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FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
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FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
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FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(Senate-Monday, 8 February 2010)
- PARLIAMENT PORTFOLIO
Department of the Senate
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
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 JACINTA COLLINS
Senator BOB BROWN
Australian Institute of Family Studies
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
Australian National Audit Office
Department of Climate Change
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
Senator IAN MACDONALD
- Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
Content WindowFINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 08/02/2010 - PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO - Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Senator Ludwig —Chair, do you want me to start with an opening statement? I have one. I wanted to follow up on some arrangements that have changed and so forth to put everyone in the picture, so to speak.
Senator Ludwig —To assist the committee in their examination of the portfolio, if I deal with the Coordinator-General first, there have been some changes to the arrangements for the Coordinator-General. Following a period of intense activity and the publication of the first Coordinator-General report, Mike Mrdak has phased out his engagement in this area. I just put on record that I thank Mike for his significant effort and acknowledge the contribution he has personally made to the successful implementation of the government’s economic stimulus plan. On 13 August 2009, the Prime Minister announced that Ms Jennie Granger was appointed as Deputy Secretary of the Office of the Coordinator-General on secondment from her role as Second Commissioner of Taxation. I am pleased to advise the committee that taking over from Ms Granger in the role of Coordinator-General is Ms Glenys Beauchamp, to my right. Glenys took over from Ms Granger as Deputy Secretary, Governance, in PM&C and will continue in this role in addition to the Coordinator-General role. Glenys will further update the committee on arrangements for the Office of the Coordinator-General. I just take the opportunity on record of congratulating Ms Beauchamp on that appointment.
Regarding the Public Service Commissioner, I would also like to draw the committee’s attention to some important appointments which have been made. One is the Public Service Commissioner. The Prime Minister, on 10 December last year, announced the appointment of Mr Stephen Sedgwick as the Australian Public Service Commissioner. Mr Sedgwick is a former Commonwealth departmental secretary and most recently was Professor and Director of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Ms Carmel McGregor for acting in the role of Public Service Commissioner and congratulate Mr Sedgwick on this very significant and important appointment.
Turning to the National Security College, I can also advise the committee that the Prime Minister has announced two significant appointments in relation to the establishment of Australia’s first National Security College. The college will be a joint venture between the Australian National University and the Australian government. The Prime Minister announced in December that the founding Executive Director of the National Security College is Mr Michael L’Estrange AO. Many of you will know that Mr L’Estrange is a highly regarded former senior public servant, having served both sides of politics with distinction over many years. I congratulate Mr L’Estrange on that appointment. The National Security College will be governed by a board with members drawn equally from senior government officials and university nominees. I am also pleased to advise the committee that the first chairman of the board will be the National Security Adviser, Mr Duncan Lewis.
CHAIR —Thank you, Minister. I welcome officers of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. In particular, I draw your attention to the orders of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised. The committee has set Friday, 26 March 2010 as the date by which answers to questions are to be returned. Ms Beauchamp, would you like to make an opening statement?
Ms Beauchamp —No, thank you, Chair.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, did the government cut a special deal or make special arrangements with the Tamil refugees who held the Oceanic Viking to ransom for a full month in order to induce them to leave the Australian Customs vehicle?
Senator Ludwig —Are we dealing with the Office of the Coordinator-General first or is that a broad question within the Office of the Coordinator-General? I am not sure that it actually falls in there. Some of those questions are obviously in relation to immigration or border protection matters and they would be more appropriately dealt with in the Attorney-General portfolio.
CHAIR —What tends to happen is that we deal with general questions. I remind senators that these are general questions relating to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It is the wish of the committee to go through general questions rather than go through outcome by outcome, if that is helpful to the officers.
Senator Ludwig —Did you want to start to that question again?
Senator RONALDSON —Did the government cut a special deal—
Senator Ludwig —No, clearly it did not.
Senator RONALDSON —You are completely sure about that?
Senator Ludwig —I am clear about that.
Senator RONALDSON —I then follow on from that. On 13 January this year, Senator Evans was quoted as saying what confirms that there was a special deal done regarding these asylum seekers:
Senator Evans cited Australia’s deal with Jakarta to resettle the Tamils within four to 12 weeks, provided they agreed to end their month-long standoff on the Australian Customs vessel.
Is that not a special arrangement or a deal?
Senator Ludwig —As I have indicated, there is no special deal.
Senator RONALDSON —And why did the Australian on 13 January, at the same time, run an article under the headline ‘ASIO warning ignored for deal on Tamil refugees’ that stated:
THE Rudd government approved the transfer to Australia of four Tamil refugees deemed to be a security threat while they were in detention in Indonesia to honour Canberra’s special resettlement deal with Jakarta.
Senator Ludwig —You might have to ask the Australian that. I can only tell you the information I have.
Senator RONALDSON —I will return to this large number of quotes. On 19 November, the Australian article from Paul Maley said:
KEVIN Rudd is refusing to say who on his staff attended key committee meetings at which a deal preferential to the 78 asylum-seekers aboard the Oceanic Viking was hammered out.
With the standoff drawing to a close last night, the Prime Minister’s office yesterday refused to give details about the high-level border protection committee of cabinet, which set the terms of the deal that will see successful refugees resettled within four to 12 weeks.
Senator Evans was quoted in the same article as saying in relation to the border protection subcommittee:
The meetings have obviously been frequent and that group was responsible for finalising the details of the arrangements to be put in place.
“There were, at various times, staff from the Prime Minister’s office at meetings of the border protection committee and with ministers as we finalised those details …
Was an agreement reached by the border protection committee of cabinet in relation to these matters?
Senator Ludwig —I think that, if you are asking about the deliberations of a cabinet, you would know from being both in opposition and, previously, in government that those matters are, of course, cabinet-in-confidence. It would be unusual for me to go into the specifics of any matters that might have been discussed in those in-cabinet meetings.
Senator RONALDSON —We have Senator Evans acknowledging that there was a deal done provided they agreed to end their month-long standoff. I then take you to the Australian’s correspondent in Jakarta, Stephen Fitzpatrick, again reporting in the Australian that Indonesian authorities found it necessary to segregate the Oceanic Viking asylum seekers from other immigration detainees at the Tanjung Pinang detention centre because:
Amongst these other inmates, however, there is growing anger at the special deal done to get the Tamils off the Oceanic Viking, including resettlement in Australia within a month …
Were you aware of that?
Senator Ludwig —I am slightly at a disadvantage if you are going to quote from a document that I have not seen. Perhaps you could make it available to the table.
Senator RONALDSON —I have all the press clippings here to give to the minister. You are representing the Prime Minister, so I assume that you were provided with a brief in relation to this matter.
Senator Ludwig —You are asking the question.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, I am asking the question. Were you provided with a brief about this matter in preparation for estimates?
Senator Ludwig —In respect of the issues surrounding border protection, yes. There are briefs that are provided as part of that, and I will answer the questions that you have put, but I did want to ensure that the matters that you were quoting from were quoted in context as well. That is clearly why I asked for the clippings. I am pleased that you have been able to second-guess that request.
Senator RONALDSON —I think you will find they are all in context; otherwise I would not have asked them. In that same article Fitzpatrick quoted an Afghan man held in an Australian funded immigration detention facility to the following effect:
“We’ve been here seven months, and some of the boys have only now been registered (with the UNHCR), and half of the people have not been interviewed, but in less than one week (the Oceanic Viking Sri Lankans) have been interviewed and registration is going on. So everyone is feeling jealous.”
In the 30 January edition of the Canberra Times there is another report saying that hunger-striking Tamil detainees on Christmas Island have:
… made a sign comparing their six-month detention with the six-week processing for those onboard the Oceanic Viking, who struck a deal with the Federal Government after refusing to disembark from the vessel in Indonesian waters.
Are you also familiar with a column written by Paul Kelly that appeared on 18 November 2009 under the headline ‘Rudd is treating us like mugs’? In that column Kelly described the Oceanic Viking deal this way:
Yet the terms set out by the Minister-Counsellor Immigration in the Jakarta embassy, Jim O’Callaghan, to the asylum seekers suggests a set of detailed special arrangements. They were authorised by the Rudd government’s border protection committee of cabinet chaired by Immigration Minister Chris Evans.
Senator Ludwig —Is there a question in all of that, or are you just reading out the press clippings?
Senator RONALDSON —You asked for the press clippings and I have them there. You can have a look at them and see whether I have taken it out of context.
Senator Ludwig —I understand that. I have the press clippings now and I certainly indicated that there are briefs in respect of the issue you have raised. If you want to go to questions, I suspect we can deal with them as we can.
Senator RONALDSON —Why would Paul Kelly, do you think—
Senator Ludwig —I am not going to offer an opinion.
Senator RONALDSON —put an article under the headline ‘Rudd is treating us—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Why would Paul Kelly?
Senator Ludwig —I am not going to offer an opinion as to why Paul Kelly has written something.
Senator RONALDSON —If my colleagues want to attack Paul Kelly’s professionalism—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —No, we do not.
Senator RONALDSON —then that, quite frankly, is up to them.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —It is the quality of your questioning that is at issue.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Kelly has been across the road and upstairs for many years now, and I do not think his reputation needs to be attacked by some of the people round this table.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Point of order, Chair: once again, Senator Ronaldson is putting words in the mouths of other senators. There was no attack on Paul Kelly. If anything is at issue at the moment it is the quality of a certain senator’s questioning.
CHAIR —I remind senators that questioners will gain some knowledge from the answers. I remind senators that it is disorderly to interject. Senator Ronaldson, you have the call.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you for your protection again, Madam Chair, which I am always very grateful for when I get these unprovoked attacks on me and on the professionalism of those in the gallery.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, have you got a question?
Senator RONALDSON —I would like to again put to you, Minister—
Senator CAMERON —You just keep letting him go! This is good!
Senator RONALDSON —The penny cracker throwers bob up occasionally, don’t they? They throw in a penny cracker and then head off to do something else. I want now to turn to this cabinet subcommittee. We are aware that its members include the foreign minister, the defence minister, the Attorney-General and the home affairs minister, Brendan O’Connor. Mr Lewis, you are on that committee as well, aren’t you?
Mr Lewis —No, I am not on the subcommittee of cabinet. Only ministers appear as members of the committee.
Senator RONALDSON —Do you advise the committee?
Mr Lewis —I am one of the officials that regularly attend that committee.
Senator RONALDSON —You are not on the committee but you advise the committee.
Mr Lewis —I attend the committee meetings.
Senator RONALDSON —You attend the committee? That is good. There was an article on 19 November in the Australian by Paul Maley. I will read this out, and you will see it there, Minister:
KEVIN Rudd is refusing to say who on his staff attended key committee meetings at which a deal preferential to the 78 asylum-seekers aboard the Oceanic Viking was hammered out.
With the standoff drawing to a close last night, the Prime Minister’s office yesterday refused to give details about the high-level border protection committee of cabinet, which set the terms of the deal that will see successful refugees resettled within four to 12 weeks.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge of the deal, although he has acknowledged his staff were represented at the committee meetings that considered it.
The Prime Minister so far has refused to reveal the names of these staff, and that is in the face of questions from the media as to who they were. Minister, would you—or Mr Lewis, who was clearly present at these meetings—please tell the committee who of the Prime Minister’s staff were present at those meetings that were discussing the special deal for the Tamils on the Oceanic Viking.
Senator Ludwig —Just to correct you, there was no special deal and there is no need to put a loaded question. I will answer the question. In terms of whether it is appropriate, I think you went through a range of ministers that may or may not have been present. I am sure you have got that from the media. But while it may be appropriate, for example, to disclose whether or not a minister or a staffer was present at a particular meeting—if, for argument’s sake, a conflict of interested had been alleged—as a general rule, whether ministerial staff were present at any particular meeting is not a matter of legitimate interest to a parliamentary committee. Ministerial staff are accountable to their ministers rather than to the parliament.
Senator RONALDSON —With the greatest respect, I will make that decision about whether it is of interest to me or not. What you choose to do with my questioning in relation to that, of course, is a matter for you.
Senator Ludwig —I can say again that I think I have answered your question.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, are you going to provide me with the details of the Prime Minister’s staff who attended those meetings?
Senator Ludwig —What I have said is that you can imagine a circumstance where it might be appropriate to disclose whether or not a minister or a staffer was present at a particular meeting—if a conflict of interest had been alleged—but that, as a general rule, whether ministerial staff were present at any particular meeting is not a matter of legitimate interest to a parliamentary committee. Ministerial staff are accountable to their ministers rather than to the parliament.
Senator RONALDSON —It is of legitimate interest to this committee because I have put to you that the Prime Minister has denied that there was any arrangement made, but he has refused to say who were his staff members at that committee. It absolutely beggars belief that this Prime Minister, who micromanages government as we have never seen from any Prime Minister from any political party in the past, was not aware of the discussions within the border protection committee of cabinet if his senior staff were there. I am asking you: who were the staff members from the Prime Minister’s office present at that committee meeting or those committee meetings?
Senator Ludwig —The first part was not a question. The second part, which did go to a question, I have already answered twice now.
Senator RONALDSON —I will put it to you, Minister. In fact, I will go back to that. I refer you to a speech by the Prime Minister on 20 November last year. It was the Institute of Public Administration Australia’s Sir Robert Garran Oration in Brisbane, and it was called ‘Equipping the Australian Public Service for Australia’s future challenges’. I quote from that speech.
Senator Ludwig —Do I have it?
Senator RONALDSON —No, but I am happy to give it to you.
Senator Ludwig —That would be helpful.
Senator RONALDSON —I am sure that someone sitting behind you will have a copy of the speech in Brisbane on 20 November, but you can trust me that I am reading from the speech. This is what he said:
Transparency will not always be comfortable—but it is essential for accountability and improved outcomes.
I put it to you that the Prime Minister preaches one thing in speeches such as the Sir Robert Garran Oration, but when it comes to quite simple questions about who on his staff were present at the border protection committee of cabinet you refuse to answer it and the Prime Minister refuses to answer it. The names of those people will answer the one question that is unanswered, and this is the question: did the Prime Minister know—
Senator Ludwig —So the first part was the statement—
Senator RONALDSON —about this arrangement? If you tell this committee and you tell the community who the staff members were, then we can make a value judgment about whether indeed the openness, transparency and knowledge that has been referred to earlier is correct or otherwise.
Senator Ludwig —What I have indicated is an answer—twice now but I can tell you again—that in terms of—it is a general rule, and you have adhered to this rule in the past yourselves, and it also goes to the issue of cabinet collective responsibility—ministerial staff, they are accountable to the ministers, not to parliament. So it is legitimate for you to ask questions around ministers. It is legitimate for you to ask questions that go to substance, but it is not appropriate in these circumstances to ask about particular individuals who are staffers.
Senator RONALDSON —There are collective responsibilities and there is also collective deception. I am putting it to you that the public has the right to know who was present at those meetings, about which Minister Evans quite clearly in a public sense said occurred. Mr Lewis, who were the representatives from the Prime Minister’s staff at those meetings that you attended as an official?
Mr Lewis —I think the minister has answered that question.
Senator RONALDSON —Has he—what did he say? What is your interpretation of what he said?
Mr Lewis —What ministerial staff attend or do not attend is something that is to be directed at ministers. They have no responsibility to me, nor I to them.
Senator RONALDSON —You know who was there, don’t you? You were there; you know who was there, don’t you?
Mr Lewis —I cannot refer to the specific meetings. I do not know.
Senator RONALDSON —You know who was there from the Prime Minister’s office, don’t you?
Senator Ludwig —I have already answered the question but, if you want to go to avoiding scrutiny, if you recall you hid the government—and then the secretariat in the House of Representatives—to avoid scrutiny. If you want to go to the opaqueness with which your government did it, let me also say that this government—
Senator RONALDSON —We have fallen back to the old, previous government defence, have we?
Senator Ludwig —I have tried to help you—
Senator RONALDSON —It is like something out of Maxwell Smart, isn’t it?
Senator Ludwig —I have tried to assist you by pointing out that this is a matter which remains cabinet in confidence as it goes to the deliberations of ministers, and to that extent I have answered the question.
Senator RONALDSON —Okay. Do you acknowledge that there was intense media and community interest in the events around the Oceanic Viking?
Senator Ludwig —Can you say that again. You can ask me a question; I am just not sure that I can acknowledge the question, so if you want to turn it into a question I am happy to try to assist.
Senator RONALDSON —It is a question, a quite clear question. Do you acknowledge that there was considerable media and community interest in the circumstances surrounding the Oceanic Viking?
Senator Ludwig —To the extent that there was some media interest, as evidenced by the Media Monitors clips you have provided, I can answer that from what you have given me. Other than that, it would be speculative on my behalf to say.
Senator RONALDSON —I cannot work out whether the understatement of that situation is through memory loss or through a desire for the thing to be well and truly passed over, but my clear recollection is that—
Senator Ludwig —It is a broad question. I think the answer—
Senator RONALDSON —It was probably on every news service most nights. It was probably featured in enormous media commentary in line with some of which I have given you today and it was a real issue for your government.
Senator Ludwig —If you let me answer, the general answer would be yes, but objectively speaking, I think.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, do you acknowledge that if senior members of the Prime Minister’s staff were present at these cabinet subcommittee border protection meetings it would make the prime minister’s vehement denials that he was aware of any deal look very, very parlous indeed?
Senator Ludwig —You are asking me to provide you an answer subjectively. I am happy to answer factual questions that you might want to ask but, as you are aware, I have indicated an answer to the original question, which I think you are now trying to circle the wagon on.
Senator RONALDSON —Before I pass to one of my colleagues, there was a further report. We have, of course, the denial that there is a deal—but we have an acknowledgement that there was a subcommittee of cabinet which actually met and thrashed out a deal which was subsequently put into place. We have acknowledgement from Minister Evans that there was a deal done, and we have a whole lot of people who were not on the Oceanic Viking protesting that there had been a deal done and they were being treated entirely differently to anyone else. I just want to take you again to the Australian on 20 January this year.
Senator CAMERON —If theAustralian closes down the Libs have had it. They would never have a question—there will never be a question at estimates.
Senator RONALDSON —I am not entirely sure what you read actually, Senator. I suspect they are probably small books with very, very big writing.
Senator CAMERON —Oh yeah—what about you?
Senator RONALDSON —But maybe you do occasionally read it.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, put your question.
Senator CAMERON —Maybe you should start there, we might see some competence—
Senator RONALDSON —With a couple of bears bouncing around eating porridge, I suspect that would just about equal your—
Senator CAMERON —Maybe you should start there.
CHAIR —Senator Cameron! Senator Ronaldson has the call.
Senator CAMERON —Because your performance has been absolutely pathetic.
Senator RONALDSON —A couple of chairs and a couple of other things to the cry of ‘there’s a bear in there.’
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson! You have the call.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. I keep on getting interrupted.
CHAIR —Yes, and as I suggested earlier, just ask the question.
Senator CAMERON —Ask for the questions in big letters.
CHAIR —I ask Senators to cease their interjections.
Senator RONALDSON —In theAustralian on 20 January, which should be in the pack you have there, was an article from Brendan Nicholson. I would have thought that Brendan Nicholson is someone who would have the respect of the great bulk of people around this table. It said:
NEW ZEALAND has changed its mind after a top-level appeal from Australia and agreed to take 13 of the 78 Sri Lankan refugees involved in the lengthy standoff aboard the Australian Customs vessel Oceanic Viking.
The New Zealand government said yesterday that it opted to accept the refugees after “discussions at a prime ministerial level”.
All roads lead to a deal. Why would it be that so many respected Australian journalists have pointed to this as a deal? Why is it that you have their view of life, your view of life and the government’s view of life which, regrettably for you, I think is somewhat tarnished by the constant failure to acknowledge who was there from the Prime Minister’s office. You know and I know that if it were senior personnel from his office, then this notion that the Prime Minister knew nothing about this deal does not stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever.
Senator Ludwig —We are not conducting Media Watch. That seems to be what you are now doing, but if there is a question that you would like to direct to the officials or me, please feel free.
Senator RONALDSON —No, it is not Media Watch—you are absolutely right, and that I agree with. It is not Media Watch, it is actually about the integrity of your government.
Senator CAMERON —Imagine you lot talking about integrity in government!
Senator RONALDSON —To quote from the speech from the Prime Minister:
Transparency will not always be comfortable, but it is essential for accountability and improved outcomes.
Thank you, Chair. I will defer to one of my colleagues.
Senator PAYNE —I may have to seek your and the committee’s indulgence, Madam Chair, given I am exploring a policy area which I have not previously done in these estimates before. So if I am directing questions to the wrong person or asking in the wrong spot, I know Senator Ludwig and his officers will tell the soon enough.
My questions in the first instance are related to COAG. May I ask a couple of questions, first of all, about the last two COAG meetings in 2009—the July meeting held in Darwin and the December meeting held in Brisbane. Can you advise the committee the total cost of the federal government for the Darwin meeting?
Dr Grimes —I do not have those figures available right here, but we might see if there is an officer who may have those figures for you. We will have to take those questions on notice.
Senator PAYNE —Mr Grimes, when you do provide a response to that, can you on notice to advise us the breakdown in relation to catering to functions, transport, accommodation, and staff numbers—I will not go to names after the last discussion—from each of the Prime Minister’s and the Treasurer’s offices federally, and to numbers of departmental advisers who attended? Can you also advise whether in relation to the most recent meeting held in Queensland, I think at their parliament house, whether the federal government made any contribution to cost for the Queensland government that they may have incurred in hosting that? I understand the Commonwealth bears its own costs, but was any additional contribution made to the costs to the Queensland government? I assume at this point you are not able to tell me whether what number of staff attended from the Prime Minister’s office?
Dr Grimes —No, I would not be able to advise you on that.
Senator PAYNE —If you can get me that information, please, and an indication of the roles of those staff?
Dr Grimes —We can take the questions that you are asking on notice and see what information we can provide.
Senator PAYNE —Similarly in relation to the Treasurer: the number of staff that accompanied the federal Treasurer and what role they carried out?
Dr Grimes —It may be made up more appropriate to ask a question of that sort in the estimates for the Treasury.
Senator PAYNE —Are those costs borne by Treasury or by PM&C?
Dr Grimes —Matters that go to Treasury officials attending COAG and advisers to the Treasurer would be more appropriately directed towards Treasury.
Senator PAYNE —Okay, but I am not sure that that is an answer, though, to the question I just asked. Where are the costs borne?
Dr Grimes —If you want us to take on notice whether we bore any costs in PM&C, I am not aware of us contributing any costs.
Senator PAYNE —All right. Thank you. Mr Grimes, can you give the committee a comparison of the costs for those two meetings compared to costs for the meetings held in 2008?
Dr Grimes —We can take it on notice.
Senator PAYNE —Yes, I understand.
Dr Grimes —I am not sure if all of the information will be available?
Senator PAYNE —Sorry, Madam Chair?
Senator CAMERON —I said, ‘Wake me up when this is finished.’
CHAIR —Just continue, Senator Payne.
Senator PAYNE —I am not sure how I would tell the difference from usual, but there we are.
Senator CAMERON —You will know.
CHAIR —Senator Payne, ignore the interjection and continue.
Senator PAYNE —Thank you, Madam Chair. Mr Grimes, can you tell the committee when the next COAG meeting will be held?
Dr Grimes —The date for the next COAG meeting has not yet been set.
Senator PAYNE —Has the location been set?
Dr Grimes —No, the location has not been set for the next COAG meeting, either.
Senator PAYNE —Can you tell the committee whether it will be in the first quarter of 2010?
Dr Grimes —No, these are matters that are under consideration by the government.
Senator PAYNE —The second quarter?
Dr Grimes —I am unable to give you any advice on dates for the next COAG meeting, but there will obviously be a COAG meeting in due course and advice will be provided at that time.
Senator PAYNE —Do you expect that there will be a meeting held in 2010?
Dr Grimes —Yes I do indeed expect there will be a meeting held in 2010.
Senator PAYNE —Can I ask about costs in relation to the COAG Reform Council. Is it appropriate to ask in this area?
Ms Beauchamp —The secretariat advised us not to bring down officers from the COAG Reform Council—
Senator PAYNE —I do not think I need officers; I just have questions around the operation of the Reform Council.
Ms Beauchamp —We will see what we can do.
Senator PAYNE —Are they funded out of PM&C?
Ms Beauchamp —Yes, they are part of the PM&C department.
Senator Ludwig —Apparently they were not called as a subprogram.
Senator PAYNE —I understand that.
Senator Ludwig —Correct me if I am wrong, Chair, but when that happens you even have difficulty asking questions or putting them on notice because the output is not here. Is the output here?
Ms Beauchamp —Yes.
Senator Ludwig —Well then we are safe.
Senator PAYNE —I thought that it still fitted in, but I did not need to bring the Reform Council away from what I imagine is a very busy workload given the program they appear to have set down for themselves by 30 June.
Senator Ludwig —Saved by having the output here then.
Senator PAYNE —I understand there was recent advertising for staff recruitment in the COAG Reform Council. Can you advise what the total cost of that was to PM&C?
Ms Beauchamp —Those costs are borne by the COAG Reform Council. It is part of our budget and those questions should be directed to the COAG Reform Council.
Senator PAYNE —Can you explain to me their funding arrangements? As I said, you may need to bear with me momentarily, as may my colleagues, in this process. They are funded by PM&C with a global budget. Is that how that works?
Ms Beauchamp —Yes.
Senator PAYNE —And from their global budget they fund things like the recruitment process and things like that?
Ms Beauchamp —They normally would fund the cost of recruitment of staff to the COAG Reform Council, yes.
Senator PAYNE —So when you say ‘normally would fund’ would there be occasions where they would not?
Ms Beauchamp —If there was cross-portfolio requirements for particular positions then we would cost share those.
Senator PAYNE —So in the advertisements which were advertised in the APS Gazette in October, were there any cross-portfolio requirements in those?
Ms Beauchamp —I would have to take those specifically on notice.
Senator PAYNE —Could you do that for me please?
Ms Beauchamp —Yes.
Senator PAYNE —Could you also find out for me in relation to that advertising—is it appropriate to put these questions on notice here and now or would you like that done in a different way?
Ms Beauchamp —I am happy to put them on the Notice Paper now.
Senator PAYNE —Okay. So could you advise the committee what was the total cost to PM&C within the constraints of the budget of the COAG Reform Council? I understand it was for advertisements, travel for applicants to attend interviews and so on. Were the employment opportunities advertised anywhere other than the Gazette? If so, where, how many occasions and to what cost?
Ms Beauchamp —Can I just confirm, Senator: that is specifically in relation to COAG Reform Council appointments?
Senator PAYNE —Yes. The advertisements concerned positions for senior advisers, advisers, analysts and so on, which I assume go to the expansion and staffing of the COAG Reform Council. The application, as I read the URL at least, was to PM&C.nga.net.au/fnt_jobs_list.cfm. I did not read that as being through the COAG Reform Council, but perhaps I misunderstood that. Can you also advise us then how many applications were received for each position, how many were eventually recruited and whether they have commenced work? How many of those at each level?
Ms Beauchamp —Can I just confirm that this level of detail really is one for the COAG Reform Council. My apologies for having to take it on notice.
Senator PAYNE —There is no need to apologise. I am very definitely learning in this space. Can you advise who makes the final decisions in relation to selection of candidates? Is there any input from the states in relation to that process given the nature of the CRC?
Ms Beauchamp —I will have to take that on notice.
Senator PAYNE —You are not aware of the answer to that?
Ms Beauchamp —No.
Senator PAYNE —Would you expect that the states would have any involvement in the recruitment process?
Ms Beauchamp —I would have thought that in the setting up of the COAG Reform Council a lot of those responsibilities would have been delegated to the CEO.
Senator PAYNE —Okay. Are you able to give the committee any information about where any of the reports of the Reform Council are up to?
Ms Beauchamp —That would depend on which reports you refer to.
Senator PAYNE —The one that was due to be provided to COAG by 31 December on the NPA on delivery of a seamless national economy.
Dr Grimes —The timing of the release of that report is something that is in the hands of the CRC, but I would be anticipating that CRC would be releasing that report in the not-too-distant future. But again, as Ms Beauchamp has indicated, we do not have the officers here from the CRC to answer that question for you directly.
Senator PAYNE —So does that mean, Dr Grimes, that the report has not been received by COAG, notwithstanding the date laid down of 31 December?
Dr Grimes —My understanding is the report has been received by governments, but it is subject to embargo until it is released by the CRC itself.
Senator PAYNE —Is that the usual process, Dr Grimes? Are those matters usually in the hands of the CRC rather than the recipient governments?
Dr Grimes —Yes, that is my understanding.
Senator PAYNE —Thank you very much. If there are further questions that I want to put on notice in relation to those issues around the Reform Council, Chair, I will do that, and I appreciate the officers’ guidance. Can we go to the review of COAG decisions since 2007? The communique from 2009 indicates:
COAG also reviewed the implementation of its other decisions since … 2007 and found that the majority are being implemented as agreed, with actions being taken to address the small minority of initiatives experiencing problems.
It also said:
COAG also agreed that all First Ministers would closely monitor the ongoing implementation of COAG initiatives and that Senior Officials would review progress with any initiatives that are experiencing implementation problems or delays.
Is it possible to advise the committee which COAG initiatives were determined to be those initiatives experiencing problems by that statement?
Dr Grimes —I would have to take that on notice. It would be a matter handled through COAG, but I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator PAYNE —In addition to that, Dr Grimes, can you determine for the committee if it is possible to identify for us what the problems are that have been identified and come back to the committee about that?
Dr Grimes —We would certainly take on notice those areas that you have referred to specifically that COAG had examined and provide you with some further information if we can.
Senator PAYNE —The review of processes to reduce implementation difficulties, and I heard the minister’s earlier statements about the Office of the Coordinator-General. The senior officials who are undertaking that review, will the Office of the Coordinator-General, as it continues, work with them in any way?
Dr Grimes —To the extent that the programs might relate to programs overseen by the Office of the Coordinator-General then I expect indeed the Office of the Coordinator-General would participate. The process of review is an ongoing process.
Senator PAYNE —Do you know whether any feedback has yet been received by COAG or the Prime Minister regarding this monitoring and progress review?
Dr Grimes —Senator, as you pointed out the work that is referred to in the communique was work to be commissioned in the future. So that is work that is just commencing now in each of the jurisdictions and we expect that there will be meetings of officials at both the Commonwealth and state level to review programs, identify where there are any problems with implementation of programs and bring that back to COAG for consideration. As you would appreciate, the National Reform Agenda is really a huge agenda and there are always going to be some areas where the program of reforms needs to be amended or recalibrated.
Senator PAYNE —So what time frame would you expect that review process to operate over?
Dr Grimes —I expect it is going to be an ongoing process, but with periodic reports back to COAG. That is how I would have envisaged the process working.
Senator PAYNE —In terms of these sorts of issues, and for that matter other matters that have come out of COAG, are matters such as this settled in any cases by correspondence rather than through the formal meeting process?
Dr Grimes —It is possible in the future, if there were some minor changes that would require that they could be settled through correspondence between the members of COAG. I am not foreshadowing a particular proposal at all but that would be possible. More typically, proposals would come forward to COAG for consideration in session. But there is no reason why COAG cannot decide and determine in some cases that a matter is to be dealt with out of session by COAG.
Senator PAYNE —If that happens how does it become part of the public record if it is not, for example, part of a communique or a report?
Dr Grimes —I am really speculating here on things for the future, but typically it would be handled through the normal arrangements for the management of a program. If there were changes to that program there would be announcements made. I do not imagine that this would be something shrouded in great mystery given the fact that it involves various levels of government across the country.
Senator PAYNE —I think sometimes the impenetrable nature of these discussions means that there is a perception they may be shrouded in mystery but in the transparent regime in which we currently operate we would hope that would not be the case, of course. Can you tell the committee what the number one COAG priority is for 2010?
Dr Grimes —I would not presume, as an official, to say what the number one priority for COAG is. Clearly, COAG has a number of significant priorities on its agenda this year.
Senator PAYNE —Minister, can you tell the committee what the number one priority for COAG is for 2010?
Senator Ludwig —I think towards the council, it may be better if we called them so that we could then question them. As you heard last Thursday, Minister Evans indicated that health was clearly one of the top priorities—
Senator PAYNE —Not until he got an interjection from the other side of the chamber.
Senator Ludwig —To that extent, yes—you would hear a lot from where I sit. Broadly, to try to answer the question, ‘What is the top priority’: I think COAG has an extraordinarily busy agenda. It is dealing with a broad range of issues, including health. Clearly, health is an important issue, as indicated both in the chamber and here today.
Senator PAYNE —So you have tagged health there for me, Minister?
Senator Ludwig —No, I have indicated in answer to your question that it is certainly in my view one of the top issues that COAG is currently dealing with but not the only issue. To characterise it as the one issue really underlies what COAG is about and the work that it is doing.
Senator PAYNE —I think that is probably a fair observation—that the devil is in the detail—but that is what happens when you try to be all things to all people and have six, seven, eight, 10 or 12 number one priorities. That is what confuses people when they get confused between health and national freight transport, for example, or Indigenous disadvantage or education or the seamless national economy. This is why it is interesting to the community and to certain members of this committee at least to try and determine where the priorities actually sit. In fact, your former Labor colleague, the former Victorian premier, Mr Bracks, said in September last year that the reform agenda of COAG is too big and ‘probably too much all at once in terms of the COAG reform agenda’ Is that something which the federal government has contemplated and intends to address?
Senator Ludwig —It is something that I have not personally had a look at but in the work that COAG is doing we can walk and chew gum at the same time. There is a broad agenda and this government is getting on with that broad agenda. We can outline individual programs within it and we have got officials at the table that can take you through some of the detail but I think it is important to reiterate here that COAG is the appropriate vehicle. We need to ensure that in delivering services, including health services and a range of others that you have outlined, we have a forum and an ability to work with the states and the federal government to achieve outcomes. This government is focused on outcomes.
Senator PAYNE —The coalition is focused on outcomes as well, which is what leads us to some of these questions. Can you advise the committee of the process that pertains to post-COAG meetings? Are minutes of meetings sent to the attendees or is the communique the only record of discussion?
Dr Grimes —My understanding is there is also a record of the meeting which is in-confidence to COAG.
Senator PAYNE —To go to the beginning of the process, can you advise how the agenda is determined from meeting to meeting? Is the agenda determined by the Commonwealth or is there a consultation process with the states?
Dr Grimes —It is a very consultative process. COAG very much operates on a collaborative basis. Before any meeting, there would typically be one or more meetings of senior officials—heads of first ministers’ departments—who would run through items for the agenda and discuss the shape and form of the agenda. Clearly, the members of COAG themselves would have views on that agenda and may indeed communicate with the chair of COAG, who is the Prime Minister, on their proposals for the agenda.
Senator PAYNE —So are those meetings of senior officials to determine that shape and the form of that agenda underway for the next meeting of COAG?
Dr Grimes —They are to assist with settling the agenda. This is very much an ongoing process right throughout, where discussions are occurring between first ministers’ officials constantly through the year. Even in recent times, we have conducted discussions with colleagues on the forward work program for the year ahead. But, as I indicated previously, agendas for the next COAG meeting have not yet been set.
Senator PAYNE —So what would be the usual lead time before a COAG meeting before an agenda is set?
Dr Grimes —I am not sure that I would be able to say that there is a specific usual time frame at all. I do not know whether Mr Perry would be able to add anything to that, but I am not aware of a typical lead time, because it depends very much on the issues of the day.
Senator PAYNE —So, as the process of the shape and form of the agenda progresses, does it involve staff from the Prime Minister’s office and the various offices of the premiers as well, is it at a departmental level as well or is it both?
Dr Grimes —Those discussions will typically happen at departmental level. There are officials meetings that occur rather than meetings. They are attended by ministers’ staff. Clearly, officials in all jurisdictions will be seeking guidance from their respective governments, as we do in the Commonwealth, on priorities for the agenda. That process will involve discussions with ministers and, by its very nature, there may be some involvement by advisers, but only in the normal role that an adviser would play.
Senator PAYNE —I am not sure what that is in this context. A ‘normal role that any adviser would play’, I suspect, differs, as my colleague Senator Ronaldson was pursuing earlier. Are the consultations across all the states and territories?
Dr Grimes —Yes.
Senator PAYNE —In relation to COAG’s dealing with CRC reports, not the CRC themselves, they got, for example, two reports in December—one on the national education agreement and the other on the national agreement for skills and workforce development. In the communique from December, the references were very brief for what are quite considerable reports and very important issues. They were received two months before the COAG meeting. How long does COAG spend discussing the findings of those sorts of reports at a COAG meeting?
Dr Grimes —These reports, as you pointed out, were received before the COAG meeting itself. They went through a process of developing papers for COAG to consider between officials, including areas where further action could be taken, and that process took place in the lead-up to the meeting itself. When it comes to talking about the time that various reports are considered for, I do not have a record of time for each of the agenda items in a COAG meeting, but suffice to say very considerable effort goes into examining reports from the CRC and in preparing responses to those. These of course are very early reports from the CRC so were very much focused on establishing baselines for assessing performance. As you point out, they are large reports. But most of the recommendations, from memory, go to areas of quite technical data issues that would benefit from some improvement for future assessments by the CRC.
Senator PAYNE —Would the communique benefit from a slightly more vigorous observation than that of ‘welcoming’ the report? It is hard to determine what was actually done with the report when all one reads is that it was welcomed.
Dr Grimes —I do not think it is for me as an official to provide an ongoing commentary on the COAG communique. But suffice to say the communique—I have a copy of it here—is 23 pages long, so it is quite an extensive communique covering a large number of items.
Senator PAYNE —I think there is a difference between ‘extensive’ and ‘informative’, although that is merely an observation. What happens to the reports after they are ‘welcomed’ at COAG?
Dr Grimes —In the case of these reports, I think the report indicated areas where data could be improved and it also indicates that there would be a number of recommendations regarding how these areas should be addressed which, it then goes on to say, COAG has accepted. So the communique itself indicates that there were recommendations made by the CRC that had been accepted by COAG and now those recommendations would be in the process of being implemented either in the Commonwealth or in the states and territories as appropriate.
Senator PAYNE —Can you give the committee some guidance as to where one goes to then pursue that to the end of the process, because it goes on to talk about the states’ and territories’ trajectory and what they are doing, and then the council reporting on attainment towards those targets once they are agreed. How is it possible to follow that process through as an observer?
Dr Grimes —Most importantly, this is going to be an ongoing process of assessment by the CRC. So the CRC is going to make further reports on progress over time. So, indeed, probably the best reference point for you is the CRC itself. Having said that, clearly there will be recommendations that have implications for various departments and agencies and they can be followed up in the normal way. But if you wanted to have a single point where the work is coming together, then CRC would be the appropriate body to refer to.
Senator PAYNE —Can I ask Madam Chair if you are leaving COAG?
Senator PAYNE —That is an interesting question.
CHAIR —We are dealing with COAG and then after you I am going to Senator Cameron. Please continue if you have more questions.
Senator PAYNE —I have a few more questions on a couple of the NPAs under COAG and some questions on public discussions that have been had recently on possible referenda questions.
CHAIR —We will deal with COAG and after you have finished we will go to Senator Cameron. Then we will go back to you and then we are due to go to Senator Fielding and then back to Senator Ronaldson.
Senator PAYNE —Going to the NPA on the Seamless National Economy, perhaps an officer could advise me if I am asking these questions in the right place.
Dr Grimes —Until we know what the questions are, we cannot be sure, but we are happy for you to ask some questions and we will see if we are able to assist.
Senator Ludwig —If we are not in a position to answer it because relevant officials are not here you can see whether or not you would like us to take it on notice.
Senator PAYNE —Be gentle. Under this NPA, we have 27 deregulation reform priorities, eight for competition reform and a significant commitment to develop and enhance existing processes for regulation reviews. Are you able to give us in a nutshell a status report, if you like, of how those reforms are progressing and particularly which have been delayed and whether there are any implementation problems?
Dr Grimes —I can probably give you a very broad picture, but I would not have the details here to answer any specific questions. As you noted before, the CRC has completed a report in this area. I have indicated that it is my understanding that the CRC will be releasing that report shortly, so the answer to many of your questions may be provided there. My general assessment and understanding is that the reforms are progressing well at this stage. It is still an early stage for many of those reforms, as you would understand. But generally progress is good. One of the reasons why I make that assessment is indeed in this COAG communique. From memory, there are a number of areas where further progress was made on delivering seamless national economy reforms. But the assessment by the CRC—and you would appreciate that it is not for me to pre-empt the release of that information—will be a good source of information for you and the community on progress up to the point at which the report was prepared.
Senator PAYNE —This might not be a matter for you, Dr Grimes, but for the minister. We had the benefit in December of a report in the Australian Financial Review on a leaked copy of the CRC report on this matter, which said among other things that it concluded in its initial draft report on the seamless national economy work stream for 2008-09 that the good news could be overwhelmed by the bad. Minister, is it your understanding in relation to this matter that at least half of the 27 regulatory matters are either behind schedule, at risk of delay or at serious risk of failure? Is that correct?
Senator Ludwig —I do not think that I am going to comment on an apparent article, which I will not ask you for—
Senator PAYNE —You are certainly welcome to it.
Senator Ludwig —that indicates that there is a leaked report available to a journalist. If you have it there, I might have a look at the particular note.
Senator PAYNE —If as Dr Grimes suggests the report—the release of which is imminent—says that things are going very well, that would appear to be quite distinct from what was in the draft that the AFR reports on in that article, Minister.
Senator Ludwig —Sorry; I was just reading the article. Was there a question?
Senator PAYNE —Dr Grimes helpfully indicated that he thought that when the CRC report was published that we would find things were going along very well. That would appear to be in contradistinction to the draft report referred to in that article from December of last year.
Senator Ludwig —I might see if Dr Grimes wants to add anything to that. As I understand it—and I am not going to comment on a leaked draft report—
Senator PAYNE —You have in previous incarnations, Minister, but I do not expect you to these days.
Senator Ludwig —Thank you for that.
Dr Grimes —My understanding is that the report that you are referring was a report written prior to the completion of the report.
Senator PAYNE —That is why it is called the draft.
Dr Grimes —The newspaper report was written prior to the completion of the CRC report.
Senator PAYNE —Yes, I understand that.
Dr Grimes —As I have indicated, that report is going to be released very shortly. As I may have indicated previously, it is not appropriate for me to speculate on—
Senator PAYNE —That is why I was asking the minister.
Dr Grimes —an assessment by the CRC. But it will be released shortly.
Senator PAYNE —That is why I was asking the minister.
Senator Ludwig —I am in the same position. I am not going to speculate on a report that has not been released.
Senator PAYNE —It will be interesting to see what the differences are between that report in its draft form and its final form.
Senator Ludwig —That would be your job, Senator.
Senator PAYNE —Indeed, Minister: I am as keen as mustard.
Senator Ludwig —I am sure.
Senator PAYNE —Dr Grimes, are you able to provide us with an update on the status of the NPA on remote Indigenous housing?
Dr Grimes —Personally, I would not be able to give you a full update right now. We may have an officer available to provide some broad information. Obviously, for detailed questions you may be best going to the relevant minister. From memory, the program is administered through the department of families and communities.
Senator PAYNE —I have spent years at their estimates. That is why I am here.
Dr Grimes —Their estimates might be the right place to ask detailed questions. I will just see if there is an official here who may be able to assist at all, but it would probably only be at a very broader level. Ms Cross may be able to offer some comments, but, as I said, we may have to refer you to the FaCSIA estimates.
Senator PAYNE —Thank you very much, Dr Grimes. Ms Cross, can you give the committee a breakdown of how the funding is distributed under the NPA on remote Indigenous housing between the states and the territories?
Ms Cross —I would have to take that question on notice. I do not have those details here.
Senator PAYNE —Can you tell us how many homes have been built under this program to date?
Dr Grimes —That sort of fine level of detail is probably best asked of the FaCSIA portfolio, which has responsibility for the program.
Senator PAYNE —I wish that were the case. I do not understand, I am afraid, and I am happy to be guided by the officers, Madam Chair and Minister. Given this is a COAG NPA, I am not sure that I understand why I cannot ask a question as to how many homes have been built under the NPA on remote Indigenous housing at these estimates.
Dr Grimes —The reason is that the department that has policy responsibility within the Commonwealth is FaCSIA. That is the appropriate place for asking very detailed questions.
Senator PAYNE —I do not think that is a very detailed question at all: how many houses have been built? I think that is a very simple question.
Dr Grimes —I am not aware of any past practice for us to respond at that level of detail at these estimates. We simply are not involved in management at that level. It is a responsibility of the relevant department.
Senator PAYNE —So, for the NPAs, no matter what area they traverse in policy, the take-out points of the NPAs—and, for example, I would have thought that the one on remote Indigenous housing had, as its take-out point, the number of homes that have been built—is not something that your department has information on?
Dr Grimes —We do not administer the program. The usual approach in estimates is—
Senator PAYNE —Don’t you want to know how they are going, though?
Dr Grimes —Indeed.
Senator PAYNE —That is what I want to know.
Dr Grimes —It really is a question of the appropriate estimates for asking the question, and FaCSIA would be the most appropriate place for you to get detailed questions answered. We can take matters on notice, but, as you would appreciate, we would do not come with the full array of material that the line agency responsible for managing the program would have immediately to hand.
Senator PAYNE —For the committee’s benefit, how do you measure, as a department, the effectiveness and the achievements of the NPAs if you do not have an answer to a question as simply as: how many houses?
Dr Grimes —Senator, as we have indicated, the process of reviewing programs and the progress with the implementation of national partnerships and national agreements, a very important role is played by the CRC. Yes, it is true that we will review progress with other first ministers’ departments, but we simply do not maintain the detailed information immediately at hand in the way that an agency that is actually administering the program would. I am simply indicating to you the most appropriate department within the Commonwealth for asking questions. If you want to ask more detailed questions, I am obviously happy to take them on notice and see what information we have available and see if it can be provided to you—
Senator PAYNE —Thank you—I appreciate that.
Dr Grimes —but I indicate in the first instance that FaCSIA should be able to help you.
Senator PAYNE —I take your point and I appreciate that, but, Dr Grimes, can you advise the committee about the updates you receive from FaCSIA, what information is reported on by the implementation departments to your department as the department that manages the COAG process?
Dr Grimes —As to the specifics of those, I do not have them on hand at the moment, but I am very happy to take that on notice and provide you with that information.
Senator PAYNE —Does your department receive updates from the substantive departments on how they are going with their NPAs?
Dr Grimes —Yes, we would receive updated information from departments but you have asked me a very detailed question about the form and content of that so I will have to take that on notice.
Senator PAYNE —All right—you will do that for me?
Dr Grimes —Yes.
Senator PAYNE —Thank you very much. Is it possible for you to tell me whether the COAG communique of 7 December 2009, which identified a renegotiation of the NPA on Remote Indigenous Housing, is being renegotiated?
Dr Grimes —My understanding is that the renegotiation of that NPA is being undertaken to improve the effectiveness of the program. It is not a program that I personally have had deep involvement with, so I would not be in a position to answer very detailed questions on that at all at the moment. I am sorry about that; I just do not have the detailed information.
Senator PAYNE —That is all right—I think it falls into the list of priorities, though, which I thought might help. Perhaps Ms Cross can help us with the issues that were identified that required improvement of the effectiveness of the NPA.
Ms Cross —Other than adding to what Dr Grimes has said, it was really about getting more effective outcomes under the national partnerships so that—
Senator PAYNE —What does that actually mean?
Ms Cross —That means that you want to have the houses built quickly—
Senator PAYNE —That is a good start.
Ms Cross —Yes. It was really to renegotiate the national partnerships so that there was a stronger focus on delivering more housing more quickly.
Senator PAYNE —When was the partnership first negotiated? It was the end of 2008, wasn’t it?
Mr Perry —That is right.
Senator PAYNE —And how were the inadequacies in effectiveness that required it to be renegotiated by December 2009 identified?
Ms Cross —Again, Senator, you are getting to a level of detail that would normally be in questions addressed to the FaHCSIA portfolio. They are the ones that deal directly with the states and territories on the national partnerships.
Senator PAYNE —I am grateful, Dr Grimes, for your agreeing to take on notice the nature and form of updates that are provided from the substantive departments to your department in relation to the NPAs. Can you do that across all of the NPAs, please?
Dr Grimes —Yes, we can provide you with a broad answer on the sort of information we receive.
Senator PAYNE —So if I had questions in relation to a number of other reform measures—including, for example, the progress of smart meter introduction; the operation of the renewable energy certificate market; the question of another of the priorities, a truly national transport system; and the costing, or lack thereof, of the new childcare regulations which were announced at COAG in December—you would not want to take them up here; you would want me to take them up department by department?
Dr Grimes —Yes, I think that would be the better way to handle them. Otherwise, PM&C estimates would probably last a very long time.
Senator PAYNE —And I assume the same is the case for national health reforms—is that the case for national health reforms? That is a pretty big agenda item. Even Senator Ludwig advanced it as a priority for 2010.
Dr Grimes —If you were going to specific national partnership agreements that have already been agreed in health—and there are a number of those agreements—you would be best asking those questions to the department of health.
Senator PAYNE —Perhaps I could just ask you, then, when the referendum on national health reform is.
Dr Grimes —Senator, you are asking me to comment on a speculative question.
Senator PAYNE —Perhaps I could ask the minister when the referendum on national health reform is.
Senator Ludwig —As we have indicated, in terms of health, we are trying to achieve a cooperative outcome. That is what we are working towards. So, to the extent that it is a speculative question, what the Prime Minister has said—
Senator RONALDSON —I know you have been briefed to speak very quietly, but this is—
Senator Ludwig —The microphone generally picks it up no matter what volume I use, but if you would like me to speak louder I am only too happy to speak louder. What I have said is that the Prime Minister has indicated that it is his wish to find a cooperative agreement with the states and territories. It would be speculative to say that the next question then is when the referendum would be, because it is within all our interests to achieve a cooperative agreement with the states and territories.
Senator PAYNE —So the answer is you do not know when the referendum is?
Senator Ludwig —I have provided an answer.
Senator PAYNE —Speaking of referenda, I will just ask one final question on this matter. There have been reports that your department is looking into potential referenda questions on local government, Indigenous Australians, constitutional change in relation to a republic and federalism issues. Can you advise the committee whether the department is working on national referenda questions on these or other issues?
Ms Beauchamp —I am not aware of that.
Senator PAYNE —You are not?
Ms Beauchamp —No.
Senator PAYNE —Are you aware of the stories in relation to that, Ms Beauchamp?
Ms Beauchamp —No.
Senator PAYNE —You are not. Page 1 of the Australian Financial Review on 20 January did not alert you to that?
Ms Beauchamp —No.
Senator PAYNE —Does the department have media monitoring?
Ms Beauchamp —Indeed.
Senator PAYNE —What does it cost the department per annum?
CHAIR —Are we leaving COAG now, Senator?
Senator PAYNE —I think these are matters, Madam Chair, that concern the Council of Australian Governments quite intimately, given that the head of the Australian Local Government Association sits on COAG as a member, given that all the states and territories are represented on COAG as members and given that we are talking about referenda potentially to alter the relationships between those organs. I think we are most certainly still discussing matters concerning the Council of Australian Governments.
CHAIR —Okay, that is fine. Before we leave this area, I will be going to Senator Cameron.
Senator PAYNE —While you are looking for that, can you tell me whether the department is represented—no, I am sorry; I will just wait for your answer on that.
Ms Beauchamp —Was that in relation to the cost of media monitoring?
Senator PAYNE —Yes.
Ms Beauchamp —I understand the costs for the 2008-09 financial year were in the order of $43,000.
Senator PAYNE —Ms Beauchamp, would you expect them usually to alert you to a front-page story in the Australian Financial Review indicating that your department is involved in consideration of four potential referendum questions?
Ms Beauchamp —Those media clips would be available to all staff, yes. I personally did not access them on that day.
Senator PAYNE —Then can you take notice, please, in relation to that, what the time frame is for those referendum questions to be provided to the Prime Minister, how many staff in the department are working on those issues and what consultation process the department has with the states and territories about those questions or any policy work at this stage. Is it envisaged that they will be taken to the next meeting of COAG? Is it envisaged that they will be made public before the next federal election—
Senator Ludwig —That does—
Senator PAYNE —and, if not, was the Attorney-General misquoted in that article, because I am sure the Attorney will wish to correct the record?
Senator Ludwig —That is the point I want to go to. Do you have that article there? I just want to confirm—
Senator PAYNE —Yes.
0Senator Ronaldson interjecting—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Sometimes other people’s interpretations of articles are very different to yours!
Senator PAYNE —It is a direct quote from the Attorney, and I am sure he would have corrected the record by now if it was incorrect, Minister, as you would in your assiduous attention to detail on these matters.
Senator Ludwig —It leads with ‘The Rudd government is considering’, so there is no quote as to whether that is accurate or not.
Senator PAYNE —Keep going.
Senator Ludwig —It says:
Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said a referendum on federal-state relations was—
and it seems to be a quote—
“very much one of the balls in play” …
Senator PAYNE —Keep going down to the part with the blue frame around it. It refers to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is why I had the temerity to raise it here this afternoon.
Senator Ludwig —We will take it on notice to see what we can find.
Senator PAYNE —Thank you, Minister. You might want to speak to the media monitors as well.
Senator Ludwig —No. I do have a recollection of that. It is always interesting to read these things in the Australian Financial Review.
Senator CAMERON —Dr Grimes, one of the issues that Senator Payne raised was the capacity of COAG to handle all the issues. There was some criticism that had been raised about COAG’s capacity to deal with some of the key factors that it has faced. I understand that the approach has changed from business regulation and competition reform to include health care, education, skills, affordable housing, disability services, closing the gap as to Indigenous disadvantage and water. How important is that agenda to the national productivity challenge this is facing Australia?
Dr Grimes —There is no doubt that that agenda is really quite important to the overall agenda of lifting our productivity in the country as a whole. Indeed, it was one of the driving factors behind the arrangements that were agreed by COAG in late 2008 to launch reforms on a broad front. One of the things we know about boosting productivity is that it is important to make reforms in a number of areas. Indeed, that is where the COAG agenda is focused.
Senator CAMERON —How do you balance the productivity agenda of COAG and this collaborative policy development with the issue of social objectives: better services, social inclusion, closing the gap and environmental sustainability?
Dr Grimes —The two are quite complementary. Providing better services and better education for our students, for example, is a classic area where there are pay-offs for the country in terms of social inclusion and also pay-offs for the country in terms of long-term productivity. So these would be very complementary objectives that are being pursued.
Senator CAMERON —Given that we have just gone through the global financial crisis, one of the issues COAG is looking at is federal financial relations, policy development and service delivery. Do you have any views on where that would lead to?
Dr Grimes —I do not know whether it is appropriate for me to be speculating on the future, but certainly the government has a very large program of reform in place with all other governments and that is being actively pursued through COAG.
Senator CAMERON —How important is this issue of federal financial relations?
Dr Grimes —It is obviously integral to the reforms. Indeed, COAG itself has announced a package of major reforms to the financial framework in late 2008 and that is underpinning the new arrangements that are in place including rationalising a number of payments and giving a sharper focus to measuring performance, including through assessment being made by the CRC over time.
Senator CAMERON —Are you in a position to advise us as to how COAG is going to handle this very wide ranging and important range of issues? How is that going to be done?
Dr Grimes —I think, as I indicated earlier, it really is a large ongoing task for officials in each of the jurisdictions to work together very closely and, as I indicated before, collaboratively with regular progress reports through to COAG meetings. We see in recent COAG communiques that COAG is monitoring progress in a broad range of areas.
Senator CAMERON —Paul McClintock, the chairman of COAG, gave a speech in September when he indicated that last year COAG produced two reports, they would produce 10 reports this year and would look to 10 to 16 reports the following year. From your perspective, is that achievable? Is that a realistic proposition?
Dr Grimes —Certainly no-one from the CRC has indicated, at least to me, that there was a problem in achieving the reporting task that the CRC has been asked to take on by governments.
Senator CAMERON —And COAG is still seen as having an absolutely important focus on improving both the productivity of the nation and some of the social issues?
Dr Grimes —Indeed, Senator. For many of these policy areas the reforms require action by both levels of government, and COAG is the forum by which you can ensure that that action is brought to bear.
Senator CAMERON —So expenditure on COAG is important in the national interest?
Dr Grimes —That would be the government’s view—yes.
Proceedings suspended from 4.00 pm to 4.16 pm
Senator PAYNE —I will not take very long. I just wanted to go back to issues around the NPAs that I was discussing before. I endeavoured to explore some questions around remote Indigenous housing and also had questions in relation to the seamless national economy, which I did ask. My questions on the national health reforms in further detail will be related to: the headline child-care issues, which was a major COAG announcement from the last meeting; again, the announcements from the last meeting in relation to transport regulation; and the discussion around smart meters and particularly the CRC report in relation to those. I will be putting questions on notice in relation to those.
I also wanted to know whether the committee could be advised in relation to the renewable energy certificates review by the COAG subgroup. Minister Wong said in November:
A COAG review into the Federal Government’s Renewable Energy Target will consider factors that may be impacting upon the Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) market in the short and long term.
… … …
The review will look at both short-term developments in the REC market and the factors that will determine longer-term pricing.
The review is to report to COAG by the end of the year.
Can a committee be advised whether the review has been completed?
Dr Grimes —I might see if there is an officer who has that information here and see if we can give you an answer directly. Otherwise, we will take it on notice. My memory is that that review is being conducted by the Ministerial Council on Energy. Sorry, it is being conducted by COAG directly. I do not know whether Dr Dickson has anything to add on that.
Dr Dickson —The RET review is being undertaken by a subgroup of officials who are still concluding their review. There were a couple of additional items that were included, as Minister Wong said, towards the end of the year. They sought leave to have it deferred so that that could be fully considered. So the review is coming forward for the first available meeting of COAG this year, but it is yet to be concluded.
Senator PAYNE —Will it be made public?
Dr Dickson —It will be going to COAG and COAG will make that decision.
Senator PAYNE —COAG will make that decision?
Dr Dickson —Yes.
Senator PAYNE —Dr Grimes, can I then ask you to take on notice whether the report is likely to be made public?
Dr Grimes —Yes, I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator PAYNE —Is it possible, Dr Dickson, to tell us the terms of reference of the review?
Dr Dickson —I do not have the detail for you, sorry.
Senator PAYNE —On notice, if you do not have them with you?
Dr Dickson —Yes, we can provide the terms of reference.
Senator PAYNE —Thank you very much. I understand that the review is supposed to be considering factors that impact on the REC market in both the short and long term. What is the assessment of what means short and long-term in this context, given the quite significant concerns which have been raised by stakeholders? How does COAG, in the work that it does, deal with anything in a short-term process?
Dr Dickson —Sorry, I am not quite sure I understand your question. I can say that the review was asked to look broadly at those market conditions, the long term being because the scheme is going for a number of years.
Senator PAYNE —To clarify, as I understand it there are quite significant concerns in the market about what is happening to this particular area immediately—not just short term but immediately; right here and now—and I wonder how viable the COAG process is to consider issues of that degree of urgency, if you like: how timely it can be in that process.
Dr Dickson —It is probably better to answer that question once we have had a look at the review and the issues that COAG will be looking at, which are around the various technologies that are included in the RET scheme. They are some of open issues that COAG was going to come back to and consider, as you are aware.
Senator PAYNE —One of the reasons there is a review is that there are significant concerns in the market—and the minister made this announcement in November—but, to get a quick answer back, you have told me that it will not be considered until the next COAG meeting. That is not a short-term response, is it?
Dr Dickson —The original review that was commissioned by COAG was to look at a whole range of technologies and to consider how to deal with new emerging technologies. I would have to check and confirm the dates of the original review, but I think it was about the middle of last year. To that review that had already gone some distance these additional issues were added because it is relevant to the consideration of those immediate market issues.
Senator PAYNE —Thanks. I think that answers my question in relation to timing.
Senator FIELDING —I would like to return to an earlier topic, the Oceanic Viking. There is a perception that a special arrangement was made or special deal was done on the treatment of those on the Oceanic Viking. As the minister would know, I went to Christmas Island, and I thank the government for being able to get there. I had to pay my own way back, which still does not leave it very open and transparent for politicians to get there. I will not go there, but it is absolutely outrageous that a senator from Australia is not entitled to get to Christmas Island and look at the facilities there. There is a strong view on the island from some within the detention centres that there was special treatment. There is a view in Australia that there was special treatment for those on the Oceanic Viking. Has the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet done any investigation into determining the claims of such a special arrangement or special deal done for those who were on the Oceanic Viking?
Mr Lewis —The matter was made clear in a letter that was tabled in the House. It was from the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, and he said that these folk were being treated in a matter consistent with that afforded to any other asylum seeker or refugee from Indonesia. We have, of course, been in discussion with the department of immigration to establish this sort of fact. I refer you to the authority, which is the department of immigration, around this matter and the correspondence from the secretary of that department, which is more authoritative than what I can give you.
Senator FIELDING —So the answer is that there has been no investigation into these claims by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Senator Ludwig —There was no special deal.
Mr Lewis —There is nothing to investigate.
Senator FIELDING —ASIO said on the public record at another estimates hearing only an hour and a half or so ago that there was a request from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and from Customs to—I think these were the words—‘speedily process those on board’; it was certainly ‘speedily’. Are you aware of that statement or statements along those lines?
Mr Lewis —No, I am not aware of what was said in another committee meeting just a while ago, but certainly the issue of expeditious treatment of these people and the processing of them was a feature of the decision-making process.
Senator FIELDING —Are you aware that they were given a request along those lines by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship?
Mr Lewis —Not specifically, no.
Senator FIELDING —Will—no, I cannot ask that question.
Mr Lewis —These are really questions that need to be put to the agencies that are involved.
Senator FIELDING —Given that (1) there is significant public concern around this issue and (2) the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is involved in the subcommittee, I must admit I am surprised that there has been no investigation and no asking of department heads whether any special request has been done for these particular people.
Senator LUDWIG —Could we come back a fraction. Particularly around the caseload in terms of its processing time and resettlement, I can add this, which might put it in context. The arrangements with Indonesia on the Oceanic Viking caseload were consistent with the Australian commitment to improve the international protection framework and to resolve longstanding refugee caseloads where resettlement is the only option. A short resettlement time frame for mandated refugees forms part of this arrangement. The group of 78 consisted of a number of people already determined to be refugees by the UNHCR and in need of resettlement. Australia, as we and other countries have done in the past, will continue to assist with the timely resettlement of people who have been found to be refugees by the UNHCR in Indonesia.
We could draw your attention to two letters. One was from the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, which was tabled in parliament by the Prime Minister on 16 November 2009 and which I am sure you are familiar with; it confirms that the Oceanic Viking caseload were being treated in a manner consistent with that afforded to any other asylum seeker or refugee in Indonesia. But, of course, the detail of that—the processing itself—is a matter that you could direct to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. But, in terms of the response—at least as far I can see in the correspondence—there is nothing to suggest that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has acted in any other way than in the best interests of processing the UNHCR-determined refugees. If you have any information contrary to that, I would certainly ask you to put it in the hands of the appropriate authorities.
Senator FIELDING —I am only a team of one. I am sure the media will pay very close attention to what was heard this afternoon at the hearing with ASIO, but it was quite clear through the responses to questions that the average time for doing security assessments was 90 days. It was about a third or less of that for these particular people, and they mentioned a special request coming from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for these people. This is the reason I wanted to find out whether the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet had done any investigations into the claims. They are serious claims, and from what I can see I do not think there has been any special investigation into these claims, which surprises me given the amount of public concern—
Senator LUDWIG —I was just trying to establish what the special claim was.
Senator FIELDING —The claim of special arrangements being given to these people on the Oceanic Viking in any way—for instance, speedier processing, which others did not receive. Are you aware of the riots at Christmas Island, with others wanting the same speedy treatment? Those are the concerns. You have had people protesting within the detention centres. This is a serious issue about how the government has handled the Oceanic Viking and treated people definitely. These are the claims that have been made. From what I am hearing, there has been no investigation into those claims. I am calling them claims, but now I am getting concerned because, beyond claims, ASIO have certainly indicated to me, as recently as this afternoon at estimates, that they had a request from the department of immigration about speedily processing these people. That is a special arrangement and a special circumstance that has been given to them.
Senator Ludwig —In the first instance, I think that does need to be directed to the department of immigration, in terms of the detail, but what I have indicated is that the arrangements, as far as I am aware, with Indonesia on the case were consistent with Australia’s commitments to improving international protection and the framework. Nothing that you have said today—although I will look at the transcript—changes my view on that.
Senator FIELDING —Has the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet had a briefing on the protest within the detention centre regarding this issue about wanting to be treated like those on the Oceanic Viking, as far as speedy treatment? On the day I visited the detention centre at North West Point there was a protest by some within the detention centre. Has there been a briefing to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the issue?
Mr Lewis —I am aware of the incident, but, no, there has been no briefing to my knowledge.
Senator FIELDING —That protest was, from what I understand, primarily about the special treatment that others had received on the Oceanic Viking and they wanted to be treated the same. You can see the seriousness of the issue. In other words, you would claim non-proof, that it is just a rumour, but it is getting out of hand and I am trying to work out why the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has not investigated this issue further to see whether there is claim and that they have been treated differently.
Mr Lewis —I go back to the fact that the activities on Christmas Island is a matter that is better directed to the department of immigration. I am aware of that incident, but there has been no specific briefing, to my knowledge, given to PM&C about that.
Senator FIELDING —Thank you.
Senator RONALDSON —I draw your attention to the West Australian of Monday, 25 January where it is alleged that the foreign minister, Stephen Smith, admitted that he and the immigration minister, Chris Evans, had been personally involved in negotiations with officials of other countries in attempting to resettle some of the Tamils. In light of that, a Labor majority Senate report in October 2003 on ministerial staff said:
The Committee recommends that the government should make ministerial staff available to appear before parliamentary committees in the following circumstances:
There are a series of points, including:
Critical or important information or instructions have been received by a minister’s office but not communicated to the minister ...
Minister, I put it to you again that the only way we will find out whether there has been a special deal and whether the Prime Minister was aware of the special deal is for you to tell this committee who the staff were who were present at that border protection committee meeting of cabinet so that inquiries can be made of them as to what they were told and what they heard about the deal and how much of that was communicated to the Prime Minister. Are you prepared to do that?
Senator Ludwig —It seems to me that this is about the third attempt you have had at this question; it really disappoints me, with you having yourself been in a previous government. Disclosing the identity of ministers who attend cabinet meetings or cabinet committee meetings—I will deal with this issue first—would be contrary to the public interest because it would tend to undermine, as I indicated earlier, the collective responsibility of cabinet. It does that by inviting speculation about the collective basis of agreed outcomes, and this is consistent with the practice of successive governments. The relevant staff may attend meetings of the cabinet and its committees and working groups to provide advice when required depending on the subject matter under consideration, but they are not decision makers. Disclosing the name of ministerial staff who were present at particular cabinet meetings or cabinet committee meetings would also tend to undermine the collective responsibility of cabinet. I gave you earlier, in response to questions, a short form of that. I have now given you the long form, but it would surprise me if you persisted in this area.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, I thank you for that. Madam Chair, in light of the seriousness of these matters, I believe it is appropriate for this committee to insist of this minister that the names of the Prime Minister’s staff be given to this committee, and I would like a private meeting to address this matter. I would like that meeting now.
Senator FIELDING —Could I ask one question before you do that?
Senator RONALDSON —Sure.
Senator FIELDING —I want to ask a very specific question here: did the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet direct the department of immigration to direct ASIO to do speedy checks?
Mr Lewis —Not to my knowledge. Is this question directed to the minister? I am happy to field the question.
Senator FIELDING —The answer is either yes, no or you do not know.
Mr Lewis —No.
Senator FIELDING —Okay, thank you. The answer is no.
CHAIR —We will suspend the hearings and go into a private meeting.
Proceedings suspended from 4.37 pm to 4.51 pm
CHAIR —We will resume. I call on Senator Ronaldson to continue. He is going to put a question to the minister and if that causes another private meeting then so be it.
Senator RONALDSON —As a prelude to that we should indicate that there was a motion put at that meeting—
CHAIR —It was a private meeting, Senator Ronaldson.
Senator RONALDSON —You do not want to talk about it?
CHAIR —No, we do not; it was a private meeting.
Senator RONALDSON —Okay. Minister, are you claiming public interest immunity in relation to the provision of the names of these members of the Prime Minister’s staff?
Senator Ludwig —I had. That is the point I was making: that they are cabinet-in-confidence and the public interest would then determine that. I can read the statement to you again but that is the point we are talking about. You are seeking information which would otherwise be cabinet-in-confidence on public interest grounds. Clearly, I am not required to provide an answer in respect of cabinet and its cabinet processes.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, you are required to provide to the committee—and I am quoting from standing orders:
… a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.
Senator Ludwig —That is the statement which I read out earlier. That is the point which I answered, and I will go through it again. Disclosing the identity of ministers who attend cabinet meetings or cabinet committee meetings would be contrary to the public interest because it would tend to undermine the collective responsibility of cabinet by inviting speculation about the collective basis of agreed outcomes. The addition to that, of course, is that it is consistent with the practice of successive governments. Furthermore, relevant staff may attend meetings of the cabinet and its committees and working groups to provide advice when required, depending on the subject matter under consideration, but they are not decision makers. Disclosing the names of ministerial staff who were present at particular cabinet meetings or cabinet committee meetings would also, for the reasons outlined above, tend to undermine the collective responsibility of cabinet. What I provided in response to your original question was that I am claiming public interest and that I provided the grounds and the reasons for that earlier. I have just reiterated those.
Senator RONALDSON —Madam Chair, in light of the fact that the names of the members of that cabinet committee is public knowledge, I believe that the Clerk should investigate and advise on this matter. I request another private meeting where I intend putting that.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, you have the option of referring it to the Clerk yourself, but if you are calling for a private meeting to discuss it and if the committee is willing to have another private meeting—
Senator RONALDSON —I think it is common ground that the meeting was called with a view to the committee insisting that the minister provide the names of those staff members. Given the fact that the committee has not insisted on that, I think that most people would draw their own conclusions about the outcome of that meeting. In light of that, and given that I suspect a similar motion for the committee to refer the matter to the Clerk is likely to suffer a similar fate, I will pursue the matter with the Clerk myself and ask her to investigate the matter.
CHAIR —Do you have any further questions, Senator Ronaldson?
Senator RONALDSON —I do, but not in relation to this.
Senator FERGUSON —Senator Ronaldson could also write a letter to the Procedures Committee asking them to look into it.
Senator RYAN —I want to start by going to community cabinets and referring to your answer to question on notice PM60, which I asked during supplementary estimates on 19 October last year. We had some discussion during that hearing about who was invited to community estimates and when the opposition was informed.
CHAIR —I think you mean community cabinet, not community estimates.
Senator RYAN —My apologies.
Senator Ludwig —Mind you, it does feel like that sometimes!
Senator RYAN —We were informed that the department—not the prime minister’s office but the department—had invited Labor duty senators to community cabinet meetings. Upon that revelation, Senator Ludwig then kindly decided to invite all senators to community cabinet meetings in their state. Regarding question on notice PM60, I have looked at the transcript and my question was:
Senator RYAN—Could you table a list of the duty senators for the government, please, as informed by the department for notification of community cabinet meetings?
The answer you provided shows only those who were invited, yet after the discussion we had at that hearing many of us were of the opinion that the department had been advised who all Labor duty senators were. Can you clarify as to whether the department was given a list of who the Labor duty senators were for each electorate or whether you are instructed on each occasion to only invite certain senators?
Ms Beauchamp —I can confirm that we are advised on each occasion.
Senator RYAN —Who provides that advice to the department?
Ms Beauchamp —My understanding is that it comes from the Prime Minister’s office.
Senator RYAN —Given the discussion we have just had, I will not ask the next logical question, about who in the Prime Minister’s office provides that advice. Is that practice still in place? You have never at any point been given a list of Labor duty senators that is any wider or any larger than the list you provided in answer to the question on notice?
Ms Beauchamp —That is my understanding.
Senator RYAN —I would appreciate it if you could check and advise us if that was not the case.
Ms Beauchamp —Yes, Senator.
Senator Ludwig —Did you get the last invitation from me?
Senator RYAN —I did.
Senator Ludwig —Did you come?
Senator RYAN —I was unable to make it.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Yes. Senator Ludwig, while we are on this, since your change of policy has there been a change in attendance?
Senator Ludwig —I do not keep records myself as to whether duty senators attend. That is why I asked Senator Ryan if he attended.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Maybe the department can tell us if any opposition duty senators have attended since the minister’s change of policy.
Senator RYAN —Maybe the department could also advise us if all senators are—
CHAIR —We have a question before the chair, if we could keep some order. I think Senator Collins had the call.
Ms Beauchamp —From my understanding and my observations, there has been no noticeable change. I will have to take the details on notice.
Senator RYAN —Senator Ludwig, you might be able to inform us if invitations to community cabinets go out to all senators at the same time. Am I likely to receive my invitation for the one in Ballarat at the same time as Senator Collins?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I would never get one for Ballarat.
Senator Ludwig —I am not involved in personally sending them out, but I can certainly check on that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —It is not one of my duty electorates.
Senator RYAN —If there was more than a day’s difference in notifying opposition senators as opposed to government duty senators—or, indeed, all government senators—I would appreciate being informed, following up from what Senator Collins asked.
Senator Ludwig —I was only trying to encourage you to go; they are a very interesting and informative way to keep in touch with community expectations.
Senator RYAN —If we go to the community cabinets that have been held since January 2008, does the department have a list available of how many the Prime Minister has attended, if not all of them?
Ms Beauchamp —Since January 2008?
Senator RYAN —I believe the first one was 20 January 2008. Has the Prime Minister attended all of them?
Ms Beauchamp —I will have to take specifically that on notice. It is my understanding, yes.
Senator RYAN —And if he has not, I would appreciate either a list of those he has not attended or those he has attended, whatever is more convenient. Unless somebody else has a question on community cabinets, I will move to another issue.
Senator KROGER —I have. Following up on that, how many community cabinets are scheduled for this year?
Ms Beauchamp —The number of community cabinets scheduled has not yet been decided.
Senator KROGER —In terms of the practice of the past, has that been determined on a one-off basis or on a calendar year basis? What has been the practice in the past?
Ms Beauchamp —Obviously we are operating within a budget, so we can provide some indicative numbers. The numbers will of course be limited by what we have got in the budget.
Senator KROGER —Sorry, just say that again.
Ms Beauchamp —The number of future community cabinet meetings will be limited by what is in our budget appropriation.
Senator KROGER —Right. There is still a community cabinet unit in the department?
Ms Beauchamp —That is correct.
Senator KROGER —How many people are in that?
Ms Beauchamp —My recollection is that there are about 13, but if you can give me a few moments. I can confirm that there are 13 full-time equivalents.
Senator KROGER —There are 13 full-time staff in the community cabinet unit in the department?
Ms Beauchamp —Correct.
Senator KROGER —How many community cabinets have been held since May 2009? You are talking about scheduling when the budget is determined, so how many have there been since May 2009?
Ms Beauchamp —There have been seven meetings to date in the current financial year.
Senator KROGER —Seven meetings since May? Since June, was it?
Ms Beauchamp —That is in this financial year.
Senator KROGER —What was the total cost of those meetings?
Ms Beauchamp —Costs vary between meetings, obviously. For example, the Elizabeth meeting was around $79,000; the Port Macquarie meeting was $67,000; Geraldton, $110,000—obviously these will reflect costs of travel and other things. I can go on.
Senator KROGER —I would appreciate it if you would go through those again. You had Elizabeth, $79,000—
Ms Beauchamp —Port Macquarie, $67,271; Geraldton, $110,772.
Senator FERGUSON —Could you speak up. I think there is something wrong with the microphone.
Ms Beauchamp —I will move closer.
Senator KROGER —It is not you; it has been a problem over the day.
Senator FERGUSON —I can hear from over here, but I cannot hear from down there.
Ms Beauchamp —My apologies. Did I give you the Hobart meeting?
Senator KROGER —No, we got to Geraldton, which was $110,772.
Ms Beauchamp —Hobart, $63,078; Bathurst meeting, $66,921; Townsville meeting, $70,077; and the Adelaide meeting, $67,150.
Senator KROGER —While I am no accountant, I am doing a quick summation here. That is close to half a million dollars over seven so-called community cabinet meetings. Does that sound about right?
Ms Beauchamp —That is correct. These things are quite transparent in the budget papers.
Senator KROGER —A pretty staggering amount for a photo opportunity I would have thought.
Senator Ludwig —Rather than letting that gratuitous comment remain, I can add that community cabinet meetings are part of the government’s commitment to keep in touch with what the community expects of it. Quite frankly, they provide great opportunity for the community to engage, to come along, to ask questions in an open forum and also to meet ministers through requests, and ministers make themselves available, as I have. The meetings are organised through PM&C. If you do not think they are a valuable contribution to ensuring that there is community engagement, then we can agree to disagree.
Senator KROGER —I am very pleased that you have assisted in that explanation, Minister, because I would like to know what substantial policy may have come out of these so-called consultative community cabinets. Has there been any input that has evolved into any action by the government?
Senator Ludwig —There have been around 9,000 people who have attended the public forums. There have been about 1,176 one-on-one meetings with ministers, which provide an extraordinary ability for individuals to have one-on-one meetings with particular ministers about a whole range of issues. If you do not think that is worth while, then that is a matter for you. I think it is worth while. I think it does provide that opportunity.
Senator KROGER —I am sure that the 9,000 people that attended thought it was a very great opportunity for them to have, just as did the 2,000-odd who attended the 2020 Summit. But that was not my question. Has there been any direct action that has taken place, any policy deliberation or development that has taken place, following those many and extremely expensive community cabinets?
Ms Beauchamp —If I can add to the minister’s comments, the range of one-on-one meetings are all followed up by the relevant agencies and departments. There are quite a few requests for funding, for example, or requests as to where to get certain information at the local level and feedback in terms of the impact of policies. Most of the community cabinets that I have been to in a couple of portfolios that I have worked in have been received very positively by those that are meeting on a one-on-one basis with all the ministers who make themselves available.
Senator KROGER —Thanks, Ms Beauchamp. But with great respect, I think we have established that they are wonderful talkfests. What I am trying to establish is whether in fact they have materialised into any direct action that is of value to the 9,000 participants who have attended and whether they have certainly ended up in any direct policy development.
Ms Beauchamp —What I can say, subject to cabinet in confidence, is that regular reports are provided back to cabinet and from there cabinet makes various decisions based on what that feedback is.
Senator KROGER —I guess what you are telling me is that we have yet another example of great talkfests around the country with little to show for them. I have no further questions, thanks, Chair.
CHAIR —Senator Collins has some.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Given the gratuitous nature of some of those questions, I think I will follow up some of the information about community cabinets. Can you indicate whether there is any measurement of the satisfaction rate of people who are attending?
Ms Beauchamp —I would have to take that specifically on notice in terms of satisfaction rates. We do get feedback generally. But I do not know exactly what those satisfaction levels might be.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Okay, if you could take that on notice but maybe more anecdotally if you could give an example of how community cabinet has helped to solve people’s problems in dealing with government, so it may not necessarily be grand policies that this government might choose to release at this point in time but it is in terms of helping people in their relationship with government and resolving problems in dealings with government. Would you give some examples of those?
Ms Beauchamp —Only from my own observations in observing ministers—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I have my own also, but I am interested in what you can portray.
Ms Beauchamp —Most of the issues that come to the fore could be addressed by local governments, state governments or the Commonwealth government. Sometimes there might be confusion on the part of the persons sitting around the table, so through the minister and through officials we are able to point them in the right direction. We do tell them what assistance might be available for them. As I said, there are quite a few requests for funding at the local level. Sometimes people who do appear before ministers and the Prime Minister are not aware of what sort of government programs might be in place, so we are able to point them in the right direction.
Senator ABETZ —It’s just all wonderful, isn’t it!
Ms Beauchamp —Could I make a comment in response to that?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Certainly. I will ask the question if it facilitates!
Senator ABETZ —Yes: is it all wonderful?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —In terms of a response to Senator Abetz’ cynicism about public engagement.
Ms Beauchamp —In terms of the reports, we do put forward to government feedback on the community cabinets. I should say that, at the broad level, they do reflect the reform agendas that are already being progressed. So it is a confirmation, on many occasions, of issues that we already have on our plate.
Senator ABETZ —And also, from Tasmania, at Newtown High School, where there—
CHAIR —Senator Collins has the call, thank you, Senator Abetz.
Senator ABETZ —was a complete arrogance from the Prime Minister in refusing to answer questions from the floor. But I am sure that does not show up—
CHAIR —Senator Collins has the call, Senator Abetz.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I am sure that Senator Abetz’ interpretation of a particular meeting is as skewed as the limited attendance. One of the criticisms in the past has been the nature of the seats that community cabinets have been held in. Can you characterise for us the spread of types of seats that have been incorporated in this consultation process?
Senator ABETZ —Is this for the cabinet or for the other—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —This is the community cabinet we are talking about.
Ms Beauchamp —Could I confirm the question, Senator. You are wondering what electorates the meetings have been held in?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Yes.
Ms Beauchamp —This financial year, three meetings have been held in government electorates, three in Liberal Party electorates and one in an Independent electorate.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —And have they all been attended by the local member?
Ms Beauchamp —I would have to take that on notice. Obviously, I know who has been invited, but I do not know who actually attended.
Senator ABETZ —Could you name those seven seats for us? We might be able to pick up whether they are marginal or not! Other than Dennison.
CHAIR —Thank you for your contribution, Senator, but Senator Collins has the call. We have been proceeding fairly well throughout the day. If people want to continue to interject and waste time, that is entirely up to them. But Senator Collins has the call.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I have finished my questions.
CHAIR —Senator Ferguson?
Senator FERGUSON —Thank you. Can you tell us the difference in the cost on average of holding a meeting outside of Canberra compared with a cabinet meeting held in Canberra or Sydney?
Ms Beauchamp —Not off the top of my head. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator FERGUSON —But surely in framing the budget they would have taken into account the extra cost of holding a community cabinet outside of either Canberra or a major capital city—sorry, outside of Canberra; cabinet normally meets in Canberra.
Ms Beauchamp —Yes.
Senator FERGUSON —So, surely, in budgeting, they must have taken into account the difference in cost between holding a cabinet meeting in Canberra compared with one of the regional electorates or marginal electorates that they are held in around the country.
Ms Beauchamp —I do not have that information in front of me.
Senator FERGUSON —So that was not even budgeted for?
Ms Beauchamp —There are a number of cabinet meetings held outside of Canberra, not just in relation to the collocation at the time of the community cabinet meetings.
Senator FERGUSON —What is the average number of staff who accompany ministers to a community cabinet meeting, in total?
Ms Beauchamp —That would be up to the ministers, if you are talking about their ministerial advisers.
Senator FERGUSON —If you know the costs, could you on notice provide for us the number of staff—not who they are—who accompany ministers to community cabinet meetings?
Ms Beauchamp —That would be quite a large coordination task, in asking every minister which of their advisers—
Senator FERGUSON —Well, you know how much it costs.
Ms Beauchamp —The costs I refer to are costs that the department funds in terms of our support costs.
Senator FERGUSON —So there are much greater costs than just what the department funds, aren’t there?
Ms Beauchamp —The costs are borne by ministers. Those costs would have to be directed to them.
Senator FERGUSON —So in fact we have no idea what it costs to hold a community cabinet meeting, say, in Hobart, in Adelaide or in Perth, do we? We have no idea how much it costs.
Ms Beauchamp —I would be able to tell you the costs of PM&C support.
Senator FERGUSON —The department’s. But there is an enormous added cost on top of the PM&C cost because ministers have got the costs of their own staff travel.
Senator Ludwig —You could go to the Department of Finance and Deregulation to ascertain that, so it is ascertainable.
Senator ABETZ —Why can’t PM&C take it on notice and ask all the departments?
Senator Ludwig —Because it would generally be a question you should ask Finance. That is the appropriate place for the question to be asked.
Senator ABETZ —Finance would not cover the costs, would they, of, let’s say, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and all her staff? That would be covered by Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, would it not?
Ms Beauchamp —Not the costs related to the actual ministerial attendance.
Senator FERGUSON —Perhaps you could tell me this: why did it cost $63,000 for PM&C for a community cabinet in Hobart, yet it cost $69,000 to go to Bathurst—or thereabouts; my figures might not be exact but they are pretty close.
Senator ABETZ —The beer is cheaper in Hobart.
CHAIR —Are you suggesting we should have more of them in Hobart?
Senator FERGUSON —No. I want to know why there is the discrepancy.
Senator ABETZ —It would turn Denison into a Liberal seat if they had a few more of them.
CHAIR —Wishful thinking!
Ms Beauchamp —Senator, I would not refer to it as a discrepancy. It reflects the cost of venue hire, the cost of sound equipment that might be available, the cost of catering, the cost of room hire, the cost of travel et cetera. They are not so much discrepancies; they just reflect the actual costs of running the community cabinet.
Senator FERGUSON —I find it very strange that the costs of venue hire, catering and whatever else there might be would be much more expensive in Bathurst than they would be in Hobart. Is it possible to get a breakdown of the Hobart and Bathurst expenses?
Ms Beauchamp —It is possible, and I will take that on notice.
Senator FERGUSON —Thank you. So this is only the expense to PM&C and, in fact, it is quite conceivable that the total costs of having a community cabinet in each of these marginal electorates—because a lot of the costs are hidden because of the staff members that accompany other cabinet ministers—could be four or five times greater.
Ms Beauchamp —That is quite speculative. The costs are not hidden. The costs related to ministerial and members of parliament staff are borne by those offices and—
Senator FERGUSON —That is true, but nobody seems to want to add them up.
Ms Beauchamp —That information would be available through the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
Senator FERGUSON —Nobody seems to want to accumulate them and provide to us the true cost.
Senator Ludwig —You have not asked the question. You can ask the question of the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
Senator FERGUSON —I think that to say that a community cabinet meeting costs $63,000 is misleading to the public. That is what cost PM&C but it is not what it cost for a community cabinet meeting.
Senator Ludwig —You are able to ask the question of the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
Senator FERGUSON —I have no further questions.
Senator RYAN —Could you take on notice, Ms Beauchamp, the classifications of the 13 staff who work in the community cabinet unit. Obviously I respect privacy, but I would be happy if you would take that on notice. Who decides who meets with the Prime Minister and ministers at community cabinets, in short? Is it the ministers’ offices? Is it the cabinet secretariat to whom applications are made?
Ms Beauchamp —I will have to take the specific details on notice.
Senator RYAN —In that case, could I also have—and I assume that you would have this available, given that the advertisement for the Ballarat one refers to applications to go to the community cabinet secretariat—a list of who the ministers have met at each of the community cabinets, including the Prime Minister?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Sorry—a list of the individuals?
Senator RYAN —Individuals or organisations.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —But an individual meeting a minister at a community cabinet may not have ever envisaged that their meeting a minister was going to become a matter of public record. I think there are some privacy issues we might want to explore here first.
CHAIR —You have asked for that to be taken on notice.
Senator RYAN —I have asked for it and, as I understand, we can request various activities of ministers through the estimates process. I would be interested and I would be happy to have a discussion at some other point about this.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I am just questioning whether there are some privacy issues that PM&C would need to be mindful of before specifying the names of individuals who might have met with a minister.
Senator RYAN —There are also some transparency issues, because I would like to know who is transacting business with the government. I am not asking for details of the meeting; I am asking for who met whom, not for summaries or minutes of the meetings.
Ms Beauchamp —Can I take that on notice, but we would have to seek the permission of those people who attended each community cabinet one-on-one meeting? From my point of view that would be an exceptional diversion of resources from the things that we are being required to do.
Senator RYAN —What about people representing organisations and businesses? Can you give me those details? Let us say, for example, the convener of the local World Wildlife Fund chapter met with the minister for the environment or the minister for climate change at one of these community cabinets. Could I have access to the organisation without the person in that case?
Ms Beauchamp —Again, I would have to seek the approval of that organisation.
Senator RYAN —I will seek advice on precedence on this from some more senior colleagues, come back to the committee and maybe put something on notice, because I am not aware of past practice in that regard.
Ms Beauchamp —Okay.
Senator RYAN —Does the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet commission or otherwise pay for any form of research into public opinion, whether it be qualitative or quantitative, from the community, subgroups within the community or organisations within the community? It is a very broad question and intentionally so.
Ms Beauchamp —It is a very broad question and I would have to take that on notice. Your question around qualitative research—
Senator RYAN —Qualitative and quantitative research into community attitudes or attitudes, for example, of an industry sector or of a sector of volunteers. I am interested in whether the department undertakes any such research. I would suspect that it would but I will wait for the answer. If it does, I would appreciate the amount paid and what the objective of undertaking the project was—for example, to ascertain community opinions on health reform, climate change or to ascertain industry sector views on a car industry policy. Further—as you have to take us on notice—whether such research is ever made available to ministerial officers or to ministers or whether it is entirely used solely within the department for its own purposes. I understand that is a broad question, but I think you understand it is a reasonably broad question.
Ms Beauchamp —I will take that on notice, but if we had commissioned specific pieces of research and entered into contracts, those contracts would be listed on AusTender.
Senator RYAN —I appreciate that. These terms do not always come up as easily in search engines. I now turn to some issues regarding the size of the APS.
Senator FERGUSON —Can I ask one more question about community cabinet meetings?
Senator RYAN —Sure.
Senator FERGUSON —These community cabinet meetings are touted as public meetings, but in fact everybody who attends has to register, don’t they?
Ms Beauchamp —That is correct.
Senator FERGUSON —So they can be screened?
Ms Beauchamp —I am not sure of your question.
Senator FERGUSON —I am saying is: is everybody who applies accepted into the public meeting after they register?
Ms Beauchamp —I think it is a first-come, first-in basis. There is no screening as you have referred to. We do not pick and choose who should attend that meeting.
Senator FERGUSON —So why do you need them to register if you do not want to screen them?
Ms Beauchamp —So we have a record of attendance.
Senator FERGUSON —When you have a public meeting, should you need to have the name and identity of everybody who attends?
Ms Beauchamp —Because these meetings are very popular, we have to ascertain whether the person who is registered is actually that person who is attending.
Senator FERGUSON —Why should it bother you? If I go to a public meeting at election time, people who come along do not have to register before they come in the door. Why can’t the first 200 or 300 or 400 who come in the door be the ones who get in?
Ms Beauchamp —It is the first 200 or 300 who actually apply rather than people having to line up unnecessarily.
Senator FERGUSON —The point I am making is: why do you have to know their names?
Ms Beauchamp —So we can ascertain their attendance; otherwise anyone could line up.
Senator FERGUSON —That is what I am saying. Anybody should be able to line up.
Ms Beauchamp —We do it purely for logistical reasons. These halls are limited in terms of numbers that can attend. To give people certainty of whether they have been accepted or not, we like to provide that information beforehand.
Senator FERGUSON —Can you confirm that list of names, which would then be in your possession, is not passed on to anybody for security checks, for instance?
Ms Beauchamp —That is correct as far as I am aware, but I will confirm that.
Senator FERGUSON —So it is not passed on.
Ms Beauchamp —No. As far as I am aware they are not passed on.
Senator FERGUSON —If you said to me you needed this list of names because you wanted to do a security check I could understand it. But I cannot understand why you would want to take the names of people attending if you were not going to do a security check.
Ms Beauchamp —As I said, it is purely for logistical reasons so we can validate that was the actual person that attended.
Senator RYAN —You keep the list of attendees. Is that list put into a database of any form? Is it used in any way subsequent to the meeting?
Ms Beauchamp —Not that I am aware of.
Senator FERGUSON —But you would not be the only one with the list, would you?
Ms Beauchamp —Our community engagement team would have the list.
Senator KROGER —Who has access to the list of attendees?
Ms Beauchamp —Probably nobody outside of the community engagement team.
Senator KROGER —The community engagement team being the 13 staff members.
Ms Beauchamp —Correct.
Senator KROGER —So no ministers would be aware of or would have a look at that list.
Ms Beauchamp —No, not that I am aware of, but I will confirm that.
Senator ABETZ —And the local member or senator is not advised of the list?
Ms Beauchamp —No.
Senator RYAN —I would also like to know if you subsequently find out that any of those lists have been passed on and what fields are captured in them—names, email addresses, phone numbers.
Ms Beauchamp —I will be able to get that information and I will be able to confirm what I have said later today.
Senator FERGUSON —We need to know whether or not it is just the names of those attending or whether it is the name, plus an address, an email address or a telephone contact. I would like to know what is actually entailed in that list.
Ms Beauchamp —I will confirm that today.
Senator ABETZ —How do you communicate with a person that they have been accepted into the community cabinet? You must have some contact details for those people.
Ms Beauchamp —As I said, I will confirm.
Senator RYAN —I would like to turn to the issue of the size of the public service, and I am asking the minister and Prime Minister and Cabinet as the senior agency. I have noted by comparing the state of the service reports from 2009 and 2007 that we have seen quite a dramatic increase in the size of the senior executive service. My numbers tell me the size of the senior executive service has grown by over 12 per cent. I was wondering, Minister, if this was the result of a specific government policy to dramatically increase the size of the senior executive service.
Senator Ludwig —I am not aware of any government policy.
Senator RYAN —So what is the explanation of the 12 per cent growth? At the moment the starting salary in the SES is $130,000 plus, plus superannuation, plus various benefits. It strikes me that a more than 12 per cent growth is quite dramatic over a two-year period.
Senator Ludwig —They are your figures, I just wanted to make sure where they are from. Do you have the actual figures?
Senator RYAN —I have the State of the service report—I have an amalgam of the data here, I do not have the actual page—which shows at 2007 there were 2,535 SES employees and that in 2009 there were 2,845 SES employees, which my maths tells me is just over 12 per cent.
Senator FERGUSON —Cutting down the Public Service!
Senator RYAN —It seems to be, at double the average weekly wage.
Senator Ludwig —It may be that we can get the APSC here if you are going to deal with those questions, because many of the answers that we could provide would be from officers from the APSC and, of course—
Senator RYAN —Minister, I would actually be interested partly in your answer too, because in a newspaper article in November 2007, the Prime Minister said:
I think we’ve had too much bloating of the administration in the federal bureaucracy and it’s time some of those resources were actually put into frontline services.
How many of these SES employees are actually in front-line services?
Senator Ludwig —Again, you would have to ask individual agencies about their establishment, what their current SES level is and whether there has been turnover, or whether there has been a growth in the SES in relation to the agency’s front-line staff. I will give you one example: in responding to the global financial crisis Centrelink increased staff numbers and they were front-line staff.
Senator RYAN —SES employees manning the desks?
Senator Ludwig —No, that is not what I said. But in questioning each of those departments, I think the onus would be on you to establish a broader question—by department—rather than an overview answered by me because, of course, I do not have the particular facts and figures of each individual department at my hands. Broadly, as I indicated, the APSC could answer some more generalised questions in this area and if you want to hold those questions until then, we could deal with them at that time.
Senator RYAN —Minister, the reason I am asking you is that we have a statement from the Prime Minister about cutting bureaucracy and putting staff into front-line resources and we have virtually unprecedented growth of over 12 per cent in two years of people on double the average weekly wage and more and who, I understand as SES staff, are based primarily in Canberra. If I could bring similar figures to your attention—SES staff are not generally at the core of front-line services. At the same time, over the same period, we have had cut of nearly 40 per cent in the number of trainees, a cut of just over 11 per cent in the number of graduates working within the APS and a cut of over 40 per cent in the number of staff at the APS1 level. Does this not just represent a significant growth and bloating of the bureaucracy at the top end?
Senator Ludwig —Each APS department and agency is responsible for managing its own resources—I think I have indicated that. But the number of ongoing SES employees—
Senator RYAN —What oversight does the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet exercise?
Senator Ludwig —Are you going to let me answer or are you happy to make comment? Because I am trying to provide you—
Senator RYAN —I am asking a further question.
Senator Ludwig —Then let me answer the first question before you jump to your next question. On the number of ongoing SES, you have indicated a figure with which I disagree but I am certainly happy to take that on notice—
Senator RYAN —So what is your figure?
Senator Ludwig —It seems SES employees grew by something of the order of 5.4 per cent during 2008-09. But in 2006-07 State of the service report it was suggested—if you go back, and I invite you to have a look—that the increase in SES employment over recent years reflects a range of new initiatives and enhanced functions that the APS has been required to take on. Many of these have been of an especially complex nature or difficult to manage. Other factors in the growth include some of the fundamental changes occurring across the APS regarding the quantity and nature of APS work. These include increasing accountability requirements, the extent of high-level engagement with stakeholders required by senior officers and the ICT revolution, which has facilitated an explosion in the pace and extent of communication.
This now means that the SES are expected to be on call. The 2008-09 State of the service report confirmed the increased demands on SES employees with 43 per cent reported working more than the standard hours. If you look at what the Prime Minister has said, I understand that there has been the Moran review which is on foot and which will also assist in looking at some of these areas. As I indicated and outlined, there are reasons for that increase.
Senator RYAN —Minister, the figures I was quoting to clarify were 2007-09. The figures I was quoting were over a two-year period, not over a one-year period and you have said that this is very much up to the line agencies. Is there no direction coming from the Prime Minister about fulfilling his commitment in 2007 to restrain the bloating bureaucracy—I can requote the words if you’d like—and redirecting resources to front-line services? This is at the same time as if you want to get a start in the APS your chances have declined by 40 per cent. There is a 40 per cent decline in trainees over the same period, an 11 per cent decline in graduates—the future leaders of the APS—and a more than 40 per cent decline in APS 1.
Senator Ludwig —Again, I did indicate that the Moran review is underway and many of the issues you have raised will be examined within that framework.
Senator RYAN —None of that actually answers why there has been a 12 per cent increase in this, Minister, but do you have a view on the comment of Andrew Podger, the National President of the Institute of Public Administration Australia when he said that a lack of central control over recruitment and industrial relations had allowed ‘classification creep’ to spiral out of control. Isn’t this just an example of yet more bloating at the top end of the bureaucracy, and at the same time as you are cutting graduates who represent the leaders in the generation?
Senator Ludwig —As I indicated, the Moran review is looking at, from my recollection, a range of issues including those which you have outlined.
Senator RYAN —Are you or the government concerned about a 12 per cent decline in the number of graduates in the APS? They have declined from 2007—and I am happy to be corrected—from 1,256 to the report in 2009 that had 1,114.
Senator Ludwig —It is probably worthwhile taking you through in terms of the reform of the Australian government administration where the Prime Minister did announce the establishment of an advisory group on reform of the Australian government administration. That was on 3 September 2009 and it is tasked with developing a blueprint for reform by early 2010. It will draw on consultation processes following the release of a discussion paper, an international benchmarking study, because it is important to benchmark in this area. The advisory group has met a range of times. As of 21 January it had, I think, met four times. The consultative strategy is aimed to call for submissions. One of the areas that we will be looking at is these issues that you have raised within the committee but of course we do take any decline in any numbers very seriously. It is a matter that I think you have to put in context. If those figures you highlight are correct—I don’t know whether they are—but should they be correct, you have to also put them into context as well.
Senator RYAN —Only two more. In that answer, Minister, you used the terms ‘reform’, ‘blueprint review’, ‘consultation’, ‘consultative strategy’ and ‘advisory group’. I am still none the wiser about what that means.
Senator Ludwig —It is a concern. If those figures—
CHAIR —Could I just remind senators that, if you put a question to the witnesses, you should at least wait until they have an opportunity to answer it, and then you can put another question. Speaking over the top of one another is not helpful for the committee and it is certainly not helpful for Hansard to record these proceedings. The minister has the call.
Senator RYAN —I had not finished the question, Chair.
CHAIR —He was still responding to your previous question. The minister has the call. He was responding to your question.
Senator RYAN —He was not. I had not finished it.
Senator Ludwig —And I had not finished responding. It is a concern to me that those graduate numbers, if they are accurate, are dropping off and, also, that we do not recruit enough from the private sector. That is plain.
Senator RYAN —Minister, my point was: what you said to me—
Senator Ludwig —Do you have a question or a point? There is a difference.
Senator RYAN —The point of the question, Minister, was—which it did not get to conclude—in the answer, where you mentioned the terms ‘reform’, ‘blueprint review’, ‘advisory group’, ‘consultation’, and ‘consultative strategy’, none of that actually explains what has happened over the previous 24 months. All of that is about what is going to happen from this point on. My questions are about the 24 months. If you do not have an answer for why you cannot get a start in APS these days, because the trainee positions and the graduate positions have been cut, but the fat cats are being bloated, then I am happy with that and I will move on. Senator Abetz has some questions.
Senator ABETZ —I have four hopefully quick and discrete areas. I understand that Senator Ronaldson may have asked about the climate change caravan and the costs. We were told to do that tonight—is that correct—under Climate Change?
CHAIR —No, those questions—
Senator ABETZ —All I want to know is—
Senator Ludwig —The Department of Climate Change is on at 7.30 this evening and I have not that question being raised.
Senator ABETZ —No, but we should be asking all these questions under the Department of Climate Change because I do not want the situation to be that at Climate Change we are told that the Prime Minister might be the one to ask about the cost of his caravan to Copenhagen. I just want to make sure that we know which area we should be asking.
CHAIR —Could I also, just for the witnesses’ benefit and also for the committee, correct the hours. We will be adjourning for dinner at seven o’clock and recommencing at 8 pm.
Senator ABETZ —Thank you. So, when do I ask? Now or at Climate Change?
Senator RONALDSON —I think it could be both because there is very substantial—
Senator Ludwig —I think you should ask the question here—
CHAIR —You could ask the question and then, if it is relevant, they will answer it—
Senator Ludwig —and then, if we can provide an answer, we will. If we say we cannot—
Senator ABETZ —Senator Ronaldson has some questions on that, so I will quickly move on to another area. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has a media monitoring service—is that correct?
Ms Beauchamp —Correct.
Senator ABETZ —To whom is that media monitoring disseminated to—how many recipients?
Ms Beauchamp —It is available to the whole of the department.
Senator ABETZ —What about the Prime Minister’s office? Do they have a separate media monitoring service, separate to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Ms Beauchamp —We provide that service.
Senator ABETZ —I do not often rely on this, but they tell me that a particular article that was published on 1 February 2010, titled ‘The reshuffle Rudd may have to have’, which appeared in the Australian Financial Review, was mysteriously left out of the media clips on that day. I was wondering whether you can tell us, one, whether the media monitoring service that is engaged actually passed that article on to the Prime Minister’s office—
Ms Beauchamp —I will have to take that on notice.
Senator ABETZ —Yes, on notice. And, if they did, who within the Prime Minister’s office took the decision to remove that article from all the other articles that would normally be disseminated? How common a practice is it in the Prime Minister’s office to just pull those articles that may not necessarily be favourable?
Ms Beauchamp —I will take all that on notice, but, to clarify, we do have a contract with Media Monitors and it does provide support to the department and the PMO where access is joined to a sort of media monitor portal. I would be very surprised if there was any direction to take something off the portal.
Senator ABETZ —I refer you to Natasha Robinson, a very reputable source, in the Australian on 2 February 2010. Certain astute parliamentarians peruse the papers—and, I assume, these must be Labor parliamentarians, because I do not get them—and a certain article was missing from the clippings pile, which just happened to be the reshuffle Rudd may have to have. So I would be interested in just how that occurred. Moving on to the Pacific Islands Forum, I understand that the Hon. Duncan Kerr has now resigned as Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. Is it intended, Minister, to replace him?
Senator Ludwig —That would be a matter for the Prime Minister.
Senator ABETZ —And you happen to be representing the Prime Minister here. That is why I am asking you.
Senator Ludwig —You will know, when an announcement is made, if the Prime Minister—
Senator ABETZ —No. I am asking: is it the Prime Minister’s intention to replace him? The answer is either yes or no. What is the difficulty?
Senator Ludwig —There is no difficulty.
Senator ABETZ —Then answer it.
Senator Ludwig —I will check with the Prime Minister.
Senator ABETZ —Will you take it on notice then?
Senator Ludwig —I will take it, now that you have asked, on notice.
Senator ABETZ —Why does it have to be so difficult? There is a very real concern within the Pacific island communities that we had a special person appointed to this position so that a certain Hon. Kevin Rudd could become chair of the Pacific Islands Forum. Now that he has that position, there is no longer the need within the Australian government to have such a position. I would have thought that, if this were an important, serious ministry within the government, as soon as Duncan Kerr announced his intention, the Prime Minister would have been considering and ready to appoint a replacement. But it seems that is not happening.
CHAIR —Is there a question there?
Senator Ludwig —What I have indicated is that we will take it on notice.
Senator ABETZ —The next item is that I understand within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet there is—and forgive me if I do not get the terminology right—a section that deals with work and family issues. Is that correct?
Dr Grimes —That is correct. There is a section that deals with work and family.
Senator ABETZ —What input, if any, did that section make to Fair Work Australia in relation to the modern awards?
Dr Grimes —We would have to take that on notice to see if there was any involvement in that process.
Senator ABETZ —When you do that, can you then indicate to us, if there was such a submission or representation to them, whether such submission or representation could be made publicly available in relation to the matters that they would have raised. Thank you.
Senator FERGUSON —Minister, today in parliament the Prime Minister tabled the new ministerial arrangements that are in place following the resignation of Duncan Kerr, and, in fact, there is no replacement for Duncan Kerr as Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. So I am wondering why you say that you have to go and find out. He tabled the ministerial arrangements today.
Senator ABETZ —It was a special lap of honour for Mr Kerr before his retirement.
Senator Ludwig —The question was in fact broader than that.
Senator FERGUSON —Is he going to be replaced?
Senator Ludwig —Let me answer the question that you asked at first instant. The question that was asked was broader than that, but I was not in parliament nor in the House of Representatives at question time. However, as I indicated, it is a question that was asked, which was broader than the specific question you have now asked, and I said I would take it on notice. In fact, I agreed to take it on notice.
Senator FERGUSON —In fact, Minister, if the new ministerial arrangements have been tabled in the parliament I do not see why you have to take it on notice—there is no Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs.
Senator Ludwig —I am happy not to take it on notice if that is the case.
Senator FERGUSON —I am surprised that you do not know what the ministerial arrangements are.
Senator Ludwig —That is a different question again but what was tabled today—the new ministerial arrangements—does not mean that a new minister will not be appointed. It just does not follow, but what has been—
Senator FERGUSON —It does follow. The Prime Minister said, ‘Following the resignation of Duncan Kerr from the ministry these are the new ministerial arrangements,’ which indicates he will not be replaced.
Senator Ludwig —That is your take on it. I have answered your question—
Senator FERGUSON —How could I take it any other way?
Senator Ludwig —and I have also indicated that I will take Senator Abetz’s question—
Senator ABETZ —Do the new ministerial arrangements have a vacancy next to the position of Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs?
Senator FERGUSON —No, it has disappeared.
Senator Ludwig —Do you have it there?
Senator ABETZ —No, I do not but I have seen it and the answer is that there is no such position.
Senator FERGUSON —There is no parliamentary secretary.
Senator ABETZ —And you know that as well as we do—just put it on the record.
Senator FERGUSON —Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, have you any questions?
Senator RONALDSON —I turn now to the matter raised by Senator Abetz in relation to the Prime Minister’s Copenhagen delegation. I have a provisional list of participants, which was on the United Nations website, which had the Australian contingent at 114 people. Did the provisional list of participants become the final list? This is one which they were aware of on the basis of information received as at Friday, 4 December 2009. It was printed on 8 December 2009.
Senator Ludwig —I did not want you to spend too much time on this. That may be a question that you will have to direct to the Department of Climate Change. We can answer from PM&C.
Senator RONALDSON —I presume that PM&C was the lead agency in relation to Copenhagen. The Prime Minister was a friend of the chair and I presume that PM&C was actively engaged in those who were invited and, indeed, in their program.
Mr Suckling —The role of Prime Minister and Cabinet was to support the Prime Minister’s involvement directly in Copenhagen, not the entire proceedings of Copenhagen, which was more the responsibility of the Department of Climate Change. Questions in terms of the overall numbers would be better directed to that department. We can speak for the extent to which we supported the Prime Minister’s involvement in Copenhagen, but not the spectrum of involvement at Copenhagen.
Senator RONALDSON —Who is responsible for the costs of the delegation—which department paid those?
Mr Suckling —Different departments sent different delegations and they were responsible for those costs. Regarding the departments that sent their delegations, you would be directing your questions to them. For example, the Department of Climate Change had an overarching role in terms of the prosecution of our representation at Copenhagen, but other departments sent people in terms of their particular responsibilities.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Suckling, you must know what the costs were of this delegation. This was the biggest thing since Texas, apparently. Have you actually got the figures or do you not have the figures?
Mr Lewis —Chair, May I comment? Senator Ronaldson, just to come back to this point, I think Mr Suckling has made it clear that the overall issue of coordination and representation was a matter for the Department of Climate Change. This department, the Prime Minister’s department, was supporting the Prime Minister. We are able to take your questions with regard to this department’s involvement.
Senator RONALDSON —What were the costs for your department?
Mr Suckling —I do not have the total costs for our department at hand.
Senator RONALDSON —I hope you are not serious, that you do not have the costs for this.
Mr Suckling —No—I can take it on notice. I do not have them at hand.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, I think that is an absolute disgrace. That is outrageous. Mr Lewis, do you have the costs?
Ms Beauchamp —Could I clarify, Senator. We do have a question on notice about this, in terms of costs, the size of the delegation et cetera. It would be—
Senator RONALDSON —When was that lodged, by the way?
Ms Beauchamp —My understanding is that it has not been finished, so would be inappropriate—
Senator RONALDSON —When was the question lodged?
Ms Beauchamp —I do not have that information here.
Senator RONALDSON —I am rather hoping my staff will send something through very quickly, and they are listening. I think it was me who put some of those questions on notice. Irrespective of whether that is on notice, this is a—
Senator FERGUSON —An estimates hearing.
0Senator Forshaw interjecting—
Senator Ludwig —If I could provide—
Senator RONALDSON —Madam Chair, could we have some sense from the other side, please.
Senator Ludwig —I could provide some assistance, just to put it in context. As you know, a full report of travel undertaken at government expense is tabled twice a year in the parliament. You are aware of that. I can assure you that the details of travel to Copenhagen will be included in that report. That is the first instance. The second is that I understand it is not possible to give a figure on the costs of this travel as the reconciliation process for these costs has not been completed, but I am sure we will be able to take the issue on notice and provide an answer once the reconciliation has occurred and is completed.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, how can it be that you cannot provide one of your Senate colleagues in a Senate estimates hearing with any figures and yet apparently the Nine Network was able to obtain figures under the Freedom of Information Act which reported that 68 delegates spent $541,271 on airfares, with 53 delegates entitled to business class travel; they spent $244,848—hardly a stab in the dark, I would have thought—on hotel accommodation, $156,738 on meals and travel allowances, and other charges, which brought the bill to $1,429,707.
Senator RYAN —Does that include offsets?
Senator RONALDSON —Who would know! And that was on the weekend of 9 January.
Senator FERGUSON —They can get it; we cannot!
Senator Ludwig —As I have indicated, maybe you are asking the wrong minister some of these questions. As I have indicated, they should be directed to the Department of Climate Change. That could very well be one of those. If I qualify what I indicated earlier, I was dealing with MoPS Act employees.
Senator RONALDSON —Do I take it tonight that those who ask questions in the proceedings tonight are going to be told that the figures have not been finalised?
Senator Ludwig —That was in relation to MoPS Act employees. I am not sure what the Department of Climate Change is going to say. That is why you need to ask them there.
Senator RONALDSON —With great respect, let’s not get tied up in the MoPS Act matters. Someone has given a figure of $1.5 million. Have you, Mr Suckling, provided the Department of Climate Change, or anyone else, with an estimate of the costs for PM&C?
Mr Suckling —No, I have not.
Senator RONALDSON —I take it from that, then, that the figures we have on FOI are $1.5 million plus whatever the expenditure was for PM&C. Do you accept that?
Senator Ludwig —Just to be clear, is there a copy of what you are reading from so that those at the—
Senator RONALDSON —Why should I do your homework for you when you have a massive department out there who apparently do not even read the Financial Review and who apparently do not even know whether there is going to be referenda in relation to the matter? Why should we be doing your homework for you? Why don’t you tell this multitude of people behind you to start doing some work?
Senator CAMERON —We are running the country, not—
Senator RONALDSON —Running the country—gee whiz! What a fantastic job you are doing!
Senator Ludwig —It has been a longstanding practice—
CHAIR —Order! Senator Ronaldson, the minister was attempting to answer your question. If we can allow the minister to complete his question you can put another question to him. I am having a lot of difficulty hearing the responses as it is, because of the sound system in this room, so I would appreciate some courtesy.
Senator RONALDSON —I share your frustration.
Senator Ludwig —There are two issues which I will provide an answer to. Firstly, in relation to the committee and the tabling of newspaper clippings or other evidence that you are trying to elicit a response about, it is in fairness to the witness that I ask you to provide it. The committees that I have been involved with for a long time have ensured that practice. It is also an issue that I watch carefully to ensure that when people quote from documents they do not selectively quote and to ensure that they put it in context. When I was in opposition, ministers at the table required me to do the same thing and I understood the reason for it was to ensure fairness to the witnesses when questions were put. I am sure you will continue with that practice.
The answer to your second question, which was in a number of parts, relates to the FOI request. I am not aware of that. It would depend on what department it was directed to, and that is why I indicated earlier that some of these questions that you have asked may be more appropriately directed to the Department of Climate Change. PM&C will answer the question as far as they can in relation to the work that they have undertaken in respect of that. I would expect them to do that. But of course—
Senator RONALDSON —I would expect it too. Thank you; I agree with that. So Mr Suckling says that there are no estimates of what the costs were to PM&C. I will just do a very rough head count. Would the Ambassador for Climate Change—Ms Hand—come under your bailiwick or the Department of Climate Change?
Mr Suckling —No, Senator, that is the thing—
Senator RONALDSON —You were there, Mr Suckling, weren’t you?
Mr Suckling —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, indeed. You will be able to tell me about this. What about Australian Federal Police, are they under your bailiwick?
Mr Suckling —No, they are not. That is the issue that we are trying to answer. There are a range of costs with a range of people from a range of agencies, which is currently being worked through to provide a comprehensive and detailed answer so I cannot give you a detailed answer at this stage.
Senator RONALDSON —Well I can tell you, Mr Suckling—and you know as well as I do because you were there; it is a pity that you had not indicated to me before that you were there—that there were at least 18 people from PM&C who presumably PM&C had budget responsibility for.
Mr Suckling —From PM&C there were two people—me and one other person. Other people went in support of the Prime Minister from the Prime Minister’s office but that is not in my area of responsibility.
Ms Beauchamp —Could I also confirm that cost related ministerial travel, as we mentioned earlier, should be directed to the department of finance.
Senator RONALDSON —So we are now breaking it down into subgroups, are we? Minister, can I ask you, please, to provide this committee as a matter of urgency with the actual cost of the Copenhagen caravan, as it has been referred to tonight. I think it is totally unsatisfactory that you are hiding behind this veil of diminished responsibility, I will call it, as to who has got responsibility and where. I think it is a complete and utter disgrace. Channel 9 apparently has got an FOI for $1.5 million. Mr Suckling has told me that he has not provided any costing from PM&C to anyone, so we can conclude from that that the $1.5 million does not include any PM&C costings. Is that right?
Senator Ludwig —In answer—
Senator RONALDSON —It has not been provided; it cannot be there, can it?
Senator Ludwig —In answer to your question, the Department of Climate Change would be more appropriately placed to answer the questions that you have asked. In terms of PM&C’s involvement, the officers on my right have provided an answer.
Senator RONALDSON —You have had a ripping day, Minister, haven’t you? You are covering up the attendance of—
Senator Ludwig —Is there a question here or are you making slurs again?
Senator RONALDSON —prime ministerial staff at the border protection subcommittee—
CHAIR —Could I just draw the committee’s attention to the time restraints that we have under the agreement the committees had, to ensure that all areas are covered off.
Senator RONALDSON —I withdraw that—
CHAIR —There are other senators who want to follow on from you in relation to the costings, Senator Ronaldson. Can I ask senators to put questions to the witnesses rather than making statements.
Senator FERGUSON —I want to follow on from one thing that Senator Ronaldson said.
CHAIR —Senator Ferguson, with all due respect, Senator Ronaldson has had the call on costs. Senator Cameron has been patiently waiting to ask some five questions. I intend to go to Senator Cameron. If Senator Ronaldson has no further questions on the costing I will go to Senator Cameron and come back to Senator Ferguson and then back to you.
Senator RONALDSON —Where did you stay, Mr Suckling?
Mr Suckling —I honestly cannot remember. It was in the hotel with the Prime Minister. I would have to double check.
Senator RONALDSON —Sorry! You do not know where you stayed?
Mr Suckling —No.
Senator KROGER —How long ago was this?
Senator RONALDSON —It is only Monday, not Friday. You do not remember where you stayed?
Mr Suckling —No. It was an SAS hotel in Copenhagen. There are three or four of them. I cannot remember the exact name of it.
Senator FERGUSON —If you didn’t know where to send a taxi you were in trouble!
CHAIR —If you want to continue to interject that is fine, but bear in mind the restraints in the agreed time frame. It is unhelpful if we want to continue through the program. Senator Ronaldson, you have the call if you want to put a question. Otherwise I intend going to Senator Cameron on the issue of costs.
Senator RONALDSON —Did anyone stay at the Hotel KongArthur in the heart of Copenhagen?
Ms Beauchamp —Senator Ronaldson, these questions should be directed to the Department of Climate Change. If I can just confirm we have not received any FOI request about costs. The costs to our department were minimal. As Mr Suckling has said, we had two attendees. The costs related to ministerial travel and accommodation should be directed to the department of finance.
Senator RONALDSON —Ms Beauchamp, it is terrific to hear from you, but I actually was not asking you about this. I was asking whether Mr Suckling—
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, there is a point of order being raised by Senator Collins.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —My point of order is that Senator Ronaldson continues to make derogatory comments to the witnesses at the table and I would ask that you ask him to desist.
CHAIR —I remind committee members, who are quite experienced now in the process of estimates, to ensure they are putting questions. We do not need a running commentary on the events or side issues. They are quite unhelpful not only to the committee but certainly to the witnesses. Senator Ronaldson, you have the call in relation to costs and I remind you that I intend to go to Senator Cameron. Could you move on with your questions on costs so we can do the follow-up and then move on to Senator Ferguson.
Senator RONALDSON —Are you going to take on notice the numbers of people from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and from the Prime Minister’s office who attended Copenhagen and the cost of that?
Mr Suckling —I can clarify now that the number from PM&C was three.
Senator RONALDSON —So are you going to ask me to go off to Finance and ask them what the costs were for the rest of the contingent? Honestly and truly! Minister, can I ask you a question? Looking at this document from the UN, are you aware of whether departments have political advisers? Do you know of any departments that have political advisers?
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, are you moving off costs?
Senator RONALDSON —I have not moved off costs, because it is directly related to costs.
Senator Ludwig —What document are you referring to?
Senator RONALDSON —Do you know of any departments where there are political advisers?
Ms Beauchamp —Are you referring to Australian Public Service agency departments?
Senator RONALDSON —Yes—amongst the departments that you would no doubt have a close relationship with. I will ask you, Mr Suckling: did you catch up with a Ms Gaia Puleston while you were over in Copenhagen at a place where you cannot remember where you were staying?
Mr Suckling —No.
Senator RONALDSON —You do not? According to this document, she is a political adviser for the Department of Climate Change. Why would the Department of Climate Change have a political adviser?
Senator Ludwig —You will get the opportunity this evening to ask the Department of Climate Change.
CHAIR —I am going to go to Senator Cameron and we will then go to Senator Ferguson.
Senator RONALDSON —I have got just one question in relation to costs, if I may.
CHAIR —We will hear your final question, and then I intend to go to Senator Cameron, and then Senator Ferguson wants to do a follow-up.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Suckling, while you were over there, did you bump into Eugene Olim from DFAT?
Mr Suckling —No, Senator.
Senator RONALDSON —His job was Passport Baggage Liaison Officer. Your baggage or your passport were not looked after by Mr Olim?
Mr Suckling —No. As I explained, we supported the Prime Minister’s involvement and representation at Copenhagen.
Senator RONALDSON —So, did Mr Olim look after the Prime Minister’s baggage?
Mr Suckling —Not to my knowledge, no.
Senator CAMERON —Dr Grimes, in relation to costings, is it true that Australia’s list of attendees at the Copenhagen climate change conference was more comprehensive than that provided by other countries? For example, I understand that the United Kingdom did not list the Prime Minister, ministerial staff, subnational or regional agency staff; China did not include the presidential staff; and the US list did not include the President, any White House staff or state or regional representatives.
Dr Grimes —That may be right, but I am not aware of the department conducting analysis on that.
Senator CAMERON —Can someone take that on notice?
Dr Grimes —We can certainly take that on notice.
Senator CAMERON —In relation to costs for overseas travel, can anyone tell me what the bill was for the previous Prime Minister John Howard’s stay at the St Regis Grand Hotel in Rome? I understand it was in the order of $180,000 for four nights. Is that correct?
Dr Grimes —I do not have the information here to confirm that figure, but we can check back through the records, if you like.
Senator CAMERON —Will you take that on notice? Are you aware if at the St Regis Grand Hotel the Prime Minister was charged an extra $10,000 as a late checkout fee? If you do not know that, would you take it on notice? What guidelines has the government put in place since elected to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money from these overseas trips?
Senator Ludwig —This is a serious issue. In October 2009, the guidelines on ministerial travel were amended by this government, for the first time. The amendment was made to reduce the level of travel for shorter flights from first class to business class to better reflect community standards; to make it clear that staff are to travel in business class; and to make clear that ministers are expected to seek value for money for the Commonwealth and are required to confirm that the most effective arrangements have been sought for the travel. All of these measures are designed to ensure that travel is reasonable, necessary and in Australia’s national interest.
Senator CAMERON —Given criticism about ministers and the Prime Minister travelling overseas, what would be the situation if ministers did not travel overseas? What would that do to our international standing?
Senator FERGUSON —That’s a hypothetical question, Madam Chair. I do not think we are allowed hypothetical questions.
Senator CAMERON —Would you like to take that on board?
CHAIR —I think you have to rephrase your question, Senator Cameron.
Senator Ludwig —If you look at it more broadly, it is vitally important, as it was with previous governments, for this government to travel overseas and engage with other nations on issues in which Australia has an interest. The impact of the global financial crisis has demonstrated how vitally important it is to engage in international fora and how important it is for Australia to take its place in the world in order to defend its national interests. That is the critical issue that is before us. The Rudd government has been active in international affairs because of the issues it has confronted as a government, such as the global financial crisis, climate change and, of course, other important environmental issues, which are being grappled with all over the world. It means that, from time to time, ministers and the Prime Minister will be required to travel. This is the case under the Rudd government, just as it was the case under the Howard government and, if we go back further, under the Hawke and Keating governments.
Senator CAMERON —I have one last question on this issue of costs and ministerial travel. Could you give me a breakdown of how many ministerial trips involved an accompanying spouse under this government and under the previous Liberal government?
Senator Ludwig —I can. Under the Liberals from October 2004—
CHAIR —Sorry, Minister, there is a point of order. Senator Ronaldson, what is your point of order?
Senator RONALDSON —My point of order is that, while I am sure this is great fun, we have 40 minutes left.
Senator Ludwig —I am happy to take this on notice.
Senator RONALDSON —Madam Chair, how does this relate to the question of the costs of the Copenhagen conference?
Senator CAMERON —Will you take my question on notice, Minister?
CHAIR —There is no point of order before the chair, but I remind the Senate committee that there is limited time. Senator Cameron had the call. I intend to go next to Senator Ferguson, who wanted to follow-up; I will then go to Senator Hanson-Young; then to Senator Forshaw; and then we will go back to you, Senator Ronaldson. I do not think you can complain about the amount of time that you have had during the course of the day, Senator. Senator Ferguson, you have the call.
Senator FERGUSON —Madam Chair, I only want to ask a couple of questions just to make it quite clear, in response to some of the answers, that with the freedom of information request that was complied with and reported on 9 January no costs associated with PM&C have been included in that freedom of information request. In other words, all of the costs are on top of the amount that has been described in the freedom of information request.
Dr Grimes —My understanding is Mr Suckling does not have direct knowledge of the FOI request so he cannot answer your question directly. That is my understanding. Mr Suckling may want to confirm that directly.
Mr Suckling —That is correct.
Senator FERGUSON —Hang on, he cannot answer the question. In other words, you do not know whether you have given any information to anybody else with regard to the costs that were met by PM&C.
Senator FORSHAW —On a point of order, Madam Chair, that is not the question that Senator Ferguson just asked.
Senator FERGUSON —Well, I am asking it now.
Senator FORSHAW —You were following up the question and putting to the witness that he could not answer the earlier question for a different reason to what he actually gave. His reason was that he was not aware of the FOI request.
Senator FERGUSON —There is no restriction on the questions that we can ask witnesses.
Senator FORSHAW —But put the question as a new question, not as a question—
Senator FERGUSON —I will put a question how I want to put a question, Senator Forshaw.
Senator FORSHAW —You are actually asserting that the witness—
Senator FERGUSON —I do not—
CHAIR —There is a point of order before the chair. Senator Forshaw had the call. He was making a point of order. Senator Forshaw raised a point of order. I would appreciate it if I could at least hear the argument to the point of order without continual interruptions. It is not helpful to the smooth running of this process. Senator Forshaw, I am sorry but I have to ask you to repeat that.
Senator FORSHAW —I am content to let it go now because I think Senator Ferguson is now going to ask a new question.
Senator FERGUSON —I am going to ask the same question.
CHAIR —Senator Ferguson has the call. Senator, I would ask you to put your question to the witness.
Senator FERGUSON —Are you saying that at no stage have you responded giving any information on the costs of PM&C to anybody else even including the freedom of information request, which is some $1½ million? So what you are saying is that your costs are on top of any published amount that has been put in the paper.
Senator Ludwig —You asked the question and the witness can answer that. With the second part of it you are then—
Senator FERGUSON —No—
CHAIR —The minister was responding. There were two parts to your question.
Senator Ludwig —The witness should answer the first part—
Senator FERGUSON —Let me put it another way. Have you disclosed to anybody any costs in relation to PM&C that were expended in the journey to Copenhagen?
Mr Suckling —This is why, when I have been asked these questions, I have said I do not know and I will have to take them on notice, because I am not aware and I am not running the tabulation of the costs within PM&C in terms of the questions that you are asking. So therefore I do not know.
Senator FERGUSON —So who is running the tabulation of costs?
Ms Beauchamp —Could I just confirm that we have a detailed question on notice about costs that have been borne by PM&C in relation to the trip to Copenhagen and we are currently in the process of responding to that question on notice.
Senator FERGUSON —So if that is the case that means that the costs that you are still tabulating could not possibly be included in the freedom of information request, could they?
Ms Beauchamp —As far as I aware, we have not been requested to provide any information under any FOI request.
Senator FERGUSON —Who would know whether you have been?
Senator Ludwig —Would you know where the FOI request has been made and to which department? That would be really helpful.
Senator FERGUSON —That is not the question I was asking.
Senator Ludwig —Yes, it is.
Senator FERGUSON —That is not the question I asked.
Senator Ludwig —So you do not know? Just say you do not know.
Senator FERGUSON —I do not know. That is why I am asking.
Senator Ludwig —You are just asking a very speculative question. But do you know whether an FOI request has been made? Do you know which department it has been made to? Do you know when it was put in?
Senator FERGUSON —Minister, you are being very evasive.
Senator Ludwig —That would be helpful for the witness to be able to then answer your question.
CHAIR —Sorry, but can I remind senators that, while it is difficult enough to hear because of the audio system or the fact that people are not speaking into their microphone, it is even more difficult for Hansard to record these proceedings at present. The minister was trying to respond and I am finding it very difficult to hear him, so if we could please also allow the witness to continue and to finish their answer before putting any further questions.
Senator FORSHAW —Chair, could I make a point of order. The question that is being put by Senator Ferguson to the witness is asking the witness to draw a conclusion about the extent of the information provided under the freedom of information request. The witness has previously said that he is not familiar with or aware of the details of that FOI request. So I would put that it is an inappropriate question to follow it up and ask him to ask him to draw a conclusion about an FOI request that he has initially indicated he cannot comment on because he is not aware of it and it is not in his area of responsibility.
Senator FERGUSON —On the point of order, if that is the case I am sure the minister at the table is quite capable of indicating that without being told by Senator Forshaw.
CHAIR —It would be very helpful if the minister were able to complete his response in silence so that I can at least hear it. Minister, you have the call.
Senator Ludwig —Thank you. What I was going to suggest as a way through is that we can take it on notice to establish whether you are asking the right department in relation to the FOI request; secondly, whether or not there has been any communication between PM&C or the department, or whoever made the FOI request.
Senator FERGUSON —Could I just ask a further question just for information purposes. Regarding the people who were seconded from DFAT to Climate Change, does that mean we have to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Department of Climate Change as to what the costs were for those people to attend Copenhagen?
Senator Ludwig —As neither relates to PM&C—
Senator FERGUSON —I have not quite finished the question. The second point of the same question is: does that mean we then have to go to every department and every minister to find out the costs of ministerial staff who went to Copenhagen? Isn’t there one department or one group of people who can come up with a total cost of this expedition to Copenhagen without having to get individually from every department the actual cost and spending of everybody who went to Copenhagen—the whole 114?
Senator Ludwig —Let me answer that question.
CHAIR —We have a question that has already been put. Could I just remind committee members that every senator—
0Senator Cameron interjecting—
CHAIR —Senator Cameron! I would just like to remind committee members that every senator has a right to come in and put questions. I think I have been fairly fair and even-handed in relation to the allocation of time for questions. We still have a number of senators who have other areas of PM&C that they want to cover. I have had undertaking that we will finish this and be able to move on after dinner to Climate Change, so I would ask for consideration—
Senator FERGUSON —I have asked my question and I was waiting for an answer. I will not be asking any more questions.
CHAIR —Senator Ferguson, could we then allow the minister or the departmental delegated person to respond. I intend to go to Senator Forshaw after conclusion of this answer. Minister, you have the call.
Senator Ludwig —Thank you, Chair. As I indicated earlier, you are claiming that there is an FOI request. This department, as I hear the evidence, say that they have not received any. Why would you ask PM&C? It would seem appropriate for you to ask the Department of Climate Change. Secondly, in relation to the question about other costs, of course the department of finance can deal with issues in relation to MoPS Act employees and provide those costings. Yes, Senator, as you will find in opposition, you do have to go to relevant committees to ask relevant questions of the various departments because that is where the information resides. They are best placed to provide the level of detail that you require. You can certainly, as other senators ask questions, put them on notice. I indicated earlier that I would take the earlier part of your question on notice.
Senator FERGUSON —Minister, it is strange that Channel 9 can get all this information but senators are deprived of it. It is remarkable.
Senator Ludwig —I take it that it is a statement.
Senator FERGUSON —It is a statement. I find it remarkable.
Senator FIELDING —Open government!
Senator FORSHAW —I understand Senator Ronaldson wanted a clarification.
CHAIR —Senator Forshaw, you wanted the call.
Senator FORSHAW —I want to move off climate change—that is all.
CHAIR —You have the call. Move on. You have the opportunity.
Senator RONALDSON —Madam Chair, please, I just want to—
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, you will get the call. Senator Forshaw has the call.
Senator FORSHAW —My question has nothing to do with climate change but it does have something to do with travel or the lack thereof. Senators—and I am sure that departmental officials and the minister at that table will recall—that, a few years ago, questions were raised in this committee’s estimates regarding the royal carriage that was being constructed by Mr Jim Fricklington. As I understand it, at the time, it came out in evidence that the previous government, the Howard government, had given a grant of $250,000 to Mr Frecklington to assist with the building of this carriage. I must admit, I had forgotten about it—or it was not at the top of my mind. We raised it on a number of occasions at estimates and then we did not hear much about this carriage. My attention was drawn to an article in the Sunday Telegraph on 31 January this year. I have copies. Apparently the construction of this coach is complete. I quote:
It has cost Australian taxpayers $250000 and took six years to build, but this ornate royal coach is finally ready to be handed over to the Queen. Trouble is, she doesn’t seem too fussed about taking delivery of it. Built by Manly monarchist Jim Frecklington at his North Head workshop, the State Coach Britannia was funded by a $250000 grant from the Howard government which also set aside another $100000 for transport costs.
Then it goes on to discuss the nature of the coach. Could someone tell me what is happening, if anything, from the government’s perspective or the department’s perspective, with respect to Mr Frecklington’s royal carriage?
Senator FERGUSON —Filibustering?
Senator FORSHAW —No, it is not filibustering; it is—
Senator FERGUSON —It was in the paper the other day. You just read it out.
Senator FORSHAW —Public money. What is happening?
Ms Beauchamp —My understanding is that we are not currently pursuing it, but I will have to take that on notice.
Senator FORSHAW —Pursuing anything at all to do with the coach.
Mr Lewis —I remember the discussions around this table at the time. I, like you, lost it from my radar screen. I do not think the department has done anything on this recently. We can take the question on notice.
Senator FORSHAW —I would like you to also, when you take it on notice, find out: have there been any requests from Mr Frecklington to access the $100,000, if that was promised by the previous government, as the article says, to assist with transportation costs? The article certainly implies this: this was a private initiative, as we know. Mr Frecklington was quoted in the article as saying that he has been in touch with the palace and expects to be delivering it or making arrangements soon. It has been winter time and it is a bit difficult. Is there expected to be any role at all for the Australian government in this initiative? It is not a small matter; a lot of public money has been put into this. Secondly, the presentation of a royal carriage as a gift to the Queen, our head of state, would be a matter of some interest to the government and the department. If you would be happy to take that on notice and give the committee a report, that would be good.
CHAIR —Senator Hanson-Young, we will be concluding, so I ask you to be mindful of that. We still have a way to go.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Firstly, I would like to apologise. I know you have covered some of the broader issues that I am going to ask you questions about, but I was in the other committee. You have had a discussion about the Oceanic Viking, but I have questions specifically in relation to the cargo ship that is docked in Merak, which we know is a different vessel. My questions go to the interaction that the Prime Minister’s office has had with Border Protection, Customs, the Federal Police, Foreign Affairs, and Immigration because, of course, it has been reported that it was the Prime Minister who asked for this boat to be intercepted by the Indonesian government. Border Protection and Customs have not been able to tell us when, indeed, the Prime Minister’s office was notified about this boat’s existence. We know the boat was intercepted on 11 October by the Indonesian government. When was the Prime Minister’s office made aware of the boat’s existence?
Mr Lewis —I do not have a record here of when that might have happened. It probably would have been a little time after 11 October, but I cannot be precise. I can take that question on notice and see if, in fact, that advice was given to the PMO.
—Which would have been the most likely agency to have informed the Prime Minister in this case?
Mr Lewis —It is most likely to have come from this department.
—Would this department has been given the heads-up from Border Protection; is that the normal protocol when a boat is sighted?
Mr Lewis —That is one of the ways in which it happens—we get advice from a number of sources. One of the ways, typically, that that happens is as a result of information in the hands of the Customs and Border Protection Service.
—You are not able to tell me exactly when but, of course, the Prime Minister was made aware at some stage by this office. Was any information given to the Prime Minister in relation to who was on board the boat—about the profile of the passengers?
Mr Lewis —I am able to say in this committee that detailed information with regard to this boat was derived, at least in part, as a result of an intelligence feed but I am not prepared to go into any further discussion about the provenance or the origins of that information.
—Do you know whether the Prime Minister was informed that there were children on board the boat?
Mr Lewis —No, I do not.
—By the time it gets to your office would you, typically, have that type of information?
Mr Lewis —In this particular case, I think not.
—There have been quite public reports that the Prime Minister requested the Indonesian government to intercept this boat. Is that a statement that you would agree is correct?
Mr Lewis —I understand the Prime Minister had discussions with the President of Indonesia on a number of issues, including people smuggling, prior to the interception of this vessel.
—Has the Prime Minister’s office continued to be in consultation with the Indonesian government now that the boat has been docked for 120-odd days, I think it is, in Merak.
Mr Lewis —That is something you would have to direct to the Prime Minister’s office. I cannot account for what engagement they have had.
—Is your office routinely alerted when there is a boat that is seen as unauthorised and has not yet reached Australian waters?
Mr Lewis —Most commonly.
—When the decision is to inform or request the Indonesian government to participate in that disruption activity, as the Customs and Border Protection Service put it—it is a disruption activity—is that advice that is given to the Prime Minister at the time or is that routinely done.
Mr Lewis —That is an operational matter.
—What makes it an issue where the Prime Minister needs to be involved? Why would the Prime Minister have been told about this particular case?
Mr Lewis —If it is considered to be a matter that is of sufficient gravity, sufficiently unusual, sufficiently important or sufficiently complex—but that is a matter of judgment.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —So we do not know exactly when, but can you take that on notice?
Mr Lewis —Yes I can. I want to alert you, however, to the fact that I have made the comment about the origins of this information. I am not prepared to go into the detail of where the information has been sourced and so on. Depending on the source of the information and the timing, I will endeavour to come back to you with the time that advice may or may not have been given to the Prime Minister’s office.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —However, you will endeavour to get me something and take it on notice.
Mr Lewis —I will repeat this: within the constrictions and the restrictions around the intelligence sources, then I will try to get you some sort of response to your question. If I am able to do that, I will respond positively, and if I cannot I will let you know that I cannot.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —In this particular case where the Prime Minister was of course alerted, was there also a discussion with the other relevant ministers in relation to it—the minister for immigration, the Minister for Foreign Affairs or Brendan O’Connor, obviously, as the minister for border protection?
Mr Lewis —I cannot speak about engagement that may have happened between ministers and certainly to the extent that this matter might have been discussed in the border protection committee of cabinet. Again, it is a cabinet matter and I am not in a position to discuss that.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Are you able to tell me whether it was discussed in the Border Protection Committee of cabinet?
Mr Lewis —No, Senator.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Given the gravity and given the fact that no request was put to the Indonesian government, do you think it was likely that it was?
Mr Lewis —That is speculation; I am sorry.
CHAIR —Would you like to rephrase the question?
Senator Ludwig —I think the answer will be the same.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —If these types of requests for interception are based on the level of gravity of the situation, what do you do to ensure that you give the right advice?
Mr Lewis —That is very difficult to answer. I am presented with a range of reports, hopefully factual, and based on those reports a number of processes automatically kick in. At the end of the day it is a matter of judgment as to what—and indeed whether—advice is provided to the Prime Minister.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —So there is currently no hard and fast rule in terms of the actual interception protocol that says that it has to be discussed by the Border Protection Committee of cabinet?
Mr Lewis —No, there is no hard and fast rule about that. We have many interceptions, the detail of which is not discussed at that sort of level. It is done at a lower level in the border protection task force process or even in the working groups that exist in the various agencies.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —So what was it about this particular boat that made it important enough for the Prime Minister to get involved?
Mr Lewis —As I said before, the origin of the information around the boat is something which I am not prepared to discuss in this sort of committee. I want to reinforce that it is because of the nature of how the information came to hand.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —It surprises me that you can have enough information to make a call that the Prime Minister needs to step in but not know the profile of people, such as children, on board the boat. To me there is a contradiction there. When advice is given to the Prime Minister about these particular cases, surely he must want to know who is on board the boat.
Mr Lewis —The nature of the advice that I give to the Prime Minister is something that I am not able to go into.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —So you cannot confirm whether he did or did not know there were children on board the boat.
Mr Lewis —As I said, the information—specifically, the advice—that I give to the Prime Minister and the detail of that advice are not things that I am in a position to discuss in this environment. I can tell you whether advice was given, but the nature of the advice is not something that I am able to discuss with you.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Advice was given, though, wasn’t it?
Mr Lewis —I said I would check on that, you might recall.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Is that type of advice in terms of the profile, such as asking whether there would be children, pregnant women or whoever else we may or may not know on these types of boats? Is that information that you ask for from Customs and Border Protection when it is first alerted that there is a boat heading towards Australian waters?
Mr Lewis —No, not particularly. We are obviously interested in the number of passengers on board, but the particular breakdown is not something that we would particularly seek. It becomes very important subsequently, I must assure you, but in the first blush when one of these crafts appears, no.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —At what stage is it important to know whether or not there are minors on board in terms of what decisions are made?
Mr Lewis —I think one answer to that question is when processing by the immigration authorities begins. As you know, the processing arrangements around children, in particular, are specific and different, and how that handling process goes is something you really need to direct to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. I am not familiar with the detail of that.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —I am familiar about the process that the immigration department takes with children. What I was hoping you would be able to help me with is understanding when it is important to make a distinction between an adult and a child on board one of these boats, because immigration does not start until they reach Christmas Island. What you are telling me is that once they are sighted, whether they are intercepted or disrupted before they reach Australian waters or intercepted in Australian waters by Australian authorities, that profile is not relevant until they reach Christmas Island?
Mr Lewis —No, I am not saying that.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —When is it important for that information to be acted on?
Mr Lewis —I think it is important as soon as any Australian official becomes aware that there are children on board. As you would know, when the various border protection authorities first come in contact with these boats it is self-evident that there are children on board, and I am sure that provisions are made for small children to be treated in an appropriate manner. But I cannot specifically answer your question. It is not possible for me to give some sort of procedural answer as to when that kicks in.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG —Thank you.
Senator RONALDSON —Ms Beauchamp, Mr Suckling indicated there were only two PM&C staff members who attended the Copenhagen circus. Senator Abetz put questions on notice on 15 December. I put questions on notice on 21 December. Are you aware that there are 30 days allowed? How can it possibly be that on 8 February, when there are only two staff members who went to the circus, we have not got those questions on notice?
Ms Beauchamp —I will take that on notice, but I understand the questions were quite detailed. As has been evident in this committee today, that requires a fair bit of coordination, so we will get that to you as soon as possible.
Senator RONALDSON —Finally, Minister, when we come back in May, do you think it is possible that we can get some answers to questions from the committee? The lack of answers to questions from opposition senators, the deflection onto other committees and the refusal the answer are things of which I have not seen the like in my admittedly short time in this place. I have never before seen Prime Minister and Cabinet estimates where there has been so little information provided to quite legitimate questions. I hope in May we might see an entirely different approach, but it has not been a good start to 2010.
Senator Ludwig —I will take that as a statement that you have made. You could help us by telling us the questions in advance so we could direct them to the relevant departments. We are here to assist the committee.
CHAIR —Senator Trood, I understand you have a couple of questions before we conclude.
Senator TROOD —Thank you, Madam Chair. I have a couple of questions for Mr Lewis.
CHAIR —At this time I remind people that we still have quite a bit to get through and we are suspending at seven.
Senator TROOD —So do I have till seven?
CHAIR —No, you do not.
Senator TROOD —So how much time do I have?
CHAIR —I would start now if I was you.
Senator TROOD —Mr Lewis—
CHAIR —Can I—
Senator TROOD —Do you want to interrupt again, Madam Chair?
CHAIR —To make it very clear to the committee and to the witnesses, the Australian Public Service Commission and the Office of National Assessments will not be needed, so they can go
Senator TROOD —Mr Lewis, there are lots of questions I would like to ask you, but I would like to concentrate my efforts on the counterterrorism white paper, for which I understand from another committee you, or at least the Prime Minister’s office, are primarily responsible. Is that actually correct?
Mr Lewis —Yes, that is correct
Senator TROOD —You will be familiar with the Prime Minister’s remarks from his National Security Statement of 2008 that the counterterrorism white paper was going to be produced the next year, which is of course 2009. You will perhaps be familiar with the remarks of your deputy, Mr Campbell, on the last occasion at estimates, when he said:
We are expecting it to be completed this year—
that is, 2009—
… and I have no reason to think it is not on schedule.
But I am right in saying, am I not, that the counterterrorism white paper has yet to emerge? Is that true?
Mr Lewis —That is correct.
Senator TROOD —Can you give the committee an estimate as to when this process might be completed and we might see the white paper?
Mr Lewis —The release of the white paper is essentially a matter for government. It is in an advanced state but I cannot answer your question.
Senator TROOD —We were told that it was in an advanced state of preparation last time we met. Can you assure me that it is in a more advanced state of preparation?
Mr Lewis —I can. The incidents on Christmas Day, with the Christmas Day bomber in Detroit, have caused some revision of the white paper. We want to make sure, obviously, that it is absolutely current and that any lessons learnt or adjustments made are included in the paper. But the precise time of its release is a matter for the government, as you would be aware.
Senator TROOD —Of course. I am just trying to locate the source of delay in this matter. Would it be true to say that the agencies that have contributed to the white paper have concluded their work and that the delay is essentially about the finalisation of the white paper within your office, or is that incorrect?
Mr Lewis —I could not say for certain that the agencies’ work is finished, because until the job is done the job is not done. Obviously as change comes along it needs to be worked back through various line agencies and so on. So I cannot say for sure that is the case, no.
Senator TROOD —So there still may be work for agencies to do on the white paper. Is that right?
Mr Lewis —There may be.
Senator TROOD —Are there any agencies whose contribution to the white paper is at the moment outstanding? In other words, are there requests that have been made of agencies to which they are yet to respond?
Mr Lewis —As of today, I do not know of any. That might not be true tomorrow, obviously.
Senator TROOD —I see. So, as of now, you understand that the agencies have completed their work on the white paper.
Mr Lewis —Certainly, at my last examination. But, as I say, that might not be true tomorrow because the show is not over until the paper is settled.
Senator TROOD —Is it scheduled to go back to the National Security Committee of Cabinet some time soon?
Mr Lewis —I am not able to comment on that, as to whether it goes back to a committee of cabinet.
Senator TROOD —Are you working towards the matter being resolved very soon, or are we looking now at it being at least weeks or months away? Can you give us some estimate as to when you think this process might be concluded?
Mr Lewis —No, Senator. It is a matter for the government.
Senator TROOD —Indeed it is, but this was promised over a year ago and has still not materialised. The dangers are still extant and I think there is a widespread degree of alarm about the matter. At the moment you have no estimate as to when it might be completed and announced.
Mr Lewis —I said it is at an advanced stage and its release is a matter for the government.
Senator TROOD —Thanks, Mr Lewis. Our relationship at this point has concluded—for the moment.
CHAIR —Ms Beauchamp, you have something to report back?
Ms Beauchamp —Just a table. I think it was Senator Ferguson’s request for a breakdown of the community cabinet costs between Hobart and Bathurst. I have that.
CHAIR —So you will table that.
Ms Beauchamp —Senator Payne also asked about recruitment costs for the COAG Reform Council. Given the states and territories contribute funding as well as the department, those positions were advertised nationally and the costs were in the order of $23,311.
CHAIR —Thank you very much. My understanding is that we have concluded with Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator ABETZ —Can I place on the record that we ran out of time for National Archives.
CHAIR —We still have some time. I intend to go through with these and then we move on to there. As there are no questions for the Australian Public Service Commission, release those officers. The Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security—there are no questions. I apologise to these officers. I have already released the Office of National Assessment. We are now moving on to the Australian National Audit Office.