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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
FINANCE AND DEREGULATION PORTFOLIO
Department of Finance and Deregulation
- Committee Name
Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
CHAIR (Senator Polley)
Ronaldson, Sen Michael
Faulkner, Sen John
Ryan, Sen Scott
Thistlethwaite, Sen Matt
Evans, Sen Christopher
Sinodinos, Sen Arthur
Moore, Sen Claire
Cormann, Sen Mathias
Stephens, Sen Ursula
Mason, Sen Brett
Evans, Sen Christopher
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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
(Senate-Thursday, 24 May 2012)
FINANCE AND DEREGULATION PORTFOLIO
Department of Finance and Deregulation
CHAIR (Senator Polley)
Senator CHRIS EVANS
Medibank Private Ltd
Department of Finance and Deregulation
Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation
- Department of Finance and Deregulation
- FINANCE AND DEREGULATION PORTFOLIO
Content WindowFinance and Public Administration Legislation Committee - 24/05/2012 - Estimates - FINANCE AND DEREGULATION PORTFOLIO - Department of Finance and Deregulation
Department of Finance and Deregulation
Senator Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research
Department of Finance and Deregulation
Mr David Tune, Secretary
Mr David Martine, Deputy Secretary, Budget Group
Mr David Nicol, First Assistant Secretary, Budget Policy and Coordination Division
Ms Amanda Lee, Assistant Secretary, Budget Coordination Branch
Mr Neil Richardson, Assistant Secretary, Budget Analysis Branch
Mr. Steve O’Loughlin Assistant Secretary, Strategic Review Branch
Ms Joan Ross Special Advisor, Strategic Review Branch
Mr Stephen Clively, First Assistant Secretary, Government and Defence Division
Mr David Hallinan, Assistant Secretary, Immigration and Foreign Affairs Branch
Dr Lesley Seebeck, Assistant Secretary, Defence, Security and Intelligence Branch
Mr Geoff Painton, Assistant Secretary, Central Agencies Branch
Mr Phil Richardson, Assistant Secretary, Attorney General’s Branch
Mr Mark Thomann, First Assistant Secretary, Social Policy Division
Ms Lisa Foreman, Assistant Secretary, Families, Housing, Community Services & Indigenous Affairs
Mr Stephen Miners, Assistant Secretary, Health and Ageing Branch
Ms Jenny Chynoweth, Assistant Secretary, Human Services and Veterans’ Affairs Branch
Mr David Weiss, First Assistant Secretary, Industry, Education and Infrastructure Division
Mr Stein Helgeby, Deputy Secretary, Financial Management Group
Mr Tim Youngberry, First Assistant Secretary, Financial Reporting and Cash Management Division
Mr Alan Greenslade, First Assistant Secretary, Funds & Superannuation Division
Ms Sharon Ong, Assistant Secretary, Superannuation Branch
Ms Kerry Markoulli, Assistant Secretary, Financial Framework Policy Branch
Ms Rosemary Deininger, First Assistant Secretary, Implementation and Performance Improvement Division
Dr Greg Feeney, Assistant Secretary, Funds Branch
Mr George Sotiropoulos, Assistant Secretary, Commonwealth Financial Accountability Review Branch
Mr Marc Mowbray-d’Arbela, Assistant Secretary, Legislative Review Branch
Mr Lembit Suur, First Assistant Secretary, Financial Framework Division
Mr Gareth Hall, Assistant Secretary, Budget Framework Branch
Ms Susan Page, Deputy Secretary, Deregulation Group
Mr Peter McCray, First Assistant Secretary, Deregulation Policy Division
Mr Jason McNamara, Executive Director, Office of Best Practice Regulation
Ms Jan Mason, Deputy Secretary, Asset Management and Parliamentary Services
Mr Greg Whalen, Actin g First Assistant Secretary, Property and Construction Division
Mr Andrew Smith, Assistant Secretary, Property Branch
Ms Stacie Hall, Actin g First Assistant Secretary, Government Business, Special Claims and Land Policy
Mr John Yanitsas, Actin g Assistant Secretary, Government Businesses Advice Branch
Dr Guy Verney, Assistant Secretary, Special Claims and Land Policy
Mr Phil Smith, Assistant Secretary, NBN Policy and Shareholder Branch
Mr Robert Higgins, Assistant Secretary, Insurance and Risk Management Branch
Mr John Grant, First Assistant Secretary, Procurement Division
Ms Y vette Sims, Assistant Secretary, Procurement Policy Branch
Ms Laurie Van Veen, Assistant Secretary, Communications Advice Branch
Ms Ann Steward, Deputy Secretary, Australian Government Information Management Office
Mr John Sheridan, First Assistant Secretary, Agency Services Division, Australian Government Information Management Office
Mr Glenn Archer, First Assistant Secretary, Policy and Planning Division, Australian Government Information Management Office
Ms Mundi Tomlinson, Assistant Secretary, Strategic Sourcing Branch, Agency Services Division, Australian Government Information Management Office
Mr Scott Wallace, Assistant Secretary, Governance and Policy Branch, Policy and Planning Division, Australian Government Information Management Office
Ms Kim Clarke, First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial and Parliamentary Services
Ms Suzanne Pitson, Assistant Secretary, Entitlements Policy
Mr Greg Miles, Assistant Secretary, Entitlements Management
Ms Kim Baker, Assistant Secretary, Client Services
Ms Cheryl-ann e Moy, Assistant Secretary, Accountability and Reporting
Ms Maree Faulkner, National Manager, COMCAR
Ms Jenet Connell, Deputy Secretary, Chief Operating Officer
Mr Michael Burton, First Assistant Secretary, Chief Financial Officer
Mr Carl Murphy, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services Division
Ms Rozanne Frost, First Assistant Secretary, Chief Information Officer
Mr Stephen Taylor, Assistant Secretary, Legal Services Branch
Mr David Yarra, Actin g Chief Executive Officer
Mr Richard Bridge, Chief Governance Officer
Mr Murali Venugopal, Chief Financial Officer
Ms Danni Woods, Executive Manager, Communications
Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation
Mr Peter Carrigy-Ryan, Chief Executive Officer
Medibank Private Ltd
Mr George Savvides, Managing Director
Mr James Connors, Senior Government Affairs Advisor
Mr Laz Cotsios, Group Executive - Private Health Insurance
Australian Submarine Corporation
Mr Stephen Ludlam, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer
Committee met at 09:00
CHAIR ( Senator Polley ): The committee will begin today's proceedings with the Department of Finance and Deregulation Outcome 3 and then follow the order as set out in the circulated program. I welcome back Minister Evans. Mr Tune, is there an opening statement for outcome 3?
Mr Tune : No.
Senator RONALDSON: Ms Mason, is there a requirement for the certification of monthly management statements?
Ms Mason : I think we have reported at previous estimates hearings that the certification process is not mandatory. It is something we request and urge but there is no requirement to certify them.
Senator RONALDSON: Yes, indeed. What number of members and senators do not provide that certification?
Ms Moy : There is no further requirement to certify the monthly management report. Certification is now attached to the tabling reports, so each six months we ask senators and members to certify their tabling and that is then published on the web when the tabling reports are published.
Senator RONALDSON: When was the last reporting requirement?
Ms Moy : The last report was published in November 2011. The next one is due on 28 June this year.
Senator RONALDSON: How many members or senators failed to provide that last six-monthly notification?
Mr Tune : As of when? The last time?
Senator RONALDSON: Yes, the last one. They could not at the moment, I presume, because it is not due. Was it November last year?
Ms Moy : There are 29 still outstanding from November 2011.
Senator RONALDSON: Is that on the public record or can you provide me with those?
Ms Moy : I can provide you with a copy of the list of those that have not certified. Would you like that on notice or later today?
Senator RONALDSON: If you got it later today, that would be good. As you are aware, the Speaker, the member for Fisher, has stood down or was stood down or whatever the facts are—it is not entirely clear—and you would be aware that there is a police inquiry into alleged misuse of entitlements. Have you been asked to provide information? If so, have you? And what information has been requested?
Mr Taylor : The department is assisting the Australian Federal Police with its inquiries.
Senator Chris Evans: That is a well-used phrase, isn't it.
Senator RONALDSON: What is the nature of that assistance?
Mr Taylor : Providing whatever records the department holds that the Australian Federal Police have sought.
Senator RONALDSON: They are being provided with those records?
Mr Taylor : They are.
Senator RONALDSON: Is there any outstanding information that the Federal Police have requested that has not been provided?
Mr Taylor : Not to my knowledge.
Senator RONALDSON: Thank you.
Ms Mason : That is not to say that there may not be further information requested by the AFP. But our responses to requests to date have been provided.
Senator RONALDSON: Thank you. I understand. I just wanted to make sure there was nothing outstanding. The Sunshine Coast Daily reported on 18—
Senator Chris Evans: Those don't seem to get delivered as regularly as I would like.
Senator RONALDSON: I do not know it personally. But I certainly have an article dated 18 April that said:
THE full detail of Peter Slipper's spendathon during the second half of 2009 may be released following a decision by the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
… … …
… affected third parties who have already objected to release of documents, have now been given 30 days in which to either seek to have it reviewed or to lodge an appeal.
I do not know. This may well have all been released and I was unaware of it. What is the status of that FOI application?
Mr Taylor : The status of that FOI application is that it is subject to third-party review. It is undergoing an internal review process within the department.
Senator RONALDSON: I take it from that that a third-party has requested a review?
Mr Taylor : That is correct.
Senator RONALDSON: Are you able to identify who that is?
Mr Taylor : No.
Senator RONALDSON: Are there any ongoing investigations as at today in relation to any members or senators in relation to the alleged misuse of entitlements?
Senator Chris Evans: Senator Ronaldson, just to be clear: we are talking about an AFP investigation, or are you back to the department's investigation?
Senator RONALDSON: I am back to the department.
Senator Chris Evans: I just want to be clear they answer the right question.
Mr Tune : This is under the Minchin protocol? Is that what you are asking—whether we have any active inquiries as part of the Minchin protocol?
Senator RONALDSON: The protocol is irrelevant. I am just asking whether there are any ongoing investigations in relation to misuse of entitlements.
Ms Mason : Before I hand over to Mr Taylor, I might just make the comment that the department does not do investigations of allegations of misuse of entitlement. We rather examine allegations in accordance with the Minchin protocol, and the allegations are either dealt with administratively through correspondence with the senator or member concerned or, in the case of serious allegations, considered by a high-level committee within the department. If that committee thinks that referral to the AFP is warranted, then it would be law enforcement agencies like the AFP that would do investigations, not the department.
Senator RONALDSON: Are there any matters presently before that high-level committee?
Senator FAULKNER: Just on that, this might assist. When Senator Ronaldson said in his previous question that the Minchin protocol was 'not relevant'—
Senator RONALDSON: I did not say it was not relevant.
Senator FAULKNER: I thought you did, actually.
Senator RONALDSON: Don't verbal me.
Senator FAULKNER: I think they were your precise words. If I have misinterpreted, I am certainly not doing so deliberately. I am just clarifying the fact that the high-level committee is relevant as far as the Minchin protocol is concerned. We use this terminology, but, even though it has been canvassed at this particular committee on many occasions, a lot of people—if there were anyone listening—might not understand what the Minchin protocol is. That is a committee that was established effectively as a result of the protocol. Can you confirm that?
Mr Tune : That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER: Senator, I am not meaning to jump in, I am just trying to establish that. If you look at the Hansard, you might note that you raised in your question—if not precisely the words I used, at least an uncertainty about that and I am merely making the point—that the high-level committee was, in fact, established effectively as a result of the protocol, that is all. It is just for clarification.
Senator RONALDSON: I understand that there may be others listening who do not understand this as well as you and I do.
Mr Tune : The answer is no, there are no inquiries currently considered by the high-level committee.
Senator RONALDSON: Have any requests been sent to members and senators requesting details of the expenditure that is still outstanding?
Mr Taylor : There are five of those matters.
Senator RONALDSON: That are outstanding?
Senator Chris Evans: It is important for the colleagues that the officer explain that when they write to members it is not necessarily a suggestion that they have done anything wrong. Otherwise the question left there would leave a stain on potentially five members. It might be useful if we had on the record why they write.
Senator RONALDSON: Inherent in it—
Senator Chris Evans: I just thought for the completion of the record—
Senator RONALDSON: I understand. Inherent in the question is that there are issues in relation to five members or senators whom you are presently making inquiries of to seek clarification—is that correct?
Mr Tune : Yes.
Ms Mason : That is correct.
Senator RONALDSON: Ms Mason, you would be aware of the large amount of press surrounding the entitlement expenditure of the Speaker and I would take it that you review those media reports?
Ms Mason : Yes, we do. We keep an eye on the media coverage of entitlements matters.
Senator RONALDSON: Are there any matters raised in those reports that the department believes requires clarification?
Mr Taylor : There have been a range of matters raised in recent media reports and the department is considering those matters. Effectively, it is at a preliminary assessment stage. It considers the allegation made and gathers material and determines whether or not that is something that warrants briefing the Special Minister of State on.
Senator RONALDSON: Is there anything in those media reports about entitlement expenditure that the department, from its knowledge, has any issue with?
Mr Taylor : The department is at a preliminary consideration stage, so those conclusions or views have not been formed.
Senator FAULKNER: You might explain to the committee—I know the answer to the question I am asking, but just so it is clear—what the department does if there a media report. Most of the media reports are negative or critical, if you like. What does the department do if there is a media report that goes to the question of a parliamentarian's entitlements? That might be helpful, I think. In other words, what are your standard operating procedure is in this circumstance? This is just so that we understand what the department normally does in such a circumstance.
Ms Mason : Certainly, senator. Mr Taylor may wish to add to what I have to say. When we notice a media article that suggests use of entitlements beyond the rules, if you like, we will have a look at our records and see if we think there might be any issue there. If we think there might be then there is one of two courses of action that can be taken. One is to write to the senator or member concerned, through the Special Minister of State, and seek their comment on the matter. Another would be to gather information and put it before the high-level committee if it falls into the category of a serious allegation. Allegations of matters come to our notice not only from the media but through other mechanisms as well, such as letters, our own systems, our audits and so on. The same process applies regardless of how a matter may come to our attention. Sometimes it may be that we simply deal with it administratively through perhaps the issuing of an invoice and seeking a repayment from the senator or member concerned.
Senator FAULKNER: Sure, but can you confirm that there have been occasions where an entitlements issue or concern first comes to the attention of the department as a result of a media story?
Ms Mason : Yes, that is correct.
Senator FAULKNER: Hence the contents of the media story then effectively means that the follow-on action that you speak of takes place.
Ms Mason : That is right, if that is where we find out about a potential issue.
Senator RONALDSON: Just so that I am clear, the plethora of press articles you are currently reviewing to ascertain whether you need to refer those matters to the—that is implicit in what you said before.
Ms Mason : We are currently reviewing to determine whether any further action needs to be taken.
Senator RONALDSON: I understand that but you are reviewing those press reports—
Senator Chris Evans: Yes.
Senator RONALDSON: to ascertain whether any further action needs to be taken.
Mr Tune : Further action, one of which could be through to the high-level committee.
Senator RONALDSON: That is right.
Senator Chris Evans: It is worth making the point too that in terms of the current police inquiry that would not be the case, I suspect. But I think you are asking about matters other than the current police inquiry.
Senator RONALDSON: Yes, of course.
Senator Chris Evans: That is being handled by them.
Senator RONALDSON: I am otherwise referring to the press reports in relation to this matter. Has there been anything in those press reports which repeat information that is on the public record, such as Department of Finance and Deregulation reports, that you have any issue with? Has there been any misreporting of publicly available information which you are aware of, or has that been accurately reported?
Mr Tune : I do not know if we have gone back and checked every single story against that. We would have to take that one on notice.
Senator RONALDSON: All right. I understand. I go back to the FOI application, and you have stated there is a third party. I presume, and correct me if I am wrong, that the third party has objected to the release of that information.
Mr Tune : Correct.
Senator RONALDSON: What is the process for that objection and the review?
Mr Taylor : The process is that an independent review has been requested of the department, so that is handled by a different decision maker within the department, effectively doing an internal review of the previous decision and any information supplied by the third party. Then that is notified to the third party.
Senator RONALDSON: Who is conducting that review?
Mr Taylor : We do not usually disclose the details of decision makers within the department.
Mr Tune : It is a senior officer in the department.
Senator RONALDSON: That is what I want to clarify. It is someone within the department.
Mr Tune : It is.
Senator RONALDSON: I was not asking for where or what.
Mr Tune : It is a senior officer in a different part of the department.
Senator FAULKNER: That is standard operating procedure under FOI.
Senator RONALDSON: I just wanted to make sure that it was within the process and not outside the process. What is the timing on that?
Mr Taylor : The decision maker conducting the internal review has 30 days to make the decision.
Senator RONALDSON: Where is the endpoint or the trigger point—whichever way you want to go: forwards or backwards?
Mr Taylor : I could not tell you the date off the top of my head.
Mr Tune : It is early June, is not it?
Senator RONALDSON: Can you take that on notice and get it for me today?
Mr Tune : We will take that on notice and clarify it for you.
Senator RONALDSON: If you could get that for me today—I am sure it will not be difficult. Can you take this on notice because I do not expect you will have this information available. If you do that would be useful. Can you provide me with information for the last five years regarding the number of sexual harassment claims brought against members or senators by staff? Clearly, I am not seeking the names of those members or senators. Can you provide me, within reason, the full details of the outcomes of those allegations—whether there have been settlements, counselling of some sort, independent people brought in to try to address those clients. I would like some general information about the outcomes of those, please.
Ms Mason : We will take that on notice, and report it in a way that does not identify individuals.
Senator RONALDSON: Of course you will be mindful that in the last 22 minutes and 20 seconds I have been very careful not to identify individual members or senators—
Senator FAULKNER: Is it possible that there might be such a claim that the department would not be aware of? Could action be taken to other authorities? If that were the case, I do not know if it is or it is not, Senator Ronaldson's question, I assume, does not go to that. This goes to matters that the Department of Finance and Deregulation has an involvement in or knowledge of. That is what you are asking, is it not?
Senator RONALDSON: I would not expect the department to have knowledge of anything other than the matters that the department—
Senator FAULKNER: But I am making the point that there may well be action taken that the department might not be aware of.
Mr Tune : That is possible. I cannot think of an instance, but it is possible.
Senator FAULKNER: I do not know of an instance either, but I certainly could conceive that such a thing would be possible.
Senator RONALDSON: You would be aware that there is a sexual harassment allegation claim on foot in relation to other private proceedings at the moment. Has the department been requested to assist in providing information in relation to that matter, or are you currently engaged in any allegation of sexual harassment against a sitting member or senator that involves staff?
Mr Tune : The Commonwealth is the first respondent in the particular case that is before the Federal Court at the moment. Obviously, the Department of Finance and Deregulation is part of the case. The Attorney-General's Department is handling the case. Initially we were handling it, but under legal services directions it is open to the Attorney-General to in effect run the case. So the Attorney-General has taken the lead in the case, along with legal counsel of course, and the Department of Finance and Deregulation is assisting the Attorney-General's Department in providing whatever information we can to assist the court in this case.
Senator RONALDSON: Is the department of finance, separately to those proceedings, currently conducting any investigation into sexual harassment against a member or senator by a staff member?
Mr Tune : No.
Senator RONALDSON: There have been allegations of substantial repayment requirements in relation to the Speaker. If there have there been any repayments by a member or senator, is that formally reported?
Ms Moy : Repayments are reported in the monthly management reports and in tabling any amount that is returned to the department for whatever reason it may be returned.
Senator RONALDSON: I will leave that on the record.
Senator RYAN: What arrangement does the department have in place in relation to Senator Carr's electorate office?
Senator Chris Evans: Which Senator Carr?
Senator RYAN: Senator Bob Carr.
Mr Miles : The arrangement the department has in relation to Senator Carr's electorate office is that it has made arrangements with the New South Wales state government to take over the office that was provided to him by that agency.
Senator RYAN: What is the address of his office? Is it the one listed on the parliamentary website?
Mr Miles : It is in Bligh Street. That is all I can tell you.
Senator RYAN: Would it be Level 10, Bligh House, 4-6 Bligh Street, Sydney?
Mr Miles : That sounds correct.
Senator RYAN: Does the department pay rent to someone for that office?
Mr Miles : I am not sure of the details. I could take that on notice. I know arrangements were made with the New South Wales government to take over the leasing arrangement.
Senator RYAN: So arrangements were made to take over the leasing arrangement? I presume I could make the assumption that the Commonwealth would be incurring a cost for this office?
Mr Miles : That is correct.
Mr Tune : The only hesitation is whether payments have commenced as yet. I assume they have but I would need to check that.
Senator RYAN: Were such arrangements made at the request of Senator Bob Carr?
Mr Miles : He was certainly involved in discussions about where he wanted his electorate office so, yes, it would have been made in discussion with him and the New South Wales government.
Senator RYAN: What contact did you have with the New South Wales government? Was it initiated by them? Was it initiated by you?
Mr Miles : I cannot tell you. I could provide the details on notice.
Senator RYAN: I would appreciate knowing how the contact was initiated because what you are saying leaves it open that they potentially contacted you. I am presuming at this point that the contact was initially made by Senator Carr seeking an interest from your department to take over the existing office he had that had been previously provided by the New South Wales government.
Ms Mason : In general terms, if we have an incoming senator or member to the parliament, we would consult with them about the desired location of their electorate office. Obviously, it needs to be within their electorate, but we would—
Senator RYAN: That would be easier for a senator!
Ms Mason : Yes, it is easier for a senator. You are correct. But we do consult with them about the desired location, so I imagine that, when we check, we will find that we consulted with Senator Bob Carr, he indicated his preference and we sought to accommodate that.
Senator RYAN: Correct me if I am wrong, but I understand from some of my colleagues—and I have not moved; I took over an existing office which I was quite happy with, when I took office—that, when people specify a preference, it is for a more general location than maybe an existing, specific suite of offices.
Ms Mason : It can be either, we find. And I should have added that, when there is an incoming senator or member and there is an existing office that has been vacated by a previous member, we will usually seek to re-use that office for the incoming member.
Senator RYAN: You have read my mind, Ms Mason! This was obviously not Senator Arbib's office?
Mr Miles : No; that is correct. Senator Arbib's office was established within the CPO, the Commonwealth Parliament Offices.
Senator RYAN: So it is your normal practice to encourage people to take over an existing office if it is feasible for them to do so. I do not know how far this particular building is from the CPO in Sydney; do you?
Ms Mason : We certainly do seek to re-use offices. But I might add that the Commonwealth Parliament Offices are under quite a deal of pressure and interest from other clients, so freeing up a suite in the CPO is not something that we would find problematic. It is a bit different if it is a member's office in an electorate which might otherwise incur dead rent.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: Is the office that was formerly used by Senator Arbib currently being used by someone else?
Mr Miles : It is not. But part of the decision-making would have also taken heed of the fact that there is a proposal at the moment, as you may be aware, to relocate the Sydney CPO to an address in Bligh Street. So any move into there by a senator would be nothing but a temporary move of eight months and no more.
Senator RYAN: Did the department provide a view, when the request was made, on the suitability of this office?
Mr Miles : Yes.
Senator RYAN: You consider it suitable?
Mr Miles : Yes.
Senator RYAN: Did any work have to be undertaken to make the office appropriate for Senator Bob Carr as a member of parliament? Were there security or other issues?
Mr Miles : I am not aware of any particular expenditure. The minister's portfolio department may well have had to spend some money on communications infrastructure.
Senator FAULKNER: That would ordinarily be the case, wouldn't it, Mr Miles, that the minister's own department would handle those matters and also any costs associated with them?
Mr Miles : Indeed—regardless of the location.
Senator FAULKNER: Would you be aware that it is true to say that, particularly for the Foreign Minister, the Minister for Defence and the Attorney-General et cetera, there are some additional communications and other—
Mr Miles : There are some elements that relate to security—
Senator FAULKNER: security related requirements involved?
Mr Miles : Yes, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER: But your department tries to work cooperatively with the minister's home department, as those matters are addressed?
Mr Miles : Yes.
Senator RYAN: Would I be correct in saying that one cannot use a publicly provided office for private purposes, for commercial purposes?
Mr Miles : That is correct.
Senator RYAN: When did that office become Senator Bob Carr's office and, effectively, the possession of the department for his purposes?
Mr Miles : From an entitlements perspective, he was entitled to an office at Commonwealth expense from the time he became a senator. As for the actual arrangements for the signing over of the office and the lease from the New South Wales government to the Commonwealth, I cannot give you that detail at the moment, Senator.
Senator RYAN: When did you start paying bills for it?
Mr Miles : That is what I cannot tell you at the moment.
Senator RYAN: I would be interested in knowing a couple of issues and I would like to be very precise about this. When you started to incur leasing costs for the office, presumably at some point before that you would have, if that has not happened yet, incurred the costs that Senator Faulkner and I were just discussing, which might be communications costs, which might be set-up costs and general electricity and other consumables. I would also be interested in knowing, if you have not taken over the lease as yet, whether or not you sought or undertook any advice with respect to Commonwealth liability for an office. And I consider, if you do not have the lease yet but that is still an office for which you are paying electricity and telephone bills, and you have got employees of the Commonwealth in there, you presumably would have looked at when the Commonwealth took over some liability, from a workers compensation point of view or from an insurance and public liability point of view. Are those issues you considered, given that this appear to be an office in transition, in a leasing sense?
Ms Mason : We can have a look at the cut-over dates for those things, but essentially if Senator Carr had staff engaged as MOP(S) Act employees then, yes, from that point we would we would—
Senator RYAN: From that point on there was Commonwealth interest in this office and a potential Commonwealth liability because of the fact, at the very least, that there were Commonwealth employees and MOP(S) Act employees in that office.
Ms Mason : We will check on the detail.
Senator RYAN: This is an easy question to answer here.
Senator CHRIS EVANS: The officers have not got the specifics, but to make the point—
Senator RYAN: No, this is a question of judgment.
Senator CHRIS EVANS: You are making the point that employees of Senator Carr would have been working from that office. I think that is probably right. The officers will check that for you, take it on notice. But I think the general assertion is if they were working for Senator Carr as electoral officers and he was using that as his electoral office, the probability is that they were using that office. I think that is right. You raise the question of workers compensation. I suspect that that incurs a liability. The officers have said they will take that on notice and we will get for you the dates of when those things occurred.
Senator RYAN: We have had lots of discussions about occupational health and safety here before.
Ms Mason : We have.
Senator RYAN: I have got a historical company extract from ASIC here, dated 12 April this year. It lists as the principal place of business the company RJ Carr Pty Ltd, of whom Mr Carr was a previous director up until March this year, at Bligh House, level 10, 4-6 Bligh Street, Sydney, which, if I am correct, is the same office we have just been discussing. I understand that this was the place where Mr Carr previously undertook his business as a lobbyist. I am not sure about arrangements with the New South Wales government. I am not asking you to have any knowledge of those. If there was any business being conducted from this office—I am not saying there was—that would be a breach of entitlements—would it not?
Senator CHRIS EVANS: That is a hypothetical. You can ask the officers what the rules are regarding those things. It is fair to ask what the rules are regarding the use of offices. That is something they can answer.
Senator RYAN: The rules regarding the use of offices are that no business may be conducted from an electorate office—correct?
Ms Mason : We provide offices for parliamentary electorate and official business, not for commercial purposes.
Senator RYAN: Given that you are obviously aware that this was the previous office provided to Mr Carr, has the department at any time inquired as to whether the previous business arrangements had been finalised when it became a Commonwealth funded office?
Ms Mason : That is not within my knowledge. We would certainly need to check whether that was the case.
Senator RYAN: Will you now go back and look at, say, the ASIC records and determine whether what I have got that is dated April this year is still in place?
Ms Mason : We will certainly examine the matters that you have raised and see if there is any action that needs to be taken by the department.
Senator RYAN: Will that also involve an inquiry of Senator Carr to make sure that he is aware of the requirements and restrictions on the use of publicly funded offices?
Ms Mason : I would not seek to pre-empt what we might do. I have acknowledged that we will have a look at it.
Senator RYAN: I do not know of other people coming into parliament who have transitioned from a place of business to a public office holder in the same actual suite of offices where they previously undertook a business. That is somewhat unique. Surely, advising—
Senator Chris Evans: I think you have provided the evidence that it was an office provided by the New South Wales government. I assume—
Senator RYAN: No, Ms Mason provided that evidence.
Senator Chris Evans: I assume it was provided in relation to a former Premier's office.
Senator RYAN: I consider that to be irrelevant.
Senator Chris Evans: The officer has said to you that they will make inquiries to follow up the information you have provided. I do not think it is reasonable for them to have to tell you what they might do, until they start the process. But they have given you an assurance they will follow up the matters you raise. Obviously they will determine how they do that.
Senator RYAN: With respect, Minister, I do not think it is unreasonable to ask about what course of action they plan to take from now that is somewhat more specific than 'we will make inquiries'. We have spent the last day here talking about what happens when only inquiries are made.
Senator Chris Evans: That would be fine if they had known before they came to the hearing, but as they have had knowledge of this for about two minutes I do not think it is reasonable to ask them what plans they have for responding. I would have thought they would take a more considered view to examine what you have had to say, go back and check their files and then start from there. I do not think we are in disagreement other than that the officers cannot be expected to give you the detail of their response at this stage. But it is perfectly appropriate, and they said they will follow up your concerns.
Senator RYAN: They said they would make inquiries. We have a unique situation here that I have not come across before. It was a place of business—however it was provided, it was a place of business, and what the relations are between the New South Wales government and former premiers are not for this place to inquire into—and ASIC records say it was a place of business. Were you aware of that before Senator Carr made the request for this to be his principal office?
Ms Mason : I was not aware of that until you raised it today. As Mr Miles has given in evidence, our dealings were with the New South Wales government about the transition of the office from New South Wales to the Commonwealth for the provision of Senator Carr's office.
Senator RYAN: I will put more detailed on questions on notice regarding this, particularly about what the department knew, when it knew it, and, if it did not know it, what inquiries it made. It strikes me that here we have a place of business that has been turned into a Commonwealth office and you are not aware of it and nor have you made any inquiries about it. It is rare for people to be able to change the sign plate on the door and turn it into a taxpayer funded office.
Ms Mason : I think you are right that it is an unusual situation. But of course we do have other elected representatives who have privately funded offices. I guess that is the most similar situation that I can think of at the moment.
Mr Tune : We will take it on notice and follow it up.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: Mr Miles, I asked you a moment ago if Minister Arbib's office was being used and you said it was not.
Mr Miles : Sorry, I was about to correct that. I have just been passed some advice.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: If you could.
Mr Miles : Mr Bradbury took over Senator Arbib's former office, because it was already cabled up from the Treasury network.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: So it is being used.
Mr Miles : That is correct.
Senator SINODINOS: I want to ask about a red-tape issue. Parliamentarians get electronic pay slips, but I noticed the other day that one of my staff members had a paper slip. Is there some difference or is there perhaps some saving in going electronic for everybody?
Mr Tune : We are in the process of implementing that at the moment. The IT is not stopping us, but it is a challenge. It is difficult to explain the IT as I find it difficult to understand myself. It is a bit of a bugbear. There is a particular software we need to use and we are trying to integrate it with—
Senator SINODINOS: I just assumed that once MPs had been done it was a job lot—you do the whole lot together.
Mr Tune : Yes. Two different pay sources.
Ms Mason : Senators and members pays are processed by the Department of Parliamentary Services, whereas the payroll for MOP(S) Act employees is processed within the department. So we are talking about different IT systems. It is probably fair to say, as the secretary has observed, that we are working on upgrading our payroll system so that it can provide that functionality and other functionality as well.
Mr Tune : The short answer is that we are pretty close to correcting this and we should be able to provide electronic pay slips to MOP staff very shortly.
Senator RYAN: Can I ask for a document we normally get to be tabled?
CHAIR: Yes, you can ask for that.
Senator RYAN: It is handy to have a look at it before asking questions.
Senator MOORE: Ms Mason I have some questions about the certification document.
Ms Mason : Certainly. Before that, I will just mention that we have tabled the three documents concerning staff that I think the senator was seeking.
Senator MOORE: You said that 29 parliamentarians and senators have not completed the certification for the November return. Is that right?
Ms Mason : That is correct. Current senators and members.
Senator MOORE: This is an ongoing interest of mine, as you know. Of those, how many are in regular communication with the department about their reasons for not doing it. I have been told in previous Senate estimates that we have some philosophical objectors to the way the process operates and they may well have never completed a certification return. For the record I want to get a bit of a snapshot of the people who have not completed something from the 29th, last year.
Ms Moy : In terms of their contact with ministerial and parliamentary services, I would have to take that on notice to see how many times each one had contacted us about a specific issue. To my knowledge—and I would prefer to take this on notice to give you up-to-date information—there are some senators and members who regularly do not certify. I could not tell you exactly who they are. I can take that on notice for you. But there is sometimes some confusion about what certification means for senators and members, and over the past few certifications we have been trying to remove that confusion. In this particular certification—people are due for 25 May—the certification is one page and is quite clear. It requires one signature and the process has been improved to try to capture the information for people about what it is they are actually certifying.
Senator MOORE: I know some of the people, but I have always said that if people have not done it it should be open and public. It is more or less kind of that way now, because if you take the time on the system you can see who has not done it. My understanding is that after the first return last year there was some confusion about some people who were on the list and some who were not. That got some media coverage, and that was unfortunate.
Ms Moy : That is correct. We discussed that at last estimates. There were a couple of people who had—
Senator MOORE: Returned and got named.
Ms Moy : Yes. And some people had confirmed their expenditure but had not actually signed the certification.
Senator CORMANN: There was a change in the process because there is the monthly certification, then the six-monthly certification and then the yearly certification. There was a change in the process somewhere along the way that did create some genuine confusion where people had the impression that they may have already certified expenditure and were not quite aware that there was a requirement to do it again. Is that one of the reasons you found—
Mr Tune : Yes. That is correct. There were instances of that. Ms Moy just referred to that. People had signed something and they thought they had done the certification but they had not—
Senator CORMANN: To the extent there was a change in process, has that now diminished as an issue?
Senator CORMANN: So to the extent that there was a change in process, has that now diminished as an issue?
Mr Tune : Yes. I think there probably difficulties on both sides.
Senator MOORE: In terms of the process, certainly my understanding is that that work was going on after November last year and after the last round of estimates with discussion with people and discussion about how the emails went out and what information was available and with the print-out to make it clear to people and their offices what was required—and those discussions have gone on. So, from the department's point of view now as to this round that is coming up at the end of the week, that feedback that you got—from people about their confusion—has been taken into account with the instructions that have gone out? My understanding is that it all came to our offices a couple of weeks ago.
Ms Moy : That is correct. It came out a couple of weeks ago and it is due 25 May for current senators and members and 1 June for former senators and members. The feedback that we have received from senators and members has been put into this new form. You will find—and you have probably seen your form to date—that it talks about the supporting information that is provided, it gives you quite a clear section at the bottom about certification—so what it is that you are certifying in terms of the usage of the entitlements against the legislation.
Senator MOORE: The other issue, as has been pointed out a couple of times this morning, is the changeover from the monthly process to the six-monthly process. I would like on notice, because you have already got a couple of things to take up for me, the amount of feedback—and not by number—that comes in on a monthly basis. I have always worried about what causes people not to fill in the document because it is supposed to be an aid to you working out in your office what is going on and that is where you catch things early if there is a problem. If someone has trouble with certifying something after six months it would be interesting to know whether you have got any feelers in the previous six months as the monthly one goes out for you to have a look at as to where people have rung and said, 'Hey, we've got a concern here,' so it is about that kind of thing. So it is a view about what is the kind of interaction your unit gets from members and senators about how they feel about the system and their worries.
Ms Moy : Certainly.
Senator MOORE: That would be useful, and so it is then at the end of these estimates and I am sure you will get some other questions, Ms Moy, at the next round of estimates about what happens with this process. So it is due at the end of the month.
Ms Moy : 25 May.
Senator MOORE: So how soon after that will there be a chance for the website to be updated to say what has been the return rate?
Ms Moy : The tabling reports are due 28 June so it will be post the tabling.
Senator MOORE: So the media will be going into it on 28 June to find out, which is—
Ms Moy : the reporting date. Then the certification will be at the same time and then updated as we have more certifications come in.
Senator MOORE: So as they come in and maybe just a little bit late. It was interesting, more so than we have had before, but that last round received considerable media interest. I think there were at least three major newspapers that did stories on the timing of responses and who had not. To the best of the department's knowledge—and it is putting it back on you guys—was that the first time there was that much media interest in returns?
Ms Moy : Probably in terms of it was the first time we published, to my knowledge, who had certified and who had not.
Senator MOORE: And there was genuine interest.
Ms Moy : And that was a result of the Williams report and also the review of parliamentary entitlements report.
Senator MOORE: Thank you very much.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: I have a follow-up question. Could you inform us why it is the case that a senator or a member may be asked to certify a six-monthly report that the department acknowledges is inaccurate?
Ms Moy : Are we talking about a tabling report that is certified?
Ms Moy : A tabling report that is sent out is sent out prior to tabling for the senator or member to return to us with any queries. The queries should be amended if they are found to be correct on the senator's or member's side and amended prior to both publication and then final certification.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: I can give you an example of a case at the moment where a report has been sent that is inaccurate and the department has acknowledged that it is inaccurate but has said that they will not amend it and that it will be amended in the next certification period. I was rather surprised to hear from the particular officer that this happens all the time.
Ms Moy : I am happy to take that on notice, if you can provide me with the details, and look at that particular report.
Ms Mason : It sounds like there may be timing differences in the payments captured by the reporting period. Obviously we can look into the detail of the matter you have raised, but it sounds like it might be a timing issue about payments.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: It relates to a flight which the report says—the case is me—that I took, on 21 November last year, to Hobart, when clearly I could not have because I was here in parliament. I have asked for that to be amended and I am told that it cannot be and it will not be, and it will be fixed up in the next reporting period.
Ms Mason : The reports are in relation to payments made by the department in respect of a senator or member. If it is the case that, for whatever reason, the department was charged for a flight that you did not take, then it is likely that we would receive a credit for that flight in a subsequent period, and then it would flow through to the tabling document in a subsequent period.
Senator CORMANN: I might just jump in and support Senator Thistlethwaite, because I have had similar experiences. Obviously, when you get the report for certification, if there are errors in it—I mean, the reason you look through it is to see whether there is anything wrong. And when we would communicate to the department that there was something wrong, and the department acknowledged, 'Yes, that is wrong,' we would still be instructed to certify it anyway and it would be fixed up down the track, which, personally, I am always uncomfortable with—certifying something, where there is actually an agreement that something is wrong, on the basis that, 'Well, down the track we're going to fix it up in the next report.' It seems like a strange process. If there is an acknowledgement that there is actually something wrong in the report that we are asked to certify, surely there should be a process to rectify that before you are asked to put your signature to it.
Ms Mason : I think there is more—
Senator Chris Evans: At least note that it is being disputed before you sign. I think that is a common concern of the officers, that people are asked to sign before the correction. I think it is a process problem.
Senator RONALDSON: If there was a flight that was not there, I would say, 'I will certify it but object to X or Y.'
Senator CORMANN: Obviously, one does not want to cause any issues with these sorts of matters, but it seems odd to have to sign when there is actually an acknowledgement on both sides of the equation that there is an error. And errors do happen.
Senator Chris Evans: Perhaps the best way is for the officers to take on notice the concern about that.
Mr Tune : We will take that on board. I understand the issue better now. We will follow that up and chase that through and see if there is any change of process we can put in place.
Senator MOORE: Mr Tune, this was part of the Williams review. This very issue came up in that process because, over the years of asking these questions about the various methods we have had on monthly reports, this was the key issue that came up from senators and members. There were some people who felt that the certification was difficult. That came out in the discussions, I know, because we were part of them. And my understanding was that that was acknowledged and the new process was going to pick up on that. So it would be good if we could have some more information about that. But it was my understanding that, as Senator Ronaldson said, you would be able to certify with a note, to actually certify with an attachment, which is what I have done on numerous occasions when we have found something. But it would be good to have an agreed process to allay the fears of people which would actually in some way reassert the importance of this process.
Mr Tune : Thanks for that, Senator, and I thank the other senators for their contributions. We will chase that up. And I will follow it up personally.
Senator STEPHENS: Mr Tune, on these issues—and some of the things that I was going to raise have been raised—my office was subject to one of the recent audits being undertaken by the department, and we discussed exactly these kinds of things and the issue about certification with qualification. The team that came to my office seemed very comfortable with that approach, I have to say.
But I actually wanted to put on the record the fact that they were terrific. They were really constructive, first of all, in how we might be able to do things better, and they reassured us that, even though we thought that, in some of the spaces, we were—not muddling, but challenged by some of the things that were being asked. They were really fantastic in that they gave us very helpful suggestions, and we gave them plenty of feedback, which they took on board. So I just wanted to put that on the record. They were great.
Mr Tune : Thank you very much for that. We have had quite positive comments from other senators and members about the audits. We are not using them as a threat; we are there to draw on best practice and spread that around. That is the idea behind them. Ms Moy's area looks after this, so we will pass on your views.
CHAIR: Before we go any further, we have had these documents tabled but we just need to have someone in the committee move it. It has been moved that we receive and table these documents. Thank you for that.
Senator RONALDSON: Can I clarify a couple of matters before I get on to a portfolio constituency issue. When do you expect the review of these press articles in relation to the member for Fisher to be completed?
Mr Taylor : I cannot give you a specific time frame on that. There are a number of those, so it is a process that takes some time to go through and consider in detail.
Senator RONALDSON: Given the nature of the allegations and who the allegations are directed against, have you specifically allocated people to this task? Or is it just part of the normal process and will take its turn in the queue?
Mr Taylor : We always treat these matters as important matters but we do not distinguish on the basis of whom the allegations concern.
Senator RONALDSON: So you have not specifically allocated anyone within the department to look at these matters?
Mr Taylor : We have a range of matters that are currently being considered by one of our principal legal officers.
Senator RONALDSON: And with specific allocation of staff resources assisting that legal officer?
Ms Mason : No. The officers in the department have quite large and busy jobs. The officer who is looking at this will be handling other matters as well, and they will be drawing on information provided by other parts of and other officers in the department. They will be gathering relevant information, having a look at that and coming to a view.
Senator RONALDSON: Have there been any discussions between the minister's office and the department in relation to how these issues are to be handled?
Mr Taylor : Do you mean in relation to those particular allegations that have been made and which have been the subject of media reporting?
Senator RONALDSON: Those, or any of the matters surrounding the member for Fisher.
Mr Tune : There have been some discussions with the minister's office around the two cases we referred to earlier—the civil case and the criminal case. That is definitely so.
Senator RONALDSON: What about in relation to the general issues of alleged misuse of entitlement? What discussions have there been with the minister or his staff about those?
Mr Tune : I do not know. I would have to take that on notice. I have not had any discussions, but Ms Mason and others can speak—
Ms Mason : No, I cannot recall any specific discussions on that matter, but as a general proposition if we are handling matters under the Minchin protocol then we would normally brief the relevant ministers and Special Minister of State about those on a quarterly basis.
Mr Tune : Yes.
Senator RONALDSON: My specific question was whether there have been discussions between the minister's office and yourselves about how these matters are to be handled, whether they are to be expedited or any other discussions. You say you are not sure. On that basis will you please take that on notice.
Ms Mason : We can take it on notice, but I cannot recall any suggestion that the matter should be particularly expedited or we may have had—we will take it on notice.
Senator RONALDSON: You may have had what?
Ms Mason : We may have had general discussion about the matters. But, as to your questions, I think we will just take that on notice and have a look.
Senator RONALDSON: Thank you. Can I get to another matter, which may be a little more mundane than those issues we are discussing at the moment but nevertheless are extremely important to my particular portfolio constituency and quite rightly so. You would be aware that I wrote to Andrew House about the official Diamond Jubilee portraits. With leave, Madam Chair, I can put some background onto this before I ask the question.
CHAIR: You normally do, Senator.
Senator RONALDSON: Not for long with your chairmanship, Madam Chair. On 24 March I moved a motion calling on the government to make the Queen's official Diamond Jubilee portrait available under the constituent request program. They were made available by the Department of Finance in April.
I understand that finance is reliant upon PM&C for the provision of images. When you saw the poor quality of those images provided by PM&C—such poor quality that they have been required to be redone—why didn't the department at that stage say to PM&C, 'This is totally unacceptable'?
I am sure you are aware of it, but they were just downloaded from the palace website and still had the copyright name on the bottom. They were of particularly poor quality, weren't they? They were of such poor quality that the matter required addressing and some remedial action taken.
Mr Miles : I can perhaps explain the sequence of events there. As you said, we are reliant upon the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to provide us with the source for whatever is printed. We were concerned about the standard of portrait printing that was downloaded from the website. It was only ever intended that that be a stop-gap measure. The advice we had received from PM&C was that obtaining higher resolution was going to take some time because it had to be obtained direct from the palace. So we arranged for one of our printers to enhance the portrait to the extent that was possible. We then cleared with PM&C because we were concerned that it was not the best quality. We confirmed with PM&C that it was available to be released in that form, including with the copyright statement on the bottom, and they confirmed that that was appropriate.
Senator RONALDSON: Did you initiate that yourselves or was that after complaints about the quality of those images?
Mr Miles : We initiated that. We were concerned ourselves.
Senator RONALDSON: Why would they have been provided? They were provided to my office, as you were aware, because I had a number of requests from RSLs and other organisations. Why were they of such poor quality? Why were they sent out in the first place? If they were sent out—which they were—why wasn't there a note attached to it saying, 'We understand this is very poor quality; this is only a stop-gap measure'? That certainly did not occur.
Mr Miles : Perhaps, in hindsight, we might have included some reference to the fact that high-resolution portraits were being sourced. As I said, we were concerned about the quality but we also understood that there were a number of senators and members who were after these fairly quickly, so after confirming with PM&C that they felt it was acceptable, we provided them. At that stage we were not aware of how long it was going to be before PM&C could source the disks direct from the palace.
Senator RONALDSON: They were of such poor quality it was actually embarrassing to send them out, and I am sure there are other members and senators who, rather than being thanked for providing them in the form they were, received phone calls on the basis that it was utterly disrespectful for them to be sent out in that form. Are you aware of those complaints?
Mr Miles : I do not think we received any ourselves.
Senator RONALDSON: I think you did from me.
Mr Miles : Apart from you , which Mr House has addressed.
Senator RONALDSON: How many of those substandard images were printed?
Mr Miles : I am not sure that I have that information. I can take it on notice. It was not a huge quantity—we were aware that it was a stopgap.
Senator RONALDSON: Can you also provide me with the cost of printing those inferior portraits, and can you tell me what happened to the ones that were not sent out—so I need how many were sent out and how many were retained by the department.
Mr Miles : Certainly.
Senator RONALDSON: When did you initially ask Prime Minister and Cabinet for the image to be provided? I take it it followed the Senate motion—
Mr Miles : It was immediately after the motion—or it may have been immediately before.
Senator RONALDSON: After it was tabled?
Mr Miles : Yes.
Senator RONALDSON: But it was the Senate motion that actually initiated the printing, or notice of the motion?
Mr Miles : Yes. It was your concern about the lack of such a portrait, and we took up that conversation with PM&C again. The events were almost coincidental but certainly it was based upon your approach.
Senator RONALDSON: Was it the day of or the day after that the formal response to PM&C was made?
Mr Miles : It was on 22 March that we got the go-ahead from PM&C to download the portraits from the website.
Senator RONALDSON: When did you approach PM&C in relation to the poor quality of the image and request them to provide a high resolution image? The initial one was low resolution, which I understand; highly pixellated, which I do not understand; and still carried the copyright details. When did you request that a more appropriate and more respectful image be provided by PM&C?
Mr Miles : I am sorry, I do not have that date.
Senator RONALDSON: Can you take it on notice, please.
Mr Miles : Certainly.
Senator RONALDSON: As you would be aware from Mr House's letter to me dated 9 May that it was anticipated that these high-resolution images would be available from 14 May, when will they now be available?
Mr Miles : In the event they were received from the printer on 10 May and any requests for those portraits are now being met with the high-resolution ones.
Senator RONALDSON: You will understand that this was an issue that related to a view that it was disrespectful to be sending out these portraits, and you are aware, I take it, that there had been a desire to have these distributed to RSL and other organisations by Anzac Day?
Mr Miles : I was not specifically aware of that.
Senator RONALDSON: As a general question, out of interest what part of PM&C is responsible for those sorts of images? Is the protocol office the clearing house for all departments if they require or request such images, or was it just in relation to this matter?
Mr Miles : We deal with what I understand is the awards and culture branch within PM&C.
Senator RONALDSON: Is that the general clearing house for these matters?
Mr Miles : In respect of those things that we provide under the Constituents Request Program that go to either matters of royalty or of Australian symbols, that is true. They sign off on all those things.
Senator RONALDSON: I place on the public record my thanks to Ms Mason and her department for their assistance. I am sure I speak for all members and senators. Phone calls are always taken and dealt with expeditiously. Sometimes we have issues about whether something is or is not being dealt with, but I have always found that your officers are very quick to respond to phone calls and that makes our lives a lot easier.
Mr Tune : That is much appreciated. I will pass that on to the officers concerned. Before we move on, I would like to clarify two issues you raised earlier. First, you asked us for the date when the internal review decision on the FOI matter is due. That date is 10 June this year. Second, we had discussions about our handling of media reports surrounding some of the issues with the member for Fisher. We have done a check and there have been no discussions with the minister's office about expediting that or handling it in any way that is different to the normal arrangements that we put in place.
Senator RONALDSON: The decision is due on or before 10 June?
Mr Tune : Correct.
Senator RONALDSON: What is the process after that?
Mr Tune : It depends. If the decision is to release, that can lead to further reviews if necessary. It is up to the people involved, through to the information commissioner who would probably be the next avenue. If the decision is not to release then the person who has sought the information also has some appeal rights.
Senator FAULKNER: The decisions are appealable, aren't they?
Mr Tune : Indeed, either way, whether a yes or a no or a partial.
Senator RONALDSON: They would be appealable by the initiating third party, for want of a better word, which I think was the Sunshine Coast Daily. They would have similar rights of appeal.
Mr Tune : Absolutely., as the normal FOI rules.
CHAIR: Could we get an update on IT matters? Mr Tune, could you inform the committee whether your department has had any input into the ICT review undertaken by the presiding officers.
Mr Tune : I cannot, and the people who know about it are not here. Can we come back to that question?
CHAIR: If the officers are not here, we will have to. We were hoping to conclude this section by 11 o'clock.
Ms Mason : This fits under outcome 2 rather than outcome 3.
CHAIR: It is about electoral office IT as well, so if I move on to that and we can go back then to the other. Can you give us an update on the transfer of electorate equipment and what is happening there about replacement of equipment. At the last estimates I raised the issue of colour photocopiers for electorate offices. I am led to believe that there has been some movement there. Could you give us an update as to what is planned there and the timing of the rollout?
Ms Pitson : In relation to multifunction devices, last time I reported that we were about to have a test unit in Parliament House. DPS has completed an evaluation of that testing device here at Parliament House and they have found that it is compatible with the Parliamentary Computer Network. DPS has also recommended that the device be trialled at sites outside Parliament House, so that is about to get underway.
CHAIR: What device are we talking about?
Ms Pitson : This is a multifunction device to replace a black-and-white photocopier. It is a device that will be able to copy, print and scan in both black and white and in colour.
CHAIR: So that is being tested elsewhere. If that is rolled out, does that mean there will be fewer printers in terms of stand-alone colour printers and black-and-white printers available?
Ms Pitson : That will be something we will need to sort through but I would say that that is likely. It would not be something that you would add. You would be looking to upgrade the technology and replace what you can, I would have thought.
CHAIR: What is the time frame for that trial taking place before a final decision is made and they are rolled out to electoral offices?
Ms Pitson : As I said, DPS has not started testing outside Parliament House at this stage. The device is available, I understand, so it should occur soon, given that is has been shown to be compatible within Parliament House. With the PCN, you would hope it would also be compatible outside Parliament House and we could move fairly quickly.
CHAIR: When I asked questions about this earlier in the week they said it was a Finance matter, so that is why I have raised it here. It is bit unusual for that to happen—a bit of handballing! Can you then also give the committee an update, because it is obviously of ongoing interest, of what decision if any has been made on the rollout of iPads?
Ms Pitson : Again, in consultation with DPS, we are developing options for the minister to consider Apple iPhones as part of the mobile telephone entitlement—MPDA entitlement—and we are looking closely at what the device configurations would be and the corresponding resource implications. As part of that we have certainly noted your previous comments that locking it down would be unhelpful. You would want the ability to have a broadly configured device but, of course, the more broadly you configure it the greater the potential resource implications and possibly the greater the impact on the PCN. We do need to work closely with DPS to assess what those possible impacts would be.
CHAIR: Would it be fair to say that any security concerns with iPhones have now been allayed?
Ms Pitson : I do not know that I can say that security concerns have been allayed.
CHAIR: Would it be fair to say then that if you are looking at it, then they would be? Previously, it has been the evidence that iPhones could not be part of the entitlement because there were concerns that they were not as secure as the current BlackBerries. Is that not right?
Ms Pitson : Certainly, they have been updated to be included on the evaluated products list. No? I think I am being corrected.
Mr Quester : The Defence Signals Directorate has released a recommended hardening guide for the use of Apple products within government. That provides recommendations on how to configure the Apple products to be used in a secure way. That is addressing the security concerns that have been raised previously.
CHAIR: So have you got a time frame for the likelihood that iPhones may be rolled out to senators and members as an option.
Ms Pitson : We do not have a time frame at this stage but it is something that certainly we are working on. We understand and appreciate that it is of keen interest to senators and members.
CHAIR: In relation to those, there are a number of people who have spoken to me leading into these estimates who are wondering whether or not they should go an buy their own iPhone, as they have with the iPad. Then they have access to everything in relation to the department. Is that something you would encourage senators and members to do?
Ms Pitson : I am not in a position to encourage that. At this stage the entitlement has not changed.
Mr Tune : One of the difficulties with that is that our capacity to service it and support it would be limited—not non-existent but limited. We think the decision is imminent—I cannot give you an exact timeframe or exact date—but we are working pretty hard on this and we do not think we are far away.
CHAIR: Is there anything else that is happening in relation to IT? We had some discussions earlier in the week in relation to WiFi access in electorate offices. Is there something the department has been working with DPS on, or had any discussions on?
Ms Pitson : Not as far as I am aware.
Senator RYAN: Senator Evans, could I turn to the issue we discussed the other day, which was about the committee formerly known as the Caucus Committee Support and Training Unit? I mentioned a question that I asked you in the chamber on 22 June last year about its relations with the Prime Minister's office and pointed out that, while you had a go at me for not asking this question at estimates—
Senator Chris Evans: You have got to get over it, Senator Ryan.
Senator RYAN: No, no. I am just going through—
Senator Chris Evans: I thought I was quite gentle.
Senator RYAN: I thought you were. But I am giving you a reason as to why I am pursuing it in estimates. You said you were happy to see what you could find out for me. I was wondering what you could find out for me.
Senator Chris Evans: Between when you raised it with me in estimates a couple of days ago or—
Senator RYAN: Yes. One of the things was its relations with the Prime Minister's office.
Senator Chris Evans: I cannot help you. I, like you, have been stuck in estimates since then. My office would have started getting a response for you with the PM&C officials, because we took it on notice. I do not know whether the officers at the table can help you in terms of the operations of that unit. But in terms of the question I took on notice the other day, as I say, my office would have asked PM&C to request the information and ask the question on notice. But I, like you, have been stuck in this cocoon for a few days so I have nothing to add to what I said to you the other day, but I am happy to ask Mr Tune in terms of this portfolio whether there is anything they have to say about that matter.
Mr Tune : No, we do not have any knowledge of the interactions.
Senator Chris Evans: But you have responsibility for the unit.
Mr Tune : In a sense of providing dollars for it.
Senator Chris Evans: I thought you had more broad questions.
Senator RYAN: I did have. I was specifically interested in its relations with the Prime Minister's office, because there have been allegations that it is part of a strategy unit or a dirt unit that answers to the Prime Minister's office.
Senator CHRIS EVANS: I do not think that is correct. I did take it on notice and we will get you an answer through the PM&C portfolio. But I have no further information than when you raised it with me a couple of days ago in what, as I recall, was PM&C estimates, wasn't it?
Senator RYAN: It was.
Senator CHRIS EVANS: Yes.
Senator RYAN: I felt you were about to say something before, Ms Mason.
Senator CHRIS EVANS: I think Finance administer the—
Mr Tune : The dollars.
Senator RYAN: When did the Caucus Committee Support and Training Unit become the Caucus Communications Team, which I noticed in the documents tabled today?
Ms Mason : I think this question was asked at a previous estimates, from memory, and we answered it then. I am not sure whether we have the information. It had a change of title and I think we gave the date on which that changed at a previous estimates hearing.
Senator RYAN: I must have missed that. I normally keep an eye on these things.
Mr Tune : I have it here. The name of the unit was changed in February 2011.
Senator RYAN: Thank you for that. Senator Evans, one of the reasons we deferred this discussion until today was that you have not had the chance to find out what its interaction is with the Prime Minister's office. Can you take on notice not just the questions I asked the other day but whether or not there are regularly scheduled meetings between this unit, which I understand reports to the Special Minister of State? It falls under the department of finance through the Special Minister of State.
Ms Baker : That is correct.
Senator RYAN: Can you take on notice whether you are aware of any interaction scheduled meetings between it and members of the Prime Minister's office?
Senator Chris Evans: Certainly. As I said, I know they are engaged with the caucus and the caucus officers, and no doubt there is some liaison with the PM's office in relation to electorate visits and things. I will take that on notice.
Senator FAULKNER: I can confirm that the Special Minister of State is the employing minister under the MOP(S) Act for the staff. It is seven in the document that was tabled—is that correct?
Senator MASON: That is correct.
Ms Baker : That is correct.
Senator RYAN: When you say you have responsibility for the dollars, Mr Tune, how much does the Caucus Communications Team cost?
Ms Baker : The separate costs for the Caucus Communications Team are split between ministerial and parliamentary services, the Chief Operating Officer Group, the COO group, within the department of finance. Ministerial and parliamentary services is responsible for payment of salary, related expenses and travel costs such as fares and travelling allowance, in the same way that it would be responsible for the payments for any other MOP(S) Act employees. The corporate services division meets other administration costs in the same way that it supports the officers of the Minister of Finance and Deregulation and other officers within the Special Minister of State's office.
Senator RYAN: Do you have the dollar amounts?
Mr Tune : The salary side is $737,000 as at May 2012—that is the total annual salary. Forecasts for the period 1 July 2011 to 31 March 2012 is $32716.50.
Senator RYAN: That is for nine months?
Mr Tune : Correct.
Senator RYAN: I can roughly divide that by three and get a quarterly cost?
Mr Tune : Yes.
Senator RYAN: We have discussed this document called 'Shadow watch' before at these estimates, I believe Minister?
Senator Chris Evans: Not with me. What is it called?
Senator RYAN: Labor Party 'Shadow watch'—a document that was, as I understand it, coming from members of the government party quite a while ago.
Senator Chris Evans: I do not think I have seen the document.
Senator RYAN: It provides various advice for Labor government staff on political activities—and some political activities are okay. I want to turn now particularly to the behaviour of one member of the staff of the Prime Minister. Are members of ministerial staff bound by any particular code around their personal behaviour? I understand they would be. Is that administered by—
Ms Mason : Staff with ministers and parliamentary secretaries are bound by a code of conduct and that code of conduct is administered by the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio.
Senator RYAN: I want to turn to an allegation around a new member of staff, Mr McTiernan. This is probably a question for the minister.
Senator Chris Evans: What was the name of the staff member?
Senator RYAN: John McTiernan, I understand. Ross Greenwood, a relatively well-known journalist, had an experience recently—a Malcolm Tucker experience is the way he referred to it—with Mr McTiernan post budget.
Senator FAULKNER: I do not know about the incident—but why would that not be a matter for the PM&C portfolio?
Senator RYAN: Two reasons: firstly, I am going to ask questions of Finance about this incident; and, secondly, when we raised these issues and the relations between the PMO and the Caucus Communications Team on Monday, Senator Evans said he would prefer them to be addressed here this morning.
Senator FAULKNER: Fair enough. I just wondered why it was not a PM&C issue.
Senator Chris Evans: That is not right, Senator Ryan. This is the first I have heard of you raising a question regarding Mr McTiernan.
Senator RYAN: It is the first time.
Senator Chris Evans: I have met Mr McTiernan once or twice. As I understand it, he is not part of the caucus liaison unit so it is not correct to leave the impression that somehow I said questions about Mr McTiernan ought be asked here.
Senator RYAN: I did not say that. On Monday, when I started exploring the relationship between the PM—
Senator Chris Evans: I made it clear to you that, as I understood it, the staff and their conditions were covered by Finance through the Special Minister of State and the MOP(S) Act. This is the first I have heard of queries regarding Mr McTiernan, who is an employee of the Prime Minister's office. I did not indicate to you in any way the questions about a member of the PM's staff ought be directed to Finance. If you check the record, that will be very clear.
Senator RYAN: I was not alleging that at all because I did not mention Mr McTiernan on Monday at all. I am going to mention him now if I can.
Senator Chris Evans: That is what I am saying—it is the first I heard of it. I think the answer will be he is a member of the PM's staff and the officers cannot help you, but it will be up to them to tell you that.
Senator RYAN: They may be able to help me and that is what I am asking. I will read an excerpt that was broadcast by Mr Ross Greenwood when he was on the Ray Hadley program. It will be a touch long and it is an annotated transcript so I cannot really table it.
Mr Greenwood received a phone call from Mr McTiernan late at night, he says, and it was regarding Mr Greenwood's comments about the impact of the superannuation threshold change on politicians, particularly those, I imagine, who are on defined benefit schemes who were elected before 2004. He gets the call at 9:30 at night and in his words 'it simply becomes a tirade, an absolute tirade.' He then goes on to say:
I’ve got to tell you one thing about this is that, I, you know, I’ll accept a spray from anybody and I’m not averse to bad language myself, to be honest but the truth was, when the tirade started - and I don’t know whether, you know, people have a British BBC thing called The Thick of It which is supposed to be a spin doctor … loosely modelled on Alistair Campbell … Now, this bloke just uses a tirade of abuse the whole time. Well, it almost seemed to me like I was in an episode of The Thick of It when this was taking place. But I made a … decision, I’ll be really strong with him, I’ll be very firm with him, but do not swear at him because that would simply take it down to his level. But I would say in 12 minutes on the phone with him, I reckon the f-bomb dropped at least 30 times.
And he actually used the term 'f-bomb'. It goes on:
Now, you know, fair cop, if that’s what you do, that’s the way you do your business, no problems. Except that he wanted me to correct it …
The question I have to ask about the behaviour of Mr McTiernan is: does the code actually limit the conduct of that sort of behaviour? I have not read the code of the MOP(S) staff in a long time.
Mr Tune : We do not look after the code, so we cannot answer that.
Senator RYAN: Have you received any communication from anyone complaining about breaches of the MOP(S) Act code for political staff in ministerial offices?
Ms Mason : No, we have not. As I said earlier, the code of conduct for ministerial staff is available on the PM&C website. That is a code that is administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. We have not received any complaints about breaches of the code or alleged breaches of the code and we would not expect to.
Senator RYAN: I appreciate you do not administer it, but if there was to be any action taken following a breach of the code, presumably you would be notified at that point because you are the employing agency—for lack of a better way of putting it?
Ms Mason : If there were to be an action taken that impacted on our administration of the entitlements of MOP(S) Act employees, I guess I would expect that we would be notified but we would not necessarily otherwise expect to know of the outcome of any examination of conduct against the code.
Senator RYAN: You would only find out if there was a finding that impacted—
Ms Mason : If there was something that affected the matters for which we are responsible.
Senator RYAN: I will put a few more questions on notice in relation to the matters discussed earlier with Senator Evans. I will ask one last question—and if this is not generally answered I am happy to be corrected. You occasionally undertake audits of the use of allowances and entitlements by members and senators—a random audit process.
Mr Tune : We do, yes.
Senator RYAN: Do you publish a list of who has been audited?
Senator Chris Evans: We will check.
Senator RYAN: Is it one of those things that goes up on the website?
Ms Mason : I do not believe so, but Ms Moy can assist you with that. I have got a copy of the code here.
Senator RYAN: I assume that is a summary of the code.
Ms Mason : No, I think it is the whole code. It is in small type.
Senator RYAN: Your eyesight is better than mine.
Ms Mason : But it does say in the notes to the code that the implementation of this code is the responsibility of the Prime Minister's office and the government staff in committee. I think I said the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. That is not correct.
Ms Moy : Senator, in relation to the audit and checking program there is no public announcement or published material on our website in regard to the outcome of those audits. The actual audit and checking program where we visit the electorate offices—
Senator RYAN: I was not asking for the outcomes. I was asking whether you publish them. If it was FOIed, for example—not the outcomes but who has been audited—is that a document that would not be subject to release?
Mr Tune : It would be subject to release.
Senator RYAN: Have you at any time since the 2007 federal election audited the entitlements of the member for Dobell? You might need to take that on notice. I am not asking for the outcomes.
Mr Tune : We will take that on notice.
Ms Mason : I would make the general comment that releasing a list of senators and members who have been audited to is a little bit misleading in relation to how we do our audit program. Sometimes rather than auditing a particular member we will look at a theme, which might be travel or—
Senator RYAN: I appreciate that. It was a genuine inquiry. I was not sure about the process. It is a regular program.
Senator Chris Evans: It has not been identified as a concern.
Senator RYAN: I understand that. It is a regular audit program.
Senator Chris Evans: Senator Stephens has admitted she has been audited, but that was part of a regular audit process.
Senator FAULKNER: I was audited just last week, I believe—or certainly within the last fortnight. I am very confident it was not because of abuse of entitlements. I am assuming it is because someone has selected my name out of a hat. It was an extremely boring and short audit. Nevertheless, it is appropriate that it did take place. But can you just confirm whether members and senators chosen for auditing are chosen on the basis of some form of random selection—as it should be.
Ms Mason : Correct. There is no implication. If a senator or member's office or use of entitlements is audited, that is not necessarily an indication that there is any suspicion of misuse; it is simply part of the rolling risk based audit program that we do. Everybody, over a period of time, ought to be subject to an audit. Ms Moy may wish to add to what I have said.
Senator FAULKNER: And it ought to be beneficial, I would have thought, not just for the department but also for members and senators.
Ms Mason : It is beneficial in giving comfort that the practices are good practices. In fact, where we identify good practices within offices, we share that good practice with others if the client gives permission for us to do so.
Senator RYAN: I was starting to become worried that I am like Senator Faulkner because I was about to ask a similar line of questions. But I am finished now.
Mr Tune : Can I just confirm that there have been no audits of the member for Dobell's office—none.
Senator FAULKNER: I thought it might assist Senator Ryan given that the code of conduct for ministerial staff—and I effectively brought that down—was done at the time when I occupied the position of both SMOS and Cabinet Secretary and had an involvement in both departments. But in terms of compliance it is a matter to be handled by the executive, as opposed to departments or agencies. I thought it might be useful for the committee if you could, in the broad, confirm that understanding.
Ms Mason : I can confirm that. In fact, it is possibly helpful if I point to another part of the notes to the code, which say that any sanctions imposed under this code will be determined after consultation with the relevant minister by the chief of staff of the Prime Minister acting on advice from the government staff in committee.
Senator FAULKNER: And of course this is to the extent that there are codes of conduct. Let us take the ministerial code of conduct. These are matters for the Prime Minister to act on if there were to be any sanction, as opposed to agencies. In that case, someone might consider that it is the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. But of course it is a matter that falls to the Prime Minister themselves, or to the executive, not to agencies.
Ms Mason : That is correct.
CHAIR: That concludes outcome 3. We will shortly take a break. When we come back we will be dealing with Medicare Private. It is anticipated that at somewhere around 11.45 we will go to the Department of Finance and Deregulation, and we will be dealing with ComSuper and outcome 1. It is then envisaged that, when we come back after lunch at 1.30, we will go to the Department of Finance program 1.3 and then get through to outcome 2. I hope that is some guide and of assistance.
Senator Chris Evans: Chair, can I take it that you will not resume until 11.45?
CHAIR: No, we are having a break until five past 11, when we will have Medicare Private. We are not anticipating that that will take a great deal of time. We will probably then move on to the Department of Finance by 11.45.
Senator Chris Evans: Thank you. I think Senator Wong will replace me at the break, but I will check. We are just trying to manage diaries.
CHAIR: It just means the program is coming forward today.
Senator Chris Evans: I am just taking the opportunity to, hopefully, say goodbye—and I mean that in a most positive way! And I hope Senator Wong will replace me in the next session.
CHAIR: Thank you. We will recommence at 11.05.
Proceedings suspended from 10:47 to 11:07