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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
CROSS-PORTFOLIO INDIGENOUS MATTERS
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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Kakoschke-Moore, Sen Skye
McAllister, Sen Jenny
Dodson, Sen Patrick
Smith, Sen Dean
Siewert, Sen Rachel
Scullion, Sen Nigel
McCarthy, Sen Malarndirri
McKenzie, Sen Bridget
Scullion, Sen Nigel
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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
(Senate-Friday, 21 October 2016)
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CHAIR: We will now move to outcome 2 of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. We will deal with general questions first. If senators have general questions that fit neatly under the programs, it would be best to ask those questions when the programs arise. If they do not fit under any of the programs, it would be appropriate to ask them under general questions. I understand that the minister flagged that he would like to make an opening statement.
Senator Scullion: My opening statement deals with much of the opening remarks from Senator Dodson about a whole range of things—about incarceration, out-of-home care, all of those sorts of matters—and deals with some of the issues around youth detention. If Senator Kakoschke-Moore's questions are not within that scope, perhaps I could help, and that way the senator has a better chance of making it to the airport.
CHAIR: That is a good idea. Thank you, Minister. We will go to Senator Kakoschke-Moore, and then we will come back to you, Minister, for your statement.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: My questions are focusing mainly around jobs, particularly tourism. Recently I visited the town of Ceduna on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. There I met with the Ceduna council, who are seeking to develop tourism opportunities in the local area in order to create more jobs. They have a fantastic idea of creating a wildlife park in that area to drive tourism and jobs. I was curious to know what support is available for local councils or community organisations who want to develop initiatives like wildlife parks, with the aim of developing jobs in a local area.
Senator Scullion: Whilst the officer comes to the table, I can say that right at this moment we are in levels of engagement with not only the mayor but also the other principal organisations and communities around Ceduna about some economic development processes. I will allow the first assistant secretary to answer the question for you.
Ms Williams : Yes, certainly, there is funding available under the IAS for opportunities such as the one you identify, Senator. As the minister noted, we are working very closely with Ceduna leaders around developing up those opportunities.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Does the department have a long-term strategy when it comes to Indigenous tourism and the jobs that can be created in that area?
Senator Scullion: No, not specifically, in that this is about supporting what communities want to do. Some communities believe that tourism is what they want to do, particularly in the areas of ethnobotany and interpretive walks. There is a lot of Indigenous tourism focused around that at the moment. But we, I guess, are generally more reactive when the community says, 'These are the sort of tourism ventures or other ventures we'd like to get involved in.' So I would not say that we have a tourism bent particularly or that we would like to allocate funds on tourism. It is generally held that business development—it does not matter what business—would come from that process.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: I suppose you are more responsive to the requests of the community, rather than imposing a particular plan on them.
Senator Scullion: Yes.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: I would like to take you now to Kangaroo Island in South Australia. There, the local football club, Dudley United, joined with the Clontarf Foundation. They linked together to develop a program in which Indigenous boys head to Kangaroo Island to play football for the local team. This helps the team keep up their dwindling numbers in a rural area, and it also provides the boys with opportunities for work, education and training. After the success of this grassroots program, is the government looking to develop opportunities such as this and build on the success of a program like the Clontarf Foundation and Dudley football club partnership?
Senator Scullion: We make substantive investments right across Australia. The Clontarf Foundation is clearly for targeted young blokes, but we have a number of other investments. We have the Girls Academy. We now have the Stars Foundation that targets the engagement of young women. We certainly see the Clontarf model being a very, very successful model and we are going to continue to make some investments. For some of the details, perhaps one of my officers may assist.
Ms Hefren-Webb : We provide funding to the Clontarf Foundation of $34.4 million, which assists around 7,900 boys in multiple locations across Australia. As the minister indicated, we also fund a number of providers who work specifically on girls academies, role models and leaders. We also fund the Stars Foundation, and we fund some specific girls academies like at Kormilda College in Darwin.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: The department helps fund those programs?
Ms Hefren-Webb : That is correct.
Mr Matthews : It would be about $120 million overall for about 2½ years, with broad support for a range of initiatives from scholarships through to mentoring of students and in-school support. It is a range of things.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Regarding the program on Kangaroo Island, I am aware that some of the local community contributed about $1,000 each to help pay wages and cover the costs of board and food for the boys who came over. Is the department able to provide funding at that sort of detailed level to help with jobs?
Ms Hefren-Webb : We can probably provide you with detail of funding going to Clontarf and what specific locations that is for. I do not know if it would get down to each project activity, but we can have a look at that.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: If you could take that on notice it would be great.
Mr Matthews : I am not sure of the specifics of the Kangaroo Island one—whether it comes under what we fund or if it is something separate. I am not sure, but we can chase that up.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: I think it might be separate, so I would like to know.
Senator Scullion: We can offer you a comprehensive brief at any time on matters, as we offer the committee and other members of parliament. If you have a particular interest in Kangaroo Island and some of these other matters, we are happy to provide an additional briefing on that on notice.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Thank you very much.
Mr Matthews : What I would say is that, generally, most of them—Clontarf, Role Models and Leaders Australia, Stars Foundation and even Australian Indigenous Education Foundation—work on government contributions, some contributions from parents and corporate contributions. So quite often there can be a mix of funding sources going into those organisations.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: In the interests of time, I would like to go to the issue of employment, particularly for Indigenous women. I note that in a report from 2014-15 the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social survey showed that only 52 per cent of Aboriginal women were participating in the labour workforce. Given the importance that has been placed on encouraging greater participation by women in the workforce—in particular, by Indigenous women—what plans does the government have to increase that number from 52 per cent?
Mr Eccles : Maybe Ms Hefren-Webb could talk about some of the programs we have to support women, and then we can talk a little bit more about some of the programs that are predominantly around employment. It will be sort of a combination of the both that would go to the issues that you raise. You are exactly right.
Ms Hefren-Webb : We do have a lower level of Indigenous women in the workforce than would be optimal. A lot of them are undertaking parenting and caring responsibilities, so that is part of the equation we need to understand. Indigenous young women do outperform Indigenous young men in terms of educational attainment through school, but then we do not see the same translation to the workforce. So we do have a number of programs that target women. As I said earlier, Role Models and Leaders Australia fund programs for girls to encourage them to think beyond high school, their future and their future career pathways. We have programs like the Wirrpanda Foundation, which runs the Deadly Sista Girlz Program in WA. Overall, we have about $21 million in female-specific programs happening in the IAS.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Is that $21 million in funding specifically for this?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Specifically for supporting young women in their career development and aspirations. As I said, the reasons a lot of Indigenous women are not in the workforce are complex and related to family responsibilities and other matters. So it is about understanding that story, encouraging Indigenous women to participate if that is what they are keen to do and if it is the right time in their lives, and also encouraging them to complete their education.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Does the department work with the Office for Women?
Ms Hefren-Webb : We work very closely with the Office for Women on their gender strategy. We have done some really good work with them on understanding trends in the labour force, trends in caring, trends in parenting, Indigenous women's ownership of business, entrepreneurship and also Indigenous women's accumulation of retirement incomes.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: If you cannot tell me now, you can take this on notice: are there are any specific projects that are on foot at the moment that you could give me a little bit more information on?
Mr Eccles : I will start at the broad end and then maybe Ms Anderson can go into a little bit more detail. Our employment programs are one of the cornerstones of the work that we do. It is based on the view that a job is so fundamental to someone's wellbeing and aspirations—looking after family and other things. We have a number of employment programs that really are depending on an individual's personal circumstance across all our programs. We have some like the VTEC program where we work with people with multiple barriers to employment and give them training and then place them into jobs. We work with the VTEC—
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Can you tell me how many participants there have been in that specific program?
Mr Eccles : Yes, sure. We have just hit the milestone of 5,000 permanent jobs arising from the VTEC programs. All in all, across all of our programs, since September 2013, there have been over 44,000 employment instances or commencements. We do not have the number who are women but we will certainly endeavour to take that on notice.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Are there plans to roll out VTEC in Ceduna?
Mr Eccles : Not at this stage. We do have other programs in Ceduna. One thing we could do on notice is to get you a fairly detailed outline of the Ceduna employment programs that we have in place. There are quite a few things we are doing in that area.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: The feedback I had while I was there was that VTEC might be a goer there. So perhaps this is some feedback for you, but I would appreciate if on notice or during a briefing we can have a further discussion.
Senator Scullion: A lot of people say: 'Oh VTEC, that goes well. Look at all the jobs they have created.' But if you have a VTEC in a place, it does not affect the jobs that are actually available, and it is predicated on finding a job first. So somebody has to put their hand up with a real position, somewhere, and then we find someone with a trade for the position. But in places like Ceduna, one of the challenges is that there just aren't any jobs. I would love to have more jobs. Sometimes it is a critical mass issue. I think it is a process that we should move more and more to rather than just a VTEC model. Right across the board, we should be trying to identify a job and then put someone in it. The issue around VTEC in Ceduna is probably more about critical mass and the availability of jobs than the model we use.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: My final question is in relation to the Women's Safety Package. In particular, I understand that $100 million were allocated to reduce Indigenous family and domestic violence. Are you able to provide me with a breakdown of how that funding is being spent?
Ms Hefren-Webb : The $100 million related to the whole package. I might pass to my colleague, Tarja Saastamoinen, to answer the details.
Ms Saastamoinen : Of the $100 million in the Women's Safety Package, $21 million has been set aside for PM&C to manage, in particular, Indigenous initiatives. It is funding a number of different types of initiatives for women and to support women's safety in communities. It includes things like support services for women in communities who are affected by violence, it includes other types of services around addressing attitudes and behaviours toward women and girls in communities and it—
Ms Hefren-Webb : I will also add that it funds some improved police responses to domestic violence in Queensland and the Northern Territory, some activities to reduce the likelihood of perpetrators reoffending and some training for nurses who are delivering services as part of the Australian Nurse-Family Partnership Program.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: With regard to training for police and nurses, you mentioned that the funding has been allocated to police in Queensland and in the Northern Territory. Will it be rolled out to other states?
Ms Hefren-Webb : We have funded some specific activities in Queensland and in the Northern Territory. I might mention that the $100 million package was the package announced last year. There was a further funding commitment made as part of an election commitment so we are currently scoping how the Indigenous component of that will work. We will be having conversations with jurisdictions around what is the most useful way that that funding can contribute, including to policing responses but not just policing responses.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Perhaps on notice I could have a list of where the funding has gone.
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes, absolutely.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: That would be great. Thank you.
CHAIR: We will now move to the minister's opening statement, and then we will proceed to general questions.
Senator Scullion: I thank the committee for the opportunity to make an opening statement. I would like to use it to set the record straight on events leading up to the ABC report into the appalling treatment of young people in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and the subsequent announcement by the Prime Minister of a royal commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory.
Significant issues in the youth detention system the Northern Territory have been raised by the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner with the Northern Territory government as far back as 2010 when the Labor Party was in government in both the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth jurisdictions. The ABC Four Corners program has reported that Dr Howard Bath, former Northern Territory Children's Commissioner, had written a confidential report documenting the treatment of Dylan Voller since 2010 following an incident at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in 2012. This report was provided to the Northern Territory government at that time. I only became aware of the Bath report when it was referenced in the Four Corner program. This report has never been publicly released.
On 2 October 2014 the Northern Territory government announced that it would undertake an independent review, known as the Vita review, into the Northern Territory's youth justice system. The findings were released on 18 February of 2015. The report made 16 recommendations about how to improve the youth justice system, but it found no evidence of a systemic culture of unreasonable force or intimidation of youth detainees. The report also found the actions of the NT commissioner in authorising the use of chemical agents to be justified.
On 17 September 2015 the office of the NT Children's Commissioner released the findings of its own review on the use of CS gas, also known as the Gwynne review. The Northern Territory government subsequently released a media statement accepting all of the 16 Vita report recommendations and indicating that all but one of the recommendations had been implemented. The Northern Territory government also announced the establishment of a Youth Detention Reform Advisory Group that included the NT Children's Commissioner, NAAJA, the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service and the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission to oversight the implementation of the Vita report recommendations.
I have already acknowledged what documents I have received, but I am happy to repeat this for the benefit of the committee. I have acknowledged that my office received briefing information about the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre going back to 2015. I have acknowledged, including in the Senate, that my office received a question time brief about the Don Dale centre in 2015. This advice noted the use of CS gas, the unlawful transfer of detainees to the adult prison, the allegations relating to guards forcing young people to fight, making one inmate eat bird faeces and threatening detainees with retribution once released from detention. These were serious allegations. However, public statements made by the Northern Territory government at that time indicated that it was actively engaged in addressing all of the issues raised in the two reports.
Following an exhaustive search for briefs carried out in response to freedom-of-information applications, I was also made aware that there was a reference to the Don Dale centre in the background of a meeting brief from 2015 as well. Importantly, none of these documents referenced the graphic footage broadcast by the ABC Four Corners program. The Youth Detention Reform Advisory Group that was set up to oversight the implementation of the Vita report's recommendations did not raise any issues publicly or with my office to suggest that the Northern Territory government was not fully implementing all recommendations. In fact, as late as 16 June 2016 the NT Children's Commissioner provided advice at a Northern Territory government estimates hearing on the implementation of recommendations of the Gwynne report, stating that she was satisfied with the way the department of correctional services was working towards full implementation. It is probably because of this understanding that no-one has ever asked me a question about this issue either here in Senate estimates or, in fact, in the Senate.
On 25 July 2016 the ABC Four Corners program broadcast its allegation of mistreatment of children at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, including abuse by prison guards and the use of tear gas, spit hoods and restraint chairs. The footage shown during that program was deeply disturbing in a way that no written report can fully convey. I was not the only one confronted by this footage, which I had previously not seen. On 26 July the Prime Minister announced a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. The Four Corners report raised serious questions about whether the previous reports had truly established what had happened or was happening in the youth detention facilities in the Northern Territory and whether the response from the Northern Territory government was enough to make significant improvements in the current conditions to the children detained there. This is why I strongly supported the Prime Minister in his decision to swiftly establish a royal commission to investigate these matters. A royal commission is the highest level of inquiry that can be established. It will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of truth, and it reflects the coalition government's commitment to preventing inappropriate treatment of children in detention. It is important we now allow the royal commission to proceed with its inquiry.
I would also like to highlight that I have a longstanding commitment to improving the absolutely appalling rate of Indigenous incarceration and detention in this country. The facts are stark. As we know, Indigenous adults are 13 times more likely to be incarcerated and juveniles are 24 times more likely to be in detention. We need to hold the states and territories to account for the treatment in these facilities, as they are the ones who run the facilities. We do not have a formal role in oversighting these facilities and systems. I believe the royal commission and the separate inquiry in Queensland will greatly assist in this.
I have written to all relevant state and territory ministers to seek their assurance on practices in their detention facilities, and to offer to work with them on these issues. In addition, the Prime Minister is committed to raising this issue at a future Council of Australian Governments meeting, to ensure all jurisdictions hear the message that the treatment displayed in the Four Corners report should never happen again. One aspect that is clear from this is that I must do more to raise these types of issues formally with the states and territories, where needed. Since the Four Corners report I have taken a more direct approach with the states and territories, seeking advice from responsible ministers on every incident that has come to my attention—including, regrettably, a number of deaths in custody—to offer the Commonwealth's assistance wherever this may be of help.
However, it is also vitally important that we focus on what is needed to reduce the number of people who come into contact with the juvenile and adult justice systems in the first place. My government is working to bring together a package of actions that I believe will make a genuine improvement. This will be on top of our already considerable effort, principally constructed in three elements. First, we have to work in partnership with the states and territories to reduce the number of people who become incarcerated for minor offences, particularly related to the non-payment of fines. I have written to the state and territory ministers seeking their support to better use the welfare system to assist with the collection of fines. The second element is ensuring that people are protected when they do come into contact with the justice system. I have written to all ministers in states and territories that do not have a mandatory custody notification scheme, offering funding support to help them set this up so that we have a nationally consistent approach that ensures all Indigenous people get this vital support at that critical time.
The third element is to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. About four in five Indigenous prisoners reoffend, and we need to make sure we break this pattern. This is why the Prime Minister committed to national action to better transition Indigenous people from prison to work. We have done a great deal of very positive work in this area, and this is going to be a focus of discussion in the COAG meeting later this year. This is on top of our existing effort where we provide $18.5 million over three years to support 10 prisoner through-care providers who work with offenders to ensure that we reduce their likelihood of reoffending.
I am also focusing on supporting practical measures that improve community safety in Indigenous communities and address the underlying issues of disadvantage that drive much of the contact young people have with the criminal justice system. For example, under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy Safety and Wellbeing program the government is providing nearly $105 million over three years—that is for 2015 to 2018—for activities in the Northern Territory to reduce young people's contact with the criminal justice system, as both offenders and victims, and to improve their wellbeing. The funding in a broad sense includes youth leadership and sport and recreational activities; youth healing and advocacy services; alcohol and other drug rehabilitation services; rehabilitation, reintegration and support for young people exiting youth detention; night patrols; and social and emotional wellbeing activities. Through the IAS Children and Schooling program, the government is also providing nearly $72 million over three years—that is in 2015-18—in the Northern Territory for activities that are geared towards getting children to school, improving educational outcomes and supporting families to give young Aboriginal people a good start in life.
I welcome the scrutiny and the heightened focus on these issues in the public arena that has come about as a result of the Four Corners report. This attention rightly holds the government accountable for how they treat children and young people in their care. I intend to work closely with state and territory governments to ensure that the incidents that happened at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre cannot ever be repeated anywhere throughout Australia. This will include working with jurisdictions on how the findings of the royal commission can be used to inform future reforms across youth detention facilities nationwide. I thank the committee for allowing me to make an opening statement, and I now welcome questions.
Senator McALLISTER: Could we get a copy of that?
Senator Scullion: I am happy to table my opening statement.
Senator McALLISTER: Thank you for providing that overview, Minister. I think you will be unsurprised that committee members wish to talk about the set of issues you have canvassed. I would perhaps like to understand first the circumstances around the screening of the Four Corners report. When did you first find out that Four Corners was intending to screen a program about Don Dale detention centre in the Northern Territory?
Senator Scullion: About midday on the day that it was aired.
Senator McALLISTER: So there was no advance notice? You had no indication from other sources?
Senator Scullion: I had advance notice at 12 o'clock in the middle of the day that it was to be aired that evening.
Senator McALLISTER: How did you find out about it at 12 o'clock?
Senator Scullion: I am pretty sure it was from my media adviser. I am not sure whether the ABC had rung him or he had rung the ABC. I am not sure exactly how that came to be. My media adviser told me that there was a matter, and that generally the matter was youth detention in the Northern Territory. I clearly have an interest in it.
Senator McALLISTER: What did you do then?
Senator Scullion: I asked him to ring the ABC and say, 'Listen, I am not able to watch it tonight. Can I have a forward copy? I would really like to see it now.'
Senator McALLISTER: What was the response?
Senator Scullion: They were not able to allow me to see something earlier than when it was shown on the night. They said that I would have to see it with everybody else.
Senator McALLISTER: Did you speak to anybody about the prospect of this program airing?
Senator Scullion: Sorry—'about the prospect'?
Senator McALLISTER: You knew the program was about to air. Did you speak to anyone in the government about it? Did he speak to any of your colleagues or ministerial colleagues?
Senator Scullion: No. All I had was the information that something was going to air about youth detention. That was it. I said, 'Yes, I have an interest. I would really love to have a look at that program. I won't be able to see it when it runs tonight. I would love to have a look at it immediately up-front.'
Senator McALLISTER: So you did not speak to the Prime Minister at that time?
Senator McALLISTER: Or the Attorney-General?
Senator Scullion: No, nobody. I have already said I did not speak to anyone. That would obviously include the Treasurer and the Prime Minister.
Senator McALLISTER: Did you speak to anyone in the Northern Territory government?
Senator Scullion: I did not speak to anyone.
Senator McALLISTER: When did you watch that episode of Four Corners? I think you said you watched it on iview. When was that?
Senator Scullion: I did. It was later in the evening. It was close to when it aired. It was not long after it aired. It was probably an hour and a half or so later. I am not sure what the time was. I watched it on iview when I returned home.
Senator McALLISTER: I think you indicated in some of your media comment that that was after the Prime Minister rang you.
Senator Scullion: No. I had a missed call from the Prime Minister. After I had been where I had been, I rang the Prime Minister. It is something you do straight away, invariably. He said, 'I've seen this. Have you seen it?' I said, 'No, mate. I'm going to see it when I get home.' He said, 'Great. Give me a ring when you've seen it,' so I did.
Senator McALLISTER: So he rang you. It was a missed call. You rang him back. He said, 'Take a look at the footage.' You went and looked at the footage in the late evening. Did you call him back later that evening?
Senator Scullion: Yes, that is correct. It might have been the next morning, but to the best of my recollection I called him back after I had watched it at home.
Senator McALLISTER: Was that the only contact you had with the Prime Minister that evening—those two phone calls?
Senator Scullion: Yes.
Senator McALLISTER: Did any of your office staff see the footage at the time that it aired?
Senator Scullion: Yes.
Senator McALLISTER: Right. So they had seen it. I think the answer to this based on your earlier evidence is no, but they did not have advance access to the footage?
Senator Scullion: Not to my knowledge, no.
Senator McALLISTER: I will come back later on to talk a bit about the process of establishing the royal commission, but was that canvassed in the conversations you had with the Prime Minister that evening?
Senator Scullion: Sorry?
Senator McALLISTER: Was the decision to establish a royal commission canvassed in the conversation you had with the Prime Minister that evening after you had seen the footage?
Senator Scullion: I am not going to go to those conversations. I think, as a matter of principle, I would rather not provide the answer to the question about a conversation I was having with the Prime Minister.
Senator McALLISTER: Were you consulted about the establishment of a royal commission?
Senator Scullion: I was.
Senator McALLISTER: Did you speak to any of your other colleagues that evening after you had seen the footage, or after you had received notice of the missed call from the Prime Minister?
Senator McALLISTER: Anyone in the Northern Territory government?
Senator Scullion: I did not speak to anyone; that would include the Territory.
Senator McALLISTER: Just the Prime Minister, on that evening.
Senator Scullion: Indeed.
Senator McALLISTER: You mentioned in your opening remarks the Vita review. That report, as you said, was publicly released in February 2015. Was the minister's office ever briefed on the content of that report?
Senator Scullion: I think it is useful to preface my answer by saying there are principally three types of brief. There is a brief which is a formal brief, which you read, and you sign that you have received that information as a brief—as all ministers would have. There are generally two other sorts of briefs. Both are information briefs. Generally speaking they are for meetings with people or as a preface to meetings, or they are—as we would know—question time briefs to anticipate questions in the Senate—and for meetings, to anticipate what may be discussed in a meeting. So no, I did not receive any formal briefs on that matter, but I did receive a question time brief. And, as I have indicated in my opening statement, there was a later, exhaustive process that revealed that in the background of a meeting brief with NAAJA I had received some information on those matters.
Senator McALLISTER: I am asking specifically about the Vita report and whether you were briefed on that, in any form. To be honest, Minister, I understand the reasons why you may seek to distinguish between information provided to you in different formats, but I think the common understanding of the term 'be briefed' is that somebody who works for you provides you with information about an issue that is relevant to your portfolio responsibilities, and I think that probably encompasses all three of the briefs that you describe. I am happy for you to distinguish between those in answering, but I would hope that you would not—
Senator Scullion: Well, the reason I am, Senator, is that the question is that when I said publicly, 'I have not received a brief on the matter,' I was not saying that I had not received a briefing, it was 'a brief'. And that is what I was referring to. A brief is significantly different from a briefing. A briefing is what people would invariably say is when someone comes and visits you and provides a briefing. This is not about semantics, because it is about what I said. I am just ensuring that we keep to what we were actually talking about, rather than trying to drift into areas where we are saying, 'a briefing is a briefing; they are all the same'—they are not. In my response at the media interviews the following morning, I said that to my knowledge I had not received a brief on it. And that is exactly what I was referring to.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, I do not accept a semantic narrowing down of the kind of information that constitutes a brief. It may be a difference of opinion, but I personally do not consider that a—
Senator Scullion: I was just providing an explanation, for the wider benefit of anyone who is interested in this area, that there are considerable differences between a meeting brief or something that is going to be in question time, and a briefing on a matter. There are significant differences. It is just useful for people to know that, Senator.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, do you think that is what the people of the Northern Territory would think, if you asked them what the meaning of brief is?
Senator Scullion: No—actually, we have really been focused on getting kids to school, getting people to work, getting people prepared so they do not have to be incarcerated, making sure Kormilda College stays open so it ensures the opportunities for Indigenous people—that is what they want to talk to me about, Senator. I do not think anyone has ever asked me about a brief in the Territory in the time that I have been minister.
Senator McALLISTER: They may not have, but that may have been concerned—I am fairly confident that they want to know that you provide accurate answers to questions, and I am—
Senator Scullion: I am, Senator. I hope you are not asserting that I am not.
Senator McALLISTER: I am suggesting to you that a narrow reading of 'brief' may not be an acceptable way to proceed.
Senator Scullion: I was just providing the complete context.
CHAIR: Perhaps let's move on from this. I think it is getting a bit technical.
Senator McALLISTER: We can move on. Can I ask whether you were provided with any information—a question time brief, a meeting brief or a 'capitalised letter' Brief—about the review of the Northern Territory youth detention system that was prepared by Mr Vita.
Senator Scullion: As I have said on the public record, as I have said in the Senate and as I have said in my opening statement: yes, it was. The most important thing about those briefs was that it was absolutely no different at all to the media at the time. As I have indicated in my opening statement—
Senator McALLISTER: What do you mean it was no different to the media at the time?
Senator Scullion: That there was no additional information that was publicly available at the time and in the suite of the matters it was the time, as I have indicated in my opening statement. This matter was being dealt with. The facility had been closed. Sixteen of the recommendations had been accepted. All of that information was there at that time.
I am saying that the difference, which is what the question is, between the meeting briefs where it seemed everything was being dealt with— the Northern Territory government was doing all these things, everything was fine, the commissioner had said that and we had a committee made up of these very aux bodies that was dealing with all those matters—that was in stark contrast to what we saw on Four Corners, where we saw that clearly there was a culture of brutality and there was a culture of cover-up, and that is the difference. You certainly would not have had a royal commission into those matters that were in either of the reports or anything that was on the public record. But we certainly would have. Which is why the government acted to have a royal commission on the basis of the Four Corners report, because it was graphically different to the matters that were contained in the reports and what was available both to me—in question time briefs and meeting briefs—and on the public record.
Senator McALLISTER: I might come back to that difference. I have a copy of those briefs, which were released under FOI . I am trying to find where it says that everything was being dealt with.
Mr Matthews : You will probably find it will be in one of the question time briefs—probably the one from around October—in the October, November and March question time briefs that will be in there. From memory, it is in the background there that it summarises some of the broad claims and notes that the NT has accepted the findings and has put in place the oversight group.
Senator McALLISTER: Yes. It says there is a response. It does not make any reference to the adequacy of the response.
Mr Matthews : No. It did note that the NT has accepted the recommendations and put in place the oversight body.
Senator McALLISTER: I will come to the Children's Commissioner report. You were briefed about that. I think you have acknowledged that. That appears in this question time brief.
Senator Scullion: Yes.
Senator McALLISTER: Have you read the report?
Senator Scullion: Indeed.
Senator McALLISTER: When did you read it?
Senator Scullion: I would have read it in the week following the Four Corners report.
Senator McALLISTER: It is pretty graphic isn't it? I have read it.
Senator Scullion: It is nowhere near as graphic as the Four Corners report. It only had two still photos, neither of which included human beings. It is a complete contrast to the Four Corners report.
Senator McALLISTER: It talks about the use of tear gas doesn't it? It quotes the commissioner as saying, 'Use as much chemical as you want,' or words to that effect doesn't it?
Senator Scullion: No. The report did not say that at all. The Four Corners footage showed that, yes. That makes my point that there seemed to be this culture of, 'She'll be right, mate. Ha-ha. Bit more chemicals; don't worry about the budget.' That certainly wasn't met in the Vita report. Have you read the report, Senator?
Senator McALLISTER: I have read both of the reports. I am speaking now about the Children's Commissioner report.
Senator Scullion: It was not in either report but it was in the footage.
Senator McALLISTER: Page 19 of the Children's Commissioner's report, which I will remind you was released in August 2015, said:
The dog handler—
because, of course, they were preparing to use dogs on these children—
can be heard to ask:
'You going to gas the lot of them?'
It goes on to say:
The Commissioner is then heard to say to someone:
'…Mate, I don't mind how much chemical you use, we gotta get him out …'
It then goes on to say:
CCTV footage … shows 'A' and 'B' running to the back of their cell and hiding behind a mattress and sheet.
I think these were the prisoners who were playing cards at the time of the incident. The report goes on:
'A' later informed his case worker that ''he thought they were going to die'' and that he and 'B' ''said their good-byes''.
CCTV footage in BMU cell 1 shows 'C' covering his face with his shirt and running to the back of his cell and spitting, and possibly vomiting into the toilet.
The report goes on to describe what happened to the officers working in the facility who entered the cells without protective equipment and were themselves affected by the CS gas. This is on page 20 of the report that was released in August. Then it talks about the Handycam footage captured on the basketball court that shows the young people coughing and spitting on the ground.
That information was in the public domain, and I suppose it may be in writing rather than in pictures, but I would say that it is still pretty graphic. Would you accept that?
Senator Scullion: Well, what are you saying? Is a giraffe a giraffe? Are you asking a question? You have just told me a bunch of things, but if you ask me a question I will be able to be of assistance.
Senator McALLISTER: In your earlier remarks, you said that the cavalier approach to the use of force was not evident in the reports published prior to the Four Corners program. The report I have read you extracts from was published almost a year before the Four Corners program. Why then did you say to the committee that those comments about the gas were not included in the report published in August 2015, when they plainly are included on page 21 and page 22?
Senator Scullion: I would appreciate it if you did not verbal me. I read it from a process, but what I said was that it was not evident from any of the reports that there was a culture of brutality or cover-up and that it was not evident or stated in the reports. I was making that point to differentiate the Four Corners report from the two reports. The Four Cornersreport required us to have a royal commission, because a royal commission has the powers, if there is obviously a culture within something, to be able to pull those matters apart. And it certainly was not evident at all from the two reports, and that was the point I was making.
Senator McALLISTER: There are reports that were in the public domain almost a year before the Four Corners program. They go to the very limited training for the officers in those facilities that was completely inadequate in the face of the task they were assigned. The acting general manager in the report, on page 25, talks about the fact that a youth justice officer receives three days training and that there is no way in the world the training is adequate. That was the response to the culture of brutality, that I would assert is evident in the report. I think the report is chilling. Were you aware of that element of the report?
Senator Scullion: Certainly, it was on the public record that there had been a number of recommendations. When this came out in the media there were the reports, and not only had sixteen recommendations, including issues around training, been accepted, but 15 of them had been adopted. The training was a fundamental part of that, and it is good to see that the Northern Territory government has implemented those changes. That was monitored by organisations like NAAJA and the legal aid commission, a group of obviously independent people, ensuring that those changes were real. That is what we knew at the time.
Senator McALLISTER: On 23 September the Northern Territory News and the ABC reported claims of abuse of children by staff at Don Dale, and you referenced those in your opening remarks. The ABC report quoted that:
… some staff made young people fight, with the winner getting extra soft drink and chocolate.
There was poo sitting on the ground one time and a young fella got dared to eat its shit and they videoed it and put it on SnapChat to all their friends and they gave him a Coke and a chocolate.
Were you made aware of the article at that time?
Senator Scullion: I can remember in general terms, particularly because of the reference to bird faeces. It is not something you forget in a hurry. But I can also remember in that same report that those matters were being dealt with, and that was the context of those reports. Those reports had come out and those matters were being dealt with as part of those recommendations by the Northern Territory government. Those were the news reports. It was not in isolation—that 'this has happened' and they are not talking about anything else. This had happened, those are the sorts of things that were happening, and the news report went on to say that those recommendations had been accepted and implemented.
Senator McALLISTER: So you accept that that is a fairly graphic description of a problem, because it is so memorable—faeces?
Senator Scullion: That is correct. Of course it is.
Senator McALLISTER: Of course. And you were fully aware of it at the time?
Senator Scullion: I was made aware at the time in the media, and the media were saying two things. They were saying, 'This happened, and this is what is being done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.' They were released on news media at the same time. That was the context of the media articles at the time.
Senator McALLISTER: So you were fully aware, but confident that others were dealing with it?
Senator Scullion: That seemed to be the indication in both the media and the meeting brief.
Senator McALLISTER: There was another report on 12 November in 2015, last year, that appeared on the ABC and contained claims about the use of spit hoods and mechanical restraint—
Senator Scullion: I am sorry, can you remind me which report that was?
Senator McALLISTER: Yes, I can table it.
Senator Scullion: No, that is not necessary. There were a lot of reports and stuff and different dates, and I am just not that agile.
Senator McALLISTER: There have been a lot of reports, it is true. This was well documented in the public domain. On 12 November 2105 another report appeared on the ABC and it was published by—
Senator Scullion: A media report? No, that is okay. I thought it was actually a report report. My apologies.
Senator McALLISTER: Sorry. It was published by Kate Wild.
Senator Scullion: Just a media report. I understand.
Senator McALLISTER: I can table the document if that would help you.
Senator Scullion: No, that is okay. I thought you were referring to one of the other reports. My apologies.
Senator McALLISTER: It was published by Kate Wild, and it talked about the claims of the use of spit hoods and mechanical restraint chairs at Don Dale. Were you aware of that report?
Senator Scullion: I cannot recall reading that particular report, that particular piece of media. I cannot recall.
Senator McALLISTER: Can anyone in the department assist? Were you aware of that report?
Senator Scullion: They cannot assist in whether or not I read it. But that is to the best of my recollection.
Senator McALLISTER: No, I am certainly not asking them that. Mr Tongue, was the department aware of those reports?
Mr Matthews : Without seeing the exact article, I could not tell you exactly.
Senator McALLISTER: I can table it.
Mr Matthews : With the QTBs that we had done around the time—the first one was October, then subsequently in November and into March next year—it is possible that it would have been picked up in the media scanning we have done and updated in one of the QTBs, possibly. Without seeing the exact article, I do not know. I would have to go back and check.
Senator McALLISTER: Right. You may have known about it, but you were not asked to provide a brief to the minister?
Mr Matthews : I would guess that, if we were aware of it, if it had changed, it would have been something we would have looked at to see whether it would change the tone of the background material or something in the question time briefing. That would be the normal process.
CHAIR: Since you have mentioned question time briefs, Minister, in between the release of this report that Senator McAllister has been referring to and the Four Corners episode airing, how many questions did you receive in question time in the Senate from opposition members on the Don Dale detention centre?
Senator Scullion: I can recall that there were none on the specific issues around this.
CHAIR: So, as Senator McAllister said, this was an issue that was in the media and was reported on, but was not raised with you once in Senate question time? How about in Senate estimates?
Senator Scullion: No, there were none in Senate estimates and, as I said, I have perhaps made an assumption. I do not wish to verbal any of the committee, but we had the children's commissioner giving evidence at an estimates hearing in the Northern Territory saying basically, 'I think all of these things are in hand; they are all being done.' No doubt, my colleagues around the table would have had a level of comfort from that and other assurances that yes, this might have been horrid, but this is being done. I guess a lot of people would find it difficult to make the direct connection in a jurisdictional faction between the Commonwealth and correctional services in the Northern Territory.
CHAIR: There have obviously been a lot of questions since the airing of the Four Corners report. In your view, would it be fair to say that the Four Corners report piqued the interest of opposition members?
Senator Scullion: You would have to ask them. There is no doubt that everybody felt that it was just shocking.
Senator Scullion: The Four Corners report was just horrible and shocking, and it has given us all a shake. We are doing our best within our capacity, as I indicated in my opening statement, to ensure that those circumstances never happen again, and we have all got to play our part in it. It might be state and territory jurisdiction, but, for me particularly, because we have such a high level of Indigenous incarceration in this space, we have to have a particular and much higher level of interest. In my opening statement I outlined those actions that we have taken to ensure that we know about everything, and we have certainly been at great lengths to assist the states and territories at those peak levels—at those particularly pointed places on entry to incarceration—to ensure that we know about the recidivism and all of those matters that I dealt with in my opening remarks.
Senator DODSON: Chair, on your use of the term 'piqued interest', from memory it was a term that the minister used in response to these matters and not necessarily relevant to members of the opposition.
Senator Scullion: Again, I was disappointed with the opposition's fantasy in the Federation Chamber yesterday, where the fantasy was that I was actually offered the opportunity by the ABC to see it early. That is the fantasy. That is how twisted this stuff gets. In fact, I asked to see it and they denied me the opportunity. You would reckon that is a pretty polarised set of facts. My remark 'piqued my interest' was about the media; it was not about the facts—and that is what I said.
Senator McALLISTER: What do you mean by the media?
Senator Scullion: When I said, 'It didn't pique my interest,' I was referring to the media, not the matters of fact around the children.
Senator DODSON: But somehow or other the media had woken up and this terrible thing was upon us, despite a royal commission.
Senator Scullion: I am just saying that I had been in a situation, and no doubt you had, almost of shock of seeing what we had seen on the Four Corners report. In comparison, the matters that were in the media at the time did not add up. They did not, and that is why we now have a royal commission.
Senator DODSON: I can appreciate how that happens. There was a report—I am not sure whether there was a press release, but there was a report—on 5 October, which one of the officers might recall, where it was suggested that the NT police were investigating the reports of abuse at Don Dale. Were this matter and what had taken place ever reported on in any of the numbers of categories of briefs that you may have had? Were there any charges laid?
Mr Matthews : It is possibly an NT government press release or report. I think it probably is referring—
Senator DODSON: It is an ABC one.
Mr Matthews : I think it is probably referring to investigation by the NT government Child Abuse Taskforce, which is through NT policing. There were specific instances, I think, that are particularly around that set of circumstances—
Senator DODSON: In relation to that report?
Mr Matthews : Not so much the report, but they would have been through the chain of events through that period in August. Some of those matters, and I think possibly some from prior, had been referred through to the Child Abuse Taskforce, and so in the normal course of events—
Senator DODSON: I understand. I am just asking a very simple question. There was a report that the police in the Northern Territory were investigating the allegations that had been raised in relation to the Don Dale centre.
Mr Matthews : I believe the background of one of the question time briefs that have been released under FOI notes that the Child Abuse Taskforce is investigating some of the matters of those incidents.
Senator DODSON: So you cannot tell me whether there were charges laid or not?
Senator Scullion: We can take that on notice; that was some time ago. But I agree, there was—
Senator DODSON: It would have been useful if charges were laid. It may have arrested the awfulness that we have been seeing.
Mr Matthews : It is always a difficult thing for us to get a line of sight on a jurisdiction's policing matters from the Commonwealth—
Senator Scullion: But we will find out what happened to that investigation, if that would be of use to you.
Senator DODSON: Yes.
Senator McALLISTER: Can I come now to the question time brief that I think we are talking about. Just for clarity, that is question time brief 15/794. I assume you all have that in your papers. Do you recall receiving that brief, Minister?
Senator Scullion: No, I recall it being in my question time pack. I carry it down there dutifully every day.
Senator McALLISTER: Do you read them before you go into question time?
Senator Scullion: I am across most of them, yes. I understand that they are available. Usually, you become more across them if somebody shows sufficient interest to ask a question. There were no questions asked, but I do know they are there, yes.
Senator McALLISTER: You had read it. Presumably, you would read it privately before you read it in the chamber.
Senator Scullion: Correct.
Senator McALLISTER: How did that brief get generated? Did your office ask for it?
Senator Scullion: I am not sure. They generally get generated because these are issues du jour in question time. Sometimes you will have a broader question time brief—it might be incarceration issues. Within that, there might be five subsections. That gets added to and changed, but there are different reasons why they would be generated. If it was a matter that had been canvassed in the media at the time, which it had been, it may have attracted attention from the other side by way of a question. So that is why it would have been—
Senator McALLISTER: I am really not asking for a general description about how that function works between you and the department. I am asking: on this occasion, did you or your office request a question time brief on this set of issues or did the department initiate it?
Senator Scullion: I did not request a question time brief. That is not usually how it works.
Senator McALLISTER: On this occasion you did not?
Senator Scullion: You will have to ask the department. If the department can assist, they should do so.
Mr Tongue : We would have to go and check. Some question time briefs we initiate; some question time briefs we are asked by the office to generate. There is no indication on the documents of question time briefs how that process occurred. I would have to make some inquiries to establish that.
Senator Scullion: I will have to check because the other side of it is whether my office asked, and you can get the answer from them. It is probably easier to get it from us, but to the best of my recollection that will not be the case.
Senator McALLISTER: What will not be the case?
Senator Scullion: I do not recall my office saying, 'Listen, let's go and have a question time brief,' on that particular matter.
Senator McALLISTER: To the best of your recollection, it was not something generated by your office, but you would like the opportunity to check your records.
Senator Scullion: Indeed.
Mr Matthews : To clarify, in terms of generating them and of the background material, they would be drafted in the department.
Senator McALLISTER: I understand. The brief refers to a number of specific announcements, including the Law Council calling for urgent action over the report into the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Do you recall that aspect of the brief?
Senator Scullion: What was that date? I am sorry, there are so many documents I just cannot get them in front of me.
Senator McALLISTER: There are many documents, it is true.
Mr Matthews : It is a media article attached to the question time brief.
Senator McALLISTER: Do you recall that?
Senator Scullion: I can recall in general the question time brief that talked not only about those issues but about those people who were obviously finding it equally—
Senator McALLISTER: For completeness, can I confirm that this is the first brief that the minister received on these issues?
Senator Scullion: I am not sure if somebody has the chronology.
Mr Matthews : That one is, I think, the one that was put up on 12 October as the first of the question time briefs, but, subject to the FOI, as the minister said in his opening statement, the issue around the Vita report was covered in a meeting brief of a meeting with NAAJA on 18 February 2015.
CHAIR: I note that we are just about due to break, and I am sure we will be coming back with this issue, so, Senator McAllister, if you are happy, we will resume in 45 minutes.
Senator McALLISTER: I have just a couple more questions I would like to ask.
CHAIR: If they are very quick, I am happy for you to, but I am sure we will be revisiting this issue at length after lunch.
Senator McALLISTER: Can we just confirm that the question at the top of the question time brief—because of course a question time brief anticipates a question in the chamber—is: 'Are you aware of the report by the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner into an incident at the Don Dale juvenile detention centre'? If you had read the brief, which you said you had, you must have been aware that there was a report by the Northern Territory's Children's Commissioner into the incident at Don Dale as early as 12 October 2015.
Senator Scullion: Sorry; can you ask me just the question? There was a lot of—
Senator McALLISTER: The brief is dated 12 October 2015. Its title goes to the report by the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner into an incident at Don Dale. You were aware of that report at 12 October 2015, were you not?
Senator Scullion: Indeed. It has been provided.
Senator McALLISTER: Yes. Thanks, Chair.
CHAIR: We will now suspend until 1.30 pm.
Proceedings suspended from 12:46 to 13:31
CHAIR: We will resume questions under outcome 2 in the general category. Before I hand back to Senator McAllister, I should note, I know there are a number of senators who have an interest in this topic and want to ask questions. Perhaps, Senator McAllister, if you have got a good block to ask and we can then move on. We can certainly come back to you. However, if there is a good block and we can move onto others, that would be appreciated.
Senator McALLISTER: That is no problem, Chair. Minister, you held a press conference on 26 July in Canberra. You were asked by the journalist:
Did you get briefings on those Northern Territory inquiries and, if not, why not?
Your answer was:
Well, you know, you don't know what you don't know. No, I didn't and I don't know why I didn't but the fundamental of why I didn't was that it is in the jurisdiction of the Northern Territory.
Do you stand by those remarks that you made on 26 July?
Senator Scullion: Absolutely. Do you know what I was asking questions on, Senator—and that is the important thing, isn't it? I was asking questions about the 7.30 report material. That is what the media conference was about.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, the question you were asked was: did you get briefings on those Northern Territory inquiries? And you said:
No, I didn't and I don't know why I didn't …
Yet, in your evidence today, you have confirmed that, as early as October in 2015, you were in possession of briefings from the department that set out the fact that the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner had made a report on horrific activities at the Don Dale centre. I ask you again: when you were asked, 'Did you get briefings on those Northern Territory inquiries?' and you said, 'No, I didn't and I don't know why I didn't,' do you stand by that statement?
Senator Scullion: I had read neither of those reports at that time, which I have acknowledged.
Senator McALLISTER: Had you read the briefings though—
Senator McALLISTER: because earlier in your evidence you said that you had.
CHAIR: Please allow the minister a bit of an opportunity to answer the question before asking another one.
Senator Scullion: I am, as always, trying to be as helpful as possible, Senator. I had acknowledged that I had not actually read those reports. When I made that utterance, I had not read the report but I had seen the 7.30 report, how shocking it was and I had not received any briefing on that—that was for sure. The briefings, the conversations and what I had seen in the media had nothing to do with what we saw on the 7.30 report.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, you weren't asked whether you were briefed on the 7.30 report. You weren't asked whether you were briefed on Four Corners. You weren't asked whether you were briefed on anything except this: did you get briefings on those Northern Territory inquiries? That was the question from the journalist, and you said no. How can you reconcile that with the evidence you have provided to the committee today?
Senator Scullion: Because the conference and the context of all the questions were around the graphic brutality—
Senator McALLISTER: So you misunderstood the question.
Senator Scullion: Senator, if you will let me finish.
CHAIR: Please allow the minister to answer the questions.
Senator Scullion: which was in stark contrast. What I was portraying was that I had not seen any of this before. We had not heard of any of this before, and I had not had briefings on any of this before; I certainly had not. There have been plenty of others around the place who wish they had, but I had never received any briefings at all that matched any of the graphic circumstances that we saw on the Four Corners report. Perhaps clumsily, that was the point I was making then and that is the point that I am making now. You would try to make the point that somehow in a word here and a word there I had sought to mislead and all these sorts of things. This is very simple. I had no briefings that would lead me to suspect that those matters that we had seen on the 7.30 Report were occurring, and I stand by that.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, you told us earlier today that you had checked your records but you do not have a recollection of asking the department to generate a media brief for you or a question time brief for you on this issue of the Children's Commissioner's report and Don Dale. Have you checked your records?
Senator Scullion: No, but I would be very surprised if my suspicion, which I have indicated earlier, that that was not the case, is not the case. But, no, we have not completed checking our records.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, on 3 August you gave an interview with Radio National Drive and you said that you had asked the department back in October to provide some information and it was essentially what was in the media.
Senator Scullion: That is right.
Senator McALLISTER: How can you reconcile your evidence today that you did not ask for the brief that was generated by the department with the statement you made on 3 August, which was that you had asked the department to provide you information? Those two things are completely inconsistent.
Senator Scullion: Indeed they are. Can I just go to their importance. I was speaking on Drive—
Senator McALLISTER: On the radio.
Senator Scullion: On radio. I can remember I was in a remote part of Arnhem Land standing in a place where I could actually have some coverage. In my mind I know, at some stage, I wanted to say at the very first opportunity that I had had a question time brief. I knew I had read the question time brief and I read it in the media, but I wanted to acknowledge immediately that there was a brief and that is exactly what I did.
Senator McALLISTER: But you said that you had asked for the brief, and yet today you say you did not ask for the brief.
Senator Scullion: When I say I asked for the brief, my office may have asked for the brief—
Senator McALLISTER: You said earlier that you did not believe that was the case. You said you believed it had been generated by the department.
Senator Scullion: Look, perhaps I misled Drive. Perhaps it was the department that provided us a brief in any event, but to be fair and frank to Drive I was just simply saying and making the point that we had received a question time brief. Who actually generated that was in a conversation where I was saying, 'Look ,Patricia, to the best of my knowledge' whatever I said 'I think we either asked for one or we provided one'. I did not think that was particularly material. You might not think that and we will later find out today whether that actually came from the office. It certainly did not come from me, but when I say 'I' I mean the office generated a brief. The reason that sparked that was that I was told by my office, 'Yes, we did have a question time brief'—I can remember that now—and I said, 'All right, I will do the best I can do to clarify that,' at the time.
Senator McALLISTER: Well, you have either misled the ABC or you have misled this committee on the question of who generated the brief. Is that correct?
Senator Scullion: Well hang on—
Senator McALLISTER: It cannot be both.
Senator Scullion: I have said we have taken that matter on notice and we will be able to get an exact answer. I am just trying to be fair dinkum here. I do not think it came, necessarily, from my office. I did not actually think that it was important at the time to the Australian people whether my office said to the department 'can you get it' or the department said to my office 'can you get it'. I thought this was actually about kids in detention—a really important issue to Australians, particularly to Territorians. That is what I thought this issue was about. You may place importance on saying I misled people, but that is absolute garbage. What I actually said is what I thought happened at the time.
Senator McALLISTER: Do you consider being truthful with the Australian people and being accountable to the Australian people is important?
Senator Scullion: I certainly do and that is why I am an absolutely honest person and I have been absolutely honest about these matters. As I indicated, you might try to say, from an interview I gave with Drive where I did not know—and you are probably right, I did not know exactly whether it was 'I', 'office' or 'department' that put those matters into a brief. Do I think it is important whether it was 'I', 'we' or 'they'? It is simply not important. I said today that I will actually, because it is obviously an important issue for you—although I am not sure it is for anyone else—take that question on notice and then you will be able to know exactly who it was, whether it was the office, myself or the department.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, do you accept—
Senator Scullion: It is just surprising that that is a matter that is important to you.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, do you accept that having a range of statements which are in conflict with one another in the public domain about this most significant issue would be of concern to the citizens of Australia?
Senator Scullion: It would be if it were correct, but I just do not accept the premise of your question. You just have not made the case.
Senator McALLISTER: You have given a range of evidence today in this hearing which is inconsistent with statements that you have made previously in the media and in the chamber—
Senator Scullion: I do not accept that. Perhaps you can go through my inconsistencies? Or point one out?
CHAIR: I think this question has been taken on notice. I think we will all be able to better judge this once the response comes formally. Why don't we wait for that and move on to another issue?
Senator McALLISTER: I do wish to indicate that this is important. Minister, you knew enough about the Children's Commissioner's report to ask for a briefing from your department. You thought it was sufficiently serious to get a briefing for the purposes of managing question time. But the day after Four Corners screened, you told the Australian people that you had received no briefings on this abuse or relevant reports. That is a significant and non-trivial discrepancy in your story. I am giving you the opportunity again to clarify your position. Did you receive briefings? Did you know? What did you do about it when you knew?
Senator Scullion: As I indicated this morning, what was clearly on my mind—and you can look carefully at the words to try, and I suspect that you cannot—was that I had not received a brief on these matters.
Senator McALLISTER: It is hard to tell what was clearly on your mind—
Senator Scullion: Let's not play semantics about this, Senator. I knew about the matter: I probably knew as much from the media as I knew from the meeting brief—the one background meeting brief I had and from the question time folder that I had—because they were completely consistent. There was no difference. I did not need a brief; it was in the media. Everything we know in there was in those briefs.
Senator McALLISTER: The media reports were horrific, Minister. So you knew about these horrific media reports. What did you do about them?
Senator Scullion: Indeed. Well, the issue is—and you have talked to me about the brief. What the brief says is:
The report also explained that approval was given to transfer five young people to the adult prison, however, six young people were transferred—
That is very concerning—
despite one only being 14 years old. This is in breach of the Youth Justice Act …
Then it goes straight into a report, and it says:
The report recommended the NT Correctional Services develop an appropriate training for staff—
And you talked about that earlier. So in the same piece of information that I am providing it says:
… consider the recruitment process, they review the operational practices and ensure the rights of the young person as specified in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.'
Then it goes straight on—
Senator McALLISTER: Can I just check—are you tabling that?
Senator Scullion: in the same report question time brief—
Senator McALLISTER: Chair, is he tabling that?
Senator Scullion: In the same question time brief it goes on to say:
The NT government announced … that a Youth Justice Advisory Group, including the Peak Indigenous bodies, was set up—
NAAJA and all of those bodies, so I was feeling a bit more confident; read the yucky stuff—same brief—
to oversee the recommendations made by the 'Vita Report' …
It then goes on to say—and I am wondering what happened to these correctional people:
The Northern Territory Child Abuse Taskforce is also investigating a number of other allegations of mistreatment of youth in relation to the Centre. Allegations have been made that guards at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre forced young people to fight, made one inmate eat bird faeces and threatened detainees …
So, yes—horrible—but what it actually says is that something is being done. And, of course, in the same brief that you have you will note that it also goes on to say:
The advisory group has met four times this year and is scheduled to meet every two months until the recommendations … are fully implemented..
It goes on to say:
To date 15 recommendations of the Vita Report have been completed with
Three requiring no further action.
Seven of the completed recommendations now forming on-going practice.
Five of the completed recommendations requiring on-going action and monitoring.
Both reports are public documents.
When I read these reports it is okay, Senator, to glibly take one part of them and ask, 'Why didn't you respond?'
It is because a comprehensive overview of a comprehensive response is included in these documents. But, Senator, the whole issue is that what was reported in the media and in all of these documents, including that this has all been resolved, was nothing—nothing—to do with what was really happening, because that was only exposed by the Four Corners material we saw on that night.
CHAIR: Minister, just to clarify Senator McAllister's question, is that document something you are able to table or you are seeking to table?
Senator Scullion: No. This is an FOI document. I was just quoting from the question time brief. That was what was in the question time brief.
CHAIR: Right. So it is a public document. It is a public document already.
Senator Scullion: It is a public document, yes, and the senator has been quoting from that.
Senator McALLISTER: I just wanted to clarify it was the question time brief. I do not have access to the meeting brief which you have made reference to. Are you willing to table that or to provide it to the committee?
Mr Matthews : Yes, we can. It should be on the PM&C disclosure log.
Senator McALLISTER: You have disclosed it?
Mr Matthews : Yes.
Senator Scullion: I assumed you had—
Senator McALLISTER: That is fine.
Mr Matthews : It is on PM&C's disclosure log.
Senator Scullion: You can have it now, too, if you like, Senator.
CHAIR: Thank you, Minister. To clarify, Senator McAllister, we are nearly at the end of this series of questions?
Senator McALLISTER: I am close to finishing, but I think they are fairly serious issues. But I am close to finishing.
CHAIR: Great. I just to want to be able to pass the call around—
Senator McALLISTER: I understand.
CHAIR: because theoretically we have 15 minutes left on this issue, although we can and, I suspect, will need to extend.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, you have said, helpfully, that you canvassed the information that was in the question time brief that you received. Why then, when you were asked the question on 26 July in Canberra, 'Did you get briefings on those Northern Territory inquiries,' did you say, 'Well, you know, you don't know what you don't know'? You did know. You have just run us through what you knew. You knew a great deal.
Senator Scullion: When you said 'you don't know what you don't know', Senator, you said, 'Well, why weren't you given a brief?' That was the question. I do not know why I was not given a brief; I was not given a brief. And that would have been great. As I have said before, I am sure there were plenty of people that only wished we had known what was really going on.
Senator McALLISTER: You knew about the children eating faeces. That is pretty graphic.
Senator Scullion: Yes, but I also know at the same time—
Senator McALLISTER: What did you do about that?
Senator Scullion: what has been the response. Within inches, Senator—and I am sure, since it was your FOI, you would have read the question time information—of that, maybe centimetres, there is a resolution. A child abuse task force has taken those particular correctional officers through a rigorous process. As I indicated to Senator Dodson earlier, we will get back to you on that. I am not sure—it is not our process; it is the Northern Territory government's process—about actually what happens. The fact is that I am sure the royal commission, as we speak, will be looking into those matters.
So, when you are referring to 'why didn't you act', well, you read something but then you read the next paragraph—and if you had read it, Senator, I would have thought it was pretty self-evident that a pretty serious task force was investigating the matters around the bird faeces. And so, yes, it was a concern. I have no reason to doubt that that was the case, because I had heard that the task force was out and about. So, as to any particular action from a Commonwealth minister, the Northern Territory government have jurisdiction and are obviously acting on it.
CHAIR: Senator McAllister, you can ask one final question, and then I am going to give the call to Senator Smith.
Senator McALLISTER: Minister, you have said you wished that you knew the graphic detail earlier.
Senator Scullion: Yes.
Senator McALLISTER: What would you have done, had you known?
Senator Scullion: What detail would I have liked to have known?
Senator McALLISTER: No. What would you have done, had you known?
Senator Scullion: I would have ensured that the right people knew about that. It is a hypothetical. We do not normally like to deal with hypotheticals in that place.
Senator McALLISTER: But you established the hypothetical.
Senator Scullion: But I would have acted. Not only I would have acted; Jenny Macklin would have acted. She would have acted. Senator McCarthy would have acted. They would have acted. I do not know what we would have done, but we would have done something if we had seen and known about the content of the Four Corners report. There are a whole range of things we can do. I have already laid out what I did afterwards. It is not anywhere near as much use after the fact as it is before. In my opening statement, we have laid out what this government is doing. We have acted decisively in a number of areas, in critical areas, and all I am saying is that, yes, I think that is going to change a lot of the environment around the territory and state jurisdictions. But, clearly, I would love to have known because Dylan's treatment would have been different if we had all known, and we did not. Certainly the report—
Senator McALLISTER: I simply do not accept that you didn't.
Senator Scullion: What?
Senator DODSON: Senator Scullion—
CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Dodson, but I did flag that Senator Smith had questions. We will move to him now. We will come back to you. There will be ample opportunity, I assure you.
Senator DODSON: Okay. Thank you.
CHAIR: I know Senator Siewert is very keen to ask questions too. Senator Smith.
Senator SMITH: Mr Tongue or Mr Matthews, who do I direct questions to about the brief?
Mr Tongue : Mr Matthews is best placed, I think.
Senator SMITH: Mr Matthews, did the brief contain any suggested course of action for the minister? This is brief QTB15/794.
Mr Matthews : I do not believe so. I think in the background information normally we do not put a suggested course. I would have to read it.
Senator Scullion: It is not that sort of brief, Senator.
Senator McALLISTER: The minister would have had to request an actual substantive briefing, not just a media briefing.
CHAIR: Senator Smith has the call.
Mr Matthews : I do not think there is anything there.
Senator SMITH: Senator McAllister, you are getting particularly excited about this, but I suspect for all the wrong reasons. Mr Matthews?
Mr Matthews : I am just looking at the brief now. I do not believe it has a suggested course of action in the background.
Senator SMITH: If the matters were serious enough, would you have put a course of action in or suggested a course of action?
Senator Dodson: You must be joking, Senator. Seriously?
CHAIR: Senator Dodson, Senator Smith did not interrupt any anyone else's questions. Please allow him to ask his questions.
Mr Tongue : I might dive in there. Question time briefs usually deal with media matters of the day. Sometimes in a question time brief we might indicate to a minister a suggested course of action, under a heading that says, 'Subject to your decision, you may wish to'. It is in the nature, as the minister has outlined, that we were all faced with a Northern Territory government that appeared to all of us to be addressing the matters in an appropriate way.
Senator SMITH: So the department was of the view that the Northern Territory government was dealing with the matters?
Mr Tongue : That was all the information we had to hand.
Mr Matthews : We were conscious of the reports, conscious of the contents of the reports, conscious that the NT government had accepted the findings and has in place a body that is responding to the issues and has a body oversighted with the Children's Commissioner, NAAJA, the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service and the NT Legal Aid Commission. In that context—that there was an appropriate response from the jurisdiction into it—we would note what is happening at that stage and keep a watching brief.
Senator SMITH: So you believed that there was an appropriate response being implemented by the Northern Territory government?
Mr Matthews : That is what it would have appeared to us at the time.
Senator SMITH: The information that Senator McAllister is talking about, in the document—about a youth justice advisory group, including peak Indigenous bodies—dated 24 September 2015, is part of the question time brief. But I am curious to know why the critical information that reports about the progress that the Northern Territory government was undertaking, had been undertaking, is buried at page 6. I have not been a minister so I do not have much control over how I would like my question time briefs prepared, but I am just wondering why that information is not brought more thoroughly to the second page of the brief, because it seems pretty critical, because it was quite clear to yourselves and the department that the Northern Territory government had been responding to issues around Don Dale and youth justice et cetera.
Mr Matthews : In the brief 15/794, it is on page 2, up the top:
The NT Government announced on 24 September 2014 that a Youth Justice Advisory Group, including Peak Indigenous bodies, was set up to oversee recommendations made by the 'Vita Report' …
Senator SMITH: It does not say that, to date, 15 recommendations of the Vita report have been completed, with three requiring—
Mr Matthews : The reason we—
Senator SMITH: Excuse me, Mr Matthews. With three requiring no further action and seven of the completed recommendations now forming ongoing practice.
Mr Tongue : The idea of a question time brief is to convey as much of the relevant information in as brief a space as possible. So—
Senator SMITH: So the progress that the Northern Territory jurisdiction was making was not relevant?
Mr Tongue : I am not saying that at all.
Senator SMITH: That is what it sounded like.
Mr Tongue : What I am saying is, for a question time brief, we are trying to give a minister a picture, in a page and a bit, of key points. Certainly with some question time briefs we attach material, particularly—
Senator SMITH: Which is what you have done here. Senator McAllister is talking about a document that is attached.
Mr Tongue : That is attached material. That is correct. The reason we tend to do that, particularly for ministers who are senators, is that the form of question time in the Senate is slightly different, and there can always be follow-up questions. So we tend to provide a little more information behind our initial quick one-page question time brief—or page-or-so question time brief—should there be follow-up questions. That is why the particular structure of a brief like that.
Senator SMITH: So, to summarise: the department was confident that the Northern Territory government was doing everything that it needed to be doing?
Mr Tongue : Senator, that is the way it appeared to us. Everything we had seen—our engagement with Indigenous groups in the Northern Territory and our engagement with Northern Territory government counterparts—indicated to us that they had taken the two reports seriously and they were implementing appropriate responses at the time we were negotiating. And around this time we were negotiating a major national partnership agreement with the Northern Territory that included money for policing, youth justice initiatives and so on. The view we had at the time was that the Northern Territory was responding adequately to this and the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner was saying the Northern Territory was responding adequately to this. We had no reason to believe that something else may have been going on.
Senator SMITH: Wouldn't the revelation that a previous Northern Territory government had removed powers to investigate child protection have been something valuable to put in the question time brief? Or did you not know about that? It went back to 2011.
Mr Matthews : Generally we would cover the most topical issue at the time. We would not cover everything in one particular—
Senator Scullion: The question time brief is for the issues of the day. I think it might have been a bit out of scope.
Senator SMITH: I am well aware of what the question time briefs do. I want to turn to 26 July as well. There has been some commentary about the minister's appearance on radio. Were you surprised to learn that the former minister for children and protective services had also said on radio that she was surprised to hear about the report and said that she was certainly unaware of those issues that were raised in the Four Corners program?
Senator Scullion: I do not think anybody should be surprised that the ex-minister was surprised. She was as surprised as I was. I do not think that anybody in Australia was not surprised. In other words, when you are surprised—we did not have a clue what was really happening. We had read reports and we had read those things, but we did not really know what was happening until we saw that vision.
Senator SMITH: But you are being held accountable for being surprised when you had no responsibility and the minister that was responsible is not being held responsible.
Senator Scullion: Is there a question there somewhere, mate?
Senator SMITH: Do you have a view?
Senator Scullion: These are horrible circumstances.
Senator SMITH: I agree.
Senator Scullion: We have done everything we can after the expose. We have got a royal commission; it is sitting now. It is going to get to the very bottom of all of this material. I am very confident now that the plan for the future will be on a lot of evidence of what is happening, where we do not need to go again and, most importantly, the sorts of things that we can do. So those self-evident things, as I have talked about in my opening statement, are the things that this government can do, and we do not need a royal commission to tell us that with the jurisdictions. That is very much a focus of COAG in November. We have done everything we can do. As I suspect, whoever is surprised—as I said, if only we had known what was really happening, not what these reports had told us, we all would have been a lot better off.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to go a bit more broadly than the Don Dale situation and ask about comments you made in your opening statement. One of the comments was that you are bringing together a package of actions. First off, does that include budget line items or additional expenditure commitment?
Senator Scullion: Which page was that on?
Senator SIEWERT: Page 5, where you were saying:
My government is working to bring together a package of actions that I believe will make a genuine improvement.
I want to ask about a number of those measures. Is there a funding commitment that goes with this package, and, if so, what is it?
Senator Scullion: One of the fundamental tenets of this government is that we very carefully plan on actual investment. All of this plan is fully funded and much of it is predicated on not only the actions of the Commonwealth, of course, but also a partnership approach with the jurisdictions. Much of that will be nutted out at the next COAG meeting.
Senator SIEWERT: How do we know it is fully funded when you have already committed funding?
Senator Scullion: We understand what the Commonwealth's role is in this. Because we have not had the meeting yet, we are not able to understand what level of commitment the states and territories will accept as theirs and at what level they are prepared to fund it. In terms of some of our rules, we are very confident those investments are going to be able to be funded. But you are right: my level of confidence has to be put in the context that we are yet have the meeting. In terms of the Commonwealth contribution to those partnerships, we are confident that we have the funds.
Senator SIEWERT: Have you done a budget on how much it will cost the Commonwealth?
Senator Scullion: The Commonwealth contribution is in a number of programs. I identified a number of the programs that we are doing now. I identified that in this statement, and, if you go on, there are a number of line items. All of those funds have actually been budgeted for and are in fact identified over the forward estimates.
Senator SIEWERT: This includes funding for youth leadership et cetera. What is the funding, for example, for the mandatory custody notification offering funding support to assist them to set this up so we have a consistent national approach?
Senator Scullion: That is only going to be funded if somebody actually does the right thing and says, 'Yes, Minister, I am happy to accept your offer of funding.' Yes, if states and territories do—and I really hope that they do accept this very generous offer—we have budgeted for that, but I had to budget that before I made the offer.
Senator SIEWERT: How much have you budgeted and which program is it coming out of?
Ms Hefren-Webb : It would be out of the safety and wellbeing program—program 2.3. I do not have the figure for the exact costing, but we will have made provision in the forward estimates for that.
Senator SIEWERT: For the program itself?
Ms Hefren-Webb : For the cost of a custody notification service—as the minister said, before the offer was made. So we have made provision. As you know, the IAS operates as a flexible funding pool, but we have put a notional provision in there and we will see how the states respond and, to the extent they respond, we will fund that activity.
Senator SIEWERT: Can you take on notice to tell me how much that is.
Ms Hefren-Webb : Absolutely.
Senator SIEWERT: You are funding support to assist them to set this up so we have a consistent national approach. Is it only to set it up and not to run it? Otherwise we are going to get into the same situation as New South Wales.
Ms Hefren-Webb : I think it is in the sense that we would be looking for a co-contribution from the states, but we have provisioned some ongoing funding.
Senator Scullion: Just in broad terms, our funding is tied to them changing legislation—similar to the issues I know you are across in New South Wales. It has to be legislated, first of all. The second part of it is that they have to guarantee in the legislation—because I have been caught before, as you know—post three years of funding. I think it is very generous, but it has to be conditional or, as you would know, it will not work.
Senator SIEWERT: Otherwise I will be back here in three years time lobbying for more money.
Senator Scullion: That is the deal. They have to sign on the line to get those funds.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for that. Have you spoken to the states and territories? I think you have been raising this with them in the past, haven't you?
Senator Scullion: Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Where are you up to in that process?
Senator Scullion: I have been in this process for probably the last 18 months or so, as you would be aware—and thank you for your assistance. We have not had anybody say no, but a number of people have shown some level of interest. I think it is fair to say we really would not be able to say, with any level of confidence, one way or the other, but we have not had anybody actually accept the offer at this stage.
Senator SIEWERT: Is there a plan to step up the level of encouragement to states and territories?
Senator Scullion: I always have a plan to step up the level of encouragement. I will let you know at the next set of estimates how that plan is going.
Ms Saastamoinen : We—the department—are also now following up with each of the state and territory government departments with responsibility for justice issues to try to get a response to the letters that the minister has actually sent to them.
Senator SIEWERT: Not that I do not care about every state in Australia, but I would like to ask about my home state of Western Australia. Where are we up to there?
Ms Saastamoinen : Western Australia has sent an initial response arguing that the arrangements they have currently got and have recently introduced would be sufficient. We are planning to follow up with them, because the advice we are getting from the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia is that they do not agree.
Senator SIEWERT: That is my understanding.
Senator Scullion: There is a small, but—we know from our evidence and work we have done in New South Wales—significant part that is missing. It is actually an essential part of ensuring that it works. I do not want to get into the detail. I do not think there is any mischief in that, but adding that extra part, if you like, to where their policy is at, will vastly increase it to the level of confidence we have with the CNS in New South Wales, when it is used.
Senator SIEWERT: I presume you are referring to the unfortunate situation that occurred in New South Wales?
Senator Scullion: Yes. Where the CNS was not triggered.
Senator SIEWERT: Are you or the department having a look at what happened there, or working with New South Wales on that?
Senator Scullion: Yes. I have obviously had a fair bit to do with that. I was very distressed to hear about that. The CNS has a legislative loophole, and it has been around for the whole 15 years, in that it applies when someone is taken into custody in terms of arrest, which is fair enough, but it does not apply when someone is taken into custody for protective custody. In this case, it was protective custody because they were not sure what was wrong. That was the legislative difference. So, obviously, I have been keen to ensure that that process is changed. I think that is happening at the moment.
Senator SIEWERT: That is happening in New South Wales?
Senator SCULLION: Only in New South Wales.
Senator SIEWERT: I would presume, then, that you would be wanting the other states, when they are doing their legislative—
Senator Scullion: Ensure that for all custody, that there is a notification system.
Senator SIEWERT: Can I please move to point 1 in your package, which was, 'I have written to state and territory ministers seeking their support to better use the welfare system to assist with the collection of fines.' That sends shivers up my spine, quite frankly, hearing that you are going for the welfare system in order to pay fines. That literally takes food out of the mouths of kids and families because you are taking money straight from their income support. There are alternative ways that were looked at, and we heard about those during the Senate inquiry into Aboriginal access to legal services, which just reported last week, and I am wondering whether you are looking at alternatives rather than just garnishing money from the income support payments?
Senator Scullion: In a broad sense, no. We are focusing on ensuring, that whilst this is available, we would only make it available under certain circumstances. On some of the evidence we have around how much a payment is, the general feedback from jurisdictions is they just want to ensure that the system has some credibility about it; they do not care, really, how long it takes to pay back just the fact that it is being paid back—which was useful; it was not an assumption I had originally made. But, as you know, there is a Centrepay system. Currently, the Centrepay system is voluntary and the voluntary system has some weaknesses, in that, you can 'un-volunteer'. But when it comes to actually having the option in Western Australia, for example, we just think we would like to have an additional choice because some people no longer have a choice—they pay it or they go to prison. We are just looking carefully at what additional choices might be provided, but—
Senator SIEWERT: That will be made compulsory in the end, won't it?
Senator SIEWERT: You are saying choice—
Senator Scullion: Not at all. I am just saying, the nature of the choice of payment will always come from the individual who has to pay the fine. This is not about any compulsory payments or deals with the states about that. If they choose to pay their fine and at the time the evidence is that they have no choice as they do not have the money—'I can't pay the money so I've got to go and serve some time'—we would like to add to that suite of choices an option around Centrepay that they can choose, if they wish. It is about ensuring that we discuss those matters with the states to ensure that the payments are sufficiently small to not have a huge impact, but the state has the confidence that they will be collected.
Senator SIEWERT: What about looking at the other choices that are available? For example, we heard there are some good programs in New South Wales that, instead of taking money out of people's income support payments, which are low enough as it is, have other ways of working off your fine or making sure that you are paying your fine in other ways.
Ms Hefren-Webb : We are looking at a wide range of options around this. As the minister said, we have a particular interest in a range of strategies that can prevent people becoming incarcerated. We have looked closely at the report that your committee has done. All of these matters are being considered. As the minister said, this is something the Prime Minister wants to bring to COAG at the end of the year. So we are supporting that work through looking at a wide array of options, and there has been no final settlement on any particular suite of options.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Does it also include looking at the way that people are being fined in the first place? A lot of the work is done at the other end. A number of them are driving offences, driving without a licence because it is too hard to get a licence. It is well known that is a significant issue. There are many other small offences that they end up getting charged for through particular sets of circumstances. Are they also being looked at?
Mr Tongue : For some of those circumstances, particularly in remote areas, we are looking at the use of CDP. For example, getting a driver's licence is something that we can fund under CDP. That, as you say, is often the cause. So, where we can support the acquisition of licences, permits and those sorts of things, we are hoping we can use CDP to support people in a remote situation. For some of the other matters it is a little harder, but we are trying to think creatively about how we can create opportunities for people.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I am purposely not biting on the CDP, because I know that that is the first item after we have finished this area. If it expedites us moving on to the broader program, I will cease there.
CHAIR: Are there many more questions in the general category before we move on to the specific programs?
Senator DODSON: I would think that some of the fantastic commissioners in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody who have since passed, including Elliott Johnston, would be absolutely horrified to listen to the discussion here today—an appalling demonstration of ignorance about the criminal justice system and its interface with Indigenous peoples, and about existing cultures within prisons and within police departments. This was over 20 years ago. This is an appalling display of the lack of comprehension.
The government of the day paid a lot of money for a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Some of the matters about which the minister has indicated he is now seeking to get collaboration with the state were subject to the recommendations that were made at the time—imprisonment as the last resort. We just had a discussion about fines and how to pay them—fine defaults and incarceration levels. I would suggest, Minister, that the people that advise you go back and read the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, reacquaint themselves with the 339 recommendations that were made, and have a serious look at the principles that underlie it: the notion of duty of care and imprisonment as the last resort. If those matters can be seriously inculcated into the good intentions you have in relation to collaboration with the states, we may in fact get some traction to eradicate, or at least impact upon, the levels of incarceration rates, the levels of children being held in out-of-home care, and some of those matters that go to domestic violence and other issues.
You cannot pretend that you have amnesia. There is a culture here that was inquired into after a lot of pain in the Indigenous community and amongst some of those officers—police officers and custodial officers—who had to deal with these matters. We are now back at the inquiry into Don Dale, and I have got no doubts, Minister, this is going to spread beyond Don Dale. So I would encourage you to exercise your leadership or take stock of the leadership and collaborate with your cabinet colleagues, particularly those ministers who have portfolio responsibilities in Indigenous affairs. Let's see if we cannot deal with this. Thank you, Minister.
Senator Scullion: I will just respond briefly. I would like to acknowledge that you were a part of that process. It is useful sometimes to look back historically. Not all of it is useful, because a number of things change. As you would be aware, in the last three years there were 75,000 domestic violence incidents. That is not reports, and it does not count all those that were not reported. That is 75,000 women, of which 82 per cent were Indigenous.
Senator DODSON: I am aware of that, Minister.
Senator Scullion: We share that disbelief that 17 women were murdered at that time, and every one of the perpetrators had a blood alcohol level of over 0.15. The circumstances change. The reason I make these comments, Senator, is that there has to be a balance, because some of the women in the community say, 'The only time when I'm safe is when my husband's locked up.' We are dealing with a difficulty in one area and the challenges of another, and I acknowledge what you say. I am not trying to escape; I am just saying that I think things are worth a revisit from time to time to have a look at them in the same context as you would have looked at them 20 years ago. We have had some significant trends that we need to have a relook at.
Senator DODSON: I only say that because the things you are putting forward are things that were raised in the public space under those 339 recommendations.
Senator Scullion: I accept your advice. It is sage advice. We will have another look at those matters.
Senator McCARTHY: Senator, in your opening statement you said quite a few things. One of the things that I wanted to clarify was the custody notification scheme. Are you saying that that is going to be implemented right across Australia?
Senator Scullion: No. I would love to, but I cannot. When you pass legislation, what the legislation says is that as soon as an Aboriginal person, or someone you think might be an Aboriginal person, comes into custody the first thing you have to do is ring this number. It is a legal aid number, but it may not only be legal services that need to be provided. So they make contact. What I am paying for is, in effect, is a 24-hour service in addition to other legal services. So they are there and they network. They ring your family. They can bring people. They give you the comfort that someone else outside of this system is looking after them. They often go in and see them and generally play an 'amicus' role, and we know that, in those first hours, that is just so important. The evidence is that for the first 15 years of its implementation in New South Wales—New South Wales has legislation for this—there has not been a death in custody, and I am talking about before you get incarcerated, so this is a death in custody issue. But the sad thing, again, is that it is pretty well known that I and those who run that process have been at loggerheads because I am currently paying for something they legislate for. I think it is very useful, and it is very sad that they have not agreed to fund it themselves. We will continue the conversation. On that basis, we have made an offer to all the states and territories that they pass legislation to ensure that you do that. It catches not only whatever the police may get you for but also protective custody. The deal would be that we would pay for a three-year period and after that the agreement would be that they fund that service themselves.
Senator McCARTHY: That is in letters you have written?
Senator SCULLION: Yes. All of the jurisdictions have that offer now.
Senator McCARTHY: Is that public? Can we have a look at it?
Senator Scullion: Well, it is now, Senator.
Senator McCARTHY: Thank you. We could have that on notice. In terms of the royal commission, we certainly know that there were many calls across the country for it to be broadened. Is there scope for the royal commission to expand beyond the Northern Territory?
Senator Scullion: I think that is a matter for the commission. But in terms of the scope and the timing, historically, you can get a bit mission creep in these things, and what happens with that is not that they are not doing the right thing but there is a timing issue, and I think everybody would like to be provided with some recommendations quite shortly. As for the scope of the remainder of that, that is entirely a matter for the commission and the Attorney.
Senator McCARTHY: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator McCarthy. I am just seeking an indication from senators about how many questions we have under health issues, which will help us manage the rest of our time under outcome 2. Senator Siewert, do you have many questions on health issues?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes. We have 40 minutes left and maybe we should be looking at what are the key issues we want to address. I would, for example, suggest that it is really important that we address the issues around suicide prevention, and I am particularly keen to also look at CDP, given they are two key issues. I do have a lot of questions, but I will put the rest of my questions on notice if we could perhaps address those two issues.
CHAIR: They are your priorities. Just to clarify, because I have not been in this committee before on this day, are they health issues or are they under—
Senator SIEWERT: CDP is the jobs program, so in fact it would be up under 2.1. I suggest we address the issues around suicide, which you could argue could come under safety and wellbeing, but it is really health, isn't it?
CHAIR: In that case we will move to the programs and I will go through them now. Stop me if there are questions you have under each of these and if no-one stops me then we will presume there are not. Senator Siewert will have the CDP questions under program 2.1, so why don't we start with those.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to CDP and get some of the most recent data, if you have it, in terms of the issues around the number of people that have been sanctioned and received breaches through the process. There are alarming figures in the research report from CAEPR around the number of penalties that have been increased and the significant increase in the proportion of Aboriginal people that are being breached.
Mr Eccles : We will take you through the statistics of the breaching, then we also take you through the impact that breaching has as people progress through CDP. So we will give you the numbers but then also what the material impact is on the people.
Senator SIEWERT: That would be useful.
Ms Williams : You talked a little bit about the CAEPR research, so I think that is probably a good place to start. There are probably two types of penalties that people can incur under the national compliance framework within CDP. The first is the no-show no-pay penalty, which is essentially a penalty that a person incurs when they fail to turn up to an appointment or an activity; and the second is a more serious failure penalty, which is essentially the eight-week penalty. Those are the two types of penalties that are broadly captured in the CAEPR research that you mentioned.
There has been an increase in the penalties. I think there have been around 146,000 or thereabouts in terms of penalties imposed over 2015-16, so that is an increase from under the RJCP. The majority of those were no-show no-pay penalties—about 86 per cent.
Senator SIEWERT: Could you tell me how many they are again. I have written it down wrong.
Ms Williams : I think the exact number is 146,700 penalties.
Senator SIEWERT: And that is no-show no-pay?
Ms Williams : That is a combination of no-show no-pay—
Senator SIEWERT: That is a combination. And over what period of time?
Ms Williams : That is over the full financial year, so 2015-16.
Senator SIEWERT: Do you have year to date?
Mr Eccles : For the current financial year?
Senator SIEWERT: For the current financial year.
Ms Williams : The data goes up until June at this stage.
Senator SIEWERT: So you have no idea whether the situation is continuing over the last quarter?
Mr James : The Department of Employment and Training actually published the report that the CAPER research is based on last Friday. It is called Job seeker compliance public data—June quarter 2016. Probably most of the data you are after is in that report.
Senator SIEWERT: June quarter?
Mr James : Yes, 2016.
Senator SIEWERT: You will be surprised to know that I have not actually found that report yet.
Ms Williams : That is the most up-to-date data.
Senator SIEWERT: Can you split that? Eighty-six per cent were no-show no-pay.
Ms Williams : About 86 per cent were no-show no-pay penalties, and the remainder were the more serious failure penalties—the eight-week penalties.
Senator SIEWERT: What was the average number of days people were on no-show?
Mr James : This is not published, so this is unpublished data we have looked at. If we look at the second quarter of this year, which is the June quarter, 68 per cent of people who had a no-show no-pay penalty in the CDP region had three or fewer penalties in the quarter. Only 1.6 per cent had 10 or more in the quarter. So most people are getting a small number of penalties in a quarter.
Senator SIEWERT: Three or more—does that mean days?
Mr James : Yes, that is right. Each day is a penalty. That counts as a penalty.
Senator SIEWERT: So 68 per cent had three or fewer.
Mr James : That is right, and 1.6 per cent had 10 or more.
Ms Williams : I think it is important to note that there are process steps in that that ensure there are protections around the way in which people are penalised. If an individual receives three no-show no-pay penalties within a six-month period it automatically triggers a comprehensive compliance assessment process.
Senator SIEWERT: That is just the normal rule.
Ms Williams : That is correct. DHS looks into what is causing the penalty and what is happening in that space for that individual. During that period, no further penalties are applied. So if a person incurs three penalties in a six-month period it automatically triggers that comprehensive compliance assessment process.
Senator SIEWERT: How many people have had a comprehensive compliance assessment?
Ms Williams : I would have to take that on notice, Senator. I do not think I have that data with me at the moment, but we can certainly provide that to you.
Senator SIEWERT: Could you take that on notice and see if they are receiving their comprehensive compliance assessment?
Ms Williams : Absolutely, Senator.
Senator SIEWERT: So we have had 146,700 penalties applied—that is correct, isn't it?
Ms Williams : That is right.
Senator SIEWERT: How many people is that?
Ms Williams : I do not know that we necessarily have that data on us at present, but I am happy to also take that on notice for you.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the number of people that are participating in CDP, can you provide the current figures for the number of people that are participating in the program as compared to 1 July 2015?
Ms Williams : We have probably around 33,000 participating in the program at the moment. I think it is important to break that down a little bit. That number includes people who come on and off the program because they volunteer into the program. We have around 7,000 people at present who have volunteered into the program and it is important to note that those volunteers are not subject to any penalties. They are doing the activities because they are interested in participating, but they are not part of the compliance framework and they are not penalised.
Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, I missed the number you said volunteer.
Ms Williams : There are around 7,000 at present. There are 7,204 people as of October.
Senator SIEWERT: Of the 33,000?
Ms Williams : Of the 33,000.
Senator SIEWERT: How many are required?
Ms Williams : In terms of people who are actually required to undertake activity and are therefore able to be penalised, it is around 16,893 people—about 51 per cent of the case load.
Senator SIEWERT: So who are the others? That does not add up to 33,000.
Ms Williams : No. There is a proportion of people who do not actually have Work for the Dole requirements who are serviced by the CDP. They receive basic support such as resume and interview assistance, job search assistance, mentoring, et cetera. They do not have activity requirements, but they are counted as part of the case load.
Mr Eccles : We can give you the breakdown of the case load. Forty-one per cent have full-time activity requirements; 10 per cent have less than 23 hours a week requirements; 22 per cent—that is the 7,200—do not have work-for-the-dole requirements and are volunteers; and the remaining 28 do not have any requirements, and they are the ones who also receive the basic support that Ms Williams was talking about.
Senator SIEWERT: That is as of now? You said 7 October, didn't you?
Ms Williams : That is from 5 October.
Senator SIEWERT: What were the numbers when the program started at the beginning of July 2015?
Ms Williams : Sorry, I do not have that number in front of me. From memory, it was around 36,000.
Senator SIEWERT: So there has been a decrease?
Ms Williams : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: What was the decrease—
Ms Williams : The case load tends to go up and down. It tends to sit at around the 33,000 to 36,000 mark—35,000 or thereabouts—and people go on and off the case load, obviously for a range of different reasons.
Mr Eccles : Including achieving employment. We do have some statistics. It is in the order of 10,000 people have gone from the CDP case load into employment.
Senator SIEWERT: Are there any statistics on that work?
Mr Eccles : On the type of work?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Mr Eccles : No, I do not know what type of work. We might need to take that one away and drill down a little bit more.
Senator SIEWERT: What is part time; what is full time; whether that 10,000 is totally off or whether they have done some work and came back on.
Mr Eccles : Of the 10,000, we know that very close to 4,000 in the past 12 months—it is a 12-month figure; we will get the precise figures—have hit a 26-week employment outcome. A significant proportion of those have hit the 26 weeks within the financial year. They are sticking, so to speak, in the employment—
Senator SIEWERT: Could you take on notice, if you can, giving, as close as you can, locations or at least states?
Ms Williams : Certainly, we can look into that. We will also take it on notice the breakdown between part-time and full-time employment.
Senator SIEWERT: That would be great. Thank you. Going back to the penalty units that have been applied, do you have a dollar value on how much that is?
Ms Williams : We do not have a clean dollar value. We have looked to some extent at those penalties. At this stage, we are still working through that. Generally, one no-show no-pay penalty equates to one-tenth of a person's income support.
Mr Eccles : For a fortnight.
Ms Williams : For a fortnight. It would vary, depending on the amount of income support that the individual received.
Senator SIEWERT: Of the 14 per cent that were eight-week breaches, do you have statistics on how many are back on income support?
Mr Eccles : How many reconnect once they have started the eight-week—I know the number is significant. Mr James, do you have the number of people who have been subject to the significant post-assessment penalty reconnect in a period of time?
Mr James : The department of employment publication gives you—I think it is on page 12—the number of people who get a full eight-week penalty. If you look at the CDP area, 94.4 per cent of those who had potential serious failures had their penalty either partially or fully waived. So 94.4 per cent had the eight-week penalty either fully or partially waived and, of that 94.4 per cent, 94.1 percentage points of that was because the jobseeker engaged in a relevant compliance activity.
Mr Eccles : That is, reconnected to their activities.
Mr James : When they reconnect, the penalty of course stops. The non-payment period stops straight away.
Mr Eccles : Which is the impact that the program is intending to have—to keep people in activities when they are able to participate.
Senator SIEWERT: Do you have a current list of the activities that people are engaged in?
Mr Eccles : We can do that.
Senator SIEWERT: That would be great.
Mr Eccles : As we have discussed before, it is extremely broad and very much tailored. It can be traditional training activities, it can be work for the community, it can be getting your drivers licence, it can be volunteering, it can be food preparation. It is a very wide range of activities. We leave a lot of the discretion as to what is counted, if you like, to the communities to work with the providers to make sure that there is provision for that. So first aid certificates, volunteering at the childcare centre, rehabilitation, study, training—a whole range of different things. It is a very broad range of activities. The list that we will provide is not completely definitive because there is that flexibility.
Senator SIEWERT: I understand that. I understand it was not a prescriptive list, that is why I am interested in where the list is at now. The CDP is different to the wider community Work for the Dole requirements; however, the same approach is being taken with them once they have been penalised for no show, no pay and the reconnect. That is the same process that is being used across the board?
Ms Williams : Yes, that is right.
Senator SIEWERT: That is correct, isn't it?
Ms Williams : It is consistent.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to go back to these 10,000 jobs over that period of time. That is not reflected in the numbers that are going on and off, or the 33,000 that are currently being on and the 36,000?
Mr Eccles : The team can give you a lot more detail, but the numbers of people vary significantly. There are seasonal issues. There are people coming in and out of CDP for a whole range of reasons. It is nonlinear, if you know what I mean: just because there are 10,000 people coming into employment, there could inevitably be others coming out of employment and there could be another reason. If we say 10,000 people are coming in for employment, it does not mean that it is X minus 10,000 is the stock.
Senator SIEWERT: All right.
Senator McKENZIE: Do you have an idea of the number of participants involved in the Work for the Dole program? Has that been increasing over time? Is it regionally specific? Could you give us some more detail?
Mr Eccles : The program that we administer, the CDP, is constrained to remote Australia. We try not to use so much of the language of Work for the Dole because there is so much more to it. We also provide incentives to employers to take people from CDP stock to get them into work, and we provide incentives to the providers, who are doing the CDP activities and training, to help push people into work. So there is a lot more wraparound than anything that is comparable in nonremote areas. So it is not completely comparable.
Senator McKENZIE: Sorry, my apologies for using the wrong language there.
Mr Eccles : That is okay, but it is around 33,000 and it is in the areas of Australia that are classified as remote.
Senator McKENZIE: And has that been increasing or decreasing over the last couple of years?
Ms Williams : The overall caseload has been sitting at around that 33,000 to 36,000 mark. The number of people on activity tests of benefits, which we were talking about earlier, has broadly remained consistent over the last three years or so. It does tend to go up and down as people come in and come off the caseload.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the administration of the program, during the inquiry into the bill there was a lot of concern expressed by some providers around the administration of the process. I have continued to receive expressions of concern since then. What is the feedback to the department, and have you made any attempts to address that issue?
Mr Eccles : We are hearing things that, frankly, will never diminish the impact that a penalty has on an individual. But some of the things that we are hearing, such as lower turnover in stores, are not substantiated by evidence. As we have taken you through, the relative impact on an individual—again, not to diminish it—is not very significant before the safety net clicks in, so it might be three instances of no-show no-pay in a period of time, which would be three-tenths of their fortnightly welfare payment, before they get triggered into an assessment and, as soon as that trigger happens, the welfare payments recommence. We are working very closely with our providers. We are absolutely paying attention to, and working with them on, those issues we are hearing around administration and red tape.
Senator SIEWERT: That level of penalty is still a lot of money.
Mr Eccles : I am not diminishing that at all, but we do get very high levels of reconnection. They have their comprehensive assessment once they have triggered those three days. The whole idea behind that assessment is to make sure that the activities they are doing are tailored to their needs and that they are able to do the level of activity that is prescribed—and it might be lowered. So it is important to bear in mind the point in time that that more comprehensive assessment comes in. It is three-tenths of the welfare payment for persistent no-show no-pay—and I am not diminishing the impact that that has—but the genesis of the program is mutual obligation.
Senator SIEWERT: I understand what the genesis of the program is.
Senator McKENZIE: What was the program it replaced?
Mr Eccles : The RJCP, the Remote Jobs and Communities Program.
Senator McKENZIE: How does the percentage of the caseload that we spoke about earlier attending the activity compare with the percentage of the caseload under RJCP?
Mr Eccles : Ms Williams can give the details, but it has increased dramatically.
Ms Williams : I think there are two things to note there. Compared to the RJCP in the first instance the number of jobseekers who have actually been placed in activities and are being serviced by providers has increased rather dramatically. When the RJCP ceased at the end of June 2015 that was sitting around the 45 per cent mark and now there are around 84.3 per cent of jobseekers who are actually being serviced by providers, which is a really significant leap and I think actually a significant marker of the way in which providers are now working to actually service jobseekers, have contact with jobseekers et cetera.
In terms of attendance, when the program started on 1 July 2015, attendance in activities was relatively low. It was sitting around the seven per cent mark, which is very low. That has really lifted. Actual attendance is sitting around the 30 per cent mark now. When you combine that with actual attendance and valid nonattendance—so essentially people not turning up but having a really good reason for it, because they are sick or otherwise—that is sitting around the 60 per cent mark. So we have seen really strong engagement in the program over the last 18 months that the program has been in place.
Senator SIEWERT: Is the 45 per cent engagement figure you gave for RJCP recorded somewhere?
Ms Williams : That is the number of jobseekers who were placed in activities at the beginning of the CDP on 1 July 2015.
Senator SIEWERT: That was the number that were placed in activities?
Ms Williams : That is right. We have measured placement from the commencement of the program up until now.
Senator SIEWERT: I will put the rest of my questions on notice.
Senator McCARTHY: Ms Williams, I want to clarify some of those figures. There were 146,700 no-shows. That was the penalties. Is that correct?
Ms Williams : There were 146,700 penalties. That includes no-show no-pay penalties but also the longer serious failure penalties—the eight-week penalties that Mr James was talking about.
Senator McCARTHY: That is the number of penalties yet you have 33,000 participants; is that correct?
Mr Eccles : A penalty could be one day, so if someone does not turn up for the first three days of a period that is counted as three penalties.
Senator McCARTHY: Will you be able to provide on notice the number of people who receive penalties out of the 33,000?
Ms Williams : That is what we were looking to provide.
Senator McCARTHY: I was just clarifying that. I thought that was what you were referring to there. I think Senator Dodson just wanted to check on breaches.
Senator DODSON: If you could give us the demographic breakdown of where the maximum breaches are occurring—you may not be able to do that today, but if you could take that on notice—that would be useful. Also, is there an assessment process for the contractors that deliver these programs and an assessment of the quality of their capacities in delivering the programs? Obviously, we would also be interested to know: at what stage is the renewal—if there is to be renewal—of contracts for the delivery of the services? There are a couple of other questions. You may want to take that on board as well. I think we are going to have some matters on board, Mr Chair, because we are not going to get through the many other questions that we have here.
I just want to ask a couple in relation to work health and safety rights. Are the participants being informed of their work health and safety rights and the responsibilities of their respective workplaces? Is this happening?
Ms Williams : Absolutely. That is a condition or a requirement of the funding agreement that the CDP providers operate under—to ensure that they undertake an appropriate risk assessment for the activities that they are running and to ensure that the jobseekers that are participating in those activities fully understand their work health and safety—
Senator DODSON: Are there representatives appointed to undertake that task? How does that get done? Are there representatives that do this?
Ms Williams : The CDP providers have arrangements in place to ensure that that occurs—yes; that is correct.
Senator McCARTHY: Does that include insurance?
Ms Williams : That does include insurance. The department holds insurance for all job seekers that are in the department's employment programs—not just the CDP but all of our other broader employment programs as well.
Senator McCARTHY: So the 33,000 participants?
Ms Williams : That is correct. They are covered by the department's insurance—
Senator McCARTHY: They are all covered by insurance?
Ms Williams : That is correct.
Senator Scullion: There are only about 16,900 that have the work obligations in that demographic.
Senator DODSON: What is the injury rate, if there are any injuries from these tasks that are undertaken?
Ms Williams : There are very few injuries. I think we have had one incident or no incidents or—
Mr Denny : Zero claims.
Ms Williams : zero claims on the insurance policy.
Senator DODSON: There would be other questions, but I am conscious of time, Mr Chair.
CHAIR: Thanks, Senator Dodson. So, just to clarify: that is jobs, land and economy—no further questions from committee members. Are there any questions under 2.2, children and schooling?
Senator SIEWERT: To clarify: I do, but I will put them on notice.
CHAIR: Understood—any that do not need to be asked at this moment.
Senator SIEWERT: I have questions on all of them.
CHAIR: Fair enough.
Senator DODSON: We would love to detain the minister. I can't get a plane out of here until tomorrow morning, so it doesn't worry me!
CHAIR: On safety and wellbeing? If none, other than those on notice, we will move on. On culture and capability? We will discuss suicide under health; I have pencilled that aside. Remote Australia strategies? And, finally, program support? If there are no further questions, other than those that we have put on notice, we will move to health issues and welcome Department of Health officials.
Mr Eccles : While there are people shuffling, I might just update the committee on something I took on notice earlier about the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations and the assessment. The matter has been resolved and closed, and there were no adverse findings.