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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee


In Attendance

Senator Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Mr Andrew Tongue, Associate Secretary, Indigenous Affairs Group

Mr Richard Eccles, Deputy Secretary, Indigenous Affairs Group

Education, Community Safety and Health Division

Ms Liz Hefren-Webb, First Assistant Secretary

Ms Fiona Sawyers, Assistant Secretary, Education Policy and Coordination Branch

Mr Gavin Matthews, Assistant Secretary, Early Childhood and Youth Branch

Ms Belinda Campbell, Assistant Secretary, Schooling Policy and Delivery Branch

Ms Tarja Saastamoinen, Assistant Secretary, Community Safety Branch

Mr Brendan Gibson, Assistant Secretary, Health Branch

Policy, Analysis and Evaluation Division

Mr Troy Sloan, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Ryan Bulman, Assistant Secretary, Cross-Government Policy Branch

Ms Rachel O'Connor, Assistant Secretary, Strategy Policy and Coordination Branch

Mr Robert Ryan, Assistant Secretary, Program Innovation Branch

Mr Matthew James, Assistant Secretary, IAG Information and Evaluation

Housing, Land and Culture Division

Ms Danielle Donegan, Acting First Assistant Secretary

Mr Wayne Beswick, Assistant Secretary, Land Branch

Mr Leonard Hill, Assistant Secretary, Culture Branch

Ms Jessica Del Rio, Assistant Secretary, Remote Infrastructure Branch

Ms Edwina Spanos, Acting Assistant Secretary, Housing Branch

Mr Greg Roche, Special Adviser, Housing Land and Culture

Program Integrity and Engagement Division

Ms Susan Black, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Dave Agnew, Assistant Secretary, Grants Policy Branch

Mr Stuart Turnbull, Assistant Secretary, Grants Management and Performance Branch

Mr Geoffrey Richardson, Assistant Secretary, Indigenous Engagement Branch

Community and Economic Development Division

Ms Nadine Williams, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Paul Denny, Assistant Secretary, Operations and Performance Branch

Ms Kirsti McQueen, Assistant Secretary, Economic Development Policy Branch

Ms Bronwyn Field, Assistant Secretary, Policy and Engagement Branch

Indigenous Employment and Recognition Division

Ms Gayle Anderson, First Assistant Secretary

Ms Justine Curnow, Assistant Secretary, Employment Policy and Programs Branch

Ms Marian Moss, Assistant Secretary, Legal Services Branch

Mr Brant Smith Assistant Secretary, Environment Branch

Ms Joanna Virtue, Acting Assistant Secretary, Constitutional Recognition Taskforce

Ms Kerstin Wijeyewardene, Assistant Secretary, Strategic Priorities Branch

PM&C Regional Network

Ms Anne-Marie Roberts, National Director

Mr Leon Donovan, Deputy National Director

Governance Group

Ms Deborah Lewis, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services

Ms Charlotte Tressler, First Assistant Secretary, Financial Services Division

Ms Sarah Vandenbroek, Assistant Secretary, Budgets and Reporting Branch

Mr Patrick Sowry, Assistant Secretary, Business Services Branch

Ms Emma Greenwood, Assistant Secretary, People Branch

Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations

Mr Anthony Beven, Registrar

Indigenous Business Australia

Mr Leo Bator, Acting Chief Executive Officer

Mr Peter O'Neill, Acting Chief Operating Officer

Indigenous Land Corporation

Mr Edward Fry, Chair

Mr John Maher, Chief Executive Officer

Ms Jodie Lindsay, Chief Operating Officer

Ms Tricia Button, Executive Director Program Delivery

Outback Stores

Mr Stephen Bradley, Chair

Department of Health

Dr Wendy Southern PSM, Deputy Secretary, National Program Delivery Group

Ms Bobbi Campbell, First Assistant Secretary, Indigenous Health Division

Ms Kate Thomann, Assistant Secretary, Strategy and Evidence Branch, Indigenous Health Division

Ms Kate Wallace, Assistant Secretary, Health Programs and Sector Development Branch, Indigenous Health Division

Ms Meredeth Taylor, Assistant Secretary, Program, Services and Access Support Branch, Indigenous Health Division

Ms Tania Rishniw, State Office Manager, Health State Network Division

Ms Natasha Cole, First Assistant Secretary, Health Services Division

Ms Lisa McGlynn, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Population Health and Sport Division

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Senator Paterson ): I declare open this meeting of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee. Today the committee will continue examination of the supplementary budget estimates for 2016-17 with the cross-portfolio hearing on Indigenous matters. The committee may also examine the annual reports of the departments and agencies appearing before it. The committee has before it a program listing agencies and outcomes relating to matters on which senators have given notice. The committee has fixed 2 December 2016 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice.

The committee will begin with examination of portfolio agencies as listed on the program, and then proceed to outcome 2 of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, followed by Indigenous health issues where the Department of Health will join officers of PM&C.

Under standing order 26 the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

The Senate, by resolution in 1999, endorsed the following test of relevance of questions at estimates hearings: any questions going to the operations or financial positions of the departments and agencies which are seeking funds in the estimates are relevant questions for the purpose of estimates hearings. I remind officers that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise.

The Senate has resolved also that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy, and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

   (a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

   (b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

(13 May 2009 J.1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders)

Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential, or consists of advice to government, is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document.

Officers are requested to keep opening statements brief or to seek to incorporate longer statements into the Hansard. I welcome the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon. Nigel Scullion, and Mr Stephen Bradley, Chair of Outback Stores Pty Ltd. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Scullion: Not at this stage, but I would like to make an opening statement at the start of the Department of PM&C session.

CHAIR: Thank you. We will come to that then.

Senator McALLISTER: Chair, is it worth you clarifying how you intend to proceed in outcome 2?

CHAIR: Yes. For everyone's information, the deputy chair and I were discussing how we will work through the program of outcome 2. We have agreed that we will begin with some general questions that people want to ask, in case they do not fit perfectly to any programs, and when we have dealt with those general questions we will then move through the programs sequentially. When the committee agrees that we have finished each program any public servants who are attached to that program but not another will be free to leave because, by agreement, we will not be coming back to them.