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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
(Senate-Monday, 23 February 2009)
Department of the Senate
Senator BOB BROWN
Department of Parliamentary Services
Senator BOB BROWN
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
- Department of the Senate
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
Senator BOB BROWN
Mr A Campbell
Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security
Mr A Campbell
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Office of the Privacy Commissioner
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- Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
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PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
CHAIR —Good afternoon and welcome. As no-one wishes to make an opening presentation we will move straight onto questions.
Senator FIFIELD —Mr Brady, it is good to see you. Have there been any fresh appointments in your office since last we met?
Mr Brady —There has been one, Senator. I have tried to regularise the organisational structure of the office and I have appointed a third director, and that person is the director of an executive and protocol branch. That makes three now.
Senator FIFIELD —Thank you for that. You have certainly been much travelled since last we met across this table. I was wondering, did you accompany the Governor-General to Abu Dhabi?
Mr Brady —Yes, I did.
Senator FIFIELD —The Governor-General gave a speech there at the World Future Energy Summit, which received some coverage. In the Governor-General’s speech her opening line was:
It is a great privilege to be here representing Australia at the World Future Energy Summit.
I am wondering in what capacity the Governor-General was there. Was the Governor-General representing the government or the Prime Minister? What exactly was her representational role there?
Mr Brady —I think it would be fair to characterise her role as representing Australia in a head of state capacity. Her speech in Abu Dhabi was made in front of 2,000 delegates. It was commented on very favourably that she had come to Abu Dhabi by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, by the Minister of Foreign Trade and by the Mother of the Nation of the UAE. So her attendance certainly benefited Australia. The speech that she made was a non-political speech. I think it was very important that Australia be represented and she was happy to take that role as head of state.
Senator FIFIELD —You say that the Governor-General was representing Australia rather than representing the government of Australia.
Mr Brady —Absolutely.
Senator FIFIELD —So there is that distinction. Do you know if the Prime Minister or the Minister for Climate Change and Water had been invited to speak at that conference? If so, was the Governor-General’s attendance in any way in their stead?
Mr Brady —That was not put to me when the invitation came through. It was put on the basis that Australia should be represented, and the Governor-General was happy to take that on.
Senator FIFIELD —Do you know if the Prime Minister or the climate change minister were invited before the Governor-General?
Mr Brady —I am not aware. I had a feeling that the previous Governor-General had been invited during his term of office—that the invitation had come to him.
Senator FIFIELD —Did either the Prime Minister’s personal office or the climate change minister’s personal office provide any assistance with the writing of the speech that the Governor-General gave?
Mr Brady —From my recollection, the speech was drafted in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and it was drafted on the basis that it be rigorously non-political. They were my express instructions. The speech, I think, was done in PM&C. I do not know whether it went to the office of the minister for climate change, but you will see in the actual speech that it referred to the achievements of the previous government as well as the current government.
Senator FIFIELD —Thank you for that. So after the draft came from PM&C there was no input subsequent to the speech arriving at Government House that you are aware of from the minister’s office or the Prime Minister’s office?
Mr Brady —Not to my recollection. I would have to check. I may have had some email correspondence with the PM’s office, but that would have been to make absolutely certain that they were aware that the speech was to be rigorously non-political.
Senator FIFIELD —But there would have no input to the speech from the Prime Minister’s office or the minister’s office?
Mr Brady —I would have to double check, but I do not recollect that in any case.
Senator FIFIELD —If you could, that would be appreciated. Obviously you cannot account for what may have happened while the speech was being drafted in PM&C and what the inputs to that may have been. I think the last time you gave evidence, Mr Brady, you took the committee through the thinking in the office of the Governor-General when an invitation comes so as to not put the Governor-General in a position which could be deemed to be in any way a matter of political controversy. The request to speak at this conference would have gone through that same consideration. I guess that, given the fact that the Governor-General spoke at the conference, the decision was taken that the subject matter of climate change was not deemed to be currently politically controversial or potentially controversial in the future. Is that correct?
Mr Brady —I think we took the point of view that this was an occasion where Australia, as a large energy supplier, could be represented at the highest level but still deliver a speech that was non-political. I can only say that the benchmark of that was the response from the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and others, who congratulated the Governor-General subsequent to her speech. It was very important to the UAE, who had placed much emphasis on the success of their conference, that it be represented at senior levels. The Governor-General, through her status, was the senior representative at the conference, I think I am right in saying. But great care was taken to ensure that the speech itself was not a speech that you would perhaps expect from a politician but from somebody in her position.
Senator FIFIELD —Do you also take into consideration, when determining whether to accept an invitation such as this, that, although something could be seen today as not being contentious, it would be theoretically possible, for the current government even, to decide to take a different position on some of the matters the Governor-General spoke about and which may accurately reflect the position of the government of the day? Odd things can happen in governments; governments can change their views. I am just wondering how that might potentially place the Governor-General in the situation where this government decided to take a different tack.
Mr Brady —I take your point. A process of some rigour is gone through in accepting any invitation that perhaps might be at the margins. This invitation was seen as an opportunity really to put the best foot forward for Australia, and from a logistical point of view it was achievable because the Governor-General was going to stage her visit to Afghanistan—which at that point was not publicly revealed—and so it was possible to do.
Senator FIFIELD —I would just hate to see governments, which sometimes change their minds, leaving the Governor-General in an awkward position. Thank you for that, Mr Brady.
Senator FERGUSON —Can I just ask one question?
CHAIR —We have about two minutes remaining.
Senator FERGUSON —I will just ask one question as a follow-up. Mr Brady, I noticed that you very appropriately referred to an address by our ‘head of state’ the Governor-General. But my question really is that, when you are saying that she is there representing Australia, how many other countries at this conference were represented by their heads of state?
Mr Brady —I would have to look at the list. We were only there for a very short period of time. I am not sure, but I think the conference went for over a week. So I could not say with any accuracy—
Senator FERGUSON —Do you know of any other heads of state that addressed it rather than governments or government representatives?
Mr Brady —I really would have to go back and look at the list.
Senator FERGUSON —Could you have a look.
Mr Brady —I will do that.
Senator FERGUSON —Because it is one thing to say that the Governor-General is representing Australia but, if every other country there was represented by a government representative, putting the government’s point of view, it throws a different light on it.
Mr Brady —I take your point, Senator. I will provide that.
Senator FERGUSON —Thank you.
Senator FORSHAW —My first question: are you able to provide the committee—take this on notice—with a list of the activities or official program of the Governor-General since she was appointed?
Mr Brady —I would be very happy to, but perhaps briefly I could summarise the energy that the Governor-General has displayed in the last five months of her office. You would be aware that she has visited the fire affected parts of Victoria, and the flood ravaged Far North Queensland. She has attended 100 separate events throughout Australia. She has presented the Victoria Cross to Trooper Donaldson, as well as having another investiture. She has hosted over 55 official functions. She has received 125 separate callers. She has delivered 58 speeches. She has represented Australia at the commemorative services for the 90th anniversary of the Armistice in France. She has conducted the first state visit ever to the Republic of Malta. She has made a state visit to the Republic of Singapore and the first state visit by an Australian Governor-General to Timor. She became the first Governor-General not just to visit our troops in Afghanistan but to overnight there. As we have discussed, she represented Australia at the World Future Energy Summit. She has presided over 10 meetings of the federal Executive Council. She has assented to over 80 pieces of legislation, received the credentials of 18 ambassadors and so forth. I can quite happily break that down.
Senator FORSHAW —Thank you, if you can. The other question related to some media reports—the one I am looking at is for 8 February in the Sun Herald—which state that the Governor-General has dumped $6.5 million plans to renovate the residences because of the economic downturn. Can you outline what decision has been made and what the impact of that is? I will not quote all of the article, in the interests of time, but it refers to a number of planned improvements to buildings or changes to the two residences.
Mr Brady —I think this is worth putting on the public record. With the current economic situation, which really spares no agency—nor should it—I took the decision that some of these very large expenditure proposals should not go forward. The construction of an extension to Government House was one which I felt simply could not be justified. The proposal for that extension was in the vicinity of between $3.5 and $5 million.
Senator FORSHAW —Was that the proposed function and reception area?
Mr Brady —Yes. There was to be the installation of air-conditioning at Admiralty House. I did not feel comfortable, in this environment, in approving $885,000 for air-conditioning. There were to be repairs to the marine barracks at Admiralty House. That was to cost $100,000. There were to be repairs to another part of the Admiralty House’s seawall. That was to cost $70,000. There was to be a lighting upgrade at Government House of $75,000; a building management system installation at Government House costing a quarter of a million dollars; Government House drainage repairs of $30,000; Government House roadway repairs and resurfacing of $90,000; and some other work of $50,000. So in effect $6,553,000 worth of work will not proceed at this point.
Senator JOHNSTON —Mr Brady, who is responsible for the protocol and invitation list with respect to the presentation of Victoria Crosses?
Mr Brady —The invitations to the ceremony?
Senator JOHNSTON —Yes.
Mr Brady —The invitations to the ceremony were based upon the number of people who could fit into the drawing room at Government House. There were a finite number of bodies that we could fit in. I am guessing a little, but I think that was around 160.
Senator JOHNSTON —I am not so much concerned with the capacity; I am concerned with who organises the guest list and who makes the decisions as to timing and invitations.
Mrs Prendergast —Recommendations were made within Government House and also by the Department of Defence and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator JOHNSTON —Do you have the timing of when those recommendations were received by your office?
Mrs Prendergast —I cannot tell you exactly what time those came in.
Senator JOHNSTON —I can tell you that I received a phone call at my office on 14 January advising me that I would receive an important phone call on Thursday 15 January. At 6 pm on the night of 15 January, while I was some several hundred kilometres away from Perth, I received a phone call from you, Mr Brady, and was told that there was a ceremony for the presentation of a Victoria Cross in Canberra the following morning. It seems very clear to me that either you did not know that I was from Western Australia, because it was impossible for me to catch an aircraft at such late notice, or the protocol structure and advice to invitees was such that the intended outcome was that many people would not be able to make it at short notice. It is up to you to tell me what the story was there, because I would very much have liked to have attended such an important ceremony but was given no opportunity. Can you explain that to me please?
Mr Brady —I recall our affable conversation. First of all, let me just say that 16 January was a day of historical significance for all Australians, because of the investiture of Trooper Donaldson. The investiture was a wonderful occasion.
Senator JOHNSTON —Sadly, I am left with a very sour taste in my mouth about that particular date, given the result.
CHAIR —It would be good manners to allow the witness to answer. Then you can have another bite at the cherry.
Mr Brady —Secrecy surrounding the event was deemed necessary for a number reasons. It was decided to gazette the award and hold the investiture at the same time, given how special the occasion was. That effectively were the parameters within which we were working. The telephone calls were made to all invitees within a very short timeframe. I started making telephone calls within a few hours of the time that I spoke with you. I spoke to Keith Payne, the last VC recipient. We just managed to get him on a flight with about half-an-hour’s notice. Mr Turnbull was contacted—
Senator JOHNSTON —At the same time that I was?
Mr Brady —Similarly, yes. General Gillespie, the Chief of Army, instructed all his generals to appear in Canberra without reason. He provided no—
Senator JOHNSTON —I was not given that courtesy. I would have attended if I had known. If the Secretary to Her Excellency had rung me suggesting that there would be an event in Canberra on the Friday which they thought that I would very much like to attend, that is all I would have needed to know. On the Wednesday, I could have booked a flight and made arrangements. But I was not even given that luxury. I would have flown blind. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition was put in the same boat: we were not trusted.
Mr Brady —That is not the case. Every person was treated in the same way.
Senator JOHNSTON —The demographics and geography of our country is something that I would expect you to understand.
Mr Brady —The decision to hold the knowledge of the event and to ensure that this very significant moment in our nation’s history did not appear in the media prior to its announcement was critical to the success of the occasion. In fact, the family of Trooper Donaldson was not aware of the award until the citation was read out.
Senator FERGUSON —Why did it have to be secret?
Mr Brady —The decision was made that—
Senator JOHNSTON —But who made the decision?
Mr Brady —for maximum effect—
Senator FERGUSON —The maximum effect for whom?
Mr Brady —For Trooper Donaldson and for the country. This was something that had not happened for over 40 years and it warranted preservation until the actual moment of the ceremony.
Senator JOHNSTON —And for fear of having the media alerted, without control by your office, I was effectively excluded and the Leader of the Opposition was given virtually no notice.
Mr Brady —The Leader of the Opposition was the only person to be given the courtesy of a telephone call from the Governor-General herself.
Senator JOHNSTON —Yes, but at such a late hour he has had to make arrangements. I could not even make the arrangements.
Mr Brady —Let me just—
CHAIR —This is your final question, Senator Johnston.
Senator CAMERON —Point of order, Chair. I think this questioning is really going to the bottom of the rabbit’s burrow. I do not think we should be demeaning the presentation of a VC to one of our brave soldiers by this kind of approach—
Senator JOHNSTON —I am certainly not doing that, Senator—
Senator CAMERON —Well, it sounds like it to me.
Senator JOHNSTON —even though you would like to think so.
Senator CAMERON —It sounds like it to me.
CHAIR —Thank you, Senators. There is a point of order before the chair. We have run out of time. Senator Johnston, did you have—
Senator JOHNSTON —No, I am finished, thank you.
Proceedings suspended from 12.41 pm to 1.42 pm
CHAIR —Good afternoon, and welcome, Minister. Mr Mrdak, I understand you have an opening statement.
Senator Faulkner —Chair, Mr Mrdak and Mr Lewis both have brief opening statements. Perhaps I could advise the committee, as I just advised you informally, that Mr Lewis has to go to an urgent appointment and will leave at about 2.30 pm. So if there are any questions to Mr Lewis directly about his opening statement, perhaps I could invite senators to ask him before he leaves. Obviously other officials will also be available.
Mr Mrdak —If I may, I would just like to give a brief outline to the committee of some recent structural and organisational changes which have occurred in the department which may assist the committee in terms of its examination of our additional estimates. Since the last meeting of the committee there have been two significant organisational changes announced by the government in relation to our organisation. The first is in relation to the coordination of the implementation of the Nation Building and Jobs Plan. As senators would be aware, on 5 February this year the Prime Minister and the COAG first ministers signed a national partnership agreement which sets out implementation arrangements for the Australian government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan. One of the key elements of the arrangements is the appointment of a coordinator-general in each jurisdiction with responsibility to put in place implementation and monitoring arrangements to ensure the key milestones in the national partnership agreement are met in relation to delivery of the infrastructure projects; also to problem-solve and deal with blockages or implementation issues; and, finally, to ensure that issues are dealt with quickly and effectively in relation to the implementation of the programs.
The Prime Minister announced that I would take on the role as the coordinator with our department, and a coordination unit has been formed within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. We have now built a small team of officials to assist me in undertaking this task. We have also established governance arrangements with each of the states and territories, which have similar arrangements in each jurisdiction, to ensure the implementation of the plan. My colleague Mr Lewis will now make a brief introductory statement in relation to the second element, which is the revised national security arrangements.
Mr Lewis —I thank the committee for the opportunity to make this opening statement and also for your indulgence with regard to the fact that I need to get away at about 2.30 pm. I will be very happy to take general questions prior to that time and the Deputy National Security Adviser and senior staff will still be here to take further down detail during the course of the committee’s proceedings.
First of all, I draw senators’ attention to the national security statement which was delivered by the Prime Minister to parliament on 4 December last year. Without wanting to repeat its content, I do want to emphasise a few issues raised in the statement. The national security statement sets out the government’s strategic direction on national security. It notes three fundamental issues: first, the modern global environment is increasingly complex and interconnected; second, our current security environment is increasingly characterised by a complex and dynamic array of continuing and emerging challenges; third, Australia needs a new context of national security that can embrace and respond to our current operating environment.
These issues were all really an echo of the Smith review, the review that was done on homeland and border security by Mr Ric Smith and completed last year. The Smith review report also noted that Australia requires an all-hazards approach to national security, a strategic framework for national security, leadership to provide increased strategic direction and greater connectedness within the national security community. Before I continue my opening statement, I will make a few comments about this review of homeland and border security. Senators would be aware that the government accepted all 45 recommendations of the review. You would also be aware that the national security statement was the platform through which a number of review recommendations were announced. Arguably the most significant finding and recommendation of the review was not to move to a department of homeland security but rather to enhance and strengthen the existing network model that we have had in the past. In essence, this is the concept of delivering a national security community with a national security adviser providing community leadership and coordination.
Of the recommendations of the review for which PM&C is responsible, four have been implemented, including the delivery of a national security statement, the appointment of a national security adviser, the establishment of a national security and international policy group within PM&C to support the national security adviser, and the establishment of a national intelligence coordination committee, or a NICC. However, the first step in improving national security policy advice coordination and governance was through the appointment of a national security adviser. I was appointed to that position at an associate secretary level in the department on 4 December last year. In this role, I provide advice to the Prime Minister on all policy matters relating to the security of the nation and oversee the implementation of all national security policy arrangements. I am also responsible for providing improved strategic direction within the national security community, supporting whole-of-government national security policy development and our crisis response, and promoting a cohesive national security culture.
Two key focuses of mine over this year will be, first, overseeing the development of a coordinated budget process for national security, the first of which will be prepared in a complete form in the 2010-11 budget. The second priority will be settling the establishment of the National Intelligence Coordination Committee, the NICC. I chaired the inaugural meeting of that committee last week. I will continue to report to the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who continues as chair of the Secretary’s Committee on National Security—you may have heard this referred to as SCONS—and the secretary will remain the principal departmental officer attending the national security committee of cabinet.
As the national security adviser I also head the National Security and International Policy Group. This group was established on 10 December last year. PM&C was allocated, you might recall, $7.1 million in the 2008-09 budget. Staff from existing national security and international policy elements were brought together to form the National Security and International Policy Group, which now consists of three new divisions, two of which are within the Office of National Security and those two are the Defence Intelligence and Research Coordination Division on the one hand and the Homeland and Border Security Division on the other. The third division in the group structure is International Policy Division which has not changed essentially from the last time this committee sat and the International Strategy Unit, both of which remain unchanged.
The National Security and International Policy Group complements the department’s broader structure with other groups, domestic policy, strategic policy implementation and governance. My group also now comprises five new senior executive appointments. First, the position of deputy national security adviser at the SES band 3 level will focus on supporting the committee structure to allow the national security adviser to focus on strategic policy particularly with an international focus. The deputy national security adviser will report to the national security adviser and will be the Commonwealth’s crisis manager chairing the nation’s crisis committee and co-chairing the national counterterrorism committee. Mr Angus Campbell, who is with us today, is currently acting in that position.
I would like to make a final comment by way of conclusion. The National Security and International Policy Group is currently focused on several key developments which we are working towards with continued but renewed vigour and focus. The first is promoting a more collegiate and interconnected national security community, that is, developing a maturing and greater sense of community within the national security agencies and departments. The second is giving effect to the Prime Minister’s active level of international engagement and working towards enhancing Australia’s profile in the international community.
CHAIR —As there are no questions on the opening statement from Mr Lewis, we will move onto general questions.
Senator Faulkner —If any senator wants to ask any questions of Mr Lewis before he leaves because of logistics that I outlined earlier, he is available for senators.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak, can you provide me with an accurate list of all the days that the Deputy Prime Minister or any other person has been Acting Prime Minister since December 2007? Do you have that information available?
Mr Mrdak —I do not have it readily available, Senator, but I can take that on notice if you do not mind and come back to the committee as quickly as possible.
Senator RONALDSON —For some reason there seems to be an issue about getting this information as one of my colleagues in the other house was telling me. I do not imagine it is something that is going to be terribly hard to find, is it?
Mr Mrdak —I would not think so.
Senator RONALDSON —Could you get back to me this afternoon in relation to that?
Mr Mrdak —We will certainly try to, Senator.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. Mr Mrdak, the CMAX contract in the ANAO’s report, recommendation 1 said:
ANAO recommends that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet enhance transparency and accountability relating to decisions to spend public money on consultants by improving its documentation of the engagement process, so as to provide an accurate record of inquiries undertaken and the key reasons for the decisions.
What action has been taken so far in relation to that?
Mr Mrdak —The department, as you will recall from when we discussed this last year, Senator, initiated a number of steps. Firstly, we initiated an internal audit review of our procurement practices last year in advance of the ANAO report. In response to both that report and the ANAO report, we have taken a number of steps. Our chief executive’s instructions in relation to procurement and the guidelines have been updated to ensure that we are fully up to date with the procurement requirements that have been put in place. We have also taken steps to run training courses and information sessions for our staff in relation to procurement issues to make sure that all of our people who are undertaking procurement are aware of the FMA reg 9 and regulation 10 requirements and we are properly documenting the decisions being made in relation to contract procurement. As you will know, this ANAO report identified, as did our internal audit process, a number of deficiencies in the way in which the reg 9 advice was provided for that CMAX contract. We have discussed that previously in this place. Finally, we have taken steps to ensure that all of our senior management is well aware of the procurement guidelines as they apply and operate. So we have taken those steps, and we have also implemented a number of measures which the internal auditor advised in relation to our tracking of contracts and the central corporate advice and support we provide to our line areas in relation to procurement.
Senator RONALDSON —Is that document, the new directions to agencies, publicly available?
Mr Mrdak —Our chief executive’s instructions?
Senator RONALDSON —Yes.
Mr Mrdak —Yes, I will be happy to provide that for the committee.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you very much. Does that have processes in place for particularly the documentation of the engagement process so as to provide an accurate record of inquiries? Under those directions, what requirements are there now to report back in relation to an accurate record of inquiries undertaken?
Mr Mrdak —The requirement is as per regulation 9 of the FMA provisions, which requires that decisions to expend moneys are consistent with government policies and are an effective and efficient use of Commonwealth resources. What we have set out in our guidance for our staff is how to best ensure that we have made all of the right steps in terms of checking the procurement processes that have been undertaken and provided advice to the decision maker to enable the decision maker to reach a reg 9 decision.
Senator RONALDSON —So this documentation you are going to provide me with will actually allude specifically to the accuracy of records of inquiries and the key reasons for the decisions?
Mr Mrdak —It is the chief executive’s instructions, which are mandatory for all of our staff under the Public Service Act. They make clear the expectations of the reg 9 and reg 10 requirements of the FMA—
Senator RONALDSON —So there is specific reference in that new direction, is there, to an accurate record of inquiries undertaken and the key reasons for decisions?
Mr Mrdak —The Chief Executive’s instructions draw strong attention to the FMA requirements, and then we have guidance material which I would be also happy to provide to you, which instructs our people on how they should go about procurement processes which does address some of those issues, yes.
Senator RONALDSON —I would assume that, given this recommendation and given everything that surrounded this CMAX contract, that those directions would make very specific reference to the ANAO report recommendation, which were quite clear as to what their expectation was to improve the documentations of the engagement process and that openness and transparency. So you are telling me that this documentation I will get will make specific reference to those issues raised by the ANAO?
Mr Mrdak —In the documentation and also the additional training we provide for our staff, yes.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak or Minister, I want to, while we are on consultancies, I want to now turn to an article in the Australian Financial Review on 18 February which indicated that the Rudd government spent some $553 million on external consultancy contracts since coming to government in November 2007 and they actually spent $30 million more on consultancy contracts during the first year in power than the Howard government spent in the last full financial year in office. Is that correct?
Senator Faulkner —I can provide some assistance to you on this and no doubt Mr Mrdak will also be able to do so.
Senator RONALDSON —Were those figures accurate?
Senator Faulkner —That is what I was going to go to, if I could, Senator. I think it is important to realise that consultancies on tenders.gov show only the contract award price. You would probably be aware of that. You would probably also be aware that it is not necessarily at all actual financial year expenditure. I did make a comment last week about this and I notice that the Minister for Finance and Deregulation has also made a comment about this. I read in the press today that that figure is found of course in annual reports. I can say to you that the contracts listed on tenders.gov span more than one financial year. So the critical point that you raised in your question is the need for us, when making comparisons, to ensure that we actually do compare apples with apples.
Senator RONALDSON —What then was the level of actual expenditure in the first year of the Rudd government?
Senator Faulkner —When you say ‘first year’ I do not know if those figures are available—I can check with Mr Mrdak—but in the financial year 2007-08 there was in fact a reduction in consultancies. That is not to be unexpected because of the government transition and the election and the like. I am doubtful, but I will just check with Mr Mrdak, that figures are available for, say, the first year of a government. I doubt that that is a reporting period. If Mr Mrdak can help you that would be good.
Mr Mrdak —I am advised that for the 2007-08 financial year, the 24 departments of state and large FMA agencies reported a 20 per cent or $89 million reduction in overall expenditure on consultancies compared with the previous year. I am advised that there was a reduction from expenditure of $447 million in 2006-07 to $359 million in 2007-08. That is my advice. I am happy to take it on notice if there is any further information I can provide.
Senator RONALDSON —So you are saying that there was about an $88 million reduction from the financial year before that. Is that right?
Mr Mrdak —Yes, that is the advice I have been given.
Senator Faulkner —Which is of course the point I was making concerning the reporting period. I appreciate the point that you made about the first year of the current government.
Senator RONALDSON —Will you take that on notice Mr Mrdak. I am a bit surprised, given that this was very widely reported, that someone has not actually done those figures in response to a fairly likely question from me, but if it has not been done that is fine.
Senator Faulkner —It would not be a reporting period, Senator.
Senator RONALDSON —If you could let me know what they were that would be terrific.
Mr Mrdak —The information I have given is what has been drawn from the annual reports, as the Senator indicates, of actual expenditure in financial years.
Senator RONALDSON —So you are suggesting that you cannot get those figures for me.
Senator Faulkner —What has been said here is something that I think you would appreciate—that is, these figures are made available, as you know, but the best way to make comparisons is on a financial year to financial year basis, and what Mr Mrdak has been able to say in answer to your earlier question is to indicate what the situation was with financial year 2007-08.
Senator RONALDSON —It might be better for you in answering my question but it might not be an accurate assessment, so I am asking if it is not possible to ascertain what the actual expenditure on consultancies was from November 2007 until November 2008. I am hardly asking for top-secret documentation.
Senator Faulkner —As I have expressed to you, because it is not the normal reporting period, in order to ascertain that information PM&C would have to literally go back to each agency with that period and ask them which particular consultancies fell in that time period; it is not the timing framework in which these reports are normally made. You would have to go back and do it on an agency by agency basis.
Senator RONALDSON —I will ask you another question, Mr Mrdak: that figure of 447, was that actuals or was that longer term contracts?
Mr Mrdak —Actual expenditure, from their annual reports of all of the departments and what are called the MAC agencies—the management advisory committee agencies—which are the large agencies, including tax and others.
Senator RONALDSON —I look forward to getting that information. Thank you for undertaking to do that for me.
Senator Faulkner —Senator, before you move on, I have told you it is an extremely difficult calculation to make outside the normal reporting requirements. It would require PM&C to go to 24 management advisory committee agencies to try to establish which of these consultancies fell in that period. I would respectfully say that the difficulty with this is there would be no other information to compare it with because these are done on a financial year basis. You say from November 2007 to November 2008, or whatever. What would be the validity anyway of the statistic given there is no comparative data? That is the difficulty. It is not a matter of not assisting you, but as long as you understand that the comparisons that are made within government are done on a financial year basis.
Senator RONALDSON —How you run government is entirely up to you, Minister, but I would have thought, given that quite damning information in the Australian Financial Review, you would be pretty anxious to knock it on the head, particularly given Minister Tanner’s comments in March 2007 that you are going to slash $395 million from the use of consultants. At best we have $88 million, and I will be interested to see the final figures on that, so what happened to the $395 million cut? And how do you reconcile the rather remarkable contradiction between Mr Tanner’s comments in March 2007 and the actions in the very best case scenario of a reduction of only $88 million.
Senator FAULKNER —I reconcile them in the way I have outlined to you and with what has been said publicly about the need for any examination of this to compare apples with apples. I honestly suggest to you that the only valid comparative data that are available are the figures on a financial year basis, which are provided to you for financial year 2007-08, which obviously we can compare to financial year 2006-07 and, if you like, financial year 2005-06. That can be done both for the value of such consultancies and for the number of consultancies.
Senator RONALDSON —But I am seeing two big green apples, Minister; two big green apples that look absolutely identical. One apple says $447 million and one apple says $359 million. And for all intents and purposes, they are absolutely identical apples. I again ask you: how can you reconcile the commentary from Mr Tanner in March 2007 that there would be $395 million slashed from the use of consultants—I remember the political rhetoric around then, that there was an ‘appalling overuse of consultants’—which has suddenly, in the best case scenario, dwindled to $88 million.
Senator Faulkner —I always stand ready to be corrected if I am wrong, but my recollection of the time when Mr Tanner made his announcement is that it in fact related to savings across the forward estimates period. I do not know if you appreciate that or not, but that is certainly my understanding. That related to savings from financial years 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10. I will certainly check if my recollection is not correct, but I am pretty confident you will find that that is the case. Just for the record: you said $359 million; it was actually $395 million, so it was actually a higher figure.
Senator RONALDSON —I think I said 395. I will remind you of Mr Tanner’s comments in an AFR article on 2 October 2007:
People are obviously cynical because of a history of oppositions being principled and high-minded and then not being so much so in government …
I just wonder if they might be words that are coming back to haunt Mr Tanner.
Senator Faulkner —I doubt it. Obviously we are not examining estimates for the Department of Finance and Deregulation, but you would appreciate, when the opposition was in government, that billions were spent on consultancies over those 11½ years. I and many other members of the then opposition expressed concern about this, particularly after the slashing and burning of the public sector, the loss of corporate knowledge and the like. And this has been an issue that has been examined at this particular committee now for many years. But what we have undertaken to do, if it is possible, is to provide additional figures. But I do stress with you, because I think it is a very proper point to make, the difficulty in trying to get this information. It is a real ‘make work’ task to establish a new reporting period and then ask agencies to fit in what they can in that period. Anyway, we have undertaken to do what we can to assist you.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. Mr Mrdak, is there any indication at the moment what the value for consultancies will be for 2008-09?
Mr Mrdak —For our department?
Senator RONALDSON —No, for the whole-of-government consultancy. You have the figures there for the 2006-07, 2007-08—any indication as to what they might be?
Mr Mrdak —No. As the minister has outlined, while departments will publish details of contracts entered into on AusTender, they would essentially be the outer bounds of contracts. The actual expenditure will not be reported until the annual reports for the preceding year.
Senator RONALDSON —So are you able to comment on this further matter raised in the Australian Financial Review story, which revealed a 150 per cent increase in the value of consultancy contracts in the wake of the May 2008 budget? Are you able to comment? The department have seen this article, haven’t they? This was brought to your attention. Presumably you were expecting some questions today.
Mr Mrdak —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —It would have been more unbelievable if you had said no.
Mr Mrdak —I can only reiterate what I said earlier: we can provide information on actual expenditure, to do comparisons of years, but I cannot assist any further. I do understand there have been some revisions to the amounts from the initial Fin Review article following some further examination, but I cannot assist you any more in relation to that comment.
Senator FAULKNER —Senator, you would also appreciate there are definitional issues in relation to consultancies. For example, in the Fin Review article, one of the consultancies mentioned was for $37.25 million for Aspen Medical. That in fact turned out to be a health delivery contract and wrongly assigned as a consultancy. These issues are also relevant—not only the reporting period, but also the definitional issue that is involved.
Senator RONALDSON —This same news report said that ‘haphazard and lazy disclosure makes scrutiny difficult’. Would you agree with that comment?
Mr Mrdak —I do not know the context in which the article reached that conclusion. But certainly, as you are aware, departments are obliged to report within a period of entering a contract on the AusTender for those consultancies above $10,000, as the minister has outlined. As far as I am aware, while there may be some delays as departments finalise contracts and work through issues, all departments seek to meet that timeline. But as the minister has also outlined, the AusTender lists contracts in full, which may run across financial years. So I do not think it is as accurate or as definitive as portrayed in the article.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, would you describe $359 million spent on external consultants as simply scandalous or do you think it is reasonable?
Senator Faulkner —Well, I do not use labels like that. I do accept that any—
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Tanner does.
Senator Faulkner —I am just making the point that any consultancy that is let needs to be able to be justified by agencies and by ministers responsible for agencies. You talk about the link between transparency and accountability, and I accept that link. I have said publicly for many years that obviously in terms of ensuring a high level of accountability there needs to be clear transparency in these issues. But in the provision of transparency I think the point that I have made to you is a proper one: that we need to compare like with like. We need to ensure that there is no double counting such as in the situation where, in the Financial Review article, a not insignificant amount of expenditure was reported in 2007-08 and appeared in the Rudd government’s first twelve-month column. We have to sort out the definitional issues. While I make those points I accept the general principle that you put forward about transparency. It is one I have always accepted and I am happy enough to continue to accept it because it is right.
Senator RONALDSON —Well, I will look forward to seeing the 2008-09 figures. We will see what is and what is not ‘simply scandalous’, to use Mr Tanner’s own benchmark on behalf of the government—which I am sure will make fascinating reading if the AFR report is right. In fact, I think it was in August 2007 that Mr Tanner made his comment at the National Press Club. I am sure you and I will await with great interest the outcome of that.
Unless I am mistaken, the question PM34b from the Supplementary Budget Estimates, 20 to 23 October last year, remains unanswered. That was a question I asked on notice:
Can the committee be provided with a list of all personal staff who have travelled with the Prime Minister on each of his overseas trips, can this itemised list include airfares, car transport, travel related allowances, accommodation costs and mobile phone bills incurred whilst overseas?
If the answer has been provided then accept my apologies, but the last answer I got was:
The information required to answer this question is not available to the Department at this stage; it will be provided to the Senate Committee when it becomes available.
Has that been lodged, and I do not have a copy of it through my own issue, or has it not yet been—
Mr Mrdak —No, we are currently finalising that. There was a similar question asked on notice—question 750, from recollection, in the Senate. My understanding is that the information has now become available and an answer will be provided both on notice and to this committee very shortly.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak, with the greatest respect, these are issues that you know have been in the public domain. It just seems a bit odd to me that the only question that remains unanswered—and this is from October, so that it is four or five months ago—is the one with some political sensitivity. I would not have thought, quite frankly, that the information requested was something that was going to require five months of work to obtain an answer. It just seems to me a little convenient that we will get this information after these estimates.
Senator Faulkner —Let me deal with the political elements of your question and then I will defer to Mr Mrdak to deal with the process elements. It is not fair to ask him to deal with the political elements. It is not accurate, first of all, Senator, to say that the question has not been answered. It has been answered, and the answer makes absolutely clear, given the information is available, that supplementary information will be made available. Because the information was unavailable, in order to provide all the information the question required, it will be provided at a later date. The department, I think, is fulfilling that obligation. I think it is a little unfair for you to suggest that this might be the only question that was asked that had some sort of political element to it. That was not the interpretation that I had. I am a little surprised that you thought it was—
Senator RONALDSON —That is not what I said at all. It is the only question that I think has not been answered and it happens to be probably the most political question.
Senator Faulkner —We had better go and check the Hansard record. I am just making the point to you that I think the department’s record of answering questions has been excellent. I appreciate that and I would be disappointed if the committee did not. It stands in stark contrast to what occurred during the life of the previous government. Having said that in relation to the political spin that was included in your question, I will see if Mr Mrdak can help you with the process elements—elements to which it is appropriate for an official to respond.
Senator RONALDSON —I just want to double-check, Minister. You think that the answer given on 5 December—to a question of, I think, 23 October—an answer which says ‘The information required to answer this question is not available to the department at this stage and will be provided to the Senate committee when it becomes available,’ is an answer?
Senator Faulkner —Let me say this to you, Senator: I wish that during the life of the previous government there had been such frankness and transparency in answers. Yes, there is an answer. It is an indication that the information is not available and gives a commitment that, when it is available, it will be made available to this committee. It is both totally appropriate—
Senator RONALDSON —There was a four-month delay.
Senator Faulkner —Because it takes some time to have the information available to answer your question. During the life of the previous government, the answer was: ‘The information is not available’—end of story, no comeback, nothing. I think you are being very ungenerous in what you are suggesting. I think this is a very appropriate way of dealing with these sorts of matters. For a government to make this information available at the earliest opportunity—if it is not available when a senator asks the question—is proper and reasonable. Frankly, I think it does not warrant criticism. That is my view. I have never criticised such approaches in the past. I just wish we had had more of that sort of approach.
Senator RONALDSON —I actually think I am being very generous, Minister. I suspect that when you were on this side of the table you probably would have referred to it as some sort of cover-up. I think I am actually being incredibly generous, which of course is my nature—to be overly generous in these situations.
Senator Faulkner —I can assure you, Senator, I only referred to cover-ups when there were cover-ups. I had to say it fairly regularly because it was a pretty regular occurrence.
Senator RONALDSON —It is all a matter of definition, but this is lurching towards a cover-up, I would have thought. I will wait with great interest for this information to be received after these estimates.
Senator Faulkner —For the record, it is worth making the point that this is asking for very detailed and complex information.
Senator RONALDSON —Oh, come on!
Senator Faulkner —Well, all travel since 3 December, itineraries, detailed breakdown of costs and of accompanying staff and family—it is a great deal of information. As soon as it is available—and Mr Mrdak says it will be available very soon or is close to being provided to ministers—
Senator RONALDSON —You know why it is so detailed, don’t you?
Senator Faulkner —As soon as it is made available—
Senator RONALDSON —I will tell you why it is so detailed: because the Prime Minister is never here; he is constantly overseas.
Senator CAMERON —Is that a question?
Senator RONALDSON —If that is right—that it takes a lot of time to get this information—it is because he is never here.
Senator Faulkner —I am trying to deal with the questions you are asking as seriously as I can. I am happy, again, to give you an undertaking. There will be no delay in the Prime Minister’s office or the minister’s office about this. As soon as this information can be made available, it will be—and it stands in very stark contrast to the way these issues were dealt with in the life of the previous government.
Senator CAMERON —You should write the minister a masterclass on questioning at estimates!
Senator PARRY —Is that a question?
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson has the call.
Senator RONALDSON —What an extraordinary intervention for someone so new to the place. Mr Mrdak, can you detail the countries that the staff have been to and the length of time for each of those trips? Actually, I might put that on notice. That might be easier.
Senator Faulkner —We are happy to provide that on notice for you.
Senator RONALDSON —There is a bit more to it. I will not take the time of the committee with that. I will put those more detailed questions on notice. I am happy to give someone else a go and then come back to it.
Senator FIFIELD —Minister, you may direct this question where it should go. Senator Minchin had questions on notice about meetings which the Prime Minister had with heads of missions. The answer to question 575 was that, as of 27 August 2008, the Prime Minister had met six heads of mission in Australia. The Prime Minister had met one head of mission on four occasions and the other five heads of mission on one occasion each. It went on to note that obviously the Prime Minister did have occasion to bump into heads of mission at various functions. I want to follow up on those answers. Which head of mission did the Prime Minister met with on four occasions?
Mr Mrdak —I am not sure I can do that readily. If you do not mind I will try to chase that up quickly and come back to you before the end of the day—if I can.
Senator FIFIELD —If you could, that would be great. Thank you very much. Also, which countries do the other five heads of mission that have met with the Prime Minister represent? If you could take that on notice.
Mr Mrdak —I will take that on notice and come back to as quickly as I can.
Senator FIFIELD —Also, since 27 August 2008, how many heads of mission in Australia have met with the Prime Minister as opposed to having a chance meeting at a function?
Senator Faulkner —That, I think, might be very difficult to establish today. Perhaps other sources apart from PM&C would need to assist us there—possibly, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, possibly the Prime Minister’s office and the like. In order to provide you with an accurate answer, I suspect that that may be difficult, because it goes beyond information that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have provided. We will do our best. I am just flagging with you that that may not be possible to provide you with today.
Senator FIFIELD —But you will use your best endeavours, Mr Mrdak?
Senator Faulkner —We have got to go to more than one source here, I think—more than just Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Possibly.
Senator FIFIELD —Possibly, because it may well be that PM&C do keep a record of those things.
Senator Faulkner —Yes, indeed. I am not sure.
Mr Mrdak —I will check that.
Senator FIFIELD —Could you also check how many times each head of mission has met with the Prime Minister and which countries these heads of mission represent?
Mr Mrdak —Certainly.
Senator FIFIELD —I would appreciate that; thank you very much.
CHAIR —We are still on general questions. Senator Ronaldson?
Senator TROOD —May I, madam chair, if it is convenient?
CHAIR —I gave the call to Senator Ronaldson. If he is not ready, then I am quite happy for you to proceed, Senator Trood.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, I will come back after Senator Trood.
Senator TROOD —Thank you. When I walked in I heard my colleague Senator Ronaldson mention consulting, and I thought it might be a convenient moment to ask about the Boston Consulting Group, with whom I gather the department has spent some time. I am wondering, Mr Mrdak, whether you could tell us how many contracts the department has let for Boston Consulting Group’s activities.
Mr Mrdak —Since the election of the Rudd government we have let no contracts with Boston Consulting Group in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator TROOD —Has Boston Consulting not done any work in the department?
Mr Mrdak —Not under contract. We had officers seconded from Boston Consulting Group to assist us in the formation of the strategy and delivery division last year. In that situation the firm allowed staff to effectively take leave from the firm to work for us as Commonwealth officers. But we have not entered into any contracts or consultancy arrangements with the firm.
Senator TROOD —So you had a person from Boston Consulting, did you say?
Mr Mrdak —We had a person last year who took leave from the firm whom we engaged for a fixed period of six months as a senior person to assist us to establish the strategy and delivery division within the department. That person took leave without pay from the organisation and joined us for a fixed period.
Senator TROOD —And that person was not paid by PM&C—is that what you are saying?
Mr Mrdak —He was paid by PM&C as a PM&C officer, because he had taken leave for a period from the company to come and work with us.
Senator TROOD —Was your department the only department that paid this person, or Boston, as a result of his employment?
Mr Mrdak —I am not aware of any arrangements he may have had with Boston Consulting. My understanding is that he took leave without pay from the company and we paid him at the SES band 2 level, at the division head level that we pay in the APS, for him to work with us for a six-month period.
Senator TROOD —So that was six months from when—the beginning of the government’s period of office?
Mr Mrdak —No, he joined us around May last year, when the department announced its intention to form a strategy and delivery division, which was one of the outcomes of the audit that was undertaken of the department early last year in terms of boosting our strategic capacity. This officer was identified by us as someone who had experience in these types of areas, and we seconded him from the firm, as I said, on a leave without pay arrangement, for a six-month period from about May. He concluded his work with us around about November last year.
Senator TROOD —So he has returned to Boston Consulting. Is that right?
Mr Mrdak —That is my understanding, yes.
Senator TROOD —And he was the only person from the Group that did any work for you?
Mr Mrdak —That was an employee of that company. We have recruited people from that company, under normal recruitment processes. The current executive director of the strategy division is a former employee of that company. So we have people who formerly worked for that company, but we have not had any contractual or any other ongoing relationship with the company itself.
Senator TROOD —How many people have you recruited from Boston Consulting?
Mr Mrdak —I would have to check to be—
Senator TROOD —Could you take that on notice.
Mr Mrdak —Certainly. I am aware of one, but I will check that for you.
Senator TROOD —But the person who was employed on secondment was not subsequently employed in the department?
Mr Mrdak —No, he returned to Boston Consulting Group.
Senator TROOD —But there are other people who were previously employed by Boston Consulting who—
Mr Mrdak —That is right—who have permanently left their employment with the company to join the Australian Public Service.
Senator TROOD —And were they recruited in an open recruiting round?
Mr Mrdak —Yes. All of our permanent appointments are done through normal APS open recruitment processes. Any SES recruitment also includes a representative of the Public Service Commission on the recruitment panel.
Senator TROOD —Which parts of the department have those people gone to?
Mr Mrdak —I would have to check. Are you talking about the Boston Consulting Group former employees?
Senator TROOD —Yes. Are they largely in the strategy and—
Mr Mrdak —I am certainly aware of one who is head of our strategy and delivery division now. I will check in relation to other areas of the department.
Senator TROOD —So have those people actually begun with the department? Have they taken up their positions?
Mr Mrdak —Yes. This person’s job was advertised around the middle of last year. We then ran an open process for the position, parties were interviewed and this person was implemented. They left employment with the Boston Consulting Group to join the department.
Senator TROOD —Are there any other positions open at the moment? Obviously, I do not wish to canvass with the committee your recruiting process, but are there any positions open in the department at the moment?
Mr Mrdak —Yes. We have recently advertised. Mr Lewis, the National Security Adviser, briefly outlined to the committee that there are a number of recruitment processes now underway for the national security group. In the light of the government’s national security statement last year and the additional resourcing being provided, we also have recruitment action taking place across the department in a number of key areas. We have recently advertised, for instance, for the head of our corporate division, which became vacant recently. So we have a number of senior executive and general recruitment processes open.
Senator TROOD —Perhaps you can let me know on notice how many positions are open as of today’s date.
Mr Mrdak —Certainly.
Senator TROOD —Could you also advise the committee of the number of people formally with the Boston Consulting Group whom you have employed, please.
Mr Mrdak —Certainly.
Senator TROOD —I am sorry that I was not here when Mr Lewis was before the committee. Has he been—
Senator Faulkner —I indicated that Mr Lewis had an urgent meeting to go to at 2.30 and was only able to stay until then. But there are other officials available to us.
Senator TROOD —Perhaps, Mr Mrdak, you can help me with this. How many employees in the national security division happen to be women?
Mr Mrdak —I will check that and come back to you. We will be able to get you that information very quickly.
Senator TROOD —It may be an easy sum to do, and I may even be able to do it. But perhaps you can tell me how many women are employed there and what percentage that is of those employed in that division.
Mr Mrdak —Overall in the department, my recollection is that the gender balance is around 68 or 69 per cent women. I will check the exact details of the national security group, but I would imagine that it would be at least 50 per cent and probably more.
Senator FORSHAW —Could you tell the committee what involvement PM&C had in the bushfire response.
Mr Mrdak —I will draw on the officers involved, if I may, and bring them to the table.
Senator FORSHAW —I am after a summary of the involvement of PM&C in the response to the bushfire tragedy in Victoria.
Mr Campbell —PM&C coordinates the provision of information and situation reports to the Prime Minister on response, assistance and recovery issues in relation to natural disasters generally. There are a couple of lead government agencies that we work with. The Attorney-General’s Department, and in particular the Emergency Management Australia component of the Attorney-General’s Department, is responsible for disaster response and the administration of the natural disaster relief and recovery arrangements. We work in a holistic advisory sense with EMA in regard to response issues. The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs has carriage of community recovery and administration of the Australian government disaster recovery payment arrangements. We work with them.
PM&C was first notified of the extreme fire danger in Victoria by EMA, via their national bushfire situation update, which they release to officials routinely. This one was on 6 February. We then kept receiving further updates and advice. We were notified of the crisis situation that had arisen on Saturday, 7 February. We commenced ensuring information was being provided to the Prime Minister’s office and then participated in a range of Commonwealth government committee meetings looking at both the response and the recovery support that could be provided to the Victorian government, through the Victorian government to the Victorian people and directly to the Victorian people. That process is ongoing. It was initiated from that Sunday and has been ongoing since. Currently, PM&C is represented in a interdepartmental committee arrangement that is meeting on a daily basis to provide support and to identify mechanisms by which the Commonwealth and the Victorian government can work together to be of assistance.
We also had a participatory assisting role in the organisation of the memorial day activity that was held yesterday, through our ceremonial and hospitality branch, but that was a supporting function to the lead by the Victorian government.
Senator FORSHAW —I refer to the Australian government’s Commonwealth Counter-Disaster Task Force. Could you explain what that body is?
Mr Campbell —Sure, Senator. The Australian government’s Counter-Disaster Task Force is a body that either PM&C chairs or, on occasions, EMA chairs for PM&C. It is looking at immediate response issues, as opposed to a twin committee arrangement, the Australian government disaster recovery committee, which is chaired by FaHCSIA and looks at issues of longer term recovery.
Senator FORSHAW —So the task force is like a permanently established body?
Mr Campbell —No. The Australian government’s Counter-Disaster Task Force sits when necessary in response to a disaster.
Senator FORSHAW —That is what I was going to go on and say.
Mr Campbell —Similarly, the Australian government disaster recovery committee sits in response. In this particular circumstance the Counter-Disaster Task Force met, as did the disaster recovery committee, but those functions were subsumed by the establishment, on 11 February, of a Commonwealth-Victorian bushfire task force which the PM directed be established in order to coordinate the Commonwealth response to the bushfires. That task force, the Commonwealth-Victorian bushfire task force, began, on 12 February, meeting daily. It was initially chaired by the Prime Minister with key portfolio ministers represented and senior officials present. More recently it has been chaired by Minister Macklin as the lead minister involved. PM&C has been participating throughout.
Senator FORSHAW —Thank you for that, Mr Campbell.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Campbell, you may have already answered this question—and if you have, my apologies. I was just having some discussions with a colleague. Has PM&C got permanent representation in the Premier’s office from a coordination point of view?
Mr Campbell —No, we do not. As in a seconded officer in the Victorian Premier’s office?
Senator RONALDSON —Yes.
Mr Campbell —No.
Senator RONALDSON —Has any thought been given to that not so much to protect the Commonwealth’s interest but to have some input into coordination?
Mr Campbell —We have looked at the arrangements and we have now established very effective positive working relationships with the Premier’s department, our counterpart, which have been built off relationships that have grown over a range of other emergency management and counterterrorism response mechanisms. So that goes to the Premier’s department. As well, we have very close and positive relationships between FaHCSIA and the Victorian Department of Human Services and a number of other departments. So we have not got, nor would we normally have, a seconded officer in the Premier’s office, but we do have enduring and very strong relationships.
We also have the opportunity through a number of ministerial advisory council meetings for Minister Macklin to present a Commonwealth perspective. Also, as you would know, the appointment of Major General Cantwell to work for the Victorian government as the interim head of the Victorian bushfire recovery authority has been very helpful in ensuring that as much support as possible is being provided and that a person who knows the Commonwealth’s response capabilities is there as much as are FaHCSIA officers and so forth. So I do not think that we are absent a liaison capacity.
Senator RONALDSON —What are the relative contributions of the Commonwealth and the states? I think we are putting the vast bulk of the money in, aren’t we?
Mr Campbell —In general summary, because we are using the NDRR arrangements, the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, there will typically be a cost contribution of 50 per cent attributed to the Commonwealth and 50 per cent attributed to the state or territory that is affected by the incident. If the event in a cost sense rises substantially above a certain barrier, the Commonwealth starts to kick in 75 per cent of the costs. They are nationally agreed and long-established arrangements.
Senator RONALDSON —Is there any indication at this stage about what the Commonwealth and state contributions are likely to be?
Mr Campbell —I do not think that that will emerge fully for some time. Typically, NDRR arrangements are resolved at the end of the financial year because they look at the cost with regard to disaster events across the financial year for any affected jurisdiction. So, if there was a bushfire, a flood and a cyclone, all of those costs would be aggregated to determine the amount of contribution the Commonwealth provided in support. Estimates at the moment would be estimates, and the entire process is still unfolding and there are bushfires that are still active, so it may be some time.
Senator RONALDSON —Is Major General Cantwell directly responsible to the Victorian government, to cabinet? Is my understanding correct?
Mr Campbell —That is right. He is a currently serving member of the Australian Army who has been seconded and works for the Premier and the government of Victoria as the interim head of their authority for reconstruction and recovery.
Senator RONALDSON —Had any thought been given to giving Major General Cantwell some stand-alone powers in relation to his activities and his group?
Mr Campbell —The thought had been that it would be most effective if he was provided and there was a clear and unitary sense of command and control that was focused on the head of the Victorian government and the Victorian government. So, no, he does not have a residual or a sidebar authority or reporting mechanism that provides him a line to the Commonwealth in that sense.
Senator RONALDSON —I am just trying to get this clear, and it is no more or less than general interest. Is Major General Cantwell responsible for the allocation of Commonwealth funds or is his role separate to the arrangements you were talking about before?
Mr Campbell —His role is separate. It is about organising the initial stages of that recovery effort. The Commonwealth funds that we discussed under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements are not something that he determines; rather, they are under established baskets of activity, and, if activated, the funding from the Commonwealth and the state flows naturally through that process.
Senator RONALDSON —So does Major General Cantwell work at the direction of the Victorian government?
Mr Campbell —Yes, that is right. And he will, as you know, be superseded in that appointment by Commissioner Nixon when she takes up the position on an ongoing basis shortly.
Senator RONALDSON —What is the changeover date for that, do you know off the top of your head?
Mr Campbell —I believe it is a couple of weeks from now, but I do not know it off the top of my head.
Senator RONALDSON —I understand the weather back in Victoria today has turned for the worse as well. I do not know whether that is correct or not.
Senator Faulkner —Sorry, I missed that, Senator.
Senator RONALDSON —Just the weather in Victoria. I think it has turned for the worse again. Mr Mrdak, can I take you to questions—this is from the supps in October—PM32b and 32c, in relation to PM&C’s cooperation with the CMAX investigation. In PM32c I had asked for details, in chronological order, of every meeting, interview, phone call, email and discussion that had occurred between PM&C and the Deputy Prime Minister’s office in relation to the CMAX issue. I asked that the nature of each be detailed, and the answer was:
There were no meetings, interviews, phone calls, emails or discussions between PM&C and the Deputy Prime Minister’s office.
I accept that answer, obviously. In 32b I actually asked the same question but in relation to PM&C, PMO and the minister’s office, and the response was:
The Department is not able to accurately record details of each meeting, interview, phone call, email and discussion that has occurred between the Department and the Prime Minister’s office and the Cabinet Secretary and his office since the ANAO advised on 20 August 2008 that it would be undertaking a performance audit of the CMAX Communications contract for the 2020 Summit.
The ANAO themselves said on page 12, paragraph 10, that:
… the performance audit did not consider the actions of persons employed or engaged under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 other than the extent to which their actions may have affected PM&C’s procurement activities.
Mr Mrdak, on what basis did PM&C make the decision not to provide the information I had requested in question PM32b?
Mr Mrdak —I do not know if there was a specific decision to not provide it. What I was reflecting in that answer was the fact that I could not accurately provide details of every conversation and the like that would have taken place around the CMAX issue between the department, the Prime Minister’s office and the minister. So I was simply reflecting the fact that what would be involved would be a large task and I could not accurately at this stage give you a full listing. What you asked for was, in chronological order, every meeting, interview and phone call. There would have been the regular discussions that I have with the minister’s office and with the Prime Minister’s office in relation to a broad range of issues where matters in relation to this audit would have come up or matters in relation to the CMAX contract may have come up. I am just not in a position to give you an accurate record in the way you have asked for every one of those occasions.
Senator RONALDSON —I put it to you that I think it is reasonable to assume from the second part of your answer on notice that you had indicated that you were not prepared to provide this because the ANAO were performing a performance audit. In light of your answer that too much work would have been involved, why would you put the words in:
… since the ANAO advised on 20 August 2008 that it would be undertaking a performance audit of the CMAX Communications contract for the 2020 Summit.
when there was no reference at all in my question on notice on 20 August or any other time, except from the start of this process?
Mr Mrdak —Sorry, Senator, it may have been a clumsy use of words by me in relation to answering the question. The point I was simply trying to make there is that the ANAO, in examining all of our records and files, would have similarly been unable to provide any more detail in relation to a number of the discussions and the like, as I have been unable to in my answer today. I think that that was a clumsy joining of facts on my part and I do apologise. What I was really trying to outline there is that I cannot accurately recall the details as to what you have asked in relation to every conversation or discussion that took place. Also what I was trying to say in the answer was that the ANAO would of course, as they have done, be thoroughly examining all of our records and files and, I would think, would be able to reiterate my advice to you that I am not able to give you the information you asked for.
Senator RONALDSON —Did you advise them of meetings, interviews, phone calls, emails and discussions? From recollection, when that supplementary was asked—in fact, it may have been in the May estimates—they said they would be looking at all matters, including emails, phone discussions et cetera.
Mr Mrdak —They certainly had access to all of our file material. They interviewed officers, including me, in relation to the handling of these matters. As I said, regarding what you have asked for in relation to every meeting, interview, phone call and discussion, I cannot give you an accurate chronology or details because there would have been many discussions that I would have had throughout that period in relation to these matters—many as part of broader discussions.
Senator RONALDSON —You provided that information to the ANAO, presumably, from what you have said.
Mr Mrdak —Certainly the ANAO has had access to what essentially you have as well, Senator, which is the information that is on our files, which I am able to detail—
Senator RONALDSON —I do not have access to anything, because you will not give it to me.
Mr Mrdak —Regarding answers I have given previously to this committee in relation to the details—and the ANAO has had access to all of our files in undertaking this audit report—I am simply unable to give you any more information than what is available, which I have given this committee or which has been available to the ANAO.
Senator RONALDSON —But, Mr Mrdak, you have not provided me with the details of meetings, emails, phone calls et cetera. That is the very point of the question. Clearly you have provided it to the ANAO and, if you can provide it to the ANAO, why won’t you provide it to me?
Mr Mrdak —Sorry, Senator. What I have provided to the ANAO is in discussions with them and access to our files. They have been able to see the records we have. I do not have any more information that would enable me to fully answer your question, to the detail you have asked.
Senator RONALDSON —Regarding the information you have given them, presumably about emails, meeting dates, phone calls et cetera, it must have been detailed for you to give it to the ANAO.
Mr Mrdak —There is some detail but not to the extent to which you have asked me this question. You have asked me to—
Senator RONALDSON —Because I asked for everything and you cannot provide me with everything, you have provided me with nothing. Is that the response?
Mr Mrdak —I can certainly provide you with details of what is recorded on our files, Senator, but I cannot answer in detail the nature of the question you have asked.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak, with the greatest respect, I would have thought that, if you could not provide all this information, your answer would have been: ‘This is the information that I can provide to you and there is other information I can’t.’ Clearly you have had to provide it to the ANAO, at whatever level—emails, phone calls, meetings, discussions—these other issues, which the ANAO said they were going to seek information on. You provided it to the ANAO but you are not providing it to me because you say you cannot give me everything. Is that the rationale?
Mr Mrdak —The ANAO has had access to all of our files, Senator. I would be happy to go back and review this answer in the light of the position. I am starting to now understand a little bit more about what you are seeking. I am happy to go back and review the answer again, Senator, and provide you with some further detail, but I certainly would not be able to provide you with that level of detail in relation to every meeting, interview and phone call that took place in relation to these matters.
Senator RONALDSON —The question was fairly clear, wasn’t it? I will just read it out again:
Please detail, in chronological order, every meeting, interview, phone call, email and discussion that has occurred between the Department of PM&C and the PMO or Senator Faulkner and or his office in relation to this issue. Please also detail the nature of each?
It is a fairly simple and straightforward question.
Mr Mrdak —Certainly, Senator, in relation to where there has been recorded minutes taken of a meeting or a discussion has taken place, I can certainly provide you some details of that. What I am saying, Senator, is that I do not believe I can provide the level of detail in respect to every item you have asked for. But I am happy to review that answer in the light that I now have a clearer understanding of what you are seeking.
Senator RONALDSON —It might not be any clearer, Mr Mrdak, because all I am doing is repeating the question which you had before and I repeated again. You now say it is clear. I am not too sure why it was not clear the first time I asked the question.
Mr Mrdak —I think the difficulty I had, Senator, was you asked for every meeting, interview, phone call and the like. I cannot provide that level of detail because a number of those would not have records retained of them.
Senator RONALDSON —Surely that should have been the answer, shouldn’t it? ‘These are the ones that I have records of. This the information that I have provided to the ANAO because those details were available.’ I am still perplexed by the commentary about the ANAO performance audit. I took that to read that because they were doing it you were not able to provide the information, but that is not the situation, is it?
Mr Mrdak —No, Senator. What I was trying to capture there was the fact that I could not accurately provide all the information you sought and, as I said, the ANAO has had access to all our records. But I am happy to review this answer in the light of this discussion.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. Mr Mrdak, I now turn to some reports in the Launceston Examiner on 8 December that the government would spend $5.12 million on advertising the economic stimulus package. I think it was actually $28 million to advertise the first stimulus package. I think $17.2 million administering the payments and an additional $5.12 to advise the recipients of the payments. It was the $5.12 in advertising to the recipients of the package what the payments were going to be. Is that an accurate report of the expenditure?
Senator Faulkner —Senator, this is something that—I will check with Mr Mrdak—I doubt PM&C has a great deal of knowledge of. It might be better for questions to be asked at the estimates of the Department of Finance and Deregulation before this committee tomorrow. But also my recollection is—and I will certainly come back to you if I am wrong—I think the lead agency in relation to this is also FaHCSIA. The process elements in terms of the department of finance’s responsibilities with contract oversight and the like are appropriately asked of them. But I think you will find the lead agency is FaHCSIA so the questions are best directed in both those portfolios. But I have not seen the Launceston Examiner article and, if I am wrong about FaHCSIA, I will let you know as soon as possible.
Senator RONALDSON —I am happy to wait until tomorrow to find out.
Senator Faulkner —I am pretty sure it is but no doubt someone will correct me if I am wrong. I do not have a copy of the article but I listened carefully to you reading it out and I think that FaHCSIA is the lead agency. Perhaps it might be easier for me if you could shoot me through a copy of the article at some point and we will ensure that the information that has been provided is accurate.
Senator RONALDSON —I will leave that for finance then. Mr Mrdak, I have some standard questions about the number of DLOs and ministerial officers. Can you provide the committee with an update of the total number of DLOs currently located in each ministerial and parliamentary secretary office?
Mr Mrdak —Yes, Senator. I will take that on notice but the numbers have remained unchanged as far as I am aware. There is a total of 70 DLOs across ministerial offices.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak, can I now take you to a contract that was awarded under PM&C to a Ms Julie McCrossin to facilitate discussion at a national security conference. Are you aware of that contract?
Mr Mrdak —Yes. I might ask Mr Campbell to deal with this. This was in the context of our pandemic planning role in relation to the national pandemic response strategy. Mr Campbell will provide some further detail.
Mr Campbell —Senator, your question?
Senator RONALDSON —Are you aware of it?
Mr Campbell —I am aware of it, yes. I was present as the senior PM&C representative at that workshop.
Senator RONALDSON —Ms McCrossin is better known as a comedienne, I think, isn’t she?
Mr Campbell —I think she is known as a very accomplished and widely skilled public speaker, and one of her capabilities is in the comedienne mode—for which she was not engaged at this workshop.
Senator RONALDSON —What, she wasn’t engaged to tell gags?
Mr Campbell —No, she wasn’t. She was there to facilitate a workshop.
Senator RONALDSON —What is her experience as a facilitator, from your recollection?
Mr Campbell —I would have to refer you to her CV, but I note that in the process of identifying her it was clear that she had facilitated a wide range of similar activities for a range of organisations and government agencies.
Senator RONALDSON —She has had work since, I gather, from the federal government, but can you give me an overview of some of those jobs she had performed prior to—
Mr Campbell —I would not be able to give you that detail here. As to her role, if you are interested in her activity on that day, I can discuss that.
Senator RONALDSON —Were you involved in the awarding of this contract?
Mr Campbell —No, I was not.
Senator RONALDSON —Is there anyone here who was?
Mr Campbell —I do not believe so, no. We can get some more detail on the contract process, if you would like.
Senator RONALDSON —I gather it was a direct procurement.
Mr Campbell —That is correct.
Senator RONALDSON —And I gather that, with a direct procurement, you would be looking for evidence of past experience. If Ms McCrossin was not there to entertain, or not there as an entertainer, you would be looking for some past experience in relation to facilitating discussion. It was a national security conference, wasn’t it?
Mr Campbell —It was a pandemic exercise workshop. So it would not be correct to characterise it simply by the term ‘national security’ in that, while it is covered by the duties—
Senator RONALDSON —I would have thought that a pandemic episode is actually a national security episode.
Mr Campbell —Indeed, it is. What I wanted to point out was that it spans such a wide range of implications for the nation that no particular traditional national security skill was necessarily required as a facilitator. For example, knowledge of defence, diplomacy or intelligence matters—the traditional national security space—is not where this workshop was; it was much more with regard to a range of communications, social and economic issues as much as the implications for the viability of society.
Senator RONALDSON —So was it a workshop in relation to appropriate responses to pandemics?
Mr Campbell —Yes, that is right—developing awareness in a range of areas with regard to both how communications processes might work and also the implications and reactions that you might see as a pandemic developed across the country.
Senator RONALDSON —So an understanding of what—national health implications? You go through them for me.
Mr A Campbell —Sure. There are health implications; issues of social distancing; the manner in which people might still be able to sustain social communities, even to the point of provision of food and basic services—
Senator RONALDSON —Intergovernmental relationships?
Mr A Campbell —intergovernmental relationships; the manner in which messages would be communicated to the public—a very wide range of issues.
Senator RONALDSON —This is pretty serious stuff, isn’t it?
Mr A Campbell —Indeed.
Senator RONALDSON —So where was Ms McCrossin’s knowledge in relation to health issues, intergovernmental arrangements and national security implications?
Senator Faulkner —Perhaps I can help you a little here. The first thing I recall about Ms McCrossin is that she presented Life Matters on Radio National, which I think is a pretty serious conversation about health matters. That was at least for a couple of years. I suggest that perhaps in her role as a meeting facilitator you might care to look at some of the agencies that she has been doing this sort of work with at the Commonwealth level. It is quite a long list, including the Department of Defence, a range of state government agencies and cultural institutions. I can run through them.
Senator RONALDSON —That is why I am asking the question—so I can elicit that very information. So thank you for your assistance in that regard, but I would have thought that what I wanted to find out was what experience she had in relation to those matters.
Senator Faulkner —Okay, well, let me provide that to you. I can only use, as you can, the client list that is available.
Senator CAMERON —She has even done the King’s School.
Senator Faulkner —Senator Ronaldson asked the important question. Let me run through it. First of all in relation to the media, four organisations are listed: ABC TV and ABC Radio; Foxtel; Network 10 and SBS TV. In relation to federal government and agencies: Air Services Australia; Attorney-General’s Department; Australian Film Commission; Australian Taxation Office; Child Support Agency; Comcare; Department of Defence; Department of Family and Community Services; Department of Finance and Administration; Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Office of the Status of Women; Department of Transport and Regional Services; Health Insurance Commission; Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales, which I am not sure is entirely a federal government agency; and the National Advisory Council on Suicide Prevention.
In relation to state government agencies and cultural institutions you will find: AIDS Action Council of the ACT; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Art South Australia; Commission for Children and Young People; Hornsby Girls High School; Independent Commission against Corruption; National Council of Jewish Women; the New South Wales Attorney General’s Department; New South Wales Cabinet, Office of Children and Young People; New South Wales Department of Community Services; New South Wales Department of Education and Training; Victorian Department of Education and Training; New South Wales Ombudsman; New South Wales Police; New South Wales Police Training Academy; OTEN Film and Video Unit; Powerhouse Museum; State Library of New South Wales; Sydney Girls High; TAFE; Victorian Department of Human Services; and WorkCover NSW.
In relation to local government: Baulkham Hills Shire Council; Local Government Association of Queensland; Local Government Managers of Australia NSW; Manly Council; National Regional Economies Conference; Randwick City Council.
In relation to health—which you specifically asked for as well: Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care; Australian Health Promotion of Association WA; Australian Divisions of General Practice; Australia and New Zealand Health Management Network; Australian Medical Council Strategic Review; Australasian Society of HIV Medicine; Australian College of Health Service Executives; Blue Mountains Women’s Health Centre; Cancer Council of New South Wales—
Senator RONALDSON —That is all very interesting. Can I go back to Mr Campbell.
Senator Faulkner —I have not completed it. I am happy to finish there.
Senator RONALDSON —I want you to table it.
Senator Faulkner —I do not have a document to table. What I am doing is what one normally does at estimates—checking information on the available sources.
Senator RONALDSON —I am very pleased your staff have been so quick to jump onto this.
Senator Faulkner —It is not a matter of staff, Senator. Anyone could do this. If I can do it, blimey, you should be able to.
Senator RONALDSON —I asked the question of Mr Campbell but I am glad that you are able to add to it.
Senator Faulkner —Let me conclude. If you do not want me to go through these issues—it is a serious point.
Senator RONALDSON —I am happy for you to go through it; it is just a matter of time I would have thought.
CHAIR —I am having trouble following matters when we have questions put to witnesses. It would be helpful if they could answer. I find it a bit confusing when they are chatting.
Senator Faulkner —I am happy to not go through all the detail here, but I suggest to you on the public record that it is quite an exhaustive client list. I will make the point without going through all the details that this occurs in the areas of media, federal government agencies, state government agencies, cultural institutions, local government, health, legal, professional, university, community and private sector. It is quite an exhaustive and exhausting list. I can certainly give you—
Senator RONALDSON —I think Mr Campbell answered my question that this was not a gag-telling exercise.
Senator Faulkner —As you can obviously see from the client list, there is a very significant—
Senator RONALDSON —It was a very serious conference.
Senator Faulkner —I accept that.
Senator RONALDSON —Hence my question to Mr Campbell to make sure what the nature of that facilitation was, because I am sure you are probably aware, Minister, that it caused some mirth in the papers. I am sure that you would agree with me that, given the nature of the particular conference, that was probably not an accurate reflection of the—
Senator Faulkner —But lots of things in the papers cause mirth. I have always found that one has to be a little careful about these things and perhaps go behind the mirth in the newspapers.
Senator RONALDSON —Hence my questions to my Campbell.
Senator Faulkner —I have got a laugh out of the newspapers in the last few days, but I try to get behind those issues.
Senator RONALDSON —Hence my question to Mr Campbell, because it was a direct procurement. Mr Campbell has indicated to me that it was a serious conference and it was treated accordingly by both Ms McCrossin and the participants. So, thank you.
Mr Mrdak, I now move to the issue of any increase in staffing at the Lodge since October 2008—I think there were 2.4 staff at the Lodge—and Kirribilli. Has there been any increase in staffing and if so can you provide us with job descriptions for that increase?
Mr Mrdak —There has been no change in the overall staff numbers at either of the residences since we last discussed it. The only change since the change of government has been the move of staff from Kirribilli to the Lodge to reflect the living arrangements of the Prime Minister and his family.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak, has there been any damage reported to suite MG-8 since October 2008 that you are aware of?
Senator Faulkner —It sounds like it is a matter for the Department of Parliamentary Services. Anyway, let’s just check.
Senator RONALDSON —I was asking Mr Mrdak. If he has not got that I will put it on notice.
Mr Mrdak —I have not heard of any such reports.
Senator RONALDSON —At the supplementary estimates, Minister, PM&C responded in relation to what assets were in MG-8, so I presume you are happy to answer those questions.
Senator Faulkner —Is MG-8 the Prime Minister’s office?
Senator RONALDSON —This is from the answer that was given where there were a large number of staff located in the cabinet suite, and the MG-8 area was the response, I think. Is that correct?
Senator Faulkner —Yes.
Mr Mrdak —There are a number of Prime Minister’s office staff located in that area.
Senator RONALDSON —There are 10 work points in MG-8 according to your answer. Is that correct?
Mr Mrdak —Can you give me a reference number to that answer?
Senator RONALDSON —This is PM33c. I asked:
How many staff are located in the Cabinet Suite MG-8 area? That is, how many offices and workstations are located in that suite?
The answer was that the cabinet suite MG-8area contains three offices and 10 work points and the number of staff located in cabinet suite MG-8 varies as the unit is used by PM&C to support cabinet meetings.
In PM33a, I asked you to itemise and date any new assets that have been added to MG-8, including but not limited to scanners, fax machines, printers, digital cameras, laptops, desktops, photocopiers, televisions, DVDs, DVD recorders and computer software, since 1 December. You gave me a very detailed list of those assets.
I presume that if there are 10 work points—and this certainly applies to the use of computers—that only 10 people can work in MG-8 at any one time.
Mr Mrdak —There are 10 work points, as we have indicated. In support of cabinet meetings, there will often be a larger number of people working in that area, depending on the various note takers and the like who are working at cabinet meetings. The number of people in that area can vary, as we have indicated, but that is the number of work points formally established.
Senator RONALDSON —Presumably, only one person can work at a work point.
Mr Mrdak —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —Unless they are sitting on each other’s laps.
Mr Mrdak —That is right.
Senator RONALDSON —There are 61 computers, 16 printers and six televisions installed in MG8, according to the information that you have provided. How is it that there is a requirement for six computers each for the 10 staff who are operating those work points.
Mr Mrdak —We have provided an answer in PM33a which covers all of the assets in the Prime Minister’s office suite, as well as the cabinet suite.
Senator RONALDSON —MG-8 and the cabinet suite.
Mr Mrdak —That is right. What we have provided in PM33c relates to the cabinet suite area, which is a subset of the overall Prime Minister’s office area.
Senator RONALDSON —So what you are putting to me is that there are other work points that these computers that these 61 computers would be located at?
Mr Mrdak —Yes.
Senator Faulkner —Let us be clear: as I understand it—and I do not have the answer to the question in front of me—the first question was about the Prime Minister’s office and the cabinet suite. The second question was answered directly in relation to the cabinet suite, which is MG-8.
Senator RONALDSON —The question was:
How many staff are located in the Cabinet Suite MG-8 area? That is, how many offices and workstations are located in that suite?
Senator Faulkner —Yes. You have just pointed out that—
Senator RONALDSON —That is both, isn’t it?
Senator Faulkner —It is both.
Mr Mrdak —PM33a relates to both and PM33c relates to the cabinet suite, which is a separate office which supports the cabinet room.
Senator Faulkner —So it appears that there are many more than provided to you in that answer, because it is the full office.
Senator RONALDSON —What office is MG-8?
Mr Mrdak —My understanding is that is the Prime Minister’s office.
Senator RONALDSON —So my question about how many staff are located in the cabinet suite MG-8 is about both the cabinet suite and MG-8. Do you accept that?
Mr Mrdak —That is right. We have given you an answer at PM33c which gives the work points of the cabinet suite. We have not given you the number of work points in MG-8.
Senator RONALDSON —The answer was:
The Cabinet Suite MG-8 area contains three offices and ten work points.
Mr Mrdak —We have not been as clear as we should have been. We are talking there about a portion of the MG-8 area, which is the cabinet suite. Your question was:
How many staff are located in the Cabinet Suite MG-8 area?
We have interpreted that as the cabinet suite, not the whole of the PMO.
Senator RONALDSON —I will accept that at face value.
Senator Faulkner —I think you should, Senator. I also make—
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, thank you very much for that intervention.
Senator Faulkner —I was just about to indicate that I may have made a mistake a little earlier, because I did not realise that MG8 was the actual number of the Prime Minister’s office. I assume you were referring to the Prime Minister’s suite. If I did inadvertently do that, now that I have learnt what the situation is, let the record stand corrected.
Senator RONALDSON —As I said, Mr Mrdak, I will take that on face value. Can you perhaps just rejig some of those previous answers to clarify?
Mr Mrdak —Certainly.
Senator Faulkner —Can I just be clear on this last point? Senator Ronaldson, are you interested in what is occurring in the cabinet suite opposite the Prime Minister’s office or the cabinet suite and what is described as the Prime Minister’s office? Can you just be clear on that? I am not clear; I am not suggesting that you are not, but it is just so that we do not have this problem at any subsequent estimates round. You are aware that there are two areas.
Senator RONALDSON —There is entry 8 and there is the cabinet suite. My question on notice related to the cabinet suite and MG8. So we are going to get some clarification of those.
Senator CAMERON —Mr Mrdak, you have been appointed the Commonwealth Coordinator-General for the government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan. What are the implications for the office of Prime Minister and Cabinet in relation to that appointment, and what are your priorities in relation to that appointment?
Mr Mrdak —In taking on this role I have essentially gone off line from my normal duties as a deputy secretary of the department. Since the COAG meeting on 5 February I have put together a small team of officers. We currently have a staff of six officers who have been seconded, either from other agencies or from within Prime Minister and Cabinet to support me. This is a dedicated team. Our role, as set out in the COAG National Partnerships Agreement is to ensure the implementation of the COAG decisions in relation to the fiscal stimulus package on infrastructure. My key role is essentially to ensure that we build working relationships with senior people in the state and territory governments and across the Commonwealth agencies, to make sure that we have developed full implementation plans and work plans for each of the items of infrastructure to be delivered, to make sure that those milestones are being met, and, where they are not being met or where there are problems, to deal with them quickly at a senior level.
The states and territories have all agreed to appoint equivalents to me in each jurisdiction. That has happened. We have also appointed coordinators in each of the line agencies, both federally and in the state and territory governments, who will also have responsibility for effectively delivering. This is important, as the Prime Minister has said. Effectively, governments can have some assurance that there is an individual who is responsible, either in a line agency or across the whole of the jurisdiction, for delivery of the timeframes.
In terms of the implications for our department, this is quite a different role for this department in terms of project management. It is a much more operational role but it does sit with our normal role of responsibilities to work closely with the other jurisdictions to meet COAG timeframes.
Senator BOB BROWN —I want to ask about the Prime Minister’s ministerial statement on the Nation Building and Jobs Plan in which he announced the proposal for insulating ceilings and putting in solar hot-water systems in which he said, inter alia, that the program would include a reduction in emissions of some 49.9 million tonnes. What I want to ask is: is that so? What has the Prime Minister or his department got to say about the very compelling evidence, as we have seen in the newspapers from the Australia Institute and Dr Denniss, that emissions saved through this program—that is, insulating ceilings and putting in solar hot-water services—will simply allow other polluters to keep polluting more, if you are going to have a five per cent target. Dr Denniss says:
Fewer emissions from an individual mean more emissions from an aluminium smelter. Fewer emissions from one state simply mean more emissions from another state.
Consider this example. If a family installs a solar hot water system on their roof, they will need to purchase less electricity. The coal-fired power stations that supply that power will burn a bit less coal and, as a result, will produce fewer emissions. Now that the power station has lowered its emissions, it will need fewer permits, freeing up spare permits that it can then sell to the aluminium industry or any other large polluter.
Was the Prime Minister not wrong when he said of the insulation program:
Once fully implemented, the initiative could result in reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by 49.9 million tonnes by 2020, or the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road.
In effect, that is not so, is it? He had it wrong. It simply will allow aluminium or coal producers, for example, to keep polluting more than they otherwise would have, because they will get the pass-on of the permits from all of the households in Australia reducing their emissions.
Mr Mrdak —I can only comment that those estimates of greenhouse gas emissions were developed by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and the Department of Climate Change and provided to the government in relation to the energy savings—
Senator BOB BROWN —Well, they are the government, aren’t they?
Mr Mrdak —They are government agencies who have specialisation in developing these estimates. They have provided that advice to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister has relied on that advice in the comments he has made. I think it is generally accepted that ceiling insulation and the incentives to move away from electric hot-water to solar systems are two of the largest efficiency gains that can be made to individual households. They also, as the government has made clear, have benefits for a number of low-income groups and the like in terms of their standard of living in reducing energy costs. They are key factors in the government’s decision making. In relation to the issue of how this may impact on the trading of permits under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, I am not able to give you a detailed answer. You may wish to take that up with the Department of Climate Change.
Senator BOB BROWN —No, I am taking it up with the Prime Minister’s department because it has been being canvassed in the press now for some weeks. It is a very clear torpedo to the argument that householders are going to contribute to the nation reducing greenhouse gases under this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme of the government’s. We are going to deal with legislation on this a little later in the year, and it is very, very important that we understand that the government understands that every householder in Australia, if Dr Denniss is right, and I cannot see why he would not be, who tries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is in fact just allowing the coal or aluminium industry or another polluting industry to pollute more than they would have otherwise—in other words, not to reduce their pollution by the amount that all the households in Australia are going to reduce pollution by.
Mr Mrdak —As I say, I am sorry; I do not fully understand the assumptions being used by the gentleman you have mentioned, so I could not—
Senator BOB BROWN —Did you not understand the example I gave?
Mr Mrdak —I did, but I have not worked through the assumptions underlying the judgments that he has made. Without—
Senator BOB BROWN —Has the Prime Minister looked at this?
Mr Mrdak —The experts would be in the Department of Climate Change. I am sure they have worked through these issues. What I would refer you to is the fact that the statements by the Prime Minister are based on estimates he was advised of by the experts in this field in relation to greenhouse gas emissions which will be available from the implementation of this measure. In relation to the other matters, I could not comment.
Senator BOB BROWN —If Mr Denniss is right, the Prime Minister is wrong.
Mr Mrdak —Again, without understanding his assumptions and how he has reached his view, I cannot give you a comment. Others may have done that work; I have not.
Senator BOB BROWN —His views have been public for a week and they have been gaining potency. In fact, in the Australian newspaper, Lenore Taylor’s article was front page on the weekend. Have you or the Prime Minister not decided to review the assessment in light of this argument that the Prime Minister has been wrong on the matter?
Mr Mrdak —I am sorry; these would be matters for another portfolio. I certainly have not been involved. I will check with my colleagues as to whether there has been any review of that material or in relation to that media article, but, as I say, all I can comment on is that the statements by the Prime Minister have been based on advice provided to him about the emissions benefits of the measures being put in place.
Senator BOB BROWN —I just want to—
Senator Faulkner —If I could perhaps go on, Senator. I fear this will not be of assistance to you, but I am sure you understand the point that I cannot, representing the Prime Minister, say to you what, if any, action the Prime Minister might have taken in answer to the question that you have asked. This is only something I could check for you. You would appreciate that I do not want to provide you with an answer that is guesswork. I think you probably understand why, representing the Prime Minister, I cannot provide an answer to you at the table. I can undertake to do so if you would like me to do so, however.
Senator BOB BROWN —I would like you to do so, because, firstly, I cannot understand how, a fortnight into this compelling argument against the position the Prime Minister put forward in his statement, there has been no comment from the Prime Minister—and the public disquiet about it is getting bigger every day. The second thing, and let me be quite clear about this, is that the Greens—and I am sure the other Senate entities—are going to deal with very serious legislation which the minister has said will be before the Senate in June. This argument fires a torpedo into a central tenet of what the government is proposing that the Senate should pass. It is a very serious matter that we must clear up. It just cannot be allowed to ride, and I would appreciate it if, before the end of committees this week, we could get a clear response from the Prime Minister or the government—the minister herself—to the argument. I have seen some reference to it from Senator Wong, but it has been most unconvincing and unsatisfactory.
Senator Faulkner —While I note your comment in relation to Senator Wong, I would make the point to you that of course I am more than happy to take the issue on notice for the Prime Minister and to put to him the time constraints that you have mentioned. I can also respectfully say that, at some point, this committee will examine the estimates of the Department of Climate Change and that I am happy to pass on to my colleague Senator Wong that you have raised this issue. The officials or the minister there may be able to give you more information than I can. I hope you appreciate that this information is not available to me or to Mr Mrdak, but that is the best spirit I can apply to this. If it assists you, I will flag with my colleague, at the earliest available opportunity, this matter that you have raised and indicate to her that you may well raise it at estimates when her department is being examined by this committee.
CHAIR —Which will be this evening.
Senator BOB BROWN —I would thank you if you would do that, but I would like a response from the Prime Minister, and I—
Senator Faulkner —I have said that I appreciate and have acknowledged your request. I have said that I have taken your request on notice. And I have gone beyond that by saying I will try to see if it is possible to provide a response within the time frame that you have asked for. I cannot do any more than that. I cannot say to you any more than that I will ensure the Prime Minister is aware of your questioning and that the timing of your question is known to him. I can do no more than that. And I will do that—I know that does not provide the sort of guarantee you are looking for, but it is the best I can do at this stage.
Senator BOB BROWN —May I just signal this: I am looking for a response, but the consequences of not having this matter cleared up are very grave. I do not think the minister has shown due diligence in responding to it. It is a very simple matter which needs a very simple clearing up, and it is very, very important that we get an answer to it.
Senator Faulkner —Senator, I can certainly pass on that you have raised the issue here, which I had intended to do anyway. I can say to the Prime Minister how seriously you consider the issue is. I have said that I will do that. I am being pretty frank with you in saying I do not think I can go beyond that, but I will definitely do that.
Senator BOB BROWN —I appreciate that. Thank you very much.
CHAIR —I would like to bring to the committee’s attention that when we reconvene at four o’clock after our short break, the Office of National Assessment is coming forward. According to the schedule we adopted at our private meeting this morning, we are concluding PM&C at 6.30. I just wanted to check with everyone that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will not be required afterwards, because we have Department of Climate Change coming on at 7.30.
Senator RONALDSON —I do not think we will. I have not got a lot left. I think we will comfortably get to Department of Climate Change tonight.
Proceedings suspended from 3.41 pm to 4.15 pm
CHAIR —Welcome back. Thank you for your patience. We have determined that there will be questions for the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. In the meantime we are going back to general questions of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator Faulkner —We have the inspector-general at the table.
CHAIR —You will be needed, but not at this time. We are still waiting on Senator Brandis to arrive.
Senator RONALDSON —Madam Chair, if I may, I understand that Senator Brandis did have some questions but he is downstairs in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. If the inspector-general is happy to wait a bit longer, we can get a message to Senator Brandis. If that suits the committee.
CHAIR —Could you give us some indication of the length of time we are going to wait?
Senator RONALDSON —We have lots of questions to go on with. As soon as Senator Brandis gets up here we can resume.
CHAIR —Hopefully that is sooner rather than later.
Senator RONALDSON —I have some general stuff to go on with. Mr Mrdak, can I take you back to those 70 DLOs that we were talking about earlier on. Are any of those DLOs based outside of Canberra or Parliament House that you are aware of?
Mr Mrdak —Not that I am aware of, no.
Senator RONALDSON —Can you make some inquiries and take that on notice?
Mr Mrdak —Certainly.
Senator RONALDSON —If they are based outside Canberra or Parliament House, can you indicate where they are based?
Mr Mrdak —Certainly. My expectation is that they would be based in Canberra, but I will check that.
Senator RONALDSON —That is my expectation as well, but I need to ask the question. Do any of the DLOs travel with their ministers back to their electorate offices or non-Canberra ministerial offices in non-sitting weeks, do you know?
Mr Mrdak —Not that I am aware of. There may be occasions where DLOs certainly accompany ministers on official matters where they are undertaking business in another city or location, but I am not aware that they would accompany a minister back to, say, their electorate during a non-sitting week for any work. There may be occasions, as we know, when they travel to an electorate office when the minister is working from his electorate office or ministerial office to undertake work, but I am not aware of anything other than that.
Senator RONALDSON —Could you take that on notice?
Mr Mrdak —I will check that.
Senator RONALDSON —Have any rules been put in place by the PM to ensure that DLOs do remain in Canberra during those non-sitting weeks? Has there been any directive given in relation to DLO travel?
Mr Mrdak —Not that I am aware of. Arrangements for DLOs have largely remain unchanged for successive governments in relation to the expectations that they are officers of the Australian Public Service and therefore they engage in work, as do all APS officers, which is apolitical and relates to the ministers’ portfolio responsibilities.
Senator RONALDSON —There was reporting late last year about the community cabinet. Are you aware of what the cost of those has reached? I do not know whether there have been any since—
Mr Mrdak —Yes. The latest community cabinet was last week in Campbelltown, New South Wales. I will get the latest figures. There have now been 10 community cabinet meetings.
Senator Faulkner —That is right.
Mr Mrdak —We gave detailed cost breakdowns up until November. I will be happy to provide to the committee the latest costs on notice.
Dr Southern —In response to a question on notice last time, we gave costs for community cabinet meetings up to and including the Launceston meeting. There was one further meeting held in 2008 near Geelong at Corio. The cost for that meeting that we have to date is $56,804. As Mr Mrdak indicated, we had another community cabinet meeting last week in Campbelltown, but I do not have the final costs for that meeting as yet.
Senator RONALDSON —It was reported back in December that the costs had reached nearly $2 million and that some 4,385 people had attended those cabinets, which is about $400 per person, and that approximately 119 questions had been asked over those then nine sessions, which worked out at about $14,300 per question. Are you able to comment on the veracity of those figures?
Senator Faulkner —Those figures do not take account of the number of one-on-one meetings that ministers have held with members of the community and organisations. I believe that there have been nearly 640 of those. You are aware of the cost of the community cabinets. I respectfully suggest that there always will be a cost in consultation, but I believe that there is also a very significant benefit to the community cabinet process. Having attended all of them to date, there has been a very positive response from the communities in which they have been held. It is obviously an opportunity for members of the public in those communities to address issues of concern first hand. Many people have taken the opportunity to do that in a range of areas around Australia.
Of course there are costs in taking cabinet ministers and officials to a range of communities. But as you look at the costs, do not forget the real benefits that the communities believe that they receive. More importantly than that, it is very beneficial to the ministers and officials who attend as well. That focus is sometimes lost. Firsthand opportunities to hear issues of concern directly from Australians right around the country is something that should not be underestimated. Yes, there is a cost; there always is for good process and consultation.
Senator RONALDSON —There certainly is: well in excess of $2 million.
—But there is very much a benefit as well.
Senator RONALDSON —What procedure is used to choose the locations of the various community cabinet meetings?
Mr Mrdak —The timings and locations of community cabinet meetings are settled by the Prime Minister’s office.
Senator RONALDSON —Without any input from PM&C?
Mr Mrdak —We certainly have worked with the Prime Minister’s office in relation to setting a forward schedule of dates for the year ahead, so they are known, and the minister has ensured that there is a clear set of dates going out for the whole year in relation to when the meetings will be held. But determining the locations of those matters is a matter for the Prime Minister’s office.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, what is the procedure used to choose locations for these community cabinets?
Senator Faulkner —As you would know from where they have been held, community cabinets have been held in every state and in a whole range of areas—
Senator RONALDSON —Just go through the seats for me, and tell me who the members of parliament are in those seats.
Senator Faulkner —I would have to check who the members of parliament were. I think the last one was held, for example—if you want to know the seat—in the seat of Macarthur, held by Mr Farmer, but I—
Senator RONALDSON —And the others?
Senator Faulkner —I was about to make the point to you that I will have to check who all the local members are, but I think—
Senator RONALDSON —The rest are in Labor seats, aren’t they?
Senator Faulkner —They may be.
Senator RONALDSON —So is that the determining factor for where these community cabinets are held?
Senator Faulkner —I don’t think that is true. I think you might find that the first of the community cabinets was held in Canning Vale in Western Australia, for example. I do not think that is a Labor seat. The last community cabinet meeting was held in Campbelltown, New South Wales, which is not a Labor seat—but, senator, don’t be so cynical.
Senator RONALDSON —So, on what basis was that chosen?
Senator Faulkner —That has been explained to you. These are decisions—
Senator RONALDSON —What has been explained? Has the Prime Minister made the decision? You are the Cabinet Secretary. On what basis was the decision made to go into Mr Farmer’s seat, for example?
Senator Faulkner —It was thought that a community cabinet in south-western Sydney would be a very appropriate location, given the challenges that that community faces. I can say to you that it was very warmly and well received. I think for you to look at this from the point of view of the political geography would be a mistake.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, with the greatest of respect, I think that is exactly what the Prime Minister has been doing in relation to where these community cabinets have been held. And I think there is a very good reason for most people to think this is a $2 million re-election strategy on behalf of the Prime Minister.
Senator Faulkner —I actually don’t think most people do think that, and anybody who does think that would be mistaken. This is something that the government committed to, as you would be aware, before the election. I think you will find that the places they have been held, the communities in which they have been held, have been very appropriate. Now, we know that we cannot go to all Australian communities. There is a limit to the number of times these meetings can take place. But the government has only been in office for a short time. We have had 10 community cabinet meetings. The locations have ranged from an Aboriginal community like Yirrkala in the Northern Territory to Newcastle in New South Wales—
Senator RONALDSON —So, Mr Mrdak, have you—
Senator Faulkner —Let me conclude, Senator. Every state and the Northern Territory have been visited. It is certainly the intention of the Prime Minister and the government to keep this level of regular contact and consultation going right through the life of the government.
Senator RONALDSON —So, Mr Mrdak, has PM&C been asked, for example, to provide demographic information in relation to these electorates that have been chosen?
Mr Mrdak —Sorry, in terms of the decision to have an event at that—
Senator RONALDSON —Have you been asked to provide demographic or socioeconomic information to the Prime Minister’s office to assist them in deciding where to choose these particular venues? I take it the answer is no.
Mr Mrdak —No.
Senator RONALDSON —So there has been no consultation with the department at all as to where they are to take place?
Mr Mrdak —There are discussions that take place between our community cabinet team and the Prime Minister’s office in relation to forward meetings, in relation to arrangements, in relation to building on the experience of the last meetings, but—
Senator RONALDSON —Look, that is a great answer, Mr Mrdak, if you are speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, but I am asking you: are you given a fait accompli as to where these are going to be held; do you have any involvement at all? Do you provide any feedback as to what locations are to be chosen?
Mr Mrdak —We provide advice in the sense that often members of parliament will write to the Prime Minister asking that community cabinets be held in their electorates. Obviously we provide advice in relation to responses to those. There are ongoing discussions between our team and the Prime Minister’s office, but at the end of the day a decision is reached by the Prime Minister’s office on locations. We then work with them to find the right school once we have been advised of that location.
Senator RONALDSON —As I said before, this is straight out of the Prime Minister’s office in relation to the location—
Senator Faulkner —So are you suggesting, Senator Ronaldson, that if the opposition wins the next election you are going to abandon community cabinets? Is that what you are saying?
Senator RONALDSON —I am asking Mr Mrdak some questions. You spent a lot of time on this side of the table, Minister—
Senator Faulkner —I did, far too long.
Senator RONALDSON —asking questions about the use of taxpayers’ funds and overtly political expenditure.
Senator Faulkner —I do not believe—
Senator RONALDSON —What I am putting to you is that these are sites that are chosen by the Prime Minister. The department has no input into the choosing of those sites at all. You apparently have no input in relation to the choosing of those sites—or do you?
Senator Faulkner —From time to time I have expressed some views about it. But let me—
Senator RONALDSON —So what criteria do you use when giving that advice?
Senator Faulkner —assure you the decision rests, as you have been told, with the Prime Minister’s office. I am not the decision maker in relation to—
Senator RONALDSON —So what input do you have? What questions does he ask you before he makes the decision?
Senator Faulkner —I certainly have made some suggestions, and I will continue to do so. But the critical point in my view, and I say this to anyone who will listen—I am very happy to say it to you—is that the community cabinet meetings have been an overwhelming success. I think they are good for the government and its ministers given that they have an opportunity to hear firsthand issues of concern from people who live in those communities. There also seems to be a very positive response from the communities where those community cabinet meetings are held. Yes, I acknowledge to you that you cannot hold a community cabinet without bearing some expense. There is a cost to this, but there is also a massive benefit which far outweighs the cost. I would commend this to you, Senator Ronaldson, I would commend it to the opposition, and I would hope that some time in the future, when you win government, you will continue this because it has proven to be very successful.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, any amount of community engagement is worthwhile, but we have already heard from Mr Mrdak that he does not have any involvement in it. You have as good as said that you do not have any involvement.
Senator Faulkner —I have not ‘as good as said’ anything; I have made it clear what the position is.
Senator RONALDSON —Is someone walking around the Prime Minister’s office with a T-shirt with a Mackerras pendulum on it? What is the decision? Is this driven by the Mackerras pendulum, because there seems to be absolutely no decision-making process except out of the Prime Minister’s office for the most appalling political reasons. I am surprised, given the time you spent on this side, given the time that you were attacking the waste of taxpayers’ money for political purposes, that you can keep a straight face and defend, in my view, what is completely and utterly indefensible. And if you have a couple of those T-shirts that you walk around in spare, I would like to have one for my collection.
Senator Faulkner —Well that, Senator, is an attempt, after an abysmal estimates performance, to get—I do not think a cheap headline, because I do not think it is worth the headline—some commentary somewhere.
Senator RONALDSON —Will you tell me what the rationale is for making the decisions about where these community cabinets go, where you are spending $2 million of taxpayers’ money? It comes straight out of the Prime Minister’s office. You are not involved, Mr Mrdak is not involved; this is absolutely a purely political decision, which you simply cannot justify.
Senator Faulkner —I am about to answer your question now, if you would do me the courtesy of listening to the answer. If what you suggested was correct, about the marginality of seats or an electoral pendulum being relevant, then perhaps you would not hold a community cabinet in the seat of Newcastle, which is the only seat in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia that has been held by one political party since Federation.
Senator RONALDSON —Who is the member for Newcastle? You see, it is mainly Labor members and marginal seats—
Senator Faulkner —Will you please let me finish, Senator!
CHAIR —Senator, can I just remind you that you have put a question.
Senator Faulkner —I am just making the point that your allegation is not true. I think it would be a better thing for the opposition to acknowledge that community cabinets are an overwhelmingly positive thing for both government and the communities where they are held. It is a great pity—
Senator RONALDSON —The issue is not the community; do not put words into my mouth, Minister!
Senator Faulkner —that during the life of the Howard government someone did not take an initiative like this, but I would commend to you their importance and significance. I would suggest to you that it is something the opposition should take on board as a policy commitment, to keep these community cabinets going if you win government at the next election. They are important, they are appreciated, your colleague Pat Farmer, for example, welcomed the community cabinet meeting. The last one that was held was in his electorate in Campbelltown literally a few days ago. They do play an important role. It is critically important consultation with the community, and very important for ministers and senior officials to hear firsthand what the concerns of the community are. And, yes, Senator, there is a cost to that, but I say to you again: it is overwhelmingly a benefit for all concerned. So there is a cost, but the benefits far outweigh those costs.
Senator RONALDSON —Prime Minister Howard managed to have a large number of community consultations and those sorts of forms, but it was not at the taxpayers’ expense. He did not spend $2 million doing it. The fact that you do not have any involvement, apparently, that Mr Mrdak does not have any involvement, apparently, means this is a fair indication that this is purely a political stunt. If you were genuine about it, I think the community cabinet—in fact any engagement—would be held the way former Prime Minister Howard did it, with community meetings or community cabinets. But you are abusing this right that you have been given to hold these, and I say to you again: it is nothing but a cheap political stunt. I ask Mr Mrdak: can you provide me with an estimate of how much has been spent on ministerial staff travelling expenses? Are staff accompanying cabinet ministers entitled to a travel allowance that covers more than just the cost of transport? If that is the case, could you provide us with details of what is covered under the travel allowance? Are there any specific prerequisites that a place must meet for a community cabinet to take place? Are there any specific media management costs associated with the community cabinets? If there are, could you please provide those. Are there any advertising costs associated with community cabinets? Again, could you provide details of those please.
Senator Faulkner —Before I ask Mr Mrdak to respond to that series of questions, which he may or may not be able to do at the table—
Senator RONALDSON —I assume he will take them on notice.
Senator Faulkner —he may or may not have the information available to do that—let me deal with your editorial comments before you asked the questions. Senator, do not underestimate the importance to a government of any political persuasion of hearing from real people in their local communities.
Senator RONALDSON —That is exactly what I said before, so do not put the political spin on this.
Senator Faulkner —Don’t underestimate the fact, Senator Ronaldson, that those people who come and meet ministers directly and speak from the floor at community cabinet meetings often have very different views to those of the ministers and officials they are addressing. And don’t underestimate the fact that this is an initiative that has been warmly received in communities. But, most importantly, don’t underestimate the positive impact it has on both ministers and officials to be able to hear those comments first hand. And in conclusion I can assure you that the government treats all those inquiries and issues very seriously. We respond quickly to requests and questions. The government makes sure that it is on the ball about those sorts of issues. Now I will ask Mr Mrdak if he does have any information to assist you with your 10-part question.
Mr Mrdak —In relation to—
Senator RONALDSON —Excuse me, Mr Mrdak, for interrupting. And, Senator Faulkner, I would not if I were you underestimate the relevance of the Prime Minister having sole ownership of this process.
Senator Faulkner —The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister, and that is a decision that the Prime Minister makes and I think that it is quite appropriate for the Prime Minister to make such a decision.
Senator RONALDSON —What criteria does he use?
Senator Faulkner —The Prime Minister makes this decision—
Senator RONALDSON —On what basis?
Senator Faulkner —and it is appropriate that Prime Minister’s make decisions about where the Prime Minister’s cabinet meets, and even you should know that.
Senator RONALDSON —What criteria does he choose?
Senator Faulkner —I can assure you also that the Prime Minister and government receive a lot of communications from people who are very keen to have a community cabinet meeting in their local communities.
Senator RONALDSON —But what criteria does the Prime Minister use?
Senator Faulkner —He takes those issues and a range of others into account.
Senator RONALDSON —So from what you are saying he has discussed it with you has he?
Senator Faulkner —The Prime Minister made it clear that he thought it would be appropriate given—
Senator RONALDSON —You said he discussed the criteria?
Senator Faulkner —I am giving you an example, Senator. The Prime Minister made it quite clear that he felt that given the pressure that families in south-western Sydney were under he thought it would be appropriate for the community cabinet to meet in Mr Pat Farmer’s electorate of Macarthur at our recent meeting, and we did so.
Senator RONALDSON —Were the demographics in Macarthur showing stress on families greater than other seats in the area?
Senator Faulkner —You should not be so cynical.
Senator RONALDSON —I am asking you a question.
Senator Faulkner —Don’t bring things back to seats. People in the local community attend these community cabinets. I do not think they really care where the electoral boundaries are on the map. You might, Senator, but I suspect that others do not.
Senator RONALDSON —But is family stress in Macarthur greater than it is elsewhere in that area.
CHAIR —Senators, it is very hard for Hansard to make an accurate record if you are talking over the top of each other. You put a question to the witness and the witness answers.
Senator Faulkner —With respect, Chair, I am not speaking over the top of Senator Ronaldson. I am just trying to answer the question that was asked.
Senator RONALDSON —So is the family stress in Macarthur greater than it is in other areas around there?
Senator Faulkner —It may well not be, but the point here is—
Senator RONALDSON —Well why did you go there if it is not the greatest stress area?
Senator Faulkner —The point is that last calendar year there were nine community cabinet meetings. The Prime Minister is hoping to hold at least as many in this calendar year. Reasonable people would appreciate that it is not possible to go to all communities, but to try to keep a balance in terms of ensuring that all the states are visited, which was achieved in our first year. We managed to go to an Indigenous community and the like. So I think it is a pretty representative group of locations. You cannot go everywhere, but we can certainly do our best and I can assure you—
Senator RONALDSON —You just get used to political—
Senator Faulkner —Please let me finish. I was going to make the point that the communities we attended actually welcomed the cabinet’s presence.
Senator RONALDSON —So Macarthur was chosen because it is a high stress area for families, but you have now just acknowledged that there might be other areas around there that are more highly stressed. So again I ask you the question: if family stress was the basis on which Macarthur was chosen but there are other areas around there that are more highly stressed, why was Macarthur chosen?
Senator Faulkner —Senator, do not put up a straw man—
Senator RONALDSON —They are your words, Minister. I am just giving you your words.
Senator Faulkner —I actually talked about families under pressure.
Senator FAULKNER —Families under pressure—stress and pressure are probably the same thing.
Senator Faulkner —Sorry—I spoke about families under pressure in south-western Sydney. That is what I said. An appropriate location for the community cabinet was found. Senator, do not think that people—apart from perhaps you and one or two cynics—worry about where electoral boundaries happen to fall. People sometimes travel from some considerable distances to attend these community cabinet meetings—they really do. Generally I have found—and I have talked to a lot of them—they are positive about the experience.
Senator RONALDSON —It was chosen on the back of pressure and family stress. You then acknowledged that there might be other areas in Sydney that were suffering more. I have again asked you, if that was the criteria and there are other areas that were worse, why you chose Macarthur, and you do not have an answer, so I might leave that. Could I go on to Mr—
Senator Faulkner —Senator, it was a very good central location in south-western Sydney. You have to look at things like accessibility and the like—somewhere where people can go with maximum ease.
Senator RONALDSON —So that was discussed with you, was it?
Senator Faulkner —Senator, you also have to take account of whether there is an appropriate venue available, and there are security concerns and those sorts of issues that are of consideration. But at the end of the day the positive thing about this is that you have the cabinet going out to these communities, wherever they may be. I do believe, from the feedback, it is positive for communities. I stress again to you: it is certainly positive for cabinet ministers like me to hear concerns firsthand from community members and organisations.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak, can you advise me how many days between 30 December 2008 and 1 February 2009 that Mr Rudd was at Kirribilli House?
Mr Mrdak —I would have to take that on notice. I am not in a position to give you that information today.
Senator RONALDSON —Do you know if Mr Rudd attended the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne?
Mr Mrdak —I do not. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator RONALDSON —If he did, do you know how many days he was there?
Mr Mrdak —Again, Senator, I have no knowledge of that matter. I will take that on notice, if that is okay.
Senator RONALDSON —If he did, do you know whether he flew from Sydney or Canberra?
Mr Mrdak —Again, the Prime Minister was on periods of leave during that time. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator RONALDSON —If he did, do you know whether he returned from Melbourne to Sydney or Canberra?
Mr Mrdak —Again, if I could wrap those questions up and come back to you—
Senator RONALDSON —Do you know whether his travel was on a VIP or by commercial aircraft?
Mr Mrdak —No, I do not know.
Senator RONALDSON —Did any family members travel with him to Melbourne?
Mr Mrdak —I do not know. I will take that on notice.
Senator RONALDSON —Has the department done any calculations as to the greenhouse gas emissions that may have been caused by this travel to the Boxing Day Test?
Mr Mrdak —We have done no such calculations.
Senator RONALDSON —Could you do so for me?
Mr Mrdak —I can make inquiries as to whether that is possible. As I said, I do not know the circumstances of whether he did or did not travel to that Test. I will endeavour to find out.
Senator, if I may return to your earlier questions in relation to community cabinet, I can provide you with some information, if that is okay. We do not have details of ministerial staff who may have travelled with ministers to community cabinet and the costs involved. That would be an issue you may wish to raise with the Department of Finance and Deregulation. In relation to advertising, we undertake advertising to notify the community of a forthcoming meeting—to notify people and seek people’s registration for community cabinet. I can give you the advertising costs. We do that through local newspapers. I could give you those: Canning Vale, WA, advertising costs were $7,819.22; Narangba, Queensland, advertising costs were $1,821.95; Penrith, New South Wales, $3,274.44; Mackay, Queensland, $1,613.15; Yirrkala, Northern Territory, $726; Hallett Cove, South Australia, $4,389.40; Newcastle, New South Wales, $4,468.75; Launceston, Tasmania, $1,740; and Corio, Victoria, $1,485. Those were our advertising costs for notifying the community and seeking registration. As I said earlier, in relation to the other costs for community cabinet, ministers and their staff, I would ask that you place those questions to the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
Senator RONALDSON —Can you give me a breakdown on the exact nature of each of those costs, please, and whether it was radio, print or television.
Mr Mrdak —It was all newspapers. We only used local and community newspapers.
Senator RONALDSON —Can you detail the nature and cost of official gifts received by the Prime Minister since December 2007?
Mr Mrdak —I will take that on notice. I am not personally familiar with any gifts he has received in that period.
Senator RONALDSON —Can you also advise me how many of these have been retained by the Prime Minister.
Mr Mrdak —Again, I will take that on notice.
Senator RONALDSON —What happens to gifts which are not retained by the Prime Minister? Where are they located? Are they displayed?
Mr Mrdak —I will check that. But, predominantly, they are retained by the ceremonial and hospitality area of the department if they are not retained by the Prime Minister under the existing provisions.
Senator RONALDSON —What happens to consumable gifts—wine, et cetera—received as official gifts but not taken by the Prime Minister? Are they consumed elsewhere or stored indefinitely? What happens to consumables?
Mr Mrdak —I will check. But, predominantly, they are stored. I will check in relation to consumables, though.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you again, Mr Mrdak.
Senator FIFIELD —Minister, you are no doubt aware that the former chief of staff to Mr Fitzgibbon is now a lobbyist—you may be aware from reading the newspapers or you may be aware from just general talk. The Canberra Times, where I came across this, said:
A former senior Labor staffer has taken a job with a prominent Government and public relations consultancy, but the firm says this will not breach the Federal Government’s new code of conduct for lobbyists.
Daniel Cotterill, the former chief of staff to Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, has been appointed to handle defence issues with Hill & Knowlton Australia.
Minister, you would be aware of clause 7.2 in the Lobbying Code of Conduct which you introduced and which says that the relevant staff:
… shall not, for a period of 12 months after they cease their employment, engage in lobbying activities relating to any matter that they had official dealings with in their last 12 months of employment.
I am seeking a reassurance that this is not actually a breach of the code. You may or may not know the answer to this, but are you aware when Mr Cotterill ceased to work for Mr Fitzgibbon?
Senator Faulkner —I believe it was some time late last year—I think in October 2008. It is possible that one of the officials here might be able to assist you. My understanding of this situation is that a firm called Hill and Knowlton employed the gentleman concerned and that that company has stated publicly that he would not be engaged in any lobbying activities for at least the 12 months after he ceased employment, under the MOP(S) Act. You might also have checked that the name of the gentleman—that is, Mr Cotterill—does not appear on the lobbyists’ register.
Senator FIFIELD —If he is not listed on the register, that means, of course, that no minister, no MOPS staffer in a minister’s office and no bureaucrat is able to have contact with him.
Senator Faulkner —Would you run that by me again.
Senator FIFIELD —You said that Mr Cotterill or Hill and Knowlton are not on the register? Sorry, just remind me if it was Mr Cotterill or Hill and Knowlton who was not on the register.
Senator Faulkner —I am certainly aware of comments that were made. The chief executive of Hill and Knowlton indicated that Mr Cotterill would be doing no government lobbying until the prohibition period had expired. The chief executive of that company has made it clear that the company fully abides by the lobbyists code of conduct, which is pleasing to hear. I can say, confirming that, that Mr Cotterill’s name—you have probably checked this anyway, Senator—does not appear on the lobbyists register. That was the point that I was making.
Senator FIFIELD —Which means that no minister, no staff of the minister and no public servant can have a professional dealing with him given his name is not on the register. That is how it operates, isn’t it?
Senator Faulkner —The code is explicit about this. Obligations are placed on the individual concerned but are also, as you are aware, placed on ministers and their offices in accordance with the provisions of the code. If you want a more precise answer, I will actually need to read into the record the relevant elements of the code. But I know from previous discussions on this, Senator, that you are well apprised of the provisions of the code.
Senator FIFIELD —Indeed. But you can appreciate that it could look to the casual observer that the former staffer in question is merely being warehoused until the clock ticks past 12 months?
Senator Faulkner —What is I think critical here is that the company concerned, the individual concerned or no-one involved in government in the broad is in breach of the code. I have heard no suggestion that that is not the case.
Senator FIFIELD —But the firm promises not to avail itself of Mr Cotterill’s knowledge of defence matters?
Senator Faulkner —The firm has made, as I am sure you have seen, Senator, some quite strong public statements about this. There are obligations on Mr Cotterill—you would appreciate that—and there are also of course, as you know, obligations on all of us who work in government.
Senator FIFIELD —Indeed. We will take it on trust that the code is being observed by all parties.
Senator Faulkner —You have to be clear about this.
Senator FIFIELD —But it does revolve around trust to some extent, obviously.
Senator Faulkner —The key thing is, as you appreciate, what is prohibited here is lobbying activity. If I were to meet the gentleman concerned in the corridor and say, ‘Good afternoon’ or the like, that would not be prohibited, as you would appreciate. I have not met the gentleman concerned in the corridor, but I am sure you understand that that is the case. I think the best thing here is this: if you at look at definitions under the code, there is a very clear and precise definition of lobbying activities. I think you are aware of this, Senator, but I would certainly commend that to you if you are not aware of it. I can now confirm to you that the date Mr Cotterill concluded his employment was—and I think I said it was in October 2008—24 October 2008.
Senator FIFIELD —Thank you for that. While I was out of the room, did you discuss the local government summit? Has anyone covered that?
CHAIR —No. But the Office of Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has been waiting, because there were going to be some questions. I know that Senator Trood is still waiting on some information. But if we could get a timeframe, that would be good.
Senator TROOD —Five or 10 minutes, I think.
CHAIR —We will keep going with general questions.
Senator FIFIELD —In relation to the local government summit held on 18 November, would officers be in a position to provide full details of the cost of that?
Mr Mrdak —The cost of the summit was met by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Local Government, not by this portfolio. You may wish to address that question to them.
Senator FIFIELD —We will do that. That would go to all costs, such as any external contractors engaged for the purpose of hosting the summit?
Mr Mrdak —Yes.
Senator FIFIELD —So I will put all matters to do with cost relating to that to them. Thank you.
Senator BOYCE —My questions relate to the increase in part-time workers between your report of 2006-07 and 20007-08. You had an increase of part-time workers from 3.9 per cent to 8.2 per cent.
Mr Mrdak —In the department?
Senator BOYCE —In the department. That is a fairly big increase. Why was that?
Mr Mrdak —I would have to have a look at that issue. I could not give you an answer immediately. But I am happy to go away and have a look to see if there is a rationale for why that took place. There may have been some change in the way that we work. Often, people returning from maternity leave and the like choose to move to part-time work, and we try and facilitate that as much as possible. But I will come back to you with some more detail.
Senator BOYCE —I guess what I am getting at is whether there were operational reasons, policy reasons or other reasons—down the list, so to speak.
Mr Mrdak —I will check as to what detail we have.
Senator BOYCE —Also, could you tell me what the situation has been since—in 2008-09. Has there been a continued increase in part-time workers? You also mention in your report that you offer part-time work to provide flexible work provisions. Could you give me some ideas of what you mean when you say ‘flexible work provisions’.
Mr Mrdak —A number of our employees choose to tailor their working hours around their family circumstances. We try and provide for that wherever we can, subject to the work area enabling it. I know for instance that in our corporate division we have a number of people who are working on a part-time basis because they have small children or other family or carer responsibilities. We try to tailor the work around that, particularly when they are doing roles which involve processing or that type of work, which enables that to be done. Obviously, in some of our other areas we are not as able to do that, because of the day-to-day demands of the work area. But we try wherever possible to tailor to people’s personal preferences in relation to part-time work.
Senator BOYCE —I guess you have partly answered my next question. When you talk about part-time and flexible work, this could be an individual; it needn’t necessarily be the case that a group of part-time workers would work a standard variation?
Mr Mrdak —It is all very much driven by the individual. Generally, what will happen is that an individual will come to their work supervisor—
Senator BOYCE —How is that negotiated? How is it recorded?
Mr Mrdak —Generally, an individual will come to their work supervisor. Under our collective agreement, we have arrangements in place under which people can come forward with suggestions on how they would like to work part-time to meet their family or carer responsibilities. They will sit down with their supervisor and work out a proposal. In some cases, it will not be as possible as in others, because of the work demands of the area. But wherever possible we try and tailor the work arrangements so that people are able to take advantage of working part-time. That generally happens at the work level basis between a person and their supervisor and then will generally be signed off by the SES officer responsible for that area.
Senator BOYCE —How would that then be changed? Would it only be changed at the request of the employee or would it be assessed every 12 months?
Mr Mrdak —It will vary, depending on the circumstances. Some people will choose to do it for a limited period, such as six months as a transition back to the work force after maternity leave. Some people will choose to do it for longer, depending on their personal circumstances. Some arrangements will have a review date. Generally, we have a twice a year performance review cycle. As part of that performance review cycle, people will often have a discussion about their work arrangements with their supervisor and it may occur in that discussion. Or there may be a threshold point within each arrangement such that it is reviewed at six months or 12 months.
Senator BOYCE —I just have another couple of questions, and you will probably have to take these on notice. I want to know the average number of hours worked by part-time staff in the department.
Mr Mrdak —I will take that on notice, if you do not mind.
Senator BOYCE —And the other question I had was the average number of hours that part-time staff have agreed to work. There have been a number of concerns about the workload on people in PM&C and I just want to be very sure that part-time work is not being used as some sort of a cover for people being paid for less than they are actually doing.
Mr Mrdak —Certainly, I can assure you on that—that would not be the case. I will take on notice the actual hours that people have put in place for part-time work. I do not see that that is a situation in most cases. We do try and flexibly allow people to work part-time wherever possible.
Senator BOYCE —But we have heard of cases of full-time workers who have worked extraordinarily long shifts: over 12 or 14 hours—around the clock, in one particular case. I would be interested to know what part-time workers have worked overtime on their shifts and what the quantum of that is, please.
Mr Mrdak —Certainly. If we can identify that I will come back to you on notice.
Senator BOYCE —Thank you.
CHAIR —Do you have any more questions, or are we ready to go, Senator Trood?
Senator TROOD —I am happy to do the Inspector-General.
Senator Faulkner —That just concludes general questions, does it, not examination of the department?
CHAIR —My understanding is that we are still going to come back to general questions.
Senator TROOD —My understanding, Senator, is that we are suspending general questions so that we can deal with Mr Carnell, who has been waiting patiently in the wings, and then we are going to return to general questions. Is that right, Madam Chair?
CHAIR —That is correct.