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FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(Senate-Thursday, 27 May 2010)
FINANCE AND DEREGULATION PORTFOLIO
Australian Electoral Commission
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
Senator JACINTA COLLINS
- Australian Electoral Commission
- FINANCE AND DEREGULATION PORTFOLIO
Content WindowFINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 27/05/2010 - FINANCE AND DEREGULATION PORTFOLIO
Consideration resumed from 26 May 2010
Senators in attendance:
Senator Sherry, Assistant Treasurer
Mr David Tune, Secretary
Ms Jan Mason, Deputy Secretary, Asset Management and Parliamentary Services
Mr Colin Plowman, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services
Mr David Yarra, Chief Audit Executive
Mr Michael Burton, First Assistant Secretary, Financial and e-Solutions Group
Mr Brett Quester, Assistant Secretary, Financial and e-Solutions Group
Mr David Martine, Deputy Secretary, Budget Group
Mr David Nicol, First Assistant Secretary, Budget Policy and Coordination Division
Mr Peter Saunders, First Assistant Secretary, Strategic Policy Division and Government and Defence Division
Mr David Weiss, First Assistant Secretary, Industry, Education and Infrastructure Division
Mr David de Carvalho, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Social Welfare Division
Dr Stein Helgeby, Deputy Secretary, Financial Management Group
Mr Tim Youngberry, First Assistant Secretary, Financial Reporting and Cash Management Division
Mr Marc Mowbray-d’Arbela, Assistant Secretary, Legislative Review Branch
Mr Lembit Suur, First Assistant Secretary, Financial Framework Division
Mr George Sotiropoulos, Assistant Secretary, Superannuation Branch
Dr Tom Ioannou, Assistant Secretary, Financial Framework Policy Branch
Ms Susan Page, Deputy Secretary, Deregulation Policy Division
Mr Peter McCray, First Assistant Secretary, Deregulation Policy Division
Mr Jason McNamara, Executive Director, Office of Best Practice Regulation
Ms Jan Mason, Deputy Secretary, Asset Management and Parliamentary Services
Mr Rick Scott-Murphy, First Assistant Secretary, Property and Construction Division
Mr John Edge, First Assistant Secretary, Government Business, Special Claims and Land Policy
Ms Stacie Hall, Assistant Secretary, Government Businesses Advice Branch
Dr Stein Helgeby, First Assistant Secretary, Financial Management Group
Mr John Grant, First Assistant Secretary, Procurement Division
Ms Laurie Van Veen, Assistant Secretary, Communications Advice Branch
Mr John Sheridan, First Assistant Secretary, Agency Services Division
Mr Graham Fry, First Assistant Secretary, Policy and Planning Division
Ms Jan Mason, Deputy Secretary, Asset Management and Parliamentary Services
Ms Kim Clarke, First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial and Parliamentary Services
Ms Suzanne Pitson, Assistant Secretary, Entitlements Policy
Mr Greg Miles, Assistant Secretary, Entitlements Management
Mrs Kim Baker, Acting Assistant Secretary, Client Services
Ms Yvette Sims, Acting Assistant Secretary, Accountability and Reporting
Ms Maree Faulkner, National Manager, COMCAR
Mr Stephen Taylor, Assistant Secretary. Legal Services
Mr John Sheridan, Acting Deputy Secretary, Agency Services Division
Mr Michael Burton, First Assistant Secretary, Financial and e-Solutions Group
Mr Brett Quester, Assistant Secretary, Financial and e-Solutions Group
Mr Ed Killesteyn, Electoral Commissioner
Mr Paul Dacey, Deputy Electoral Commissioner
Ms Barbara Davis, First Assistant Commissioner
Mr Kevin Kitson, First Assistant Commissioner
Mr Paul Pirani, Chief Legal Officer
Mr Leo Bator, Chief Executive Officer
Ms Cindy Briscoe, Deputy Chief Executive Officer (Business Services)
Mr Lochiel Crafter, Chief Executive Officer
Mr Peter Carrigy-Ryan, Chief Operating Officer
Mr Paul Costello, General Manager, Future Fund Management Agency
Mr Michael Sammells, Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Corporate Services
Ms Lucinda Bilney, Policy and Regulatory Affairs Manager, Government and Public Affairs
CHAIR (Senator Polley) —Good morning. I declare open this meeting of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee. I welcome back the Special Minister of State, Senator Ludwig, Mr David Tune and officers of the Department of Finance and Deregulation. As agreed yesterday, we will start with program 2.1, procurement framework and matters relating to government advertising. We will then go on to outcome 3. Minister or Mr Tune, do you wish to make an opening statement?
Senator Ludwig —No, thanks.
Mr Tune —No, thanks.
Senator RONALDSON —I will go to the ICC before we get back into general questions about advertising. Mr Tune, who are the members of the ICC?
Mr Tune —The chair of the ICC is Dr Allan Hawke. The other team members are Ms Barbara Belcher and Ms Helen Williams.
Senator RONALDSON —How many departmental officials service the ICC through its secretariat and what are their APS levels?
Mr Grant —There are approximately 12 people who do that, and that is on an ASL—average staffing level—basis.
Senator RONALDSON —They are at varying APS levels, are they?
Mr Grant —Yes. In that ASL there are two people who arrange the meetings, prepare the papers and do things like that. The other members of the branch work with agencies and provide advice in relation to campaign advertising, and they are at a range of different levels.
Senator RONALDSON —So you are bringing people in from outside this branch, are you?
Mr Grant —No, they are people who work within the branch. They work with departments and agencies that are undertaking or proposing to undertake campaign advertising.
Senator RONALDSON —You will provide me with details about the respective levels of all these people within the division, will you?
Mr Grant —We can do that.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. How many of these officials are former members of the old government communications unit—the GCU—that you would be aware of?
Mr Grant —There were two people who transferred across when the responsibility for contract administration moved to the department. Sorry—four people moved across and two remained there, so they came directly from the GCU. Other members have had stints in the GCU, but they were not members of the GCU at the time the function for managing contracts for advertising went across.
Senator RONALDSON —So four came over and two are left, is that right?
Mr Grant —That is right.
Senator RONALDSON —When did the two leave?
Mr Grant —Within a couple of months of coming. They got promotions or other jobs.
Senator RONALDSON —When was the ICC set up?
Mr Grant —The ICC was set up on 31 March this year.
Senator RONALDSON —Can you take on notice, please, when those two officials left?
Mr Grant —It was back in early 2009.
Mr Tune —Just to explain: the Communications Advice Branch, which is the group of people we are talking about, was formed when responsibility for oversight of government advertising transferred from the Prime Minister’s department to Finance following the last election. In the past there was a process that involved the Auditor-General, as you are aware, and those Communication Advice Branch people were working on campaigns through that period. Now they are working with the ICC.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, but my questions relate specifically to the ICC. Did I not make that clear?
Mr Tune —Sorry, no. We were going back in time to when the function transferred to Finance.
Senator RONALDSON —Sorry. If it was my mistake, then I apologise. Please take on notice the levels of the APS officials within the ICC. How many of the officials that are servicing the ICC are former members of the old GCU?
Mr Tune —Just the two that Mr Grant was talking about.
Mr Grant —Two came across from the GCU when it was abolished.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. Where does the ICC meet?
Mr Grant —The ICC meets in Canberra, in the Department of Finance.
Senator RONALDSON —In the Department of Finance building?
Mr Grant —In the Department of Finance buildings, that is right.
Senator RONALDSON —Who is responsible for calling the meetings of the ICC?
Mr Grant —The ICC chair and members.
Senator RONALDSON —How is that communicated?
Mr Grant —They have a schedule of meetings which are basically fortnightly. They are prepared where requested and where the need is demonstrated to have ad hoc meetings.
Senator RONALDSON —So the chair calls the meetings at the instigation of the secretariat, or independently of that?
Mr Grant —The chair obviously works with the secretariat, but they do have a schedule of meeting dates which are about a fortnight apart. If there is a need for an ad hoc meeting, then we consult with the chair. If the chair wishes to do it, then an ad hoc meeting is held.
Senator RONALDSON —Is this a regular fortnightly meeting or is this an ad hoc arrangement?
Mr Grant —It is a regular fortnightly meeting in the schedule.
Senator RONALDSON —Right. And what day is that?
Mr Grant —Usually on a Thursday nowadays. It was on a Wednesday in the past.
Senator RONALDSON —In the arrangements for the remuneration of these members, is it a per diem amount?
Mr Grant —It is a per diem payment, yes.
Senator RONALDSON —How much is that per meeting?
Mr Grant —Usually we allow for two days because there are a lot of papers to read before each meeting and then there is the day meeting. Members work out the number of hours. We have different rates for different members, based on discussions with them on a per day basis.
Senator RONALDSON —So they are all getting two days, one for paperwork and one for the meeting itself.
Mr Grant —That is basically it, yes.
Senator RONALDSON —Okay. And you have struck individual arrangements with the different members?
Mr Grant —That is right. I can give you the value of the two-year contracts if you like.
Senator RONALDSON —If you could provide me with all those details. The chair is getting paid more?
Mr Grant —The chair gets paid more. The contract value for the chair is $350,000 and for members—
Senator RONALDSON —For the two-year contract or per annum?
Mr Grant —That is for the two-year contract.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes.
Mr Grant —For the members it is $260,000 and $200,000. There are two different rates for the members as well. That was based on discussion with them, it is not something we imposed.
Senator RONALDSON —Just so that I am absolutely clear, there is a maximum of four days a month. Is that right?
Mr Grant —There are a scheduled four days a month. At times they do have ad hoc meetings in consultation with the secretariat and with departments or agencies who are running ad campaigns. So where there is need, there is provision to have an ad hoc meeting.
Senator RONALDSON —If there are extra meetings, is there an extension on the contract amount?
Mr Grant —No. We have a contract amount and we have some provision for additional meetings in that contract amount, but we will see how it goes.
Senator RONALDSON —How many additional meetings were allowed for in that additional amount?
Mr Grant —I cannot tell you exactly. I think we made about a 10 or 15 per cent provision.
Senator RONALDSON —Could you take that on notice please.
Mr Grant —I will take that on notice.
Senator RYAN —Did I hear you correctly when you said that it was $350,000 for the chair?
Mr Grant —For two years for the chair, yes.
Senator RYAN —So at four days a month, by my very quick calculations—if I assume it is two days per fortnight, which is slightly more than four days a month—that would be about 104 days over two years. So he is getting paid just under $3,400 a day?
Mr Grant —That is your calculation and that is pretty close.
Senator RYAN —$3,400 per day?
Mr Tune —That does not take into account the ad hoc meetings, of course. There is provision in there for those.
Senator RYAN —No, but I have made it two a fortnight which is slightly more than four a month. Don’t you find $3,400 a day a touch exorbitant, Mr Grant?
Mr Grant —That is the rate that was agreed.
Senator RYAN —By?
Senator RONALDSON —That is another question. How many ad hoc meetings have there been since the establishment in March?
Mr Grant —By our calculations there have been three ad hoc meetings since then. I might also add that where meetings, for example, are for half a day, members actually only charge for half a day, not for the full day. So they are actually only working effectively on about an eight-hour day rate.
Senator BRANDIS —Presumably, this committee does not meet every fortnight of the year. Senator Ryan was being a bit generous, wasn’t he? It would not be a 12-month a year per year enterprise, would it? It would be 10 or 11 months of the year presumably.
Mr Grant —We are early into this committee’s activity, so obviously it would be affected by Christmas breaks, elections—
Senator BRANDIS —That is my point. At most it would be 11 months a year?
Mr Grant —That could well be it. We are still learning.
Senator RONALDSON —As Senator Ryan said, this is very significant remuneration, so we will wait with great interest to see how much work is actually done. On what basis was there a differential between the two non-chair members?
Mr Grant —We spoke to the members individually about their rates. They effectively discussed them with us. It was on a member by member basis.
Senator RONALDSON —What sorts of things were involved in those discussions? Was it experience? Were there other issues involved?
Mr Grant —We did not try to differentiate; it was the members themselves who differentiated.
Senator RONALDSON —Did you go to them and say, ‘Give us a range,’ or did you provide them with what you thought was the range?
Mr Grant —Having worked on the chair rate, we came up with what we thought was a reasonable members rate. One of the members actually said they would prefer to have just a little bit less.
Senator RONALDSON —One of the members suggested they would have a little less?
Mr Grant —That is right.
Senator RONALDSON —Did they give any reason for that?
Mr Grant —No.
Mr Tune —In general terms, as you know, these people are retired senior public servants and they generally do part-time consulting work for government or other clients. They have a rate that they charge based on what they think their market value is, and that is basically where we have got to.
Senator RONALDSON —I acknowledge that they are senior, but they are also getting paid very significant remuneration for what is part-time work. There would be a lot of people out there who would reckon $130,000 for working four to five days a month is pretty healthy remuneration. We will now get onto what their job responsibilities are.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Before we move on, is striking differential rates common practice with boards?
Mr Tune —Yes, it can be. I do not know how common it is.
Senator RONALDSON —What is another example of it?
Mr Tune —I am not sure. I cannot think of one off the top of my head, but I will take it on notice. I am sure there would be others. Certainly chairs often get paid more than others.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —That is not the question. Amongst members, how common is that practice?
Mr Tune —I do not know. I had better not speculate too far. We will check.
Senator RONALDSON —But you did just speculate.
Mr Tune —I will retract my speculation and check.
Senator RONALDSON —What is the quorum for the ICC?
Mr Grant —Two members.
Senator RONALDSON —If there is not a quorum available and an urgent decision is required, is there a capacity to bypass the ICC?
Mr Grant —The answer is no, unless an exemption is granted.
Senator RONALDSON —Who grants the exemption?
Mr Grant —The Cabinet Secretary can grant an exemption for very special reasons.
Senator RONALDSON —What are they?
Mr Grant —I will get my guidelines out and read them to you. I refer you to paragraph 5 of the guidelines:
The Cabinet Secretary can exempt a campaign from compliance with these Guidelines on the basis of a national emergency, extreme urgency or other compelling reason.
Senator RONALDSON —‘Other compelling reason’. So the minister himself will make the decision about what is or is not a compelling reason?
Mr Grant —I might add—
Senator RONALDSON —Just answer the question. The minister makes a determination about what is or is not a compelling reason?
Mr Grant —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —So the minister could effectively make a decision for any reason at all that he thought was compelling?
Mr Grant —If it is a compelling reason, yes.
Senator RONALDSON —Such as the forthcoming announcement of an election. That would be something the minister could base it on, wouldn’t it? If he thought that was compelling, he could base the decision on that.
Mr Grant —I might add that, where an exemption is granted, the minister formally records and reports the exemption to parliament.
Senator RONALDSON —When is that tabled?
Mr Grant —Historically it has been tabled as soon as the exemption has been granted, within a day or two.
Senator RONALDSON —In relation to the previous arrangements, I presume they are the same set of guidelines that the Auditor-General operated under.
Mr Grant —It is slightly different.
Senator RONALDSON —What is the difference?
Mr Grant —I refer you to paragraph 7 of the previous guidelines:
The Cabinet Secretary can exempt a campaign from compliance with these Guidelines on the basis of a national emergency, extreme urgency or other extraordinary reasons the Cabinet Secretary considers appropriate.
The same provisions applied in terms of informing—in that case, the Auditor-General rather than the ICC—and reporting to the Parliament.
Senator RONALDSON —But ‘any compelling reason’ was not in there, was it? There is very wide discretion given to the minister under these new guidelines that was certainly not there under the previous ones. There was no reference to ‘any compelling reason’ was there?
Mr Tune —No, but ‘extraordinary reasons’ was in there.
Senator RONALDSON —Quite frankly, there is a hell of a difference between extraordinary and compelling, is there not?
Mr Tune —I guess there is but—
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you.
Mr Tune —they are both quite broad.
Senator RONALDSON —On the admission of Mr Tune, these reasons have been watered down. Minister, we have press releases confirming the pre-election commitment in relation to the Auditor-General. We then have the Auditor-General removed from the process. We then have it moved across to a very highly paid group of people who meet out of Finance and the reasons for being able to bypass them have now been watered down to the extent that, if you think there is a compelling reason, you can bypass this committee.
Senator Ludwig —I disagree.
Senator RONALDSON —Which part do you disagree with?
Senator Ludwig —These were recommendations. What you have failed to recognise is that the guidelines were in place and we had a review that recommended changes. We did not adopt all of the changes. We kept the department of finance involved for the obvious reason that we want to ensure that the department continues to do the work it has been doing. Secondly, we kept the $250,000 threshold. The report recommended a higher threshold. The report made a number of recommendations that we did accept. One of those went to changing the role of the Auditor-General to one of oversight. There is no removal of the Auditor-General. The Auditor-General will still be able to do—
Senator RONALDSON —That is simply not—
Senator Ludwig —Let me finish my answer. You have asked me a question and I am answering it.
CHAIR —I remind the committee members that the process is to ask your question and then allow the witness to respond.
Senator Ludwig —In addition, the Auditor-General will continue their valuable role. They can do at least one performance audit per year, but that does not preclude them from doing others. The guidelines were simplified to ensure that they were able to be applied by the secretaries of the various departments. In addition to that, one of the areas dealing with the exemptions was also a recommendation from the Hawke report. The reason given in the Hawke report is to provide more flexibility. We accepted the Hawke report’s recommendations. One of the issues about independence, which we have already gone to, is that it is about ensuring that we do maintain the Independent Communications Committee as separate and distinct. I think you have heard that evidence this morning.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, I will just read from a press release put out by you on 2 July:
In 2007, Kevin Rudd made an election promise that campaigns over $250,000 would be scrutinised by the Auditor-General. This election commitment is now met.
Do you acknowledge that this election commitment is now broken because the Auditor-General does not scrutinise all campaigns over $250,000? It is a quite simple question.
Senator Ludwig —The last time you asked me this question was—if I recall correctly—on Tuesday. I went through it in some detail then and I am happy to go through it again. I said that we continue to ensure that there is accountability and transparency. In fact, we continue to use the amount of $250,000 for campaigns over that amount because we think that is an important figure. The secretaries have to continue to adhere to the guidelines in all of the campaigns that can be run. More importantly, what you fail to grasp in the body of that question is that the guidelines are there. They ensure that campaigns are legitimately authorised, targeted and non-political. That is what they ensure—
Senator RONALDSON —That is not what the Auditor-General said.
Senator Ludwig —Unlike when you were in government and you could run party-political advertisements.
Senator RONALDSON —So you were opposed to the Keating government as well?
Senator Ludwig —The guidelines are still in place. What we have done is simplify them and ensure that they continue to be appropriate. The guidelines around non-political use are clearly still there. All of that continues. In fact, the Rudd government has made significant changes to the government advertising framework.
Senator RONALDSON —It certainly has.
Senator Ludwig —That is what our election commitment was about and that is what we have continued to do. We have also reduced the cost. I remind you that you welcomed the decision to put the Auditor-General back into the traditional role. Let me take you to that.
Senator RONALDSON —No, I can help you there. When you made the announcement we actually said that we did not think your proposals were the appropriate course of action and when you changed it we said that it took you a long time to realise that it was not the appropriate course of action. But that is not the issue. The issue is that you went into the election campaign. The Prime Minister was marching down the street under the banner of new openness and transparency, and the mass bands were behind him along with troupes of dancing girls. This was going to be a whole new era for openness and transparency but when the Auditor-General started doing his job properly you did not like it and you changed the rules and broke the election promise, did you not?
Senator Ludwig —I reject that. I have gone through it a number of times and I am happy to go through it again. The guidelines are still in place. They are a vast improvement. The Auditor-General himself, when you had the opportunity to talk to him in estimates, indicated that they were a significant improvement—that was the language that the Auditor-General used.
Senator RONALDSON —I am going to go to the Auditor-General’s letter in a second and we will put that to them.
Senator Ludwig —It significantly improved the system—that is what the Auditor-General said. You did not pull him up. You agreed with it at the time and you continue to agree with it. It is heartening to see that you recognise that Labor has brought a vast improvement in openness, transparency and accountability into this area than from when you were in government.
Senator RONALDSON —And another broken election promise. That was a good segue, thank you. Mr Grant, under the previous guidelines for campaign advertising did the words ‘informed consideration of issues’ appear?
Mr Grant —No.
Senator RONALDSON —So the guidelines that the Auditor-General operated under were far stricter than the guidelines that are now in place. Is that correct? I have got no idea how long a bit of string is but I would assume that ‘inform consideration of issues’ probably gives this government about as great a carte blanche as could be given to do anything that it wants. Whose idea was it to extend the guidelines by introducing this very broad opportunity to advertise?
Mr Grant —They are different. I think that proposal was actually part of the independent report that was undertaken by Dr Hawke.
Senator RONALDSON —Dr Hawke did the independent report—is that right?
Mr Tune —That is correct.
Senator RONALDSON —And who is chair of the committee?
Mr Tune —Dr Hawke.
Senator RONALDSON —Oh! You are saying it was Dr Hawke’s idea to insert ‘informed consideration of issues’, is that right?
Mr Grant —I think that was part of his report’s recommendations.
Senator RONALDSON —Did the Auditor-General have any comments to make about that, Mr Grant?
Mr Grant —I was not part of that review at the time so I cannot answer that.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, the Auditor-General made reference to that, I think, did he not?
Senator Ludwig —You might have to draw me to that reference.
Senator RONALDSON —What, are you unaware of what the Auditor-General said about this issue?
Senator Ludwig —I was asking you to draw me to that reference.
Senator RONALDSON —In the letter to you from the Auditor-General, in relation to Principal 1, did it say ‘appears to allow a broader scope in determining the suitable use of government advertising campaigns.’ Did not the Hawke report also include a comment that there was concern that the Auditor-General was interpreting the appropriate advertising campaigns too narrowly? Is that not what led Katherine Murphy in the Age, when she was talking about the ‘unkindest cut’, to say that, indeed, Mr Macphee was doing no more than his job and when it came to the crunch the government backed the word of Mr Hawke over the ‘pesky, nit-picking due diligence of the Auditor-General’? So, we have established the guidelines are not the same guidelines that the Auditor-General had, and there has been an inclusion of the words ‘inform consideration of issues’ and I think most people listening to this will assume that that provides a very, very significant extension of the guidelines.
Senator Ludwig —No. I think you had an inflection at the end of that—other than a statement, it was a question. Let me comment on the particular question that you have raised. On the matter of effectively cost-benefit analysis, the Hawke report noted—and you missed that point—that the former Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary, John Faulkner, wrote to the Auditor-General on 10 March 2009 advising that the role of the cost-benefit analysis to ensure the effectiveness of advertising and information campaigns is maximised within the available campaign budget provided by government. The guidelines in fact now reflect that intent, requiring that advertising campaigns should be cost effective and justifiable in the budget allocated to the campaign. That is the position. It was a matter that this cost effectiveness measure was introduced to remove the complexity and deliver better information for assessment than had been the case with the cost-benefit analysis. It is our understanding from the Hawke report that Principle 1 has always included the ability to undertake campaigns which inform consideration of essential social issues.
For argument’s sake, if you did not have that then issues of government tackling significant health issues and social issues to provide information could not be run. Imagine government not being able to run a child immunisation information campaign. Imagine, if you will, a situation where the HIV ads that were so successful—we all remember those grim reaper ads—could not be run because it would be outside the guidelines. They were clearly issues that were tackling both significant health and social issues of our time and they continue to raise those issues even today. Government has a responsibility to be able to inform the public about these matters.
Senator RONALDSON —What did the Auditor-General say about principle 4 of the new guidelines in relation to cost-benefit?
Mr Tune —Basically the—
Senator RONALDSON —No, ask the minister. Go on, Minister: you talk about the cost-benefit. What did the Auditor-General say both in his three-page letter to you and in his most recent report tabled in parliament? What did he say about the new cost-benefit provisions?
Senator Ludwig —I am sure you can read it, just as I can.
Senator RONALDSON —Can you read it out for me. You have it there as well.
Senator Ludwig —I do not need to read it out.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, you do.
Senator Ludwig —If you want to read it out you are quite entitled to. But you can ask me a question about it.
Senator RONALDSON —I am asking you to read it out.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson and Minister, can I just explain how the process here works—yet again. Senator Ronaldson, you asked a question and the minister was responding. If you allow him to complete his answer then you can move on to another question. Minister, you have the call.
Senator Ludwig —Thank you. I am waiting for a question. Asking me to read something, quite frankly, is not a question.
Senator RONALDSON —That is a question. Do you want to talk about—
Senator Ludwig —It is certainly not. We can play children’s—
Senator RONALDSON —I understand your—
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, the minister had the call, but I remind all committee members that this is a question and answer process, not one of making statements. Minister, did you have anything further to add?
Senator Ludwig —No, I did not want a statement.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, do you have a question?
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you, Madam Chair. I am not too sure how asking the minister to read out the comments from the Auditor-General’s letter to him in the report is a statement. Anyway, if the minister refuses—
CHAIR —It is not a question.
Senator RONALDSON —I think it is. Anyway, the minister refuses to do so in both the three-page letter to the minister and, indeed, in the tabled report in parliament—
Senator Ludwig —It is a public letter.
CHAIR —Minister, Senator Ronaldson is getting to a question.
Senator RONALDSON —It most certainly is.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, do you have a question?
Senator RONALDSON —I have one in relation to principle 4, which no longer requires a cost-benefit analysis to support the proposed campaign. So much for openness and transparency and integrity! Mr Grant, I am just getting—
Senator Ludwig —No, I can respond to that. I take that as a question and I certainly can respond to it. Similar to the issue around informed consideration, the guideline continues to allow for—as successive governments have quite properly done—using advertising to tackle significant health and social issues. In terms of the cost-benefit analysis, as I have indicated, they continue to ensure that, as Senator Faulkner wrote to the Auditor-General, and to indicate what that section means—that the role of the cost-benefit analysis is to ensure that the effectiveness of advertising information campaigns is maximised within the available campaign budget provided by government. The guidelines now reflect that intent. Of course, if you are having—
Senator RONALDSON —I am glad you raised this question. Can you tell me—
Senator Ludwig —In fact, I answered your question, not raised it.
Senator RONALDSON —Do you think there is a difference between an HIV advertising campaign and an information campaign about health reform that does not have all the participants in it signed up? Indeed, we heard evidence yesterday that there was not a signed agreement between the states and the Commonwealth in relation to health reform. I am just wondering: is an advertising campaign in relation to HIV the same as an advertising campaign in relation to something that has not happened? If you think it is, that is fine, but could you just let me know.
Senator Ludwig —Including child immunisation ads; including Defence Force recruiting ads; including anti-smoking ads; including those which also go to measure up health ads which tackle social issues—all of those matters—
Senator RONALDSON —But you are just making your case worse.
Senator Ludwig —And course, these are all—
CHAIR —Yet again, Senator Ronaldson, I just remind you that if you ask a question you have to allow the witness to respond.
Senator Ludwig —In answering the cost-benefit analysis, they also now require that they be justified and undertaken in an efficient, effective and relevant manner. It explicitly requires cost effectiveness. You seem to have skipped over that. In addition, Principle 1 covers the matters that list that the basis upon which the advertising campaigns can be undertaken. It seems that you might need to read the guidelines yourself.
Senator RONALDSON —It may also be that you need to acknowledge that the Auditor-General operated under guidelines that were put in place and ticked off by your government which have now been removed by your government and replaced with substantially weakened guidelines. Mr Grant, just to confirm, we have gone from matters of ‘great urgency’ to just ‘any compelling reason’? That is right, isn’t it?
Mr Tune —No, that is not right. There was a range of reasons there, of which urgency was one, and the change is from ‘extraordinary’ reasons to ‘compelling’ reasons. They are different but I do not necessarily accept that they are a watering down, though.
Senator RONALDSON —Okay, fair enough. Does the minister have to contact the chair before invoking the ‘any compelling reason’ approach?
Mr Grant —The process is that the minister informs the chair when an exemption is granted.
Senator RONALDSON —So that is post the event?
Mr Grant —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —So the minister, for any compelling reason according to him, can invoke the exemption and then pick the up the phone and tell the chairman after the event. That is the process? Thank you very much. As my colleague, Senator Ryan, said, the chair of the Independent Communications Committee—I repeat, the Independent Communications Committee—could be sitting at home watching television when he hears about a minister granting an exemption under the loose guise of ‘any compelling reason’. Is that a possible outcome?
Senator RYAN —Well, he could see the ads for the committee to be notified.
Mr Grant —I suppose the process is that—and it is based on experience—before the campaign has even been brought before the ICC a request for exemption might be made and is considered by the minister. The minister takes the decision and then informs the chair of the ICC and the parliament.
Senator RONALDSON —But Senator Ryan’s point was that the independent chair of the communications committee could be watching the ad without actually knowing anything about it, if they had not been informed.
Mr Tune —I doubt that.
Senator RONALDSON —Why not?
Mr Tune —Because they would have been informed ahead of that happening.
Senator RONALDSON —Why? How can you say that?
Mr Tune —In practice, I think that is the way it would happen.
Senator RONALDSON —And in practice, the opportunities for it not to happen?
Mr Tune —I guess so.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, thank you.
Mr Tune —I am just saying that if it is a matter of due process we would ensure that that did not happen.
Senator RONALDSON —Has the ICC ever met at the direct request of the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the SMOS, the Prime Minister or the minister responsible for the department undertaking the proposed campaign expenditure, as opposed to the secretariat or the chair?
Mr Grant —No.
Senator RONALDSON —The former GCU had a flowchart of a—
Senator Ludwig —You liked that one, didn’t you—the GCU?
Senator RONALDSON —Isn’t it funny how I never hear you talking about the arrangements under the Keating government, which were similar to those under the Howard government. I suppose at some stage during your retirement you will make that acknowledgement. The former GCU had a flowchart of a typical campaign that was tabled at a Senate committee inquiry into government advertising, on my understanding. Does the ICC have a similar chart?
Mr Tune —It does. It is on our website. I have a copy here if you want it.
Senator RONALDSON —That would be terrific. Who is responsible for the maintenance of the multi-use list?
Mr Tune —We are: the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
Senator RONALDSON —Does the ICC have any involvement in the preparation of short lists of advertising, research and PR agencies for communications campaigns?
Mr Grant —No.
Senator RONALDSON —Are the agencies required to pitch to the ICC?
Mr Grant —No.
Senator RONALDSON —Does the ICC have any role in the final selection of agencies?
Mr Grant —No.
Senator RONALDSON —If the ICC were to have concerns about the content of any campaign, how would that information be communicated to the agency?
Mr Grant —There are three key stages where the ICC meets with agencies. One is when they are doing their campaign strategy; the second is at the stage where the department, with its expert advertising advisers, has developed the first draft of the ads; and then, finally, when the ads are in final form. During those stages, the ICC does provide feedback on the information it is provided with. The aim there is to assist agencies to understand what they need to do and whether they are moving towards a compliant advertising campaign.
Senator RONALDSON —Is this by way of briefing from the officials as opposed to any briefing from the agencies?
Mr Grant —The ICC meets with the departments that are responsible for the advertising campaign.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, but they are not meeting at all with the agencies.
Mr Grant —Which agencies?
Senator RONALDSON —The advertising and other agencies.
Mr Grant —At times they have discussions with, for example, the researchers to better understand some of the information—I will just check that. No, the ICC has not done that yet, but it is certainly open for that to happen.
Senator RONALDSON —Under previous arrangements, under both the Keating and Howard governments, was there an opportunity for the members of those committees to question the ad agencies?
Mr Tune —I do not know if we have the corporate knowledge to answer that question. Our understanding is that advertising agencies did meet with the MCGC under the previous government.
Senator RONALDSON —There is no opportunity to meet with the agencies. If there are any concerns about the nature and extent of the campaign, they must rely only on the departmental officials or the secretariat. Is that right?
Mr Grant —That is not quite correct. The ICC does receive the research, it does look at the creative and it does have the ability, if it wishes, to follow up with the advertising experts contracted by the departments.
Senator RONALDSON —Which campaigns has the ICC looked at so far?
Mr Grant —I do not have a full list at present. I would have to get that.
Senator RONALDSON —Can you give me some examples?
Mr Grant —Defence Force recruitment, health reform and chemicals of dependence.
Senator RONALDSON —Have they ticked off on the health reform ads, have they?
Mr Grant —They have.
Senator RONALDSON —Do you keep minutes of these meetings?
Mr Grant —There are minutes, yes.
Senator Ludwig —There are also its decisions on the web.
Senator RONALDSON —Was there any discussion at the meeting about the fact that there was not agreement between the states and the Commonwealth on the health reform package?
Mr Grant —That certainly was discussed. In that context, those advertisements do not go to WA.
Senator RONALDSON —You’re not serious! The committee met, concern was expressed, you decided not to run the ads in Western Australia and that is viewed as some independent assessment of this advertising campaign? I cannot believe this.
Mr Grant —The content was looked at and the nature of the ads was looked at.
Senator RONALDSON —So the independent committee was happy to sign off on a campaign where there is no agreement. Is this under the ‘consideration of issue’ banner?
Mr Grant —Perhaps I can take you through the process.
Senator RONALDSON —No. You just answer my questions. Was this under the watered down ‘consideration of issue’ guideline?
Mr Grant —The ICC looks at guidelines 1 to 4. It looks at proposed campaigns in that context. As I said, it liaises at at least three stages with departments undertaking campaign development.
CHAIR —I remind committee members and staff that the procedure is that any documentation or approaches to senators should be made through the secretariat’s table. Staff and other people are not supposed to approach people during an estimates hearing.
Senator RONALDSON —I apologise for that.
CHAIR —I think it is important that we abide by the standing orders.
Senator RONALDSON —I agree entirely. My staff member was providing me with some very important information but should have gone through the normal process. I apologise to the committee. Minister, I notice chapter 11, paragraph 54, the Australian Labor Party 44th National Conference. When was the 44th national conference? I presume it was not decades ago. Was it in 2007?
Senator Ludwig —According to my recollection it was early that year.
Senator RONALDSON —Part of that platform, under ‘Integrity and openness in government administration’, says:
Labor will not support the use of government advertising for political purposes.
We know what the Auditor-General said about that. Do you remember this the part of the platform:
Labor will not support the use of government advertising for political purposes. Labor will introduce legislation to ensure:
- - government advertising campaigns only occur after government policy has been legislated for by parliament …
Do you remember that, Minister?
Senator Ludwig —I was there. I am not sure I remember everything that went on, but I am familiar with the area you are reading from.
Senator RONALDSON —Do you acknowledge that that is Labor Party platform from the 44th national conference?
Senator Ludwig —Without having seen the document, it sounds like it is. As your previous Prime Minster used to say, I would like to see the document before I accept your quote of it, but I am not disputing that it sounds very much like it.
Senator RONALDSON —I will table it.
Senator Ludwig —If there is a question that relates to it, I am happy to accept the question.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, if you wish to table the document, can we see the document so the committee can consider whether we wish to have it tabled?
Senator Ludwig —Chair, I don’t think it is in dispute. I am pretty sure it sounds right. I am happy to answer a question emanating from it.
CHAIR —Are you seeking to table that document, Senator Ronaldson?
Senator RONALDSON —The minister is now acknowledging that it is Labor Party policy, so I do not need to.
Senator Ludwig —I think I know where the question is going to come from and what it is likely to be. If he asks the question, I am happy to answer it. He has asked it already about three or four times and I have answered it three or four times.
CHAIR —I am sure Senator Ronaldson is aware of the standing orders about repetitiveness.
Senator RONALDSON —About what?
CHAIR —About repetitive questioning. I am sure you are aware of the standing orders.
Senator RONALDSON —Madam Chair, just so that I am clear about this: is it repetitive to refer back to broken election promises or is it repetitive to refer back to national conferences—
Senator Ludwig —There are no broken election promises, we continue to have—
Senator RONALDSON —I am having a discussion with the Chair.
Senator Ludwig —Sorry.
CHAIR —Sorry Minister. Senator Ronaldson, are you querying the standing orders?
Senator RONALDSON —Is it repetitive to refer to matters of concern raised by the Auditor-General? Is it repetitive to refer to the weakening of the guidelines that were opposed by the Labor party as part of a pre-election platform—
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson.
Senator RONALDSON —on the Auditor-General which have been brought in?
CHAIR —You know quite well what I was referring to. Have you got a question?
Senator RONALDSON —Is it repetitive also to refer to the fact that this minister—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Point of order, Chair.
CHAIR —There is a point of order. Senator Collins has a call on a point of order.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —The point of order is that this senator is simply not responding to you.
CHAIR —Thank you for your point of order. Can I remind committee members that we are bound by the standing orders as we are in the Senate chamber. I am sure, Senator Ronaldson, that, with your experience, you are well aware of the standing orders. I would appreciate when I am speaking that people would pay me courtesy of allowing me to finish before trying to talk continually over the top of me. Senator Ronaldson, you have the call for a question.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, just out of interest: when you were discussing the terms of reference for the Hawke inquiry with Mr Hawke, whose suggestion was it to put in there the adaptability of the guidelines—and this was what the review was to look at. Under terms of reference for this review item 4 says:
… the adaptability of the Guidelines and associated arrangements to emerging issues, including increasing Government initiatives to engage with the community through a range of platforms and encourage debate on important issues.
Whose idea was that?
Senator Ludwig —I can ask the department to go through that. I did not have that supposed conversation that you are referring to prior to the terms of reference.
Senator RONALDSON —It was by Allan Hawke, the Independent Review of Government Advertising Arrangements. It says:
The following Terms of Reference for this Review were agreed between the … PM&C and Finance—
Senator Ludwig —If you let the department answer, you will find that there is an answer to your question.
Senator RONALDSON —Do not suggest that you were not involved in the discussion—
Senator Ludwig —No.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson and Minister, can I yet again remind the committee members that it is very unhelpful for Hansard and for me, in chairing these estimates, if we continue to allow people to speak over the top of one another. The process is a simple one: you put a question and you allow the witness to respond.
Mr Tune —The terms of reference were agreed, as the report actually says, between myself and the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet and then approved by Minister Ludwig. In relation to terms of reference 4, what we were trying to get at there was that there are changes going on in the way communications take place with the people in society, such as a greater use of the internet, blogs et cetera, and that perhaps they needed to be brought more explicitly into the net. We were asking Dr Hawke to examine that particular issue to get his views on what he thought was the appropriate way forward.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you, Mr Tune.
CHAIR —Are you finished?
Senator RONALDSON —Cut me a little bit of slack please, Madam Chair. In this area of the review, the outcome is the extension of the guidelines to include the words ‘informed consideration of issues’ which, I think, we have all agreed were not under the Auditor-General’s guidelines. Is that correct?
Mr Tune —No, they were not. They were in effect being covered, but they were not in the guidelines, so we think we have clarified the guidelines to incorporate those sorts of things that had in fact been considered by the Auditor-General.
Senator RONALDSON —Was there any government involvement in the terms of reference?
Mr Tune —No. As I said, the cabinet secretary, Senator Ludwig, did approve them, but they were basically agreed between the secretary of PM&C and me.
Senator RONALDSON —Was there input from other departments?
Mr Tune —No.
Senator RONALDSON —None at all?
Mr Tune —No.
Senator RONALDSON —So none of the departments who Katharine Murphy of the Age described their view of the Auditor-General as being a ‘pesky nuisance’. Minister, it just looks to me—
Senator Ludwig —It may look like that, but this is the answer you are being given.
CHAIR —Minister! I remind you—
Senator RONALDSON —Well, I am asking you a question.
Senator Ludwig —Sorry, Chair. It was my fault, Chair.
CHAIR —Yes, it was, Minister. Senator Ronaldson has the call, so if we would allow him to complete his question.
Senator RONALDSON —I refer to point 4 of the Hawke report:
the adaptability of the Guidelines and associated arrangements to emerging issues, including increasing Government initiatives to engage with the community through a range of platforms and encourage debate on important issues.
In light of everything that has happened in relation to the removal of the Auditor-General and these broken election promises, when you look at the terms of reference and at the extension of the guidelines to include informed consideration of issues, the fix was absolutely in, enabling you to advertise prior to the election so far outside the guidelines that you had imposed by way of the Auditor-General. This was absolutely a complete and utter fix for pure partisan political purposes.
Senator Ludwig —I completely reject that. Despite your valiant attempts to muddy the waters, the evidence that you have heard has exposed you. You are wrong. You know it. There is nowhere for you to turn.
Senator RONALDSON —For me to turn?
Senator Ludwig —In fact, since coming to office, this government has made significant changes to the government advertising framework to increase transparency and accountability, unlike the position that you had adopted. When you were in government, the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications was not actually a committee of ministers; it was chaired by the Special Minister of State and comprised the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, Tony Nutt, and a number of Liberal backbenchers. It was effectively a cabal of Liberals who would then go out and determine what campaign should be run, what they would do and how they would run it. There was no estoppel. They could run party political ads. They could continue to run partisan ads. We have put in place clear guidelines that explicitly say that ads are not to have political content. We cannot undertake political advertising. That is what this government has done. It has ensured that there is a process in place. It seems to me that you have completely missed the point. In fact, I think you are harking back to your old system. You seem to prefer that. This government prefers this system, because it does provide certainty. The guidelines are put in place. We continue to ensure that advertising will not have political content. We continue to ensure that the public can be informed about particular social and health issues. We continue to ensure that the secretaries have clarity around these guidelines. We continue to ensure that they will be cost effective in meeting their budgets. There is also transparency. The ICC puts its decisions on the web. The ICC continues to ensure the independence—
Senator RONALDSON —You want to talk about repetition.
Senator Ludwig —You asked the question. You made the slurs that do not exist.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, if you want to take a point of order, you could. Otherwise the minister has the call.
Senator Ludwig —And I will continue to remind you that we have continued to have the Auditor-General in the more traditional role position of allowing performance audits, because it is important to have that check. In fact, you agreed to that. It is one of the areas that you raised yourself as a matter and you agreed to it when we first announced it. If there is any backflipping going on, it is you in this room that is doing the backflip.
Senator RONALDSON —Ha! I think it was the same under the Keating government as well that one of the ministers chaired the unit. Just for clarity, from recollection—and you may be able to confirm this—I think that the minister who was chairing the committee under the Howard government actually appeared at Senate estimates and could be asked questions in relation to the determinations of the committee. I do not see the chairman of the so-called Independent Communications Committee sitting at the table taking similar questions.
Senator Ludwig —So you still hark back to the old days of being able to run party political ads. That is what you are effectively saying. I have not seen a policy from you in this area.
Senator RONALDSON —Now you are getting a bit narky. You are getting a little catty as the evidence unfolds.
Senator Ludwig —We have ensured that there is not political content. It seems to me—and we dealt with this on Tuesday—that the ICC can appear before Senate committees. We have got advice from the Clerk which clearly articulated that it would be inappropriate to appear at estimates.
Senator RONALDSON —Where is the chair of the committee? Am I missing something?
Senator Ludwig —Of course, you can ask—and you did ask—for me to appear on campaign advertising, with the secretary of the department, who deals with this, so you could ask questions in this area, which you are entitled to do so.
Senator RONALDSON —I do not see the chair of the committee.
Senator Ludwig —So I welcome questions in this area rather than political statements that you continue to make.
Senator RONALDSON —I am having a look around and I still cannot see the chair of the committee. How many members of the ICC have had direct experience in the areas of advertising, qualitative research, quantitative research or public relations and what is the nature of that experience, Mr Grant?
Mr Tune —In terms of expertise in communication matters or professional qualifications? Was that the question?
Senator RONALDSON —How many members of the ICC have had direct experience in the areas of advertising, qualitative research, quantitative research or public relations and what is the nature of that experience?
Mr Tune —I think all of them would have had some experience within their Public Service careers in dealing with communications campaigns. Beyond that, I am not too clear.
Senator RONALDSON —Have any of those members ever sat on the former MCGC or on the MCGIA?
Mr Tune —I do not know if they have ever appeared before it or sat on it.
Senator RONALDSON —No, no. I did not ask you if they appeared before it. Have they ever been members of it?
Mr Tune —I have no idea.
Senator RONALDSON —Have they ever served as officials in the old GCU or the OGIA?
Mr Tune —I do not know that either.
Senator RONALDSON —Have any of the members of the ICC ever had to appear in their capacity as APS officials before the MCGC or the MCGIA?
Mr Tune —I do not know.
Senator RONALDSON —We have been through the employment contract. Is there any reason why they are only two-year appointments? Aren’t there standard five-year appointments for these sorts of committees, particularly for the chair?
Mr Tune —There is no fixed term around these things. We thought two years was appropriate. This was a new body being set up. It is appropriate to see how it goes, so two years gives us a point of review. That seemed appropriate in the circumstances.
Senator RONALDSON —So it wasn’t two years so that their positions could be reviewed in a couple of years time, if the government are regrettably re-elected, to see how they have travelled in relation to their interpretation of the guidelines?
Mr Tune —No. I do not think that was in their minds.
Senator RONALDSON —I am sure that could not possibly be the reason for it. Who identified these positions and by whom were they appointed? Who identified the people who now have the jobs?
Mr Tune —The Hawke report actually did mention both Ms Williams and Ms Belcher as potential members and recommended in fact, or mentioned also, that Mr Ric Smith, deputy secretary in foreign affairs, a former Secretary of the Department of Defence, be the chair of the committee. In the event, Mr Smith was unavailable. I personally approached a couple of other ex senior public servants to ascertain their availability. That was not possible and, in the end, Dr Hawke agreed to chair the committee as well.
Senator RONALDSON —By whom were they appointed? Was it the secretary—
Mr Tune —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —or the PM?
Mr Tune —I appointed them.
Senator RONALDSON —I take it that that decision has not been endorsed by the Governor-General, as has been done in relation to the chair of the AEC and other similar committees.
Mr Tune —No. It is not the same sort of relationship. These are not government employees. Basically they are consultants or contractors.
Senator RONALDSON —I am not too sure whether Mr Killesteyn would view himself as a government employee. I can ask you that shortly.
Mr Tune —No. It is different, but he is a public servant.
Senator RONALDSON —What are the key performance indicators of other criteria that the committee will have to have met to be eligible for reappointment at the end of their two-year term?
Mr Tune —We have not got to that point yet. As you appreciate, the committee has been in existence for only two months. As to what we do at the end of two years, we have not worked through those processes yet.
Senator RONALDSON —What are your KPIs, the key performance indicators, for the committee?
Mr Tune —We would like to see them do an effective and independent job, basically.
Senator RONALDSON —Where is that written?
Mr Tune —It is in their terms of reference, basically—their roles and responsibilities.
Senator RONALDSON —That is the extent of the KPIs?
Mr Tune —Yes. The specific responsibilities are: overseeing the operation of the guidelines; providing advice to chief executives on compliance for proposed advertising campaigns with principles 1 to 4 of the guidelines; publicly providing assessments of campaigns’ compliance with relevant aspects of the guidelines; reporting on campaigns subject to the guidelines,including any trends or emerging issues; and, lastly, considering and proposing revisions to the guidelines as necessary in light of experience. Those are basically the responsibilities and that is what the assessment will be made against.
Senator RONALDSON —If this committee is presented with a proposed advertising campaign and they believe that it is a waste of taxpayers’ funds, that it does not meet criteria, can the committee itself refuse to endorse the campaign?
Mr Tune —Yes, definitely.
Senator RONALDSON —How is that done?
Mr Tune —They would sign a letter to the chief executive of the agency proposing the campaign saying that the ICC does not consider that this campaign complies with the guidelines.
Senator RONALDSON —At that stage, if that decision was made by the committee I presume that the minister under the auspices of any compelling reason could override the committee.
Mr Tune —Can the minister override the committee?
Senator RONALDSON —Under the basis of bypassing the committee for any compelling reason, I take it that the minister himself could then bypass the committee.
Mr Tune —Yes, that is correct. The committee is not used in that situation.
Senator RONALDSON —So the committee could make a decision and the minister could override that by bypassing the committee on the basis that the advertising campaign was required for any compelling reason. You referred before to the ICC members, and we have got our differential. Who was the committee member who was apparently embarrassed by the amount of the per diem?
Mr Tune —I would prefer not to go into that. It is a personal issue between us and the person involved. Basically it is a personal contract we have signed with these individuals and, in my view, it is preferable that we not go there.
Senator RONALDSON —Is this a public interest claim?
Mr Tune —It will be on AusTender and the person involved in the lower amount is Ms Belcher.
Senator RONALDSON —In your discussions with Ms Belcher, was it the size of the per diem that was causing Ms Belcher concern?
Mr Tune —I will ask Mr Grant to go through that.
Mr Grant —Ms Belcher simply indicated that she would prefer to accept a slightly lower flat rate. She did not give us the reason for it.
Senator RONALDSON —She just came to you and said, ‘I don’t want as much as you’re offering?’
Mr Grant —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —Again, what was the differential—some $20,000 or $30,000?
Mr Tune —No, $60,000 over the two years.
Senator RONALDSON —So $30,000 a year?
Mr Tune —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Grant, you are saying that Ms Belcher did not make any reference to the fact that she was embarrassed by the largesse?
Mr Grant —No, she just said she would prefer to accept a lower amount.
Senator RONALDSON —That was, presumably, after you had offered her the higher amount?
Mr Grant —That is right.
Senator RONALDSON —So you said, ‘Ms Belcher, the offer is $260,000’—I think that was what the other member was getting?
Mr Grant —I think that is correct. Yes, that is correct.
Senator RONALDSON —She did not accept that. I will let others draw their conclusion. Can you just go through again the specific aspects of the communications campaigns that the ICC review—there were the three?
Mr Grant —Yes, there are three. They review at the time of the campaign strategy.
Senator RONALDSON —Sorry?
Mr Grant —When the campaign strategy has been developed, they look at the campaign strategy and talk to the agency.
Senator RONALDSON —Do they have involvement in the preparation of the strategy or are they presented with the strategy?
Mr Grant —No, part of the framework here is that it is the departments’ responsibilities; it is not the ICC or my branch’s responsibilities. The departments prepare it and they bring it to the ICC. The ICC will give them their views. The second stage then is the so-called preproduction, when they have actually done broad designs for the advertisements and they have undertaken some testing. The ICC looks at the advertisements and also looks at the testing results in terms of whether the messages are getting to the target audiences and things like that. In the last stage—
Senator RONALDSON —Can I just interrupt there. If they have no specific experience or expertise in relation to qualitative or quantitative research, how can they possibly make an appropriate assessment—and I presume this involves focus group reports—or a valued judgment about something as involved as qualitative and quantitative research?
Mr Grant —There are a few things here. The first is that those reports, I suppose, are written for the lay person insofar as they indicate what came out of those testing processes.
Senator RONALDSON —So they are not making an objective assessment of what the focus groups are saying; they are relying on what the departments interpret the focus—
—No, that is not correct. The second part that I was going to say is that my cabinet—sorry, my Communications Advice Branch actually—
Senator RONALDSON —I am going to ask you about the cabinet advice branch soon—but I suppose we could move straight to that.
—I don’t have one of those branches, Senator. My Communications Advice Branch do have experts in the advertising area and they provide advice on the reports; they analyse the data; they give advice to the ICC. So the ICC actually gets expert advice both from Finance and from the department undertaking the advertisement, and it also gets the reports. So it actually has a good degree of information at its hand.
Senator RONALDSON —But if there is a department appearing before the ICC they are hardly likely to interpret the focus group outcomes in a negative sense, are they? I mean they have an appalling conflict of interest in relation to their assessment of the focus group testing of a proposed campaign.
Mr Grant —Which is why Communications Advice Branch also provides information.
Senator RONALDSON —So another department working with another department in relation to an advertising campaign of that particular department: how can that possibly be viewed as an independent assessment of this issue?
Mr Grant —Let me come back again. The Communications Advice Branch is located in the department of finance. It actually works closely with departments and agencies as they go through the development of campaigns. It analyses the research and other reports—campaign strategies and the like—and it advises the ICC.
Mr Tune —You have to remember too, Senator, that the role of the ICC is to ensure compliance with the guidelines. It is not there designing campaigns; it is saying, ‘Does this campaign comply with these guidelines?’ It is a slightly different role, I think.
Senator RONALDSON —That is a very interesting interjection, Mr Tune. Indeed, what they have been asked to do is to interpret a different set of guidelines—thank you for this intervention—to those that the Auditor-General operated under and a different set of guidelines that the present government went to the last election with and then implemented upon their election. Thank you very much. They are indeed, as you say, only interpreting government guidelines and therefore their independence is completely and utterly questionable. I gather that my colleague Senator Xenophon has some questions.
CHAIR —Thank you, Senator Ronaldson. Senator Xenophon has the call. We can come back to you later. Can I remind senators and witnesses to switch off their mobile phones or have them on silent, please.
Senator XENOPHON —Perhaps if I get some clarification from the minister first in terms of the guidelines. I think there was some debate about going from the words ‘extraordinary’ to ‘compelling’. Minister, in circumstances where those exceptions are acted upon, is there any independent scrutiny as to whether it was urgent or compelling, even after the event? In other words, does the ICC have a role or does the ANAO have a role in determining whether your discretionary use of exceptions to scrutiny is in some way subject to some reasonable benchmark or test by an independent body, whether it is the ICC or the ANAO?
Senator Ludwig —They are tabled in parliament, so the scrutiny there rests and it is open and accountable. It is there for you and obviously the public to see.
Senator XENOPHON —Would you agree that it would be preferable to have it scrutinised or to be the subject of a report by, for instance, the Auditor-General or the ICC in those cases where the exception is—
Senator Ludwig —The Auditor-General can still undertake a broad range of roles in any event. They can do a performance audit of any campaign that they choose. We have asked them to do at least one and so the Auditor-General continues to play a valuable role in this, as I have said a couple of times. The object of tabling them to make them open and transparent is to ensure that there is parliamentary scrutiny. This is a democracy and it is the highest place where they can be scrutinised.
Senator XENOPHON —Further to that, back in the lead-up to the 1998 election campaign, the then Auditor-General published a report that was critical of the Howard government’s advertising campaign in respect of the GST and the Auditor-General—
Senator CAMERON —Report No. 24.
Senator XENOPHON —Thank you, Senator Cameron. I think the Labor Party in opposition welcomed that report for that level of scrutiny in the lead-up to an election campaign about the enormous amounts of money spent by the former government in terms of spruiking the GST. To what extent would you welcome a report in the lead-up to the election to be held later this year in terms of the scrutiny of recent government advertising campaigns?
Senator Ludwig —The Auditor-General is entitled to undertake performance audits in this area. We have asked them to do one per year. Clearly, we ensure that we continue to have a role in this area of oversight in the more traditional sense of the Auditor-General’s role. It is not a matter of my view. It is the case that the Auditor-General can undertake big performance audits and I have no doubt that they will undertake performance audits of particular advertising campaigns as they see fit. They are independent—they report to parliament—and that is a good thing.
Senator XENOPHON —But just as the government in opposition welcomed the Auditor-General’s report back in 1998 about the then Howard government’s campaign for the GST, would you similarly welcome a report from the Auditor-General in relation to the government’s advertising campaigns, particularly in relation to the health reform package?
Senator Ludwig —I would welcome any report from the Auditor-General as the Auditor-General is independent of government. They report to parliament. We all welcome their reports. They are insightful, they provide assistance to departments across the board, and they are a valuable read. Not everyone chooses to read them, but they do provide very good guidance.
Senator XENOPHON —When the details are published of the exceptions in the use of your discretion for an advertising campaign, what time frame is there for details of that to be published in terms of the cost of the campaign and the exceptions? I take it that you indicate whether it is a case of national emergency or it is a compelling reason.
Senator Ludwig —They are tabled in parliament, including the grounds.
Senator XENOPHON —Yes, but what time frame is it. Is it from the time of the campaign? Is it only done annually or is it on a more regular basis than that?
Senator Ludwig —As it is happening, I am advised.
Mr Tune —Within a few days of a decision being made, there would be tabling.
Senator Ludwig —The other part, I am advised, is that we do half-yearly reports every six months on expenditure. They are provided with detail, and this is to ensure that we have transparency. They are provided every six months on our major expenditure.
Senator XENOPHON —I appreciate that, but can I just clarify this: is there a requirement or convention that, from the time a decision is made—in terms of the use of your discretion whether it is for a ‘compelling reason’ or a national emergency—there is a set number of sitting days or can it be published out of sitting? I am just trying to establish whether there is a standard for that in terms of publication.
Mr Grant —There is no set number of days. The exemption is usually given before the campaign has been well developed. That being the case, the experience has been that the cabinet secretary has taken the decision and within a few days of that—and as far as I can recall before any campaign has even started—in the past has advised the Auditor-General, in the future the chair of the ICC, and made a statement to parliament. That has been the experience.
Senator XENOPHON —I appreciate that; I am just trying to understand whether there is a standard as to what time frame is there from the time the decision is made. Is it within seven days, or 14 days?
Mr Tune —There is no specific time frame.
Senator XENOPHON —Do you think it would be desirable—and I appreciate what the minister said about transparency in the process—and wouldn’t transparency be enhanced if we knew that there was a maximum period of time?
Senator Ludwig —I am happy to have a look at it.
Senator XENOPHON —If there is some flexibility—
Senator Ludwig —I understand the point you are making.
Senator XENOPHON —I would argue that having a time frame in relation to that would strengthen it and assist, I think, in confidence in the process.
Senator Ludwig —There is no set standard, but I am happy to have a look at it.
Senator CAMERON —Minister, I have just been looking at this Audit Report No. 24 that Senator Xenophon mentioned. That was a report into the administration of contracting arrangements in relation to government advertising, and it dealt, basically, with the spending of $1.8 billion on government advertising between July 1995 and November 2007. There was an organisation set up who did most of the decision making under the Howard government; it was called the MCGC. Are you aware of the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications?
Senator Ludwig —I am broadly aware of it. I was not on it.
Senator CAMERON —I am sure you were not on it. I know Senator Abetz was on it and chaired it for some time. The report indicated that they made most of the decisions in relation to approvals. They had:
… considerable discretion as to the extent of its involvement in particular campaigns. At a minimum, the MCGC provided formal approvals and clearances at key points of campaign development and delivery. At times, the MCGC took decisions that completely reshaped campaign strategy and timing, extensively edited creative materials, and set requirements for the frequency of advertising.
The Rudd government have moved from this type of approach, haven’t they?
Senator Ludwig —What we have done, of course—and I think the evidence today has highlighted that—
Senator RONALDSON —That may be questioned.
Senator Ludwig —is move to guidelines which ensure what types of advertisements can be run. For argument’s sake, first of all, for anything over $250,000 the secretaries have to utilise the guidelines. There is an Independent Communications Committee which is there to look at the advertisements to make sure that the principles are adhered to. In addition to that, as I said, anything over $250,000 has to go through the guidelines. But most important—and I keep coming back to this one—is that the guidelines are clear that we cannot run, and nor should we, advertisements which contain political content, which is quite distinct from what happened before. What happened before was that the government could spend on partisan political ads, and they did. It also significantly improves the reporting and transparency. As I think we have gone to today, the government reports twice yearly to the parliament on campaigns. In addition to that, the ICC reports when they look at, for argument’s sake, a health ad; they put it on the web. So it is about ensuring that there are both accountability mechanisms and transparency mechanisms in place. If you go to the transcripts from Tuesday from the Auditor-General, he recognises—and I will not quote exactly—that this Rudd government has made improvements in this area. It is well recognised.
Senator KROGER —Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors—that is what it is about.
Senator CAMERON —Minister, are you aware that under the Howard government there were two reports on government advertising, one being the JCPAA report in September 2000 and the other being report 12, the 1998-99 ANAO report? Are you aware that the Howard government did not adopt any recommendations from these reports?
Senator Ludwig —I think I have a general recollection of them. I cannot say that I recollect the latter one in any great detail. I do know that the guidelines that are in place were not in place prior to the Rudd government’s coming in to government and putting in place both transparency and accountability, significantly improving this area and ensuring that advertisements can be legitimately authorised and properly targeted and do not have political content in them. That is what this government has worked very hard to achieve—
Senator RONALDSON —He is keeping a straight face.
Senator Ludwig —which is significantly different from what was before.
Senator CAMERON —The ANAO, in its report number 24, said that the changes that the Rudd government were implementing were broadly consistent with the JCPAA September 2000 report and report number 12 of 1998-99. It took a change of government, really, to bring more accountability into government advertising. Is that correct?
Senator Ludwig —I am convinced of that. This was a matter to which the previous Cabinet Secretary brought a lot of energy to dealing with. We will continue to ensure that there is openness and transparency in this area.
Senator RONALDSON —You will lacerate your cheek, Joe.
Senator Ludwig —If you look at some of the comments that have been made in the past, we adopted many of the recommendations. So yes, that is right; we essentially adopted many of the recommendations from that report.
Senator CAMERON —Mr Tune, I am not sure how far back in the department your corporate memory goes, but ANAO report number 24, in a footnote on page 25—footnote No. 26—notes that the responsibility of the provision of advice and support to the MCGC was transferred from the then Department of Finance and Administration to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on 21 October 1998. Have you any idea of why the responsibility was moved from Finance to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Mr Tune —No, I am sorry, I do not. That was well before my time in the Department of Finance. I have been there only eight months, so I do not have that length of corporate knowledge about roles and responsibilities going back six, eight, 10 years or so.
Senator RONALDSON —Just to put paid to this lie about what happened under the former government—I presume roughly the same set of guidelines applied under the Keating government—are you aware who ultimately had to sign off on any ads that were approved by the GCU?
Mr Tune —By the GCU? Do you mean the MCGC?
Senator RONALDSON —I mean the government communications unit.
Mr Tune —No, I do not.
Senator RONALDSON —It was actually the secretaries of the departments.
Mr Tune —That remains the case here; the secretaries sign off on the campaigns themselves.
Senator RONALDSON —So this notion of the Howard government and the Keating government just being able to sign off willy-nilly is, of course, completely and utterly untrue. Minister, I have just been asked to clarify: you did acknowledge that the 2007 platform was as under paragraph 54—the first dot, indicating that government advertising campaigns should occur only after a government policy has been legislated for by parliament and that Labor would introduce legislation to ensure that. You did acknowledge that that was the platform, did you not?
Senator Ludwig —I think you—
Senator RONALDSON —If not, can I seek leave to table this and ask the minister to confirm it, please, Madam Chair.
CHAIR —Does the committee wish to table the document? The committee agrees to table it. Could we have copies, please.
Senator RONALDSON —I do not have the guidelines in front of me for the ICC. Value for money is one of the criteria, I assume.
Senator Ludwig —Cost-effectiveness, yes.
Senator RONALDSON —I have a large number of questions, but I am mindful of the time, so if you could just cut me a bit of slack I will see if I can work out which—
CHAIR —I am sorry, Senator Ronaldson; I do not know what you mean. You have the call.
Senator RONALDSON —I am just saying that if you could cut me a bit of slack I will go through—
CHAIR —You have the call.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. I will go through and see whether some of these can be put as questions on notice and which ones I need to ask now. Mr Tune or Mr Grant, are finance department officials present at meetings of the ICC?
Mr Grant —Yes. Finance provides a secretariat to the ICC.
Senator RONALDSON —Is the Minister for Finance and Deregulation ever present, or are any MOPS employees ever present, at the meetings?
Mr Grant —Never.
Senator RONALDSON —Are the ministers or the MOPS or departmental officials of the proponent department present at the meetings?
Mr Grant —Never.
Senator RONALDSON —Is it the intention that the minutes be published online?
Mr Grant —No.
Senator RONALDSON —Why is that?
Mr Grant —The minutes really go to working papers associated with the development of campaigns.
Senator RONALDSON —Doesn’t that make a bit of a mockery of Operation Sunlight if those minutes are not available for public scrutiny?
Mr Grant —Certainly the decisions are available, but the workings of the committee are not, and that is pretty normal practice.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, you have the document. Have I quoted correctly from the National Platform and Constitution 2007, chapter 11—the 44th National Conference?
Senator Ludwig —Yes. I have the document.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. So you acknowledge that that is the platform?
Senator Ludwig —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —In relation to a caretaker period, will the ICC operate over the caretaker period?
Mr Grant —I would not think so. Under caretaker period conventions, all campaign advertising is withdrawn. If there is a view that perhaps some campaign advertising should take place, the convention usually is that the Cabinet Secretary would propose some. He would contact his opposition counterpart and if there is agreement reached then there may be some advertising that continues. But in the first instance all advertising is pulled.
Senator RONALDSON —I just wanted to make sure that provision still remains. So there is the opportunity during that caretaker period for bipartisan advertisements to take place.
Mr Tune —My feeling would be that, if that situation did arise, you would probably be in a national emergency situation or something like that, where there was a need to advertise availability of assistance.
Senator RONALDSON —I would think so.
Mr Tune —And there would be an exemption in that case anyway. We would not use the ICC during the caretaker period.
Senator RONALDSON —With the handover arrangements between the ANAO and the ICC, how many meetings have taken place between the two?
Mr Grant —Two of the members met with the ANAO—I think the week after new arrangements were announced. I and my people—I have not always been there—obviously had an ongoing relationship with the ANAO and we met with them on a number of occasions to assist in the transition.
Senator RONALDSON —When you say a number of occasions, how many?
Mr Grant —For me—
Senator RONALDSON —I got the impression from the Auditor the other day that there were not a large number of meetings. I might have misheard what the Auditor said.
Mr Grant —We have had one formal meeting but we have had a number of telephone conversations.
Senator RONALDSON —Who were they with?
Mr Grant —The Deputy Auditor-General, Steve Chapman, the division head and the branch head responsible.
Senator RONALDSON —The way the Auditor put it was that a group of you went down there for a meeting and that has really been the extent of the changeover.
Mr Grant —Two members of the ICC have had one meeting. I am not aware of any others.
Senator RONALDSON —What formal meetings have there been between the department and the Auditor-General?
Mr Grant —As I said, we have had one formal meeting, but there have been a number of contacts on the phone dealing with matters as we do the transition.
Senator RONALDSON —I presume that the Auditor-General was not involved in the preparation of the new guidelines?
Mr Tune —The answer is no.
Senator RONALDSON —Given the lack of experience of these community members in relation to advertising, qualitative and quantitative research, public relations et cetera and given that the staff of the Auditor-General certainly have expertise in that area, do you envisage having ongoing interaction with the ANAO?
Mr Tune —It is an open-ended arrangement. The Auditor-General has kindly made himself available, as needed, to assist the committee. The committee can take advantage of that whenever it wishes. We think it is an ongoing arrangement.
Senator RONALDSON —It has been an ongoing arrangement since 31 March. That is two months now and there has been one meeting with officials and one meeting with the committee members. I hardly call that a significant level of engagement. You have virtually decided to go it alone, haven’t you?
Mr Tune —Not necessarily. It is for the committee to decide whether or not it wishes to consult further with the Auditor-General. There may be occasions when that is the most sensible thing to do.
Senator RONALDSON —Finance has not sought any more formal meetings with the Auditor-General.
Mr Tune —We have had one plus the phone calls that Mr Grant referred to. I dare say there will be further phone calls to clarify things and obtain information.
Senator RONALDSON —What was the nature and extent of the phone calls?
Mr Grant —It was partly to touch base in setting up the formal meeting. It was also to talk about their processes. The Auditor-General’s office provided us with a letter with some of their processes attached. That assisted us with the basis of the formal meeting that we had.
Senator RONALDSON —If upon publication of a campaign the ANAO viewed it and considered it to be outside the guidelines, what capacity would the ANAO have to transmit the information to the proponent department and force them to act on that? Would they be compelled to suspend or withdraw the campaign?
Mr Grant —No. The ANAO has never had the capacity to do that.
Senator RONALDSON —You say the ANAO has not got that capacity?
Mr Grant —No, and did not have under the previous arrangement either. It is the chief executive of the organisation that is proposing the campaign who signs off. They have the ultimate accountability.
Senator RONALDSON —But the Auditor-General had ultimate authority, surely, in relation to any campaign over $250,000?
Mr Tune —No, they had the authority to provide a report on compliance with those guidelines. Whether they were actually complied with was an issue. The chief executive of the organisation, under the Financial Management and Accountability Act, has the accountability for signing off.
Senator RONALDSON —But they had proactive involvement in these campaigns, didn’t they?
Mr Tune —Of course they did, as does the ICC, so in that respect I do not think there has been much of a change.
Senator RONALDSON —I think there has been a very substantial change, because under the previous guidelines only a matter of enormous significance would enable the direct intervention of the minister, but now that has been watered down to the extent that it comes under the banner of any compelling reason, to be determined by the minister himself. Given the time, I think I will put the balance of these questions on the ICC on notice.
CHAIR —Are we still dealing with 2.1, procurement framework?
Senator RONALDSON —Yes. Minister, we did have some significant discussion about this the other day, but I do—
Senator Ludwig —What was that?
Senator RONALDSON —I do want to take you, please, to the comments of the Auditor-General. I just want confirmation from you that the Auditor-General made the following comments in his letter to you and, indeed, in his latest report in relation to the new guidelines into which he had no input at all. He said some areas were less specific, namely:
… Principle 1, which provides a broader scope in determining the suitable uses of government advertising campaigns, Principle 3, which provides less guidance in interpreting whether campaign materials promote party political interests, and Principle 4, which no longer requires a cost-benefit analysis …
The last paragraph of his letter says:
I am concerned that we will not see the same level of rigour and discipline applied to the sensitive area of government administration going forward under the revised arrangements.
Are they indeed the comments made to you by the Auditor-General?
Senator Ludwig —The letter of 29 March 2010, which is available on the web, and clearly you have it as well—was it tabled here?
Mr Tune —Today?
Senator Ludwig —Yes, so it has been tabled?
Mr Tune —I am not sure it has been today.
Senator RONALDSON —I just want your confirmation that they were indeed the Auditor-General’s comments.
Senator Ludwig —The letter is there to be read.
Senator RONALDSON —Do you confirm that that is what he said or not, or do you need to table it again and then I can go through it?
Senator Ludwig —I can confirm the issues that you have raised are in the letter of 29 March 2010, and you have also got the response to the Auditor-General’s letter from the secretary of the department, Mr Tune, on 31 March.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, I have got that.
Senator Ludwig —If can quote from that response:
The new Guidelines aim to address areas of ambiguity, without diluting the need for campaigns to be: relevant to government responsibilities, factual, accessible, objective, efficient, effective and not directed at promoting party political interests. There is no ‘softening in the application of requirements on agencies’; rather, the new governance framework aims to allocate responsibilities to those best placed to manage them, while retaining a significant independent review mechanism through the establishment of the Independent Communications Committee.
Senator RONALDSON —But that is not a statement of fact; that is a statement of opinion, isn’t it? Mr Tune, that is an opinion, isn’t it?
Mr Tune —That is my view.
Senator RONALDSON —And that is diametrically opposed to the Auditor-General’s view, isn’t it?
Mr Tune —Which was also a view. That was one view expressed; I was expressing a different view, which I believe.
Senator RONALDSON —I acknowledge that the Auditor-General’s comment was a view and that yours is a view.
Mr Tune —That is right.
Senator RONALDSON —You will acknowledge, of course, that the Auditor-General is indeed, in the context of this debate, a completely independent umpire and arbiter in relation to this matter. Minister, I want to take you to these guidelines and I do not want a 15-minute discussion about history or how bad anything was; I just want a straight answer. You went to the election with the guidelines that the Auditor-General operated under. They were guidelines that the Australian Labor Party had been talking about for years. They were guidelines that the Prime Minister confirmed when in opposition—confirmed by various national conferences, in my understanding. They were guidelines re-endorsed by you in a press release in relation to this matter, with quotes from the minister for finance and Senator Faulkner. Can you tell the committee why you decided to change the guidelines and why you decided to change those guidelines that had rusted onto Labor Party policy and election commitments without discussing the changes with the very person to whom you had for many years—your party and then you personally as SMOS—entrusted these guidelines. You refused to brief the Auditor-General on or discuss the change of guidelines. Can you explain to the committee why you took that extraordinary course.
Senator Ludwig —I think I went through this before but I am happy to go through it again. If you recall, in July 2008, the government introduced the new campaign advertising framework, including the guidelines on cabinet advertising. The government agreed to review the guidelines before July 2010, and that review was completed in March 2010 by Dr Allan Hawke. The review found that the current arrangements drew into question the independence of the Auditor-General and potentially created conflicts of interest. Following consideration of the Hawke report, the government implemented its recommendations. The key recommendations included that the guidelines be ‘simplified and clarified’ to assist interpretation and application by agencies conducting campaigns and that the Auditor-General’s role in reviewing proposed campaigns before their launch be replaced by an independent communications committee. The Auditor-General would still continue to play an oversight role. They would be asked to do at least one performance audit of campaigns per year. But—and I think we heard the evidence from the Auditor-General—it was certainly up to them whether or not they wanted to do more than that and undertake any other role that the Auditor-General traditionally has.
Going to some of the issues you went to, with regard to reviewing advertising campaigns, we have since coming to office significantly improved transparency and accountability in this area. We report twice yearly to parliament on campaign advertising expenditure. We also committed to continue to report that expenditure which is above $250,000. And of course the government have continued to ensure that the framework works to ensure that advertisements are legitimately authorised, they are properly targeted and they are non partisan or non political—they do not contain political content. That is what we have continued to do. Those guidelines were reviewed and we adopted those recommendations.
One of the issues that you centre on, of course, is the Auditor-General’s role. I think it was by evidence on Tuesday that the Auditor-General indicated that a committee such as we have now, which is the Independent Communications Committee, would be one such mechanism that the government used to review. Your own member on the parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, Mr Petro Georgiou, also raised concerns that the process had the potential to compromise the Auditor-General’s independence and capacity to be an appropriate auditor. He said:
The effect of the Auditor-General or his staff being involved in the ongoing process of monitoring what happens is to make him a de facto decision maker. The roles are blurred.
At that same inquiry, the shadow minister at that time, Bronwyn Bishop, said:
I have to say that I feel very uncomfortable with the Auditor-General being placed in what I think is an unethical position.
Taking all of that on board, having listened to both the independent reviewer, Dr Allan Hawke, and the Liberal members of the JCPAA, the new guidelines have been brought forward. It is important that the Auditor-General on Tuesday did also recognise that there has been a significant improvement in this area. You skate over that, but the Auditor-General’s evidence was clear about that.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, you have had years and years to consider whether these guidelines are appropriate. These are not guidelines that were put in place at short notice with a review clause within six months. Your party had years to consider these. You made a deliberate decision in relation to giving the Auditor-General these dual roles. You thought about it and promised to do something about it before the election. You did it after the election and you have now changed the rules without discussing the new guidelines with the very person who you charged to implement your pre-election commitments and your platform going over many years. I ask you again: why did you not discuss the revised guidelines with the Auditor-General prior to implementing them?
Senator Ludwig —What I indicated on Tuesday and what I will continue to indicate to you—perhaps you did not hear it—
Senator RONALDSON —How about you just answer the question? Why did you not consult with the Auditor-General before you changed these guidelines?
CHAIR —I remind you again, Senator Ronaldson—
Senator Ludwig —What I said was that—
Senator Ludwig —Sorry.
CHAIR —I have reminded the committee members countless times this morning that questions are put and then we should wait for the witness to have the opportunity to respond. Senator Ronaldson, it would be most helpful if you could do that. Minister, I remind you of the same. Minister, you had the call.
Senator Ludwig —The independent reviewer, Dr Hawke, did consult with the Auditor-General in relation to the review which was conducted post the introduction of the guidelines, which I indicated earlier.
Senator RONALDSON —I gather my colleague Senator Kroger has a couple of questions, so I will defer to her and then come back.
Senator KROGER —I would just like to turn to the register of advertising agencies. I understand that it is called the Communications Multi-Use List. Is that right?
Mr Tune —That is correct.
Senator KROGER —I refer to an article—which I am happy to table, Madam Chair—that was in the Australian dated 24 May.
CHAIR —Before you go on, I have to ask: is it the wish of the committee to have the document tabled? As there are no objections, that is fine, thank you, Senator Kroger.
Senator KROGER —While we are waiting for that document, I will ask: how are those agencies determined that make it to that list? What is the process?
Mr Grant —To be on the multiuse list, you have to meet a number of criteria—financial viability. You need to demonstrate some expertise and send in references. Effectively, it is an open list. Any company may seek to be a member. They undertake a range of things including their financial viability. They send in references. We have someone who checks those references. If they pass the check test and they have nominated the areas that they are expert in then they are placed on the multiuse list. Once a year we ask companies to reaffirm their viability and other things like that.
Senator KROGER —When was the list that currently exists first established?
Ms Van Veen —The multiuse list was established on 31 March 2009.
Senator KROGER —Do you charge a fee for inclusion on that list?
Mr Grant —No.
Senator KROGER —I refer to the copy of the Australian, which I see that you have before you. That article clearly expresses issues in relation to that list. I will read it. It says:
A REGISTER of advertising agencies at the centre of the Rudd government’s overhaul of its advertising processes is out of date, unwieldy and being ignored by the commonwealth’s own departments.
It then goes on to say that there are many companies which are tendering for major advertising projects which are not included on that list. Can you verify whether that is the case or not?
Mr Grant —This article is actually incorrect in many ways. The multiuse list is for campaigns over $250,000 undertaken by FMA Act—Financial Management and Accountability Act—agencies. I am aware of only one instance since this multiuse list came into place where an advertising agency that was not on the list was asked to tender, and that was actually in a transition period when that agency had not updated its information and the department was not aware that that was the case. Our view, as you would expect, is that for campaign advertising above $250,000 for FMA Act agencies we have an exceptionally high compliance rate.
Senator KROGER —What is the rationale then? Obviously there was considered to be a need; therefore a requirement was put in place to have some overarching oversight of the advertising agencies that were being used for campaigns over $250,000. Why does the same need not apply for those under $250,000?
Mr Grant —I suppose the guidelines relate to advertising over $250,000. That is when you start to have significant advertising. What the CMUL, the Communications Multi-Use List, does is to some degree to provide some prequalification about the expertise and capabilities of the businesses. They have to have a look at their specialist category. The different categories are advertising, research, public relations, Indigenous and non-English-speaking background. It assists the departments and agencies undertaking or proposing to undertake relatively large campaign advertising to be able to go to a group of companies or suppliers that actually have to some degree some prequalification about their expertise.
Senator KROGER —From that I am to presume that the checking of that expertise is not critical for campaigns under $250,000?
Mr Grant —I would not say that, but this is an attempt to streamline procurement processes, reduce the cost and, to some degree also provide businesses with the opportunity to put forward their capabilities so that departments and agencies can move forward.
Senator KROGER —I guess it just brings into question again why we have this abstract $250,000 benchmark—a level that has been set so that everything that falls under it does not have the same scrutiny that applies to those campaigns that exceed $250,000.
Mr Grant —I cannot answer that in terms of the threshold of $250,000. I think that was in the ANAO and JCPAA reports back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Mr Tune —I guess to some extent it comes down to issues of efficiency: the larger the amount at stake the more scrutiny and the more processes and the more coordination you would need. You are trading the two things off, and $250,000—it is obviously a judgment—was seen as a level below which the degree of scrutiny was probably regarded as a lower standard, I suppose. Having said that, I do not think there is anything that stops campaigns under $250,000 using the multi-use list.
Mr Grant —That is right.
Mr Tune —If agencies want to use it they certainly can do so.
Mr Grant —Before this was established, a group of panel arrangements were being established by different departments and agencies. It becomes very expensive to keep applying for panels and putting forward by business their capabilities, their financial position and things like that. This is a red tape reduction process, because they can do it once and across all FMA Act agencies the multi-use list is available.
Senator KROGER —I refer to the comments by Daniel Leesong, who is the chief executive of the communications council advertising body, that were made in the same article. He said that it was a fair comment to say most government work continued to be concentrated among a handful of agencies despite the more than 200 companies on the list. He also refers to the inclusion of insolvent agencies on the list. Do you believe that to be the case?
Mr Grant —Again, they are really disappointing comments. A couple of things: I am not sure that they mention an agency here. There is one agency that is in administration. We have been in contact with that agency to ascertain its position. As you know, when you are in administration you are still trading. We would rather be reasonable and undertake due diligence before we took any action.
The second thing—and the annual report on campaign advertising indicates this—is that departments and agencies go out to not just one but a group of suppliers across each of these areas. This provides the ability for innovative and sometimes cheaper businesses to supply to the Commonwealth. That is part of why we set it up—to give the opportunity for Australian SMEs to have a better chance of supplying to the Commonwealth. So I think it is disappointing that Mr Leesong would have made these comments about there being too many and that the work was only going to a handful. You would expect that the bigger agencies would generally deal with larger campaigns.
Senator KROGER —Going back to my original question: who in the department does the due diligence on this campaign material?
Mr Grant —The communications advice branch in my division does the due diligence. They go and check the claims and the referees. We get a company director or secretary of the company to sign off on a range of other things, like financial viability. The due diligence then comes to: can they deliver the services they say they can? There have been some that have not passed the test. We undertake that thoroughly.
Senator KROGER —Thank you.
Senator RONALDSON —In a second, Minister, I am going to read a quote from Senator Faulkner. But, first, on a point of clarification: the government’s health reforms have not been enacted into law through legislation yet, have they?
Senator Ludwig —No.
Senator RONALDSON —Back in 1998, in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and shadow minister for public administration, government services and territories, Senator Faulkner said:
… in running such a campaign prior to any legislation being approved by parliament is a disgraceful use of taxpayers’ money ...
Reflecting on Senator Faulkner’s comments, on what basis do you justify spending some $30 million of taxpayers’ funds on an alleged reform that has not been signed up to by the states—there is no formal agreement. How can that possibly be justified in light of Senator Faulkner’s comments?
Senator Ludwig —Firstly, of course, there is a COAG agreement in place that underpins the health and hospital reform. It is also one of the most significant health and hospital reforms in this country since Medicare itself. On top of that, in terms of the guidelines—which I think are directed to the question you asked—the principle has always had more basis than just legislation. So they continue in this principle under the new guidelines to continue that position so there is no change in the guidelines from then to now. In addition, this is a matter which tackles significant health and social issues, and which goes to governments informing the public about issues such as I averted to earlier: child immunisation, antismoking, binge drinking and the HIV campaign. I think everyone remembers the ‘grim reaper’ campaign. These are about changing social norms, social behaviours; it is about governments acting in this area where there is no legislative basis. There are no enacted pieces of legislation but you would expect governments of all persuasions to inform the public about these issues. There is also the other part, which goes to rights and responsibilities. It is about ensuring the public are aware of those. There are other areas where the government can inform and should inform the public about these matters. And we do so.
Senator RONALDSON —Just so we are absolutely sure: the health reform is a proposal, not an outcome, isn’t it?
Senator Ludwig —It has been agreed to by all states and territories except WA.
Senator RONALDSON —For those who might not have been listening earlier on, this advertising campaign was justified by the so-called independent committee on the basis that it went everywhere in Australia, except Western Australia because they had not signed up. I am sure—no reflection on you, Mr Grant—that that outcome from the ICC is being greeted with a great deal of mirth and as a clear indication of how independent this committee is.
CHAIR —Is there a question in there, Senator Ronaldson?
Senator RONALDSON —I can go through a lot of quotes from the Prime Minister, such as ‘Taxpayer advertising has been a cancer on democracy’.
Senator BRANDIS —I think if the Prime Minister began acting honestly that itself would be hypocrisy given his track record.
CHAIR —Thank you very much for your contribution, Senator Brandis, but Senator Ronaldson has the call.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, I just wanted to double—
Senator FORSHAW —Point of order, Chair. I would have taken a point of order with respect to the use of the word ‘hypocrite’, which is unparliamentary, but I did not want to interrupt.
CHAIR —There is no point of order.
Senator FORSHAW —I am sorry but the word ‘hypocrite’—
CHAIR —There is a point of order before us but you did not seek a point of order at the time so I will just remind all members of the committee to conduct themselves in a parliamentary manner.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, I just want to confirm that the recently released budget provided in excess of over $100 million in extra amounts for government advertising and part of that announcement included the following matters, which were only designed to advance the Rudd government’s partisan agenda: $30 million on a climate change ad campaign, despite the government having abandoned its ETS. Is that correct?
Senator Ludwig —In portfolio budget paper No. 2—I think, on page 119—there is $30 million provided over two years:
… for a national campaign to educate the community on climate change, including on climate change science.
These are all there in the budget paper for you to—
Senator RONALDSON —And there is no legislated outcome there, is there?
Senator Ludwig —We would have had legislation had you agreed and not done a backflip and spilled your leader. It would have been a momentous occasion if we had got legislation in this area but unfortunately we did not.
Senator RONALDSON —There is $38.5 million to advertise the outcomes of the Henry tax review even though Treasurer Swan has only adopted a handful of its 138 recommendations. Is that correct?
—In portfolio budget paper No. 2, on page 297, $38.5 million is provided:
… over two years to inform the community of the Australian Government’s tax reform agenda.
That is correct.
Senator RONALDSON —And we have already discussed the $29.5 million in relation to the healthcare reform package, despite the rejection of the Western Australian government.
Senator Ludwig —I can remind you that—
CHAIR —Was there a question there, Senator Ronaldson? The minister was attempting to respond. Have you finished your question? I will remind the minister yet again to wait until the question has been completed.
Senator Ludwig —Sorry. I am happy to go to the various portfolio budget statements but I do remind you that those areas are the responsibility of the relevant minister and should really be directed at those portfolios during estimates if you have got questions around their expenditure. In this portfolio we look after the guidelines.
Senator RONALDSON —But, Minister, you have responsibility—that is why we are meeting today. That is why we have changed the processes—
Senator Ludwig —And I have been cooperating.
Senator RONALDSON —because you have got responsibility for government advertising.
Senator Ludwig —And I have been cooperating very well.
Senator RONALDSON —I am only asking questions in relation to that. There is $16 million on an advertising campaign for the National Broadband Network.
Senator Ludwig —The National Broadband Network, which is in the portfolio budget paper No. 2, page 118, has $15.9 million provided over two years for a national information campaign focused on raising public awareness of the value of a superfast broadband, which will be delivered to Australian households, businesses and organisations through the rollout of the National Broadband Network.
Senator RONALDSON —Now just so that I am clear, this is the same NBN which has been described in one study as not a viable commercial proposition in the real-world sense. Is that the one and the same?
Senator Ludwig —You have asked a question in relation to what has been specified for campaigns listed in budget paper No. 2. If there are questions which go to portfolio responsibilities, they should be directed to that. But the title is the National Broadband Network.
Senator RONALDSON —So there is $126 million of extra campaign advertising. On 8 August in a speech to the National Press Club the then shadow minister, now Minister Tanner, declared:
The bloated government advertising programs and politicians electioneering entitlements are simply cynical raids on the Treasury coffers to ensure political survival.
Minister, in the light of everything that has been said over the last three days, isn’t this latest round of government advertising, with the removal of the Auditor-General from the process, just a cynical raid on the Treasury coffers to ensure the political survival of the Rudd Labor government?
Senator Ludwig —There are two things that I think you are missing in the quite loaded question full of hyperbole. In terms of what this government is committed to, first of all the previous government in their last year spent $254 million on political ads, while this government has spent, in 2008, $86 million and in 2009 it spent $115 million. We also ensure that the public are provided with a half-yearly report on what we have spent in this area to ensure that transparency, openness and accountability are there. When your government was in place it did not make half-yearly reports about its expenditure—
1Senator Brandis interjecting—
CHAIR —Senator Brandis, are you seeking the call?
Senator Ludwig —You will be able to read the half-yearly report which will indicate that as well.
Senator BRANDIS —Can you give us an estimate? It is 27 May—you will be able to estimate the first half-year, surely.
Senator Ludwig —Once the money is provided for the campaign it is a question of whether it has been spent, therefore it is a matter that we do a half-yearly report on. That will be available. There was one done in March, there was one done in September, and they will continue to be provided on what the expenditure is.
Senator BRANDIS —The officers must be in a position, surely, to tell us approximately what will be spent in the first calendar month of this year, given that we are now at 27 May. Certainly they should be in a position to tell us what has been spent to date in the first half of 2010.
Senator Ludwig —I will see what the officers have to provide that information to you.
Mr Tune —We do not think that we are in a position to provide a forecast of what we think the first half-year will be.
Senator BRANDIS —Just give us the expenditure to 27 May 2010, would you?
Mr Tune —I have got something to 19 May.
Senator BRANDIS —Good.
Mr Tune —$53.7 million.
Senator BRANDIS —Was that $53.7 million?
Mr Tune —Since 1 July last year.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, if you look under the budget ‘Stronger, fairer, simpler tax reform development and implementation’—the Henry review; apparently there have been two or three recommendations out of 100-plus—the amount allocated for expenditure in the 2009-10 year, of which there is little left, is $8.4 million. In 2010-11, that ratchets up to $43.4 million in the election year. And, remarkably, in 2011-12 it drops down to 11.4 and then 6.3 in 2012-13. Minister, if time allowed me, I could go through a whole range of these. This is just a cheap, cynical exercise. Indeed, I will just finish on this note: ‘National Health and Hospitals Network-Building the Foundations for Reform-information and awareness’. They actually got it printed: not a reflection on legislated outcomes, but ‘information awareness’. For the remainder of this year there is $9.9 million; in 2010-11, $18.3 million; and, remarkably, in 2011-12 it drops back to $1.1 million. Minister, these amounts are all frontloaded and they are about ensuring the re-election of a government that, quite frankly, does not deserve re-election and the honour of the election.
Senator Ludwig —There are two issues. Firstly, expenditure by various portfolio departments—you can certainly direct your questions there. Secondly, in relation to government advertising to date, I think the figures do speak for themselves. The last year you were in government you spent $254 million. In 2008 we spent approximately $86 million, in 2009 we spent approximately $115 million and from July last year to February this year—I think we just heard the figure—we spent $53.7 million. It is significantly less than when you were in government and the expenditure that you used to try to save your political hide at the time. But it is about ensuring that we do continue to have transparent, open and accountable information in this area.
CHAIR —As I understand it, there are no further questions for this program.
Senator RONALDSON —Can I thank Mr Tune and Mr Grant for their assistance.
CHAIR —I was in the process of doing that, Senator Ronaldson. Thank you very much for attending. After the break we are coming back to outcome 3, ministerial and parliamentary services.
Proceedings suspended from 12.32 pm to 1.30 pm
CHAIR —Welcome back. We are now moving into outcome 3: support for parliamentarians, others with entitlements and organisations as approved by government through the delivery of entitlements and targeted assistance. Senator Ronaldson has some questions.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. Ms Mason, I just have the standard kick-off questions in relation to the staff establishments et cetera. I will go through it formally. Can you please provide the usual estimates documentation that is asked for by oppositions—namely, a ministerial staff establishment, including officers, classifications and the number of people with personal classifications. Has there been any change to the ministerial staff establishment since the last time we met? Of the people with personal classifications, how many were higher and how many were lower than their substantive classification? How many government and opposition staff were paid above their nominal salary bands? Can you please provide the number of vacancies in personal staff positions in ministerial offices as of today? How many part II of the MOP(S) Act—ministerial consultants—are employed in ministerial offices and the offices of parliamentary secretaries?
Ms Mason —We have the standard documents available for you and we can run through the answers to the questions that you have asked.
Ms Clark —We can table the documents. The answers are in those attachments, with the exception of one of the questions, which was ‘How many personal staff with salaries above the range?’. The answer to that is not in those tables, but I can tell you that as at 1 May there were two government staff employed with salaries above the range.
Senator RONALDSON —Which offices are they employed in?
Ms Clark —I will have to take that on notice. I do not have the detail.
Senator RONALDSON —Thank you. Minister, in the Adelaide Advertiser on Thursday, 15 April, an article by Steve Lewis and Alison Rehn Steve Lewis, writing out of Canberra, alluded to the enormous staff turnover in ministers’ offices, and indeed the Prime Minister’s office in particular. I seek leave to table that for the minister’s benefit.
CHAIR —Can we have a look at the documents so that the committee can decide.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, Chair. Here they are.
CHAIR —The committee agrees to the tabling of the documents. Thank you, Senator Ronaldson.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, I will not go through all of the details in this piece, but I will quote from it:
The Prime Minister has now lost 28 staff with Government insiders describing his office as resembling an airport “transit lounge”.
I understand that the ministerial staff turnover, according to this report, far exceeds both the APS and electorate staff turnover rates. Are you able to confirm or deny that?
Senator Ludwig —I can say that, absent your colour to the question, I think it is true that being in politics is tough on staff. Quite frankly, if you look at the employment type, it can be very temporary in nature because it will depend on the longevity of the government and a whole range of other factors. They do work quite long hours in comparison to other similar positions. In my view those in the Public Service are probably not as well remunerated when compared with particularly the private sector. But with that, all in all, if you look at the turnover in the PMO staff, for the last three months it has been about two per cent. I think that has been quite good; it has been coming down. How you retain staff is one of those challenges, but on the whole I think what you have outlined is far from correct. If you are going to use the comparison of a busy airline terminal, maybe I could use this one for you—
Senator RONALDSON —For me personally?
Senator Ludwig —No, for the shadow ministry: it seems more like a busy train station on a Sydney morning at commuter time. Of the 68 ongoing shadow ministry staff employed at 31 March 2008, only 20 were still employed at 31 March 2010. That is a turnover rate of 74 per cent, so certainly it has been tough for the opposition during the same period.
Senator RONALDSON —The difference with us is that we have actually achieved things over the last 2½ years. You have had high staff turnover with little or nothing achieved.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, you have the call. Do you have a question rather than a statement?
Senator RONALDSON —Yes. Ms Mason, are you sometimes requested to provide retiring MPs or senators details of their entitlements?
Ms Mason —As a matter of course, if we know that a senator or member is retiring or if staff are leaving MOP(S) Act employment, we tend to provide them with information about their entitlements, yes.
Senator RONALDSON —Do you proactively write to retiring MPs when you become aware they may be retiring or do you wait until they contact you?
Ms Clarke —At this stage we have recently circulated some questions and answers generally to the audience who are retiring politicians and let them know. We do write personally to retirees once we know that they are going to retire when it is closer to the election.
Senator RONALDSON —So there is some proactive involvement in that?
Ms Clarke —Yes, absolutely.
Senator RONALDSON —Do you make an assessment of whether somebody is likely to be re-elected or do you rely on other information?
Ms Mason —We tend to keep an eye on media reports about the results of preselections so that we can do our planning for the workload that is required within the department. We do not anticipate the outcome, but if we receive information about what is likely to happen then we do take note of that.
Senator RONALDSON —Does the department personally make an assessment about whether someone is likely to be re-elected?
Ms Mason —No.
Senator RONALDSON —You do not see that as your role?
Ms Mason —No.
Senator RONALDSON —So even if you suspect electoral disaster for someone you do not pre-empt it by giving them some electoral advice?
Ms Mason —No. We do exercise caution in relation to electorate office accommodation in the period in the lead-up to an election because the length of leases tends to be a three-year commitment. In that sense, we would keep an eye on trying to minimise the financial exposure for the Commonwealth in an election year.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, if someone is heading for electoral disaster and has not announced their retirement, clearly the department does not play any role in that, but, as SMOS, if you think someone—
Senator Ludwig —I was hoping you that you might be able to give me a list of who you think!
Senator RONALDSON —Later on. If you think one of your colleagues is heading for an electoral disaster, do you as SMOS contact them and say, ‘Have you thought about your future?’ or ‘This is what you’re entitled to get’?
Senator Ludwig —That is not my role.
Senator RONALDSON —You do not play a partial role in that?
Senator Ludwig —It is not my role. What I do is ensure, as the department have mentioned, that people heading towards this election who are retiring are provided with up-to-date and factual information that will assist them. In addition to that, the issue around accommodation, because it is about expenditure of public moneys, is one that I deal with, in conjunction with the department
Senator RONALDSON —If you do not think that is appropriate—
Senator Ludwig —Those issues are not something I should or would turn my mind to.
Senator RONALDSON —If you are not prepared to do that as SMOS it is unlikely that anybody should be playing that role. On that basis, do you believe it is appropriate for one of your senior cabinet colleagues to pre-empt the outcome of the election in a marginal seat?
Senator Ludwig —You might have to put that in some context. If someone thinks they should make a statement in a tough political game about what their view of their opponent is, far be it from me to intervene in that. They are entitled to take their own counsel and have their own view.
Senator RONALDSON —I presume that Darren Cheeseman has not spoken to you about his chances of re-election, has he?
Senator Ludwig —I am happy to deal with questions in relation to estimates. I am not sure this falls within the general terms of estimates issues.
Senator RONALDSON —It is in relation to entitlements. It is just that I am extremely disturbed, if that is the right word, about some remarkable information I have been provided that one of your cabinet colleagues has indeed pre-empted the outcome of the election in Corangamite. I seek leave to table a letter in relation to that from Minister Burke to the member for Corangamite.
CHAIR —The committee agrees to table the document.
Senator RONALDSON —I am very grateful to the committee for allowing me to do so. Minister, this letter from Minister Burke is addressed to ‘Ms Sarah Henderson MP, the member for Corangamite, PO Box 20, Belmont, Victoria.’ It is dated 20 May this year. It is indeed a very friendly letter from the minister—
Senator Ludwig —Firstly, I have not seen the letter as yet. Secondly, I am not sure there is a question that you have posed yet.
Senator RONALDSON —There is. I am just about to—
Senator Ludwig —I am sure you will get there.
Senator RONALDSON —I am now moving to that. This it is addressed to ‘Ms Sarah Henderson MP, the member for Corangamite.’ Just for the public record, Ms Henderson is the Liberal Party candidate for Corangamite. In his letter to Ms Henderson, the minister—in a remarkable salutation to someone I do not think he has yet met but obviously assumes he is going to—has crossed out ‘Dear Ms Henderson’ and personally written in ‘Sarah’.
Senator KROGER —He obviously knows she is going to win.
Senator RONALDSON —So the letter reads:
Ms Sarah Henderson MP
Member for Corangamite
… … …
Dear Ms Henderson
Thank you for your letter of 26 March 2010 about Exceptional Circumstances (EC) and seasonal conditions in the Golden Plains Shire in south-west Victoria.
I understand that Ms Henderson had written regarding some matters of concern to her constituents. Clearly, Minister, for a senior cabinet minister to pre-empt an election outcome and to write such a personal letter and address it to the candidate as the member of parliament—
Senator Ludwig —With all due respect, is there an actual question?
Senator RONALDSON —is something that I would have thought was deserving of your admonishment.
Senator Ludwig —Is there a question in this?
Senator RONALDSON —Would you undertake, please, to counsel—
Senator Ludwig —Have you got a question that is relevant to this committee in relation to this issue?
Senator RONALDSON —Would you undertake, please, to counsel in the strongest possible terms cabinet Minister Burke—
Senator Ludwig —There is no question in that.
Senator RONALDSON —for pre-empting—
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson! Minister!
Senator Ludwig —There isn’t a question in that. There is a request to undertake action, not a question.
CHAIR —Is there a question that relates to these estimates, Senator Ronaldson?
Senator RONALDSON —I am asking whether—in defence, I have to say, of poor Mr Cheeseman who has just been summarily bumped by—
CHAIR —Is there a question, Senator Ronaldson?
Senator RONALDSON —He is the current member for Corangamite of course. He is gone according to Minister Burke. It is all over, Rover for Darren. Are you going to counsel your cabinet colleague for this appalling action or not?
Senator CAMERON —Are you reflecting on us poor backbenchers, are you?
Senator LUDWIG —I will take it on notice and have a look at it. What I think the important thing is that you—
CHAIR —Senator Brandis! Senator Cameron! Can I just remind committee members, yet again, that finally there was a question put by Senator Ronaldson. The minister had the call to respond. It would be appreciated by Hansard and me if we were able to hear the minister. Minister, you have the call.
Senator Ludwig —Thank you. As I indicated, I will take it on notice and see what I make of it. I think all in all you have had your bit of fun with it.
Senator RONALDSON —Can I just continue a bit further? I gather—I do not think Mr Cheeseman found it terribly funny; you are right. I think Ms Clarke or Ms Mason’s comments that there were two—
Senator RONALDSON —the extra positions. I think one of those was in Minister Burke’s office, is that correct?
Senator RONALDSON —It is a question to Ms Clarke, I think. One of the two government positions—I asked you which offices they were in? Is one of them in Minister Burke’s office?
Ms Clarke —That is correct. If you refer to the document we handed out called ‘Establishment Variances Government’, there is an additional adviser in the office of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Senator RONALDSON —I am sure that new person will be very anxious to check the correspondence. There might be something else available. Minister, can I ask you which MPs make up the supervisory panel of the CCSTU?
Senator Ludwig —It is demolished.
Senator RONALDSON —The CCSTU?
Senator Ludwig —No, you asked a different question to that; you asked for the advisory panel.
Senator RONALDSON —Are there any MPs involved in the CCSTU?
Senator Ludwig —No.
Senator RONALDSON —Not even you?
Senator Ludwig —My staff. I think that is a different question.
Senator RONALDSON —It used to be, I think, Minister Ray, and Arch Bevis and Senator Lundy at one stage. Is that right? It is not a trick question; I am just asking. So there is no longer a supervisory—
Senator Ludwig —No, I took it under a different direction.
Senator RONALDSON —What are the numbers in the CCSTU?
Senator Ludwig —Five staff.
Senator RONALDSON —Has there been an increase in the CCSTU staffing levels recently?
Senator Ludwig —No.
Senator RONALDSON —The CCSTU has not got an extra person in the lead-up to the election?
Senator Ludwig —It has not changed recently. There have been five for some time, but I will take it on notice. There was a vacancy which was filled to bring it up to five. I will take it on notice to check, but it is around five.
Senator RONALDSON —Can I just briefly take you back to the ministerial staffing situation. I understand that 50 out of the 337 ministerial personal staff are in the Prime Minister’s office. Mr Tune, in the last decade has there been a higher percentage of ministerial personal staff in the PM’s office that you are aware of?
Mr Tune —I do not know.
Senator RONALDSON —Can you take that on notice?
Mr Tune —We can have a look, certainly.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, I have just got the establishment variances document in front of me. On page 2, there is the Caucus Committee Support Training Unit, which has got a plus of one assistant adviser.
Senator Ludwig —It was a vacancy and it has been filled. But, as I said, I will check that. My recollection as at May 2010 is that the CCSTU staff had five. This is an addition of one position from those employed from 17 August 2009 to 22 April 2010. The additional position was allocated to the CCSTU from the unallocated position pool in April 2010. All five positions are here.
Senator RONALDSON —In Senate estimates in this committee on 21 October, Senator Faulkner indicated that this unit does not—and I am quoting this in full—unlike the GMS:
... monitor the media ... campaign for the Labor Party or conduct Labor Party fundraisers ...
and those sorts of things, nor does it engage in opposition research. I have got to indicate to you that the GMS did not actually do that either, but I thought that I needed to put that full quote in. Is it still the situation that the CCSTU does not campaign for the Labor Party?
Senator Ludwig —That is right.
Senator RONALDSON —Can I refer you to the CCSTU Bulletin dated 30 April. On page 2 there is a message from the office of Julia Gillard:
Dear Caucus and Staff
On the share drive is a petition we suggest Caucus should circulate in their electorates that calls on the Opposition to ‘Save Our Schools’ and guarantee BER funding if they win the election. The aim is to have these tabled in Parliament when it next sits.
To be able to be tabled in Parliament, a principal petitioner must include their name and address on the first page of the petition. Under these rules, MPs are not permitted to be the principal petitioner or even sign a petition.
Minister, I view that as being a clear example of campaigning for the Labor Party. Do you have an explanation for that?
Senator Ludwig —Petitions are parliamentary business. I thought you would have known that.
Senator RONALDSON —So?
Senator Ludwig —Petitions are tabled in both the House and the Senate. Are you suggesting that—
Senator RONALDSON —With the greatest respect, that is not a good try—
Senator Ludwig —It is a very accurate response.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, once again, you have asked a question of the witness and the minister was in the process of responding. Could you allow him to finish before you go on with a further question. The Minister has the call.
Senator Ludwig —Thank you, Chair. As you would expect, caucus is entitled to collect petitions and table them.
Senator RONALDSON —How can you say that a request from Minister Gillard suggesting caucus should circulate in their electorates petitions that call on the opposition to save our schools and guarantee BER funding cannot be interpreted, in Senator Faulkner’s words, as campaigning for the Labor Party? That absolutely beggars belief and I seek leave to table this abuse of the government’s own position by the CCSTU.
CHAIR —The committee will have a look at the document and I will ask the committee if they wish to have it tabled. The committee is happy to have the document tabled. Senator Brandis.
Senator BRANDIS —Minister, it seems to me that what you are saying is that, because petitions are parliamentary business, soliciting petitions is also parliamentary business, not campaigning, irrespective of the content of the petitions. Is that what you are really trying to tell the parliament?
Senator Ludwig —What I am indicating is that petitions are part of the parliamentary process and that the CCSTU is there to support the caucus—
1Senator Brandis interjecting—
CHAIR —Senator Brandis, I would just remind you of the process. You have put a question to the minister and he is in the process of responding. You will then have an opportunity to put a further question. The minister has the call.
Senator Ludwig —Petitions are part of the parliamentary process and they are tabled in both houses of the parliament.
Senator BRANDIS —On what possible basis in logic do you say that because, as you rightly say, petitions are parliamentary business, soliciting petitions, irrespective of their content, is also parliamentary business?
Senator Ludwig —It is on the same basis that, when petitions are sent to you, or to me, irrespective of their content, if we are asked to tabled them in parliament, we do. Don’t we? Are you saying that you don’t? You are shaking your head. I take it that you understand—
Senator BRANDIS —You are saying that the because petitions are parliamentary—
CHAIR —Senator Brandis, you have asked your question and the minister is responding. You will then have the right to put another question. Minister, have you finished responding?
Senator Ludwig —No, I haven’t. These are all parliamentarians and they are entitled to have petitions and table them.
Senator BRANDIS —It follows from what you are saying that the there is no aspect of election campaigning, which might include the solicitation of a petition, that is out of bounds. According to your formulation of this principle, by your own language, what you have done is demonstrate that the principle is meaningless.
Senator Ludwig —I reject that. Petitions are part of the parliamentary process—
Senator BRANDIS —So is voting!
Senator Ludwig —Petitions are tabled in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and they served a useful process in the parliamentary process. Frankly, what you are saying is absurd and you should recognise it as such.
Senator BRANDIS —What you are saying makes about as much sense as saying voting is part of the parliamentary process and therefore election campaigning is part of the parliamentary process. The whole purpose of the principle you have declared is to draw a distinction between the parliamentary process and the electoral, or party-political, campaigning process. Yet, by your own answer, you are saying that your government’s position is that they are one and the same thing.
Senator Ludwig —I have indicated in my answer that petitions are part of the parliamentary process. I am sorry that you do not agree. I think the position that you are putting is quite absurd.
Senator RONALDSON —I will quote again:
… we suggest Caucus should circulate in their electorates [a petition] that calls on the Opposition to ‘Save Our Schools’ and guarantee BER funding …
On 21 October 2008, at this committee, Senator Faulkner stated:
… I can say categorically the Caucus Committee Support and Training Unit does not monitor the media, it does not in any way, shape or form campaign for the Labor Party …
How can you honestly argue, with any intellectual rigour at all, that the words from the Deputy Prime Minister calling on caucus and staff to circulate a position that calls on the opposition to ‘save our schools and guarantee BER funding’ does not come under Senator Faulkner’s definition of this group’s activities?
Senator Ludwig —Unlike you, I think petitions do play a valuable role and they are not campaigning. In fact, petitioning is one of the most ancient rights that exist and, frankly, I do not think you should be interfering with it in the way that you are. It is not surprising that you cavil with it. I wish you would guarantee funding to schools.
Senator RONALDSON —That is a very silly response to a serious question. I seek leave to table another part of the CCSTU Bulletin as well.
CHAIR —The committee agrees to the tabling of the document.
Senator RONALDSON —It states:
… I can say categorically the Caucus Committee Support and Training Unit does not monitor the media, it does not in any way, shape or form campaign for the Labor Party or conduct Labor Party fundraisers, and again, unlike the GMS, it does not conduct opposition research.
On the same day, Senator Faulkner also said:
This unit does not, unlike the GMs, monitor the media, campaign for the Labor Party or conduct Labor Party fundraisers …
I would like to draw your attention to the ‘Diary Notes’. There are two items there. One of them alerts people to a function on 10 May at the Jewel of India—‘the Manuka-Curtin Curry Night with Mark Dreyfus’.
Senator BRANDIS —That is part of the parliament process!
—Yes, that’s right. The cost of that function is $40. I would also like to draw your attention to the next item—
—I would obviously need to see it. I am sure it is getting here.
Senator RONALDSON —Hang on, I might have another one I can give you.
Senator Ludwig —Having not seen it, I do not see why they cannot use it to advertise a social event. Or are you saying that you are completely devoid of social events or that you do not like having them? Maybe you do not like one another enough to have a social event.
0Senator Cameron interjecting—
Senator Ludwig —That is true, Senator Cameron. Maybe that is the problem. They find it difficult to stand in the same room, let alone socialise.
Senator RONALDSON —Enjoy the mirth until you read the item. Indulge yourselves briefly.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, have you got a question, now that the minister has the document before him?
Senator RONALDSON —I am not going to mention a particular senator’s name, but this was a function at the Lotus Room at the Southern Cross yacht club, certainly a working-class venue—not. It mentions a group of panellists, and payment is $60 or $55, which is to be paid to a Ms Martin, with an address at aph.gov.au. Minister, as you know, I am very circumspect about names, but are you aware that that particular person is an adviser to the senator that I referred to before? On that basis, how can you possibly indicate that both of them are not Labor Party fundraisers and how can you possibly indicate that your own rules and the rules of—
Senator FORSHAW —How can you assert that it is?
Senator RONALDSON —Can I finish. The rules of Senator Faulkner for the operations of this unit have clearly been broken.
Senator FORSHAW —If that was a fundraiser you would want to charge a lot more than $50 for dinner. What are you on about?
Senator RONALDSON —When was the last time you attracted more than about $25, Michael?
0Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—
0Senator Forshaw interjecting—
CHAIR —Senators, can I just remind you that we have a full program for today. These interjections are not helpful. Senator Ronaldson, you had a question. You have the call.
Senator Ludwig —There are two issues. I will take it on notice because I do not know Meg Martin; at least, I cannot recall her. Secondly, the CCSTU does not contribute in any way to the function. It is a billboard notice. I am not sure I see a problem with having a diary note which indicates what functions are around.
Senator RONALDSON —If you look at the words of Senator Faulkner, this is clearly a unit that is being used for partisan political purposes, with the circulation at the behest—
Senator Ludwig —No, they are not collecting.
Senator RONALDSON —of the Deputy Prime Minister. This unit is apparently not in any way, shape or form campaigning for the Labor Party or conducting Labor Party fundraisers! Clearly the two gigs at the Jewel of India and the Lotus room were fundraisers—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I do not think so.
Senator FORSHAW —You would know!
Senator RONALDSON —and outside the domain of the—
Senator Ludwig —I reject that. You are clearly wrong. These are diary notes. We should read them for what they are.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —There is no indication on it that they are fundraisers.
Senator Ludwig —You are completely wrong on this.
Senator RONALDSON —What—are you suggesting that no money was raised?
CHAIR —The minister has the call.
Senator Ludwig —Thank you. The CCSTU does not in any way contribute or solicit on behalf of the ALP. There is a diary note. People can put bulletins on it about what events might be around. Maybe in the Liberal Party you do not know about it. Maybe you do not have social events at all.
Senator FORSHAW —They do. They have lots of them with different restaurants because they hate each other. I know because I have seen them.
Senator CAMERON —There are not many social events when Kirribilli House is not available to them.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson has the call.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —There are accommodation notices on it, too. Are they fundraisers?
CHAIR —Senators, come to order!
Senator CAMERON —They had social events at Kirribilli House—at more than $65!
CHAIR —Senators, come to order! Senator Cameron, Senator Ronaldson has the call.
Senator FORSHAW —I wish they would spell Forshaw correctly.
Senator RONALDSON —Chair, the concentration span of those on your left is small, but can we please continue with this questioning.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, I do not need any commentary. Could you just put your question.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, will you take on notice, please, whether indeed these two functions were cost-recovery only or whether they were fundraisers.
Senator Ludwig —I indicated that it looks like a diary note to me in relation to those—
Senator RONALDSON —Will you take it on notice?
Senator Ludwig —I will see what I can do.
Senator RONALDSON —No—will you take it on notice?
Senator Ludwig —It looks to me that I do not need to in the sense that it is a diary note which lists three functions. They seem straightforward to me.
Senator RONALDSON —If they are fundraisers—
Senator Ludwig —I indicated earlier in relation to Ms Martin—which you raised—that I do not see any role that the CCSTU has played. If the question is to the CCSTU, I am happy to take it on notice and answer it. I think I have in that they do not play any role; it is a diary note. As to finding out about these matters, I think they fall quite well outside the estimates process, quite frankly. I do not agree with the import of your question. I am not sure I can take it on notice because you are asking for something which is outside this role and outside the CCSTU’s role, quite frankly.
Senator KROGER —The very fact that there is a differential in the waged and unwaged costs for both those functions—at the Jewel of India and the Lotus Room—suggests it cannot be on a cost recovery basis, because—
Senator FORSHAW —What a lot of rubbish! One could be subsidising the other.
Senator KROGER —Because there is a clear differential.
0Senator Cameron interjecting—
Senator FORSHAW —Fair dinkum!
CHAIR —Senators, I call you to order. Senator Kroger had the call. I would appreciate it if she could put her question so that we can all hear it.
Senator KROGER —Minister, we would like you to take on notice: which rate is the cost-recovery rate?
Senator Ludwig —Again, these are not my functions, so they cannot be directed to me. They are diary notes as they deal with accommodation. You are not suggesting that I should find out about that for you, if you are short of accommodation. There is also accommodation—
Senator BRANDIS —Do not change the subject, Senator Ludwig. You do not dispute, by the way—
CHAIR —Minister and senators, can I just remind you all again: a question has been put to the witness. The minister was responding to the question.
Senator BRANDIS —No, he was not. On a point of order, Madam Chair. He was not responding to the question. He was asked whether there were differential prices advertised for these two Labor Party functions. It showed that they could not be supported on a cost-recovery basis, and he addressed the question by talking about something completely different on the document—that is, accommodation notices. You cannot possibly, honestly, treat that as relevant, Madam Chair.
Senator Ludwig —You did not hear what I said in its entirety, did you?
Senator FORSHAW —On the point of order, my recollection was that the request was for the minister to take it on notice. The minister was responding, as part of his answer, as to why he did not believe that he could or should take it on notice, because they were questions which do not relate to these estimates or his portfolio.
CHAIR —On the point of order, my understanding from what I heard is that the minister was in the process of answering the question. He had made the point that he did not believe it was appropriate for these estimates, and he was responding. If we were to allow the minister to complete his answer, you might be able to follow up with a further question, Senator Brandis or Senator Ronaldson. Minister, you have the call.
Senator Ludwig —Thank you. Given that they are diary notes and they are matters that fall outside my responsibility—but if you are interested in going, I am sure you can contact them and see if there is still space, if they are still current. It looks like they have finalised by now. But, in any event—
Senator BRANDIS —Do not toy with me.
Senator Ludwig —In any event, they are diary notes. They deal with a range of issues stretching from, as I have indicated, the National Press Club right through to issues such as the House of Representatives Alcove, chronic illness, to accommodation. If there are questions about those matters then you might direct them to the relevant person who entered the diary note to respond, but I am not responsible for them and nor can I answer on their behalf. That is clear.
Senator BRANDIS —Whether it is a fundraising function or not, Minister, and even if one were to assume it is not, you cannot dispute, can you, that at least the second of these—the curry night: ‘Curtin sub-branch in Canberra is organising another of their famous curry nights and all ALP members are invited to attend’—is private ALP business. This is an advertisement for a Canberra sub-branch of the ALP for a function.
Senator Ludwig —These are diary notes. They are clearly that and they also encompass a whole range of other issues. I think you could see that for yourself, quite frankly, Senator Brandis. Again, as I have indicated, they stretch across a range of issues which include accommodation. It is not unsurprising—
Senator BRANDIS —That is not the issue you are being asked about.
Senator Ludwig —Let me finish, Senator Brandis. It is not unsurprising that you would have a stretch of issues that arise in diary dates. I cannot see a problem with a social billboard. I am sorry that you find it so affronting.
Senator BRANDIS —This is ALP business.
Senator Ludwig —Perhaps the Liberal Party do not have a social billboard. Maybe they are devoid of socialising since your new leader.
Senator RONALDSON —On that basis I take it that if, in my next newsletter, I had a diary note that I was standing at this election and would appreciate people’s support then that would be allowed.
Ms Mason —If you wish to seek clearance of printed material the department can assist in reviewing the draft material for you.
Senator RONALDSON —We have just got some new criteria, which is diary notes, and I am wondering whether you—
Senator BRANDIS —Diary notes advertising party functions, Senator Ronaldson.
Senator RONALDSON —Yes, just asking people for support generally. If it gets to that stage I will make that request, Ms Mason. That does it for me. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Senator CAMERON —Ms Mason, I want to raise some issues on entitlements. Severance travel entitlements—I assume you are the person to deal with that.
Ms Mason —I will get somebody who can assist you.
Senator CAMERON —There was an article on 8 May in the Cairns Post that indicated that Mr Warren Entsch, a former parliamentarian, had used his severance travel entitlement to undertake travel related to his candidacy for the seat of Leichhardt at the next federal election. In response to a suggestion from the journalist that this may not be an appropriate use of the entitlement, Mr Entsch is reported as saying that his travel was benefiting the community. He is directly quoted as saying:
... and if part of that community benefit is bringing attention to what that useless bastard—
he is talking about the member for Leichhardt, Mr Jim Turnour—
has not been doing, I make no apologies for that.
Mr Entsch said he used the trip to Weipa to catch up with friends and people he had worked with. In an article on 12 May Mr Entsch is quoted as saying he had used his severance entitlement for ‘an economy fare to Weipa’. I do not know that there are other than economy fares to Weipa but I might be wrong on that. The last time I went to Weipa it was all economy. He continued:
... to campaign and to fly within Queensland and interstate for community work and LNP meetings.
So he says that he is flying within Queensland and interstate using the severance entitlement for community work and LNP meetings.
CHAIR —Senator Cameron, Senator Ronaldson wants to raise a point of order.
Senator RONALDSON —Chair, if this matter has been referred to the department or the minister for investigation then I put to you that for it to be pursued at this stage is a totally inappropriate course of action—
Senator CAMERON —I am asking for some clarification.
Senator RONALDSON —because part of the process of it being referred will be the opportunity for the person who is alleged to have done A, B, C, or D to be able to respond to that. They are not able to do so at today’s hearings, and if the matter has been referred then I respectfully suggest that we should await the outcome of the investigation by the department and/or the minister before this matter is pursued further.
CHAIR —On your point of order, Senator Ronaldson, I am sure that the officers at the table will be able to respond appropriately. Senator Cameron, please continue.
Senator CAMERON —It goes on to quote Mr Entsch as saying, ‘I am entitled to a number of trips as long as I am taking them for commercial purposes.’ I understand that there was some $20,000 worth of trips in 2008-09.
Senator RONALDSON —Chair, on a point of order: if Senator Cameron is quoting from a document can he please table that?
Senator CAMERON —It is not a document; I do not have that. I can get them for you.
Senator BRANDIS —It is a document. I can see it in your hand—it is a document.
CHAIR —Senator Cameron, do you wish to table the document?
Senator CAMERON —No, it is extracts from the Cairns Post and the Brisbane Courier-Mail, which are all on the public record.
CHAIR —Please continue.
Senator BRANDIS —Madam Chair, on a point of order: it is quite improper for a senator quoting from a document, when asked to table it, to refuse to do so and go on reading from the document without enabling the committee to satisfy themselves that what is being put to the witness is in fact an accurate quotation from the document.
Senator FORSHAW —Chair, on the point of order: coming from Senator Brandis, who I have always respected for his knowledge of the standing orders, that is just the most outrageous rubbish.
Senator BRANDIS —I am not relying on a standing order.
Senator FORSHAW —There is no requirement on Senator Cameron to table any document. You can ask for them, but he has declined to do so. That happens every day of the week in parliament. I understand that the senator will be seeking clarification about this article. He is about ask the question. Let us hear what the department have to say.
Senator BRANDIS —Chair, before we do that, can I speak to the point of order, in response to what Senator Forshaw has said?
CHAIR —You want to speak further?
Senator FORSHAW —You people quote from newspapers all the time and never table them, so don’t give me that rubbish!
CHAIR —Senator Brandis, you have raised your point of order.
Senator BRANDIS —I want to respond to what Senator Forshaw said.
Senator FORSHAW —Quite often there are quotations from newspapers that are never tabled.
CHAIR —Can I just finish, Senator Forshaw. Senator Brandis raised a point of order. Senator Forshaw spoke on the point of order. You want to speak further on that, Senator Brandis?
Senator BRANDIS —I am not relying on a standing order. I am relying on a principle that has been observed in these committees for years, and that is that if a person claims to be reading from a document, it is, as a matter of good order and fairness to the witness and other members of the committee, appropriate for other members of the committee and the witness to satisfy themselves as to the veracity of what is being put to the witness.
Senator Ludwig —It would be remiss of me not to say that Senator Brandis is right about this. It is one of the matters that I do raise in committees. In fairness to witnesses, if you are going to quote from a document it should be provided to the witness so that they can see it in context. I am sure all committee members around this table would have heard me say that many times during these estimates and previously and in other estimates. I know it is an unfortunate rule sometimes, but it does mean that you do have to adhere to it.
Senator RONALDSON —Chair, can I thank the minister for that. Some two estimates ago the minister made a request that when people—and probably more particularly me—quote from a document, that document is made available. Members would have seen me over the last three days with masses of these blue folders which have all the information that I was quoting from, either to be given to the minister or to be tabled at the request of the committee.
Senator Ludwig —There is a difference, of course, in the sense that if you do not want to table it you do not have to table it but if you are going to quote from it then you have to be fair to the witness. Just so we are clear about that.
Senator RONALDSON —And, if requested, to provide a copy.
CHAIR —Senator Cameron, on the point of order.
Senator CAMERON —I am prepared to table the quotes, the reason I did not want to table the quotes is that there is another matter there which is about police investigating fraud claims and the LNP. I am not raising those issues, but the fraud claims and the LNP will have to be part of the record, I am afraid. So that just cuts across—
Senator FORSHAW —Chair, on the point of Order: before Senator Cameron tables it, the question I had—
CHAIR —Senator Forshaw, on the point of order.
Senator FORSHAW —Is he tabling the actual copy of the newspaper article, or is he going to table the document which reflects what was in the newspaper article?
Senator CAMERON —It is only extracts.
Senator FORSHAW —That is the issue.
Senator RONALDSON —It should not be allowed. If it was the senator’s own notes about what had been in the ad, then that would not be allowed.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —That is what he was reading from originally.
Senator RONALDSON —On that basis then, he cannot.
Senator BRANDIS —He actually represented that he was reading from an extract from the Cairns Post.
Senator FORSHAW —Yes, but it is the way in which that extract—
Senator BRANDIS —If it turns out that the document he is reading from is not an extract from the Cairns Post—
Senator RONALDSON —It is totally inappropriate.
Senator BRANDIS —but a private document which contains what is said to be a quotation from the Cairns Post, then what Senator Cameron has done has misled the committee, perhaps innocently, but that is what he has done.
Senator FORSHAW —There is a difference between the two, as you know.
CHAIR —On the point of order, over the last 3½ days the principle has been that, if people quote from a document—in particular, newspaper articles, of which there have been a lot—it has been accepted by the committee and tabled. It is the principle that we abide by. Senator Cameron has offered to table the document, and the committee will now consider it.
Senator FORSHAW —If he wants to table it, I have got no objection.
CHAIR —If he wants to table the document, there is no objection to that.
Senator FORSHAW —My point of order related to the form in which I understood the document was in—that is, it was not a photocopy, if you like, of the newspaper article but rather his notes or quotations in another document from the newspaper.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Which I clearly understood.
Senator FORSHAW —That is why I took the point of order. That is a different position from what has been discussed.
Senator RONALDSON —Madam Chair, on the point of order: under no circumstances would I or I assume my colleagues agree to this document being tabled. It is handwritten notes, it is not—
CHAIR —No, it is not handwritten notes.
Senator RONALDSON —It is a document prepared from newspaper clippings. If Senator Cameron has the newspaper clippings that he is quoting from then—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —It is the clips attached to what he was referring to.
Senator FORSHAW —They may be in an online form but not in a published form.
Senator CAMERON —I am sure the LNP fraud made you change your mind. That is okay.
CHAIR —Senators, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I am trying to listen to Senator Ronaldson’s point of order.
Senator RONALDSON —If these are anything other than newspaper clippings from which the senator is quoting then, in my view, in line with the principle established at the request of the minister himself and adhered to religiously, I have got to say, by me and others, then under no circumstances should there be any further discussion about this matter. If Senator Cameron wants to go and get the newspaper clippings or the newspaper quotes and bring them back then I am quite happy for that to occur, but I am not prepared to accept the way it has been put at the moment, and I think that is only fair.
Senator BRANDIS —I think I could resolve this impasse, if I may.
CHAIR —Senator Brandis, if I can just inform the committee of the documents that Senator Cameron has handed me. They are media clips from 8 May Cairns Post, 12 May Courier Mail, 20 May Cairns Post and 21 May Cairns Post—
Senator RONALDSON —Is that a photocopy of the press—
CHAIR —It looks to me like they are clips that have been taken off the internet.
Senator FORSHAW —They are not the actual thing.
Senator RONALDSON —If they are not the actual thing—
Senator FORSHAW —I have not seen them yet.
Senator BRANDIS —I can sort this out, Madam Chair, if you will hear me for a moment.
CHAIR —Yes, Senator Brandis.
Senator BRANDIS —It was me who called for the documents on the basis that they were as I understood Senator Cameron to have described them. If they bear a different character then I will withdraw the call. If Senator Cameron is quoting from an original or a photocopy of an original press article then that ought to be tabled and put to the witness for the reasons that the minister has agreed. If what Senator Cameron is quoting from is private type notes which purport to include extracts from an original newspaper article then that is not as it was described. On the footing that it appears, from what you have told us, it is the latter I will withdraw the call.
CHAIR —Senator Brandis has withdrawn his call because to me they are extracts from the internet, not that I am an expert.
Senator BRANDIS —May I say to you, Madam Chair, that if Senator Cameron or indeed other senators propose to put material to a witness then in fairness to the witness they ought to put the original document to the witness, not something they say at third-hand is an original document that they in fact do not have.
Senator CAMERON —My questions will be on matters of principle. They do not have to stand or fall on the newspaper articles. I am not sure if that is an issue. I also say that I would never try and mislead anyone.
CHAIR —It is my understanding, Senator Brandis, you have withdrawn your request to have them tabled on the basis of what you have outlined.
Senator BRANDIS —On the basis of what you have described to us this document consists of I withdraw the call.
CHAIR —Yes, and the committee members have now sighted them. Senator Cameron.
Senator CAMERON —Thank you. Ms Mason, is it usual for the travel entitlements of members and senators to be available for electioneering purposes?
Ms Mason —I think Ms Clarke can outline to you the entitlement for severance travel.
Ms Clarke —The entitlement to severance travel is actually specified in Remuneration Tribunal Determination 2006/18. I will quote what it says:
8.1 A senator or member, not qualifying for a Life Gold Pass on retirement, shall, from the date of retirement from the Parliament, be eligible to travel at government expense for non-commercial purposes within Australia but excluding the external Territories on scheduled commercial/commuter air services, mainline rail services or by motor coach or other vehicles operating as regular carriers.
Then it goes on to specify for how long you have this entitlement. So the only the purpose that is specified here is ‘for non-commercial purposes’.
Senator CAMERON —In relation to severance travel entitlement of former members and senators, can you give some examples of what would constitute commercial purposes?
Ms Clarke —We would rely on the Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) Act 2002 assessment of what a commercial purpose is. It specifies what commercial purposes means—it gives us a definition. I will read that. Travel must not be for commercial purposes, which means:
... a purpose relating to the derivation of financial gain or reward, whether as a board member, an office-holder, an employee, a self-employed person or otherwise.
That is the definition we use.
Senator CAMERON —Does ‘otherwise’ include seeking an office in parliament?
Ms Clarke —I will call on my colleague from Legal Services, Mr Taylor, to comment.
Mr Taylor —It is not specific. It just lists a range of persons or positions—‘board member, office-holder, an employee, a self-employed person or otherwise’—so it does not specifically include or exclude anyone.
Senator CAMERON —Is that a legal term—‘does not include or exclude’? What does that mean?
Mr Taylor —Perhaps you could ask the question again for me, Senator?
Senator CAMERON —What does ‘not include or exclude’ mean in terms of the question I am asking—whether you can use your severance entitlements to seek election to the parliament? Are you saying yes, you can?
Ms Mason —I think what Mr Taylor is saying is that it is not specifically addressed in the definition.
Senator CAMERON —The word ‘specifically’ does not then give me an idea of whether it is in or out. Specificity is not the issue. Eligibility is the issue for me. Can you now go to the issue of eligibility to use that severance entitlement to gain a parliamentary position?
Senator RONALDSON —The witness has said that it is silent in relation to that issue. I do not know how many times you can ask the same question, but you will get the same response.
Senator RYAN —Is it correct to say that you are saying—
CHAIR —Senator Ryan, have you got a follow-up question?
Senator RYAN —I do. You are saying that there is no exclusion in using that—that the only exclusion applies to the terms you read out earlier, which are commercial purposes. Is that correct?
Mr Taylor —That is correct.
Senator RYAN —That is the exclusion. So, if you are not crossing the line into that exclusion, you are not breaking a rule, from your point of view?
Mr Taylor —That is the only exclusion that applies—that it be used for a commercial purpose.
Senator RYAN —So in your view the exclusion has not been triggered or breached and that is the limit of your concern—as long as it is not used by breaching that principle of being excluded for commercial purposes?
Mr Taylor —I think it is difficult to give an answer to a scenario that is not complete.
Senator BRANDIS —Mr Taylor, you are not—
CHAIR —Senator Brandis, do you have a follow-up question?
Senator BRANDIS —Yes, I do. Mr Taylor, you are not saying to the committee, are you, that what has been described to you falls within the definition of ‘commercial purpose’?
Mr Taylor —I am saying there is not enough information to actually make a conclusion one way or the other.
Senator BRANDIS —You are not advising the committee, Mr Taylor, are you, that election campaigning by a political candidate falls within the definition of ‘commercial purpose’?
Mr Taylor —I am certainly not saying that.
CHAIR —Senator Cameron.
Senator CAMERON —Is it the case that electioneering is outside incumbent members’ and senators’ travel entitlements?
Senator RYAN —You might have a few upset colleagues if you get the wrong answer to this one, Senator Cameron!
Ms Clarke —There is advice that goes out come the election period, and some advice has recently been issued in terms of general questions and answers, which says that basically you can campaign for your own re-election. That is entirely within our convention. That is permissible.
Senator CAMERON —So you would not in any way, shape or form consider a retired member or a defeated member campaigning for their own re-election, would you? That is a different issue, isn’t it?
Ms Clarke —It certainly is. We are talking about—
Senator RONALDSON —Chair, on a point of order—
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson.
Senator RONALDSON —With the greatest respect for Senator Cameron, Senator Cameron cannot jump between what sitting members or senators can do with their entitlements and what holders of a gold pass can do. They are two entirely different matters and they are not interchangeable, particularly not for the purposes of this discussion. I think that Mr Taylor’s response to Senator Brandis was the final word in relation to this matter.
Senator BRANDIS —If I may speak to the point of order—
CHAIR —Senator Brandis, on the point of order.
Senator BRANDIS —I think that is right. Mr Taylor was unambiguous in his answer to my question. When I asked him, ‘You are not saying, are you, that a political campaign for election to parliament is a commercial purpose’, and he said, ‘No, I am definitely not saying that.’ Now, that is the end of the matter, because it is accepted—
Senator CAMERON —That is not very clear.
Senator BRANDIS —and this is uncontroversial, that commercial purposes are the only exception. So we know that commercial purposes are the only exception and we know that election campaigning by a parliamentary candidate is not a commercial purpose. That is the end of the matter.
Senator CAMERON —I do not accept that, I am afraid.
Senator BRANDIS —Well, that is the evidence.
Senator CAMERON —It does not matter whether you tell me that is the end of it. It does not matter.
Senator BRANDIS —That is the evidence, Senator Cameron. You cannot pretend the evidence is not the evidence.
CHAIR —The question was put earlier by Senator Brandis and the response was made. Senator Cameron now has the call and I am sure he will bear that in mind with his questioning.
Senator CAMERON —So a member who retires or is defeated and has access to, say, 20 flights per annum and then nominates within the period where those entitlements are available can use public money on 20 occasions to campaign for election to parliament. Is that what you are saying?
Mr Taylor —It is not, Senator. I am only saying that it cannot be for a commercial purpose.
Senator CAMERON —But that leaves the great unanswered question: can you then use 20 flights during an election campaign, using public funding, to run your campaign?
Senator RONALDSON —I have a point of order. Mr Taylor has already made it quite clear that seeking election does not fit in within the term ‘commercial purposes’. As Senator Brandis indicated, given that that is the only exclusion, the question has been answered. Senator Cameron can ask that 105 times, but the answer is still the same.
CHAIR —Thank you for the point of order. Senator Cameron was seeking clarification.
Senator CAMERON —Regardless of the opinion of Senator Brandis, I still think it is a grey area. I am not sure you have answered these questions effectively or clearly, so I would ask you to take on notice whether a candidate for political office can use their severance entitlement to campaign for that political office. I would like to get your considered position.
Senator RYAN —I have a point of order. The senator is asking the department to answer a question about which they may have no information or about which they may be required to judge the behaviour of someone without being aware of their behaviour. The fact that someone may have taken a flight—
Senator CAMERON —It is a question of principle.
Senator RYAN —I thought you were asking for examples, Senator Cameron.
CHAIR —Senator Cameron, Senator Ryan raised a point of order and has the call. It would be helpful if I could hear him.
Senator RYAN —I am finished.
CHAIR —On the point of order: Senator Forshaw.
Senator FORSHAW —I have been coming to estimates for 16-odd years now. I cannot recall a question or an issue like this having been raised before. I cannot think of a retired member or defeated member who had access to the gold pass entitlement or severance and then sought to run for office again. It seems to me to be a new circumstance. I think, in that context, Senator Cameron’s question to seek clarification of whether or not the rules relating to these gold pass flight entitlements and other entitlements or severance entitlements would prohibit such travel. I think it is a very important question and one which we should try to get an answer on.
CHAIR —On the point of order, I interpreted the question as one that had been put to the department to take on notice. I believe that the department will either be able to answer us and give us a clear definition or respond accordingly to the committee. Senator Cameron, do you have any further questions?
Senator CAMERON —You may want to take this on notice again. If a public servant resigns or takes a redundancy package, is there normally some contractual arrangement that they cannot receive all of the entitlements of a redundancy if they come back within a certain period of time? I know as a union official that has been the case with ordinary workers—that you cannot double dip. I am just interested in why a retired parliamentarian can double dip and ordinary workers normally do not have that opportunity.
Ms Mason —In relation to public servants, they are normally not re-engaged in the period that is covered by the payment that they receive when they terminate from the Public Service.
Senator CAMERON —Is that so they cannot double dip?
Ms Mason —It is for redundancies.
Senator CAMERON —So a parliamentarian can double dip but a public servant cannot?
Ms Mason —I think we would refer back to the rules that cover severance travel. And the rules are that if it is not for commercial purposes then it is—
Senator CAMERON —We are now getting a bit circular. It is unclear and you have not given an answer to my satisfaction. I am simply asking for a more considered response.
Ms Mason —I think we have taken it on notice.
Senator CAMERON —I am happy with that.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson. No, he has gone.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —While we wait for him, I have some questions in a similar area. Can you confirm that an investigation of Michael Johnson for a breach of entitlements is underway?
Mr Taylor —We do not usually comment on what matters may or may not be under consideration in relation to any allegations of misuse of entitlements or anything similar.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —So you cannot comment on whether an investigation is underway?
Mr Taylor —It has been a longstanding practice not to comment on that.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Is using your parliamentary entitlements for travel for commercial purposes a breach of the rules?
Ms Clarke —I do not have the documents in front of me, but travel is normally for parliamentary or electorate business. Those terms are undefined. It is normally specified in the Remuneration Tribunal’s determinations and in the Parliamentary Entitlements Act. It is usually confined to parliamentary and electorate purposes.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Which does not include commercial purposes?
Ms Clarke —That is correct.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —So the answer is: it is against the rules to use your parliamentary travel entitlement for commercial purposes?
Ms Clarke —Normally, we would, firstly, look at what is within the rules and then determine whether it is outside. So if there are no commercial purposes then that is correct.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —The rest of those questions relate to the review that you cannot talk about at the moment.
Senator BRANDIS —‘Cannot comment on whether or not there is a review,’ I think was the answer.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —If you want more precise language, Senator Brandis, I am happy to accept that.
Senator BRANDIS —You used the definite article, Senator Collins, implying there was a review. The answer was that the officers would not comment on whether or not there was.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson.
Senator RONALDSON —Can I turn to the recent staff certified agreement. If I am verballing Mr Tune, I know that he will jump to his own defence very quickly. From recollection, we did have some discussions late last night about frequent flyer points and discussions with airlines et cetera. If I am correct I think you indicated that the agreement was finalised fairly recently. The discussions had been ongoing for some time. Is that correct?
Mr Tune —That is correct. I will get Ms Mason to take you through the chronology.
Ms Mason —Certainly.
Senator RONALDSON —I may save some time; in the light of the questions I want to ask, the chronology would be useful but I do not know whether it will potentially add much. It was more just a generality of these discussions. So if you feel the need to jump in during my questions to clarify something, feel free to do so. My understanding is that, under the previous staff certified agreement, MOPS could use frequent flyer points to upgrade their economy seats to business class if the flight duration was more than three hours. Is that right?
Ms Pitson —Under the certified collective agreements, that is correct.
Senator RONALDSON —And, indeed, under the new staff enterprise agreement, which has recently been signed off, my understanding is that the situation is the same?
Ms Pitson —Yes.
Senator RONALDSON —In the light of this new arrangement with respect to the frequent flyer points I accept that staff can use those points for upgrade, but certainly there will be no further points given to MOPS as a result of the agreement with the airlines?
Ms Mason —That is correct. From 1 July onwards there will be no frequent flyer points accruing for travel that is paid for under the contract that has recently been negotiated.
Senator RONALDSON —Effectively, that aspect of the staff certified agreement that has been agreed to—and part of that agreement was that MOPS could use these points to upgrade—was no longer available to staff from 1 July?
Ms Mason —That is not correct. There are three circumstances in which MOP(S) Act employees can use their frequent flyer points and they are set out in the agreement. They can use them—
Senator RONALDSON —From 1 July they will not have any points?
Ms Mason —In many cases they will. MOP(S) Act employees in many cases have been accruing frequent flyer points for a long period.
Senator RONALDSON —From 1 July MOPS will not have new frequent flyer points?
Ms Mason —From 1 July MOP(S) Act employees will no longer accrue frequent flyer points for travel at—
Senator RONALDSON —Therefore—
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, can we just allow Ms Mason to respond before we go any further? Ms Mason, you have the call.
Ms Mason —Thank you, Chair. In many cases MOP(S) Act employees will be holding, even at 1 July and beyond, substantial frequent flyer points—balances which they are, under the enterprise agreement, able to use in the three circumstances permitted by the agreement.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —What are those three?
Ms Mason —The three circumstances are to pay for additional work related flights, to pay for airline lounge membership or renewal or to upgrade tickets to business class for work related travel for flights with an expected flight time of more than three hours duration.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I am confused about one of those points. Can the additional work related flights be used to extend an office budget?
Ms Mason —Yes.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —When did that change come in?
Ms Mason —It has not changed for quite some time. It has been in place since—
Ms Pitson —Similar clauses have been included in previous collective and certified agreements, which have been in place since about 1999.
Senator RONALDSON —Ms Mason, if a MOPS had taken advantage of the use of these points to access any of those three scenarios from 1 July, if they have no points left as at today’s date and they will not accumulate any further points between now and the end of June or not access enough points to have any effective impact they will not be able to access the arrangements under the agreement to use frequent flyer points to upgrade or access these other things?
Ms Mason —The enterprise agreement does not provide an entitlement to accrue frequent flyer points. It sets out the circumstances in which they may be used if they are held. If for whatever reason a staff member has no frequent flyer points, either because they have not travelled or because they have used them, then obviously it is not applicable.
Senator RONALDSON —Or because the entitlement has been removed?
Ms Mason —It is not an entitlement. It never has been an entitlement.
Mr Tune —There is no entitlement in the agreement.
Senator RONALDSON —I am hoping that some on my left may jump into this pretty quickly. Our staff have signed up to an agreement. Part of that agreement, confirmed by Ms Pitson, is that frequent flyer points could be used for upgrades and for other purposes. This change represents a very material reduction in work conditions, particularly for those staff from Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland. Members and senators staff on these very long flights have had access to another standard of airfare. These staff have been using those points to enable them to get an equivalent or certainly an upgraded position for the enormous amount of travel that they undertake.
This seems to me, quite frankly, to be a very significant diminution of arrangements. Indeed, the agreement probably does not now meet the ‘better off overall’ test, because these staff cannot access this. I ask you: was the negotiating team, on behalf of the department, aware that this was going to occur and that that particular part of the agreement would not be accessible from 1 July for MOPS for any further frequent flyer points? If so, did they communicate that to the negotiating team for the staff, including the union? If not, why not?
Ms Mason —You have asked a number of questions. Was the negotiating team aware that this was going to happen? No.
Senator RONALDSON —If the negotiating team had been aware of this, do you believe that they would have altered the agreement accordingly?
Ms Mason —I cannot speculate on that. I suspect not. Given that the accrual of frequent flyer points has never been an entitlement for either senators, members or staff, I think that it would not have been addressed in the negotiations. The agreement, rather, talks about the circumstances in which any points actually held can be used, and that is still there and still available for those staff that carry and continue to hold substantial frequent flyer points balances.
Senator RONALDSON —I think there will be a lot of staff shaking their heads at the moment with that answer, quite frankly, because that is not a realistic assessment of the situation. This has been an agreement for a long period of time, and it has re-formed this agreement. To say that they can use points that have been accumulated is certainly not within the spirit of this agreement that our staff signed up to.
Mr Tune —The fact remains that that is the case: the agreement does not cover the accrual of points. People may have a misunderstanding about that, but the fact is that that is the situation. So they are two unrelated issues.
Senator RYAN —The negotiating team was not aware of this, but obviously there were people in the department that were aware of both tracks of discussions—one about travel. You, Ms Mason or Mr Tune, might have been aware of both separate negotiations being underway: travel and the collective agreement.
Mr Tune —I was aware that the two things were happening. I was not aware of the detail around frequent flyers, I must admit.
Senator RYAN —Did anyone take advice on whether something like this, which represents a potential material change, represented good-faith bargaining?
Mr Tune —I do not think it does. I will take advice.
Senator RYAN —I understand that you do not think it does. What I am wondering about is this: under the current industrial relations regime, there is a requirement for good-faith bargaining.
Mr Tune —There is indeed.
Senator RYAN —I am not an industrial lawyer, but it is a very broad term. It is relatively new to the Australian industrial legal framework. Did the department consider whether or not there might be a claim, even though it was not in the last industrial agreement? People who were negotiating might not think it was in good faith.
Ms Mason —The negotiating team was not aware that this was going to happen.
Senator RYAN —No, but the department was.
CHAIR —Senator, could you allow Ms Mason to finish. Then you can follow on.
Ms Mason —The point is at which point in time it occurred. Certainly there have been negotiations with the airlines underway, and the travel contract was being prepared and negotiated, but the inclusion of parliamentary travellers under that arrangement was a decision taken very recently—in fact, during the period when the enterprise agreement was being voted upon. So it was not known anywhere in the department.
Senator RYAN —My point here is that, again, from my limited knowledge of industrial law in Australia, it would probably not mean that one arm of the department would be distinguished from another arm of the department when it came to negotiating purposes or industrial considerations.
Ms Mason —What I am saying to you is that nobody in the department knew that this was going to occur for parliamentary travellers.
Senator RYAN —I understand that. What I am putting to you, however, is this: that there were some people in the department, which is the employing agency undertaking these negotiations, who knew that at some point it would be under consideration by the department or by the minister.
Mr Tune —I am happy to get a view on this. I think I understand where you are coming from. I am not an industrial lawyer either and I take your point about what is happening. We will take it on notice and see whether we can provide some advice.
Senator RYAN —My question relates only to staff members, not members of parliament. I am not making any claim with respect to members of parliament.
Senator RONALDSON —I do not think members’ and senators’ entitlements has been mentioned once in the last hour. We are talking about staff; there has been no discussion about members and senators at all.
Ms Mason, my understanding is that under the Better Off Overall Test—BOOT—which comes under the government’s new IR laws, it only takes one worker to be worse off for the agreement to fall. Is that correct? Is my understanding of the law correct or not?
Ms Mason —We would have to take that on notice and check.
Senator RONALDSON —Minister, as the minister responsible for the staff agreement, were you aware of the moves to end frequent flyer points?
Senator Ludwig —I will check the record, but it was very close to the time the announcement was made that I became aware of it.
Senator RONALDSON —Mr Tune, these discussions had been going on for a lengthy period of time. Are you suggesting that the frequent-flyer-point aspect of this was—
Senator FORSHAW —Are you talking about the discussions with the airlines?
Senator RONALDSON —Yes.
Senator FORSHAW —Because there were negotiations for the agreement as well.
Ms Mason —I think we need to be clear. The discussions with the airlines that have been going on for quite some time were in respect of travel undertaken by public servants in government departments. The thought of including parliamentary travellers under that arrangement and the decision in respect of that was taken only very recently.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Ms Mason, what do you mean by parliamentary travellers?
Ms Mason —Senators, members and staff, MOPS Act employees.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Under which arrangement?
Ms Mason —Under the travel services arrangement that was negotiated with the airlines. The RFT that was issued had an option for the Commonwealth to include parliamentary travellers and that was publicly known, but the decision to actually include them under that arrangement was taken only very recently. It was taken after the point at which the negotiations had concluded and the enterprise agreement was being voted upon by staff.
Senator RONALDSON —So you do acknowledge, in that comment, that there has been a material change to the workers’ terms and conditions as a result of that?
Mr Tune —We are not denying that. What we are saying is we do not think it is related to terms under the staffing enterprise agreement.
Senator RONALDSON —I very much beg to differ. Now we have an acknowledgement that this decision has effectively made a material change to that agreement, surely there is some obligation for someone to discuss that with the staff?
Mr Tune —I have undertaken to Senator Ryan that I will take this issue on notice and we will come back with a considered view for you.
Senator RONALDSON —Has there been any discussion with the union or other staff representatives in relation to this matter?
Ms Mason —No.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I will follow up a couple of issues on this topic and then I have a different matter related to frequent flyer issues to explore with you. Can you give me an indication of how much the staff provisions in the agreement were utilised?
Ms Clarke —Do you mean the upgrade?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Not just the upgrade but also the other—I think one of those provisions—the additional travel—is of more benefit to the member or senator than to the staff member.
Ms Clarke —We can give you an indication on one of those, but on others we may not have the information. I can say in relation to the upgrades for flights of longer than three hours duration that over the last four years that provision has been used 10 times and the last occasion on which it was used was in 2007.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —So 10 times by how many people?
Ms Mason —On 10 occasions. I don’t know by how many people.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Could you take that on notice?
Ms Mason —Yes.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I am just trying to ascertain the facts.
Ms Clarke —On the issue of using your frequent flyer points to purchase airline lounge memberships, we would not know simply because that is an individual arrangement made between the employee and the airline. Having said that, we do know that—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Sorry, an employee, unlike in our circumstances, does not need to declare that they have done that to the department?
Ms Clarke —No. That is right. They could make that arrangement. But we do know that frequent travellers get status points outside of the frequent flyer points. So if you are a frequent traveller you will still get credit points and status points, and you can still use those—depending on what class of traveller you are—to get airline lounge memberships. So you could theoretically purchase them using your frequent flyer points—or because you have platinum or gold or whatever status—and the airlines will give them to you. It is a little more complicated.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Are these status points going to continue into the new arrangement?
Ms Clarke —That is correct. The status points do not change.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I was hoping we had seen an end of the frequent flyer saga but I suspect we have not. That leads me to my next series of questions. Did the recent report you sent us indicate the department was going to continue to account for points at 1 July this year?
Ms Clarke —What we are planning to do for the amount that has been accrued up until 1 July is to account for use of those going forward in the tabling documents.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —How long do you forecast that is likely to need to continue?
Ms Clarke —Sorry, Senator, I really do not know.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Do you have an estimate for what type of cost might be involved in continuing to account for those points?
Ms Clarke —No, I do not. We have calculated the accrual of those and it is quite a simple matter then to account for the advice senators and members give us in terms of how many have been used. So it is not a terribly complicated process.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —You have accounted for the accrual. You will continue to account for the use until nil accounts occur.
Ms Clarke —Presumably, yes.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —But on current usage arrangements that could still be a very long time?
Ms Clarke —Indeed, it could.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Has the department given any thought to just simply writing off that old process?
Ms Clarke —Not at this stage.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —You would be aware that there have been calls from charities to have access to those points?
Ms Clarke —I was not aware of it, but the points go to the individual, so that is really not something we would—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I think I have seen two relatively recent reports from the Muscular Dystrophy Association saying they cannot see why parliamentarians cannot simply donate these things to charity. I recall the last time these issues were considered. If my recollection is correct, the last time we tried to negotiate away points was under the former government. Is that right?
Ms Clarke —Yes.
Ms Mason —Certainly that is the case. There were attempts made in late 2002 and 2003 to negotiate a trade-off of removal of frequent flyer points in return for cheaper fares. At that time those efforts were not successful. I think we were in a different environment and we were negotiating one out—that is, the department of finance was trying to negotiate this arrangement with the airlines. One of the reasons that we have succeeded more recently is that the Commonwealth has combined its buying power and managed to use some leverage with the airlines.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I would actually like to commend you for the success on this occasion. But those previous occasions had involved staff points as well, hadn’t they?
Ms Mason —Yes.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —So, when Senator Ronaldson was in government, the government of the day was seeking to negotiate away staff points as well.
Ms Mason —In about 2002-03 and we were unsuccessful.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —So on this occasion I would like to commend you on your success. The remaining issue I have though is questions about how efficiently we are dealing with the remnants from the old system. I will give you my example. The department has started accounting for how many points they believe members and senators have accrued since mid-2009. Is that correct?
Ms Clarke —Yes, that is correct.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —How many times have we reported that now? Is it just the once; is it six-monthly?
Ms Mason —I think that is correct. I think there will be another one due on or about 24 June 2010.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —So that will be the second six month—
Ms Mason —The second of them; I think that is right.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —So we are talking about the department accounting for really only 12 months of accrual of points as I understand it.
Ms Clarke —That is correct.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —In my case, for instance, I have some 80,000 points as of my last management report. I have used 20,000 for parliamentary travel purposes. That leaves me with a remainder of 60,000. As a member or senator I have an option of continuing to remind my staff to please make sure they look for rare opportunities sometimes to sensibly use them or, as I suggested before, picking up some of the public calls which have said, ‘Please just allow them to donate this to charity.’ So my suggestion back to you is: in terms of the remnant points, look at whether we can just simply write them off, allow members and senators to donate them to charity and be done with senseless administration.
Mr Tune —We will certainly look at that, but I suspect the issue at the heart of it may be that the points are between yourself and the airline. It would be the airline that would need to agree for that to happen. We will look into it and get back to you.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I will give you one scenario that I have thought through: even if the airlines, unlike the banks, do not actually have charities as direct nominees, potentially a way around that is for me to use those points to purchase a computer which I then donate to a particular charity and provide the validation of that back to the department and then be done with the points.
Mr Tune —So that is within the permitted use by the airline of your points.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Yes.
Mr Tune —Okay, we will look at that one.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —As I said, I am very impressed that you succeeded in eliminating these points that have been such a matter of public controversy for so long and I would like to avoid the department wasting money on fruitless accounting for the remnants of the old system.
Ms Mason —I should acknowledge it is the procurement division of the department that succeeded in those negotiations, so it is our colleagues that are being commended.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Points to them then.
Senator FORSHAW —Could you just put on the record here what the corresponding benefits were for the government—and the taxpayer I suppose ultimately?
Mr Tune —The overall financial gain from applying the new arrangements that are taking place from 1 July 2010 is $160 million over four years—that is how much we think we have saved.
Senator FORSHAW —I am not sure it is understood how that is actually calculated. What does it represent?
Mr Tune —It is about $120 million on public service travel and about $30 million for—
Senator FORSHAW —Where are the savings?
Mr Tune —The savings are in reductions in fares, so the fares that are being charged by the airlines for domestic travel—and it varies route by route, day and type of fare—are quite substantially reduced from what was being paid on average across the APS and for MPs prior to the changes.
Senator FORSHAW —So the airlines have now agreed to charge a reduced fare, which is what they did not agree to when this was raised by Senator Abetz, I think.
Mr Tune —You might be able to occasionally get the fare for an individual journey or something like that or an individual department may have been able to finally get a good deal. This provides a good deal for everybody; everybody gets the good deal.
Senator RONALDSON —Senator Forshaw, you were probably in another committee while we discussed this—
CHAIR —Senator Collins has a follow-up question.
Senator FORSHAW —That message did not get out from what I saw in the public reporting of it. There was a figure of $140 million, which we all assumed was reduced travel costs.
Mr Tune —No. It assumes no change in travel at all.
Senator FORSHAW —It had to come from there, presumably; it is the only thing that you could relate it to. There are issues that flow from that, but airlines discount fares all the time anyway these days.
Senator Ludwig —The key objective was about delivering overall savings to the Australian government, which was for most if not all agencies through prices no higher than they currently pay. The five objectives in relation to travel tender processes were about reducing the cost of supply to agencies. These have clearly been met in the discounts offered by the airlines and the consequent reduction in the cost of travel for agencies. It continues to meet the business need of agencies. There will be no interruption to the business needs of agencies as a result of the new arrangements and they will contribute to a competitive and viable industry.
It is about ensuring that the tender process, which resulted in greater competition within the industry for government in air travel, was based on maintaining a viable industry. It results in fair, equitable and transparent processes. The process of booking air travel through the TMC supports the government’s policies for undertaking air travel, namely the lowest practical fare policy for domestic travel and the best fare of the day policy for international travel. It meets this objective. The tender process itself, if I can add, was both a fair and transparent process. These are significant savings for government and they were done for all of the reasons I have just outlined.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —To follow up what were talking about earlier where I do not think I got an answer to one of the questions about how these points had been used by staff, are you able to tell me the number of cases that they have been used to add to the amount of travel?
Ms Clarke —You mean the electorate staff travel budget?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Yes.
Ms Mason —I do not think we have that information because it is not reported to us if they have used points to take additional flights, as far as I am aware. I should also correct something I said earlier. I mentioned the last occasion on which somebody had upgraded to business class for a flight of longer than three hours duration was in 2007. I have been given more recent advice that is not correct. It was actually done last year.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Was it done once last year?
Ms Mason —It was done three times.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Is your 10 times accurate or not?
Ms Mason —I have not got an update on that but I will check and if I find the information is not correct I will certainly provide correct information to the committee.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —It takes us back to your original point, which was frequent flyer points are not an entitlement. I agree with you on that in relation to our parliamentary travel. But how that relates to the EBA is going to be an interesting point since people inserted those types of provisions into the EBA. That happened under the former government too, didn’t it?
Ms Mason —I would say again, the provisions in the enterprise agreement and its forerunners, the collective agreements, were not to accrue frequent flyer points; it was how they might be used if they did accrue. The fact is from 1 July they will no longer accrue but there will still be some sitting there that can be used in accordance with the agreement.
Senator FORSHAW —You clearly understand it is not an entitlement that is given by the employer but, correspondingly, there is a provision which relates to the use of them. It is in the agreement.
Ms Mason —It is still there and it can still be used.
Senator FORSHAW —I understand that.
Ms Mason —I also say, again, that the decision to include parliamentary travel under the new contract arrangements was taken very recently and it was taken after the point at which the enterprise agreement was being notified.
Senator FORSHAW —I understand all of that.
Senator Ludwig —I am advised by Minister Burke’s office that in relation to the letter from Mr Burke, which was referred to by Senator Ronaldson, the letter was sent by Mr Burke’s office in error on the understanding that Miss Henderson was a state member.
Senator RONALDSON —So Minister Burke’s office is not aware that Corangamite is a federal seat?
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —We will have to see what the original letter looked like too. Are you able to table the original letter, Senator Ronaldson?
CHAIR —Senators, can I just seek some clarification. Are there any further questions in relation to frequent-flier issues? If not, Senator Ryan has the call to talk about travel and then we have some questions in another area.
Senator RYAN —This is a technical question I have been asked to chase up on behalf of a couple of people because there have been different answers. Virgin has different levels of economy travel. What is the eligibility for staff who have an economy class travel entitlement to travel on Virgin? Are they allowed to travel in any class of economy on Virgin—because they only have economy seats; they just have different classes?
Ms Clarke —We will take it on notice.
Mr Tune —Yes, I think we will.
Senator RYAN —I would appreciate that, because there have been varied answers—
Mr Tune —They have economy and premium economy, I understand.
Senator RYAN —Yes, I think they are soon to get squishy economy or some other economy as well, so they are heading for the path of having three economy classes—
Mr Tune —I see.
Senator RYAN —so I would appreciate advice on that.
CHAIR —Can I take the opportunity to ask some questions in relation to IT. Earlier in the week we had Senate Services before us talking about IT, and I recall raising this issue or it being raised over a number of estimates now. The issue is the coordination of IT services between what members and senators have available to them within Parliament House so that there is some uniformity and coming together—as I understood; I might be using the wrong terminology—of our electorate offices’ computer systems and the parliamentary computer systems. Can you give me an overview of what your brief was, where you are in the process and why—as we had reported to us earlier in the week—there has been little if any progress.
Mr Tune —I will ask Mr Burton and Mr Quester to respond.
Mr Burton —Until recently, my group was responsible for managing electorate office IT. I think Mr Kenny, from DPS, alluded to this in his evidence before the committee earlier in the week. There has been a change in management that is very recent, so I have agreed to cover the questions in the meantime. I do also have an interest in the issue going forward.
We agreed initially to review the possibility of transferring our electorate office IT services, which Mr Quester ran within the department until recently, and trying to come up with a solution. I would say that, in terms of getting to where we are, I would probably be less pessimistic than Mr Kenny was. The process has taken far longer than we would have wished. There have been some reasons for that. The issues have been legislative. They are around the role that the Special Minister of State has for electorate office IT and the fact that departmental IT within this building is a departmental appropriation that the two Presiding Officers are responsible for. Entitlements in electorate offices are funded from a special appropriation which has certain ways that it is administered, and it is very entitlement based because it has no set spending limit. IT within APH is a departmental appropriation. We have prepared a briefing paper that will shortly go to the Special Minister of State on how these issues will be addressed. We think we have found some solutions.
Finance is keen to make this transfer work. From our point of view, it is not effective for senators and members to have to refer to multiple help desks and sources of expertise in order to get IT issues solved. This is something I cannot give you a definite time line for at this stage, but it is something that we would very much like to get addressed so that there is a single help desk, a seamless delivery of services and an alignment of entitlements in electorate offices with respect to the internal availability of particular IT services, programs and other pieces of software. We have to sort out the appropriation and funding issues and how those will be managed across the two agencies. We are putting some proposals to the Special Minister of State soon that should resolve those issues, but that process is not complete yet.
CHAIR —Can you tell committee when the process commenced?
Mr Quester —The Special Minister of State agreed on 19 October 2008 to form the initial working group between the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Department of Parliamentary Services. This was in response to a request from the two presiding officers.
CHAIR —That was in 2008. We are almost at the end of May 2010. How much progress have we made? Is it right to assume from the evidence we heard early in the week that it is not likely to be concluded before the election is due for this parliamentary term?
Mr Burton —There are steps that we are taking, but we did not want to undertake the actual transfer before the election, to go through a lot of change during what will be a very busy period. Rather, we will leave the current services in place. They are what senators and members and their electorate office staff are used to using. Obviously it would have been preferable to undertake the transfer some months ago, but, given where we are now, it was thought preferable to leave such a transfer until after the election because it would be too disruptive to do it during an electoral process.
CHAIR —At the moment members and senators are entitled to certain computer programs in their electorate office, but we are not entitled to have those in our parliamentary offices. That means, for instance, that when you have staff working on particular documents, they cannot do it while they are in Canberra. It is it part of the rationalisation to give us uniformity?
Mr Burton —Absolutely, yes.
CHAIR —Is there anything further on the subject of the computer systems and access to faster broadband? I understand that was being rolled out around the country. Can you give us an update on that?
Mr Burton —I would have to take that on notice, but I will—
Mr Quester —I think you are referring to the connections to the electorate offices around the country?
CHAIR —Yes, I am. My apologies if I did not use the correct terminology. I know it is a computer. That is the beginning and end.
Mr Quester —You are correct. We undertook a program to upgrade the network that all the electorate offices are on. They have moved to the Optus Evolve network. I can report that, as of today, there are only four offices left to go in our upgrade. We expect those last four offices to be completed by the end of next week, as per the schedule. That has increased the dedicated data speed to every electorate office to two megabits. That is up from 512 kilobits 2½ years ago and a megabit about a year and a half ago, as per the entitlement.
CHAIR —Am I correct in believing that the cabinets, for want of a better word—the hubs that we have in our offices—are also being upgraded and becoming larger?
Mr Quester —I could not comment on the actual size of the equipment. The equipment was replaced because we have now attached a different communications network to the electorate offices, so there was an upgrade to what was affected—the router and the switches in those cabinets.
CHAIR —That is it.
Mr Quester —They have been upgraded as part of this process, with the technicians coming in and putting the new equipment in. As for size, I could not comment here, sorry.
CHAIR —I think they are getting larger. Is that rollout almost complete as well? Is it only the same four offices?
Mr Quester —That is right, yes.
Senator RYAN —I have some questions I was asked to raise about BlackBerrys. GPS is deactivated on these BlackBerrys, isn’t it?
Mr Quester —It should not be. There is a setting within the BlackBerry itself whereby you can select whether to stay solely on a 3G network or, if that 3G network is not available, to drop back to the GPRS.
Senator RYAN —Sorry, I meant GPS, not GPRS.
Mr Quester —Sorry. You are correct, yes. GPS is not activated.
Senator RYAN —Why is GPS deactivated?
Mr Quester —It is part of the security requirements published by the Defence Signals Directorate. It is about the ability for the device to be tracked. It is a security requirement for a government-issued device not to have that functionality.
Senator RYAN —Are you bound by DSD—
Mr Quester —We are bound by the Information Security Manual, yes.
Senator RYAN —And that is set by DSD?
Mr Quester —The Defence Signals Directorate—yes, that is correct.
Senator RYAN —Has that ever been reviewed? It means the website Google Maps is unusable on these phones.
Mr Quester —That is correct.
Senator RYAN —Has there been any discussion with DSD about reviewing that?
Mr Quester —There have been requests around certain technologies, which were put to the Special Minister of State, and the Special Minister of State agreed to continue to abide by the Information Security Manual for the settings required on government-issued BlackBerrys.
Senator RYAN —The other thing that is deactivated on this is the ability to download other applications. What is the reason for that?
Mr Quester —Again, that is to protect the integrity of the device itself. The ability to download applications can open the device up to vulnerabilities.
Senator RYAN —Has any consideration been given to having a list of approved applications? There are certain applications that I know a lot of members would actually use. One of them that was put to me—I do not do it myself—is Twitter. Twitter applications are increasingly used by members. I have not Tweeted myself; I am not quite so on top of these things.
Senator Ludwig —You are not on the PM’s follow list?
Senator RONALDSON —I am!
Senator RYAN —I always thought you were a—no! Has consideration been given to looking at certain authorised applications that might be commonly used by MPs—an unofficial standard operating environment for BlackBerrys? Their functionality is quite dramatically limited—I did not realise it was DSD—by those provisions, particularly with Google Maps, which is a not uncommon or unhelpful website.
Mr Quester —I would not say that DSD are limiting the functionality of the device. They are providing us the security requirements to make sure that the devices can transmit data up to X-in-confidence. The best way forward for requesting additional applications, such as applications that may interact with Twitter, the best way forward would be to put that request through the Presiding Officers Information Technology Advisory Group. Finance attends that group, along with DPS. We can then look at those applications on the advice of that group to see whether we can progress those things—if there is a business requirement for those sorts of things.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —On Senator Ryan’s point, is there no reason that we could not do what we do with our laptops, for instance: for approved or authorised applications, simply get administration rights for a limited period to download them?
Mr Quester —I am unable to answer that. I know what you are talking about for laptops, where you get the OOTA rights for administrative access. I do not know whether that is actually possible on a BlackBerry. I would have to take that on notice.
CHAIR —There was also a query that I understand the department was looking at, but I am not aware of whether it has been resolved. There was an undertaking to look at whether or not the time out in relation to the passwords could be extended on the BlackBerrys. At the moment it is a very short period of time; you have to continually put a password in. I understand the security, and I understand that that is why there is no other option available to us other than a BlackBerry. There was an undertaking that that would be looked at. Can you give us an update on that issue?
Mr Quester —Unfortunately I cannot, I am sorry.
CHAIR —Can you take it on notice?
Mr Quester —I can take it on notice.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I think on the last occasion I asked a related question, which was: has consideration been given to a more usable password arrangement? I think the answer I got back on that occasion was: ‘No. Bad luck.’
Mr Tune —I think the answer was that there are two options. You can go the 12-digit thing, or you can use a mix of numbers and uppercase letters and so forth and go—eight I think?
Mr Burton —Seven.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —We cannot get shorter than seven?
Mr Tune —No. I use 12 myself, but I find it frustrating as well.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Is this a DSD requirement?
Mr Quester —Yes. It is part of security.
CHAIR —That is also part of the timing out?
Mr Quester —That is correct.
Senator RYAN —Electorate offices are provided with a single mobile phone, that comes out of the budget, for the use of the office or a staff member of the office. As the price of these devices falls—they are now significantly cheaper than they were a year ago let alone five years ago—is consideration being given to upgrading that electorate office device to allow a staff member to have, effectively, a PDA rather than an office phone?
Mr Burton —We have to approach this in this way: it is a change in entitlement. If we got a request Ministerial and Parliamentary Services would make a recommendation to the Special Minister of State about whether that entitlement should be changed, noting the cost that would be reflected. So there is a process to go through for us to do that.
Senator RYAN —You would be familiar with this. Would that be a significant cost? If the electorate office mobile phone were upgraded to an electorate office BlackBerry, would that be a significant cost?
Mr Burton —BlackBerries are $900 each, one like you have there. A cell phone is probably somewhere around $100.
Senator RYAN —I have seen some commercially advertised plans which are a bit cheaper.
Mr Quester —Additional to that, the BlackBerry obviously comes with a monthly data charge so putting that across 226 BlackBerries per month is quite an expense.
Senator RYAN —There is no consideration being given to that at the moment?
Mr Burton —Not at this stage, no.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —What is the nature of the data plan we all operate within?
Mr Quester —We will have to take that on notice. The contract is held with the department. I will not have it here, I am sorry.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —We do not get reports about our data usage or the cost of its usage or anything of that nature. I am very conscious of my family’s private data arrangements, but we as members and senators have no notion of what our plans are and whether we are operating appropriately within them.
Mr Burton —We will take that on notice.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Thank you.
Senator RYAN —Last year there was some discussion around the contract the department lets with respect to the ISDN service that comes to our electorate office.
Mr Burton —Wireless broadband?
Senator RYAN —No. this is the IT pipe that comes into our electorate office. I know there was an upgrade from 512 kilobits to roughly a megabit undertaken over the last 12 months.
Mr Burton —We have recently upgraded all but four offices—this was a question we answered earlier—to two dedicated two-megabit pipes.
Senator RYAN —Two megabits is set now for the foreseeable future?
Mr Burton —Yes.
Senator RYAN —That is consistent around the country?
Mr Burton —Yes. There are only four offices to go. They will be converted some time in the next two weeks.
Senator RYAN —I understand wireless broadband was also being reviewed with respect to a contract that bound Finance and therefore MaPS to Optus. That has been a topic of discussion on numerous occasions. Has that been concluded?
Mr Burton —It has not. At the moment we still have a contract with Optus. Our ability to renew that will be coming up shortly as part of the coordinated procurement process currently being undertaken by AGIMO. We will be reviewing it at this stage.
Senator RYAN —There are obviously very different requirements for, shall we say, Canberra-based access as opposed to regional Australia-based access, particularly around wireless—and this is effectively the Optus versus Telstra issue. Is consideration being given to the needs of members and staff who have a need for access in areas where, quite frankly, Optus is not up to it. That includes, I might add, the CBD. It has been noted on a number of occasions that at committee hearings of the Senate you might have senators, members and staff not being able to obtain access but, because the committees here are done differently—they have Telstra dongles—they can access the Internet. Is specific consideration being given to that, because it is an issue there has been some concern about.
Mr Burton —Certainly, we will look at that and we will be trying to maximise the service while still getting value for money, but that work has not been undertaken yet. It is certainly one of the issues, having discussed this a number of times with this particular committee, that we will consider when we look at how we renew that contract.
Senator RYAN —Who makes the final decision on that contract—like whether it goes to Optus or Telstra?
Mr Quester —We would make a recommendation to the Special Minister of State. Once we understand the outcomes of the coordinated procurement and the options that that will give us—whether that be a flexible approach on offering services from any carrier or whether we has to define it down to one carrier because of the way that the tenders have come through—we will make a recommendation to the special minister for an extension of either multiple contracts or a contract.
Senator RYAN —And you, Minister, I take it, are aware of the concerns that travelling members and staff have had with respect to the utility of the Optus wireless facility?
Senator Ludwig —I think it is fair to say that it has been raised on a number of occasions with me.
Senator RYAN —That is all I have. Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR —I think that is probably all there is for BlackBerrys this time, which is very short. Are there further questions on MaPS? I have some questions in relation to management reports. Could the officers give us an update on the signing off on management reports. From the estimates hearings I have attended since I have been in place, there have always been a number of outstanding management reports. We have had discussions on the role of senators and members and, for those who do certify the reports, there does not seem to be any penalty if they choose not to. Can you give us an update, please.
Ms Mason —Ms Sims can certainly give you the regular update.
Ms Sims —Yes. In relation to certifications for 2008-09 and also 2009-10, there have been updates to the information that I read out last time. There has been an increase in certifications. If you like I can read through it month by month.
CHAIR —If you could just give us a general overview of whether or not there has been an increase in the—
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —The last month.
CHAIR —Yes, the last month.
Ms Sims —There has been an increase, and in relation to March 2010 we were at 50 per cent. But what usually happens is that it takes us six months for us to get the maximum number of certifications in. So if you look back to, say, October 2009, we were up around 90 per cent; and before that it has generally been around 90 per cent.
CHAIR —In relation to the travel reports, which are tabled, I believe, on a six-monthly basis, can you outline to me whether there have been any changes to the requirements for those reports.
Ms Sims —There has been an increase in what is contained in the tabling document, and that was part of the government’s reforms to parliamentary entitlements. The things that have been included that were not previously included in that are: office facilities costs, which include things like payments made against property operating costs, telecommunications costs and fit-out costs for offices; office administrative costs such as office consumables and services, printing and communications, and publications; and, in relation to travel, family travel costs.
CHAIR —When you say ‘family travel’, can you clarify for me whether the individuals are named in the document that is presented to parliament.
Ms Sims —No. Preliminary reports have been provided to senators and members. Names have been included in the preliminary reports to assist officers in looking at the detail and whether or not the detail is correct but it certainly will not be part of the tabling document.
Senator MOORE —Has there been a 100 per cent return of the tabling documents?
Ms Sims —Not yet but the deadline has not passed.
Senator MOORE —Last year?
Ms Sims —I would have to take that on notice.
Senator MOORE —Also for the 90 per cent of people who are returning the management report, can I get some indication over the last two years whether it is the same senators and members who are the 10 per cent who are not returning?
Ms Sims —I will take that on notice.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Can you give us a reminder on the accuracy issue? I think I asked this on the last occasion. I think my last monthly management report was 100 per cent accurate. I was very impressed. How are we going on the accuracy measure?
Ms Clarke —We were actually looking at the accuracy of the data with our internal auditors to make sure that the processes enable it to be as accurate as possible. Clearly there are going to be instances where in one period the flight is booked and then it is not taken. Those things do not come through until the next tabling period. We have got those inaccuracies but they are part of the processes that take time. I think the feedback at the moment is that generally we are hitting the mark more and more often.
CHAIR —I take it that that correction time can be an average of nine months? Would that be the average to correct that?
Ms Clarke —I cannot get you an average. It depends upon how long it takes to get any of the information, invoices or travel cancellations through, and often that is in the hands of the suppliers and not us. So it is difficult to know.
CHAIR —But in my experience it can take up to nine months to correct.
Ms Mason —I think you are probably right. On occasions it can take a lengthy period of time. Nine months does sound to me like a very long period of time for an average and we will check that out but as Ms Clarke said, we are in the hands of the airlines in many instances as to when those refunds or corrections actually come through. We cannot record them until we know about them.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I understand corrections that are waiting for information to come in through the system. I suppose my earlier comments about accuracy were more around when you have been notified that something was not accurate and how long it takes for that to then be reflected in the next month’s report, which in part informs some members’ and senators’ frustration with the amount of their own staff time that goes into reconciling these reports.
The other issue I have with the management reports in part relates to my earlier question about even our Blackberry arrangements. If we are now reporting the detail of our office costs there is surely the need for us to be more aware of the operating frameworks that we are actually working in if we are to be publicly accountable for the costs that pertain to them. As the basic example, if we do not know what our data plan is we cannot be expected to operate efficiently within whatever that plan is. Can I suggest that, not just with the Blackberry issue but with a range of other office administration issues, we look at how well informed we as members and senators are of the parameters in which we are operating?
Ms Mason —I think you make a fair point and I think wherever we can we should be pushing out more information about the entitlements and the arrangements that surround them, including information about data plans for Blackberrys.
CHAIR —Considering the changes in the budget measures, is there any consideration of any software being made available so that we can actually manage our budgets to ensure that we meet our entitlements? There is often a differential with the management report and what we know we have spent. To ensure that there is no overspending is there any consideration being given to giving us software to keep track so we can manage our budgets?
Mr Tune —We use Excel.
Ms Clarke —You can use Excel. Senators and members do get a software allowance that they could use to purchase that. Otherwise, in looking through what is available in, for instance, Mind Your Own Business you can get a package for something like $200 which you can purchase with your electorate allowance.
CHAIR —Will there be training available for those packages? I understand that if it is not provided by the department there is no training for staff.
Ms Clarke —That is correct. Certainly staff would use the online training that is provided with the package. No, the department would not provide it.
Senator MOORE —Is special approval required to actually buy that software and have it loaded into our equipment? It is not something we have done. Normally anything you do with departmental IT, there are provisions about what you can and cannot put onto a computer, how you do it and all those things.
Ms Clarke —Yes, that is correct. You would still have to check with the help desk but I think, when it was examined, one senator or member asked the question about whether you could use it. Again, referring it to the help desk is the safest thing to do, I think.
Senator MOORE —It would have to be for anything you are playing around with.
CHAIR —Likewise if you purchase a program, there is no support from the IT people for that. What I was asking was whether the department is giving any consideration to providing appropriate software?
Ms Clarke —Not at this time.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —I think that relates to my earlier question, which is that you consider the new framework we are within now. If we are to be publicly accountable for detailed reporting of our costs that not only should we be informed of the parameters we are operating in in those areas but also I think Senator Polley’s point is quite right: the department should be considering what software we need to support us to responsibly manage those costs.
CHAIR —And training for staff.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Could you please take that on notice?
CHAIR —And the amount of time it takes to keep track of and checking of your management reports. Thank you very much for appearing before us. That includes MAPS for this estimates.
Proceedings suspended from 3.51 pm to 4.06 pm