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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
- Committee Name
Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Ronaldson, Sen Michael
Abetz, Sen Eric
Ryan, Sen Scott
Fifield, Sen Mitch
Sinodinos, Sen Arthur
Faulkner, Sen John
Mason, Sen Brett
Cormann, Sen Mathias
Heffernan, Sen Bill
Conroy, Sen Stephen
Ludlam, Sen Scott
Bushby, Sen David
McKenzie, Sen Bridget
Payne, Sen Marise
Kroger, Sen Helen
Conroy, Sen Stephen
Dr de Brouwer
- Sub program
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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
(Senate-Monday, 27 May 2013)
PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS PORTFOLIO
Department of the Senate
Parliamentary Budget Office
Department of Parliamentary Services
- Department of the Senate
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
Dr de Brouwer
- Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
- PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS PORTFOLIO
Content WindowFinance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
Senator Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
Outcome 1—Program 1
Mr Stephen Brady, Official Secretary to the Governor-General
Ms Karen Baker, Acting Deputy Official Secretary
Ms Sharon Prendergast, Director Australian Honours and Awards Branch
Mr Chandy Paul, Chief Financial Officer
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Ms Renee Leon, Deputy Secretary, Governance
Program 1.1: Prime Minister and Cabinet
Domestic Policy Group
Dr Gordon de Brouwer, Associate Secretary, Domestic Policy
Ms Rebecca Cross, Deputy Secretary, Social Policy
Dr Heather Smith, Deputy Secretary, Economic and Strategy
Ms Jackie Wilson, Executive Coordinator, Domestic Policy Group
Dr Rachel Bacon, Executive Coordinator, Domestic Policy
Ms Marie Taylor, First Assistant Secretary, Industry, Infrastructure and Environment Division
Mr Alex Anderson, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Social Policy Division
Mr David Hazlehurst, First Assistant Secretary, Economic Division
Ms Madonna Morton, Assistant Secretary, Council of Australian Governments Branch
Ms Ngaire Hosking, First Assistant Secretary, National Disability Insurance Scheme Taskforce
Mr Dom English, First Assistant Secretary, Strategy and Delivery Division
Mr Andrew Hockley, Executive Coordinator, Economic and Strategy
Mr Martin J Cowling, Assistant Secretary, Social Inclusion Unit/Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector
National Security and International Policy Group
Dr Margot McCarthy, National Security Adviser
Mr Allan McKinnon, Deputy National Security Adviser
Ms Kathy Klugman, First Assistant Secretary, International Division
Mr Richard Sadleir, First Assistant Secretary, Defence, Intelligence and Information Sharing Division
Ms Sachi Wimmer, First Assistant Secretary, Cyber Policy and Homeland Security Division
Mr Mark Bellchambers, Acting Assistant Secretary, Information Sharing and Strategic Policy Framework Branch
Ms RenÃ©e Leon, Deputy Secretary, Governance
Mr Jamie Fox, First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial Support Division
Ms Michelle Crosby, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services Division
Ms Philippa Lynch, First Assistant Secretary, Government Division
Ms Pip Spence, First Assistant Secretary, Cabinet Division
Ms Bridget Brill, Head, Cabinet Implementation Unit
Ms Amanda McIntyre, Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Services Division
Mr Peter Rush, Assistant Secretary, Honours, Symbols and Territories
Mr Gerard Martin, Assistant Secretary, Parliamentary and Government
Mr Brendan MacDowell, Acting Assistant Secretary, Legal Policy
Mr Frank Leverett, Assistant Secretary, Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch
Dr Gordon de Brouwer, Associate Secretary, Domestic Policy
Ms RenÃ©e Leon, Deputy Secretary, Governance
Ms Bernadette Welch, First Assistant Secretary, G20 Taskforce (Operations)
Mr Chris Langman, First Assistant Secretary, G20 Taskforce (Policy)
CHAIR: I welcome Mr Brady, the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, and other officers to the table. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance, the secretary has copies of the rules. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009, specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised.
The extract read as follows—
Public interest immunity claims
That the Senate—
(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;
(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;
(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:
(a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and
(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.
(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.
(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.
(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.
(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.
(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.
(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).
(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).
(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)
The committee has set Friday, 12 July 2013 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. Mr Brady, do you wish to make an opening statement?
Mr Brady : I will make two references to work undertaken by the Governor-General since we last met. The Governor-General undertook a state visit to Papua-New Guinea in late April, where she represented Australia at the Anzac Day dawn service at the Bomana War Cemetery, and then travelled to Isurava on the Kokoda Track to pay her respects to those who fought and served in World War II. Her visit comprised more than 25 official engagements and focused on the important issues of health, education and violence against women. The Governor-General was pleased to host a reception for the Hon. Jason Clare MP, Mr Scott Morrison MP and a group of young Australians who had trekked the Black Cat Track. Earlier in April, the Governor-General became the first Governor-General to visit Ottawa, accompanied, for the first time on an official visit, by a delegation of Indigenous Australians. The visit had an emphasis on economic development of indigenous peoples.
Secondly, at home, the Governor-General has continued to spend a third of her time in rural, regional and remote parts of Australia. Two weeks ago, to coincide with National Volunteer Week, she travelled to Orange and Bathurst. Since we last met, she has been to Wagga Wagga and Coonabarabran. Visits to Far North Queensland, Arnhem Land and south-west Western Australia will be undertaken in the second part of this year. By way of statistics, as at 30 April, the Governor-General has undertaken 3,405 official engagements; she has entertained 42,000 official guests at Government House or Admiralty House; she has had 202,000 Australians through Government House and Admiralty House, including 70,000 schoolchildren; and she has been to 212 locations within Australia.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Brady, for those opening comments.
Senator RONALDSON: At last estimates I overlooked referring to the investiture of Daniel Keighran VC on 1 November last year. I meant to say to you that I thought the Governor-General's speech was passionate and heartfelt, and many others, particularly from the ex-service community, found it very moving.
Mr Brady : I will pass that on to Her Excellency.
Senator RONALDSON: Please. I take you to a document entitled Guidance on Caretaker Conventions released by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2010. The introduction refers to the official caretaker period, from the beginning of the time that the House of Representatives is dissolved, and it continues until after the result of the election is clear. The document states:
7.5.1 In 1976, the Government tabled Guidelines providing for pre-election consultation with the Opposition. The Guidelines are intended to ensure a smooth transition if an election results in a change of government …
7.5.2 The Guidelines are distinct from the caretaker conventions and commence on a different date. They apply as soon as an election for the House of Representatives is announced or three months before the expiry of the House of Representatives, whichever occurs first.
7.5.3 The Guidelines are as follows:
(i) The pre-election period is to date from three months prior to the expiry of the House of Representatives or the date of announcement of the House of Representatives election, whichever date comes first.
So it is officially and formally described as a pre-election period. I have done the maths on that and the official pre-election period—not the caretaker period—starts in about 2½ weeks, on 14 June. I wanted to go through that to establish what the conventions and the guidelines are before I ask some questions.
Mr Brady : I am informed by my PM&C colleague that it is 27 June.
Senator RONALDSON: I am happy to go with that—in any event, is only a month for the official pre-election period. You are obviously familiar with recent debate about who should appoint the next Governor-General. Do you have any comments to make on that?
Mr Brady : I have seen the speculation in the media but it is not for me to comment on that speculation.
Senator RONALDSON: In what month does the Governor-General complete her term in office?
Mr Brady : March 2014
Senator RONALDSON: Is there a specific date in March?
Mr Brady : The Governor-General has indicated to me that she will complete her term on 31 March.
Senator RONALDSON: That is nearly 11 months from now.
Mr Brady : That is correct.
Senator RONALDSON: When was the announcement of the Governor-General's appointment made? Do you remember the date?
Mr Brady : Ms Bryce's announcement was 13 April 2008.
Senator RONALDSON: And she was sworn in when?
Mr Brady : On 5 September 2008.
Senator RONALDSON: So we are talking five months, are we?
Mr Brady : That is correct.
Senator RONALDSON: What about her predecessor? Do you know when Michael Jeffery was announced as Governor-General and when he was sworn into office?
Mr Brady : Major General Jeffery was announced on 22 June 2003. He was sworn in on 11 August 2003.
Senator RONALDSON: And Archbishop Hollingworth?
Mr Brady : His appointment was announced on 22 April 2001. He was sworn in on 29 June 2001, two months later.
Senator RONALDSON: So we have got five months for the current Governor-General, about two months for her predecessor and about two months for his predecessor. Is that right, roughly?
Mr Brady : That is correct.
Senator RONALDSON: Of recent governors-general, has any been appointed when an election was imminent or announced?
Mr Brady : Not to my recollection, but I would have to check about Sir William Deane.
Senator RONALDSON: I think you will find Sir William Deane was before the election. So we have got a situation where there is nearly 11 months between now and Governor-General Bryce actually leaving office. There was five months in between her announcement and swearing in, there was two months for her predecessor and there was two months for his predecessor. Would you agree that nearly 11 months is a very long time? There is also only a month left before the official pre-election period commences. Do you believe it would be manifestly unwise to appoint a replacement for Ms Bryce at this stage?
Mr Brady : I cannot provide a public opinion on that. What I can say is that the office is very much engaged in the Governor-General's program and in no way is it winding down. The Governor-General's mind is not in any way turning to her departure. As you correctly pointed out, there is 10 months to go.
Senator RONALDSON: So, as far as you are concerned, the Governor-General has no intention of leaving early. She has indicated to you that she will be leaving on 31 March 2014. You have no reason to believe it will be anything other than that date, barring other extraneous factors which none of us hope occur.
Mr Brady : That is correct.
Senator RONALDSON: Were you aware of the timing of the pre-election consultation and the official Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet guidelines which indicate that that period starts in a month's time?
Mr Brady : I was.
Senator RONALDSON: I put it to you that there would be no precedent whatsoever for an imminent announcement of a new Governor-General to replace a Governor-General who is not retiring until 31 March next year.
Mr Brady : My office is not involved in any way in the selection of a new Governor-General. There is no prescribed time frame for that. I think it would be beyond my terms of reference to comment.
Senator RONALDSON: So really there is no precedent, no respect and, in my view, no shame in relation to any discussion at all about a replacement for Ms Bryce?
Mr Brady : What was the question?
Senator RONALDSON: Do you agree that there was no precedent at all?
Mr Brady : I am only aware of the most recent governors-general.
Senator RONALDSON: My comment that there is no precedent, no shame and no respect is of course not one I expect you to respond to. Mr Brady, you may or may not be able to answer this, but would it not potentially cause great embarrassment for someone to be approached at this time prior to an election knowing that Ms Bryce is not retiring until 31 March next year?
Mr Brady : That, again, would not be something I could comment on.
CHAIR: As there are no further questions, thank you very much for appearing before us.
CHAIR: Good afternoon. I welcome the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, and Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator the Hon. Stephen Conroy representing the Prime Minister; Ms Leon, Deputy Secretary, Governance; and officers of the department. We will be commencing with general questions and will then proceed to outcome 1.
Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance the secretariat has copies of the rules. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised. The committee has set Friday, 12 July 2013 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. Minister, do you have an opening statement?
Senator Conroy: No.
CHAIR: Ms Leon, do you wish to make an opening statement?
Ms Leon : No, Madam Chair.
CHAIR: Senator Abetz, you have the call.
Senator ABETZ: Can someone confirm for me that the Prime Minister is to address the Victorian Trades Hall on 30 May?
D r de Brouwer : I am unaware of that, but I will see if we can find out.
Senator ABETZ: All right. It has been publicised that that is what is going to happen. I am just wondering, possibly through you, Minister, whether the Prime Minister has given reconsideration to that invitation given the revelations of the Supreme Court finding against the CFMEU and the Vice-President of Victorian Trades Hall being a CFMEU official.
Senator Conroy: I would have to take that on notice, Senator Abetz. I am not sure that simply trying to smear an entire organisation because one person has done something that you might find or others might find—
Senator ABETZ: The Supreme Court found.
CHAIR: Senator Abetz, could you please let the minister complete his answer?
Senator Conroy: I am not in the business of smearing entire organisations just because you do not agree with their politics.
Senator ABETZ: This is not about politics; this is about a Supreme Court finding 30 contempt charges—
Senator Conroy: All Australians should comply with the law—
Senator ABETZ: Thank you.
Senator Conroy: but to smear an entire organisation because of one affiliate or member—
Senator ABETZ: Does the minister get the same advice, Chair, or not?
CHAIR: I remind the minister, you and other committee members that it is the practice of the committee estimates process that questions are put to witnesses and we allow the witness to complete the answer. I ask people to respect the standing orders.
Senator ABETZ: Has the Prime Minister condemned the CFMEU in relation to these findings by the Victorian Supreme Court? If not, why not?
Senator Conroy: I would have to check with the Prime Minister about that. But let me make it clear: all Australians, including members of the CFMEU, should comply with the laws of the land.
Senator ABETZ: The local Leader of the Opposition in Victoria had great difficulty in coming out with that statement until 24 hours after it was put to him. I am just wondering whether the Prime Minister is suffering from the same difficulty.
Senator Conroy: As I just said, I am comfortable with making it clear that all Australians should comply with the laws of the land, and I am here representing the Prime Minister. Let's be very clear about this.
Senator ABETZ: But she is willing to share the stage with such people and accept their funding for election purposes—is that what we are to believe, Minister?
Senator Conroy: You are making a number of suppositions. I have said that I would take that on notice, Senator Abetz.
Senator ABETZ: Can we now, Mr de Brouwer, accept as a given that the Prime Minister is addressing Victorian Trades Hall on 30 May?
D r de Brouwer : We are still checking that.
Senator ABETZ: I thought you were being provided with confirmation that it was.
D r de Brouwer : It was to say that we do not know.
Senator ABETZ: The Prime Minister has previously said that we need a tough cop on the beat, that lawlessness has to be condemned wherever it appears et cetera, yet on this occasion, with 30 contempt charges and links to a notorious bikie gang, we have the Prime Minister willing to be associated with an organisation that has such a person in its vice-presidency. I assume also that the Prime Minister approved of the $21 million haircut given to the building and construction inspectorate in the last budget, which all seems to suggest that a tough cop on the beat is no longer going to be there. But, Minister, if you could take all that on notice, given that we will not be getting an answer today, that would be very helpful. Perhaps I could now turn to the announcement of a grant to help rebuild the Dunalley community hall in Tasmania. Is anybody acquainted with that announcement? It was made by the Prime Minister.
Dr de Brouwer : We will find out.
Ms Leon : Senator, are you able to give me an indication of when that was?
Senator ABETZ: It was Friday 1 March 2013.
Ms Leon : And was it referenced to any particular program?
Senator ABETZ: I think it was in relation to regional development, in relation to the bushfires that we suffered in Tasmania, and her agreement to provide $250,000 for the rebuilding of the Dunalley community hall.
Ms Taylor : I am aware of the grants in general that were announced in Tasmania. I believe that was a grant that was provided from the regional department.
Senator ABETZ: I think so, yes.
Ms Taylor : Other than that I do not have any further details with me, but I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator ABETZ: Okay. Could you please provide a detailed—and I stress 'detailed'—answer on notice in relation to the due diligence undertaken, whether the Prime Minister was actually advised in relation to this particular project, and on what basis the announcement was made and in consultation with whom? I ask because—and I cannot put it any stronger than this—I have been advised that the hall was fully insured and in those circumstances could be rebuilt with insurance moneys. So I am just wondering what due diligence occurred and led to the Prime Minister making this spur-of-the-moment announcement while she was in Tasmania that she was going to be providing this $250,000. Look, we Tasmanians will accept every dollar we can get—and more!—but one just wonders whether there may have been other projects potentially worthy of money that were not fully insured. Perhaps I could now move on to the Prime Minister's understanding of broadband. Do the people who connect broadband, who do the physical work, get paid? One assumes they get paid.
Senator Conroy : I think you might need to clarify your question.
Senator ABETZ: The people who connect broadband to houses and the community, they get paid, and one imagines that the broadband cable costs something. So, that is why I was puzzled that the Prime Minister could say that taxpayers could get high-speed fibre broadband for free.
Senator Conroy : That is because it costs nothing to get it connected to your home; it is free.
Senator ABETZ: So, who actually pays the wages of the people who do the connection? And who pays for the actual cable? It just drops out of the sky?
Senator Conroy : I am excited for the opportunity to explain to you basic economics as well as the supply chain of the National Broadband Network.
Senator ABETZ: No, the question is, who pays for it?
Senator Conroy : Let me be very clear about this. The connection is free. The people who do the connection are subcontractors of Visionstream.
Senator ABETZ: And the subcontractors are doing it for free, can I tell you, at the moment—because they are not being paid.
Senator Conroy : Visionstream are employed by NBN Co. as the prime contractor.
Senator ABETZ: How can you assert it is for free? Surely somebody must be paying?
Senator Conroy: I am making it very clearly to you. When we come and knock on your door, Senator Abetz, the NBN will be connected for free.
Senator ABETZ: Will there be any payment that I have to make for the rollout of this broadband?
Senator Conroy: No. You get it for free when it is connected.
Senator ABETZ: You see, Minister, at a previous estimates you advised us that all of this rollout was going to have a commercial return from the users.
Senator Conroy: Those two statements are not inconsistent. The users pay a monthly fee to their retail service provider, who then pays a wholesale fee to the National Broadband Network.
Senator ABETZ: Does that include the cost of connecting it to the home? Ultimately it does, does it not? Yes.
Senator Conroy: The cost is free for connection.
Senator ABETZ: So there is no cost to either the retailer or the wholesaler to get this connection to your home?
Senator RYAN: It's magic!
Senator ABETZ: Yes, it's the magic pudding!
Senator Conroy: The cost of having the fibre and box installed and connected to the working parts of the NBN when you flick the switch are free.
Senator ABETZ: But there is a cost associated with doing that, is there not?
Senator Conroy: There has never been an argument. The total cost of the National Broadband Network is $37.4 billion.
Senator ABETZ: So there is a cost associated with that.
Senator Conroy: Yes. There is a cost of the National Broadband Network—it is in the business plan. It is stated at $37.4 billion.
Senator ABETZ: Yes, and the cost of that will be borne by?
Senator Conroy: It is paid for by the customers of the National Broadband Network, who just for—
Senator ABETZ: Would they be the people that you are thinking—
Senator Conroy: No, they would not, actually.
Senator ABETZ: They are the people you are thinking, aren't they?
Senator Conroy: They are the retail service providers—
CHAIR: Senator; Minister! I draw your attention—you are not assisting Hansard or the committee if you continue to have this cross-dialogue without waiting for responses. Senator Abetz, have you any further questions relating to the committee?
Senator ABETZ: In relation to 457 visas, the government's review and its concerns about 457 visas, have we ever been told in detail what steps the Prime Minister took to find a person with the necessary skill set to fill the position now held by Mr McTernan.
Senator Conroy: I am happy to take that on notice for you.
Senator FIFIELD: He hates publicity that Mr McTernan, I have noticed. Very media shy.
Senator ABETZ: Yes. What advertisements and employment and recruiting agencies or other attempts did Ms Gillard use or undertake to seek a person in Australia to fill the position?
Senator Conroy: I would have to take that on notice for you.
Senator ABETZ: I would have thought that, given the high and mighty attitude of the government, you might have been well and truly capable of answering those sorts of questions to ensure that there would be no hint of hypocrisy around this government on this issue.
Senator Conroy: I will have to take that on notice for you, Senator Abetz.
Senator RYAN: We are going to be here for a couple of days. You would have the capacity to get an answer back later tonight or tomorrow.
Senator Conroy: I have taken it on notice, as I am entitled to do.
Senator ABETZ: Senator Ryan is being helpful in trying to facilitate the estimates process, but his kind suggestion clearly has not been taken up.
CHAIR: Senator Abetz and Senator Ryan, I do not think I need to remind you of the standing orders. The minister has said he would take it on notice, as it is his prerogative to do. Have you any further questions?
Senator ABETZ: I do. Talking about this 457 visa holder, who is ultimately responsible for the tweets that emerge from Mr McTernan and the PMO press office?
Senator Conroy: I would have to take that one on notice. I should note that with my own Twitter account—it is Conroy MO, meaning ministerial office—my staff will not let me near it—
Senator ABETZ: Very wise.
Senator Conroy: so I could not speak for anybody else. I would have to take that on notice for you.
Senator SINODINOS: But you authorise the tweets, Minister, don't you?
Senator Conroy: I hope I know what is going out. Unfortunately the blue cable to connect me to the system is not available at the moment. It will be available shortly.
Senator FIFIELD: You are offline?
Senator Conroy: I am currently offline, that is true, but I am happy to take that on notice for you, Senator Abetz.
Senator ABETZ: There have been a number of, if I might say, highly political and inappropriate tweets emanating—
Senator Conroy: Really? From personal ministerial staff? Political tweets? I am in shock.
Senator ABETZ: One would have hoped there would be a bit more maturity and integrity in the Prime Minister's office but I daresay they are led by example, and that is the issue.
Senator Conroy: We cannot all be as lucky and gifted as you, Senator Abetz.
Senator ABETZ: I am not talking about gifted, I am just talking about common standards of decency—something that seems to have completely deserted this government from the Prime Minister down, including this Mr McTernan.
Senator Conroy: I reject your characterisations, Senator Abetz.
Senator ABETZ: Chances are the Prime Minister could not have found somebody like him in Australia, which I think is a great compliment to all Australians. I move on to question 2852, which was answered, and 2913, relating to one Ms Power's accident on 18 October at the Lodge. Can I have a specific answer to the question: did the House Manager at the Lodge make notes of Ms Power's accident on 18 October and again on 25 October 2010?
Ms Leon : No. No notes were taken.
Senator ABETZ: Did the department ever form a view about whether or not Ms Power's injury was genuine, or genuinely related to her employment?
Ms Leon : These are not matters on which the department forms a view. When a person lodges a claim under the occupational health and safety legislation their case is referred to Comcare and it is Comcare who has the statutory responsibility for assessing whether an injury is caused by the workplace and arranging for such remediation or compensation as might be appropriate for the case.
Senator ABETZ: So the department never makes these assessments?
Ms Leon : The agency responsible for making assessments about workplace injury is Comcare.
Senator ABETZ: And you do not provide, ever, any advice from the employer point of view as to whether you think that the case might be legitimate or illegitimate?
Ms Leon : I do not believe Comcare seeks our opinion.
Senator ABETZ: Do you volunteer it from time to time?
Ms Leon : What they usually ask for is such knowledge or records as we have about the circumstances of the injury or the nature of the person's employment or the factual circumstances surrounding the incident that has been brought to their attention, but it is not the role of the department to express a view about whether an injury is a workplace compensable injury—that is the responsibility of Comcare. We do not hold ourselves out to be the experts in this; the experts in this are Comcare.
Senator ABETZ: So you never volunteer—and be very careful with this answer—any information when somebody puts in a claim that it might be legitimate and they should definitely be looked after, or that you think there are some very real concerns around this claim and that Comcare should use extra care in assessing it? I would have thought any diligent employer would take that sort of an approach.
Ms Leon : I could not, of course, answer a question to say that we never provide certain types of information without reviewing every compensation case we have ever been involved in, so I am sure that you are not asking me to do that. What I said was that it is not the department's role to form a view as to whether a person's injury is caused or occasioned by their workplace; that responsibility is with Comcare. What the employer does is provide such factual information as is relevant to the material before Comcare. For example, a person may say, 'I was injured in undertaking certain kinds of duties,' and then describe those duties. The department might say, 'The person's duties were as follows,' and set out the duties that the person undertakes. Clearly, if there were a conflict between those two statements, Comcare would have to have regard to the fact that there had been certain duties claimed by the employer and different duties claimed by the employee, if that is the kind of circumstance that you are referring to.
Senator ABETZ: We are being very cute here, because ultimately it is the court that may determine and reject Comcare's determination. I am not asking you for the official determination. What I am asking is whether or not the department in this particular case volunteered any information, as would be normal, such as, 'We think this is a genuine claim,' or 'somebody saw her trip over and complain immediately,' or 'she shrieked upon doing something,' or 'she was found at the bottom of some stairs with a broken leg and was taken away by ambulance.' Somebody complains later that they have got a crook ankle but were seen limping into work on Monday morning. You do not make the final determination, the court does that, but surely you would make those sorts of observations known to Comcare to assist them in their task. You would be duty bound, would you not, to provide that sort of information?
Ms Leon : As I think I said, we would provide such information and records as we have available about any complaint the employee may have made about an injury or any incident that we have knowledge of. We would ordinarily provide that in relation to a Comcare claim, yes.
Senator ABETZ: As a result, did the department come to a preliminary view or a hunch—let's not get tied up in technical terminology—which is a general term, as to the appropriateness of this claim?
Ms Leon : I do not think it is the department's role to come to a view or have a hunch.
Senator ABETZ: It might not be your role, but did they? As we know, at the end of the day, it is up to the courts to determine whether or not it is a justifiable workers compensation claim. We do not expect you to be the court—nobody suggested that. But, in determining whether or not Comcare should pay out or should not pay out, et cetera, they are usually advised quite heavily by the employing agency, who have got the people on the ground who can assist them with giving their version of events, as to what they believe occurred. For you to say that the department just threw their hands up in the air, made no comment to Comcare and said, 'You sort it out,' just does not ring true.
Ms Leon : Senator, I did not say that.
Senator ABETZ: Right. So what was the view of the department?
Ms Leon : I said that it is not the department's role to form a view as to whether an injury is compensable or not, but that we would provide Comcare, in any case affecting the department, with all of the information we had available about the circumstances in which the injury was said to have occurred. We certainly would not throw our hands up and say, 'We don't know,' but it is not our role to form a view and the department does not form views that it has no statutory role to form. I do not have with me the paperwork for the Comcare claim for the employee that I think you are referring to, but I am happy to take on notice to confirm my expectation that, in relation to any such claim, we would have provided all of the information that was available to us. I will come back to you to confirm, or otherwise, that we provided such information as we had.
Senator ABETZ: Yes, if you could do so, because one would imagine that if this person kept on undertaking certain tasks at the Lodge after the dates or between the dates asserted, then that might have helped Comcare make its determination. I dare say that information would have indicated the department's view as well. It is quite a simple issue and I look forward to getting a proper answer, thank you.
Senator SINODINOS: Can I start on cabinet process? It is a question as much probably to the minister as the department. I refer to an article by Richard Denniss, Executive Director of the Australia Institute on 9 April 2013 in the Fin Review titled 'Evidence-based policy gets lost in the politics of the day' and in passing in this article he refers to:
… here in Australia, where major cabinet decisions are made on late-night phone hook-ups, we will probably have to wait two decades to read what sort of 'evidence' cabinet takes into account.
Are you aware of decisions being made on late-night phone hook-ups in your capacity as a cabinet minister?
Senator Conroy: I am not familiar with all decisions made by cabinet as I am not on all cabinet committees. You would be very familiar with cabinet processes, I think, from your past life.
Senator SINODINOS: Refresh my memory.
Senator Conroy: I am just wondering how on earth a cabinet process gave $10 million to Malcolm Turnbull's best mate for a cloud-seeding project. Did that go through cabinet?
Senator SINODINOS: We are talking about—
Senator Conroy: You are an expert, and I am seeking your guidance here.
Senator SINODINOS: Well just for the record, I was gone in 2007.
Senator Conroy: You were gone. You bailed. No wonder.
Senator SINODINOS: I have no answer to that question for you. You are responsible. Are you aware of any examples?
Ms Leon : Senator, perhaps I can intervene here to indicate that, as you may be aware, there is a capacity within the cabinet suite to have ministers present by telepresence, which we do sometimes in order to facilitate the presence of ministers at cabinet meetings.
Senator Conroy: No. You are using a tin can and a piece of string like the opposition do.
Senator SINODINOS: Minister, do not interrupt. The officer is getting serious.
Senator Conroy: You do not always have the capacity for high-quality, high-definition video conferencing. You would be unfamiliar with this concept.
CHAIR: Ms Leon, you have the call.
Ms Leon : There certainly would be occasions where a minister may be present at a cabinet meeting by telepresence in the Parliament House briefing room. While we always endeavour to hold cabinet meetings at seasonable hours, the work of government is not always completely amenable to being conducted during daylight hours. It is quite possible that there have been cabinet meetings held in the evenings. It is possible that there have on occasion been ministers present by telepresence. I think we, and ministers generally, have found that it is greatly beneficial to be able to participate in a cabinet meeting, if it is being held at a time when not all ministers are present in Canberra, without them having to fly all the way to Canberra for the sake of perhaps a one-hour or two-hour meeting.
Senator SINODINOS: These late-night meetings, or hook-ups, or whatever or telepresence would involve the usual recording of decisions and the rest?
Senator Conroy: When we have cabinet meetings the relevant staff are present to take records, whether they are videoconference or phone-hook ups, if that has been the case, or in person.
Senator FAULKNER: There are times of course as you know, Senator Sinodinos, when officials are not required to be present. This happens under all governments. It may not happen often, but there are times when, as you know, different types of cabinet meetings take place when note-takers 1, 2 and 3 might not be present. This is not unknown, is it?
Senator SINODINOS: Let us take an example that the alleged celebrated case, Minister, of the Nation Broadband Network. There were discussions on a VIP aircraft. Was it you and the Prime Minister?
Senator Conroy: I think there was more than me present in the discussion, but that was not a cabinet decision. I think, from recollection, it was a briefing that then led to cabinet subcommittee discussions, and, more importantly then, a number of months worth of work. I can promise you, as I have said before to others, that I lost count of the number of cabinet subcommittee meetings we had about the National Broadband Network before we actually announced it. I can give you one promise: we had a hell of a lot more meetings of cabinet and subcommittees on the National Broadband Network than you did on Malcolm Turnbull's $10 billion Murray-Darling water plan. We did a lot more.
Senator SINODINOS: So what was the purpose of the cabinet briefing on the VIP aircraft?
Senator Conroy: I did not say it was a cabinet briefing. I said it was a briefing.
Senator SINODINOS: What was the purpose of the briefing?
Senator Conroy: To brief the Prime Minister.
Senator SINODINOS: And that led to what action? Did that lead to the final sign-off on the NBN? Was that what that was about?
Senator Conroy: No, the final sign-off of the NBN was, I think, on the day of the announcement of the NBN in about May. Subsequent to the discussions that took place between myself and the Prime Minister, I think the SPBC were having some meetings in Brisbane, and there was some discussion. I was authorised to go away and then spent the best part of three months having—it felt like at the time—endless meetings of cabinet subcommittees, but also extensive work and extensive research before the final recommendations were taken to the cabinet. So, no, your characterisation is both inaccurate, and suggests that you clearly had no idea what Malcolm Turnbull was up to when he spent $10 billion on the famous Murray-Darling basin plan. As you say, you may have left the PM's office before such munificence was handed out.
Senator SINODINOS: What about the media laws? What was the process of consulting cabinet on your media laws?
Senator Conroy: There was a cabinet meeting.
Senator SINODINOS: Was there a discussion at the cabinet about the pros and cons of the new laws?
Senator Conroy: I am not going to discuss with you what takes place in cabinet. There was a presentation and a decision.
Senator SINODINOS: The reason I ask is that there were reports in the papers that it was essentially a 'take it or leave it' proposition to the cabinet. Is that right?
Senator Conroy: As a seasoned veteran, Senator Sinodinos, you do not always believe what you read in the newspapers surely. I am not going to comment—
Senator SINODINOS: I do not always believe what you tell me, Senator Conroy.
Senator Conroy: What can I say, Senator Sinodinos? I am not in a position and have no intention of commenting on media commentary on the cabinet processes. If you would like to ask a factual question rather than, 'Can you confirm a bit of gossip that I read a newspaper,' then okay.
Senator SINODINOS: We are just trying to dispel a rumour.
Senator Conroy: I have never been able to dispel the rumour, because it is true, that Malcolm Turnbull spent $10 billion, literally on the back of an envelope, on the water policy.
Senator SINODINOS: Has PM&C done some sort of analysis over time of the number of cabinet meetings that occur and the number of cabinet decisions—that sort of thing?
Ms Leon : We report on the number of cabinet meetings and decisions every year in our annual report. For the 2011-12 year, which are the most recent statistics, the annual report indicates that there have been 52 meetings of cabinet, so about one a week; 27 meetings of the National Security Committee; 18 meetings of the Parliamentary Business Committee; and 97 meetings of other cabinet committees.
Senator SINODINOS: That was which year?
Ms Leon : That was 2011-12. That is the last year for which full-year figures are available. The 2012-13 figures will, of course, appear in our annual report this year. So, in the course of that year, the total was 196 meetings of cabinet and its committees.
Senator SINODINOS: And what about meetings, which may pre-date the current Prime Minister, of the so-called 'group of four'?
Ms Leon : The SPBC? I do not have the figures of each committee broken down here; I just have the total number of committee meetings. But in 2009-10 there were 103 cabinet committee meetings other than PBC and NSC, and in 2010-11 there were 85 of those other cabinet committee meetings.
Senator SINODINOS: Have you done comparisons over time, going back to previous governments?
Ms Leon : They are all in our annual report.
Senator Conroy: Perhaps you could also look at the cabinet process that worked on the example I was asking about before, Senator Sinodinos—that is, a Matt Handbury, a neighbour of Mr Turnbull—
Senator RYAN: Chair, how is this—
Senator Conroy: who was chair and part-owner and a contributor to the Wentworth Forum—
Senator RYAN: Chair, point of order. [Inaudible]and gets to ask himself questions and answer them—
Senator Conroy: No, I am just wanting to make sure we have—
CHAIR: Order! There is a point of order before the chair. Senator Ryan, what is your point of order?
Senator RYAN: Relevance. You can't come in here and ask your own dorothy dixers, Stephen.
Senator Conroy: No, I am just wanting to clarify—
CHAIR: Can I just remind—
Senator Conroy: cabinet processes—
Senator Conroy: which show that from 14 August—
CHAIR: Minister! Can I just remind the committee and the witnesses—
Senator Ryan interjecting—
CHAIR: Senator Ryan! The process of estimates is that the committee has the opportunity to put questions. It is not part of the process for the minister to ask questions of the committee.
Senator RYAN: Or even of himself!
CHAIR: I remind everyone of the standing orders. I will ask Senator Sinodinos to continue with his line of questioning.
Senator Conroy: I haven't finished answering it.
Senator FIFIELD: You haven't finished answering your own question? That doesn't count!
Senator Conroy: I am answering his question, and I am entitled to take all questions.
Senator SINODINOS: I didn't ask you about Mr Handbury.
Senator Conroy: I am entitled to take all questions and answer them as I see fit.
Senator RYAN: No, you're not.
Senator Conroy: Yes, I am.
Senator RYAN: You can't be asking—
CHAIR: Senator Ryan! We know very well that the minister has the call. He is quite correct, as you well know, that it is available to him to answer the questions and take all questions that are put to witnesses.
Senator RYAN: Yes, but now he is saying something completely irrelevant.
CHAIR: Minister, will you—
Senator FIFIELD: Not if he is being completely obstructive and irrelevant.
CHAIR: complete your answer.
Senator RYAN: Chair, he cannot answer a question that wasn't—
CHAIR: Minister, you have the call to complete your answer.
Senator Conroy: Just in terms of the context, so I can complete my answer—and the longer you talk, the longer it will take me to give the answer—on 14 August 2007 the Australian Rain Corporation—
Senator RYAN: Chair, point of order!
Senator FIFIELD: There is no relationship to the question asked!
Senator Conroy: It is about a cabinet process.
Senator FIFIELD: Chair, point of order.
Senator SINODINOS: What have you got to hide, Senator Conroy?
Senator Conroy: I've got nothing to hide. But we will get to the bottom of some of this as well.
CHAIR: There is a point of order being raised by Senator Ryan. And I understand that Senator Fifield will raise a point of order. Senator Ryan, your point of order is?
Senator RYAN: My point of order is that this bears no relationship to the question that was asked by Senator Sinodinos. The minister, you are quite right, can take questions; but he cannot answer with facts that are utterly unrelated to the question that was asked.
CHAIR: Senator Fifield, you have another point of order?
Senator FIFIELD: Yes, it is on the same point of order. According to your ruling, Senator Conroy could sit there and read a recipe book and that would be considered by you to be relevant.
Senator Conroy: I don't think that's what Senator Polley said.
CHAIR: There is no point of order. What I said was—
Senator FIFIELD: Senator Polley said you can answer it however you like.
CHAIR: What I said was that we are all very much aware of the standing orders. The minister can take the questions that are put to the witnesses and respond to them. You know very well that I cannot direct the minister on how to respond—
Senator RYAN: You can stop him being irrelevant.
CHAIR: Excuse me, I am speaking, Senator Ryan. I remind the minister of the standing orders and ask him to conclude his answer.
Senator Conroy: Thank you very much. If we want to have a lengthy discussion about cabinet processes then I am going to have a lengthy discussion with you, Senators Sinodinos and Fifield, about the Australian Rain Corporation's presentation to the National Water Commission and how $10 million was given to a Liberal Party donor. And then I am going to have a long discussion—
Senator FIFIELD: Chair, you are turning this into a farce.
Senator Conroy: about the cabinet processes that went to—
Senator FIFIELD: Point of order, Chair.
Senator Conroy: a $10 billion 'revolution' on the Murray-Darling.
CHAIR: Minister, there is a point of order before the chair. Senator Ryan—
Senator Conroy: I have completed my answer, if that helps.
Senator RYAN: I think it was Senator Fifield on this occasion.
CHAIR: We will defer to Senator Fifield. Your point of order is?
Senator FIFIELD: Chair, if—
CHAIR: The minister has just completed his answer, so we can move on.
Senator FIFIELD: If he has completed his answer, and we will go back to being relevant—
Senator RYAN: With your facilitation, Chair.
Senator FIFIELD: then I will not persist.
CHAIR: We will move on. I remind all senators and the minister that we have limited time to examine these areas. You have completed your answer, Minister. Senator Sinodinos, you have the call to continue your questioning.
Senator SINODINOS: Thank you. I am happy to move on. On the Prime Minister's speech on Monday, 29 April 2013 at the Per Capita conference—a major speech regarding the budget—was support for that speech provided by the department?
Dr de Brouwer : Yes, Senator, in terms of preparing the draft it was worked up primarily through the office but with the support of officials from the department in terms of fact checking and content.
Senator SINODINOS: An initial draft would be the PMO.
Dr de Brouwer : Yes, that is my recollection.
Senator SINODINOS: In the speech, the PM said:
Treasury now estimates that this reduction—
This is in revenue—
will increase to around $12bn by the end of the financial year.
Was that number provided for the PM's speech from the department? Was that from the PMO? What was the process?
Dr de Brouwer : I will confirm that specific number.
Mr Hazlehurst : Would you mind restating that question?
Senator SINODINOS: It says:
Treasury now estimates that this reduction—
This is in reference to receipts—
will increase to around $12bn by the end of the financial year.
Mr Hazlehurst : I will confirm that during the course of the day, but I am pretty certain they are the numbers from MYEFO.
Senator SINODINOS: This was for a speech on 29 April. The Treasurer on 21 April had said on the Insiders program that the revenue write-down was $7.5 billion, then the finance minister on 7 May, a week or so after the PM's speech, said that the revenue write-down was $17 billion.
Senator Conroy: Yes, so what is your question, Senator Sinodinos?
Senator SINODINOS: My question is: how come the numbers changed in what appears to be a short space of time?
Senator Conroy: I am happy to take that on notice and see if there is any information we can give you. I am sure no-one was misleading the Australian public.
Senator SINODINOS: I have not made that inference. To make it clear to the senators and for the minister's benefit, I am not inferring anybody mislead anything, but it seems a remarkable process that these receipts' estimates can be revised so quickly in what appears to be a short space of time.
Senator Conroy: Thank you for your observation. I will take it on notice and get back to you.
Senator SINODINOS: You are in a particularly useful mood today.
Senator Conroy: Your questions are laced with other than factual information.
Senator SINODINOS: Thank you very much. Madam Chair, he is beating up on me; you have to protect me—help. In relation to budget forecasting, I think this is a question asked of Mr Hazlehurst last time around the Joint Economic Forecasting Group which would have met in the run-up to this year's budget. Can you recall when JEFG last met in the run-up to this particular budget?
Mr Hazlehurst : Yes, that would have been the March round.
Senator SINODINOS: Was there any sort of formal or informal contact with PM&C after that? I am trying to get at when you would have become aware of the shifting revenue numbers.
Senator Conroy: We are not in a position where we can tell you what information was passed. You can ask for factual information about when meetings took place, but you cannot ask for the content and the discussions. You are actually asking: what did you know and when did you know it.
Senator SINODINOS: No, I am not asking that.
Senator Conroy: In Senate estimates you can ask about whether a meeting took place but you cannot ask about content.
Senator SINODINOS: You can ask about when officers became aware of a particular fact, or matter, or issue.
Senator Conroy: You cannot say, 'When did you know that the deficit was $17 billion?'
Senator SINODINOS: Madam Chair, the minister is now setting his own rules for this committee.
Senator FIFIELD: The minister is seeking to chair this estimates.
Senator SINODINOS: After the election you may have that opportunity, but I think before the election we should at least try to get the questions answered.
Senator Conroy: Let's be clear, you do not get to ask, through a very clever way, to confirm the content of a meeting such as, 'When did they tell you that it was X dollars?' You can ask, 'When did the meeting take place?' You cannot ask for an exposition of the content.
Senator SINODINOS: Did you have further meetings after the March round of JEFG? Was the Department of the Treasury your further contact regarding the revenue estimates in the budget?
Senator Conroy: You have just asked what the contents of the meetings were about. That was your question. We have just said that you can ask, 'Did a meeting of this committee take place?' Factually, what date? Who attended? You can ask all of those. It is not within the standing orders to ask for the content that was discussed at a meeting.
Senator SINODINOS: During last year's budget estimates the department testified that it uses the AUSM model in order to come to some independent views on the budget and the state of the economy. Did you use the AUSM model in the run-up to this year's budget?
Mr Hazlehurst : We did not use the AUSM model to model the fiscal outlook for the budget, no.
Senator SINODINOS: So, as far as the fiscal outlook is concerned, you took the Treasury numbers, or whatever was the outcome of the JEFG process and any further revisions maybe made by Treasury, is that right—on forecasts?
Mr Hazlehurst : That is correct. The forecasts that are undertaken by JEFG do not directly go to revenue and expenditure. They are more about the other economic parameters.
Senator SINODINOS: So what did you use the AUSM model for in the run-up to this year's budget?
Senator Conroy: Senator Sinodinos, you can ask, 'What did you use?' but I do not know you that you can ask what modelling they did with it. Keep going, but you are getting dangerously close to crossing the line again.
Mr Hazlehurst : As flagged in our response to the question on notice and the answer that we have provided, what we use the model for is to provide input into the JEFG process itself and for us to then test, if you like, the sensitivity of the estimates that other agencies might be having to different assumptions. In other words, we use the model and we provide input to Treasury and Finance on our view of the economy so that, if we have a different view to them, we can then unpack that by looking at how the model has produced a different result. It was no different in the JEFG round that preceded this budget.
Senator SINODINOS: Have you looked at, for example, the forecast on nominal GDP?
Senator Conroy: Sorry, Senator Sinodinos, but again you are asking Mr Hazlehurst to confirm information which is not covered by Senate estimates. It was a very gentle and kind way you were doing it; I will give you all credit. But I am not sure that is within the standing orders.
Senator SINODINOS: That is one of the parameters that the officer mentioned before--a test of the sensitivity of some of the budget parameters.
Senator Conroy: Yes, a generic question about testing some of the parameters and a generic answer. Now you are starting to ask specifically about testing individual parameters. You are asking whether the actual ongoing work—
Senator FIFIELD: Why on earth can't that be done? That is what Senate estimates are for.
Senator SINODINOS: You have to test the estimates.
Senator Conroy: And they have confirmed that they have, but now you want to unpack it and start asking individual questions.
Senator RYAN: He is allowed to. That is what Senate estimates are for.
Senator Conroy: I am very pleased to hear that this time.
Senator RYAN: Chair, the minister is asserting that Senator Sinodinos is not allowed to ask questions that, in his words, 'unpack' budget estimates.
Senator Conroy: That is not what I said at all. That is not what he is actually asking.
Senator SINODINOS: You cannot ask a factual question about individual parameters?
Senator FIFIELD: Senator Conroy is saying that we can only ask names, dates and times.
CHAIR: Senator Sinodinos has the call. He can put the questions and it is up to the witnesses—
Senator Conroy: I am sure the senator could reword the question fairly simply.
CHAIR: We have gone past our afternoon tea break, I do apologise. When we recommence at five past four we will have a private meeting to talk about a couple of issues before we continue.
Proceedings suspended from 15:49 to 16:07
CHAIR: I call the committee back to order. Are you all right with your technology, Minister?
Senator Conroy: All is well—I think we are online.
Senator SINODINOS: Can I clarify with the minister and the officers: are you claiming public interest immunity in not answering some of these questions?
Senator Conroy: No, I am saying they are not relevant to the terms of the Senate estimates. You cannot ask for the advice that is given—
Senator RYAN: Yes, you can.
Senator Conroy: Sorry, you can ask for it, but you are not going to be given the advice that is given to government.
Senator RYAN: On what grounds are you refusing to provide that information? There are a certain number of claims—
Senator Conroy: The longstanding tradition is that you cannot ask for copies of advice to government. This is working advice going to the government. It is pretty straightforward.
Senator RYAN: I can FOI it, Senator Conroy.
Senator Conroy: Then feel free.
Senator RYAN: So you are saying now that Senate estimates committees can get less information than FOI? That is your contention?
Senator Conroy: As you will discover one day, the FOI laws are much broader than they were under your previous government.
Senator SINODINOS: I think we will get our own advice on that. Maybe we should move on for now.
Senator Conroy: I have been here 17 years and that has always been the longstanding convention.
Senator FIFIELD: We could always seek advice from the Clerk.
Senator Conroy: You cannot actually say, 'What happened at this committee hearing? Tell us what advice you're giving to government.'
Senator SINODINOS: I think we should have a rigourous, evidence based approach. We will get some advice from the Clerk.
Senator Conroy: Like on the $10 billion Malcolm Turnbull water plan.
CHAIR: Senator Sinodinos, you have the call.
Senator SINODINOS: Your love affair with Malcolm Turnbull is your business, Senator Conroy.
Senator Conroy: It was the cabinet's lack of love for him that was the problem.
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Sinodinos.
Senator SINODINOS: I refer to the review undertaken by the Treasury of its budget forecasting. Did the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet provide any contribution by way of resources or make a submission to the review? Without going to the content of what you may have said, were you consulted?
Senator Conroy: You can ask whether they were consulted. I have no problem with that.
Mr Hazlehurst : I do not recall. We certainly did not make a formal submission and we certainly did not contribute any resources. I will need to take on notice whether we actually had a meeting with those undertaking the review. I do not recall one.
Senator SINODINOS: As far as you are aware, the Treasury conducted a review of its forecasting performance, but it did not look at its forecasting model or models. Is that right?
Mr Hazlehurst : I understand it was a comprehensive review, but obviously for all of the ins and outs of it you would need to speak to Treasury.
Senator SINODINOS: But, as far as you are aware, this review was at the initiative of the Treasurer or the Treasury?
Mr Hazlehurst : Yes.
Senator SINODINOS: In other words, it was not a whole-of-government exercise and it was not requested by the Prime Minister.
Dr de Brouwer : Not that we are aware of. The Treasury has conducted a number of these reviews over the years. Dr Parkinson spoke about this. I think this is the third one that has been done while he has been involved in macroeconomics within the Treasury. I thought it was a Treasury-initiated review, but we will come back and confirm that.
Senator SINODINOS: But, in the past year and the years before that, has PM&C at any stage audited the Treasury's performance in terms of its forecasts? Have you engaged with them about the quality of their forecasts?
Dr de Brouwer : The JEFG process is one that focuses on the specifics of a forecast and then reflects on the success around that. I am not aware of any particular methodological assessment of Treasury's approach. As my colleague Mr Hazlehurst said, one reason why that model is used within PM&C is that economics is, of itself, very imprecise and that model is one of a variety of ways of trying to understand the interrelationships in the economy. Economists have different takes on that, and it is useful to run different methodologies to assess outcomes. That is an informal way of saying how this department can contribute to that debate, but we have not had any formal review of Treasury's modelling.
Senator SINODINOS: But, once the JEFG process is over and done with, the formal responsibility at the officials level for the forecasts lies with Treasury. Is that right?
Dr de Brouwer : Yes, that is a Treasury-run process.
Senator SINODINOS: I will move on to paid parking. There was a decision in the federal budget by the government to introduce paid parking into the Parliamentary Triangle. There was an article in TheCanberra Times on 18 May titled 'Top public servants to escape fees for parking'. It says:
… Prime Minister and Cabinet has 285 parking spaces for Senior Executive Service officers and for long-serving staff.
Is that number accurate?
Ms Leon : We have 285 parking spaces for staff under the building and a small number of spaces for visitors and mobility impaired drivers. We recoup from all users of the car parks, including SES officers, the FBT that the department pays in relation to those spaces.
Senator SINODINOS: So, in effect, they are being charged something.
Ms Leon : That is correct, and the FBT, as you would be aware, is calculated based on the cost of the nearest paid car park. If paid car parking at a particular rate becomes prevalent throughout the Parliamentary Triangle then that is the rate at which the FBT will be calculated and reflected in the fees that we charge to our staff, including SES officers.
Senator SINODINOS: How will the budget decision impact you, then?
Ms Leon : It will depend on what the impact is on FBT, but the way in which that is calculated will be affected by the daily rate that is charged outside the building. So we will, as we do each year, get a private ruling from the tax office as to what our FBT is in relation to the underground car parks and we will charge our staff, including SES, accordingly.
Senator SINODINOS: So which would be the closest equivalent car park for this comparative purpose?
Ms Leon : At the moment the closest equivalent car park is further along National Circuit, near the ANAO's office. But there are other paid car parks in the vicinity and it will depend on what rates are charged. It is car parks within a kilometre of the building that determine the FBT applicable to the workplace.
Senator SINODINOS: Okay, and will the fees of those other car parks go up?
Ms Leon : They may go up, but I do not think we have had any formal advice at this stage as to what they intend their car parking rates to be.
Senator SINODINOS: Okay. When that happens, you do not get any supplementation for that?
Ms Leon : No, we do not.
Senator SINODINOS: Okay, good. Can I just move back to a couple of economic issues with Dr de Brouwer.
Senator Conroy: There might be a more appropriate place.
Senator SINODINOS: I understand that, but this relates to comments that the Prime Minister's former economic adviser, Mr Stephen Koukoulas, made on Lateline on Friday, 3 May 2013. He stated among other things:
The problem with the Australian level of gross debt now and this is the Basel three requirements for looking after banks in the post GFC world is we don't have enough debt. Australia is one of two countries, the other one being Singapore, that got special dispensation because they don't have enough debt to look after the banks and the RBA is guaranteeing the bank deposits. So we've got gross debt that's ridiculously low.
Do you agree with that statement? Do you understand that statement?
Senator Conroy: Sorry, I am not sure you can ask the opinion of officers.
Senator RYAN: He was asking you.
Senator Conroy: Oh, me. I will have to take that on notice and pass it on to the Treasurer for an answer. What I can absolutely guarantee you is that Australia does not have a debt problem. You are not an illiterate, and I know you understand the difference between gross debt and net debt.
Senator SINODINOS: But I am asking the officers whether they agree with this statement that this economist is making about the level of gross debt.
Senator Conroy: Now you are asking them for an opinion—if they agree with an opinion that has been expressed by somebody
Senator SINODINOS: I am asking for their view as economic officials.
Senator Conroy: You are asking them to express an opinion on an opinion—'Do you agree with this opinion?' You cannot ask officers about opinions.
Senator SINODINOS: He is making what he regards as a factual statement.
Senator Conroy: Well, he might be, but you are asking them their opinion of his opinion/factual statements.
Senator SINODINOS: Well, in factual terms, do the officials think that the level of growth debt is too low.
Senator Conroy: In fact, you are now asking them to express an opinion. They are here to answer questions of fact, not to confirm anybody's opinions.
Senator SINODINOS: Has PM&C—
Senator Conroy: But what I can absolutely say to you, as I said, is that we have one of the lowest net debt ratios in the world, and you well know that. You are not in the LaRouchian faction of Senator Joyce.
Senator SINODINOS: Has PM&C received any representations or independent advice which explicitly states that the Australian government does not have enough gross debt?
Dr de Brouwer : The issue—
Senator Conroy: It is a yes or a no: have you received any?
Dr de Brouwer : Yes.
Senator SINODINOS: You have?
Dr de Brouwer : Yes, on a particular element of this, which—
Senator SINODINOS: You have received advice?
Dr de Brouwer : Not advice.
Senator Conroy: No, it was not advice; it is what you asked.
Dr de Brouwer : We have received representations about a dimension of that issue.
Senator Conroy: They have representations that the earth is flat.
Senator SINODINOS: Do you mean from the public?
Dr de Brouwer : Yes.
Senator SINODINOS: Not from within government?
Dr de Brouwer : No, from the public.
Senator SINODINOS: From members of the public who think that the level of gross debt is too low?
Dr de Brouwer : It is framed in a different way. It is framed in the context of the Basel III requirements, which when that was initially being discussed would require particular liquidity requirements on banks. The discussion had been that, where the banks hold that liquidity, for many countries with large debt that has been met by their government bonds. In Australia's case, given that gross debt is low by those standards and given the size of the banking system, it would be impossible to meet those liquidity requirements if they were solely met through the holding of government bonds, as being the preferred liquid asset. So the representations had been that liquidity overall as framed initially within the Basel III committee does not make sense. As a result, this was followed up in G20 discussions at the finance level. The resolution of the problem was that there are different ways to meet that liquidity requirement under Basel III and the way that is now met in Australia under the operations is that the Reserve Bank has a special liquidity line that it can provide at a cost to banks. So it is a way of meeting liquidity requirements. That does not say that government bonds are the only way of meeting—
Senator SINODINOS: So you do not need gross debt simply to accommodate Basel III?
D r de Brouwer : There are other arguments around gross debt, but, the representations made on the issue of gross debt and Basel III, it is how Australian banks meet their liquidity requirements—I am sorry that sounds like a lot of jargon.
Senator SINODINOS: No, don't worry. You have answered the question and shown the ridiculousness of what this person said. And I can say that you do not have to comment—
Senator Conroy: That is your opinion, but I know you were not seeking validation of your opinion.
Senator SINODINOS: I am not seeking a comment. My next questions are more on process and should probably be directed to the deputy secretary. I refer to the Prime Minister's five-day visit to Western Sydney. When was the department made aware that the Prime Minister would be visiting Western Sydney?
Ms Leon : I do not have that date with me. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator SINODINOS: Please check. My reason for asking is: what support was provided to the Prime Minister for this trip?
Ms Leon : The Prime Minister and her office have some standard operating equipment that they take with them all the time when they travel—laptops, portable printers and so on. I think the only additional support of that nature that we provided for this trip, given that it was being stationed in one place for a longer period than the usual on-the-road arrangements, was a multifunction device: a printer and copier.
Senator SINODINOS: Did officers of the department accompany the PM on the trip?
Ms Leon : No, we did not.
Senator SINODINOS: And there were no community cabinets held during that period?
Ms Leon : No, there were not.
Senator SINODINOS: My reason for asking this question was that it was a five-day trip, as you say, stationed in one area. There was a lot of campaign activity being undertaken during that period—and this is my statement; I am not asking—
Senator Conroy: That is your opinion.
Senator SINODINOS: On what basis did PM&C provide that equipment?
Senator Conroy: The writs for the election campaign will be issued on which day?
Ms Leon : It will be around 12 August.
Senator Conroy: Campaigning takes place from then, Senator Sinodinos. Everything else has just been part of government and governing.
Senator SINODINOS: It looked more like campaigning or the discovery of Western Sydney.
Senator Conroy: I cannot help how you think it looked.
Senator SINODINOS: But, as my colleague Senator Ronaldson mentioned earlier, there is a pre-election consultative period which starts on 27 June and then there is the issue of the writs in August and off we go. But, once parliament rises at the end of June, is the department's intention to keep supporting the Prime Minister if she is making trips of this nature into parts of Australia?
Ms Leon : The department provides support for the Prime Minister performing her duties as Prime Minister and will continue to do so.
Senator SINODINOS: Even after 30 June?
Ms Leon : The caretaker period will not commence until the writs are issued. Of course, even once the writs are issued the Prime Minister is still the Prime Minister and we will provide such support to her as is necessary for her to continue to carry out her duties as Prime Minister.
Senator FAULKNER: In fact, government support will be provided also, of course, as it should be, to the Leader of the Opposition during that period, as you would appreciate.
Senator SINODINOS: For which period, though?
Senator FAULKNER: After the issue of the writs. But you would be aware of that, I am sure.
Senator SINODINOS: My next set of questions is about the Cyber Security Centre. During the last round of Senate estimates we had a discussion about the Australian Cyber Security Centre. In fact, Senator Faulkner may be tapping into them now.
Senator SINODINOS: Or they may be tapping into you!
Senator FAULKNER: That is far more likely, but I think that given the way they operate you can be assured they would not do that.
Senator SINODINOS: The objective stated at the last estimates was the co-location by the end of 2013 of all arms of government working on the cyber challenge. Can you provide for us an update on progress in meeting that objective?
Ms McCarthy : Yes. The government should have made by mid-June a decision on the location of the centre. In the meantime, the board of governance that we discussed at the last estimates has been set up and has met twice.
Senator SINODINOS: Who chairs the board of governance?
Mr McKinnon : The board of governance is chaired by the Secretary of the Attorney-General's department.
Senator SINODINOS: At the last estimates, I think the view had been that because most of the staff would be coming from the Defence portfolio someone from Defence would be running the organisation, is that right?
Ms McCarthy : That is right. There will be a coordinator in the first instance, a first assistant secretary from the Department of Defence.
Mr McKinnon : From ASD.
Ms McCarthy : From Defence Signals Directorate.
Senator SINODINOS: Would that coordinator have executive functions? Would they coordinate staff? Would the staff from the various agencies be accountable to that person or to their own portfolios?
Ms McCarthy : They are accountable to their own portfolios in terms of the legislative or policy functions that those portfolios perform. The main role of the coordinator, and Mr McKinnon can expand as necessary, is to ensure the integration of the functions across the centre, to ensure that by co-location, by putting into place those governance arrangements, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is to ensure that information is being exchanged within the centre, that interaction with the rest of government, with the private sector and with international counterparts is occurring effectively.
Mr McKinnon : The only thing that I would add is that the Secretary of Defence is also on the Cyber Security Operations Board, as am I, the Director-General of Security and the director of Defence Signals Directorate. There is a deputy secretary from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the AFP Commissioner, the Chief Information Officer from AGIMO, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Crime Commission.
Senator SINODINOS: They are all on the board?
Mr McKinnon : All of them.
Senator SINODINOS: So by the end of 2013 are we talking about physical co-location?
Ms McCarthy : It is unlikely that the new physical location—as I said, ministers are expected to make a decision on that in June—will be fully set up by the end of 2013. By virtue of the governance arrangements in place and the oversight and direction that the board is giving, we expect that a number of the outcomes we hope to achieve ultimately will already be being achieved in terms of better information sharing and better understanding between the agencies of what they need to do to interact with the rest of government, the private sector and international counterparts.
Senator SINODINOS: Just finally, because you are at the table, what statements has the government put out about the terror attack in London, in Woolwich. Has the Prime Minister put out a statement or are travel advisories being amended to reflect what has happened?
Ms McCarthy : The Attorney-General made some remarks in the aftermath of that attack—I will need to check. There is no change to the travel advisory level.
Senator SINODINOS: Did the AG refer to this as a terror attack?
Ms McCarthy : I would need to check exactly what the Attorney-General said.
Senator SINODINOS: I am just thinking in terms of what implications we draw from it for Australia, that is all. Anyway, you do not have to comment on that. I think that is about it.
Senator FIFIELD: I have some questions in relation to the NDIS, which I will pursue as far as is relevant for PM&C. Before I do, there is an item which I thought I might give PM&C an opportunity to comment upon. It was a piece on that authoritative website, Capital Circle, on 15 April, which read:
Policy with punch: PM&C types are preparing for the rigours of the election campaign as they slug it out in new boxing classes. The Pro-Fit Corporate Health classes are being offered part of PM&C's Health and Wellbeing Program. The classes are "fantastic for stress relief", according to an email circulated to the department's staff.
I thought it might be helpful to give PM&C the opportunity to comment on that piece.
Ms Leon : We provide access to staff to a range of fitness opportunities which they pay for via commercial operators.
Senator FIFIELD: So that is something that is auspiced by the department for the benefit of staff, but the staff pay for the services they use.
Ms Leon : That is right. We make some fitness activities available in a convenient location. We find that it is beneficial to productivity that staff do not have to go far in order to keep fit and if they do keep fit we think it both keeps down our Comcare premium and enables them to continue to perform at maximum efficiency.
Senator FIFIELD: Have you taken part in these particular programs?
Ms Leon : I have not. I try to keep fit myself but I have not taken part in boxing.
Senator FIFIELD: Not other than in estimates anyway.
Ms Leon : Quite.
Senator FIFIELD: Those classes are during business hours or before and after business hours?
Ms Leon : I would have to confirm for you, but I believe it is during the lunch hour.
Senator FIFIELD: Thanks for that, if you could check that. Given that the NDIS is a cooperative venture between the Commonwealth and the states and territories, I know PM&C does have a role. Are the consultations between the Commonwealth and the other jurisdictions about the board appointments something that PM&C has a role in? Does PM&C act as the interface for those consultations or is that done by FaHCSIA with the other jurisdictions?
Ms Cross : As you know, there is a joint taskforce with FaHCSIA and PM&C staff on it. There have been PM&C staff involved in the board appointments, which have been discussed with the states and territories at the senior officials working group which we participate on. They have been discussed at COAG senior officials meetings. So in those contexts we have been consulting with the states on the process.
Senator FIFIELD: Which portfolio ultimately has carriage of that process?
Ms Cross : We are doing that work for Minister Macklin as the disability reform minister. She is the one who has written to states and is responsible for writing to the states and finalising that process with state ministers. So we are doing that work as part of the taskforce working to Minister Macklin.
Senator FIFIELD: How far advanced is the process of consultation with the jurisdictions over board appointments?
Ms Cross : Some months ago we sought nominations from the states and territories for the board. The minister has been liaising with state ministers and, I think on Wednesday or Thursday last week, she wrote to them proposing the board membership based on those discussions that she had had with them.
Senator FIFIELD: So Minister Macklin writes to her state counterparts; she does not write to first ministers in the other jurisdictions?
Ms Cross : No. She writes to her state counterparts. Obviously, if they need to clear it internally, they will do that through their own processes.
Senator FIFIELD: According to the act, the minister—not these exact words but to this effect—needs to be convinced that there is the support of the host jurisdictions for those names put forward.
Ms Cross : The minister has at least two things that she has to do under the act. The first is to make sure that the various members bring the right mix of skills and expertise. That includes experience of the disability system and insurance or actuarial experience. There is a mix that you need across the board. She then needs the unanimous agreement of all states and territories to the members.
Senator FIFIELD: How does the minister satisfy herself that the proposed board members meet those legislative requirements for experience of corporate government, financial management, the operation of insurance schemes and compensation schemes and the provision or use of disability services? How does she satisfy herself of that?
Ms Cross : We provide a briefing on the particular expertise that each nominee would bring to the board and a quite complex matrix, which ticks off the different criteria. She can check, according to the mix of members, whether they would have insurance, actuarial, disability experience and so on. We provide that advice based on gathering information on the candidates and also, in some cases, confirming that with states and territories.
Senator FIFIELD: When the board appointments are announced, will there be a public indication as to which board members satisfy which of the legislatively required criteria?
Ms Cross : I cannot anticipate what will be in the announcement. Normally, you would just make a general announcement, but it is possible they would specify for each individual what skills they bring.
Senator FIFIELD: Is there a target date for the announcement and the appointment of the board members?
Ms Cross : It is as soon as possible. Obviously, we need to wait to hear back from all of the states confirming their unanimous support for the members that have been put forward. It would be as soon as possible after that. We would also have to go through the normal processes for appointments to confirm there are no conflicts of interest—cabinet approval processes for the chair and those sorts of things.
Senator FIFIELD: Would the intention be that the appointments be made before 1 July, before the launch sites go live?
Ms Cross : That would be desirable but, in my experience, with new boards like this it can take longer, because of the different processes that each state needs to go through and because we need to get the responses back from them. If the board is not in place, the launch can go ahead. That will not impact on the launch implementation.
Senator FIFIELD: Are the any implications for the launch commencement if the board is not in place by 1 July?
Ms Cross : The launch will be implemented on 1 July regardless.
Senator FIFIELD: Are there any implications for the appointment of other staff to the agency—for example, the chief executive of the launch transition agency? Does the board need to be in place before that appointment has been made?
Ms Cross : There are a number of people that are already employed, effectively, in the agency.
Senator FIFIELD: I think they are employed at the moment, technically, by FaHCSIA.
Ms Cross : Yes. They are effectively working for the agency but are employed by FaHCSIA. That would continue until the board was in place.
Senator FIFIELD: So the agency cannot come into existence until the board is appointed.
Ms Cross : It can, but we have taken a decision—
Senator FIFIELD: But it is not going to.
Ms Cross : I think the decision is that you would want the board to be in place before that occurred.
Senator FIFIELD: Is it the intention of the government to consult with the opposition on the appointment of board members of the NDIS, given the broad cross party support for the NDIS and given that there are less than 100 days before the real campaign starts and the formal caretaker provisions kick in? Is the government minded to consult on these appointments?
Ms Cross : I do not know that answer to that. I would point out that with the members of the board we are really in the hands of the states and territories in terms of who they put forward. I can take that on notice, if that would be helpful.
Senator FIFIELD: If you could, that would be helpful. The Remuneration Tribunal have issued a determination in relation to the remuneration of the chair and board members.
Ms Cross : That is correct.
Senator FIFIELD: You might want to refresh my memory as to what the determination was in relation to the remuneration for the chair.
Ms Cross : I cannot recall. That is a question that is possibly better directed to FaHCSIA, as they are looking after the details.
Senator FIFIELD: Okay. I have a vague recollection—but do not hold me to it—that it was around $125,000 for the part-time chair.
Ms Cross : We would have to take it on notice. That does not sound improbable, but we do not have the figures with us.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. Are you aware of any other part-time chairs of Commonwealth bodies that receive that level of remuneration? I want to get a handle as to whether that is in the ballpark for chairs of other large bodies. I appreciate that there are few ventures that are larger than the NDIS.
Ms Cross : My recollection is that when we put in our advice to the Remuneration Tribunal we cited a number of examples of similar positions where there may have been similar or higher remuneration, so I think that there is some precedence for this.
Senator FIFIELD: Can you recall what they were?
Ms Cross : I cannot, but I can take that on notice.
Senator FIFIELD: Minister, since we have the benefit of your company at the moment, do you know what the remuneration of the chair of the NBN is?
Senator Conroy : It is above $150,000. It is less than $200,000, but it is above $150,000. I would not want to mislead. I am happy to take it on notice. It is a matter of public record, but I think that it is somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. Ms Cross, what advice does the Remuneration Tribunal require from government when they are looking at these sorts of positions and making determinations?
Ms Cross : This was handled by FaHCSIA, so you would be better off directing the questions to them.
Senator FIFIELD: I will certainly do that. I will now move to the subject of the increase to the Medicare levy to part fund the NDIS from the middle of next year. The Prime Minister made the announcement on 1 May of the government's intention—I was going to say 'to legislate it', but the announcement was of an intention not to legislate it this side of the election, but events moved on and as we know it has now gone through the parliament. Where did that proposal originate from?
Ms Cross : The levy?
Senator FIFIELD: The increase to the levy.
Ms Cross : As far back as the PC report. There were proposals in the original PC report.
Senator FIFIELD: Yes. I am talking about the concrete proposal for this government to increase the levy.
Ms Cross : That was part of the budget process. We would not normally go into the details of the budget process.
Senator FIFIELD: Was it something that originated in Treasury, in FaHCSIA, in PM&C or in the Prime Minister's office?
Ms Cross : I do not think that we would normally comment on the budget process, other than to say that it came out of the budget.
Senator FIFIELD: It came before the budget. In fact, this is interesting, Ms Cross. I would have thought that it did not come out of the budget process, because when the Prime Minister announced it on 1 May she said that the intention was that it would be legislated in the next parliament if the government won the coming election. Therefore, it was not the intention of the government that it be part of the budget that has just been.
Ms Cross : You can include things in the budget that are dependent on legislation. Because it was not happening until 2014, it did not need to be immediately legislated. But the budget often includes measures that will in the end be dependent on legislation being passed.
Senator FIFIELD: Sure. Are you saying that it definitely came from the budget process? And by that do you mean the ERC process?
Ms Cross : I am saying that it definitely came from the budget process.
Senator FIFIELD: Or the revenue cabinet, which happens late in the piece?
Ms Cross : The expenditure review committee is the cabinet committee.
Senator FIFIELD: They might not have revenue cabinet meetings anymore. Things may have changed. Which portfolio had carriage of it? I appreciate that it came from the budget process, but it is not outside the scope of usual questions as to whereabouts something was initiated.
Ms Cross : I do not think that we would normally go into that level of detail about the budget process. But I am happy to take that on notice and check for you.
Senator FIFIELD: If you could, that would be good. I do not think it would divulge any state secrets to let us know which particular part of government the proposition arose from. Technically, it is a Treasury piece of legislation—an increase to the Medicare levy—is it not?
Ms Cross : Yes, it is. Sorry, Senator—there have been so many pieces of legislation that I am having trouble keeping track. But, yes, that one is Treasury.
Senator FIFIELD: That one is. But it is not safe to assume that it was proposed by Treasury from what you are saying.
Ms Cross : Obviously, Treasury is a central part of the budget process. But—
Senator FIFIELD: Was there actually a formal submission to cabinet on the Medicare levy increase before 1 May?
Ms Cross : Certainly all of the ERC deliberations went to cabinet, so—
Senator FIFIELD: Was this the subject of ERC deliberation?
Ms Cross : I do not think that we would normally respond about what was or was not considered by different committees of cabinet. I am not being difficult; I just—
Senator Conroy : You are not trying to draw on information that is actually part of the discussion, are you? You are just asking about meetings.
Senator FIFIELD: Asking if something went to a meeting is well within the scope of the usual—
Ms Leon : We would not ordinarily reveal what was considered by cabinet. That has been a consistent practice before the committee that we would not ordinarily reveal if any particular item was considered by cabinet, was listed for cabinet discussion or was the subject of cabinet deliberations.
Senator Conroy : Absolutely. And you know that. When you worked for the Treasurer, you knew that.
Senator FIFIELD: That is not actually true. You might not in the ordinary course of events talk about the range of options that were considered by cabinet.
Senator Conroy : No, you would not. I disagree entirely, Senator Fifield. You probably did not spend a lot of time—to your credit—watching Senate estimates in the past—
Senator FIFIELD: I do not think that you listened to what I said. What I said is that you would not ordinarily canvass the range of options that were presented to cabinet. What I was going on to say was that it is an entirely different matter to ask if a decision that has been taken and that has been legislated went to cabinet. That is entirely proper. To ask if something went to cabinet is—
Senator Conroy : That is not correct at all, Senator Fifield. You are wrong.
Senator FIFIELD: That is correct.
Senator Conroy : No, it is not. I sat in estimates for 11½ years and officers never revealed—
Senator FIFIELD: I have sat in many estimates where they have said, 'Yes, Senator Fifield, that particular matter went to cabinet,' and where they have even given a date when it went to cabinet.
Ms Leon : The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is not in the business of breaking cabinet confidentiality.
Senator FIFIELD: But it is not breaking cabinet confidentially—
Ms Leon : Yes, it is, Senator.
Senator FIFIELD: to confirm that something went to cabinet.
Ms Leon : If you want to look at the crystallisation of the cabinet confidentiality rules in either the public interest immunity rules of this committee or in the Freedom of Information Act, the fact of a matter having gone to cabinet is entirely exempt from disclosure. From time to time ministers and governments may choose to put into the public arena that certain matters have been considered by cabinet. But ordinarily officers do not do so.
Senator FIFIELD: I am a little astounded that the government is not prepared to say that something that has been announced—
Senator Conroy : You need to get out more.
Senator FIFIELD: and that has been legislated—and that I assume has probably been given asset to—went through cabinet.
Senator Conroy : I am happy to take on notice any question that you have. What specific question would you like me to answer?
Senator FIFIELD: Okay. The question is: did the increase in the Medicare levy go to cabinet? Who took the submission there and on what date did it go to cabinet? They are the three things.
Senator Conroy : Okay. I am happy to take those on notice and see what the Prime Minister would like to inform you of.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. It is of interest, given a piece that Mr Shanahan wrote. It looked like he may have been briefed by the member for Hotham. Who knows? One can only speculate.
Senator Conroy : Seriously? I thought that we had already had a discussion about not necessarily believing everything that you read in the Australian.
CHAIR: Are there any further questions, Senator Fifield.
Senator FIFIELD: That is why I am asking for those three facts.
Senator Conroy : It is always a danger to believe your own publicity and given that they are your publicity machine you should take that on board.
Senator FIFIELD: Are they?
Senator Conroy : For the party as a whole. They are your official organ, so you should not just believe everything that you read in your own newsletters.
Senator FIFIELD: I will let your comments in the Hansard speak for themselves, Senator. If those three things could be taken on notice, that would be appreciated.
CHAIR: They have been taken on notice. Do you have any further questions?
Senator FIFIELD: Ms Cross, the joint group that PM&C and FaHCSIA are part of has had a role in the consultations with the other jurisdictions in relation to the legislative instruments; the NDIS rules?
Ms Cross : Yes. That is largely handled by FaHCSIA. I can give you general responses, but any points of detail would be best directed to them.
Senator FIFIELD: It is around five weeks before the launch sites go live.
Ms Cross : Thirty-four days, I believe.
Senator FIFIELD: Okay. You are right. Time has flown by. It is less than five weeks. The final NDIS rules have not been tabled in the parliament. They have not been publicly released. Are you able to give an update as to when that may happen?
Ms Cross : We can give you a general sense. There are a number of rules that will be finalised ahead of the launch. Then there are others that are not critical for the launch and those will be finalised after that date. At this point in time, as I understand it we are on track to have all of the ones available for launch that need to be available. In terms of when they will be finalised with the states and territories, I will see if we have that information.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you.
Ms Hosking : The approach that we have taken in finalising the legislative instruments is focus on the scheme critical rules and to work first on getting officials level agreement so that we can finalise ministerial agreement quickly. There are a number of rules that have already been finalised in terms of officials-level agreement and being considered by ministers, and I would expect them to be finalised and tabled shortly. There are some others that are going through the last stages of that process, and we expect all of the scheme-critical rules that need to be in place before 1 July to be in place and tabled before that date.
Senator FIFIELD: Is there a target date for tabling?
Ms Hosking : As soon as possible, once we have reached agreement.
Senator FIFIELD: Will the rules be released publicly before they are actually tabled?
Ms Hosking : There has been a process along the way in which we have had consultation on draft rules. The next rules that are released will I think be the final rules, once they are agreed by ministers.
Senator FIFIELD: Ms Cross, you may refer me to FaHCSIA, but has there been any discussion in the joint working group of releasing cameos or worked examples or indicative scenarios of who will be eligible and what they might receive—of having a series of cameos for people with intellectual impairment, for people with physical impairment, for people with sensory impairment?
Ms Cross : There were some examples in the budget papers.
Senator FIFIELD: I saw those.
Ms Cross : And there have been other cameos under discussion with the states and territories as part of the communications strategy. I am not sure whether they have been finalised. FaHCSIA would be able to answer that question, but certainly that is something that has been looked at.
Senator FIFIELD: I think in the budget related material there were three or four cameos, and they were quite general.
Ms Cross : Yes. And there may be others on the website.
Senator FIFIELD: Not that I have seen.
Ms Cross : Because we need to agree with all the states and territories, and people are generally concerned to make sure that we give the correct information, some of that has been a little bit tricky to finalise.
Senator FIFIELD: Sure. Anyway, I will pursue it with FaHCSIA. Are there any PM&C staff who are currently seconded to FaHCSIA, to the virtual agency?
Ms Cross : There are four PM&C staff in the agency part of the operation.
Senator FIFIELD: And is the intention that they make the transition to the agency proper? Or are they just there in a sort of transitional capacity?
Ms Cross : I think it varies, and for some of them it may depend on whether there is a recruitment process for the role that they are interested in, and then they would go through a normal merit process. For others, if they are transferring in at level, it may be that they just move across. So, I think it would vary by individual.
Senator FIFIELD: There was something I meant to ask before in relation to the board appointments. Is there any external vetting? Has PM&C or FaHCSIA engaged any external bodies to vet the potential applicants in terms of their skill sets in relation to those that are indicated in the legislation? It is one thing to have a look at someone's CV and say, 'Yeah, I think they've got a bit of experience in corporate governance'—tick. Has there been any external corporate governance advice sought to look professionally, rigorously and independently at the skill sets of the potential board members against the requirements of the act?
Ms Cross : I am not aware of any external advice being sought, but a number of them are very well known, and their credentials—not just something on a CV—are well known to governments. A number of them are well known in terms of their expertise.
Senator FIFIELD: I am sure that is the case. I am just thinking that with is a venture that we all support, and the parliament supports, and which will ultimately cost $22 billion a year, it is really important to ensure that the governance arrangements are right. And it is not unusual with boards, whether in government or outside government, for professional advice to be sought to make sure that the board has the required skill sets for the task. It is one thing for me or a minister or officers of a department to use their best endeavours to make an assessment, but has any thought been given or has any advice been sought along those lines?
Ms Cross : Not that I am aware of, but they were very high-calibre people being put forward. And, as I said, a number of them would be very well known and very highly regarded for the expertise they bring, and hold fairly prominent positions on other boards where this sort of expertise is demonstrated. So, again, we can take on notice the comment that you are making, but the board nominations were of an extremely high standard.
Senator FIFIELD: You can have people of high calibre who have high profiles, but you have to get the right combination of people.
Ms Cross : An awful lot of checking was done to make sure we had the right mix of people. I think when you see the board membership it will reassure you as to the calibre of the board.
Senator FIFIELD: Calibre is not my concern; my concern is the right combination of skill sets. But if you could take on notice whether any formal professional advice has been sought from experts in corporate governance, that would be appreciated. This is not just any board.
Ms Cross : And I should add as well that we did look at the sorts of people who have had experience with APRA and similar sorts of expertise. So we were looking at the right skill set.
Senator FIFIELD: I recall that at the last estimates I asked the head of APRA if their advice had been sought by FaHCSIA/the NDIS transition agency—the joint working group—in relation to governance issues, and he indicated that yes, it had been sought, but he had not provided any at that time. Has advice been received in relation to any governance issues from APRA?
Ms Hosking : Our focus in relation to APRA, and working through Treasury as well, has been determining the appropriate role in which the agency can draw on the expertise and skills of APRA in its operations. So there will be an arrangement between APRA and the agency whereby they can get training and other relevant activities from APRA to support them in their functions.
Senator FIFIELD: In relation to the board and the source of nominations, there have been those proposed by the various jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth. Has there been any process for self-nomination?
Ms Cross : No, although I believe some of the people had indicated that they would be interested if a jurisdiction was interested in nominating them, but we have not sought or had any public expression of interest process.
Senator FIFIELD: And neither has there been any sort of agency engaged to recruit or scout for people?
Ms Cross : No.
Senator FIFIELD: So it is not the case that there were particular skill sets identified and people approached for those skill sets; the jurisdictions nominate people and then you try to do a bit of a mix and match.
Ms Cross : Yes. In nominating people, jurisdictions were aware of the skill set we were looking for. After the initial set of nominations there were conversations with jurisdictions, and in some cases additional nominees were put forward.
Senator FIFIELD: I might leave NDI questioning there. I do have a couple of Social Inclusion Board questions. At the last estimates it was indicated that the cost of the social inclusion unit or activities of PM&C for 2011-12 was $2.14 million, and there was a subsequent letter of advice from the department correcting that to $2.066 million for 2011-12. That was the department's best estimate on disaggregating the costs of the social inclusion unit. I know you have everything bundled together in larger pots these days. What is the anticipated expenditure for 2012-13? Is it of a similar magnitude?
Ms Cross : I think for 2012-13, given efficiency dividends and other savings applied to the department, the expenditure will be less than in the question on notice.
Senator FIFIELD: So, do we round that down to $2 million? What figure should we use?
Ms Cross : If you want an exact number I would have to take that on notice, but I expect there would be a reasonable saving as a result of departmental savings.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. If you could take it on notice for 2012-13 and also over the forward estimates period, that would be appreciated. Are you able at the moment to at least say what the expenditure is for the year to date?
Ms Cross : We will have to check that with someone outside the room.
Senator FIFIELD: And how have the savings as a result of the efficiency dividend been made? Is it by reducing staff, or not replacing staff that might leave?
Ms Cross : For example, there has been a division head that has looked after the social inclusion branch and another branch. He recently left PM&C to take up another position, and he will not be replaced. So that would be a saving from the cost of the social inclusion unit. I believe there may have been a reduction in some of the travel and other expenses associated with the board. It is that sort of thing.
Senator FIFIELD: What is the going rate for a division head these days?
Ms Leon : It is in the vicinity of between $250,000 and $300,000 a year, including on costs. That is just a rough estimate, but that is the kind of money we are talking about.
Senator FIFIELD: Have there been any other reductions in staff numbers in the social inclusion unit?
Ms Cross : I believe there have. I think we gave you a full-time-equivalent number in the question on notice, and I believe that might have gone down by about one ASL, but we will check that for you.
Senator FIFIELD: Would you mind just rattling off quickly for me the policies and programs that the social inclusion unit is responsible for?
Ms Cross : It is responsible for the social inclusion policy and for supporting the social inclusion board. It does not run any programs per se. The social inclusion board has been given a series of priorities by the government that it looks at each year, if you are interested. This year the priorities for the board are older women at risk of homelessness, employment service models and supporting the most disadvantaged job seekers—so, the very long-term unemployed—and financial capability of disadvantaged Australians. They were the three new priorities.
In addition to that, in social inclusion there is a strong focus on service delivery and service delivery reform, place based approaches. The board is also responsible for monitoring and measuring improvements in social inclusions. We support that work of the board.
Senator FIFIELD: Which has been done through a couple of publications or reports to date? 'How Australia is faring' rings a bell.
Ms Cross : That is the social inclusion board's role in monitoring performance against social inclusion. But there is a range of other work the unit does to support the board.
Senator FIFIELD: There are a few things in the measures document that relate to social inclusion in different portfolios, such as 'Building socially inclusive communities', in the immigration and citizenship portfolio, which I think is $14.9 million over two years from 2012-13. Does the social inclusion unit and the social inclusion board have any oversight or responsibility for those sorts of programs that are funded in other portfolios?
Ms Cross : No direct role with programs in other portfolios. But one of the new approaches since the social inclusion unit has been in place is to have departments report annually, in their annual reports, about their social inclusion activity, so that we get a complete picture across government of how different departments are progressing. So the portfolios with programs like that would normally include them in their report on social inclusion.
Senator FIFIELD: On page 231 of Budget Paper No. 2 there was an item 'Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet—continued funding' stating:
The Government will provide $13.8 million over four years to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to perform departmental functions.
Is that just part of the core funding of the department or is that for some other extra—
Ms Leon : It is core funding.
Senator FIFIELD: I just wondered why is was separate.
Ms Leon : Because it was otherwise terminating, so this funding was just to continue that core funding so that it would not terminate. It is just for normal activities of the department.
Senator FIFIELD: So in your mind it is not really additional.
Ms Leon : It is a continuation of existing funding.
Senator FIFIELD: Quickly moving to the Office of the Not-for-profit Sector. In 2012-13 what will be the total expenditure of the Office of the Not-for-profit Sector?
Ms Cross : I can give you the figure to date for the Not-for-profit Reform Council, but I have not got the departmental figures with me. To 31 March, for the council and secretariat it was $70,586. We would need to go back and check the departmental costs in addition to the council, if you want those as well.
Senator FIFIELD: If you could.
Ms Cross : We can take that on notice.
Senator MASON: I have questions relating to the national plan for school improvement. There was a report in The Australian newspaper last week, on 24 May 2013, by Dennis Shanahan entitled 'Schools unite to take on Gonski reforms' that suggested that the Independent Schools Council of Australia had written to the Prime Minister to put forward that they were having issues reconciling the government's published figures and the National Plan for School Improvement. The article in The Australian has the schools declaring that the budget shows not only no additional money but, to quote from the article and the letter, 'a significant reduction for non-government schools'. The article states that a spokesperson from the Prime Minister's office suggested that positive discussions were being undertaken with private schools—with independent schools—and they had been held since that letter was written and received. In the article a spokesman was quoted as saying funding for independent schools will increase year on year and that is clear from the budget.
Just going backwards, can I ask first of all whether such a letter has been received by the Prime Minister's office. Is Mr Shanahan right about that?
Senator Conroy: Was it written to the Prime Minister?
Senator MASON: I understand it was the Prime Minister. Has it been received—
Senator Conroy: Not to Minister Garrett? We would have to take the question on notice as to whether or not that has been received.
Ms Wilson : From the independent schools?
Senator MASON: Yes. It was quoted in Mr Shanahan's article published in The Australian newspaper on 24 May 2013. It quotes the Prime Minister's spokesperson as well. I am assuming therefore that a letter from ISCA to the Prime Minister was received. Is that right?
Ms Wilson : There has been correspondence with the Prime Minister.
Senator MASON: What discussions have been held since the letter was received, and what were the agreed outcomes following these discussions?
Senator Conroy: I might be able to help a little on this. I am not sure what date that was sent or received, but I know that last week, I think it was, the Prime Minister attended in New South Wales an independent schools association conference in which all the principals of the schools gathered. She gave a speech and then took questions. My understand is that there was a very warm and positive response at the end of that discussion. I am aware of that meeting as being broader than even just one or two, but a quite wide-ranging conversation and discussion around all of those issues was canvassed.
Senator MASON: Do the independent schools still argue that there has not been an increase in funds, but a reduction?
Senator Conroy: I am not sure that I can confirm or deny what the independent schools still think.
Senator MASON: Is there agreement between the independent schools and the Prime Minister about that issue?
Senator Conroy: What I could say is that it is my understanding that quite a prominent journalist from The Australian was present for the entire discourse. It will not come as a surprise to you to note that the Prime Minister's conversations, the responses and, more importantly, the response at the end of the discussion have not been reported at length. None of that has made it into The Australian.
Senator CORMANN: It must be a conspiracy!
Senator Conroy: I do not allege a conspiracy. I am stating it is a 'regime change' campaign. I have said that for a long time.
Senator MASON: If there is some agreement that I have missed please fill me in.
Senator Conroy: I am only informing you of some facts. I am suggesting that I cannot speak on behalf of the schools. You would have to ask them. This was in New South Wales—
Senator MASON: So you are suggesting—
Senator Conroy: I understand that this was the New South Wales division of the independent schools. But I cannot give you the mindset of the schools as at 5.20 pm today.
Senator MASON: Going back to the letter for a second, there are some assumptions made. The letter says—and I am quoting from the article in The Australian—
Senator Conroy: What is the date of the letter?
Senator MASON: I do not know. We have heard from Ms Wilson that it was received by the Prime Minister but I do not know the date of the letter. Clearly it was after the budget papers, though. The letter says, 'It is difficult to undertake a fully informed analysis of the budget papers due to the unusual circumstances of there being no information in the papers relating to school enrolment projections or information on growth factors beyond December 31 2013.' Clearly that has an impact on budget projections. Is it correct in that assumption?
Senator Conroy: I am not sure you can ask the officers to confirm an opinion written in a letter. I would have thought you might want to ask a question of policy or fact of the relevant minister at the relevant estimates rather than asking an officer to confirm an opinion from a letter.
Senator MASON: Have those assumptions been built into the budget projections?
Ms Wilson : If I can try to understand the question: ISCA has been provided with six-year projections for funding. The model includes enrolment information. So, to the extent they are asking whether enrolment data included, it is included in the model they have.
Senator MASON: So your argument would be that projections of enrolment are included in the budgetary assumptions?
Ms Wilson : That is right.
Senator MASON: Have ISCA as yet—there was apparently some concord agreed to last week—
Senator Conroy: No, I did not say anything was agreed. I just said that there was a lengthy discussion with questions and answers and the Prime Minister was very warmly received at the end, but you will not read that in The Australian despite there being a senior journalist present.
Senator HEFFERNAN: It is taken as a given.
Senator MASON: Does the independent schools association now agree with the assumptions underlying those budget projections.
Senator Conroy: Sorry, what was the question?
Senator MASON: We have heard from Ms Wilson that the budget projections are based on certain assumptions to do with student enrolment. I understand that. ISCA says they are not correct. Have you been able to persuade ISCA that they are correct, or are they still concerned about them?
Senator Conroy: I am not sure you can ask the officer at the table to give you an opinion on what she thinks is the state of mind of the independent schools.
Senator MASON: Well, I can ask whether discussions are still ongoing about that issue?
Senator Conroy: As I have indicated, even as recently as last week the Prime Minister was talking directly with them. So my assumption is, yes, but these assumptions—
Senator MASON: Is it right that discussions are still ongoing about that issue?
Ms Wilson : There is nothing that has changed in terms of enrolment projections with the new model. There is a normal practice of updating enrolments, as you would well know, because I am sure that I have read that Ms Paul and Mr Cook have briefed you before on the annual updates of enrolment.
Senator MASON: That is right.
Ms Wilson : That process as not changed, and there is an appropriate process for doing that every year. Each of the school systems get an opportunity to update their enrolment projections.
Senator MASON: Are the assumptions that have been incorporated into the budget estimates transparent and are you following usual practice?
Ms Wilson : That is right.
Senator MASON: So there is nothing unusual about this year as opposed to the last 10 years?
Ms Wilson : No.
Senator MASON: Do they have full access to the assumptions you have made?
Ms Wilson : The assumptions for enrolment are in the model they have been given a copy of, so their enrolment numbers will be in that model and they can see them. It is transparent.
Senator MASON: Have they accepted that the fact that those assumptions are now correct?
Ms Wilson : There are ongoing discussions with ISCA. I am not sure whether or not this remains an issue they want to talk further about. We probably have not spoken to them in the last few days. I cannot be categorical about that.
Senator MASON: I appreciate that. Minister, can the government still maintain and indeed confirm unequivocally that no independent school will be worse off compared to current arrangements as a result of the proposed changes to the funding model? Is that still the government's position?
Senator Conroy: That is certainly the government's stated position. I think I have heard the Prime Minister and others say that on a number of occasions.
Senator MASON: I just wanted to make sure.
Senator Conroy: Yes. It is not my policy area, as you know. Questions may be more meaningful if they were put to the Education portfolio estimates rather than here, where you may have a minister and officers at the table with a much broader range of experience in this particular area—not that I am remotely suggesting Ms Wilson does not, but I certainly would not claim any great expertise in this.
Senator MASON: No, but the commitment is still there. Minister, you can take it from me that I will be asking Ms Paul—as Ms Wilson knows, I do have a habit of asking Ms Paul all sorts of questions!
Ms Wilson : That's right!
Senator MASON: And I think she enjoys it, Minister! Can I move to an interview yesterday between the journalist Paul Kelly and Minister Garrett—
Senator Conroy: Paul Kelly? That rings a bell. I think it was Paul Kelly who was present at that meeting I was referring to.
Senator MASON: Well, let me ask about it.
Senator Conroy: He hasn't written about it yet.
Senator MASON: Let me ask about it. He put this to Mr Garrett:
In a press statement you made the other day, you said that the independent sector would get an extra $1.1 billion over six years, and the Catholics $1.4 billion over six years. What do they get in the first get year? What do both of those school sectors get in year one?
There is no answer from Mr Garrett about that. So are you now in a position to tell the committee what the Catholic and the independent schools will be getting in the first year and the subsequent years?
Senator Conroy: Senator Mason, as I said, I am sure that, if you asked Education, you might get a response. But you are asking about negotiations that are underway currently. As far as I am aware—and the officer concurs—
Senator MASON: But there would have been a figure in the budget, wouldn't there?
Senator SINODINOS: Or implicit in the budget.
Senator Conroy: You should probably ask the relevant department about those estimates, Senator.
Senator SINODINOS: But the Prime Minister is being briefed on these issues as she goes out to these sorts of forums, presumably. Presumably the department is giving her advice she can use.
Senator Conroy: I am not saying there is or there is not one. I am simply saying that, if you wanted to investigate what is in the forward estimates for the department of education, a good place to start would be the department of education estimates.
Senator RYAN: It is a question with respect to what the Prime Minister gets told about what the estimates are.
Senator SINODINOS: Yes, exactly: what does the PM get told? Or is she kept in the dark?
Senator Conroy: Do you have a question that we can assist you with, Senator Mason?
Senator MASON: Yes. We are just after what the Catholic and independent schools will be getting in the first year and in subsequent years. It is not a trick question; it is a fair question.
Ms Wilson : To add to the minister's comments: it is still the subject of negotiations. So there has been a provision made in the budget, as you have already said, but the exact nature of that provision is subject to ongoing negotiations.
Senator MASON: Aha! That is the answer.
Senator Conroy: Which is what I think Mr Garrett actually said yesterday.
Senator MASON: Not quite.
Senator Conroy: I had the misfortune to be watching television at that particular moment on that channel.
Senator MASON: Very good! Thank you, Ms Wilson; that does clarify it.
Senator Conroy: I do remember what he did say.
Senator MASON: Okay, so we are still not quite sure. That is why, Minister, schools are concerned about whether they are going to be worse off under this system: because it is still—
Senator Conroy: Nobody is going to be worse off.
Senator MASON: You have made the commitment of the government clear again, and I thank you for that. If I can go to the Catholic school sector quickly. There was another story in the Australian, Minister, written by Dennis Shanahan, on the front page on Thursday, 23 May: 'Catholic ire over 'poor' Gonski forecasts' was the heading. He wrote:
IN the first major show of opposition to the Gillard government's Gonski reforms, the Catholic Education Commission has strongly objected to the proposed funding changes because they use "poor or imprecise measures" and do not provide any certainty of funding to non-government schools.
The article goes on to say:
In the memo, the national Catholic Education Commission complains about funding projections in last week's federal budget being pushed beyond the next three elections and says there is no guarantee the funding to 2019 will ever be delivered.
Senator Conroy: Sorry, who wrote that? Is that Mr Shanahan's opinion or is he quoting somebody?
Senator MASON: That is him quoting from a memo from the national Catholic Education Commission. So what is your response to another very unhappy stakeholder group, Minister? That they should not be worried—that it is all okay?
Senator Conroy: That negotiations are ongoing and robust, it sounds like.
Senator MASON: All right. Let's go to the plan itself—the National Plan for School Improvement. The final plan for the school improvement proposal, I assume, is developed in a coherent and informed and coordinated fashion with other agencies. That would be a fair assumption, wouldn't it, Ms Wilson?
Senator Conroy: Sorry, you are asking the officer to assume things?
Senator MASON: No, this is a question of public administration, Minister. I am assuming the National Plan for School Improvement is being developed in a coherent and coordinated way with other agencies across the Commonwealth. Can I make that assumption, Ms Wilson?
Ms Wilson : Senator, are we referring to the National Plan for School Improvement as included in the National Education Reform Agreement?
Senator MASON: Yes.
Ms Wilson : Yes, you can.
Senator MASON: Okay. So when were the costings for the National Plan agreed to between Treasury, DEEWR and the department of finance?
Ms Wilson : I think you would have to ask DEEWR that. The National Plan for School Improvement is part of the DEEWR PBS. I am just not across the exact detail of the timing of when the costings were agreed.
Senator MASON: So I should ask my friend Ms Paul? I bet she can hardly wait! All right. I assume that PM&C has an implementation plan for this project and that that would be developed by the Cabinet Implementation Unit—is that right?
Ms Wilson : The actual implementation is the subject of negotiation with each jurisdiction. So we are developing a plan for the five reforms you are familiar with—Quality teaching, Quality learning, Empowered school leadership, Meeting student needs, and Transparency and accountability. Each of the states were responsive to their local conditions, so they will implement those reforms to achieve the national goal of being in the top five by 2025, but they will not exactly have the same profile of a policy for each of the years going forward.
Senator MASON: You have mentioned, as so has the minister, that they are ongoing negotiations—I accept that. But do the outcomes of these ongoing negotiations have the potential to impact on the implementation plan as far as contents and timelines are concerned?
Senator Conroy: That is more of a hypothetical question that goes to an outcome. As we have indicated, no-one will be worse off.
Senator MASON: How about—
Senator Conroy: 'How about'?
Senator MASON: Let me rephrase the question. Will the ongoing negotiations affect budget forecasts?
Senator SINODINOS: What are the negotiations about? Are we allowed to ask that?
Senator Conroy: Sure. I am just suggesting that possibly a better place to get a fuller answer would be DEEWR.
Senator SINODINOS: But the Prime Minister's department would surely know why negotiations are occurring—surely.
Senator Conroy: The negotiations—
Ms Wilson : The negotiations are about the reform directions I mentioned briefly—the five key areas are Quality teaching, Quality learning, Empowered school leadership, Meeting student needs, and Transparency and accountability—and about how each jurisdiction will roll those forwards to meet the 2025 the PM has set. It is also about looking at each jurisdiction's needs-based funding model and assessing that as to how lined up that is with a Gonski needs-based funding model and what things may need to change in their model. You can appreciate, Senator, that not each state has the same funding model.
Senator MASON: I accept that.
Ms Wilson : We are working through all of that.
Senator SINODINOS: But then what are the negotiations with the independents about, if this is an iterative process?
Ms Wilson : Sorry, Senator?
Senator SINODINOS: As a layman listening to you, the impression I get is that there seem to be iterative discussions going on with the independents and the Catholic sector. What are those discussions about?
Ms Wilson : For example, the Catholic sector still needs a needs-based funding model for distribution of the funding within its sector. It is a system, just like a state's, so we need to know how will they respond to the five reform directions and how will their allocation of funding be consistent with a needs-based funding model. And because they have a commission in each state and territory, they have to show us, consistent with all the other jurisdictions and systems, how they will meet those requirements. So those discussions are ongoing.
Senator SINODINOS: You have to do that for the independents as well—is that right?
Ms Wilson : With the independents we work through the national body, which is ISCA, as you are aware.
Senator MASON: But, Ms Wilson, there is therefore the potential for budget implications, surely.
Senator Conroy: Now you are making an assumption about the accounts—
Senator MASON: No, because the matters that Ms Wilson just mentioned bear upon potential Commonwealth and state expenditure—clearly, it has potential budgetary implications. It must!
Senator Conroy: Yes, well, you can speculate all evening, Senator Mason.
Senator MASON: Minister, I am—
Senator Conroy: You are speculating.
Senator MASON: I am not: logically, it must. Ms Wilson, do you have any sensible comment to make? The minister is not going to make any sensible comments.
Senator Conroy: You are speculating, Senator Mason.
Senator MASON: I would never speculate, as you know, Minister! Ms Wilson?
Senator Conroy: I am sorry, I do not think there is much we can add from the table.
Senator MASON: So, you don't deny that they—
Senator Conroy: Don't try and put words in Ms Wilson's or my mouth. You are making rampant speculations with no foundation whatsoever, Senator Mason.
Senator MASON: Can you guarantee that the budget forecast will not change, given discussions are ongoing?
Senator Conroy: In total, we are confident that we can meet our budgetary numbers.
Senator MASON: What does that mean?
Senator Conroy: As much as your question.
Senator MASON: Jesus!
Senator Conroy: Exactly!
Senator SINODINOS: No. There is an envelope of whatever figure it is. So you are saying that envelope will not change.
Senator Conroy: No, I am saying we are confident that we can deliver on our budget forecasts.
Senator SINODINOS: It is not a forecast; it is a plan, a plan with a certain—
Senator Conroy: A plan that is under discussion, without a finite—
Senator SINODINOS: Okay. The inference we will draw is that the spending could change.
Senator Conroy: No. You can attempt to put all the words in my mouth that you want, but that is all you are doing.
Senator MASON: But you just said it was not finite—they are your words.
Senator Conroy: You are speculating—
Senator MASON: They are your words. That is on the tape.
Senator Conroy: You can bounce around all you want with Senator Sinodinos, but you are simply making uninformed speculation.
Senator MASON: Does the government anticipate that a revised proposal will have to return to cabinet after these discussions?
Senator Conroy: You are making an assumption. I am sure the cabinet will be kept well informed of the discussions. Whether or not the underpinning of your question that the figures are substantively different from the envelope—to borrow Senator Sinodinos's words—is your assumption. But I am confident the cabinet is being kept well informed.
Senator MASON: But has provision been made for it to go back to cabinet?
Senator Conroy: I am sure that, when there is a final outcome, the cabinet will be informed.
Senator MASON: What are the timelines?
Senator Conroy: I think the Prime Minister said that 30 June is the deadline.
Senator SINODINOS: Does the Prime Minister have a hunting licence on this?
Senator Conroy: It would be a cabinet decision if she did have one, and you would be asking me to break cabinet confidence.
Senator SINODINOS: It was a trick question.
Senator Conroy: Yes. So I am not in a position where I could assist you with that without breaching all sorts of rules that you are very aware of.
Senator MASON: So we know there are ongoing negotiations with the independent sector, the Catholic sector—
Senator Conroy: We have established that, yes.
Senator MASON: We have that. And we know from your words that nothing is finite, Minister. All right. What form will this new plan take? I assume it will be legislative. Is that a fair assumption, Ms Wilson?
Ms Wilson : The National Plan for School Improvement is characterised in the National Education Reform Agreement, which as you know New South Wales has signed. It is actually up on the COAG website, so it is publicly available for people to have a look at. That document actually characterises, at a high level, what the National Plan for School Reform elements are. And then on the detailed bilaterals we will be working with each jurisdiction. We will step it out in terms of breaking it down further, with much more detailed timelines.
Senator MASON: I understand that, and that is fair enough. But there will need to be legislation, won't there?
Ms Wilson : Yes, that is right.
Senator MASON: Has that been drafted?
Ms Wilson : The legislation was introduced into parliament in November last year.
Senator MASON: That is the Australian Education Bill, is it?
Ms Wilson : That is right.
Senator MASON: I have that here. With the greatest of respect, Ms Wilson, it is what I would call an aspirational document rather than a document of detail—or am I being unfair?
Senator Conroy: You need to get out more, Senator Mason; that's all I can suggest!
Senator MASON: Will that act be amended to cater for the new Gonski reform package?
Senator Conroy: I am not sure that you are doing anything other than speculating, again, on a possible outcome.
Senator MASON: No, I am asking about the reform. Will there need to be legislative reform or legislative amendment to secure the Gonski reform package?
Ms Wilson : Yes, there will be.
Senator MASON: Okay. What form will that take?
Ms Wilson : It is the government's intention to amend the bill, which was introduced in November, and update it to reflect the status of negotiations including all the reform elements.
Senator MASON: Is there draft legislation? Has that been drafted?
Ms Wilson : There is an exposure draft, which has been produced for initial consultation with stakeholders, which took place last week.
Senator MASON: Is that subject to confidentiality agreements?
Ms Wilson : Yes, I understand it is.
Senator MASON: I have not seen it, sadly. Last week it went out, so the sectors have had a week or so to comment on the updated legislation.
Ms Wilson : It is a general process in education. I will not refer to Lisa Paul too many more times, but she would probably be able to explain the detail of this. A normal mechanism they have is a strategic policy working group, and that met last week to provide initial comments and to step through the legislation. A timeframe was provided for comments.
Senator MASON: Will Ms Paul be able to give me the timeline between now and the last sitting day, I think, 27 June? There is a month to go and I think we can agree on that. Will Ms Paul be able to give the committee a timeline as to progress over the next four weeks?
Ms Wilson : I am sure DEEWR will be able to provide that.
Senator FAULKNER: On a technical point for this committee: respectfully, Chair, I appreciate the spirit in which you asked the questions and the way the witness at the table answers them, but we are really pushing it, aren't we, to be asking for advice from Ms Paul at this committee when we are examining the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet at estimates. That is just a minor point, Chair.
Senator Conroy: It is fine to make that point.
Senator MASON: It is a fair point that Senator Faulkner makes.
Senator FAULKNER: I am a fair person.
Senator MASON: My next questions do relate precisely to the role and effect of the Prime Minister. I assume, then, that the legislation will be passed, or the intention is that it will be passed by 27 June. Is that still correct?
Ms Wilson : Yes.
Senator MASON: It is, thank you. Is that the case, Ms Wilson, even if the government does not have the agreement of all the states and the territories?
Ms Wilson : I think that will be subject to government consideration. I am not sure that I am best placed to answer that.
Senator MASON: Minister, can you answer that?
Senator Conroy: Sorry, could you repeat the question?
Senator MASON: Yes. We know the government still intends to pass the legislation by 27 June, which is the final day for the budget sittings. Even if the government has not secured the agreement of all the states and all the territories, does the government still intend to pass the legislation through parliament?
Senator Conroy: My understanding is that it makes provision for non-signing jurisdictions, so the answer would be yes.
Senator MASON: Is it common practice to pass legislation for national planning for school improvement even though all states and territories have not signed? Is that normal?
Senator Conroy: In what context are you asking?
Senator MASON: In any other national scheme they have never had legislation.
Senator Conroy: I think we had a disagreement with Western Australia over health a while back and we still went ahead and introduced the health reforms. I think we then paid hospitals direct on that one. I am a little out of my depth in these areas, but in my experience I can remember one instance where not every state had signed on.
Senator MASON: So the bottom line would be: irrespective of how many states or territories sign up—
Senator Conroy: No, the New South Wales government, unlike Mr Pyne, knows a good deal when it sees it.
Senator MASON: But my question is: irrespective of how many states and how many territories sign up, it is still the government's intention to push the legislation through parliament?
Senator Conroy: I believe so. I have not been told of anything different, unless you have some breaking news over there from the front page of the Australian.
Senator MASON: No. I am sure they are all watching—I am sure Mr Shanahan is watching, and Mr Kelly and others.
Senator Faulkner interjecting—
Senator MASON: That might be right.
Senator Conroy: Facts would get in the way of commentary.
Senator CONROY: I just think they probably have other priorities.
Senator MASON: I have some further questions about the Australian Education Bill.
Senator Conroy: Perhaps you might want to raise them with the Senate estimates committee that covers them.
Senator MASON: Yes, but I think, again, there is an overlap here.
Senator Conroy: Don't they let you ask questions at that other committee, Senator Mason?
Senator MASON: Ms Paul enjoys the moment. I do not think I am overstating it; I think she enjoys it still. According to section 10(1) of the Australian Education Bill, Ms Wilson, the legislation:
… does not create rights or duties that are legally enforceable in judicial or other proceedings.
Isn't it unusual that you would pass legislation through the parliament that has no practical utility?
Senator Conroy: You did it for years. You spent 11½ years—
Senator MASON: Usually in Australia—this is not the United Nations—you do not pass bills that are simply aspirational. Do you follow my question, Ms Wilson?
Ms Wilson : I understand, Senator.
Senator MASON: What is the answer?
Ms Wilson : I think the legislation does provide a framework for actively integrating funding and reform directions together. It sets the framework for the next levels of agreements, which is the National Education Reform Agreement and the bilaterals underneath it. I see it as a multilevel framework where legislation provides the overall framework for the next level down.
Senator MASON: But you could put a framework or a scheme up on the internet. You do not pass legislation, usually, to promulgate a scheme or a framework—not in my experience, but I have not been around that long perhaps, though long enough.
Senator FAULKNER: This is the first experience I have had of a discussion, surreal as it is, I would have to say of its nature—
Senator Conroy: You are being far too generous!
Senator FAULKNER: about a bill that does not stand in the name of the Prime Minister, that is not relevant to this committee, at Prime Minister and Cabinet estimates. I am very open-minded and generous about these things, but you are breaking new ground, Senator Mason.
Senator FIFIELD: Not for the first time!
Senator MASON: I am always doing that, Senator Faulkner!
Senator FAULKNER: I do not actually think it is—
Senator MASON: There is a specific reason why I do this.
Senator FAULKNER: There might be, but—
Senator LUDLAM: Chair, I have some questions for these officers.
Senator FAULKNER: Just hang on. Is it really fair to the officials of the table, given that, at the end of the day, another department and other officials have primary responsibility for this legislation?
Senator SINODINOS: But the Prime Minister has made this a signature issue.
Senator FAULKNER: You know how government works, Senator Sinodinos. You know well that what I am saying is right. I am just making the point—I am happy to vacate the field having made the point—that it is really pushing the envelope.
Senator MASON: Chair, there is a specific reason why I am doing this—
Senator Conroy: God, I hope so!
Senator MASON: and that is because at pure estimates and education estimates—
CHAIR: There are a number of senators who still have some pertinent questions.
Senator MASON: I understand that, but if I could just finish. At education estimates I have been referred back to Prime Minister and Cabinet because Prime Minister and Cabinet is taking such an interest in this issue. It happened at the last estimates and the estimates before. I am doing this quite deliberately. I want to close off the angles, as it were, before I get to the department of education and my friend Ms Paul.
Senator SINODINOS: They shunt you back to PM&C?
Senator MASON: Yes, this is the problem. I am being shunted like a—
CHAIR: Senator Mason, we do have a number of other senators.
Senator MASON: Thank you, let me carry on.
Senator FAULKNER: I always think in politics you should know when to give up. I give up.
Senator MASON: Clause 7 of the bill contains a number of reform directions, Ms Wilson, with respect to quality teaching, quality learning, empowered school leadership, transparency and accountability, and meeting student need. That is correct, isn't it?
Ms Wilson : That is right.
Senator MASON: In relation to quality teaching, in clause 7(1), it says that:
All teachers will have the skills, and support they require, to improve their performance over time and to deliver teaching of a high quality to all of their school students. The work of teachers will:
(a) reflect rigorous professional standards and best practice; and
(b) be based on evidence of successful teaching methods.
That is right, isn't it? But there are no details in the bill about how the reform directions will be implemented. It just states that aspiration. What is the point of committing those aspirations to legislation? I do not understand that.
Ms Wilson : In relation to each of the five reform directions, they are the key areas where the government has identified more work to take place. If you actually have a look in the National Education Reform Agreement, which is on the website, each of those things is taken further and more detail provided.
Senator MASON: But it could all be in an agreement or promulgated on the website. I do not understand why you use legislation for this. Anyway, that is clearly a new trend in Australian public policy. Is there an intention to amend the bill to incorporate the details of Mr Garrett's plan to improve teacher quality? He has got a four-point national plan to improve this. You are aware of that, of course.
Ms Wilson : Yes.
Senator MASON: Is the bill going to be amended to reflect that?
Ms Wilson : I am sorry, I do not have a copy of the current exposure with me. So I would need to check that.
Senator MASON: Has anyone done any costings about how much Mr Garrett's plan to improve teacher quality will cost?
Ms Wilson : I think that is best to be asked of—
Senator MASON: Ms Paul? I will ask Ms Paul that. In the Gonski report, recommendation 25 is that the government should adopt detailed transitional arrangements, pending the agreement of a new funding model.
Ms Wilson : That is right.
Senator MASON: Yet the transitional arrangements are absent from the bill. What is the reason for that?
Ms Wilson : We stated earlier that the bill will be amended before it is considered in the next sitting. There have been a lot of discussion and negotiations about transition arrangements, and we have talked about a six-year transition period. Clearly, some of the discussions we are having with various jurisdictions are about how they will transition different elements of the reform over the six-year period. So the detail of how each jurisdiction might get there might be slightly different. The sequencing of teacher quality and meeting student need and quality learning, while they will all happen, might happen over a different period over the six years.
Senator MASON: That detail will be in the legislation, will it?
Ms Wilson : No, that detail will be in the arrangements with each jurisdiction.
Senator MASON: So the transitional arrangements will not be in the bill, they will be in the agreement, putting it bluntly.
Ms Wilson : That is right.
Senator MASON: That is because the detail required is better in an agreement than in legislation. That makes sense.
Ms Wilson : And the jurisdictions have asked for flexibility.
Senator MASON: Yes, I understand, because the negotiations are ongoing. I could ask about the assumption that increased spending under the Gonski reforms will improve educational outcomes, but that is a philosophical debate I may enjoy with Ms Paul.
Senator Conroy: She would love that.
Senator MASON: I will not bother you with that, Ms Wilson.
Unidentified speaker: Ms Paul is looking forward to it.
Senator Conroy: In fact I am going to come to that estimates hearing just so I can listen to you.
Senator LUDLAM: Could we bring forward the folk responsible for cyber policy coordination, national security and that sort of stuff? I understand one of their officers is not here but there is a deputy who is.
Senator Conroy: Senator Sinodinos, we have got some further information for you over budget forecasts. While my colleagues come back, here are some factual questions that were not about speculation.
Dr de Brouwer : Just the five, 12 and 17 answer Senator. From budget to MYEFO there was a $5 billion downgrade to revenue. From MYEFO to budget a further $12 billion. The Prime Minister referred to that further $12 billion, taking the total from budget to budget to $17 billion.
Senator SINODINOS: So the cumulative amount was the $17 billion that the Treasurer referred to later on?
Dr de Brouwer : It depends on different points in time—the reference to where the change is—so the change from budget to MYEFO is five, but the change from MYEFO to budget is 12, so the change from budget to budget is 17.
Senator SINODINOS: I get you; thanks.
Senator LUDLAM: The PBS confirms that cyberpolicy coordination, if you want to call it that, continues to be your principal responsibility, is coordination within PM&C still?
Mr McKinnon : Not necessarily principal responsibility: I have a whole range of responsibilities, but I am the sole policy coordinator.
Senator LUDLAM: How many staff in your department currently work in that area of policy?
Mr McKinnon : It is approximately 10 or eight but I will take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: I think that number is what you told us last time, although there were a number of secondees in the mix as well. Is that still the case?
Mr McKinnon : I do not think we have any more secondees at the moment, but I will take that one on notice too.
Senator LUDLAM: Is the department engaged at all in the data retention proposal that has been under investigation by the joint committee on national security?
Mr McKinnon : We are not driving that, but of course we have been involved in discussions.
Senator LUDLAM: But I would go to the AG's department if I wanted to find out.
Mr McKinnon : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Given that you are coordinating the policy, could you give us your insight into the resources that are being devoted to information security across government? US researchers believe that the United States government will spend $10.5 billion per year by 2015 on what is broadly classified as cybersecurity. Do you have any idea what the figure is roughly for Australian government agencies?
Mr McKinnon : I would like to take that on notice. Could you give me a clearer sense of what issues you are talking about? There is cyberpolicy that extends far beyond cybersecurity. If you are interested in security of networks as a cybersecurity issue, that is a different thing. If you could give me a bit more detail I would be very grateful.
Senator LUDLAM: We will do that; we will come back to that. You provided a short answer to my question on notice regarding the Australian Cyber Security Centre and whether its activities will have a legislative basis. The department answered that there would be no new legislation and that separate agencies continue to be guided by their legislative mandates as set out in their individual acts. Thanks for your response to the question. Could you describe for us the ways in which the different agencies involved, which obviously have different functions, reporting obligations, remits and some quite specific restrictions on their activities, can operate together with no legislative guidance as to how they are meant to interact?
Mr McKinnon : All of them have operated under existing legislation. In a sense it is like some of the arrangements that have been put in place for counterterrorism and so forth, where you have agencies co-locating some members of their staff. This is not an unusual thing across the Public Service. It is already in operation with the Cyber Security Operations Centre, where you have a small number of people co-located but who are basically on loan from their existing agencies and who operate under their legislative regulatory remits.
Senator LUDLAM: As an example, what freedom of information rules apply to the centre?
Some of the agencies are completely immune and some of them are not—that is one example.
Mr McKinnon : I would like to take that one on notice as well, Senator
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. The centre is still located at DSD, is my understanding—they are the host?
Mr McKinnon : The exact location of the centre will be decided within a matter of weeks we expect.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay, but that is not confirmed?
Mr McKinnon : That is not confirmed at this time. It is not expected to be in the existing DSD location, if that is what you are asking; it will be somewhere else but the exact decision has not been made.
Senator LUDLAM: Including which agency will be the host? As in which part of the—
Mr McKinnon : That is the decision about location which is to be made but is not related to being hosted within an agency so much as located within a building.
Senator LUDLAM: I might come back to these in a moment because I understand we might be—Chair, are we going to a break at some stage?
CHAIR: We will be.
Senator LUDLAM: I will just carry on until you give me the wind-up, because I have got a reasonable number for these folk.
CHAIR: You have got another 15 minutes
Senator LUDLAM: That should be fine; that should be enough. Given again that the department's coordinating policy across various areas of this portfolio, is the department aware of recent use by ASIC of powers under section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to block, I think, about 1200 Australian websites in the pursuit of one particular site?
Mr McKinnon : I pass to my colleague.
Senator LUDLAM: Thanks.
Ms Wimmer : We are aware of it but we have not been involved in it per se. It is a matter for the department of broadband.
Senator LUDLAM: The department for broadband—so, the minister is sitting right here.
Senator Conroy: Ithink you need to refine your question a bit.
Senator LUDLAM: I have got a number, so I will do my best to refine them. Who within the Australian government—and I do not expect this to be laid at the feet of Senator Conroy, although he is conveniently here—is responsible overall, for internet filtering or blocking by agencies such as ASIC, which are not actually a portfolio of yours.
Senator Conroy: No, I think you have a misunderstanding. There is no filter or government mandated filter, Senator Ludlam. The agreement that we reached with retail service providers was that they would comply with requests from the police.
Senator LUDLAM: Around the Interpol—I will get to that.
Senator Conroy: After that, there are individual agencies
Senator LUDLAM: Uh-huh, so this is useful. So there is no control.
Senator Conroy: I am not aware—certainly through my department. I was—as I think you were aware and I have said publicly—unaware of ASIC's actions. So, as far as I am aware, there is not an individual point—I mean ASIC, as I have made the point repeatedly, is an independent statutory authority. It would be improper for them to be informing me of their ongoing investigations and conclusions.
Senator LUDLAM: Well let's tease this out though, Minister, because I wasn't actually trying to put this to you. As communications minister, ASIC is not one of your portfolio responsibilities,
Senator Conroy: Absolutely.
Senator LUDLAM: We will come to that over the next couple of days
Senator Conroy: But it is an independent statutory authority.
Senator LUDLAM: Could I put to these folk—you have said you have no visibility or awareness of other agencies doing so, although actually my question was around who is in charge, who is coordinating a government wide response to blocking websites. Your answer is, to your knowledge: nobody is.
Senator Conroy: No. I am not aware of a central agency. I think the indication from the officer was that they are certainly not a central agency that is involved in monitoring or supervising that. So I think the answer is—
Ms Wimmer : That is right
Senator Conroy: Nobody at this table.
Ms Wimmer : I might just add that we are aware that there has been a recent meeting between agencies to talk about the use of section 313 but we were not at that meeting. I do not think that there is an individual agency that is taking responsibility for the matter; they just talked about it.
Senator Conroy: As I have indicated, I have asked my department—and I have indicated this publically—they have put some proposals to me to improve the transparency around their use, which has possibly has led to that.
Senator LUDLAM: Can we get to the meeting: who was at the meeting?
Senator Conroy: You will probably have to ask one of my officers at the table on—Thursday, I think we are.
Senator LUDLAM: Whichever day, I cannot wait; I am so looking forward to that. But my question is really is these are the officers with overall government responsibility for matters cyber, no matter how awkward the language might come out. So you have said that you were not at the meeting—that is fine. Can you tell us when it occurred and who was in attendance?
Ms Wimmer : I would have to take that on notice to get the exact details.
Senator LUDLAM: Can I just check in with you, Chair—questions that are taken on notice now, will they actually be returned to this committee before the parliament is prorogued? Are we going to hear back on any of these?
CHAIR: The date is 12 July.
Senator RYAN: In theory.
CHAIR: Six weeks.
Senator RYAN: Aspirational.
Senator LUDLAM: An aspirational question on notice—and that is no disrespect to you folk.
CHAIR: To be fair, this committee has had a fairly good track record of answers to questions taken on notice being given back to us in a timely manner.
Senator LUDLAM: I was not casting aspersions on anybody; I just wanted to be clear that we will get these back. Are you aware of who called the meeting? Whose idea was it?
Ms Wimmer : Yes, it was the broadband department.
Senator LUDLAM: It was? Okay.
Senator Conroy: As I said, I asked for that in the—
Senator LUDLAM: So it is being treated as a communications issue within your—
Senator Conroy: No. Given that it is an act that I administer—
Senator LUDLAM: It is your act, but it is being used by agencies that are right outside your area of responsibility.
Senator Conroy: That is an accurate statement, and have asked for options so that we have increased transparency around the use of them.
Senator LUDLAM: How many other agencies are you aware of who are using them?
Senator Conroy: I would have to ask my officers to give you that information later in the week. But to suggest that there is some kind of coordinated government filter agency lurking somewhere in the bureaucracy would be an inaccurate—
Senator LUDLAM: It might be a relief to know that there is someone in charge. As it is at the moment—
Senator Conroy: Normally you do not like having anyone charged with those sort of things. I can confirm that your suspicions are unfounded.
Senator LUDLAM: Your policy is a headless monster. ASIC does it here—
Senator Conroy: The AFP—
Senator LUDLAM: We know what the AFP does here because they are disclosing their activities to us.
Senator Conroy: It is an independent statutory authority.
Senator LUDLAM: Are there any others that you are aware of who are doing this?
Senator Conroy: It is possible that there are more, but I would rather get an accurate answer for you on Thursday so that there is no misunderstanding.
Senator LUDLAM: We will come back to that on Thursday. But it is useful to me that you have clarified that you have not lead it. It is being led in the broadband portfolio.
Mr McKinnon : I would add that the purpose of the cybercoordination is to enhance understanding across all the portfolios which have particular cyber or digital responsibilities. To that end we are very busy coordinating. We have been meaning to bring them all together to ventilate a whole lot of the issues so that there is better visibility, but it is about 20 or 25 agencies that have specific portfolio or agency responsibilities. So 'coordinating' does not necessarily mean controlling everything.
Senator LUDLAM: Is there any reason why you have chosen not to attend that particular one?
Mr McKinnon : I was not aware of it.
Ms Wimmer : We found out at very late notice and we were not available.
Senator LUDLAM: That sounds a bit rude.
Senator Conroy: My understanding is that ASIC did actually issue a release that it was blocking the site.
Senator LUDLAM: After quite a bit of investigative work had been done to establish who had taken the site down, yes, they did.
Senator Conroy: They did issue a press release.
Senator LUDLAM: A long time after they were aware that people could not work out what had happened. What we are trying to establish is who else is up to this—
Senator Conroy: One of the things which I think I have indicated publicly and I am happy to again put on the record is that we want to ensure that, where action like this is potentially taken—and there are some issues that have to be sensitively worked through—there is at least a page referring you where to go, as the AFP do in the instance—
Senator LUDLAM: With ASIC there was no page.
Senator Conroy: No, I am agreeing with you that that is the case. That is one of the things I want looked at. That is why I asked for advice from my department—so that we do not get circumstances like that.
Senator LUDLAM: Is there a moratorium on use of these notices by parties other than the AFP in the meantime?
Senator Conroy: There is no moratorium on independent agencies exercising their judgement, but I am hoping that we can coordinate so that we can provide greater transparency in their use. But there are some sensitive issues and that is why I am seeking advice. I am sure my department will be able to assist a little further on Wednesday or Thursday.
Senator LUDLAM: We can consider this fair warning. On some other matters, I have submitted to the department an FOI request to discover in a bit of detail what the department's attitude is to Australian citizens protecting their privacy through the use of encryption software called Tor. Are you familiar with that service?
Ms Wimmer : We are not familiar with it. We have actually referred that FOI request to the AFP because we have no record of ever being involved in it.
Senator LUDLAM: But you are not familiar with the service?
Ms Wimmer : Not.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. That is interesting. This is effectively anonymising software. You have referred to the AFP. Would that give a policy response on behalf of the Federal Police or on behalf of the Australian government?
Ms Wimmer : I am not sure about that. You would have to ask the AFP.
Senator Conroy : Senator Ludlam, you seem fairly confident. Do you know what date ASIC issued its press release?
Senator LUDLAM: You mentioned it.
Senator Conroy : I genuinely do not know the date.
Senator LUDLAM: I will Google it.
Senator Conroy : I am just saying that it was issued. You said that it was issued much later than it was implemented.
Senator LUDLAM: It was the quietest press release in history if it was released before people—
Senator Conroy : My understanding is that they did issue it at the time. I have been given that information. I am happy to—
Senator LUDLAM: I will take it on notice. I am happy to come back to that.
Senator Conroy : I am looking at a press release on the ASIC website from Friday, 22 March. It indicates that ASIC has warned consumers about the activity of a particular website. It warns that they are scammers operating at websites.
Senator LUDLAM: What date was that?
Senator Conroy : It was 22 March. It is quite a lengthy press release. But it seems to be the one. It was on Friday, 22 March.
Senator LUDLAM: Although we are a bit out of portfolio here, let us be clear that ASIC posted a press statement on—
Senator Conroy : On their website.
Senator LUDLAM: On 22 March. I believe that the sites went down from 4 April. We will come back to this on Thursday, because I am aware that we are—
Senator Conroy : If you get ASIC before Thursday, they might be able to further clarify.
Senator LUDLAM: I intend to.
Senator Conroy : I am just passing on—
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Coming back to the cybersecurity centre—and this might take us back to where we were before when you asked me for how I would like to estimate the cost of cybersecurity—some other estimates around this place when the PM launched the centre about the prevalence of cybercrime in Australia and valuations of cybercrime—
Senator Conroy : Sorry—this might be relevant. This is in the press release of that date:
ASIC’s investigations indicate that Global Capital Wealth is associated with a group of fraudulent financial services businesses against whom ASIC obtained orders in the Supreme Court of Queensland on 31 October 2012. ASIC has previously blocked websites used by these and other related fraudulent financial services businesses.
They give references in both instances. I get the sense that, despite you believing that it was possibly after the event, ASIC had already blocked access to these websites. That is what the press release said. They indicated on 22 March that they are blocking access to these websites.
Senator LUDLAM: Does the press statement contain information about a thousandfold over-blocking of 1,200 other sites?
Senator Conroy : I am reading to you what the press release refers to. I was adding some information that perhaps you did not know.
Senator LUDLAM: No. My understanding is that it quite a while for ASIC to come out of its box and own up to the fact that it had blocked not just the phishing site but a large number of others besides.
Senator Conroy : As I said, I can only inform you that the press release indicating that it was being blocked was issued on 22 March.
Senator LUDLAM: That may well be new information. It is always worth turning up to estimates, isn't it? When the PM launched the centre, I understand that, there was an estimate derived from Norton that was based on a survey of 500 people. They extrapolated from that that there are 5.4 million victims of cybercrime at a cost of $1.65 billion per annum. In your answer to my question on notice, you blame the AFP for the Prime Minister citing that figure. But you again defended it as a reasonable illustration. I am wondering whether we are really basing an estimate of what cybercrime costs people per year on a single small source of 500 people quoted by a company that makes a profit from protecting people from precisely these sorts of activities?
Mr McKinnon : As you know, costing the impact of cybercrime is a notoriously difficult activity. In that context, Norton—although clearly they have skin in the game—are a well-known company. It is an estimate that is an indication. But I do not think that anybody claims to be able to do better than that in any jurisdiction.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you aware of the Essential Research independent polling on the incidence and actual cost of cybercrime, which was based on a sample of around 1,000 people, that showed that the Norton report quite seriously overstated both the extent of cybercrime and its cost?
Mr McKinnon : I am not aware of that report. But, as I have said, the costs of cybercrime are notoriously difficult to estimate and you can find conflicting estimates up and down. But that does not detract from the main point, which is that cybercrime is of increasing concern to the Australian community and an increasing problem.
Senator LUDLAM: If I get an email from some guy in Nigeria wanting my credit card number, does that count as cybercrime?
Mr McKinnon : Do not give it to him, Senator.
Senator Conroy : And, Senator Ludlam, you have not won that lottery.
Senator LUDLAM: I know; I haven't. One of the first emails I ever got was about me winning a lottery. Is that included in these sorts of statistics?
Mr McKinnon : That is something that I would prefer you ask of AGD, which has direct portfolio responsibility for this. But whether or not that is, I do not think that it detracts from the main point. I am not here to defend Norton.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. What are the broad split of functions in the ACSC between defensive and offensive approaches to cybersecurity?
Mr McKinnon : It is not about offensive cyber operations at all.
Senator LUDLAM: Would I ask the Department of Defence about that or—
Mr McKinnon : No. I am saying that the ACSC is about protecting Australian networks and protecting Australian networks only.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. So it is 100 per cent defensive.
Mr McKinnon : That is right.
Senator LUDLAM: When was the PM last briefed on the activities of the Wikileaks publishing organisation or Julian Assange? Is that still within your remit?
Mr McKinnon : No, it is not. I will bring a colleague to the table now.
Senator Conroy : Who is the Wikileaks candidate against you? Are they running one against you?
Senator LUDLAM: Such an unhelpful intervention. I think that he might be running against the people who hung him out to dry, actually. I do not think that he is running against me.
Mr Sadleir : There have been no further briefings since we last appeared in estimates.
Senator LUDLAM: That was the last time that I asked, which was in October.
Mr Sadleir : That is right.
Senator LUDLAM: When was the last time that the department received a briefing—if at all—from Australian diplomats attending the hearings of Private First Class Bradley Manning in the United States?
Mr Sadleir : I will have to take that on notice. I do not have that information with me. I am aware that there has been cable traffic on this.
Senator LUDLAM: If you could take on notice for me and provide me in a little bit more detail than that on whether there have been face-to-face briefings and on the degree of visibility that the department has of those hearings, which are obviously ongoing.
Mr Sadleir : I am happy to do so.
Senator LUDLAM: Does the department receive briefings on matters relating to Wikileaks, Private Manning or Julian Assange from the US Ambassador based on Canberra?
Mr Sadleir : I personally have not received a briefing of that sort, but I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: If you did have that information at the table, I would ask you for dates and times and attendance lists and those sorts of things. If you could provide that in your answers, that would be much appreciated.
Mr Sadleir : Will do.
Mr McKinnon : Madam Chair, could I have leave to answer one question that I was not able to answer when the senator asked?
Mr McKinnon : We have 12 positions on cyber. One of them is vacant at the moment, so there is a total of 11.
Senator LUDLAM: You had eight, but it is 12. Lastly—and this will probably go on notice as well—what did the establishment of the centre cost taxpayers? How much is it expected to cost over the forward estimates?
Mr McKinnon : We will take that on notice and provide an answer to you.
Ms Leon : I have some follow-up answers. Senator Fifield asked me if I could get back to him about when the boxing sessions were conducted. They are conducted at lunchtimes. I can confirm that it is all provided by and people pay directly an outsourced provider. I also wanted to correct the record about something that I said a little earlier today when we were talking about the commencement of the caretaker period. I think that in the context of a conversation about the issue of the writs I fell in with a statement that the caretaker period commences at the issue of the writs whereas in fact the caretaker period commences on the dissolution of the House. You may recall that we had a long discussion at last estimates about the fact that the dissolution of the House and the issuing of the writs are not necessarily on the same day.
CHAIR: I recall that conversation.
Mr McKinnon : To answer Senator Ludlam's question about the budget, I can say that each portfolio will cover its own costs from within budget. It is not an extra budget model. It is 73 per cent Defence, for example, but beyond that it is probably best to ask portfolio by portfolio—Defence, ASIO, the police and so forth. On the other question about the FOI request that you asked about that we transferred to the AFP, they have not accepted it yet, so it may yet rest with us. It has not found a home; they have not accepted the request yet.
Senator RYAN: Refresh my memory of that last conversation: what is the date for the dissolution of the House?
Ms Leon : It has not occurred as yet.
Senator RYAN: No, but has it been specified? We have been advised that the issue of the writs will be on 12 August.
Ms Leon : No. The Prime Minister indicated that it would be around that time, but exactly when—
Senator RYAN: Counting to 33, it would not want to be much later.
Ms Leon : Quite. We have consistently said that it will be on or around that time, given the intention to hold an election on 14 September.
Senator RYAN: But you have not been advised as to a date?
Ms Leon : There has been no formal advice as to the date.
Senator RYAN: Any informal advice? Conversations?
Ms Leon : Only what is already in the public domain.
Senator RYAN: I want to go the conventions around consultation that Dr Watt outlined earlier this year. Those consultation provisions, which I understand take effect from 27 June—
Ms Leon : That is correct.
Senator RYAN: I do not think that this was covered last time, but I am happy to be pointed in that direction if it was. In terms of the rules for such consultation with the opposition, and in particular opposition shadow ministers, are such meetings and consultations to be private—that is, between only the opposition shadow ministers and the staff that they might bring with them and the officials?
Ms Leon : The arrangements for those meetings are subject to the approval of the relevant minister that the meeting occur in the first place. If it does occur then, unlike opposition briefings that can be agreed to outside the period for pre-election consultations, having a representative of the relevant minister's office present is not required. The meetings are limited to certain subject matter—
Senator RYAN: I appreciated that.
Ms Leon : and officials are permitted to inform their ministers whether or not the meeting remained within the permitted subject matter but not to divulge, other than that, the content of the meeting.
Senator RYAN: I want to clarify there as to whether you said 'may' or 'shall'. The occurrence of this meeting is dependent upon the consent of the minister.
Ms Leon : That is correct.
Senator RYAN: Okay. Can the minister provide conditional consent, such as that they have a staff member there or a representative of the government there, or, if they provide their consent, are the rules under which the meeting takes place as you have outlined?
Ms Leon : At any time, a minister could agree for departmental officials to meet with a shadow minister with the presence of someone from the minister's office. That is an option always available for a minister to agree to. The difference in the pre-election period is that a minister can agree to the meeting proceeding without the presence of the person from their office. I understand that the Prime Minister has advised her ministerial colleagues of the pre-election consultation guidelines to remind them all of the arrangements that apply.
Senator RYAN: Sure. I understand what a minister can agree to outside the pre-election guidelines. But inside the pre-election guidelines a minister can refuse consent for such a meeting to take place or they can agree and for that meeting to be private with the shadow minister and the officials only. Can they provide a conditional agreement so that they will only allow a meeting to go ahead if they have a representative there? Is that possible or is it a binary situation between no meeting at all or a meeting that is in private?
Ms Leon : The pre-election consultation guidelines do not advert to that possibility. But, as I think that I said, that possibility is always open to a minister—to agree to a meeting with—
Senator RYAN: Is it yes or no? During the pre-election period, if a minister does not want our meeting to happen in private, can they use their authority to have one of those meetings with their representatives in attendance, which you say that they can do at any time? Can they say yes to such a meeting during the pre-election period?
Ms Leon : I would think so. They can do that at any time.
Senator RYAN: It is a very simple answer.
Ms Leon : Sorry; I thought that I had been answering that. But then it would not be a meeting of the sort that the pre-election consultation guidelines envisage. It would be one of the meetings that a minister can agree to at any time.
Senator RYAN: With all due respect, we are more interested here in the substance of the meeting rather than trying to peer into the soul of what people intend by having the meeting. If a minister does agree to a meeting that happens pursuant to the pre-election guidelines in that it is private, you alluded earlier to the fact that if it stays within the guidelines the only thing that the minister will know is that the meeting occurred but that the officials can inform the minister if the meeting strayed beyond the guidelines. I want to clarify this: if it stays within the guidelines, there is no capacity for the minister to seek an update on the content of that meeting. An official cannot be compelled nor even requested to provide an update on the content of that meeting via a file note or a minute or anything else.
Ms Leon : That is the purpose of the guidelines.
Senator RYAN: That may be the purpose of the guidelines, but we have had discussions before about this. There was a great deal of discussion around the Parliamentary Budget Office bill. If the PBO merely requested information, a minister might actually ask officials to tell them what information the PBO requested and therefore get a pretty good idea of what happened. I understand the purpose of the pre-election guidelines, but given that officials are bound by various laws and regulations, can a minister insist, before the caretaker period begins but during the pre-election consultation period, on being advised of the content of those meetings if they happen within the scope of the guidelines.
Ms Leon : If that were to occur, the official would be entitled to refer to the guidelines and indicate that it would not be appropriate for them to divulge the discussion, given that they were conducting the meeting under an agreed set of rules by which the meetings are conducted to enable officials to brief the opposition privately about machinery of government officials.
Senator RYAN: Sure. If there was a dispute about those between, say, a minister and a departmental official, would that be escalated to Dr Watt, for example, to address with the Prime Minister or would it be resolved at a departmental level?
Ms Leon : It is a hypothetical question. I am not aware that anything has been brought to our attention that would suggest that we need to resolve it. If a department secretary was uncertain as to how he or she could or should respond to a request by a minister of that sort then I imagine that a department secretary would ordinarily start by consulting the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or would consult me.
Senator Conroy : Would you like me to read you the guidelines? I have them right here.
Senator RYAN: I am familiar with the guidelines. I prefer to learn what mistakes might happen beforehand rather than find out the hard way. That is all I have on that. I have a question about some appointments for after dinner.
CHAIR: We will adjourn now for dinner.
Proceedings suspended from 18:29 to 19 : 47
CHAIR: Welcome back to the hearing. Senator Bushby has the call.
Senator BUSHBY: I have some questions regarding scheduling and the management of the use of non-commercial or VIP planes by ministers.
Senator Conroy: I would hazard a guess and say that they have not changed since your ministers were in charge of flying in them.
Senator BUSHBY: The person who does the scheduling?
Senator Conroy: No, the process. Wrong department.
CHAIR: Ask the question, Senator. But it is Defence if you mean the VIPs.
Senator BUSHBY: I am not sure that it is VIPs and I was told that I might need to check here and I might have to go to Defence and to Finance.
CHAIR: Put your question and we will endeavour to get an answer for you.
Senator BUSHBY: Would it be a normal process for two private jets to transport two ministers to the same place on one day?
Ms Leon : It depends where they were going from and going to, whether one of the jets had to go on to another engagement afterwards and whether there were more people who could fit on the one jet. It depends on the circumstances.
Senator FAULKNER: And also the length of the journey, depending on the pilot—
Ms Leon : Yes.
Senator BUSHBY: So if two ministers were attending the same event, one coming from Sydney and one from Melbourne, it would be normal for two separate planes to pick up the ministers.
Ms Leon : It depends on the pre-positioning legs, as well. Defence schedules the flights based partly on where their planes already are. I know we are speaking about hypotheticals here. It is possible that if there was already a VIP in one place and one in another place it would be more convenient to use the two VIPs that were there rather than send one from a place it was not to another place.
Senator BUSHBY: Or more convenient than to pick up the minister in Sydney and fly to Melbourne—
Ms Leon : Is there a particular trip?
Senator BUSHBY: There is. There are reports—
Senator Conroy: That would depend. The reason you catch a plane is that there are not any available scheduled flights to get you there in time. You are presupposing that the ministers who are taking them can take the time to fly backwards to collect other colleagues—
Senator BUSHBY: From Sydney to Melbourne to Tasmania.
Senator Conroy: It just depends on where people start and what time they are available to leave.
Senator BUSHBY: I understand that, and that is why I am asking the questions without making the accusations.
Senator Conroy: I am happy to do a full trawl over the last 20 years of the sort of movements that have gone on and I am sure you will find—
Senator BUSHBY: Minister, that is up to you if you choose to do that, but I am interested in a particular instance and I will refer to that. On 16 April there were reports in Tasmanian newspaper The Advocate that both Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, and Mental Health and Ageing Minister, Mark Butler, flew into Wynyard on the same day, 16 April 2013, and, Wynyard being a fairly open airport, it was observed that there were two private jets there to deliver the two ministers. That created some interest and there were reports on that.
Senator Conroy: As the officers have said that depends on where people were flying on to and on what the commitments of the ministers were coming before they departed those two destinations.
Senator BUSHBY: Is this the right place to ask the details of where they were going to and coming from?
Ms Leon : No, it will be Defence. Now that I know none of the ministers in question is the Prime Minister I can inform you that the right place to ask the question is in the Defence estimates, because ministers make their requests to the defence minister for the allocation of VIP aircraft.
Senator BUSHBY: I do not know that they were in fact VIP aircraft. All I know is that they were private jets.
Senator FAULKNER: You said they were private jets.
Senator BUSHBY: That was how it was described in the article. It may well have been VIPs or it may well have been private jets.
Senator FAULKNER: If they were Royal Australian Air Force aircraft then Defence is the right place to go.
Senator BUSHBY: I will leave it at that.
Ms Leon : If there was no VIP available and a chartered aircraft was made available that would be the Department of Finance.
Senator BUSHBY: I was told either here, Finance or Defence and to try all of them.
Senator FAULKNER: I have one question in relation to the Open Government Partnership. I was very pleased to see the press release that Attorney-General Dreyfus issued in relation to Australia's plans with the Open Government Partnership. What I want to ask, and I am not sure which agency to ask, but it seems to be logical to start with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Has it been determined in government—in other words determined by the Prime Minister—what is the lead agency and who is the responsible minister for the OGP? Can you assist me with that?
Ms Leon : I believe the Attorney-General is the lead minister.
Senator FAULKNER: Has that decision been made?
Ms Leon : I believe so. I will check while we are in session and advise you if that is not the case. But that is my understanding.
Senator FAULKNER: There are two elements to this: the lead minister and the lead agency. So, what portfolio agency, if it is the Attorney-General? And can you say, Ms Leon, is that a decision that is made by the Prime Minister?
Ms Leon : Yes, the decision as to the lead minister is made by the Prime Minister. I will just have to seek some advice about who is the lead agency. I should be able to advise you of that while we are in session.
Senator FAULKNER: Are you able to say when that decision was made?
Ms Leon : I may not be able to say that this evening, but we should be able to find out within the period that this estimates committee is meeting. It just may need to be done in business hours if I cannot find out this evening.
Senator FAULKNER: If you let me know tomorrow—unfortunately we will both be here tomorrow—that is fine. Depending on the answer there may be some follow-up issues. Given that the Attorney made the announcement I assume like you that the Attorney is the lead minister. But could you confirm the lead agency. Also, as you investigate this issue overnight, I would be interested to understand what if any ongoing role the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has in relation to this matter. We can revisit this tomorrow. I would appreciate your looking at that.
Ms Leon : Okay.
Senator McKENZIE: I have some questions about application for safeguard measures, which I hope you can help me with.
Ms Leon : Is this a WTO question?
Senator McKENZIE: It is, essentially.
Ms Leon : If you could tell us which matter it is and we will be able to tell you if we can assist.
Senator McKENZIE: It is to do with a request for emergency safeguard measures made by SPC Ardmona.
Dr de Brouwer : That is domestic industry policy.
Senator McKENZIE: I refer to the issue, which I assume you are aware of, that SPC Ardmona has written to the minister for agriculture requesting emergency safeguard action.
Ms Taylor : Yes, I am aware of that.
Senator McKENZIE: What is your understanding of where that process is up to?
Ms Taylor : I will have to come back to you on that. I am aware the department is looking at that but I do not have any further detail with me tonight.
Senator McKENZIE: Would you be able to get back to me on that over the next couple of days?
Ms Taylor : I certainly will.
Senator McKENZIE: I will read out the types of things I need. What is your understanding of the evidence that exits to support the application for the safeguard measures and what sort of evidence will the government be taking into account in making that decision? Specifically, is there evidence of material harm? If there is, will the government be willing to apply a safeguard measure to protect imported multi-serve fruit and canned tomato products that are placing local industries at risk? If that evidence does exist, will the government be willing to apply a safeguard measure? Is the government prepared to apply provisional safeguards, which can be granted by the responsible minister without referring the matter to the Productivity Commission?
Ms Taylor : I will take those on notice.
Senator RYAN: Senator McKenzie, we have the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet coming back tomorrow morning and tomorrow evening. Earlier, Ms Taylor, you said you would endeavour to get back to Senator McKenzie and now it is on notice. I was wondering if this is something that Senator McKenzie would be able to pursue tomorrow?
Ms Taylor : I think we are on first in the morning. I am probably unlikely to be able to come back with your answers overnight.
Senator McKENZIE: Is that the only time?
CHAIR: We are in session until tomorrow night. If the department has a response by then they are quite welcome to come back then, otherwise it will be taken on notice and reported by 12 July.
Senator RYAN: I think Senator McKenzie was under the impression she might have a chance to talk to you about it, whereas you just said you will take them on notice, which means there would not be the chance to talk about it.
Ms Taylor : I just do not have that detail with me. I will have to find some of the answers. We do not have those. I am aware of the matter but I do not have very much detail on that.
Dr de Brouwer : It is quite a complicated matter. The question is complicated, so to give all of those dimensions that quickly is not a very straightforward task. We will try.
Senator RYAN: I think Senator McKenzie would like a chance to flesh out whatever you can bring back, because obviously the role of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is a smaller more discrete one than the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but I understand Senator McKenzie is going to pursue this next week with DFAT.
Senator McKENZIE: Yes.
Senator RYAN: The last thing someone would want to hear is, 'That direction is coming from PM&C.' She would then not have an opportunity to pursue it.
CHAIR: It will be taken on notice and obviously if the officers have the information prior to the session ending tomorrow they will report back, otherwise it will be on notice.
Ms Leon : I can already provide an answer to Senator Faulkner's question of a moment ago about the Open Government Partnership. I am not wishing to set too high a benchmark for getting back within session!
The Prime Minister wrote to the Attorney-General on 15 May this year agreeing not only that the Attorney-General would be the lead minister but agreeing that his department would take on the role of lead agency.
Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that. I have a very brief matter on which I will not detain you long. It has come out as a result of a very brief Canberra Timesarticle—or snippet, really—saying that there had been some form of foul-up in relation to the National Australia Day Council in terms of regular reporting to the Senate and nonreporting from 2010-11. It is a minor matter, and the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister wrote to right the wrong, so to speak. Ms Leon, you would be aware of this, I suppose.
Ms Leon : Yes.
Senator FAULKNER: I am not putting it at any higher level than an administrative oversight, but was there a necessity to do any checking within the department to ensure that this did not happen again? I assume it was just one of those things that we see from time to time.
Ms Leon : It actually was not an oversight. It arises as a result of there being some ambiguity about the treatment of Commonwealth companies who receive a grant. The grant guidelines define a grant—this is in the financial management and accountability regulations—as:
an arrangement for the provision of financial assistance by the Commonwealth:
(a) under which public money is to be paid to a recipient other than the Commonwealth;
Therefore, there is some ambiguity about whether a Commonwealth company is one that ought to be reported on as receiving a grant or whether it is actually just receiving payment from within the Commonwealth. So, for a number of years we have been operating on the understanding that it was not required to report grants to the NADC because of it being part of the Commonwealth. More recently, we have been advised that it would be better to report it, and so we have. But I think that that practice is not uniform across the Commonwealth because of that ambiguity about its treatment. In the interests of the greatest possible transparency, we have reported it—and we have reported it back for the past years. But the reason that we did not report it in the past was not due to an oversight; it was due to an actual understanding that it was not required.
Senator FAULKNER: I see. The reason I thought it was probably an oversight was that it identified nonreporting only from 2010-11. But, of course, I suppose that could mean since 2010-11. It is not just one financial year. In fact, this had been the standard operating procedure until the reassessment that you mentioned was undertaken. Is that it?
Ms Leon : That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER: Does that apply then to any other agencies? Is the National Australia Day Council the only organisation affected in PM&C?
Ms Leon : It is the only Commonwealth company within our portfolio, yes.
Senator FAULKNER: So it is whatever is defined as a Commonwealth company?
Ms Leon : Yes.
Senator FAULKNER: To clear this up for the future, as a result of this have you had to ensure that there is a consistent approach in other agencies as well?
Ms Leon : The department of finance administers the regulations and advises agencies about what they need to do in order to comply with them. Whether the department of finance has now provided advice more generally in relation to other portfolios that have a lot of companies would be a matter that ought to be taken up with them.
Senator FAULKNER: Did the department of finance advise PM&C here?
Ms Leon : Yes.
Senator FAULKNER: So this came out as a result of Finance effectively realising that this reporting had not occurred for this Commonwealth company since 2010-11.
Ms Leon : That is correct.
Senator FAULKNER: Thanks for that.
Senator McKENZIE: I am just wondering what the typical time lines from receipt of something like an application for safeguard measures would be for the person or the company that wrote to hear back from government.
Dr de Brouwer : I think that, despite our best efforts, this is one that we are not going to know off the tip of our tongue. We will have to come back.
Ms Taylor : Senator, thank you for the question. Unfortunately, I really do not have any idea. That is not something that PM&C would ordinarily be involved in. We would really have to take that on notice for you.
Senator McKENZIE: All right—just the typical time lines. It has been a month now, and we still have not heard one way or the other.
Ms Leon : I should say more generally that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will be more well placed than us to advise on things like the typical time for actions of that sort, though we will of course endeavour to find out what we can overnight. On a line of questioning about how these things ordinarily go, they will certainly have more experience than we do.
Senator McKENZIE: Have there been any discussions? The process, I guess, is typically to ask the Productivity Commission to conduct an investigation about surpassing that or sticking with the agreed process.
Ms Taylor : Not that I am aware of.
Senator McKENZIE: Okay. I look forward to hearing from you later on. I have a quick question about the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development. According to Budget Paper No. 2, the government will provide $38.5 million over four years to implement the amendment. We heard evidence during the committee inquiry into it that the first assessment report of the Council of Australian Governments into that did not find any issue with the national partnership agreement. That was a process that states had signed up to and were going through. I want to know how much money was spent on establishing and running the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development.
Ms Taylor : Senator, if you give me a second, I think I have some of that information with me.
Senator McKENZIE: Great.
Ms Taylor : I understand that under the national partnership agreement there was $50 million allocated from the Commonwealth for the purposes of funding over three years to parties to the NPA. There was an additional $150 million, I believe, for the independent expert scientific committee to undertake scientific studies.
Senator McKENZIE: Okay. In terms of the amendments that have been agreed with Tony Windsor, the whole national partnership was around states signing up and agreeing to harmonise their environmental laws around these particular things. Legislation that has gone through recently usurps that. My question is: what of the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development now that that particular piece of legislation has gone through?
Ms Taylor : I understand that legislation has not passed through the Senate.
Senator McKENZIE: You are right; we are still debating amendments. But what if it were to pass?
Ms Taylor : I think both of those different arrangements can coincide with each other. The national partnership agreement is with a number of states, whereas the EPBC Act amendment applies to all referrals under the EPBC Act which trigger the new water trigger.
Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.
Dr de Brouwer : In general, the environment department can provide more detailed answers than us.
Senator McKENZIE: That is fine. Thank you.
Senator PAYNE: I am going to move to questions in relation to COAG. I can see everybody's excitement written all over their faces! I want to start with some general questions in the resourcing and staffing space, if I can.
We see in the budget papers some changes in funding for both COAG and the CRC across the forward estimates some small diminution in funding. Can you indicate how the 2013-14 budget is going to affect resourcing and staffing in both PM&C and the CRC, if there are any changes that are going to be made as a result of the budgetary arrangements?
Mr Hazlehurst : There has been a small change to the departmental arrangements since last year, which primarily reflects the reduction in effort associated with the response to the HOTS review which you will recall. In particular, there was quite a substantial amount of work that went into the review of the performance frameworks for national agreements, and a selected number of National Partnership Agreements, which COAG then considered towards the end of last year. So the resourcing within the department—consistent, I think, with a question on notice that we completed from the last estimates—has been reduced marginally, from around 12 ASL to 10 ASL. In relation to the CRC's funding: I think I will have to take that on notice.
Senator PAYNE: Okay. Thank you very much. You may not be able to indicate this immediately, Mr Hazlehurst—if you cannot, then you can take it on notice—but can you indicate to the committee what portion of the total funding under program 1.1.1 was allocated to COAG related activities and functions in 2012-13; and, similarly, what portion of that funding will be allocated in 2013-14 to COAG related activities and functions?
Mr Hazlehurst : I will have to take that on notice. What I can say is that the ASL funding has gone from around 12 to around 10. That has been in place for around almost six months.
Senator PAYNE: Can you, similarly, do those numbers for me in relation to the COAG Reform Council?
Mr Hazlehurst : Yes, Senator.
Senator PAYNE: Thank you. Can you provide to the committee—again, I think this would need to be on notice—a breakdown of the funding for all the COAG related activities and functions under program 1.1.1 for the previous financial year and the new financial year: 2012-13 and 2013-14. So, can you actually break down the funding of COAG activities under 1.1.1, if it is possible to do that.
Mr Hazlehurst : Senator, I am very happy to identify, and capable of identifying, the resourcing that goes specifically to the Commonwealth-State Relations Branch. There is, however, COAG related activity that occurs right across the department, because relevant divisions within PM&C will provide input and advice on those things. I doubt very much that we will be in a position to provide figures around those—we just don't keep records of that kind of detail.
Senator PAYNE: Unless, Mr Hazlehurst, I assume, there is a project of significance involved. For example, I heard officers speaking earlier with Senator Mason at some length about aspects of the Gonski process. Would you be keeping some sort of record in relation to allocation of resources and activities and functions undertaken by parts of PM&C that go to that and the COAG aspects thereof?
Mr Hazlehurst : I believe that we would be able to identify the resourcing that goes to those activities as a whole. Again there would be a question of the distinction that would need to be drawn—what proportion of the activity that is associated, for example, with schools reform would you say was COAG related as opposed to schools reform related?
Senator PAYNE: I understand.
Mr Hazlehurst : But we can see what we can do.
Senator PAYNE: Similarly for schools reform related to the Gonski process and also for the NDIS process. They are the two largest projects that have been identified in most recent discussions.
Mr Hazlehurst : We will see what we can do.
Senator PAYNE: Are you able to indicate to the committee the cost of the last COAG meeting in April, including the business advisory forum?
Mr Hazlehurst : Yes, I am. In April, there was not a business advisory forum. But the cost of the COAG meeting on 19 April was $22,075.35.
Senator PAYNE: Thank you very much. You gave me, as you mentioned earlier, a breakdown of staffing levels for COAG functions over the 2011-12 financial year and up to February 2013 for the 2012-13 financial year. You indicated to me earlier that we were going from ASL12 to ASL10. Is that the indication for the figures for the entirety of this financial year about to conclude?
Mr Hazlehurst : That is the current staffing levels as opposed to the full financial year staffing levels. If you would like those separately I imagine that we can provide that.
Senator PAYNE: Thank you.
Mr Hazlehurst : I do not have a full financial year number that I can give you, particularly given that we are not at the end of the financial year.
Senator PAYNE: I understand that. If you can come back to me on that, that would be good. I understand that answers to questions on notice are due 12 July.
CHAIR: That is correct.
Senator PAYNE: In relation to the forward agenda, for want of a better turn of phrase, for COAG, is there expected to be another COAG meeting prior to the currently set date of the election of 14 September?
Mr Hazlehurst : No meeting has been scheduled at this stage.
Senator PAYNE: Is one expected.
Mr Hazlehurst : That is not something that we are in a position to comment on. No meeting has been scheduled at this point.
Senator PAYNE: I understand that. But we often discuss some prospective dates for COAG and before the dates are set you tell me that no meeting has been scheduled but there is one in the works. Is there one in the works? Let me try again.
Ms Cross : Our expectation, based on the schedule of SOM meetings, is that there would not be a COAG meeting until after the election. That is not to say that one cannot suddenly be called. But there is certainly not one planned.
Senator PAYNE: At the last COAG meeting, there were about 12 agenda items discussed, ranging in detail from schools reform to the NDIS to the Australian government fleet vehicle procurement policy. Are you able to advise the committee the status of those particular areas if there is not to be another COAG meeting before the election? Which of those 12 are likely to remain on an agenda for the next COAG meeting?
Ms Cross : There are a number of matters that will continue to be progressed through COAG out of session. The fact that there is no meeting scheduled does not mean that the work will not go on. If we go through the major items, obviously work on the National Disability Insurance Scheme will continue, because the launches will go ahead on 1 July and we will continue working through the details of the agreements. The discussions on school reform are obviously ongoing, with the Prime Minister looking to have agreements by 30 June. Then there will be ongoing work on the content of those agreements. A lot of the work on gang violence will be progressed by the standing council of police ministers. Some of it will be progressed by senior officials.
The work on public safety mobile broadband will be progressed by officials. Further submissions will be made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority. There was an officials group set up to progress a number of measures outlined in the Asian Century white paper. From memory, that will be brought back to COAG in October 2013. There was discussion of the early childhood national partnership. Agreement was reached on an NP, so that work will be progressed so that the national partnership can be signed off by first ministers.
Thinking about the other items, the royal succession item is proceeding, with states and the Commonwealth moving forward on legislation to give effect to that. There was a presentation from the COAG reform council chairman. That was really for noting, but further work will occur. There will be ongoing work through the CRC. There was an update on the competition and regulatory reform measures. That work will continue. In terms of the vehicles policy, the agreement there was just that people would like at whether they can align their government fleet arrangements. That is work that will be progressed by each government. They were the main items.
Senator PAYNE: What about the national occupational licencing scheme?
Ms Cross : The communique noted that the final decision RISs will be signed off and there will be a further process of state consultation on those RISs for those states that desire to have further consultation. That will then be brought back to COAG. That does not necessarily have to come to a meeting. If it is all agreed, it could be done out of session.
Senator PAYNE: The only one that you missed was the telecommunications black spots item.
Ms Cross : That was simply an item from the Victorian Premier for noting.
Senator PAYNE: Obviously within the COAG purview there are a number of reforms that do not end up on every agenda. On notice, can you provide advice to the committee about the progress or lack of progress of those over the last 12 months of COAG's existence or meetings. These would be things that have not necessarily made it onto the formal agenda but, as you said, are pursued by officials out of session or dealt with by standing councils and so on. Could you update the committee on those.
Ms Cross : I might need you to narrow down what you are interested in.
Senator PAYNE: We can do it on notice.
Ms Cross : Every ministerial council has a major work plan, the bulk of which does not go through COAG.
Senator PAYNE: I understand that.
Ms Cross : If there are things that you are interested in that COAG agrees out of session, we could give you a list of what COAG has agreed out of session.
Senator PAYNE: I understand that in relation to the ministerial councils. But separately from that even over the past two years there have been items that have been initiated as COAG items that do not necessarily come onto the agenda at every COAG meeting. But one imagines—one hopes—that they are being dealt with by officials or by the process of first ministers or whatever it might be outside of the sessions.
Ms Cross : Yes. There are two categories of items. There are some that COAG commissions other bodies to take forward. In an effort to streamline the COAG agenda, they are not required to come back to COAG unless there is an issue that cannot be resolved. It would probably not be helpful to give you that list, because that would be a very long list. Then there are other piece of work that are commissioned for COAG where the expectation is that they will be brought back. Again, that may not be on the agenda at every meeting but we certainly track the things that are due back to COAG. We could give you the second list and that might be more useful.
Senator PAYNE: We try to do that do. But if you could provide me with a list that would be very helpful.
Ms Cross : Yes.
Senator PAYNE: I want to ask about the COAG reform council reports process. I understand that there were three reports due to be delivered to COAG by 30 April this year on teacher quality, affordable housing and Indigenous reform. Is it possible to confirm whether or not those reports have been received? If they have been received, on what date were they received?
Mr Hazlehurst : Do you mean submitted to COAG?
Senator PAYNE: Yes.
Mr Hazlehurst : There are currently five reports that have been submitted to COAG that have not yet been responded to. The first of those was the report on coal seam gas and large coal mining development, the period one assessment report. That was submitted to COAG on 28 February 2013. The second was on health care in 2011-12, comparing performance across Australia. That and the following three were received on 30 April. The third one is on disability in 2011-12, comparing performance across Australia. The fourth one is on homelessness in 2011-12, comparing performance across Australia. The fifth one is on Indigenous reform in 2011-12, comparing performance across Australia.
Senator PAYNE: Thank you very much. What is the status of the affordable housing one, then? Is that the one on homelessness?
Ms Cross : No, that would be separate.
Senator PAYNE: On the CRC website, it indicates that there a report was submitted on 30 April on housing affordability and there is an NPA on teacher quality as well. Where are they up to?
Ms Cross : They may not have been publicly released yet. The first five that Mr Hazlehurst read out have been provided to COAG and publicly released. The affordable housing one has not yet been publicly released.
Senator PAYNE: But it has been provided to COAG?
Mr Hazlehurst : Only one of the ones that I read out—or maybe two or three, possibly—have been publicly released.
Ms Cross : We will check that for you. Some of them have been provided to COAG and not yet publicly released.
Mr Hazlehurst : I do not believe that we have a report on affordable housing, though.
Senator PAYNE: It is one of the 2011-12 comparing performance across Australia reports.
Mr Hazlehurst : We will need to clarify.
Senator PAYNE: Can you also clarify on the teacher quality one, then, please?
Mr Hazlehurst : I have some information about that one, which is that, while the website shows that that report was submitted to COAG on 30 April, in fact the report is now at the consultation draft. The CRC intends to submit a final report to COAG by 12 June.
Senator PAYNE: That is a bit of a difference.
Mr Hazlehurst : That is the information that I have.
Senator PAYNE: They are ahead of themselves, are they, on their website?
Mr Hazlehurst : Yes, I guess so.
Senator PAYNE: That is maybe also the case for the affordable housing one, then.
Mr Hazlehurst : It could be.
Senator PAYNE: If you could check that for me, that would be helpful.
Mr Hazlehurst : Yes.
Senator PAYNE: You were also going to tell me which ones have been publicly released and which ones have not.
Mr Hazlehurst : It may be that the information that I have in front of me is actually a bit out of date. I would like to confirm it. I believe that at least the first three of the ones that I read out before have been released. But let me check that and I will come back to the committee before the completion of PM&C's time at the table.
Senator PAYNE: Thanks very much. It seems to me that there is usually a month or so, give or take—a month and a half, perhaps—between submission to COAG and release of the report.
Mr Hazlehurst : That is right.
Senator PAYNE: What is the purpose of that period?
Mr Hazlehurst : I believe it simply allows a period for governments to consider the reports before they are publicly released. It is nothing more complicated than that.
Senator PAYNE: No, I did not expect it would be. Are any of the reports ever changed before they are made public when they come from the CRC and are presented to COAG?
Ms Cross : They do have early versions that they consult all jurisdictions on, but once they actually provide the report to COAG that is their report.
Senator PAYNE: The new CRC chairman recently gave a speech to CEDA in which he argued that COAG needs a medium-term agenda. I think he gave that speech earlier this month. I hate to ask this, because it is a very COAG question: is the development of a medium-term agenda on the COAG agenda?
Ms Cross : I am not sure exactly what you mean by a medium-term agenda. Certainly, a number of the measures that are being looked at under, for example, the Asian Century white paper have a reasonably long horizon in terms of what governments are setting out to achieve. Similarly, it will be a medium-term agenda to roll out reforms like the National Disability Insurance Scheme and school funding reform and get them right—although the launch of NDIS, for example, is happening in July. That is the beginning of the reform process rather than an end point. There are a number of matters on the COAG agenda that already have a medium-term time frame. And then, within the themes that it obviously operates under, COAG is constantly looking at the strategic priorities that need the attention of first ministers.
Senator PAYNE: It is not really what I mean by a medium-term agenda; it is what Mr Brumby means by a medium-term agenda. I am asking, based on the words in his speech, whether those points are taken further by COAG and considered an item for discussion there. There is about a page of his speech from May. I do not want to go through all of that tonight, but the point I think he is making is that a medium-term agenda allows:
important social and economic policy areas to be prioritised and gives transparency to the nation of what our political leaders believe to be the building blocks of a national vision.
Such an approach also inspires more ambitious goals and promotes greater ownership by COAG as a separate entity rather than a group of competing political interests.
The purpose of my question was to ask whether, when the CRC chair—no matter who that person is—makes an observation of that nature it actually ends up on the COAG agenda for discussion or whether it just floats off into the ether.
Ms Cross : Certainly the COAG chair presented to the last COAG meeting and, as I understand it, he would have a regular opportunity to do that.
Senator PAYNE: Was that previously the case for Mr McClintock?
Ms Cross : I think the original intention was to have Mr McClintock attend a COAG meeting, but on the date it was scheduled I believe he was out of the country. So when it actually happened it was the new chair, which was not necessarily a bad thing. But it was certainly intended for Mr McClintock as well.
Senator PAYNE: I want to ask some questions around some of the specific reform areas, if I may, starting with some concerns which have been raised around Indigenous health reform, in particular. These questions have been raised both publicly and by stakeholders. Indigenous health reform was not on the agenda for the last meeting, on 19 April, nor was it at the three 2012 meetings, but it is one of the areas listed by the CRC as one with its reform time frame at risk. Can you tell the committee, please, the last time that Indigenous health reform was part of the COAG meeting agenda?
Ms Cross : I would have to check that for you, Senator. It probably is worth noting that there is a consultation process under way at the moment on the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan. That is the framework within which Indigenous health reform would sit. That consultation process is under way. The first council that would look at that would be the Standing Council on Health. If they felt there was a need for that to come to COAG, that option would be available to them. But, again, if what is in the plan is largely agreed at the ministerial council level, those sorts of items do not necessarily have to come to COAG. Those councils are part of the COAG framework, so they are still taking place under the auspices of COAG, even if it stays at the ministerial council level rather than coming to COAG per se.
Senator PAYNE: Thank you very much for that, Ms Cross. What is the relationship, then, between the consultation on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan—which is, I believe, what you were just referring to—and the announcement made in April by the Prime Minister, and by Minister Macklin and Minister Snowdon, about the $770 million in Commonwealth funding for a renewed three-year NPA on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes? What is the status of the relationship with those two?
Ms Cross : My recollection is that that was an announcement of the funding—that the funding would be continued in the budget. I believe the specifics of exactly how it will be spent are still under consideration, but I will take that on notice. It may well be that it is in part taking into account the health plan, in terms of deciding what the priorities for that expenditure are. But I will take that on notice. I think the announcement really was that the funding was going to continue rather than the details of the actual national partnership.
Senator PAYNE: I understand that Minister Snowdon has this month written to the states and territories, all of whom I think have yet to sign on to this NPA extension, asking them to sign on. Can you tell us whether there has been any progress on that renewed agreement with the states and territories?
Ms Cross : Senator, I think you are getting to a level of detail that would best be directed to the health department, because they are the ones responsible for negotiating that national partnership.
Senator PAYNE: Ms Cross, are you able to at least advise us as to whether any progress had been made in negotiating that renewed agreement with the states and territories before it was announced on 18 April?
Ms Cross : I would have to take that on notice, Senator. It is not part of the national partnerships that have been coming to COAG, so we have not had the same line of sight of that one as others.
Senator PAYNE: If, as reported, Mr Snowdon did write to the states and territories asking them to sign on—or in fact, as was mentioned in newspaper reports, begging them to sign on—are you able to tell me on what date he wrote to the states and territories and whether any have responded?
Ms Cross : I do not have that information, Senator.
Senator PAYNE: I can take that up with Health, I think you said, Ms Cross—which is fine—at the cross-portfolio Indigenous estimates. But, given the importance placed by the government on closing the gap in Indigenous health, represented both by a renewed MPA and by the information you, Ms Cross, have just given the Territory in relation to the ATSI Health Plan consultation, and given that the CRC has listed Indigenous health reform as one of several reforms with its time frame at risk, why would that not have appeared on a COAG meeting agenda at some stage in the last 18 months or so, or, hopefully, appear in the near future?
Ms Cross : There are a number of issues which are progressed in ministerial councils. Quite often they come to COAG if they are issues that cannot be resolved and actually require the attention of first ministers to resolve them. That one has not been put forward by any state or territory as requiring resolution at a high level, so my assumption would be that it is still progressing through the appropriate standing council.
Senator PAYNE: I would love to think that is the case; but, if the CRC says it is a reform with its time frame at risk, that indicates to me that it is probably not progressing well through the ministerial council process.
Ms Cross : The CRC may have been commenting more on whether Closing the Gap targets are likely to be achieved, rather than whether governments are working together and the right strategies are in place. I do not know the context of their remark. But as I said not all matters are brought to COAG, and that is a quite conscious attempt not to clutter up the COAG agenda. So if things are progressing satisfactorily outside of COAG that is where they would normally remain.
Senator PAYNE: The point I am making is that things are not progressing satisfactorily outside of COAG if the report of the COAG Reform Council says that the time frame for the Indigenous health policy process is at risk.
Ms Cross : As I said I do not have the context for that comment, so I am not sure whether or not the issues are ones that would need to be taken to COAG.
Senator PAYNE: I will pursue that with Health and I will probably put some more questions on notice in relation to that. On the last occasion we discussed the Seamless National Economy reforms, and in the one before that and so on. One of the concerns I raised on that occasion, which I suspect we had a circular conversation about at the time, concerned the facilitation provided by the reward payment process—or otherwise.
Mr Hazelhurst : I recall the conversation!
Senator PAYNE: Lucky you. I have just re-read it. When you responded in answer to a question on notice you effectively said that PM&C counts the reforms in a different way to the CRC and that of the eight seamless national economy competition reform streams not tied to reward payments, four have now been completed. Can you confirm for me that, even though you say you count the reforms differently, are PM&C and the COAG Reform Council in agreement about progress on the reforms?
Mr Hazelhurst : Yes, more or less.
Senator PAYNE: So there are no major points of variance?
Mr Hazelhurst : The only observation I would make is that there has been some completion of elements of the reforms since the CRC last reported. I believe that report was provided in December. For example, at that time the CRC reported that three out of eight of the competition reforms, as we would classify it, were complete. Since that time an additional reform has been completed. The National Access Regime reform is now complete.
Senator PAYNE: You have listed that as completed?
Mr Hazelhurst : COAG consider that now to be complete. That makes it four of eight. And in respect of the deregulation reforms, at the time the CRC said 17 of 27. Since that time the oil and gas reforms are now complete, so that is 18 of 27.
Senator PAYNE: If you take your figures and the CRC's figures, we still have about 50 per cent of the reforms outstanding, don't we?
Mr Hazelhurst : Of the competition reforms?
Senator PAYNE: Yes.
Mr Hazelhurst : Yes around 50 per cent.
Senator PAYNE: Has the department identified any concerns in relation to responsiveness on those reforms that are not tied to reward payments?
Mr Hazelhurst : I think the way in which COAG has approached this, and it is reflected in the update that COAG provided after the December meeting—in fact there was also a report at the April meeting—is to say that there are areas in which there are concerns from COAG on both competition and deregulation, and that, for example, with the completion of the role and the period in which the business regulation and competition working group had been established—at the end of last year—in recognition of the fact that there were still reforms that were to be complete, and some that the CRC had identified as being at risk, COAG asked the business advisory forum task force that had been established when the business advisory forum was established, which is chaired by David Tune, the Secretary of Finance, to take over the monitoring and reporting role to COAG to ensure that those reforms are driven to a conclusion. There are reforms that are reward funding reforms, on the regulation side, and reforms on the competition side where they are not complete and there is a need to pursue those further. The point I am trying to make is that it is not just on the competition side where there is no reward funding where there are still issue with completing the reforms.
Senator PAYNE: I have some questions in which I want to seek updates on a couple of reforms in each area. In energy market reforms it is question reference No. 11. So in competition it would be the energy market reforms, infrastructure reform, the national transport reforms and the road reform plan. I understand that they are still to be completed. Could you update us on those, when we can expect to see them completed and the reasons for the delays. Then, in November 2012, with the ones the CRC identified as at particular risk, which were OH&S, mine safety, chemicals and plastics, and directors liability, could you give me the same update—that is, the progress on each, the reasons for delay and when we can expect to see them completed.
There are also five competition reforms that are not part of the Seamless National Economy NPA but which are included by the CRC as non-reward payment reforms, four of which have their output at risk. I think they are: legal profession, in terms of time frame; not-for-profit sector fundraising, in terms of time frame; the not-for-profit sector standard chart of accounts, in terms of time frame; and the regulation making and review, in terms of output. Could I get the same update on those.
Mr Hazelhurst : There is a very substantial amount of information there and, of course, I would be happy to provide that on notice.
Senator PAYNE: Thank you. As you know, I am sure, in December last year there was an agreement on a revised National Affordable Housing Agreement. The COAG website then said that the NAHA was updated to incorporate provisional performance benchmarks and improvements in performance will be demonstrated by progress against the benchmarks reported at a national level only. In paragraph 7 of 17 of that, it indicated that the Select Council on Housing and Homelessness would report to COAG in the first quarter of this year on potential and proposed improvements to the housing data and reporting. Has the report been made to COAG by the select council?
Ms Cross : The select councils submit mid-year reports. The work plans we have received so far do not include the plan from that council. So if it was included in the work plan it is still due to come in. They are not due until 31 May, so it may be that we will get the update on that as part of that work plan. Or it may be in their annual report, because they also provide an annual report. We can check that for you.
Senator PAYNE: So the revised NAHA said the first quarter of 2013. Was that period extended?
Ms Cross : No, I am just saying they may have submitted it as part of one of the plans. We will check that for you. I certainly do not recall having seen it, but it could have been in just one of their standard reports.
Senator PAYNE: If it has not been provided can you tell us on notice when it is expected to be provided and why it has been delayed. In paragraph 19 of the NAHA there is also a reference to four provisional performance benchmarks under the agreement. It says that those will be subject to review following the Standing Council on Federal Financial Relations review of funding adequacy this year. What is the status of the review of funding adequacy? Has that taken place?
Ms Cross : I believe that was a Treasury led review, so you would need to check with Treasury on what the status of that is at the moment.
Senator PAYNE: Would you know if it had come to—
Ms Cross : I do not think it was due until the end of 2013.
Senator PAYNE: That is fine. I just wanted to check on the timing. If you could perhaps let us know on notice when we can expect to see that.
Senator KROGER: I have questions on international affairs. Firstly, I will address the difficult matter of Matt Joyce's charges and recent sentencing, and that of Marcus Lee, who has been acquitted. On what date did the Prime Minister receive her first briefing on the case of Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee?
Dr McCarthy : I do not have that information with me. I can take it on notice.
Senator KROGER: Dr McCarthy, can I say first up that there is not one person who would appear in estimates who is not expecting me to ask questions on this matter. I am very happy for you to take it on notice and come back with answers in the morning, but I would find it extraordinary that you are not sufficiently briefed that you have not come with the information I am seeking. I will continue to ask questions, but if they are all taken on notice, Chair, I seek your leave to come back and ask these questions in the morning, so that the officers can be properly briefed and apprise themselves of the situation, given the significance of the circumstances.
CHAIR: Senator, I think you have put the question, and the witness has offered to take that on notice. I think if you go through the remaining questions the department will do their best to respond.
Senator KROGER: So you cannot tell me, Dr McCarthy, when the Prime Minister was first briefed on the charges that were laid upon either Marcus Lee or Matthew Joyce?
Dr McCarthy : I do not have that date with me.
Senator KROGER: Can you provide me with that date tomorrow morning?
Dr McCarthy : I will endeavour to get that information for you by the morning.
Senator KROGER: Thank you very much. I presume the department is listening to this, so that they will be able to source the information for you. If you could provide me with the nature of that brief, whether it came through DFAT, where that brief originated, and if the brief included any advice, that would be appreciated. I am not asking the nature of the advice. I understand the subtleties of this. I am asking when that brief was provided and who provided that brief, and whether in fact that brief came with any recommendations. A brief must have been provided at some stage, because the Prime Minister did make a personal representation to Sheikh Maktoum. Are you aware of the representation to made to Sheikh Maktoum?
Dr McCarthy : Yes, I am able to advise, although I do not have the date of the first time on which we briefed the Prime Minister, that the briefings for the Prime Minister are provided by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and we consult with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in briefing the Prime Minister on consular matters. So, the advice is provided by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator KROGER: To the Prime Minister?
Dr McCarthy : Yes, to the Prime Minister, but we consult with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has responsibility for consular matters in providing our advice.
Senator KROGER: I appreciate that. So, advice that would be given to PM&C from DFAT would be synthesised? Or is that advice given on face value of what has been advised from DFAT?
Dr McCarthy : We do not simply transmit what is provided to us by DFAT. But of course DFAT has the lead agency on consular matters, with expertise and day-to-day responsibility in consular matters. Obviously we take their advice into account.
Senator KROGER: So, are you aware if the Prime Minister's representation to Sheikh Maktoum was made on the back of advice given to her? Presumably it was; she presumably did not spontaneously decide to call Sheikh Maktoum about this matter. So, it must have been on the basis of advice given.
Ms Klugman : Yes, Senator. I think you are aware that there were two stages in the Prime Minister's contact with the sheikh. The first was correspondence—she wrote to him—and the second was a telephone call. For both of those the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet supports her, as we would normally do for her correspondence or for her telephone calls.
Senator KROGER: Thank you. We are now actually moving along a little bit—which is great, I have to say. Are you aware whether the Prime Minister made contact with either the Joyce or the Lee family?
Ms Klugman : I am not aware of direct contact between the Prime Minister and the Joyce or Lee family. I am not saying it did not happen, but I am not aware of it.
Senator KROGER: When you come back to me in the morning with advice in relation to when she was first briefed on this, could you please also include the number of briefings that the Prime Minister has received on the case over the past three years? And I spell that out, because, as we know, both Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee were arrested and detained on 26 January 2009, and the Prime Minister was appointed in 2010, on 24 June. She has been Prime Minister for three years over that over-four-year period. So I would be interested to know the number of briefings she has had in that time. When did the Prime Minister receive a briefing on the Victorian Supreme Court judgement that was handed down in June of last year—2012?
Ms Klugman : I cannot recall. Again, it goes to your original question on the precise timing for advice we provided to the Prime Minister on these consular cases. The Victorian case angle is something that the Prime Minister's representations to her counterpart in the UAE have focused on, because that goes to a set of issues. As you know, I think, Senator, that has been at the heart of the concern of the two gentlemen, their families and their lawyers. It seemed to play between the case that took place in the civil courts, the civil case that took place in the courts in Victoria and the cases that have been going on in the United Arab Emirates.
Senator KROGER: Madam Chair, with your indulgence, we might have to come back to this because there are quite a significant number of questions that arise from the witnesses in relation to the briefings, the nature of the briefings, the time sequence of those briefings and it has significant bearing on follow-up questions . Rather than spend time going through this and saying 'Take it on notice,' it might be helpful for the department to put together their briefing on this and then we can come back and address some of those matters in the morning.
CHAIR: Senator Kroger, if they are taking things on notice and we have got the program tomorrow, we will have to work in with the schedule.
Senator KROGER: Madam Chair, with the greatest respect, Matt Joyce would not be too happy in Dubai at the moment being told that, because we have got a time schedule, we have not got the flexibility here in estimates to go through and see what has happened behind the scenes. I do not think it is asking too much. I am absolutely astounded that the office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has not come fully briefed to this estimates but I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt and they have offered to come back with information in the morning. I would find it extraordinary that we could not have the indulgence of the Senate committee to allow the officers to do that, given the circumstances of the case that we are talking about.
Senator Conroy: There will be a number of occasions to provide information later in the day as has happened today. I am sure if there is information the officers can provide to you at some stage during the morning tomorrow then they can table it for you.
Senator KROGER: Which minister? I am actually suggesting we come back rather than spend time—
Senator Conroy: It is probably a good idea if you give us as many of your questions now so that we can provide as much information as we can for you overnight or during the morning. If you want to give us an outline of the rest of your questions, hopefully we can provide as much information as possible to you. The alternative is we can take it on notice. The officers have kindly said, 'We can get you some information but, please, give us more questions.'
CHAIR: Senator Kroger, if you had allowed me to finish when I was speaking, that was the point that I was going to make: if you were to outline more, I think that would be more beneficial and save us time tomorrow. Please continue.
Senator KROGER: I shall revisit the question that I was—with everybody's indulgence—going allow the department to come back with. So, as I have already asked, if you could take note of when the Prime Minister actually received a briefing on the Victorian Supreme Court judgement; what the nature of that briefing was—
Senator Conroy: I am sorry, but you are entitled to ask when briefings take place. You are not at liberty to ask officers to provide you with information of what was briefed to the Prime Minister, or to any other minister, to be fair.
Senator RYAN: Firstly, the senator is entitled to ask anything the Senator wishes. The minister can actually refuse to answer if he wishes, but—
Senator Conroy: No, it is not a question of refusing to answer—
Senator RYAN: Let me finish. You have tried to run the committee this afternoon. But, the minister cannot claim that advice to the Prime Minister—just because it was advice to the Prime Minister—is exempt from questioning at this hearing. Otherwise, a media summary that was given to the Prime Minister would come under that ruling that Senator Conroy wants you to make.
Senator Conroy: I am sorry but I have sat here for 11½ years, and now 5½ as minister and you do not get to ask officials: 'What did you tell the Prime Minister?'
Senator RYAN: You do.
Senator Conroy: You can ask. You just do not get an answer.
Senator RYAN: Are you asserting—
Senator Conroy: I am not asserting anything other than you are not getting an answer.
Senator RYAN: So you are simply saying that you are refusing to answer—that is okay—
Senator Conroy: I am not saying that at all—
Senator RYAN: Saying you are refusing to answer, you are not claiming any immunity; you are not asserting any grounds of public interest immunity; you are not asserting it is for cabinet or cabinet committee; you are refusing to answer.
Senator Conroy: Why don't you read the standing orders, Senator Ryan, and then you will see what is allowed to ask—
Senator RYAN: Yes, and the advice to the minister is not automatically exempt.
Senator Conroy: I suggest you read the standing orders—
Senator RYAN: I have—
Senator Conroy: Good, then read them again, because you clearly did not understand them—
Senator RYAN: No, it is not—
Senator Conroy: You do not get to ask and demand, 'What did you say to ministers?'
Senator RYAN: You get to ask anything you want.
Senator Conroy: You can, but you do not get an answer.
Senator RYAN: But you are refusing to answer it.
CHAIR: Thank you Senator. Thank you, Minister. Senator Kroger—
Senator Conroy: If you continue wasting Senator Kroger's time, which you are doing at the moment—
Senator RYAN: We have got plenty of time.
CHAIR: Senator Kroger—
Senator Conroy: I said that you are wasting Senator Kroger's time—
CHAIR: Senator Kroger, you have the call. If you put your questions to the witnesses, then we will listen to their responses.
Senator KROGER: Thank you, Chair, and I was just going to make the point to the minister that, given the nature of the questions that I am asking, they may well be questions that the Prime Minister's office would like to respond to and have the opportunity to respond to—
Senator Conroy: Why don't you ask the questions and we will see—
Senator KROGER: You are contradicting yourself because you just said to Senator Ryan that we could not ask those questions.
Senator Conroy: No, what I am saying to you is that, if you ask us the questions, we will see what information we can get for you. But if your questions are going to be 'What did you tell the Prime Minister?', not 'Has the Prime Minister been briefed? When was the Prime Minister briefed?' and you want to go to the substance of what was asked, then you going run into more of a problem. But if you would like to ask your questions so that we can facilitate whatever answers we are able to, we will do that. So, please ask your questions.
Senator KROGER: Thank you, Minister. If you could include in your advice whether the briefing on the Victorian Supreme Court judgement, if it happened, whether part of that advice was a recommendation for her to make a personal representation to Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, given that Ms Klugman has said that two representations were made to the sheik.
In The Australian of 14 June, it said:
… that at a meeting in March between Pablo Kang, the Australian ambassador to the UAE, and Mohammed al-Shaibani, the director-general of the Rulers Court of the King and negotiator in the case, Mr Kang was urged to convey to Canberra that the Prime Minister should contact the King directly to lobby for their release.
According to sources close to the meeting, Mr Shaibani told Mr Kang that UAE protocol demanded direct intervention from Ms Gillard to King Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
It was conveyed to Mr Kang that such action could help in having the men released or even the charges dropped.
Given your responses, could you please take on notice for the morning if and when was the Prime Minister briefed on what Mr Shaibani had advised to the UAE ambassador, Pablo Kang?
I am particularly interested in knowing what the usual process is for briefing the Prime Minister on critical representations such as this one. Is there a process or an established protocol for this?
Ms Klugman : Normally, the process for sensitive or particularly urgent consular cases would unfold by Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet making our interest clear to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Department Foreign Affairs and Trade is then aware of our interest, and the Prime Minister's at least potential interest, in a case. It can happen that way, or it can be that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade make contact with us directly or we can see through reporting from Australia's embassies overseas that there is a particularly sensitive or urgent consular case about which we might want to brief the Prime Minister.
You can appreciate, Senator, that there are a very large number of consular cases on hand at any one time for DFAT, as the lead department. Only a small number of those would need to be briefed to the Prime Minister or drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister and/or her office. This case was one of those that we did draw to the attention of the Prime Minister. We will come back to you tomorrow with dates on when we did that. As you know, Senator, the lead agency for protection of Australians overseas and consular matters is DFAT. I guess it is a judgment for us, for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and for the Prime Minister and her office to define on a case-by-case basis which particular case requires that high-level attention.
In this case, you have nominated the two gentlemen who were charged with offences in the UAE and held in the UAE. In this case of these two gentlemen, because of some of the particular circumstances around the cases, the Prime Minister was briefed and the Prime Minister took that step—which is quite an advanced step—of making direct contact with her counterpart in that country on two occasions.
Senator KROGER: In this very same article from 14 June 2012—I have a copy here if the officers would like me to table it—the reporter contacted the Prime Minister's office and reports that Ms Gillard's office said she had no plans to make a representation on behalf of Mr Joyce or Mr Lee. It says:
The government does not believe that contract by the Prime Minister to Sheikh Al Maktoum would be productive at the present time given the very high level of representations that have recently been made on the case.
But only the next day, after The Australian published the article on 15 June, I understand the Prime Minister wrote to Sheikh Al Maktoum. Can you confirm the date of that?
Ms Klugman : I certainly cannot speak for the accuracy of the passages of The Australian article that you have pulled out there. We can, though, speak to you with certainty though about the Prime Minister's correspondence and telephone calls to the UAE and timing for those, as I said. But I think it is a bit difficult for me to comment on something that is in a newspaper article reporting—
Senator KROGER: But it would be highly unlikely that a journalist from The Australian would be writing about a response that he has been given from the Prime Minister's office if he had not been given a response, because the Prime Minister has a track record of dealing with what she considers to be rogue journalists who write things that she does not believe accurately reflect what the case may be. I think it would be hard to attest that they would be suggesting that they had just made up a contact with the office.
Ms Klugman: No, I am sorry, Senator. I was not suggesting that. All I was saying was that the advice that you can get from us is about contact that we have had with the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's office on these cases, not about the details of any contact that might have taken place between a journalist and the Prime Minister's office.
Senator KROGER: It would be very helpful if you could confirm the date of the letter that she wrote to Sheikh Al Maktoum. I understand that it was on 15 June, which was the day after this article appeared, when it was noted that the office had said that it was 'productive at the present time'—those were the words that were used. Could you ascertain that, because I am interested to appreciate what happened within those 24 hours. If that sequence of events is correct, what changed the position and the advice given to the Prime Minister for her to write the Sheikh? If that sequence of events is correct—and I am putting that on the table as a question—then what led to a change of view in terms of the representation being made?
Ms Klugman: I can confirm only that it was June 2012 when that letter was written. I do not actually have a day in June, so we will come back to you on that. As I said, our advice to you, I think, can only go to those questions of our advice to the Prime Minister, not dates for contact between a journalist and the office.
Senator KROGER: But you can confirm a letter was written and sent in June 2012?
Ms Klugman : Yes, definitely in June 2012. I just do not have the date.
CHAIR: Senator Kroger, do you have many more questions, because we are due to have a break?
Senator KROGER: Only a folder full.
CHAIR: In that case, we will take a break.
Proceedings suspended from 21 : 16 to 21:34
CHAIR: Thank you and welcome everyone back, and I call the committee to order. Senator Kroger, you have the call.
Senator KROGER: Thanks, Chair, and I appreciate the break because in the break—
CHAIR: We do all we can to accommodate your desires.
Senator KROGER: I know. Were you able to ascertain the date that the Prime Minister wrote to Sheikh al-Maktoum in June?
Ms Klugman : No, in the break I was unable to ascertain the answer to that. In our records we just have June and the date stamp. I will have to come back to that.
Senator KROGER: In the break I was able to ascertain it on your behalf, and it was 15 June and it was in response to some previous estimates questions that were asked on 18 October. It was confirmed it was 15 June. So it does beg the question, what changed in relation to the Prime Minister's position on 14 June to 15 June, but I will allow you to come back to me on that because I have already asked questions on it. In October estimates last year, DFAT gave evidence that they had not received a response to that letter. We discussed it at some length, and they could not confirm that they had received any response to the letter. Are you able to advise whether a response was received from Sheikh al-Maktoum to the Prime Minister's letter of 15 June?
Ms Klugman : No response, Senator, was received to that correspondence.
Senator KROGER: At the estimates in October I asked this question but I did not ask it to PM&C: what measures were taken to ensure that the letter was received by the recipient? How do you know that that letter was actually received by Sheikh al-Maktoum?
Ms Klugman : We had the office of our ambassador in the United Arab Emirates follow up and to ensure that, while he was not witness to somebody putting the letter into the recipient's hands, it was received and acknowledged at a senior level in his office. I cannot remember the precise details, whether it was Chief of Staff or other, but we did pursue that. DFAT pursued that through their ambassador. They were satisfied that the letter got to its intended recipient but, as I said, there was no written response to that letter, and the Prime Minister, as you know, then in February made a telephone call.
Senator KROGER: So can you take on notice and let me know when the ambassador sought assurance, firstly, that the letter was received—but what I am hearing was that there was an assurance given that it was received at an officer-departmental level or whatever but that there was no undertaking that it was received by the Sheikh himself, that the Sheikh actually sighted the letter or it was interpreted for him.
Ms Klugman : We have no independent proof that that happened but we are told that it went to its recipient.
Senator KROGER: Did the Prime Minister send any further correspondence, any further letters? I will come to the phone call, but was any further correspondence entered into by the Prime Minister?
Ms Klugman : As far as I know, there was that single letter.
Dr McCarthy: I might also add, I distinctly recall the ambassador was assiduous in doing all he could to determine that the letter had been received. He asked more than one time to be assured of that is my recollection.
Senator KROGER: Given some of the things that I have heard in recent days, I would love to see any evidence of that. So, if you could provide me with the dates that the ambassador followed up and when he provided advice that he believed the letter had been received, that would be helpful.
Ms Klugman : We will do what we can for tomorrow morning. On precise dates when the ambassador went in, made phone calls et cetera to follow up on the receipt of that particular letter, I am not sure I am going to be able to get that out of the UAE before nine o'clock tomorrow morning, but we will give you what we can and follow up on any residual questions.
Senator KROGER: Thank you very much. Four days after the June judgement Angela Joyce, Matt Joyce's wife, wrote to the Prime Minister a very impassioned letter essentially prevailing on the Prime Minister to intervene on her husband's behalf. It must have been a pretty difficult letter to write. I have to say as a senator that there is some correspondence you receive and deal with expeditiously because of the nature of it and others that can be reprioritised. This one seems to have been reprioritised, because she did not receive any written response from the Prime Minister till August. Could you please provide for me the date that that letter was received in the Prime Minister's office and when the response to Angela's letter was sent?
Ms Klugman : Yes.
Senator KROGER: Was any notification in that letter or in any other way provided to the Joyce family advising them that the Prime Minister had written to the sheik on 15 June?
Ms Klugman : I am finding it a little awkward. You are asking me to comment on communication with the family of a consular client. There are all sorts of privacy issues here. We are moving into awkward privacy territory when you are talking about communication with the family of a consular client. It is quite clear that you have Mr Joyce's very best interests at heart, but there are privacy issues around consular cases and dealing with families of consular clients.
Senator KROGER: Okay, let me rephrase that. Given the consular support we should be providing for all Australian citizens who are in strife overseas for whatever reason and given the sensitivity of this particular issue and the critical nature of it, which I think has particularly come to light in the last week, what consular support was given and what assurance were the families given that the Prime Minister had made representations to the sheik on their behalf?
Senator Conroy: If you need to take that on notice—
Ms Klugman : Yes, I will take that on notice. I can assure you that any representations made by the Prime Minister and others on behalf of Mr Joyce were done in the knowledge of Mr Joyce and his legal counsel because it is ultimately a judgement for Mr Joyce and his legal counsel what would assist and serve them in the case and what might not.
Senator KROGER: Okay. In recent days it has been reported that numerous representations had been made to the UAE authorities, including from the Prime Minister's office. I am clarifying in my mind that you believe that the Prime Minister has only made representations to the UAE authorities twice in the three years that she has been Prime Minister: once by letter and once by telephone.
Ms Klugman : If you are talking about the Prime Minister herself—
Senator KROGER: Yes. Is that correct?
Ms Klugman : That is my understanding.
Senator KROGER: So she has only made two representations. What was the date that the Prime Minister called Sheik Al Maktoum?
Ms Klugman : February 2013, but, again, for the precise date I will have to come back to you.
Senator KROGER: Can you advise me what precipitated the call in February. Given that the judgement was brought down in the Victorian Supreme Court in the middle of 2012, what precipitated that call some eight months after that judgement was brought down?
Ms Klugman : I can tell you that the representations, of which there have been many at ministerial, ambassadorial, Governor-General and prime ministerial level, have increased over time as the delays in the case have raised more concerns on the part of the families and the clients. So I guess it is not coincidental that you are seeing an up-tick in representations the longer the case has gone on. One of the key points in those representations, as I think Senator Carr has said publicly, was to register with the UAE authorities the concern of the Australian government with the length of time the case was taking. A second point, which goes to an earlier reference you made, was drawing to the attention of the UAE authorities the Victorian case and its outcome.
Senator KROGER: You raise a really interesting point, because the response from the Prime Minister's office, and particularly the foreign affairs minister in the last few days, in terms of the representations that were made, has been based on the time that the case has taken. There has been an extraordinary emphasis on the time that the case has taken—it has taken over four years—and not on the integrity or the veracity of the evidence that could have been admitted or not. You are just reaffirming what has been said in the last few days. Why is it that there is an emphasis on time when that is actually not the No. 1 critical issue to the Joyce family?
Ms Klugman : As I said, the terms of all those representations are based on discussions with the client and his nominated representatives.
Senator KROGER: Sorry, say that again.
Ms Klugman : The terms in which the representations have been put to the UAE authorities all the way along have been the subject of discussion with the two consular clients. The arguments you put in that correspondence, the angles that you take in that correspondence and in those telephone conversations—the approach that you take—is based on consultation with the client, because it is in his interests, and/or with his nominated legal representatives. And this was a court case that had not been decided yet. It is in another jurisdiction over which Australia does not have control, so the sensible consular approach is not to prejudge the integrity or outcome of the case as it is going through a foreign jurisdiction. It is rather to focus on those things which are legitimately in the interests of a foreign government which were humanitarian issues—that is, the length of time that these two gentlemen were kept in the UAE—and those particular points of law that can be tied back to Australia; that is, the Victorian court case.
Senator KROGER: I am somewhat surprised to hear you say—I am paraphrasing here, so if you want to correct me please feel free—that the nature of all those the representations that were made were signed off by the families themselves. I have got to tell you, I am hearing a very different story from the lawyers representing Matt Joyce. What you are telling me is quite different from what I have heard from the lawyers representing Matt Joyce and the family.
Ms Klugman : I guess it comes from that sort of basic underlying principle in consular advocacy—a principle adopted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—which is to ensure that you are always consulting closely with the subjects of your recommendation to ensure that they consider that you are working in their best interests. With a complex legal case there is always legal strategy, and you just need to make sure that any representations made do not cut across the interests or strategies being developed by the client and their lawyers. All that I am saying is that there was a lot of consultation that went on all the way through.
Senator KROGER: So back to this phone call that the Prime Minister made, I presume that DFAT put together the briefing for that? What is the process there?
Ms Klugman : Again, just as Dr McCarthy says, briefings for the Prime Minister are provided by Prime Minister and Cabinet and we draw on material and professional advice from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Senator KROGER: Given that I know what the minister will say if I ask what the nature of that briefing advice is, Minister, I thought that I would make it easier for you: I have here the briefing note, which I can table so we can have a look at it. Chair, can I show you the briefing note?
CHAIR: Can we first seek some advice about what the classification of this advice is?
Senator KROGER: By note of explanation, this has been provided for me. It has come out of the Prime Minister's office. It is talking points for the PM's phone call—
Senator Conroy: Sorry, did you say that you got it from the Prime Minister's office, or—
Senator KROGER: I said that it has come out of the Prime Minister's office and—
Senator Conroy: Are you tabling it? I am just wanting to know.
CHAIR: First we need to seek clarification about the classification of this before we can table it
Senator KROGER: Yes, sure.
Senator Conroy: Does it have any classification on it?
CHAIR: No, it does not.
Senator KROGER: Minister, you can—
Senator Conroy: It does say 'For official use only'.
Senator KROGER: Well that is us, isn't it? Aren't we officials?
Dr McCarthy : Senator, that usually refers to documentation to be used within government. Can I just clarify, Senator? Are you saying that the Prime Minister's office gave this document to you, or that it is your understanding that it came from the Prime Minister's office?
Senator KROGER: I have been provided this as a document that was given to a third person in relation to it.
Senator Conroy: So you are not saying you got it from—
Senator KROGER: No, I did not say that I—
Senator Conroy: We are just trying to be very clear that it came to you from other than the Prime Minister's office.
Senator KROGER: Correct
CHAIR: Can I just seek clarification? If the committee tables this, it then becomes public. There is nothing here that actually verifies the source of the information. It is a piece of paper that we do not know has actually come from the Prime Minister's office.
Senator KROGER: It would be very easy, because the witnesses can ascertain and come back to us in the morning whether it is actually—
CHAIR: That would be useful.
Senator Conroy: Can I just seek some clarification from Senator Kroger. Did you want to table it?
Senator KROGER: I do not need to table it. There is something that I wish to discuss on it.
Dr McCarthy : Senator, any talking points that were provided to the Prime Minister by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in a consular case would be, in the first instance, private—they relate, as Ms Klugman has said, to a consular case. Because they involve the Prime Minister speaking with an international counterpart there would be issues around international relations. It would not be our practice to ever put something like this into the public domain, assuming this is legitimate.
Senator KROGER: Could I humbly suggest that it is in the public domain by the fact that I have a copy of it.
Senator Conroy: That is different to it becoming part of the Hansardand freely publishable by any publication by you tabling it. I am appreciating the sensitivities here and appreciating your desire for information. I am just trying to find the right way to get you the information without, as the officers have indicated, it being tabled.
CHAIR: I have a suggestion, Minister, that we seek clarification and some further advice on this before we table it.
Senator Conroy: I think Senator Kroger is saying that she does not need to table it, which I appreciate. What she is indicating is that she would like to go to a point in it. That is the senator's right to do that. It may be that the officers can do nothing but take it on notice, depending on what the question is that you ask. Obviously if you were to read out—
Senator KROGER: I actually do not want to ask the question until we deal with this because I do not want to in any way compromise any parties. There is a question that I would like to raise specifically in relation to it but—
Senator Conroy: Do you need to do it on transcript or would you like to discuss it with the officers? I am trying to avoid a difficult circumstance getting more difficult.
CHAIR: Perhaps there is opportunity for the minister to offer a private briefing. Do you want to revisit this in the morning?
Senator KROGER: Yes, I am happy to do that. We can have a chat about it. That is fine. Since the sentencing of Matt Joyce and the acquittal of Marcus Lee has the Prime Minister been provided with an updated brief of the status quo?
Ms Klugman : Yes, she has.
Senator KROGER: When was that?
Ms Klugman : I think it was two or three days after the judgement.
Senator KROGER: As in the recent sentencing?
Ms Klugman : Exactly, yes. I can come back to you with the specific date if you like.
Senator KROGER: If you could, please. Has the Prime Minister sought to ascertain the status of the ASIC investigation that is underway and was initiated into the Sunland Group some 12 months ago? That clearly has direct relevance to the Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee situation.
Ms Klugman : Senator, I can tell you—as I mentioned earlier—that the matter of the Victorian case and consequential action has been part of the mix when we have briefed the Prime Minister.
Senator KROGER: Is the Prime Minster aware of the investigation ASIC has under way in relation to the Sunland property group and the implications it has on this?
Ms Klugman : Whether the Prime Minister is personally aware of that I cannot say.
Senator KROGER: Could you please take on notice whether the Prime Minister is aware of the investigation that has been initiated by ASIC in relation to Sunland that was also recommended in the Victorian Supreme Court judgement—whether she is aware of that and the status of it, because it has not concluded, and whether there have been any deliberations on whether ASIC should be encouraged to expedite that process, because it has been some 12 months now since it commenced.
The committee can see that I have not asked two-thirds of the questions that I have here, by virtue of the fact maybe—I will not be cynical—that you are not able to answer the questions. What I cannot reconcile myself with is the process that the Prime Minister takes here, and chooses whether or not she becomes involved in a consular case. In the last few years, clearly, I have followed this case quite closely and have asked questions at estimates after estimates for the last two years. Because of the sensitivity of it, I have been very cautious about the type and nature of the questions I have asked so that they had no unintended consequences for the case in Dubai. I have been exceptionally cautious and sensitive about the nature of the questions I have asked.
But what I have continued to ask and have not been able to get a satisfactory answer on is: why is the Prime Minister quick to pick up a phone and speak to the ambassador who happens to be in the cell with a teenage boy who is arrested and charged for drug possession in Indonesia? Why does she get involved directly in something like that? What process is the catalyst that sees her directly speaking to an ambassador who happens to be in the cell at the very time she makes the call, yet she resists any attempt from those like myself, and the family and others to get involved? In fact it took some eight months after the Victorian Supreme Court judgement. She had people banging down her door asking her to get involved to highlight the outcomes of that Victorian Supreme Court judgement. I understand that they are different judicial systems, but these things, as you appreciate, happen in a different way behind the doors in the consular sphere. She had people banging down her doors, yet it took her eight months to get her to pick up the phone and make that phone call. What is the process that determines whether she does it after a few days of a kid being in a jail in Bali, yet these blokes can be locked up for four years and it takes us eight months to get her to that stage?
Senator Conroy: You have asked a very lengthy question there, Senator Kroger, and it deserves a considered response. I would suggest we take that on notice to make sure we give you a considered response.
Senator KROGER: Minister, it is appalling that there is no immediate response to that. It should not be that hard; it seriously should not be that hard. There is either a protocol or there is not a protocol. Is it a whim? Is it a personal thing? Is it the politics of the day? It should not be that hard to be able to say, 'No, this is our protocol; this is our process; this is what we do. In these sorts of cases we expedite them.' I have actually just put on the table that I have not asked questions in estimates that I wanted to. There are many things that I would like to ask, but I still choose not to because I do not want to hurt those families.
Dr McCarthy : Senator, I can assure you that when actions are taken or not taken by an ambassador, by ministers or by the Prime Minister, that is never on a whim. These are always matter for judgment, because they are very serious matters. As Ms Klugman has explained, all these issues are managed on a case-by-case basis. While there are, I think it is fair to say, consular protocols, there is no exact formula to be followed in relation to these sensitive cases, because every case is different. As Ms Klugman has pointed out, the judgements that are made and the actions that are taken are taken on the basis of advice from our ambassador or our high commissioner, or from our experts in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. They require difficult judgements that are never taken lightly and that are always in consultation with the people concerned, as Ms Klugman said, either personally or through their legal representatives, and they are always taken with the greatest of care.
Senator KROGER: Dr McCarthy, I really appreciate the genuine intent of your response. I would love to believe you, and it is not that I do not believe you. But there has to be a reason that it took eight months for a very, very damning determination to be made in the Victorian Supreme Court. Whilst there were many entreaties and representations being made from lawyers and family and so on, eight months is a long time to accede, which she essentially did by documentation we are not tabling. Eight months is a long time to transpire before the Prime Minister seeks to direct attention—
Senator Conroy: Senator Kroger, the officer has given you as comprehensive an answer as she is able to at the table. I am happy to take on notice any other aspects of your question.
Senator KROGER: Can you take on notice: when was the Prime Minister advised to make that phone call to Sheik Al Maktoum and what briefings were provided during the interval from the end of June 2012, when the judgment came down, through to February—and indeed since then. That would be great. I will leave that matter there. I have questions on other matters.
Firstly, I want to go briefly to the Prime Minister's travel to the United Nations summit on climate change in Brazil. I understand it was in Rio de Janeiro.
Ms Klugman : It was. It was called Rio +20. It was a little broader than climate change.
Senator KROGER: Thank you very much. It was in June last year?
Ms Klugman : Correct.
Senator KROGER: It has just come to light that the cost of that exercise was some $900,000. Could you confirm to me the composition of the delegation to Rio+20?
Ms Klugman : I can certainly try. The Prime Minister's travel to the Rio+20 conference was one part of prime ministerial travel but also included her visit to Mexico for the G20. Those two meetings were staged one after the other. The G20 was in Los Cabos in Mexico and then immediately afterwards she travelled to Rio de Janeiro for Rio+20. The Prime Minister's delegation for that travel was no bigger that it would characteristically be for the Prime Minister's international travel. In the case of the Rio+20 conference there were also Australian officials and other Australians participating in the conference. You had officials from environment, from climate change. I think there were some civil society groups who were mobilised to go to the Rio+20 and who had some interaction with some of the other portfolios. When you are talking about the Prime Minister's delegation, it was no larger than it is normally.
Senator KROGER: If I can just confirm then, what was the total cost of the delegation to Rio+20 and, I guess, for the Prime Minister to Mexico? Can you confirm that it was $900,000?
Ms Klugman : I only have details here for travel the Prime Minister has done since the last estimates. We would have to take that on notice.
Senator KROGER: Could you confirm the cost of it. I have here that the delegation to the conference consisted of nine staff from the Prime Minister's office, three from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 23 from DFAT and a further 11 from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. If you could confirm whether that is correct or not and, if it is not, give me the construct and who the delegation consisted of.
Ms Klugman : Certainly. I think what you will find is that there is a PM's delegation and then there are other Australian officials who were attending Rio+20.
Senator KROGER: I am concerned about who the taxpayers are paying for—
Ms Klugman : So you want the bigger number.
Senator KROGER: as opposed to any private travellers. Is the Prime Minister intending to attend the G20 Summit in St Petersburg?
Dr de Brouwer : There has been no announcement. It is on 5 and 6 September in St Petersburg. There has been no announcement about Australian representation at the summit.
Senator KROGER: When are we expecting to hear what our representation will be?
Dr de Brouwer : Normally those decisions and announcements are made closer to the event. I do not have a specific date. I am sorry that the answer is not more concrete.
Senator KROGER: It is an event that the leaders of the G20 attend, isn't it?
Dr de Brouwer : Yes. It is a leaders' event, that is right. It is usually attended in that way.
Senator KROGER: There have been seven or eight?
Dr de Brouwer : At least seven, Senator. It is coming up to eight in St Petersburg.
Senator KROGER: The Prime Minister is the only leader who has not attended each of those summits, I understand?
Dr de Brouwer: No, on occasion there have been other nonattendances, depending on national circumstances at the time.
Senator SINODINOS: Can you send alternates? I mean, that is the question, isn't it?
Dr de Brouwer : On occasion, when a leader has not attended usually a senior minister, either a deputy leader or another senior minister, has attended in the past for other leaders.
Senator KROGER: But this is a particularly significant one, with President Putin handing over the reins to the Australian Prime Minister.
Dr de Brouwer : Yes, but formally the national handover is on 1 December. This is certainly the last summit before it moves into the Australian hosting year. The actual baton is handed over on 1 December.
Senator KROGER: So how important is G20 for Australia?
Dr de Brouwer : It is the pre-eminent forum for economic cooperation. It is the one that deals with global crises and global economic challenges. It is the one that drives the economic rule setting and institution reform, and it is the forum that deals generally with the big changes that are going on in the global economy. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have been very clear that it is a major priority for Australia, and it is something that Australia has been very active in—both the PM and the Deputy Prime Minister and their officials. So it is something that Australia is taking extremely seriously, Senator.
Senator KROGER: So it would be reasonable to suggest that it would be pretty extraordinary, in terms of the significance of our chairmanship next year and the success of that, if we were not represented by our Prime Minister.
Dr de Brouwer : That is really a decision for the government. It is not—
Senator Conroy: We will keep you posted on any announcements.
Senator KROGER: Thank you. Chair, I have a couple of questions in relation to cybersecurity. It is in relation to question on notice 1351 to the Prime Minister, which was circulated on 22 April this year, which notes that the government's commitment of $1.46 billion towards cybersecurity was to cover the period from 2009 to 2030, and not to 2020, as was indicated by the Prime Minister in her national security speech earlier in the year. Given the scale of this pretty substantial error, why was this not corrected on the record before it was brought to the attention of the government some three months later?
Dr McCarthy: Senator, I will have to take that on notice. I have looked into how that error occurred, but I will need to take on notice the question that you have asked.
Senator KROGER: Sure. Could you also take on notice: of that $1.46 billion in funding, what amount is being spent each year until 2030? What is the forecast spend over the years—whether it is a straight average across; what is forecasted? I also want to raise a question on notice which was in relation to the existing Cyber Security Operations Centre, which is to be integrated into the new cybersecurity centre. I do not know whether this was covered earlier on, because I was in another committee. Did you cover before how the role differs between ACSC and CSOC? Was that covered?
Dr McCarthy: No, I do not think it was, Senator. The Australian Cyber Security Centre will bring together in the one location, to be co-located, all the arms of government that are working on the cyber challenge. The Cyber Security Operations Centre, currently located in the Defence Signals Directorate, or as it is known now the Australian Signals Directorate, has a very small number of liaison officers, which I think would be the right term, from other agencies such as the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. When the Australian Cyber Security Centre is fully established there will be more officers from those agencies collocated with officers from the Defence Signals Directorate. So it is a larger number of people working on the cyber threat across government, and also working with the private sector.
Senator KROGER: Is there a separate budget for the amalgamation or integration of those two agencies, or is that part of that $1.46 billion spend?
Mr McKinnon : The intention is that it all be done within budget, so each of the agencies is funding its own costs.
Senator KROGER: So each of the agencies that have personnel in the centres, and how do they determine that given that it is all being moved?
Mr McKinnon : As the National Security Adviser said earlier, at the moment essentially there are outposted officers from ASIO, the police, the Australian Crime Commission—a total number of about 170 people, and that number will be significantly increased—and those elements related to cybersecurity from those other agencies will be brought in not just as representatives but in much greater numbers. The number will be up over 300 as they start. Essentially what you are seeing with CSOC is a testing of a concept of collocation, and it has seemed to work very well so more of the elements related to cybersecurity from each of those agencies will now be collocated. Where CSOC is at the moment there is no space, so that will of course involve a move. The extra element is that more deliberately there will be a business liaison strategy. CERT already has that sort of strategy but this will be bulking it up—it will be a much more prominent part of the centre's work to be ensuring that our critical networks, private sector or public sector, are also protected.
Senator KROGER: I apologise if you are repeating what was said earlier on. I turn to the announcement made by the Prime Minister recently in relation to what she termed a new bilateral architecture to guide the future shape of the relationship between China and Australia. I feel it is quite appropriate that I ask this question with Senator Sinodinos sitting beside me, because I am curious to know why the government claimed that this agreement on annual summits was new and a landmark for this country when in fact it was 1999 I think that there were discussions and there was an agreement for a Prime Minister of Australia to President or Premier of China arrangement. It was extraordinary that the Prime Minister would claim such a thing when in fact it was an arrangement that was made over 10 years ago.
Dr McCarthy : The architecture that was announced is new—it is the first time that there has been agreement between the two governments that there will be annually a meeting of leaders, the Prime Minister and the Chinese Premier, supported by an annual foreign and strategic dialogue led by Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs and China's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and an annual strategic economic dialogue led on the Australian side by the Treasurer and the minister for trade and on the Chinese side by the Chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission. That is the architecture and that is new.
Senator KROGER: Dr McCarthy, I just found when it was, to confirm it. Are you aware it was President Jiang Zemin who visited Australia in 1999 and the outcome of that visit was an agreement for the two countries' top leaders and foreign ministers to meet once a year?
Dr McCarthy : I have just described the architecture in full and that architecture is new.
Senator KROGER: Thank you very much. I will leave it there.
Senator SINODINOS: Just to follow up on Senator Kroger's questions on the Brazil climate change discussions, did someone in the government make the decision about the overall size of the delegation or was that left up to individual departments?
Ms Klugman : As I was saying to Senator Kroger, I would make a distinction between the Prime Minister's delegation and others, including Australian officials who went to Rio+20 in pursuit of particular portfolio interests.
Senator SINODINOS: That is why I asked the question, because you can make that distinction between the PM and her delegation, but who makes the decision about the overall Australian delegation of officials and others who go?
Ms Klugman : I recall being conscious at the time that we did not want a very long caravan, large numbers, so there was some officials-level consultation on who was going and what the numbers were. Those questions were largely asked by us, by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as a matter of consultation and just to satisfy ourselves that the numbers were not overly large.
Senator SINODINOS: It was not a matter left to the Prime Minister to arbitrate or anything like that?
Ms Klugman : It did not come to any particular head.
Senator SINODINOS: I now go to boats and asylum seekers. There was the Geraldton boat arrival. In relation to the boat arriving off Geraldton, in cases like that where boats arrive, whether it is at Christmas Island or off Australia or on the mainland like Geraldton, what role does the PM&C play in this process? When are you notified that an arrival has occurred, or do you read it in the paper?
Dr McCarthy : No, we do not read it in the newspaper; we are notified by Customs and Border Protection. We have a coordinating role in relation to issues around irregular maritime arrivals. Depending on what the issue is, it may be that we simply need to be aware that the necessary action is being taken and, depending on the complexity of the situation, we may need to call agencies together. It really depends.
Senator SINODINOS: Is there a task force? How does this operate?
Dr McCarthy : Within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, within Ms Wimmer's division, there is a small team, the Border Protection Working Group that was established in May 2009. That comprises PM&C officers and secondees from relevant agencies. There are presently eight staff members, including two secondees from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and one from the Attorney-General's Department. I chair a regular meeting once every three weeks or as needed—sometimes more frequently—of the Border Protection Taskforce. That is a senior officials level body. That coordinates whole-of-government policy on people smuggling and IMA matters. We have, as I said, regular meetings of that and, in the event of particularly complex situations, I might call an extraordinary meeting of that body.
Senator SINODINOS: In the case of, say, the boat arrival off Geraldton, when would the Prime Minister be notified? What is the normal process? Is she notified quickly of these things?
Dr McCarthy : We would normally ensure that the Prime Minister's office is aware of the fact of boat arrivals.
Senator SINODINOS: As soon as you know about them?
Dr McCarthy : As soon as we become aware.
Senator SINODINOS: In the follow-up to Geraldton, did the Border Protection Task Force or others look at the implications for our security or the lessons to be learnt from what happened?
Dr McCarthy : We did not have a specific meeting of the Border Protection Task Force, but certainly it was discussed between officials.
Senator SINODINOS: So it was discussed, but what conclusions were drawn, if any, in terms of government policy?
Dr McCarthy : I am advised—
Senator Conroy: You are probably going very close to the line there, Senator Sinodinos. You might possibly want to rephrase your question.
Senator SINODINOS: Can I just establish that conclusions were drawn from what happened and advice was provided to government about that in a remedial sense?
Dr McCarthy : An agency such as Customs and Border Protection, in response to that issue or indeed on an ongoing basis, is always looking at its operational posture, for example.
Senator SINODINOS: So we might have to follow up with Customs and Border Protection about the lessons they drew from that situation. Is that what you are saying?
Dr McCarthy : You certainly could direct questions to them about that issue.
Senator SINODINOS: Good. I have one final set of questions on Golden Dawn, a Greek political party on the far right. I refer you to an article published in the Melbourne Age on 3 April 2013 by Nino Bucci, titled 'Ban sought on far-right Greek party'. Can you indicate whether the department has received any representations from Australian citizens about the Golden Dawn party and their potential visit to Australia.
Dr McCarthy : I will take that on notice.
Senator SINODINOS: Okay. Could you also take on notice whether you are aware of any formal presence of that political party in Australia.
Dr McCarthy : Yes.
Senator SINODINOS: Thank you.
Dr McCarthy : Madam Chair, may I read into the record an answer to a question Senator Sinodinos asked earlier.
Dr McCarthy : Senator, you asked about remarks made in the aftermath of the recent attack in London, and I said that I was aware the Attorney-General had made some remarks. I am advised that, at the launch of the chemicals of security concern campaign at the National Security Hotline Forum on 23 May 2013, the Attorney-General was quoted as saying—and we have this advice from the Attorney-General's Department—'This latest vicious act of terror reinforces to us all that violence influenced by twisted ideology can strike without warning.'
Senator SINODINOS: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Ryan has a question, and then Ms Leon is going to report back, I understand.
Senator RYAN: I will let Ms Leon report. She may answer the question I have.
Ms Leon : I think it was Senator Fifield who asked a series of questions earlier about expenditure on social inclusion in the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector. I can now advise that the revised estimate for expenditure on the social inclusion unit for 2013-14 is $1.7 million and that the year-to-date departmental expenditure on the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector is $1.3 million.
CHAIR: Thank you very much for clarifying that.
Committee adjourned at 22:35