. How do you propose to achieve those savings?
Mr Cornall —The effect of the cuts is in fact something of the order of $7.8 million for this year. Some of it is brought forward from previous years. For example, the Privacy Commissioner's expenses are brought forward from the previous year's budget. The areas in which we will be seeking savings are set out in this email and we are presently working on those areas, looking at how we will fit within the available budget for the coming year.
Senator LUDWIG —Does the email set out in what divisions savings will have to be made and whether there will be staff cuts in those particular divisions? Does it go to that level of detail?
Mr Cornall —No, not at this stage.
Senator LUDWIG —If not, can you perhaps help me as to how you intend to progress it?
Mr Cornall —Yes, I can. In my Alfred Deakin speech of 23 February, which was publicised to all staff and to Senator Cooney—
Senator LUDWIG —I think I have read that as well.
Mr Cornall —I set out there the process that I intended to follow. It sort of comes into this process of the budget adjustment. The stage we are up to now, having appointed general managers in the new structure, is to review the operations of our operating divisions and consider whether the existing structure of those divisions is as it should be or whether some changes should be made.
Some changes I envisage will be made in any event by a review of the devolution of functions to the individual operating divisions as they existed in the past. There will also be changes made which have been foreshadowed for some considerable time, in the area of outsourcing IT, or at least market testing IT with possible outsourcing. As you would also appreciate, the government is pressing us now to move on market testing a whole range of corporate services functions. We will of course comply with that government requirement.
But I think it is essential that before we get to that stage we ensure that our processes internally are as efficient as we would like them to be, for two reasons. If they are not, then it is difficult to assess tenders and have performance measures in place for tenderers for those—or testers for those—functions. It is also not fair to staff if they are going to be market tested in an environment where we are not operating as efficiently as we could be.
—When will the announcements be made? You are going to have to draw it together at some point.
Mr Cornall —Yes. We are working on that now.
Senator LUDWIG —I understand you have done the Alfred Deakin lecture. You have put together what you are going to do. You have advised the staff with two memos. At some point you have to look at implementing it. When is that going to be brought together? You have your managers in place now.
Mr Cornall —Yes, we have—although the third new appointee will not commence until 19 June. The process I outlined in the Alfred Deakin address was that we would proceed in stages, and we are now up to the stage of finalising those plans. But we need, as a group of general managers, to now have the opportunity to finalise plans for consultation with staff.
Senator LUDWIG —When will that be likely? Perhaps you could take that on notice and let the committee know?
Mr Cornall —We are working on it as expeditiously as we can, given that Mr Carnell , Mr Govey and Mr Leroy, who is the third appointee, had their appointments finalised only about two weeks ago.
Senator LUDWIG —Is it intended that the staff reductions will be brought about by either voluntary redundancies or forced redundancies?
Mr Cornall —There is a range of possible situations that could arise. Firstly, there are some existing vacancies that may not be filled; secondly, there are staff in contract positions; thirdly, there are staff in temporary positions; and, finally, we have permanent staff. Obviously, we need the right mix of staff. I do not have a view as to what the final mix and construction of the staff will be. There are a variety of options in dealing with the staff, but I do not expect to be calling for voluntary redundancies.
Senator LUDWIG —Do you expect to be calling for forced redundancies?
Mr Cornall —That is a possibility.
Senator LUDWIG —We have talked about staff reductions, but do you have other measures in mind to put in place other than staff reductions to effect a balancing of the budget?
Mr Cornall —Yes, there are and they are all set out in the email that I can give you. I should say that there may well be other ideas that the general managers have that they can add to the ideas I have put in this email, but certainly there are a range of issues under consideration.
Senator LUDWIG —Have you been able to balance in size or percentage, generally or as a guesstimate, where the money is mostly going to come from? Would bringing about the decrease in budget be weighted fifty-fifty between staff and other measures, or is it heavily weighted towards staff reductions?
Mr Cornall —No, I have not been able to do that yet.
Senator LUDWIG —When you turn your mind to that, would you advise the committee as to how you are going to do that?
Mr Cornall —Yes, I will do that.
—In addition, how is morale in the place at the moment, given all this is going on and there is still not a concrete plan in place?
Mr Cornall —I circulated my Alfred Deakin speech and I invited staff to comment on that. I got a number of comments from staff and all of those comments were positive. I recently circulated to staff a subsequent paper on client focus, and I got a number of responses to that paper which were also positive. It is my intention to circulate the staff responses to the customer service paper to all staff so that they can see the responses that I received and be aware of the views of their colleagues on those issues. My view is that the comments I have received so far from staff have been positive. You may take the view that people would not give me adverse comments, but I would not assume that staff of the calibre of the department's would hesitate to express a view to me if they disagreed with me. So far, they have not done so.
Senator LUDWIG —I guess we will get another chance in a short while to see how it is going.
Mr Cornall —I have invited any of them to express their views to me and they are more than welcome to do so.
Senator BOLKUS —Can I move on to mandatory sentencing. There is a provision in the budget for $5 million for what you describe as programs that have been agreed to between the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments. Can you tell us what those programs are?
Mr Carnell —Agreement on all the detail has not been reached yet. There have been discussions between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory. Indeed, I understand there were discussions this morning. Our difficulty is that our officer who is involved in those is temporarily unavailable. But it is still a matter of discussion between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory.
Senator BOLKUS —Mr Carnell, if I wait until final agreement on all the matters, we will be waiting until the program is over. When you put that statement in the budget papers, what did you mean by `the governments have agreed on a number of initiatives'? What were those initiatives?
Mr Carnell —There is a very brief outline on page 42 of the document. It is talking about an expansion of diversionary programs—
Senator BOLKUS —Let us talk about that. What programs are we talking about in terms of diversionary programs? How much money?
Mr Carnell —I am sorry, I do not have the detail.
Senator BOLKUS —Who does? Someone must have the detail.
Mr Cornall —Ms Pidgeon is on her way here now.
Senator BOLKUS —She knows the details about the mandatory sentencing deal?
Mr Cornall —Yes, she does.
Senator BOLKUS —And no-one else here can answer questions about details of it?
Mr Cornall —She is the officer who has been involved in the detail.
—The question is on the $5 million agreement between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory government on initiatives to prevent juveniles entering the criminal justice system. How much of that $5 million will go to diversionary programs?
Ms Pidgeon —That is something that is currently being negotiated with the Northern Territory government. We are having discussions with them on the split in the $5 million between the interpreter service and diversionary programs.
Senator BOLKUS —Between what?
Ms Pidgeon —Between the interpreter service, which is part of that, and diversionary programs.
Senator BOLKUS —So the $5 million will be split between both, will it?
Ms Pidgeon —Both diversionary programs and an Aboriginal interpreter service.
Senator BOLKUS —Right. When you came up with the $5 million budget estimate, you must have had some idea as to how much of that money would be spent on diversionary programs and how much for the interpreter service.
Ms Pidgeon —That was a matter that was negotiated between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, and it would have been based on estimates by the Northern Territory about the amounts it would need. But the actual details are being negotiated at the moment.
Senator BOLKUS —Before those discussions between the two ministers, did you do any modelling as to what an Aboriginal interpreter service in the Northern Territory would cost?
Ms Pidgeon —No, we did not do that. The Northern Territory has in the past provided various estimates at various times about an interpreter service, but we were not involved in our own modelling.
Senator BOLKUS —Did you do any modelling on what diversionary programs you would like to package?
Ms Pidgeon —No, again the Northern Territory has been setting up its own diversionary programs and would have had an idea of how much it thought it would need.
Senator BOLKUS —So you did not present a package of measures to the Prime Minister, then?
Ms Pidgeon —The discussions were at a high level. They were not at the detailed level of what programs would be funded.
Senator BOLKUS —Were you consulted?
Ms Pidgeon —We had been involved generally in the lead-up to that meeting, but we were not specifically involved in the briefing.
Senator BOLKUS —So there was not a formal briefing put to the ministers.
Ms Pidgeon —We did not provide a formal briefing.
Senator BOLKUS —You were not asked, for instance, what an ideal diversionary program component would be?
Ms Pidgeon —No.
Senator BOLKUS —And you were not asked what an ideal interpreting service component would be?
Ms Pidgeon —That is correct.
—So essentially the Prime Minister and Mr Burke agreed on this figure in those high level discussions?
Ms Pidgeon —They would have been able to rely on information from the Northern Territory about what such programs had been costing.
Senator BOLKUS —It is a bit like playing two-up behind the shed coming up with a figure like that, is it not?
Ms Pidgeon —I really cannot comment on that discussion.
Senator BOLKUS —Is the Northern Territory government going to contribute any resources?
Ms Pidgeon —They will be jointly funding the interpreter service.
Senator BOLKUS —But we do not know how much that is going to cost.
Ms Pidgeon —We have a general idea. We are still negotiating the exact amount.
Senator BOLKUS —What is your general idea?
Ms Pidgeon —We think it will probably be between $1 million and $1.5 million. That is for the total, but that is still being negotiated.
Senator BOLKUS —So it might be even lower than that?
Ms Pidgeon —As I said, it is still being negotiated.
Senator BOLKUS —Considering that you are spending $1 million to $1.5 million on interpreter services, are we talking about establishing a new indigenous interpreter service?
Ms Pidgeon —It will be built on an Aboriginal interpreter booking service that is already in existence.
Senator BOLKUS —A what service?
Ms Pidgeon —It will be an Aboriginal interpreter booking service. In other words, it is similar to coordinating interpreters. Interpreters are not necessarily employed by it but will be arranged by it.
Senator BOLKUS —Who runs that?
Ms Pidgeon —I think it is run from the Chief Minister's department.
Senator BOLKUS —So it is a Northern Territory government service?
Ms Pidgeon —Yes.
Senator BOLKUS —And we are going to put $1 million to $1.5 million into—
Ms Pidgeon —No, that is the general area of what we think the total will cost, but the amount that we are paying is still being negotiated.
Senator BOLKUS —Let us presume, for the purpose of this discussion, that we are talking $1 million to $1.5 million.
Ms Pidgeon —That is for the total cost of that.
Senator BOLKUS —Is all of that going to go to the booking service? Or have you decided that other areas need funding as well?
—It is still being negotiated, but there may well be some funds that will go to organisations that need to use interpreters so that they can purchase the use of interpreters through the service.
Senator CROSSIN —Just to clarify that, you say that the money allocated over $5 million will be based on the current Aboriginal interpreter booking service.
Ms Pidgeon —What I said was that the interpreter service will be built up from and based on the existing booking service. The money is not necessarily going just to that service but also to other agencies and organisations that will need to purchase interpreters.
Senator CROSSIN —Are you aware of the inquiry into an Aboriginal interpreter service that was done by the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commissioner?
Ms Pidgeon —Yes.
Senator CROSSIN —Why is the funding then not based on the recommendations of that inquiry and that report?
Ms Pidgeon —This is all a matter of negotiation with the Northern Territory government and we are looking at a proposal of the Northern Territory government at the moment.
Senator CROSSIN —So the Northern Territory government are currently proposing to you that they just expand this booking service?
Ms Pidgeon —No, it is not as simple as that. Because we are still negotiating, I have not really got any more detail of what will go to where in the end.
Senator CROSSIN —Has there been any money allocated to actually training Aboriginal people to become interpreters?
Ms Pidgeon —No, it is all subject still to negotiation.
Senator CROSSIN —Would it be the view of the Commonwealth that some of the money should be put towards training Aboriginal people to become interpreters?
Ms Pidgeon —The negotiations on that, at this stage, do not enable me to comment on that.
Senator BOLKUS —You have had discussions with the Northern Territory government as of today, apparently.
Ms Pidgeon —Yes.
Senator BOLKUS —Did those discussions canvass the size of the organisation that will be set up after the injection of the Commonwealth funds?
Ms Pidgeon —No.
Senator BOLKUS —Did they canvass the range of languages that might be available through the service?
Ms Pidgeon —My understanding from the meeting is that they will be trying to cover as many as they absolutely can.
Senator BOLKUS —What number of languages are you insisting on, for instance?
Ms Pidgeon —We did not discuss specific numbers. I understand their intention is to be covering as many as they can. We did not get any further than that.
Senator BOLKUS —And the service will be based in Darwin?
Ms Pidgeon —I do not know that.
—You do not know how many staff it will have. You do not know where it is going to be based. You do not know what its budget is going to be.
Ms Pidgeon —This is still subject to detailed negotiations with the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory will be running the service and how it is funded is being discussed.
Senator BOLKUS —The problem we have is that the Northern Territory government across the board gets money to run services, but no-one knows what they do with it. Then 10 years down the track an Auditor-General does a report and discovers that they do not spend it where they are supposed to spend it. You have a pretty high-level commitment here from the Prime Minister to meet these needs.
Senator Vanstone —Senator, I understand the question is properly going to Sue Pidgeon, but I am having trouble hearing. You have your hand over one part of your mouth, you are turning to her and it is away from the microphone, which makes it hard.
Senator BOLKUS —Maybe I am trying to keep it away from you, Minister.
Senator Vanstone —If you are trying that, it is working. I would appreciate you letting me hear the question.
Senator BOLKUS —Sure. What are your requirements up-front in terms of where whatever money you spend will go?
Ms Pidgeon —We will be developing an agreement and part of the agreement will be requirements for reporting and review.
Senator BOLKUS —For reporting; what would you expect there?
Ms Pidgeon —The details are being worked out at the moment, but we will certainly be requiring information. There will be a review after 12 months and another one after four years.
Senator BOLKUS —Have you thought of the Telephone Interpreter Service doing the job, the old service that was based at Immigration which has had an enormous amount of expertise?
Ms Pidgeon —As I understand it, the department of immigration does not consider that it is in the position to provide an Aboriginal interpreter service.
Senator BOLKUS —Were they asked before the event?
Ms Pidgeon —I understand they were.
Senator BOLKUS —Before the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister?
Ms Pidgeon —That is my understanding, but I was not involved in that.
Senator CROSSIN —Ms Pidgeon, is your department aware of pressures within the community in the Northern Territory, particularly from a range of churches and the public health association, that there be broad community consultation with stakeholders about how this money will be allocated, particularly the interpreter service money?
Ms Pidgeon —I am not aware in detail of that sort of pressure, although I can understand that there would be.
Senator CROSSIN —Have you had no letters or representation from community based stakeholders?
—We have had some, but not very many.
Senator CROSSIN —What has been the department's view about accommodating the requests within those letters that there be some consultation about the establishment of the interpreter service?
Ms Pidgeon —I am not aware of any letters that particularly talked about consultation. When I said we had some letters, they are about the agreement generally. I am not aware of any particular ones about consultation.
Senator CROSSIN —Have the Northern Territory government made you aware of any requests they have had about setting up consultations with stakeholders about the interpreter service?
Ms Pidgeon —I have not been involved in any discussions with stakeholders but there have been discussions with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in more detail on the process issues. So it is possible that they have discussed it.
Senator CROSSIN —I urge you to have a look at the inquiry into the interpreter service which the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commissioner did because the representations that I am getting from a broad range of community groups point to their support for the guidelines in that report for establishing an interpreter service.
Ms Pidgeon —I will certainly look closely at that.
Senator CROSSIN —Also, are you aware as to whether or not this interpreter service will cover health matters and be available for people who are needing health interpretation?
Ms Pidgeon —My understanding is that that would be included.
Senator BOLKUS —You say you will consider the report which Senator Crossin addresses, but do you really have any capacity or flexibility to pick up any of its recommendations of the sort that you have just been referred to?
Ms Pidgeon —That would depend on discussions with the Northern Territory about how much any of that can be taken into account.
Senator BOLKUS —So basically it is up to them.
Ms Pidgeon —It would be subject to discussions with them.
Senator BOLKUS —As to what they could take into account? So, in essence, we are just delivering the money, aren't we?
Ms Pidgeon —We are not just delivering the money, but certainly we are not unilaterally dictating what the Northern Territory should do with it.
Senator BOLKUS —But we are not putting any preconditions on the expenditure. What you are saying is that we will set up a reporting system.
Ms Pidgeon —No. We are negotiating an agreement which will include things such as objectives, purpose and, as you say, reporting provisions and evaluation. We are also exploring at the moment how the community can be included in the program.
Senator BOLKUS —How are you doing that?
Ms Pidgeon —As I said, we are exploring that with the Northern Territory.
Senator BOLKUS —So you are asking them about it?
Ms Pidgeon —We are talking about it with the Northern Territory.
—Okay. But you are not actually going outside the Northern Territory government to explore; you are talking to them about it.
Ms Pidgeon —We are discussing it with the Northern Territory government.
Senator BOLKUS —Essentially, what capacity do you have to disagree with them? What capacity have you got for outside attitudes to be put to you that are contrary to the Northern Territory's views on the directions of the program?
Ms Pidgeon —We will consider any views put and will obviously take them into account in our part of the process.
Senator BOLKUS —But what avenues are available to people or organisations to put views to you?
Ms Pidgeon —There are no formal avenues at this stage, but that is part of what we are looking at with the Northern Territory.
Senator BOLKUS —But you are about to enter into an agreement with the Northern Territory government.
Ms Pidgeon —The agreement is under discussion; I would not say `about to enter'.
Senator BOLKUS —But shouldn't you be considering an avenue for public input into the program before you sit down with the Territory government to decide on even an in-principle agreement?
Ms Pidgeon —It is one of the points that we are looking at with the Northern Territory government. That is all I can say.
Senator BOLKUS —I am not questioning doing it with the Northern Territory government. What I am saying to you is: shouldn't you be making the decision to go out and have consultations? Given the fact that we are talking about a community which is diverse in geography and culture, there should be some meaningful consultations here, shouldn't there?
Ms Pidgeon —I think the point is that both the interpreter service and the diversionary programs are essentially state and territory sorts of programs. The states and territories are on the ground and are in a better position to be considering community input. When the Commonwealth funds states and territories to undertake these sorts of programs, it would be expecting them to take that into account. However, in the discussions with the Northern Territory we will obviously be considering how the community can be part of the process.
Senator BOLKUS —So, basically, the general policy view is that the states and territories are in the best position to tell us what the citizens in those states and territories want and think?
Ms Pidgeon —In terms of the diversionary programs and the interpreter service, we are working with the Northern Territory and we certainly expect the Northern Territory to be mainly responsible for the detail of what happens on the ground. It is not something for which we would go out and do our own separate consultations.
Senator BOLKUS —So if they tell you that indigenous communities in the Northern Territory think that this model is the best and that this is what they want, you have no real capacity to overturn that.
—If we were advised otherwise, we would obviously be interested in what the Northern Territory had to say about that. The agreement is going to be at a level of objectives, with some clear guidelines on how it is all going to work, but the individual programs will be largely a matter for the Northern Territory.
Senator BOLKUS —What are those guidelines from your perspective? What guidelines would you like to see in place?
Senator Vanstone —Senator, we have gone over a bit of repeat ground here. Can I suggest that any further questions in relation to this go on notice, simply because, while this is a matter that is going to involve this department and involves them at the moment, it also involves PM&C. So the officer is in a position of wanting to give you as much information as she can, but she is also cognisant of the fact that she belongs to one agency and not both—and that makes it difficult.
Senator BOLKUS —The problem we have is that, unless we get in at this stage of the evolution of the program, it is going to be very hard for people to give input at a later stage. That is why I would prefer—and I think Senator Crossin and Senator Greig would also prefer this—to be able to tease some of these issues out at this stage. We will try to get through it as quickly as possible.
Senator Vanstone —It is not a timing problem, Senator. It is a question of the position you are putting the officer in. An agreement has been negotiated between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of the Territory. Prime Minister and Cabinet are, in a sense, the lead department on this. They have a very significant involvement in it. What you are seeking is to get an officer to answer on behalf of both and I think that is unreasonable to the officer. That is the only point I am making.
Senator BOLKUS —Give it a break, Minister. That happens all the time. I will just ask three or four questions and then I will allow others—
Senator Vanstone —Let me say for the record—and Ms Pidgeon will take that into account—that if there is anything that she is at all apprehensive about, because it may involve another department's view, she should simply take it on notice.
Senator BOLKUS —I am sure she can do that. Who took the decision not to tender for the provision of the service out to a wider range of bodies or even the Commonwealth government?
Ms Pidgeon —I am not aware of any such decision being made. As I said, we are discussing with the Northern Territory how the diversionary programs and the interpreter service will be put together. I am not aware of any deliberate decision about not tendering.
Senator BOLKUS —So the decision was just taken by the PM and Mr Burke that this particular agency would be chosen to—
Ms Pidgeon —No, the agreement between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister was at a high level. Any detail such as how it would be put into place is subject to the discussions that we are having now.
Senator BOLKUS —Yes, but that decision encompassed one organisation that—
Ms Pidgeon —That is part of our discussions. It was not part of the—
Senator BOLKUS —So you have flexibility to not give it to the Northern Territory interpreter booking service. You can go somewhere else, can you?
Ms Pidgeon —What I am saying is that that is the proposal at the moment. That is on the table with us and the Northern Territory.
—So you have taken that decision to go down that road. Why did you not choose other avenues to provide the service?
Ms Pidgeon —As I said, that is what is on the table between us and the Northern Territory at the moment.
Senator BOLKUS —If that is on the table, I am trying to work out who put it there and why weren't—
Ms Pidgeon —That is the Northern Territory's proposal that we are looking at.
Senator BOLKUS —So you may not accept it at the end of the day. You have a discretion.
Ms Pidgeon —We are discussing with the Northern Territory the details of the agreement.
Senator BOLKUS —I know that. You are saying to me that that is what is currently before us. I am trying to work out whether you have any capacity to go elsewhere.
Ms Pidgeon —As I say, I cannot really go into more details about the discussion. That is where the discussion is at the moment.
Senator BOLKUS —I know that is where the discussion is at the moment and you cannot tell me where you go from here, but I want to know whether—in taking this course so far—you have had the option of alternatives or whether, if you are not satisfied, you have the option of going elsewhere after or during these discussions.
Ms Pidgeon —I may be wrong, but I do not think that the Northern Territory Chief Minister or the Prime Minister envisaged that the Commonwealth would go shopping around for alternatives to the proposal for an interpreter service. I think that is fairly unrealistic.
Senator BOLKUS —You have essentially been told that this is the one option on the table.
Ms Pidgeon —I would not put it like that. I am just saying that that is the proposal that we are looking at at the moment and it is subject to discussion.
Senator BOLKUS —But how do you know that the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister would not contemplate alternatives?
Senator Vanstone —I think that is the very point. I have tried to raise this with you as pleasantly as I can.
Senator BOLKUS —That is not the point, Minister.
Senator Vanstone —Senator, you have not even heard what I have to say.
Senator BOLKUS —I can anticipate it, Minister. It might save you a bit of time.
Senator Vanstone —I do realise that there are occasions when you believe that the centre of all knowledge is very close to your personal self, but that is not always a shared view. You are asking questions about what other ministers might think. It is unreasonable to ask this of a civil servant. Even asking her about what I might think or what the Attorney might think is unreasonable, let alone ministers in other departments and in other states. You just have to accept what I have told you.
Senator BOLKUS —Minister, I would hate—
Senator Vanstone —Senator, I am getting very close to advising the officer to take all your further questions on notice. In fact, I think that is the advice I will offer.
—I do not think you can get away with it. I do not want her to tell us what is in the Prime Minister's mind because people across the country are still trying to work that out.
Senator Vanstone —I have given you clear warnings about this. I am sorry; I will have to take advice from the Attorney on this matter. I will take advice from the Prime Minister and I will bring your answers back.
Senator BOLKUS —It is a very simple question I put to you and to the officer. The officer says they are looking at one proposal. I want to know how they have come to the position of looking at just one proposal. Was that a decision taken by ministers?
Senator Vanstone —That will clearly involve consultation with another department. I will take it on notice, do the consultation and give you the answer.
Senator BOLKUS —The officer is in a position of implementing it. You are actually muzzling this officer. The heat is getting a bit too much for you, Minister.
Senator Vanstone —I have indicated that it will involve consultation with another department. I will ensure that that consultation takes place and I will give you an answer on notice.
Senator BOLKUS —What we have discovered here is that, without any advice from the Attorney-General's Department, the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister got together and said, `Five million is a fair cop. Go off and give it, or part of it, to my department to run an ordinary interpreter service.' And these officers have basically got to implement a bodgie scheme. That is what we have established so far. There are no briefing papers from this department.
Senator Vanstone —Senator, you can assert that you have established whatever you believe you have, but there are limits to what you can expect from civil servants who do their best to give decent answers. As I have indicated to you, that will take place and I will come back to you.
Senator BOLKUS —I will end there, Minister, but I do have some questions on the diversionary programs. But others may have questions on it.
CHAIR —There are other questions. Senator Cooney has questions and I understand Senator Crossin has further questions. I might give Senator Cooney an opportunity and then I will come back to Senator Crossin.
Senator COONEY —Could we just have a clarification of the issues? You talk about an agreement between the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister. That was an arrangement. The details to that have not been worked out yet—is that correct?
Senator Vanstone —There has been a press release put out.
Senator COONEY —I know that, but I did not read the press release. Is that right—are the details still to be worked out? That seems to be a fairly simple position because that is what I think Ms Pidgeon is saying.
Senator Vanstone —There is obviously more to be done following the initial agreement. Whether there was some—
Senator COONEY —I am just trying to get a basis we could discuss it on.
Senator Vanstone —I appreciate that—
—It seems to me that what we have is an arrangement, if I can call it that fairly loosely, and that the agreement itself has not been worked out as yet—would that be a fair proposition?
Senator Vanstone —I think if you go back to the Hansard when it comes out, Senator Cooney, you will see that what Ms Pidgeon has been saying is—
Senator COONEY —I am not able to do that yet.
Senator Vanstone —Look, Senator, I cannot give you an answer if I get two or three sentences out and you are unhappy to even listen to it—
Senator COONEY —No, no, I am not.
Senator Vanstone —so I will take your question on notice.
Senator COONEY —Don't get like that.
Senator Vanstone —There is a limit, Senator Cooney. These estimates have gone on and on and on with an extraordinary degree of patience which has now run out.
Senator COONEY —Yes, but hold on. I tell you, this can't go on.
Senator Vanstone —Sorry.
Senator COONEY —Two days are allotted to this. Everybody is losing patience, not only you, I think. What we are trying to do is discuss, I hope, fairly sanely a question of an arrangement, as I see it, between the Commonwealth and the state. That is not unusual. I think one of the problems we have is that people say there is an agreement between the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister and I think people then say, `Yes, there is that agreement and it is all tidied up.' That is clearly not so. I think what there is is that there has been an arrangement between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister and the details of that arrangement, to bring it to what you might call an agreement, are being talked out. Ms Pidgeon is part of that. There are discussions backwards and forwards. I think that is what the position is. So we are getting ourselves a bit confused by saying there was an agreement between the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister in the sense of there being a written agreement which is signed at the bottom—that just does not seem to be correct. All I am asking is: is that correct—what I say?
Senator Vanstone —I started to answer that, Senator Cooney, and you interrupted before I could even finish the sentence.
Senator COONEY —I apologise.
Senator Vanstone —I then said, `Therefore, I will take it on notice.'
Senator COONEY —Can I apologise and can you be gracious?
Senator Vanstone —There is no need for you to apologise, Senator Cooney.
Senator COONEY —You go ahead and answer that question.
Senator Vanstone —No, no. I will take it on notice.
Senator McKIERNAN —Can I ask a question in regard to that? Yesterday, when we started the estimates committees, we agreed on a time when questions on notice would be returned to us. I think the date was July sometime.
Senator Vanstone —I do not recall. As you know, I was late.
Senator McKIERNAN —Yes, I know. I was not too well yesterday myself.
—No, you were very unwell, apparently.
Senator McKIERNAN —I am just asking this question in the context of what the committee is doing at the moment in examining the budget appropriations. If questions on expenditures are not going to be replied to until 21 July, we are not going to have that information in the chamber when we are discussing the bills. So I think what we ought to do is look again at that date by which we get responses back from questions. Can I propose, Chair, that that date now be revised to the date when the committee of the whole in the Senate debates the Commonwealth budget. I do not know what date that is.
CHAIR —I do not have the opening statement in front of me that had that relevant date, but I will check that and I think it is up to the committee.
Senator Vanstone —It is up to the committee to set what date it chooses and it is up to the department to do what it can to meet that date.
CHAIR —It is a matter for the committee and we can meet on that question.
Senator McKIERNAN —I would like to move it now in a formal sense. We have got a bit of difficulty and we are going to have to press this matter further, and the place to press it properly is in the chamber, in the committee of the whole in the Senate. By that time hopefully we will have some of the responses back on the questions. This is not the major item of expenditure within the Commonwealth Attorney-General's portfolio but it is an important one, and it is a matter on which committees such as this have every right to look at the detail of the Commonwealth's expenditure. If we are not able to do it here, we will possibly be able to do it within the committee of the whole. I want to move that we amend our return date for the questions on notice to a date to be advised, which will be the date when the appropriation bills are discussed within the committee of the whole in the Senate.
Senator Vanstone —It is a matter for the committee, Senator; it is not a matter for me.
Senator COONEY —Before the motion is put, I would like to say that this may arise because of the approach taken. I can understand, Minister, that you are getting very anxious and perhaps even annoyed about all this. May I say with great respect that I think that is the wrong approach, and if everyone is reasonable this committee could go along as it has always gone along, in a very pleasant way, without this motion having to be put.
Senator Vanstone —It is up to the committee what motion it puts, but there were a number of occasions on which committee members were advised of the difficulty faced by the officer having to try and answer questions on matters that involved two portfolios. Those clear requests for an understanding of an officer's position went completely unheeded. So it is not a case of me being fed up. I have sat here and listened for days. I have got plenty of work to do, so it is not a problem for me. What I am annoyed about is the treatment of the officer. As you well know, officers cannot answer back. They are put in these invidious positions. You offer a friendly warning and it gets ignored. That is what I was annoyed about, and I remain annoyed about it.
Senator BOLKUS —I think it is fair to say that if you go back through the Hansard you will see that what we are trying to do is get information out of the officer. No-one has criticised the officer—
Senator Vanstone —I have not suggested anyone has.
Senator BOLKUS —No-one has unfairly reflected on the officer.
Senator Vanstone —I accept that.
—What we are trying to work out is what has actually happened here. I think Senator Cooney's point is right and I think you are being a bit oversensitive at this particular stage.
Senator Vanstone —The point I have made is not that anyone has been rude to the officer or reflected unfairly on the officer. The point that was made is that this is a matter that involves two departments, one of which is the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The agreement was made between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister. You can call it by some other name if you feel that makes it clearer, Senator Cooney, but nonetheless it clearly involves Prime Minister and Cabinet, and it is not fair to continue to expect the officer to answer without having the capacity to consult with the other people involved in those negotiations. That is all I am saying. If the questions are restricted entirely to what the officer knows about what A-G's have done and do not go to what involves other parties, of course those questions can be answered. But if they continue to involve `how could the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister do X, Y or Z without such and such', and go way beyond what the officer can fairly be expected to answer, they will not be answered.
Senator COONEY —I can follow that. What I was trying to get at, though, was what actually has happened. Clearly there is some sort of—
CHAIR —Senator Cooney, we do have a motion actually before the chair.
Senator COONEY —All right. What this means is that we will be hours and hours on that day, whereas it is probably better to get it done now.
CHAIR —Hours and hours on the day.
Senator COONEY —When this comes up in the committee of the whole. That is the whole point of it. If you can save that in the meantime, it seems to me to be a very sensible thing. Instead of having all this discussion take place in the chamber with hours and hours wasted, it just seems to me it can be solved now.
CHAIR —I make the observation that that is, as we have said before, a matter for members of the committee, of whom there are three present. I would make the observation that we have previously worked very effectively with the department, the officers and the minister's office to facilitate the answering of questions when the committee has required them. I understand the point the minister has made only too well. I understand the points that senators have made only too well. I do, however, have a motion before me. If the motion stays before me, I have no choice but to put it to the committee. That is a matter for Senator McKiernan; it is his motion.
Senator McKIERNAN —We are examining the expenditures and we have reached the point where the minister is taking questions on notice. Questions on notice will not be or need not be replied to—and in some cases the deadline that is imposed is not adhered to. We will not get those responses until July, when the bills which we are discussing will have long since passed. We have a problem at the moment. We are in an adversarial situation and the way to formalise that is to take it from the subcommittee, if you like, back to the major committee of the parliament and to let the parliament resolve it. If it is going to take additional amounts of time during the course of the parliament, that is a matter that the government has to address. That could be addressed in the interim period between now and when the committee as a whole of the parliament meets to discuss the appropriation bills.
—I have a number of questions that I would like clarified in relation to the money that has been allocated for mandatory sentencing, particularly in light of some events that have occurred in the Northern Territory in the last couple of weeks. I appreciate, Minister, that the person from the Attorney-General's Department may be unable to answer those. At this stage I am not sure what she can and cannot answer, but I am happy to put the rest of the questions on notice to Prime Minister and Cabinet.
When I was at the estimates at which PM&C appeared early last week and the matter of this money was raised, we were told that we should direct our questions to the Attorney-General's Department. We were not told that they were matters that they could also answer, so there is some confusion about who exactly can answer these questions. I have now missed the opportunity to go to PM&C. On their advice, I have come here with my questions. I am happy to put my questions, if they cannot be an answered by this department, on notice to PM&C.
Senator Vanstone —You do not necessarily have to put them on notice to PM&C; they may just as easily be put on notice here. All I am saying is that there will be some questions that, quite clearly, will need consultation. People want to continue to put questions that say, for example, `How can the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister do this?' One might argue that that is not an appropriate question to put to a civil servant anyway, and it does not relate to expenditure. Civil servants are not here to second-guess what ministers are capable or incapable of doing. If your questions are not in that category and they are questions that can be answered here, we are happy to answer them.
What I have said is that we will not continue to put the officer under pressure to answer questions in relation to negotiations that are going on that involve other parties. To be fair, the officer should check with the other parties before answering them. That is all I have said. Then Senator McKiernan, I assume in trying to assist the committee or his colleagues, has said, `Well, if you are going to be like that, we will have all of our answers early and take all the time in the chamber.' It is up to him if he wants to take that path. This side remains happy to answer those questions that are reasonable to put to this officer, but not others. Any others like that, I will take on notice. It is perfectly simple.
Senator McKIERNAN —Minister, if you look at the—
Senator Vanstone —Can I add, Senator McKiernan, that if you were genuinely not trying to be a bovver boy here you would say, `Let us see how we go.' Then, if you were not happy, you would change the day. Let us not mischaracterise what you are seeking to do by moving in immediately and changing the day.
Senator McKIERNAN —I am not a bovver boy—
Senator Vanstone —Not normally, no.
Senator McKIERNAN —I do not think that putting forward the proposition that I put forward is a bovver boy activity. I would ask you, Minister, to examine your conduct and to read the question that was asked by Senator Cooney. That was the one that you took on notice. If anybody is playing bovver boys, I would ask you to make a judgment on that. You can make your own judgment on it. If you are going to subject the committee to those tactics, Minister, you are going to get paid back—and that payment will be in the chamber, where it probably ought to be. This is one of the most cooperative of the Senate estimates committees.
Senator Vanstone —It has been.
Senator McKIERNAN —It has got a very good reputation. If it falls apart, Minister, it is on your shoulders.
Senator Vanstone —We will see about that.
—I am prepared to withdraw my motion if you are prepared to have another look at the question asked by Senator Cooney, which was a very reasonable question, as they invariably are from Senator Cooney, and we can press on. If you are not prepared to answer that very reasonable question, then let us allocate two or three days of chamber time to follow this matter through. You deal with that with the Manager of Government Business in the Senate and other of your ministerial colleagues.
CHAIR —Senator McKiernan and Minister, I will take the most constructive parts out of that exchange. Minister, I understand that Senator McKiernan has made an indication in relation to his motion, which is still before the committee. We can continue, as you suggested, to address those questions that can be addressed, take on notice those that cannot be addressed and continue in that fashion without the motion being put.
Senator Vanstone —I am happy to continue in that fashion.
CHAIR —Is it possible for Senator Cooney to put his question to you again?
Senator Vanstone —Perhaps if I can first respond to Senator McKiernan in that sense on—
CHAIR —On the constructive points of the exchange, Minister.
Senator Vanstone —Yes, on that but not to take assertions made by Senator McKiernan at face value, not at all to do that.
CHAIR —Certainly, Minister.
Senator Vanstone —Senator McKiernan is unhappy that a question to Senator Cooney was taken on notice. I invite him to check the record, and he will see that on one and possibly two occasions I started to answer the question and was interrupted. I am not going to continue on that basis either. Ministers and civil servants are not here to be badgered by senators who want to interrupt at any time they like. We see that day after day, and we are not going to see it any more. If civil servants or ministers are interrupted, that is the end of it. It is just not reasonable at all to sit there badgering.
Senator McKIERNAN —I am more than happy to proceed with the motion.
Senator Vanstone —Taxpayers pay for all this; it takes a lot of time and a lot of money.
Senator McKIERNAN —I am more than happy to proceed with the motion and you, Minister, can explain to your ministerial colleagues why the Senate is spending two or three days discussing a matter of $5 million. Let it be on your shoulders.
Senator Vanstone —You do what you choose.
CHAIR —Are you now not withdrawing your motion, Senator McKiernan?
Senator McKIERNAN —No. I have put a very reasonable proposition to the minister. As I interpret it, she has rejected that proposition and is not going to answer the question from Senator Cooney.
CHAIR —Senator McKiernan, I believe the minister said that she would in fact hear the question—
Senator Vanstone —Don't get Irish on me, Senator McKiernan. You are getting touchy.
Senator McKIERNAN —Are you going to answer the question or not?
Senator BOLKUS —Can I suggest that—
—Senator Bolkus, if I could perhaps finish, what I was about to say is that, as I understood it, Senator Vanstone indicated that she would hear the question from Senator Cooney and that we would proceed from that point—I use the word `proceed' advisedly, I suspect—and determine how much we can actually progress with at this stage. If that does not work to the satisfaction of the committee, I suspect we will be hearing Senator McKiernan's motion again.
Senator COONEY —I will go through what I am trying to get at. What I think Senator Bolkus has been trying to do is to get the status of what this is—whether it is an arrangement, an agreement or what. What seems very difficult to find out is whether there is some agreement that has to be fleshed out, or whether there is an understanding that there will be an agreement that has to be fleshed out. Has the $5 million been paid yet? If it is going to be paid, when is it going to be paid? What do you say about the agreement that is being worked out? Are there terms to it already or are there other terms to be added? What is the position? If we could just get its status at the moment, I think we could proceed more sensibly. I will withdraw that. I am saying `sensibly' in the sense of being able to get to a clear understanding. Can you see what I am saying?
Senator Vanstone —Yes, I can. I think the fair answer to that, Senator Cooney, is that negotiations are under way—if that is the appropriate term, or discussions. A final position has not been arrived at so there is some polishing to be done. It is on those negotiations and that polish, particularly, that it is inappropriate to put questions to the relevant officer.
Senator COONEY —I understand that. I think what is being asked from this side of the table is this: quite understandably there are concerns, particularly on Senator Crossin's part for her constituents, that, if they are making moves in this direction, those moves should be noted. I think the question being put to you is: are people taking these things on board? That seems to me to be reasonable. If they are not, that is fair enough. It might be an agreement on a particular basis; it might not be. I think that is what is being said. Can we find out what the situation is with the development of agreements?
Senator Vanstone —I am sorry, Senator Cooney, you will have to repeat that question.
Senator COONEY —I think what is being asked is this: there is clearly—
Senator Vanstone —I am sorry—is this by me, by Senator Crossin or by whom?
Senator COONEY —What I was saying was this: clearly there has been an understanding, at least, between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister. What we have learnt today is that there has been a development of that arrangement towards there being an agreement. We keep using the word `agreement'. It seems to me that there has not been an agreement yet reached. What is happening is that they are striving towards this agreement. What Senator Crossin and Senator Bolkus reasonably say is, `What sorts of things are going to go into that agreement? Has anything been decided upon yet? We have got $5 million.' This arises out of a very emotional issue—that is, mandatory sentencing—and it is perhaps not the $5 million so much as the fact that this is a way of committing mandatory sentencing. Senator Bolkus has a great record on civil liberties. Senator Crossin has too and she is also a great member of the Northern Territory. She wants to know what she can say to people about mandatory sentencing and what is going to be done with the $5 million.
—I think that is the point. Governments make announcements about agreements, or intentions to make agreements—if you want to put it at that level—and then further work is done. Further polishes are put on those details, if you like, and the basic structure is settled. More detail is added and then, when they have come to that further agreement, an announcement is made. I am sure that is what is going to happen. I do not think it is appropriate for the officer to be questioned on the progress towards that as that is happening.
Senator Crossin, no doubt, is very proud to represent a state that has, next to Tasmania, the second lowest indigenous to non-indigenous incarceration rate in Australia and may well ask herself, if matters were left entirely to judicial discretion, why it is that other states sometimes clearly have double the rate of the Northern Territory of indigenous to non-indigenous incarcerations.
Senator COONEY —Is it not reasonable, therefore, to ask some questions so she can—
Senator Vanstone —Very reasonable. All she wants to do is ask them.
Senator COONEY —I will leave it; I will retire.
CHAIR —Perhaps we can turn to the questions that Senator Crossin has and determine whether we can provide answers this afternoon and, if not, what arrangements can be made.
Senator CROSSIN —I appreciate that. I was not aware that you were not close to any agreement with the Northern Territory government yet and I was perhaps deluding myself that you might have signed off on this money on the dotted line. I appreciate that it is still probably the subject of some discussion. Can you tell me whether, to your knowledge, there was any basis on which the $5 million was struck?
Ms Pidgeon —I have not got information about that.
Senator CROSSIN —In the budget paper, at page 51, it talks about this $5 million being allocated to three particular areas. Has your department got any figure as to what amount of money it might allocate to each of those areas? You have said about $1 million or $1.5 million to the interpreter service.
Ms Pidgeon —To clarify that: I said that is what we expect the interpreter service might cost, but it is to be jointly funded with the Northern Territory. So that is not necessarily the amount that will come from the $5 million.
Senator CROSSIN —So if at the end of the day the model that you decide upon is costed at, say, $1.5 million, there will be further discussions about what contribution to that $1.5 million the Northern Territory government will make?
Ms Pidgeon —That is part of the discussions with the Northern Territory.
Senator CROSSIN —They would be expected to partly fund all three of these initiatives?
Ms Pidgeon —Just the interpreter service.
Senator CROSSIN —Are you able to give me an idea of the money you have allocated for the other two initiatives?
Ms Pidgeon —There is no agreement yet on how it is going to be allocated.
Senator CROSSIN —We are still awaiting a breakdown?
Ms Pidgeon —Yes.
Senator CROSSIN —The $5 million is an ongoing grant for three years—that is, $5 million for each of the next three years.
Ms Pidgeon —Four years.
—It will be $20 million all-up for four years; is that right?
Ms Pidgeon —That is right, and then reviewed after four years.
Senator CROSSIN —Can you give me an indication why it was decided that that would be the way the money was allocated, as opposed to a one-off grant and then an expectation that the Northern Territory government would put in a request through, say, the Commonwealth Grants Commission?
Ms Pidgeon —I was not involved in those discussions.
Senator CROSSIN —In coming to a decision as to whether or not the interpreter service that has been suggested by the Northern Territory government will be what is decided on at the end of the day, are you aware of any capacity for your department to hold discussions with the Law Society in the Northern Territory or the Public Health Association in the Northern Territory to discover whether or not the booking service that is in place is working?
Ms Pidgeon —That is a matter that I cannot answer at this time because it involves the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator CROSSIN —So you are not aware as to whether or not—you may or may not be, I don't know—you would be looking at an interpreter service that has free access to government agencies?
Ms Pidgeon —That is the sort of detail that I cannot really discuss at this stage because we are still in discussions with the Northern Territory.
Senator CROSSIN —How could I frame my question so that perhaps in looking at a service you might look at whether or not there is training for use of the interpreters, whether or not health practitioners or lawyers would get—
Ms Pidgeon —My answer has to be the same. The detail of the interpreter service is still in discussion and I really cannot help because the detail has not been decided.
Senator CROSSIN —Is there anything you can tell us about your discussions about what you believe is a best practice interpreter service—that you are actually considering 24-hour access, enough money to bring interpreters in from remote communities, training for interpreters, or training for people who use interpreters? Are they all indicators that you would be looking at to make sure that they are employed in an interpreter service?
Ms Pidgeon —I do not think I can discuss the detail of the discussions and the considerations surrounding those.
Senator CROSSIN —Are the acquittal procedures being discussed or in place?
Ms Pidgeon —They are. They will be part of the agreement and are under discussion.
Senator CROSSIN —They will be quite separate from the undertaking that Dr Jonas has given in his response to the Senate about monitoring?
Ms Pidgeon —They will be separate but they may come together in some way in the future, I do not know.
Senator CROSSIN —Is your department holding any discussions with the Social Justice Commissioner about this money, given his response to the question on notice that he was asked to respond to?
Ms Pidgeon —Not at this stage.
—Is there any intention that you will?
Ms Pidgeon —That will be a matter that we will need to discuss with Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator CROSSIN —Ms Pidgeon, are you aware of the statement in the Northern Territory Treasurer's budget speech—I think it was last week—that `an additional 12 police will be funded from the Commonwealth assistance for the delivery of diversionary programs'?
Ms Pidgeon —I am not aware of that particular statement. I am aware that the police will be involved in the programs and in the mechanism for delivering the programs. That would be consistent with discussions we are having at the moment.
Senator CROSSIN —If, as you just said a minute ago, the Northern Territory government are putting money into only the interpreter service but you are fully funding the other initiatives and this statement actually says that 12 police will be funded from the Commonwealth assistance, are you aware that 12 additional police in the Northern Territory will be funded by the Commonwealth money?
Ms Pidgeon —That is the sort of detail that is still under discussion.
Senator CROSSIN —If it is still under discussion, then why does the Treasurer make this statement in his budget speech, unless he has been advised by the Commonwealth to do so?
Ms Pidgeon —Obviously, I cannot comment on why the Treasurer put that in his budget speech.
Senator CROSSIN —So as far as you are aware, there has been no signed agreement, no details as to whether or not police will be funded from the money, or the number?
Ms Pidgeon —There is no signed agreement at this stage.
Senator CROSSIN —Are you aware of whether or not your department believes it is appropriate that this Commonwealth money goes into extra police in the Northern Territory?
Ms Pidgeon —As I said a moment ago, the diversionary programs will involve the police, and it is obviously going to be essential that they be part of that. It would be consistent with that if they decide they need more police to help administer it.
Senator CROSSIN —So you are saying that, if one of the diversionary programs is police focused as opposed to community focused, it may well be legitimate that 12 police are funded, is that right?
Ms Pidgeon —No. What I said was that we understand that the police will be involved in the process and that it would be consistent with that to look at putting more police on to be part of that. But, as I said before, no details have been discussed in terms of additional police.
Senator CROSSIN —So are you fairly puzzled as to why the Northern Territory Treasurer has made such a definitive statement?
Ms Pidgeon —As I have said a couple of times, having additional police would be consistent with our understanding that the police would be part of the process.
Senator CROSSIN —But as far as you are aware there has been no firm agreement to fund an additional 12 police?
Senator Vanstone —Senator, you have asked that and now you are going over it. You have got your answer, clear as a bell, to the question that you have just asked.
—Yes, but I get different interpretations with each question I ask.
Senator Vanstone —It is not my experience of this officer—or, for that matter, of any officer in the Attorney-General's Department—that she is a dissembler.
Senator CROSSIN —Could I just get you to answer yes or no to this question. You are saying to me definitively that at this stage there is no firm agreement to fund an additional 12 police?
Ms Pidgeon —Yes.
Senator CROSSIN —With the diversionary programs, I am assuming that the same level of discussion is taking place. Have any guidelines been developed for the circumstances of these?
Ms Pidgeon —Your assumption was right: the discussions are taking place.
Senator CROSSIN —As with the interpreter service, do you have any best practice guidelines from other states or countries that you are using as models?
Ms Pidgeon —The important thing about the diversionary programs is that there is going to be a range of possible programs. We want to have the maximum flexibility possible for the Northern Territory. We would not be trying to look at limiting that. Therefore, we are not looking at saying that this is the best one or that is the best one. There is a whole range of programs that could be part of that funding.
Senator CROSSIN —Do you know when any of the programs are expected to commence?
Ms Pidgeon —No, I do not have that information.
Senator CROSSIN —There is no proposed starting date?
Ms Pidgeon —Not at this stage.
Senator CROSSIN —And you do not know where they will be located in the Territory?
Ms Pidgeon —I know that there will be a range of locations. At this stage I have not got information about the specific locations.
Senator CROSSIN —You are unaware of how many programs specifically the money will fund?
Ms Pidgeon —That will be part of the further discussions. Also, the agreement is unlikely to dictate a maximum number of programs. Rather, the information that we will be asking the Northern Territory to provide will include information about how many will be funded in the long run.
Senator CROSSIN —Only Commonwealth money is going to the first two initiatives; there is no Northern Territory contribution. Do you know if there is capacity for your department to have broader consultations with stakeholders about family conferencing or diversionary programs?
Ms Pidgeon —We may have that in the context of our own programs, but we are not involved in that in the current discussions with the Northern Territory.
Senator BOLKUS —Can I ask a question which I do not think you have answered. Have you come to a view as to what sorts of diversionary programs you would like to see in place?
—Our view is that there should be flexibility and a range of programs to meet very varied needs—different situations and different locations. We are certainly not wanting to limit the range.
Senator BOLKUS —What would you include in a range of programs? What will you be contemplating to be encompassed?
Ms Pidgeon —I think that is getting into detail of the discussions that I cannot really go into.
Senator BOLKUS —I genuinely want to know what sorts of things we are talking about when we talk about diversionary programs.
Ms Pidgeon —There is quite a range that could be included. Things such as family conferencing, drug and alcohol programs and community diversionary programs have been mentioned. There is a range of things within those as well.
Senator BOLKUS —How would you run the community diversionary program?
Ms Pidgeon —That is a very broad question. There are many different ways of running a community diversionary program. It is not an area that I have expertise in so I would not want to try and answer that in detail.
Senator BOLKUS —Are there people in the department who would have expertise in the appropriate sorts of community diversionary programs?
Ms Pidgeon —We do have some expertise in diversionary programs but not in the sense that we would expect to dictate to the Northern Territory what it should do in the Northern Territory.
Senator BOLKUS —So it is their call, basically, as to what would be the appropriate range and appropriate in any particular circumstance?
Ms Pidgeon —Within the agreement that we do reach, which will include objectives and general principles.
Senator BOLKUS —But the agreement will not include specified diversionary programs?
Ms Pidgeon —As I said, it will actually specify the sorts of principles and objectives and possibly descriptions of the types but not in a way that should dictate or limit the flexibility to include others that might meet the same objectives.
Senator BOLKUS —It would indicate a description of types, you say. You are actually anticipating listing a range of programs in the agreement?
Ms Pidgeon —It is possible that we will have lists of the types as examples but not actually dictate which programs will be funded, as long as they meet the objectives.
Senator BOLKUS —So, we might have a list in an appendix which may say to the Northern Territory government: `These are what we see as being diversionary programs; go for your own, basically'?
Ms Pidgeon —That may be the result of the discussions, but it is still a matter for discussion.
Senator GREIG —I have two, I hope, quick questions which I hope are in keeping with the spirit of the discussion. Firstly, Minister—
—Can I say I hope they are not in keeping with the spirit so far. I am looking for a change here, with a bit more courtesy to the officer involved.
Senator BOLKUS —Will someone take the diet coke away from her?
Senator Vanstone —I am looking for a bit of sweetness and light. You might be just the one to bring it.
Senator BOLKUS —Separate her from the diet coke, please.
Senator GREIG —Minister, I think in November or December of last year, the Attorney announced legal aid funding for the next year—that is, this year—of $63 million, yet when the budget was announced on 9 May it was some $18 million short of the promised $63 million. Is there any correlation between that which was not provided in the original $63 million promise and the funding which has now been provided for diversionary programs and other mechanisms in mandatory sentencing in the Northern Territory?
Senator Vanstone —I think Dr Browne is the one to give you the answer.
Dr Browne —The short answer is there is no connection. The $63.1 million included indexation. So it is a question of 45.6 in new money and 17.5 in indexation. When you add those together, you get 63.1.
Senator GREIG —Clearly, the answer is no; no money has gone from the legal aid budget to that?
Dr Browne —That is correct. No money has been gone from legal aid to diversionary conferencing.
Senator GREIG —My next question is to Ms Pidgeon. Senator Crossin touched briefly on the issue of the letter from HREOC in response to the Senate motion asking HREOC to look initially at the deal that was struck between the Prime Minister and the Northern Territory government in terms of the program and, secondly, to undertake a more ongoing, or at least initially an annual, review of mandatory sentencing regimes in both the Northern Territory and Western Australia. To what degree is there a level of cooperation and interaction between you and your department and HREOC, and how will the advice or experience or feedback, as it were, from HREOC in terms of the research feed into what you are doing in terms of mandatory sentencing?
Ms Pidgeon —There is normally a very high level of cooperation between HREOC and the department. Certainly we would expect there to be feedback to the department from the work that HREOC does on this. As I said before, the agreement when it is finalised will include review and evaluation, first of all, after the first year and then after four years. While at the moment that is not involving HREOC because we have not got down to that sort of level of detail, it may be in the future that they will come together in some way. But that is something we have not determined at this stage.
Senator GREIG —Is there any kind of face-to-face liaison between Commissioner Jonas, for example, and members of the department in terms of the negotiations that will continue to take place with the deal struck in terms of diversionary and other programs in the Northern Territory?
Ms Pidgeon —There has not been as yet, but keep in mind that we are working with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on this and involvement of the commissioner would need to be considered jointly.
—So you would anticipate that at some stage he or his colleagues would be invited as a part of this process?
Ms Pidgeon —I could anticipate that we would have to consider it.
Senator CROSSIN —Are you aware as to whether or not the Attorney-General's Department intends to consult with ATSIC or the Office of Indigenous Policy?
Ms Pidgeon —Both that organisation and that office have been part of the consideration up to now involving PM&C, our department and a number of other departments looking at these issues.
Senator CROSSIN —Are you able to provide me with the contact in ATSIC whom you have been dealing with?
Ms Pidgeon —I have not got it with me at the moment. The meetings have been called by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, but we could provide that.
Senator CROSSIN —Can I also assume that those questions today which you were not able to answer would be best directed to Prime Minister and Cabinet for a response?
Ms Pidgeon —I think it would be best if we took them on notice here and then consulted the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet as to the answers.
Senator CROSSIN —All right. Can I formally request that that happen in regard to those questions which you were not able to answer or were unsure of?
Ms Pidgeon —Yes. I have to stress that, where I have said I could not answer because the agreements have not been finalised and discussion is still under way, we obviously still will not be able to answer that anymore until the agreement has been finalised.
Senator McKIERNAN —I have a question for you to take on notice. Could the committee have a copy of the agreement when it is signed, after it is concluded, and any guidelines that go with it? I heard you say that guidelines are currently being developed, particularly those that relate to the diversionary programs and how diversionary programs might be implemented.
Ms Pidgeon —Certainly.
CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Pidgeon. As there are no further questions in this area, we shall move on. Senator Ludwig.
Senator LUDWIG —I have a question on the cross-vesting legislation that is currently in the House. It is not the only initiative, as I understand it, that is being mooted by or came from the Attorney-General. At the additional supplementary estimates we were talking about the SCAG meeting that was coming up at that time. What was the outcome of the most recent meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorney-Generals in relation to re Wakim, and obviously since then the Hughes case, in terms of resolution of that problem for the corporations power?
Mr Govey —There were three options that I think I might have identified last time that were identified by ministers for further consideration. Those were the possibility of a unilateral Commonwealth law in relation to Corporations Law, the possibility of a referendum and the possibility of a referral of legislation. It is those options that state and Commonwealth ministers asked officers to explore. That process has not been completed.
Senator LUDWIG —When is the next SCAG meeting?
—I think it is in late July.
Senator LUDWIG —And, of the three, has the Attorney put a particular proposal to the states and territories for consideration, or has he simply put the three on the table? Is he promoting one, or is it option 1, 2, 3 in terms of preference?
Mr Govey —The Attorney has indicated, together with the Minister for Finance and Administration, that there is a preference for the referral option.
Senator LUDWIG —If it is the preferred option, what are the precise terms of the particular referral which has been sought to be put? If you need to take that on notice, please do.
Mr Govey —I think I would need to take that on notice, Senator.
Senator LUDWIG —Is it for a referral power with respect to corporations generally or is it a bit narrower than that?
Mr Govey —The remit at the moment is in relation to Corporations Law.
Senator LUDWIG —You say `at the moment'. Are there parts to it?
Mr Govey —No, there is no other proposal other than in relation to the Corporations Law.
Senator LUDWIG —As I understand it, the governments of South Australia and Western Australia have demonstrated some reluctance—I have read some articles in the press—about signing up to a referral. Has anything moved since then or is that still the position as you understand it?
Mr Govey —That is my understanding, Senator.
Senator LUDWIG —If that is the case, is the Attorney considering proceeding with accepting a referral power from something other than the six states and territories? They would not need it in the territories.
Mr Govey —I think that will be a matter for the Attorney-General and Mr Hockey. If I said the Minister for Finance and Administration before, that was wrong. Mr Hockey is the relevant minister.
Senator LUDWIG —So nothing has come out of the Attorney-General on that matter or from SCAG?
Mr Govey —No.
Senator LUDWIG —About proceeding?
Mr Govey —I do not think anything has been decided on in that regard, Senator.
Senator LUDWIG —When do you think the matter will be resolved?
Mr Govey —That is a matter for the ministers. All I can say is that, as I think I said yesterday, the Attorney has expressed the hope that it will be resolved before the end of the year. Certainly the clear indication from the Commonwealth is that it is regarded as a matter of very high priority and a matter that, in the interests of proper national regulation of companies and securities, needs to be addressed as a high priority.
Senator LUDWIG —Obviously the re Wakim decision had other matters than simply corporations or defects in terms of the federal system of justice. With respect to those other matters arising under the Corporations Law, are they proceeding to be remedied? What is the status of those?
—I am sorry, Senator. I did not hear your question.
Senator LUDWIG —What is being done to address the defects in the federal system of justice caused by re Wakim with respect to matters other than those arising under the Corporations Law, because there are other schemes that rely on the jurisdiction of the courts' cross-vesting legislation? From memory, there are about nine, but I am happy to be corrected.
Mr Govey —The recent bill that was passed by the parliament goes as far as we understand it can go—the Jurisdiction of Courts Legislation Amendment Bill—but it will not address the loss of Federal Court jurisdiction in those other areas. Short of a referendum or a referral of powers, or a capacity on the part of the Commonwealth to enact legislation in its own right, there is not much that the Commonwealth can do. When I say `legislation in its own right', if the Commonwealth has the power to enact the substantive laws, then the issue of Federal Court jurisdiction is quite clear. It is clear that they can have jurisdiction.
Senator LUDWIG —I am not putting words in your mouth, but I guess nothing is being done?
Mr Govey —There was the example that I mentioned yesterday in relation to the Corporations Law where it was possible for the Commonwealth to pass legislation that provided a parallel remedy in relation to securities dealings. That is the sort of thing I had in mind when I said it is possible that in some areas the Commonwealth might be able to pass substantive legislation.
Senator LUDWIG —Both of those are part of the Corporations Law, or looking outside of that?
Mr Govey —Prime responsibility in relation to the other areas will rest with the minister and the department responsible for those other schemes, but I am not aware of anything.
Senator LUDWIG —Is the department involved in the government's announced review of Australia's participation in the UN committee system?
Mr Campbell —Yes, we are.
Senator LUDWIG —In what way?
Mr Campbell —The review is being conducted with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with involvement from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator LUDWIG —What is the progress of that review? Where is it up to? Has a committee been formed with representatives from those various departments? Is there a paper?
Mr Campbell —There is a process of analysing the issues. With regard to the progress of the review, I think there was some detail of that given by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, which is inquiring into the UN system and our relations with that system. It was said there that it was desired that the review be completed some time by the middle of June. That is the deadline we are working towards.
Senator LUDWIG —So you expect that, by the middle of June, you will have a finalised position in respect of this?
Mr Campbell —It is expected that the matter will go to the government somewhere around that date.
—Will there be a report? If so, will that be available by mid-June? If so, can you make it available to the committee?
Mr Campbell —I cannot answer that question. That will be a matter for ministers.
Senator BOLKUS —Is it a formal IDC that has been set up?
Mr Campbell —There has been a meeting between departments. I do not know whether you would call it an IDC.
Senator BOLKUS —Which department is chairing it?
Mr Campbell —It is being chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Senator BOLKUS —In terms of what has been considered, has the government indicated any parts of the committee system that will not be under review?
Mr Campbell —I cannot say precisely which parts of the committee system will not be subject to review, but I can say that the genesis of the review arose from the appearance by Australia before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and that the review will pick up the six human rights committees under the six major human rights conventions.
Senator BOLKUS —So it is looking at the six human rights committees.
Mr Campbell —It is looking at our interaction with those committees.
Senator BOLKUS —Are there any other committees?
Mr Campbell —I cannot say at this stage.
Senator BOLKUS —So that is all you are looking at at this stage?
Mr Campbell —There may well be other committees, but it will be the subject of agreement or decisions by ministers as to which those will be.
Senator BOLKUS —What are the six human rights committees that we are talking about?
Mr Campbell —The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Economic and Social Covenant Committee, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the CEDAW committee on the elimination of discrimination against women and the torture convention.
Senator BOLKUS —Will these six committees under review now be the subject of a report at some earlier date?
Mr Campbell —I do not think it is quite true to say that those committees are under review. I think the report that was announced was our interaction with those committees.
Senator BOLKUS —Will our interaction with those committees be the subject of at least the first report that you might give to ministers?
Mr Campbell —I imagine that our interaction with those committees will be the subject of a report.
Senator BOLKUS —Were those committees chosen by government or chosen by the working group that you seem to have established?
Mr Campbell —They are UN committees, but it is the subject of agreement that they would be covered.
Senator BOLKUS —How many times has the group met?
—That I cannot say precisely. It has met on a number of occasions.
Senator BOLKUS —Can you take on notice when it has met and who was present at those meetings?
Mr Campbell —I can take that on notice.
Senator BOLKUS —Thank you. I would like an answer to that, of course.
Mr Campbell —I can take the question on notice and it will be answered.
Senator BOLKUS —Thank you.
Senator COONEY —Australia has got two matters going before the committees at the moment, hasn't it—one on mandatory sentencing and one on mandatory detention? Am I right in saying that?
Mr Campbell —The position with the committees is that we have to report to the committees. We have already lodged our written reports—in the case of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the third and fourth reports—and the committee will be examining those reports on 20 and 21 July in Geneva. It may be that the issues of mandatory detention and mandatory sentencing come up in the course of our discussions with the committee.
Senator COONEY —Will we have representatives at those hearings?
Mr Campbell —The normal position is that we would have representatives at the hearing by the committee of the report.
Senator COONEY —They usually sit for about a fortnight, don't they?
Mr Campbell —It varies between committees. They usually meet two or three times a year, maybe for a fortnight or three weeks. In terms of the time which is allotted to examine an Australian report, it is a period of about a day or a day and a half.
Senator COONEY —Australia has put in its submissions?
Mr Campbell —We have put in our third and fourth reports under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. In fact, they were tabled in the federal parliament last year. It is those reports that are going to be considered by the committee.
Senator COONEY —Do you know what other material the committee has got?
Mr Campbell —I do not know precisely the material they have, but it may well be that they have spoken to NGOs within Australia.
Senator COONEY —And you will not know that until you get there. Is that the situation? Or will somebody tell you in the meantime?
Mr Campbell —I do not know that at the present time.
Senator COONEY —Would you expect to know about it before you get there? When I say `you', I mean the department.
Mr Campbell —In some cases we are told by organisations within Australia that they have made submissions to the committee.
Senator COONEY —But the committee itself does not, as a matter of course, tell you what submissions have been made to it?
—No, although the committee might give us advance notice of some of the questions it wants to raise.
Senator COONEY —It is an interesting procedure.
Senator LUDWIG —What is the total amount spent on output 1.2—`Support for the Attorney-General as First Law Officer and advice on constitutional policy'? Perhaps you can point to where the budget allocation is on that.
Mr Govey —The answer to that is $5.153 million.
Senator LUDWIG —How is that broken down? How is that spent? If you cannot provide it, I am happy to take it on notice.
Mr Govey —It probably will be easier to take it on notice, Senator. It comprises staff costs, suppliers costs and costs that are spent on getting legal advice.
Senator LUDWIG —At page 36 of the portfolio budget statements it is stated that this output group includes the development of policies in relation to assistance to ministers and officials in relation to legal proceedings. It talks about a policy. Has a policy been developed in relation to assistance to ministers?
Mr Govey —There is a policy in relation to officers and there are regulations which provide a scheme in relation to ministers—that is, the parliamentary entitlements regulations. The policy in relation to officers is part of the legal service directions that are issued by the Attorney-General under the Judiciary Act.
Senator LUDWIG —Does that apply to the ministers?
Mr Govey —No, they are two separate things. One is for officers and ministers are covered by the parliamentary entitlements regulations.
Senator LUDWIG —Can we have a copy of those?
Mr Govey —Certainly.
Senator LUDWIG —To which ministers has assistance been provided in this financial year?
Mr Govey —Can I take that on notice as well?
Senator LUDWIG —Yes. Whilst you are looking at that matter, can you then tie it with what has been the actual value of assistance that has been apportioned to each, if there has been any assistance to ministers, and the nature of the proceedings against each of those ministers, if any? And looking at the total cost, what is the estimated or the total cost of each of those proceedings? If they have been finalised, can we have a total cost? If they have not been finalised and are ongoing, then can we have an apportionment as to costs, an expected estimate of what the total costs will be and, in addition, where that appropriation for the assistance is located in the budget itself so that we can identify that in the portfolio budget statements?
Mr Govey —I can take that on notice, Senator, except for the last part of the question which is not a cost that is borne by the Attorney-General's Department. That cost is part of Finance and Administration's budget.
Senator LUDWIG —Do you know what the total cost of that is?
Mr Govey —No, I do not. Perhaps we can ask the department.
Senator COONEY —Output 1.1 talks about `maintenance and development of the federal system of justice' and 1.2 talks about `support for the Attorney-General as First Law Officer'. In Melbourne, there has been criticism by the media of some Federal Court judges, mainly on the basis that they acted for the unions when they were at the bar. The suggestion has been made that their judgments are coloured by the work they did and by their dispositions. Is there any structure that the department can suggest or any step that the department feels it could take to set that situation to rights? I do not want to name the judges. In fact, I do not think they were named, but it was pretty clear who the media meant. The reports were that this criticism has been made by particular people in particular organisations.
Mr Cornall —Senator, I am aware of the general nature of the comments you are making. I think they were very unfortunate and unfair comments, but I do not know that there is any role the Attorney-General's Department could play in trying to, as you say, set that to rights.
Senator COONEY —I think you would know who was referred to, Mr Cornall, as well as I would. I think it was a most unfair criticism. I do not know whether they have any capacity to do anything about it. I was wondering whether you or the department can think of anything that could be done. I suppose they just have to wear it.
Mr Cornall —It is a very difficult issue. I don't think I can advance it any further, Senator.
Senator COONEY —All right.