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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
27/02/2018
Estimates
HOME AFFAIRS
Australian Federal Police

Australian Federal Police

[09:01]

CHAIR: I welcome the minister, Senator McKenzie—thank you for being with us—and also the officers of the AFP and other people whom we spent the day with yesterday. I think it's only the AFP to finalise this portfolio, and I think that the officers at the table are experienced estimates attendees so I won't go through all of the rules and regulations that I went through at the beginning of the proceedings. If anyone has any doubts about the rules of the committee, they should just check with the secretariat. There are some rules about the media if there happen to be any media here, but there aren't. With that, I welcome Commissioner Colvin and his team.

First of all, Minister, did you want to say anything at the opening?

Senator McKenzie: No.

CHAIR: Okay, thank you very much. Commissioner, do you want to say anything?

Mr Colvin : No, no opening statement, Chair, thank you.

CHAIR: Then we will go first to Senator Pratt, the Deputy Chair.

Senator PRATT: Thank you. I just wanted to begin by making some inquiries of Minister McKenzie about the changes in arrangements. I thought Senator Cash was due to be here this morning?

Senator McKenzie: My understanding is that it was Senator Seselja who's been held up. So I'm with you until 10.

Senator PRATT: Right, okay. Thank you. I'm going to start by asking some questions about the budget.

CHAIR: Unusual for an estimates hearing.

Senator PRATT: In previous estimates we've had some discussions about how your budget constraints affect discretionary areas in your work. At that time you highlighted difficulties in child protection, organised crime and illicit drugs, that these were affected by funding cuts. I was pleased to see good news in the MYEFO, that you've had a budget boost. But you still have budget cuts over the forward estimates. I've been looking at the difference in funding each year for outcome 1, and it still appears that you will be $137 million worse off in 2020-21 than you would be if the government maintained this year's funding levels. Is that correct?

Mr Colvin : I'll refer to my chief financial officer for an exact figure. I think that the figure you mentioned, 131, is correct. But, certainly, over the forward estimates we are projected for our budget to decrease. As I've said previously at estimates, this is mostly the result of lapsing or terminating measures. That is part of the routine cycle of government in making an application for measures to be continued or new measures to come on. But I'll ask the CFO. The figure you said was 131, I think?

Senator PRATT: It was $137 million.

Mr Colvin : I'll just ask the CFO.

Mr Gunning : Senator, can I just clarify the 137 you're referring to? Which page of the additional estimates is it on? That might help me respond specifically, if you could?

Senator PRATT: Okay. It's on page 77 in the AFP Additional Estimates Statements.

Mr Gunning : Are you referring to the total for program 1.1 or are you referring to program 1.2?

Senator PRATT: I am referring to outcome 1.

Mr Gunning : Going to page 78 of the estimates, outcome 1 total expenses for the current year 2017-18 are $1.274 billion. In 2020-21 the forward estimate total expenses—I am reading at the bottom of that table—will be $1.203 billion and that is $71.4 billion lower than the 2017-18 number. There are a number of programs that are due to terminate across the coming years. That includes the Timor-Leste Police Development Program.

Senator PRATT: Can I just clarify, that $71 million is or is not made up from things like the Timor-Leste program?

Mr Gunning : It is made up of things including the Timor-Leste program. So that $71.4 million reduction, there are five programs that terminate and that is the largest part of that over the next couple of years.

Senator PRATT: Have you added up what those five programs' value is?

Mr Gunning : It is $77.9 million.

Senator PRATT: Am I correct in the $137 million decline?

Mr Gunning : I am trying to track where you get the $137 million number from.

Mr Colvin : I think you said it was out to the 2020-21 year?

Senator PRATT: That's right.

Mr Gunning : I am looking at 2017-18 through to 2020-21 on page 78 of total for outcome 1 and it is 1,274 in 2017-18 and 1,203 in 2020-21 as the total expenses for that outcome.

Senator PRATT: On page 198 of the MYEFO it says:

The Government will provide $44.0 million … for the second phase of the … Unified Operational Communications system.

This is slightly contradictory because MYEFO says government will provide it, and clearly government provides the money but it has also said that that money will needed to be met from existing AFP resources. How will you cover that cost?

Mr Colvin : That is correct. We are absorbing those costs as part of our normal business-as-usual improvement to our systems and technology. But being a program measure, we need to come back to government to get approval for that. Government has approved it but we are absorbing the costs.

Senator PRATT: Has the government given a reason for not providing additional funds for this?

Mr Colvin : I would have to go back to the original NPP and the discussion but I don't think we ever actually asked for additional funding for it. We said that we will absorb the costs.

Mr Gunning : In relation to the unified operation of the comms program, it was a program to place radio another communication technology over a period of time. That was on the forward agenda. Where an expenditure item is greater than the $30 million program, we have to come back to government and ask permission. At that stage, in negotiation with government, determine whether additional funds are provided or take it out of what is already provided in the forward estimates to pay for those elements.

Senator PRATT: So where are you making cuts in order to fund that particular program?

Mr Gunning : In relation to the capital elements of that program, which is a large component of it, we get funded on departmental capital budget amount and within that we would prioritise towards the radio elements. The impact of that is that there are other assets that we might replace in a later year but we look at our overall asset base and look to replace assets as—

Senator PRATT: What kinds of assets might they be that you are not replacing because you've got to put in this new technology?

Mr Gunning : It might be vehicles, it might be other technology equipment, it might be police equipment, it might be furniture and fittings, office fit out—there is a whole series of assets that we have in 'office equipment'.

Senator PRATT: It is good to know. I want to ask now about staffing impacts. I notice there is a planned reduction in your ASL for outcome 1 for this year—that is, you've got 5,306 personnel to 5,261 personnel. And your estimated ASL outcome for outcome 1 in 2015-16 was 5,507. That seems to demonstrate that, since the Turnbull government came in, your staffing level has fallen by about 250 personnel; is that correct?

Mr Colvin : Senator, I just want to make sure we're looking at the figures that you are, because the figures I have are headcount figures, so slightly different. Do we have them?

Mr Gunning : Page 78 of the PAES is the page where the number's referred to—the ASL numbers, the average numbers.

Mr Colvin : The answer is yes, our numbers have declined—our ASL.

Senator PRATT: Your AFP portfolio budget statement on page 96 is where those figures are revealed. Did you have some other figures you were also referring to, Commissioner Colvin?

Mr Colvin : It just depends on whether we're talking ASL or FTE. I had FTE figures in front of me, but you're looking at the PBS, which is based on ASL figures.

Senator PRATT: Perhaps you could also give me the FTE figures for the same years then.

Mr Colvin : You're looking for the last four years?

Senator PRATT: Yes, thank you.

Mr Colvin : I'll ask the chief operating officer to read that onto the record.

Ms Bird : I'm not sure if I've got the last four years here, Senator. Yes, here we go. Headcount—which is the figure that we use—as at 31 December this year was 6,498. As at the end of the 2015-16 year, it was 6,657, so that was as at July 2016. At July 2015 it was 6,751.

Senator PRATT: It would seem that that's fairly proportionate to the ASL in terms of the overall decline in headcount—

Mr Colvin : It's similar, yes.

Senator PRATT: without being exact about that.

Mr Colvin : That would relate to programs that ended. For instance, the RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, came to a conclusion, so understandably that FTE reduced. There are ongoing ons and offs of different measures.

Senator PRATT: I understand, though, that you have many positions where you've got one person fulfilling multiple roles, and I understand that's not unusual. Some of those roles might be full-time roles. Surely you've got demand to keep that kind of headcount within the AFP?

Mr Colvin : In terms of people filling multiple roles, everyone's allocated to a position. Certainly we expect officers, depending on the role they're in, to multi-task, and the AFP is a unique organisation in that you change every day, in some instances, what your job may be. We have a supply-and-demand challenge; there's no question of that. The demand for our services is increasing. The crime environment is increasing. Like any police commissioner, I have to make sure that I appoint my resources as best I can against that demand.

Senator PRATT: You mentioned the ceasing of RAMSI. Could you give me a list of the other programs that have ceased, where you've got no staffing, and other areas where staffing has been reduced.

Mr Colvin : If we were to go back to 2014-15, we'd have to take that on notice to get all the programs that have finished in that time. It's easy for us to do, but I don't have the material with me.

Senator PRATT: Okay. In terms of ongoing areas of responsibility, are you able to give me a headcount over the years in those as well?

Mr Colvin : Measures that continue, so the National Anti-Gangs Squad measure?

Senator PRATT: Yes.

Mr Colvin : What we can provide to the committee is those measures that have terminated, those measures that have rolled over and new measures that have come on in that time.

Senator PRATT: Yes, and what the headcount for each is. Within that headcount, does it add up to your 6,498, or does your headcount include people who are tasked within multiple projects?

Mr Colvin : Definitely people tasked within multiple projects. And, within that 6,498, there are those that are base appropriations, so they're not actually attributed to a specific program of funding, and then there are those that are program funding. There are also those that are cost recovered—for instance, our ACT policing commitments and our uniformed protection commitments are often cost recovered.

Senator PRATT: But there's only one person for each number in that 6,498?

Mr Colvin : That's a headcount, so that is an actual person, yes.

Senator PRATT: An actual headcount—all right. In terms of the staff responsibilities in the other, that's not an actual headcount—well, it's a headcount, but it's multiple roles within that headcount?

Ms Bird : Sorry, the average staffing level numbers?

Mr Colvin : ASL will be—

Senator PRATT: Yes, good. That's probably a more accurate way, therefore, of doing it.

Mr Colvin : Yes, and the numbers you're referring to are ASL.

Senator PRATT: So if someone is—I don't know—working 50 per cent of their time on gangs and 50 per cent of their time on online something else, you'd count them half-half in each?

Mr Colvin : We would, but there's not a lot of that.

Senator PRATT: Thank you.

CHAIR: We'll come back to you, Senator Pratt. We'll go to Senator Patrick, unusually. He has another commitment where he's the only one involved.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much, Chair. Good morning, Commissioner.

Mr Colvin : Good morning, Senator.

Senator PATRICK: I just want to follow up with some questions relating to PTSD. You'll recall the conversations you had with former Senator Xenophon on this issue over the last few estimates.

Mr Colvin : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: First I want to go to the Broderick review. You very helpfully provided an update in terms of what recommendations have been implemented. I'm wondering if you could confirm whether all of the recommendations have now been implemented.

Mr Colvin : No, the recommendations haven't all been implemented. In fact, it's my view and my assessment that they'll take many years to implement fully, and, even once they are implemented, there'll need to be ongoing maintenance. I can tell you that, in relation to the recommendations, we assess that we've completed 11 of the 24 recommendations from that review at this stage.

Senator PATRICK: Has that changed from the last list that you gave Senator Xenophon?

Mr Colvin : I think the last time the senator asked me the question was probably in November estimates, and I don't think it would have changed markedly in that time.

Senator PATRICK: I've seen in the papers that you recently commissioned Phoenix Australia for a post-traumatic mental health study.

Mr Colvin : That's right.

Senator PATRICK: Is that report public?

Mr Colvin : We made that report available to our membership the week before last, so our membership have that report.

Senator PATRICK: Could you make it available to the committee, please?

Mr Colvin : We haven't yet made it public, so we just need to consider if there's anything in it that we have a concern about making public.

Senator PATRICK: So any public interest matter—that's fine.

Mr Colvin : There's certainly no intention on my behalf not to make it a public finding.

Senator PATRICK: The report in some senses is a little bit disturbing: one in four people suffering stress—

Mr Colvin : That's right.

Senator PATRICK: The Broderick report was released back in 2016. We've now got similar claims being raised about culture. Are things changing in the AFP?

Mr Colvin : I think they absolutely are changing. The Broderick report was on something quite distinctly different to what the Phoenix Australia report is, but I take your point that this is about organisational health and staff welfare. I believe absolutely that we have taken those issues very seriously. I will say, Senator, that both of those reports were something we commissioned. Neither was imposed upon us. These were assessments that we made that we needed to improve, and we wanted to get external help to do that. So, absolutely, I think we are improving, but it will take time.

Senator PATRICK: Maybe on notice—I'm not sure if you've got the figures here—can you give me some updated figures on the number of open insurance claims that the AFP have in relation to psychological or psychiatric injury?

Mr Colvin : I think we may—

Ms Bird : We don't have them for all psychological conditions. We do have some specific numbers around PTSD but not the full range of conditions.

Mr Colvin : Within PTSD, it is broken down to probably almost a dozen different contributing factors, and I think we have those figures.

Ms Bird : I can give you some figures. As at 15 February this year, we have 76 accepted and open compensation claims for an injury classified as PTSD. The mechanisms of those injuries and what led to that injury are obviously quite diverse. But I don't have in front of me numbers about general psychological claims.

Senator PATRICK: What about bullying complaints?

Ms Bird : Bullying complaints?

Senator PATRICK: How are those numbers tracking?

Mr Colvin : We'll have those.

Senator PATRICK: I don't mind if you end up taking the question on notice; I'm just trying to get a feel for how the numbers are changing, up or down.

Ms Bird : As to the way that we're dealing with bullying complaints: obviously, there are many methods by which people might make a complaint. Following the culture report, the Broderick report, we did establish the Safe Place, which is probably the most popular or common area of the organisation for complaints to be made around bullying and harassment, and you will be aware of what that report said about bullying and harassment.

Senator PATRICK: Sure.

Senator MOLAN: What is the Safe Place?

Ms Bird : Safe Place was a recommendation from the report to say that we should set up an area—

Senator MOLAN: Physical or—

Ms Bird : of support for members to be able to make complaints, including anonymously, and including when they don't actually want any action to be taken but just want to tell their story. So it was quite a broad remit. Specifically, it was an area where people could complain when they didn't actually want a formal investigation to proceed from that point—

Senator MOLAN: So it's not a physical place, I take it?

Senator PATRICK: No.

Ms Bird : It's a team, in effect; it's a team in our culture reform division.

Senator PATRICK: Do you baseline your numbers against—

CHAIR: Just before you ask that question, Senator Patrick: Senator McKenzie, I apologise; you've grown into the job so easily that I hadn't realised that this was your first, as I understand it—perhaps you did something yesterday—appearance before this committee on that side of the table. So, from all of the committee, congratulations.

Senator WATT: Hear, hear!

Senator McKenzie: Thank you, Senator Watt.

Senator WATT: Long may you return!

CHAIR: And thank you so much for filling in for Senator Seselja, who I see is now here—

Senator Seselja: It's going to be a let-down from here!

Senator McKenzie: I was just gearing up!

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Patrick.

Senator PATRICK: Do you baseline your numbers against the ADF, who, in some sense, have a similar work environment—a stressful environment; often seeing things that are not pleasant? Also, with the bullying, they have similar rank arrangements to you guys' command structure. Do you baseline against the ADF, talking to them?

Mr Colvin : Not against the ADF, but we certainly look at comparable organisations, other law enforcement organisations and policing organisations, to see where they're tracking.

Senator PATRICK: How are you tracking against, say, other police forces in Australia?

Mr Colvin : I'd have to get exact figures—

Ms Bird : We could probably take that on notice; it's probably best done that way.

Mr Colvin : Suffice it to say, I'm comfortable that we're not particularly bad, or better; this is a trend in policing that we're all trying to manage at the moment.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. Thank you, Commissioner. Just moving very quickly to Carly's Law: there has been a report that one South Australian man has been charged under Carly's Law, but I haven't seen any other reports. Can you give any updates on the number of people who may have been charged in relation to Carly's Law?

Mr Colvin : I will ask Deputy Commissioner Operations to answer that.

Ms Close : You're correct. There is one South Australian male person before the courts. This law was passed in June 2017. That is the only case before the courts at this point.

Senator PATRICK: So that is a case where you've managed to get the DPP to cross a threshold; it has established that there is a case that could be prosecuted. Are there other cases where a charge has been laid?

Ms Close : Not in respect of that particular change to the legislation, no.

Senator PATRICK: Are there any thresholding issues? Obviously, these are new laws, and there is a threshold that needs to be crossed before you can make a charge. Are there any difficulties at this stage in the implementation?

Ms Close : No. It's simply a matter of looking at each case on a case-by-case basis and at the circumstances to see whether the actions and the evidence that we have warrant a charge in relation to that piece of legislation.

Senator PATRICK: In terms of your own internal operations about educating officers and the implementation of the law, can you give me some feel about how that is being organised?

Ms Close : Certainly. In our child protection and anti-exploitation area, we undertake regular training of our officers. We also have officers working in each of the state and territory police forces under a joint anti-child-exploitation model. We deliver training to those officers as well in respect of that, so they're always conscious of new legislation, and we ensure that they're delivered training to ensure they can undertake those investigations.

Senator PATRICK: So Carly's law is now part of that curriculum?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: Generally, and this might be a subjective question, has there been any deterrent effect associated with the passing of the law?

Ms Close : That's a very difficult question to answer because we haven't got any trend analysis or data to support that. It's probably a little early too, since the legislation only came in about eight months ago.

Senator PATRICK: So the bottom line is you're comfortable at this stage. Obviously, whilst that legislation was being debated and talked about in committee there were different variations, particularly in relation to the threshold. There's no early feedback on that?

Ms Close : It's just too early to say.

Senator HUME: I have some follow-up questions. Yesterday I asked the ABF about the drug haul that was found in the highlighters, which was quite extraordinary. The ABF mentioned that the AFP were, obviously, intricately involved in that operation. I wanted to ask you about, not just whether it be methamphetamine or amphetamine importation but other illicit drugs that you're seeing coming in, your potential involvement in those operations and the trends that you're seeing?

Mr Colvin : I think the broadest trend I would say is that methamphetamine continues to be the most pervasive illegal narcotic in Australia and its use is widespread and debilitating, quite frankly. We do see large seizures of methamphetamine, and what we have seen over the past three to four years particularly is the quantity of those seizures increasing. Our investigations, along with Border Force, our state and territory partners and, particularly, our international partners, are showing that organised crime groups are targeting Australia, as we expected. The profits to be gained from the illicit narcotic market in Australia are quite high and, hence, the risk that organised crime is prepared to take. More broadly, while methamphetamine is still the number one illicit drug that we have seen through the ACIC, waste water analysis shows that there is still a cocktail of illegal narcotics being used in this country. I think the seizure yesterday was ephedrine. Again, we see a range of narcotics but the trends are all heading in the wrong direction.

Senator HUME: Talk to the committee a little bit about your cooperation with international partners. I know there is one specific operation, Taskforce Blaze. I know you probably can't get into the details of that but perhaps you can give us a broadbrush description?

Mr Colvin : I will. I'll hand to the deputy commissioner in a moment. I'll give her a chance to get her thoughts together. Taskforce Blaze that you referred to is a joint operation with our Chinese counterparts. It's one of a number of similar task forces that we have in the region where we have a very intentional strategy—the AFP has had an intentional focus for a number of years now, going back as many as 20 years—to take the battle as far offshore as we possibly can under the basic premise that a stronger region is a safer Australia. We have Taskforce Blaze in southern China provinces. We have similar arrangements with our Thai counterparts, as well as our Cambodian counterparts, working with them to try and work on distribution points and transit points for narcotics coming into this country. It's proven to be incredibly successful. I am sure by now Leanne will have got the data together and we can give you some good data about the seizures and the quantities as well.

Ms Close : As the commissioner said, international cooperation is essential in many organised crime areas and child exploitation investigations as well. In respect of Taskforce Blaze, which is our partnership with the Chinese authorities, since its inception back in November 2015 it has resulted in approximately 15.8 tonnes of drugs being seized and precursor material as well—so that includes 8,379 kilograms in China itself and 7,452 in Australia as at the end of 2017.

As the commissioner said, we have similar agreements with the Thai authorities and Cambodian authorities. There are not such significant seizures in those quantities but certainly great cooperation in terms of intelligence sharing, looking at ways that people are concealing narcotics and trying to bring them into Australia, and working with Australian Border Force and other agencies in Australia to interdict before they get to our shores. If not, we've certainly got good cooperation and intelligence so we can target the people in Australia who are attempting to bring these materials into Australia.

Senator HUME: That was my next question. I was going to ask about who it is that's bringing the illicit substances into Australia. I know that there's been a lot of work done in the antigangs task force, particularly on outlaw motorcycle gangs. Perhaps you could elaborate for the committee a little bit on the work that's been done in that space.

Ms Close : As well as organised crime gangs—and we are doing a significant amount of work internationally and in Australia with our state and territory colleagues—there are a range of organised crime groups across the world. We have relationships through our international liaison network across 33 countries. We are working from the Americas all the way back to Australia to identify who the crime groups are. Some of them are also just individuals who use the darknet or other methodologies to try and bring them through the Australian border. As Australian Border Force were talking about yesterday, there are so many ways to conceal these items, so many ways to bring them into Australia, and we're not alone in this, but we in Australia are high consumers of narcotics, so we work really collaboratively and closely with all of our partners here in Australia and offshore to try to stop and combat.

As well as combating the narcotics trade, focusing on the money-laundering aspects and the proceeds of crime are other key strategies in our fight.

Senator HUME: I know minister Dutton recently announced his intent to appoint a transnational serious and organised crime coordinator. Does that fall under that auspice?

Ms Close : Yes, it does. That role will be looking much more broadly at strategy policy legislation and how we can improve the coordination across states and territories. As we said earlier, supply is far outstripped by demand in the crime space. What ways can we cooperate better? What different strategies can we use—particularly focused on prevention and disruption. Whenever we investigate, lock people up and take proceeds of crime from people, that's a key facet of what we do, but we need to look at different preventative strategies and disruption strategies.

Senator HUME: Again are the disruption strategies part of the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce?

Ms Close : Yes, that is one aspect in terms of looking at the crimes in respect of our tax system—for example, the Panama Papers. That's a different strategy, but we'll use different methodologies and work with the Australian Taxation Office or other agencies where we can identify intelligence or information for money-laundering aspects and proceeds of crime.

Mr Colvin : It's very difficult to unpack your question in a way that I can give you simple answers at the committee now, but there are a few very key strategies that we employ. One is taking the fight offshore, as you heard the deputy commissioner talk about. There's no one crime group responsible for organised crime or drug trafficking in this country. It's a mix, and we are always surprised at new crime groups emerging. But OMCG is clearly of great concern to law enforcement in this country.

More broadly, we have a very targeted approach to what we would call facilitators of crime: those people who are helping move the money and providing the logistics, transport and networks. We target those. We have very active proceeds of crime activity to try to strip the profit out of crime and we have a very active effort to work out who the people are who facilitate a number of crime groups. Of course, if we can start to target those hubs who are facilitating a number of crime groups, I think we can have a greater impact on the crime environment.

Senator HUME: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Molan, did you want to use Senator Hume's remaining two minutes?

Senator MOLAN: If I could, please. Commission, I wonder if you could add into Senator Patrick's request a comparison of your PTSD and suicide rates with society as a whole? I certainly found that the ADF looks differently if you compare to society as a whole than if you just take it as a one-off.

Mr Colvin : We can. In fact, we have done some of the work. I'm always loth to say what I'm about to say, because I don't want to in any way look like we are minimising the challenges that we have within policing, because we do have challenges, but within the AFP our suicide rate is significantly lower than the community's rate of suicide.

Senator MOLAN: And I think that was the finding of the ADF inquiry as well whilst people are serving. I think it changes after that.

Mr Colvin : And that is where law enforcement is well behind the Defence Force: understanding postservice challenges. We don't have a veterans' affairs type department or approach and we are more disparate across law enforcement in this country. Of course, it's a number of organisations, so our data is not as good there, unfortunately.

Senator MOLAN: Thank you. I'm very interested in following up on Senator Hume's question in relation to overseas deployment. Where does the overseas deployment group out at Majura stand now?

Mr Colvin : The overseas deployment group exists as an entity. We've changed some of our structures, and they support or deployments at the moment to East Timor, PNG and the Solomon Islands in particular as well as, more broadly, some of our adviser network and capacity-building networks across the Pacific. That is our capability and stabilisation missions. In addition to that we have our traditional international liaison network.

Senator MOLAN: Are the AFP officers I would have seen in embassies are they owned by the deployment group, or do they just come separately?

Mr Colvin : It's all part of our international operations. It's one division called International Operations. It has two sides to what it does: traditional liaison and stability, peacekeeping and capacity-building operations.

Senator MOLAN: Generally how many people have you got overseas?

Ms Close : We have 241 officers located in 33 countries.

Senator MOLAN: That's good—tremendous. That ends my time. Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Pratt and then Senator Leyonhjelm.

Senator PRATT: I just wanted to go back to what I've identified as a $137 million reduction. You read out the year-by-year figures, but can you confirm it's a $137 million reduction, or have I gotten my maths wrong?

Mr Colvin : I'll ask the CFO to take that question. I think he did put evidence on the record before of $1.274 billion as opposed to $1.203 billion, which I think is where I think you get some of your—I'll leave it to the CFO, actually.

Mr Gunning : The 137 relates the cumulative amount across the forward estimates, so you're quite correct.

Senator PRATT: So you can confirm that figure.

Mr Gunning : Yes. The 19, 17, 18, number, there's some in 2018-19, some in 2019-20 and some in 2020-21. If you add up all those years, you are correct; it is $137 million.

Senator PRATT: Thank you very much. I wanted to go back to staffing issues. I understand there are some hiring rounds going on at the moment. Is that correct?

Mr Colvin : Yes, a range of both sworn and unsworn recruitment is occurring.

Senator PRATT: How many positions are you looking to fill? How many are sworn and how many are unsworn?

Mr Colvin : We can't give you an exact figure on that, because it varies each and every day with attrition—people coming on and off. But we have three recruit courses in the college at the moment. I don't know if we have a figure on how many nonsworn recruitment actions we have.

Ms Bird : I don't have a figure with me, but we would have several rounds in relation to specialist skills, so professional staff with particular skill sets—possibly lawyers, IT people and those sorts of skills.

Senator PRATT: You said you've got three recruit rounds. What is the size of a cohort of recruits?

Mr Colvin : Each recruit round sits about 25 officers, give or take.

Senator PRATT: So that would be about 75.

Mr Colvin : But that's part of an ongoing recruitment campaign.

Senator PRATT: Yes. And you can't give me an approximate figure on the unsworn positions?

Ms Bird : Not with me, but I'm happy to take that on notice.

Senator PRATT: Okay.

Mr Colvin : Part of the reluctance is because it changes. A figure I give you today could be different tomorrow. It's not a set number that we are recruiting to. It depends on the needs. It depends on the budget. It depends on how we can use that budget to achieve the effect that we're looking for.

Ms Bird : We also try to create employment pools to speed things up later for natural attrition reasons.

Senator PRATT: If it's about 25 in each recruitment round and you had a cut previously and have had some of that money replaced, has that changed the frequency with which you can run those new recruit rounds?

Mr Colvin : It does, absolutely. This is one of the challenges that the AFP has. To recruit, train and make competent a police officer, it takes time. So what we try to do is project forward, as far as we can, to what our budget measures will be and recruit against that. So, yes, it does fluctuate from time to time.

Senator PRATT: If you could give me the figures of how many new recruits you've brought through over the last four years—

Mr Colvin : The last four financial years?

Senator PRATT: Yes, that would be—

Mr Colvin : We'd have to take that on notice, but yes.

Senator PRATT: Terrific.

Mr Colvin : Can I just make the point, though, I'm reluctant for the committee to only look at it through a lens of sworn officers. A lot of the delivery of outcomes for the AFP are delivered by non-sworn officers as well.

Senator PRATT: That depends on how easily Ms Bird can give me those figures to put alongside that. I do understand the point that you're making.

Mr Colvin : We're in a recruitment round at the moment, particularly because in the last budget there was an injection of the $321 million to the AFP for specific recruitment of specialist capabilities. At the moment, we're recruiting against that measure.

Senator PRATT: How does this forecast reduction in staffing align with hiring rounds you're undertaking at the moment? You're now at 6,498 and you were, a few years back, at 6,751. Are those 75 recruits and other non-sworn officers just replacing attrition—or will it start to bump you up again?

Mr Colvin : It's partly to replace attrition; it's partly to meet the new budget measure in last year's budget, the $321 million for the specialist capability, so we need to recruit against that. It's also trying to project to what our needs may be, going forward, as well. It's a range of things coming together to help us determine our recruitment needs.

Senator PRATT: Did you request an increase in funding from government so that you could return to your former ASL, those figures back in 2015-16?

Mr Colvin : I don't think it would be appropriate for me to talk about what my discussions were with government about new measures. That's ongoing and, as I've said before at estimates, that's a constant discussion that we have about the needs of the organisation.

Senator PRATT: So how do you characterise the needs of the organisation, in terms of whether you can meet your mandated duties, currently?

Mr Colvin : Senator, as I said before, we have a supply-and-demand challenge at the moment. The demand for our services outstrips our ability to supply, but that's not unusual.

Senator PRATT: If you had another 300 officers, where would you put them?

Mr Colvin : There are many areas I would put them. I would probably try and address my most pressing needs, which, at the moment, I would suggest, are against some of our national security and organised crime mandated responsibilities.

Senator PRATT: National security and organised crime.

Mr Colvin : I don't want that to be interpreted that we're not doing that now. I need to move resources around, accordingly.

Senator PRATT: Yes. I understand, from looking at your additional estimates, employee benefits in outcome 1 ultimately fall over the forward estimates. You've got around $857 million this year down to $830 million by 2020-21.

Mr Colvin : So we know what you're looking at, which page is that?

Senator PRATT: It's page 82 of additional estimates.

Mr Colvin : Yes, we're with you.

Senator PRATT: Looking at those forward estimates, you have around $857 million, this year, down to $830 million. That leaves you about $13 million worse off than if employee benefits for this year were maintained. Is that correct?

Mr Colvin : That's correct, yes.

Mr Gunning : That's correct. It's $857.8 million this year and $830.0 million in 2021.

Senator PRATT: Is that an indication that employee entitlements are reducing in lieu of wages increases?

Mr Gunning : What it's indicating is the proportion of the measures that are due to terminate over the next four years, which we spoke about earlier. It's the salaries associated with those measures. It's the salaries associated with illegal guns, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, and the APEC commitment that's currently there for this year.

Mr Colvin : The largest portion of our budget is for people. Any movement in our budget will be reflected in employee benefits most significantly.

Senator PRATT: I understand you have a new enterprise agreement. Congratulations on that. Eighty per cent of AFP members voted in support of it and I understand the agreement still needs the approval of the Fair Work Commission. Assuming it gets the tick-off, it has three per cent, two per cent and one per cent pay rises over the three years. I note the AFP Association have calculated this as around an additional $2,000 per member over the life of the agreement. Is that correct?

Mr Colvin : I haven't heard the figure quoted like that. I won't question what the association have said. I would probably have felt that it was a little less than that, to be honest.

Senator PRATT: Mr Gunning, are you able to assist?

Mr Gunning : If it were three per cent, two per cent and one per cent, the cumulative value of that is six per cent. On an average salary, if it were around $80,000 to $100,000, it would be more likely $6,000.

Mr Colvin : I would have thought it was more.

Mr Gunning : Yes—$6,000 cumulative to each member by the end of the period.

Senator PRATT: So about $6,000 per member?

Mr Gunning : The $2,000 might be a reference to an on-average per-year increase.

Mr Colvin : Do you want an exact figure, Senator?

Senator PRATT: No, I understand. What I'm trying to work out is the cumulative cost of pay increases relative to the savings you're making in cutting employee benefits and, therefore, where you're funding your pay rises from.

Mr Colvin : Senator, what you're talking about is the full cost of the enterprise agreement, which we know and we have. The cost of the enterprise agreement and the pay rises will be absorbed by the organisation. We'll extrapolate that over the forward estimates, in the years of the EA, across all of our programs.

Senator PRATT: You've said, Commissioner Colvin, that the majority of your costs are in staffing.

Mr Colvin : Yes.

Senator PRATT: How can you absorb those costs without cutting staff further?

Mr Colvin : We've had to show the Public Service Commission that we can only achieve this pay rise through productivity and efficiency gains. The CFO will be able to give you exact detail on that, if we have it with us. In effect, we will have to consider staffing as well.

Senator PRATT: So you'll have to consider staffing reductions as well. Could you confirm with me the total cost of the increase of the new enterprise agreement?

Mr Colvin : We can get that. We just don't have it with us at the table.

Mr Gunning : From memory—and I will confirm this—$121 million was the total additional cost over the three years of the pay rise.

Senator PRATT: How much of that are you saving? That's the additional cost after savings in changes to employee benefits?

Mr Gunning : That's the total additional cost of the agreement. Offsetting that would be a series of savings and efficiencies. I haven't got that list with me, but I know that one of the key initiatives—and this ties back to some of the initiatives around mental health and stress in the workplace—is encouraging our staff to take their full leave entitlements. If people take their full leave entitlements, we have less cost from an accounting analysis perspective.

Senator PRATT: You don't have to pay it out at the end of their—

Mr Gunning : Correct, so we're encouraging staff to take that extra leave.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Commissioner, in October 2016 I first asked questions about Mossack Fonseca and the Panama Papers and then I followed up at estimates hearings all through 2017. Is it still the case that no-one has been charged as a result of the Panama Papers? Do you still hold the bullion you seized in 2016?

Mr Colvin : Yes, it is still correct that no-one has been charged and, yes, we would still hold the bullion.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Is the AFP the lead agency in this, determining who gets prosecuted or if anyone gets prosecuted, or is it somebody else that you're waiting on?

Mr Colvin : No. The Serious Financial Crime Taskforce is a combination of a number of agencies. Prosecutions and investigations that we are responsible for—yes, we will decide at what point we put a brief of evidence to the Commonwealth DPP, and at this stage we haven't reached a point where we are satisfied to do that.

Senator LEYONHJELM: At the previous estimates, in October last year, I asked about exaggerated claims of Australian gun seizures. You took the questions on notice. I've had no answers to those questions, despite a considerable elapse of time. Can you respond now?

Mr Colvin : There are a few things on that. Yes, I recall the questions, and we have prepared an answer. I understand—and the secretariat may be better placed to inform you—that with the MoG changes and the change of portfolio there are some technicalities in terms of re-asking the question and us re-answering the question. But I can put some answers to you on the record now if you'd like me to do that.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes, please go ahead.

CHAIR: That would be useful, because we've had this issue that you're going into another portfolio. You are in the other portfolio, but the questions were asked in a different portfolio.

Mr Colvin : In a different portfolio—I understand.

CHAIR: But if you can give the answer now I think that would be appropriate.

Mr Colvin : Senator Leyonhjelm, I'll just give you what I have in front of me. The operation that you're mostly referring to in relation to firearms that were seized—firearms and firearm parts—was Operation Ironsight. That was a joint investigation that involved our teams across Australia as well as Victoria Police, the US bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms and the US department of Homeland Security Investigations—HSI. In total, that operation resulted in the seizure of 5,088 firearms, including parts—we don't necessarily distinguish between a full firearm and a part. These firearms and parts were seized as part of the operation; however, 4,785 of them were ultimately seized by the US authorities in the US. So 303 firearms and firearm parts were seized in Australia; 4,785 were seized in the US. We understand, although of course we can't say this definitively, that those firearms seized in the US were potentially destined for Australia.

Senator LEYONHJELM: There are a number of questions arising from that. I'll pick up on the last one first. What leads you to say they were destined for Australia?

Mr Colvin : That would be information as a result of the investigation. We wouldn't have taken an interest in them if we didn't think there was an Australian nexus in some way. I don't want to go into the specifics of the investigation—I suspect some of it will still be ongoing—but we had reason to believe that a reasonable portion of those 4,785 was destined for Australia.

Senator LEYONHJELM: The information that I inquired of you at the last estimates was: of the 4,785 seized in the United States, only six were in fact firearms. Can you confirm that?

Mr Colvin : I don't think that our systems, as I said, distinguish between a firearm and a firearm part.

Ms Close : I can break it down.

Mr Colvin : I take that back. The Deputy Commissioner, Operations, may be able to help you a bit more.

Ms Close : I can break that figure down a little bit for you, Senator. For the 4,785: yes, six were fully automatic assault rifles; 96 were semi-automatic handgun frames; 4,547 were unmarked handgun frames; and there were 136 receivers.

Senator LEYONHJELM: The first figure, you said, was assault rifles?

Ms Close : Automatic assault rifles.

Senator LEYONHJELM: You mean automatic, not semi-automatic?

Ms Close : Fully automatic.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Fully automatic assault rifles?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Like C1s and C4s?

Ms Close : I don't have the specific type of assault rifle.

Senator LEYONHJELM: It's just that the term 'assault rifle' gets tossed around rather loosely these days.

Ms Close : I trust my firearms experts in terms of the information they've given me but I can certainly provide more details if you'd like.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes, actually; I would appreciate any details you have on that. So the assumption, you're saying—and I take your word for it—is that the 4,785 seized in America were destined for Australia?

Mr Colvin : Well, we believe that they were potentially destined for Australia. We can't say categorically they were.

Senator LEYONHJELM: What can you tell me about the 303 that were found in Australia? How many of them were complete firearms and how many were parts?

Ms Close : I don't have that detail with me, but I can certainly take that on notice.

Senator LEYONHJELM: If you would, thank you. If you find that—

Ms Close : Oh, sorry. I beg your pardon. The commissioner has that. Of the 303, there were an upper and lower frame for one assault rifle, 19 semiautomatic handgun frames with identical serial numbers, six semiautomatic assorted parts, and 10 kilograms of ammunition.

Senator LEYONHJELM: So no complete operational firearms amongst that lot?

Ms Close : No.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Okay. And how do you interpret this substantial number of parts as opposed to operating firearms?

Mr Colvin : Again, it's difficult for us to be definitive, but we do know that the trend in the US—and I know this from my own briefings that I've had over there with ATF—is that they are seeing more and more parts of firearms being manufactured and added to imported parts. So, in the US, of course, it's easier to get your hands on parts. You can legally buy them. In Australia it's harder so we have to watch out for the potential that there are firearm parts being manufactured illegally and what is imported is just part of the firearm to be added to what is manufactured locally. It's difficult for us to draw any other conclusions when we know we are seizing parts.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes. There is an issue which I'll ask you about in due course, which is about whether some of the seizures that occur at the borders are indeed destined for the illegitimate market. But I suppose that's a different issue. That's probably a question for Border Force.

Mr Colvin : I think we have to assume that a lot of this is destined for the illegitimate market; otherwise, it would be brought in via legitimate means.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes. As long as you're not counting the ones that are seized that the importers are arguing are legitimate and then counting them?

Mr Colvin : No.

Senator LEYONHJELM: All right. That leads me to the second part of my question here. Last year I asked you about a media release by the minister on the National Anti-Gangs Squad partnership led by the AFP. It referred to 5,700 illegal firearms and firearm parts. Again, there were independent reports suggesting just 308 of these were in fact firearms. Do you have any information another on that one? You took that on notice as well.

Mr Colvin : I did. There were two media releases by the former Minister for Justice. One was on 16 March and then there was the one that you referenced from 28 September. In those releases the minister referred to, in the first instance, '5,600 illegal firearms' that had been seized since 2013, and then in September he referred to '5,700 illegal firearms'. As you said at the time, what the minister says is a matter for the minister. Obviously we provide him with material to support that. I think that the '308' that you were referencing seems too coincidental to not be the '303' seizures that we seized here in Australia, remembering of course that they were parts, not necessarily entire firearms.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Setting aside that 308 number, are you able to provide any further breakdown on that 5,700 that the minister referred to? Can you divide them into operating firearms and parts? And do you have any further details of them?

Mr Colvin : Only to the extent of what we've given you already of the breakdown? That was in relation to one particular investigation.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Commissioner, I didn't get an answer to that question at all. That's why there's no actual prior information at all on that one.

Mr Colvin : Well the information we've just put on the record—the seizures in relation to Operation Ironsight of 5,088 firearms, including firearm parts, which was made up of the 4,785 seized in the US, the 303 seized in Australia, that is 500 or so short of the number that the minister has referred to. They would be just general seizures by the National Anti-Gangs Squad across a range of operations.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I interpret that as suggesting we were double counting the 5,600 and the 5,700. Was there double counting there?

Mr Colvin : No, I don't think so. The bulk of those came as part of one investigation but, of course, our National Anti-Gangs Squad, with our state and territory counterparts, are out seizing firearms on a reasonably regular basis. We can take it on notice to see what that 500 or 600 deficit is made up of, but we'd have to go away and do quite a bit of research and look at separate investigations and what firearms were seized.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Just to be clear, my impression was there were two announcements and two separate quantities of firearms seized. For the first, the bulk of them was seized in the United States, and a relatively small number in Australia. The second announcement referred to 5,700. The impression I have is that they were seized within Australia, and that was a separate number. I have no information as to their nature, whether they are complete or whether they were, indeed, all seized in Australia. You took that one on notice and I haven't had an answer yet.

Mr Colvin : I am very confident that that 5,700 were not seized in Australia. They include the 4,800 that were seized in the US.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Right, that clarifies it.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have two sets of questions. The first set are about, very quickly, yesterday when my Senate office in Launceston was plastered with white supremacist neo-Nazi posters from a group that call themselves the Antipodean Resistance. I'm not quite sure exactly how you pronounce it—'antipedes' or 'antipiday'?

Senator WONG: It's alright, they know me too. Go away.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I understand this has happened to other MPs. It has been reported to the Federal Police. Do you know much about it, Mr Colvin? Do you know much about this group, or can you comment whether—

Mr Colvin : I don't personally. I'm not aware of the referral yesterday. I'm sure my protection liaison team work, probably, very closely with the Tasmania Police on those matters. It seems it's not a group that is unknown to a number of members of parliament but, personally, I don't have a lot of knowledge on them, no.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I note that ASIO has made comments to parliamentary committees that they're being monitored and there are concerns that the group could turn violent. I was just wondering if you had any inter-agency discussions about the group and why they're targeting federal MPs? We've got security cameras, so it's pretty bold to cover all the offices in Nazi posters. Some of them are quite vile. I just wanted to bring it to your attention anyway, and find out, perhaps, if we could learn a little bit more about the movement.

Mr Colvin : I'm sure we do. I'm sure we know some of them. I'm not aware of ASIO specifically commenting on them but I know we do comment on right-wing extremist groups, nationalist groups from time to time and—

CHAIR: Left-wing extremist groups.

Mr Colvin : left-wing extremist groups, Chair, of course. I don't know that particular group personally but I have no doubt my officers would.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: My other questions relate to news that was nearly a year ago. On 30 March 2017, the Federal Police played a critical role in the country's biggest cocaine bust, Operation Okesi, which Federal Police statements at the time said was a 'sophisticated', 'significant' and 'robust, resilient and determined syndicate' that had been foiled at least five times. I haven't been able to find any media commentary at all since a couple of people were charged. Can you give us an update on where that investigation is at?

Mr Colvin : It would be before the court, which is probably why you haven't heard anything more. I remember the investigation and seizure of cocaine. I don't remember a great deal of the details, frankly, because there have been a number of seizures since then. If you wanted specifics we could get that on notice, but the reason that you would not have heard about it is it's before the courts.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So I can't ask you specific questions about it now if it's before the courts?

Mr Colvin : Not while it's before the courts.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I might wait and see.

Mr Colvin : Was there a particular interest in that particular group or—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Yes. Firstly, it interested me that the 15-member ring was labelled by the media as being 'veteran fishermen, fishing company bosses and maritime workers around the country'. I was just trying to get into what the fishing connections were with the syndicate. One of the busted was the head of a company called Seafish Tasmania, which is a Tasmanian fishing company. I just want to know whether Seafish have cooperated with the investigations?

Mr Colvin : Perhaps what we should do is go and take a look at the investigation and where it's at. We may be able to take it offline for a private briefing. We can work with the secretariat and the minister's office. If there are specific things, we might be able to help you with that.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Great. Thank you. That's it for me.

CHAIR: Commissioner—this was mentioned yesterday with the Border Force people—can I pass on the committee's and the parliament's congratulations to you and your team, and to Border Force, on what was a very significant drug haul—this past 12 months, actually. We recognise that you and your officers are at the frontline and you're often in danger, and we really do like to take every opportunity to publicly thank your people for what they do.

Mr Colvin : Thank you, Chair. We appreciate that. There's no shortage of work for us, that's for sure.

CHAIR: I'm going to pass to Senator Molan, but, before I do, can I also thank you for your protection liaison work. My office in Townsville is often the target of unions, GetUp! and others. I have to say the response from the Townsville police, which I understand comes through you, is exceptional, and I want to congratulate you on that. I know you do it for all parliamentarians, regardless of their persuasion, when they're under attack.

Mr Colvin : Chair, if I might say on that, it's a business that we have been doing a lot more of over the last three or four years and have had to put a lot more focus onto for all members of parliament. It does concern us, and I know it concerns you—and particularly your staff—and it's very important to us. Thank you.

CHAIR: It does concern my staff. They usually pick a time when I'm not there, but that's the way things are! Senator Molan.

Senator MOLAN: I'd like to explore a little bit more around budgetary issues, the relationship that you have with your new department, and—if I have some time left—your anti-gang activity, please. If we go back that far, Commissioner, my memory is that, in the period following the election of the Abbott government in 2013, there was a significant increase in your budget and the budget of all security and intelligence organisations. My memory is that that was due to the fact that, even though there were very high activities and a lot of demand during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd period, budgets of intelligence and police activities were cut. Is that your memory?

Mr Colvin : To be precise, I would need to go through each year and explain, and I don't want to give a trend. But 2014 certainly saw a distinct upsurge in counterterrorism activity. With that came a number of NPPs—budget measures—that the AFP was funded for, most recently up to the $321 million that we were given last year around specific capabilities as well. It's an ongoing discussion.

Senator MOLAN: Yes. Commissioner, how did you characterise before—I may have missed it—your ability to fulfil your task as commissioner, or the ability of the AFP to fulfil its task as the national police force?

Mr Colvin : I think there's a popular misconception about what the AFP does. The AFP is 6,500 people strong, as you've seen. But across that there is a very broad remit that I have, including policing here in the ACT, policing at airports and policing of critical infrastructure. It is a supply-and-demand equation for me. Every police commissioner that I've ever known, be they state or federal, will tell you there is always more work than we can do. What we have to do is prioritise our work according to the demand and the amount of officers, resources and capability I can bring to bear to meet that demand. It's a constant pressure that we're under.

Senator MOLAN: Of the $300 million—and I think it is a $71 million decrease over the forward estimates—how closely is that linked to the termination of tasks?

Mr Colvin : Quite closely. The CFO can take you through the specific measures that come on and off. It is a normal part of the government budgeting cycle that we ask for funding for certain measures. When measures end, the funding comes off and new measures will come on. It may be a variation of what we were doing; it may be a new area to focus on, a new set of priorities for us, a new overseas mission or coming to the conclusion of an overseas mission. That's a normal part of the cycle.

Senator MOLAN: Have you noticed any economic efficiencies as you've come under the Department of Home Affairs? Are they noticeable at all?

Mr Colvin : It's early days, quite frankly—I think we're in the eighth or ninth week. So far, from an AFP perspective, it's been very much a net positive in terms of the ability for us to call upon what is now a much larger infrastructure sitting behind us in the home affairs department. We are very quickly coming to terms with how best to utilise the resources that Secretary Pezzullo can bring to bear for us. There will, over time, be efficiencies that can be derived simply through scale. I think that is one of the greatest benefits Home Affairs will bring.

Senator MOLAN: They may be operational efficiencies rather than dollar efficiencies.

Mr Colvin : Absolutely. A lot of my efficiencies can be drawn from technology. I need to be a faster, smarter, more agile organisation who is using technology better. Some of that will be enhanced by our ability to bring scale and size to the problems that Home Affairs can help us with.

Senator MOLAN: Secretary, how have you seen the amalgamation?

Mr Pezzullo : I welcome the opportunity to make a few points about the establishment of Home Affairs and to build on my remarks yesterday, specifically in relation to the relationship between the department and the AFP. A couple of foundational points: the statutory independence, both of the commissioner himself and his officers, is completely unfettered and unchanged by these administrative arrangements. The commissioner reports to the Minister for Home Affairs, who sits in the cabinet. He does not report to me or to the department, and his statutory independence is, in that sense, completely unchanged.

I see my role as the secretary of the department to work with all of the agency heads—in this case, the AFP—to help them build their core capabilities. You've heard a lot about that this morning in terms of their people being the best, premier capability, highly professional expert workforces. But they need support in terms of budgetary investment, technology, and so on and so forth.

The portfolio will be able to leverage considerably more resources, simply because it's larger and it's got more depth—the commissioner just touched on that. Some examples that I mentioned yesterday, that I'll quickly repeat for the Hansard, relate to things like data exploitation; identity biometrics; intelligence analysis; data storage—data storage is extremely expensive; the more you can consolidate that and gain efficiencies, the better off you are—the application of new techniques such as artificial intelligence and the natural machine learning that I mentioned yesterday; and more extensive links with the national intelligence community.

The Prime Minister, when he announced the establishment of Home Affairs, made it very clear that it was not being done principally for financial or economic reasons, primarily at least. But certainly, as we consolidate our capabilities, should efficiencies inevitably arise, it's the government's intention to ensure that they go to the frontline wherever possible and boost our frontline resources.

Finally, going back to a point that Senator Hume made—it's relevant to your question—Mr Dutton has foreshadowed the establishment of a new strategic task force: a joint task force to be headed by up a transnational serious and organised crime coordinator. That officer, who will be an AFP officer, will be an officer of my department. They will not have any command authority because the department does not command operations. But, working across all agencies and bringing the capabilities of all agencies to bear, the coordinator will focus on emerging risks, develop high-level plans for execution by agencies, address policy and legislative gaps, and work collaboratively across the law enforcement community at the Commonwealth level. They're just a number of examples of the synergies we're going to be able to achieve by bringing the department together with the AFP and the other operational agencies.

Senator MOLAN: And it's such an early stage. The ongoing management—

Mr Pezzullo : Week nine.

Senator MOLAN: That's right, week nine. The ongoing management will start to show these things in due course, you would hope.

Mr Pezzullo : Indeed.

Senator MOLAN: In the time I have left, on the transnational serious and organised crime coordinator, I saw on the highway the other day a motorcyclist—probably an innocent fine man—who was wearing, I think, Rebels colours with 'Fiji' written across his back. There were reports in the past about links—international crime links—with motorcycle gangs. Is that the kind of stuff that this transnational serious and organised crime coordinator would be into?

Mr Colvin : 'Into'? I'm not sure in a very positive way.

Senator MOLAN : That's right.

Mr Colvin : The coordinator will have a role—and a role that I'm quite excited about frankly—to try and leverage whole of government effort. A constant challenge, of course, for me is not everything is going to be solved by police and law enforcement. We need a whole-of-government effort. Pivoting to your question about OMCGs and you seeing a patch member with Fiji, there's absolutely no doubt that organised outlaw motorcycle gangs in this country have significantly increased and expanded their international remit and their offshore footprint over the last five or six years. That, unfortunately, includes the Pacific—countries where structures and governance probably makes it a little bit easier for them to set up as opposed to Australia where we have very strong laws against OMCGs.

Senator WATT: I'd like to ask a few questions about the investigation by the Federal Police of leaks from Minister Cash's office relating to the Registered Organisations Commission raid of the AWU. Can you just remind me, when did that investigation into the leak commence?

Mr Colvin : We commenced that investigation into the disclosure of information on 25 October 2017.

Senator WATT: 25 October?

Mr Colvin : Yes. That was the day after the AFP assisted the Registered Organisations Commission with their investigation which included the execution of those search warrants in Melbourne and Sydney.

Senator WATT: The raid was on 24th?

Mr Colvin : The search warrants were executed on the 24th, yes.

Senator WATT: And then the investigation commenced on the 25th?

Mr Colvin : Correct.

Senator WATT: What triggered that investigation?

Mr Colvin : I'll ask the Deputy Commissioner to remind me.

Ms Close : When the AFP and other officers assisting us attended the two premises in Sydney and Melbourne, media were already present at the premises. So, we instigated the investigation the next day to understand how information had been disclosed.

Senator WATT: When your officers arrived, there were media present at both locations?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: At both locations. Did your officers report back to you—that's obviously a pretty strange circumstance to have media present when you arrive to execute search warrants?

Ms Close : They did report back to us that afternoon of the 24th, yes.

Mr Colvin : It was immediate, Senator—we were watching it on the TV at the same time the officers were executing the search warrant.

Senator WATT: You certainly had no awareness that the media were going to be present when your officers arrived at the AWU offices?

Mr Colvin : No.

Senator WATT: You commenced the investigation the following day. Did you commence that investigation of your own volition?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: Because you were concerned about the media being present at this raid?

Ms Close : Yes.

Mr Colvin : We will always be concerned, despite what people sometimes think about media exposure of police activity—it puts our officers' lives in danger. Now, this was a fairly routine search warrant but I know it's been described as a raid—but we need to be careful of the language that's used. It was a knocking on the door of a business premises, quite different to what I think is inferred by 'raid', but it still puts our officers' lives in danger and so we will always be concerned about that.

Senator WATT: For someone to tip off the media about the execution of a search warrant potentially can put your officers in danger?

Mr Colvin : Yes.

Senator WATT: And presumably could prejudice whatever it is you're investigating?

Mr Colvin : It compromises the investigation. It compromises the ability to gather evidence, of course, if the people that we are looking to gather evidence from may, in fact, be aware of our presence or the fact we're coming. But I think we also need to keep in mind that this wasn't an AFP investigation. This was a Registered Organisations Commission investigation, where we needed to assist them to execute the search warrant. I'm sure the Registered Organisation Commission was also concerned about the potential compromise of their investigation.

Senator WATT: I'm just trying to remember now: when we looked at this matter late last year I seem to recall that there was evidence that when media personnel arrived at the AWU offices and informed AWU personnel that they were there for the impending raid—execution of search warrants or whatever you want to call it—that was the first that the union knew about it as well and they were pretty surprised. Have you heard similar?

Ms Close : I'm not aware of that—that level of detail.

Senator WATT: One of the reasons I have asked about what triggered the investigation, and you have said that that was initiated at your own volition, because of your concern, is that it has been asserted to committees that what triggered the investigation was a referral by the Registered Organisations Commission, and I think I have seen a letter to that effect. Are you saying that came after the investigation had been initiated?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: So, in fact, what happened was that your officers turned up at the AWU, found media there, you were horrified, commenced an investigation the following day and only after that did the Registered Organisations Commission seek an investigation by yourselves?

Ms Close : That is the timeline, yes.

Senator WATT: Did any minister or any minister's staff have any contact with the AFP about the need for an investigation?

Mr Colvin : Not to my knowledge, no.

Senator WONG: Can you check?

Mr Colvin : We'll make sure.

Senator WATT: So, beyond your having your own concern, establishing the investigation and then receiving this letter from the Registered Organisations Commission, can you check, or do you know, whether any other arm of government or person within government sought an investigation?

Mr Colvin : I'm quite confident it was only the Registered Organisations Commission, who wrote to us a couple of days later, as well, with the same concerns—it might have been the next day.

Senator WATT: If you could double-check for us that would be great. What criminal offence or offences is the AFP investigating here?

Ms Close : In terms of the alleged unauthorised disclosure of information, we're looking at section 70 of the Crimes Act.

Senator WATT: Can you remind me of what that section—

Ms Close : Yes, I can.

Mr Colvin : There are two unauthorised disclosure provisions of the Crimes Act. They relate slightly differently to different information.

Senator WATT: It is unauthorised disclosure of government information?

Mr Colvin : Effectively, yes.

Senator WATT: Do you know what the maximum penalty is?

Ms Close : Two years to that offence.

Senator WATT: Two years' jail?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: Is that the only offence that's being investigated?

Ms Close : I will have to take that on notice. It is being investigated, so it will depend on the circumstances that arise throughout the investigation into—

Senator WATT: Sure. If you find more, you would investigate and consider charges along those lines?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: How many officers are assigned to the investigation?

Ms Close : We have the head office investigations team assigned to this. That comprises two teams of investigators. Not at any one time will those investigators be looking just at this investigation, though. They have a large range of investigations they're responsible for, everything from war crimes to any specific more-sensitive or long-term type investigations. They're the team that receives those. They're not specifically just looking at this investigation.

Senator WATT: How many officers roughly are in this head office investigations team?

Ms Close : There are about eight per team.

Senator WATT: About two teams, each with about eight people. But this would be one of a number they would be investigating?

Mr Colvin : Yes.

Ms Close : One of a number.

Senator WATT: Is the investigation ongoing?

Ms Close : Yes it is.

Senator WATT: When do you anticipate it will be concluded?

Ms Close : We're hoping it will be fairly soon, but every time the team starts to look at some other avenues of inquiry, or they await different information, they are receiving new referrals of different crimes to investigate. So, the time has probably gotten a little bit longer than I would have preferred, but they are prioritising it amongst everything else that they have.

Senator WATT: As the investigation has continued, I think you said they become aware of new information, which leads to potentially new crimes to be investigated?

Ms Close : Or new witnesses to speak to—new avenues of inquiry.

Senator WONG: But in relation to this?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WONG: I wasn't clear whether it was different.

Senator WATT: New witnesses to be interviewed, potentially new people who might need to be charged?

Ms Close : Or might need to be interviewed potentially.

Mr Colvin : We're not narrowing our view here of who may have released this information, including a police officer. The challenge we have here is that while this is only a two-year offence, they are quite complicated because there's a lot of people we have to talk to. We have to discount a lot of avenues of inquiry to prove the fact of a leak occurring. To prove that a leak occurred, we have to disprove other people didn't, and that takes a lot of time. The point the deputy is making, which I'll be a little bit more blunt on, is that this is prioritised in amongst everything else we are doing, and while we want to find out where this information came from, it's not the greatest priority of work that the AFP has at the moment.

Senator WATT: So you would say that this investigation is not the greatest priority the AFP have?

Mr Colvin : No, not at all.

Senator WATT: Why not? Isn't unauthorised disclosure of government information a pretty serious matter?

Mr Colvin : It is, but across the range of the matters the AFP works on this isn't the only leak investigation that we have. This is not the only sensitive investigation we have. Across the range of the work we do, we have to prioritise all of our matters.

Senator PRATT: In terms of the caseload of those two teams, are they also dealing with offences that have more than the two-year jail term?

Mr Colvin : Absolutely. To be quite frank to the committee, the AFP rarely, if ever, investigates a crime that has a two-year penalty.

Senator WATT: You mentioned in passing there that it's not the only leak you're investigating. How many other alleged leaks of government information are you investigating at the moment?

Mr Colvin : We always have a number of leak referrals. I'm not sure if we have the number at the moment?

Ms Close : We do. I have a very large time frame in front of me—I have since 1 July 2013. We have received 50 allegations of unauthorised disclosures contrary to section 70, as we talked about before.

Senator WATT: 50?

Ms Close : Fifty, over that five-year period of time.

Senator WATT: I think a certain government was elected in about 2013.

Ms Close : Twenty-seven of those have been finalised and 30 are still under investigation.

Senator WATT: So 30 are ongoing?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: Chair, are we going to break at 10.30.

CHAIR: No we're going to break at 10.45, in accordance with the program. We're finished with the Australian Federal Police then.

Senator WONG: We would like to keep them, please, just for a few more minutes. We will try to be brief.

CHAIR: Sorry, no. We are finishing at 10:45. This is Home Affairs portfolio—

Senator WONG: Chair, the standing orders—

CHAIR: Would you like me to finish or do you just want to keep interrupting?

Senator WONG: Certainly. I'm very happy for you to finish.

CHAIR: The program has been set. We finish with the Home Affairs portfolio at 10.45. We have a big day with the Attorney-General, which starts at 10.45 with interstate agencies. That's what we are doing.

Senator WONG: Chair, we will try to be quick. As you know, the standing orders do permit us to continue to ask questions of a particular agency. We think we can finish this with minimal disruption to the program. We will require the AFP for a little longer, certainly from the opposition's perspective. If we can try to resolve this—every other committee works and manages this. If we can please have the commissioner stay so that we can resolve a few outstanding questions that the opposition has.

Senator McKIM: Chair, if I could indicate, I have a small number of questions for the AFP.

CHAIR: I'm sorry. I'll take some advice on this.

Senator WONG: Yes, you can.

CHAIR: You raised an issue of the Senate rules on continuing to ask questions whilst there are questions to ask. But this is the end of the session on the Department of Home Affairs. It's like we have reached 11.00 at night. We don't—

Senator WONG: I recommend you take advice, Chair.

CHAIR: We don't continue. After that we're going to a completely new portfolio, a new ministry. There are people waiting to do that. I'll take a little advice, but my ruling at the moment is that we will finish as planned at 10:45. Senator Pratt, you have a point of order.

Senator PRATT: You are contradicting your order of yesterday, which was that you would allow questions to continue until they had been exhausted.

Senator WONG: Chair, if I can make a suggestion—

CHAIR: Just let me deal with Senator Pratt's point of order. This is the end of the estimates hearings for this portfolio. It's not a question of allowing questions to go. It's as if we reached 11.00 o'clock at night or if we reached Thursday in a session. You can come back and spill over if you particularly want to, but that is a matter for you.

Senator WATT: Chair, if we are not interrupted we could have it finished by 11.

Senator WONG: Exactly. In every other committee we deal with this in an adult way.

CHAIR: I'm not interested in any other committee—this is this committee—

Senator WONG: You appear not to be interested in behaving like an adult, either.

CHAIR: I beg your pardon?

Senator WONG: There are a few questions that the opposition have. The standing orders allow us to proceed. I would ask respectfully if you could ask the commissioner and his people to stay to enable Senator Watt to finish the opposition's questions. It should not take too long and, frankly, we probably could have gone through half of them in the time it's taken to argue about this.

CHAIR: I've made my ruling.

Senator WATT: Are you going to seek advice?

Senator WONG: I request that you seek advice. I've requested that.

CHAIR: Senator Watt—

Senator WONG: I'm Wong.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, you're wasting time by repeating what I have already said I would do three times. You keep wasting time by saying you want me to seek advice. I have already indicated I will do that.

Senator WONG: Through you, Chair, perhaps the minister could consider this. I would prefer not to have to go to the Senate and seek a majority for a resolution to require these officers to come back. It really is a sledgehammer to crack. If we could have 10 minutes more we could resolve this.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, you've wasted 10 minutes now. If you hadn't gone on with this we would have gotten back to you. We have 10 minutes for the government and then we will have five minutes for you. If you can assess your questions appropriately, you might be able to do it in five minutes. Otherwise—

Senator WONG: Fine. Sorry, Commissioner, I apologise—

CHAIR: Hang on. Would you please be quiet while I'm indicating the—

Senator WONG: They'll have to come back on another occasion.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, that is your right and your entitlement. If you want them to come back at a spill-over, that's entirely up to you. We set these programs. The committee unanimously set this program. The committee comprises two Labor members and a Greens member, and there was no discussion about this. This is the time when this finishes, but I will seek some advice.

Senator WONG: Hooray.

CHAIR: In the meantime, if you like, we can get on. You will have five minutes at the end, and if you've got an ability you'll be able to get your points across in five minutes. Please, Senators, if you need to discuss something, could you go outside? It is very difficult to hear when there's noise coming from that end of the table.

Commissioner, the previous questions were a segue into my questions about your priorities and serious criminal activity. Can you just tell me your involvement with returned foreign fighters—people who come into Australia and may cause death and mayhem to Australians? I don't want you to disclose anything you can't, of course.

Mr Colvin : I won't, Chair.

CHAIR: Sorry, I should have started with that. I don't want you to disclose things you shouldn't, but can you tell us where you are generally at with those investigations?

Mr Colvin : As you know, the conflict in Syria and Iraq has changed demonstrably over the last 12 months. For some time now, security agencies and law enforcement in this country have been concerned about the prospect of foreign fighters returning. There is a range of legislation available to agencies and the government to deal with that particular challenge, but it is an absolute priority and one of our clearest focal points at the moment to make sure that we are partners and that we are addressing the potential for returning foreign fighters.

CHAIR: Have any arrests been made? Is it something that the AFP would be involved in, or is it some other agency?

Mr Colvin : If arrests are to be made and prosecutions mounted, it would be a joint effort between the AFP and the relevant state and territory police. My deputy commissioner for national security is getting his paperwork out; I might ask him to address the specifics of the question.

Mr McCartney : As the commissioner has noted, this is a key priority for the work that we do in the counterterrorism portfolio. In terms of statistics, over the last couple of years we estimate approximately 220 Australians have entered into the conflict zone. As of last year, the figures from ASIO are that approximately 110 Australians are still actively involved in the conflict zone. In relation to those individuals, the AFP has worked with its partner agencies, ASIO and the state and territory police, and we've obtained 21 arrest warrants in relation to those persons. There have been some individuals who have returned from the conflict zone and a number of those individuals have been arrested by the AFP working with its partner agencies.

CHAIR: I read in the paper about children returning. Are they subject to criminal investigations?

Mr McCartney : The AFP, working with its other partner agencies, has a very robust system in place in terms of risk assessment of people coming back into the country. I note the reporting last week in relation to the female and the child of that female coming back into the country. We assess on a case-by-case basis, and that is what we did in that case in relation to the child and the female.

Mr Colvin : Chair, I might just add to that. Each case has to be taken [inaudible], particularly for children. There is an age of criminal responsibility under our legal system. Many children who may potentially return sit underneath that age of criminal responsibility. They become an issue that we need to work through as a whole of government, effectively.

Senator MOLAN: These people who come back to Australia, do they just front up at an airport somewhere or are they smuggled in? Let's say a woman and a couple of children.

Mr Colvin : Without wanting to disclose too much of our capabilities obviously, we would hope that we have prior notice and that there is some trigger mechanism rather than someone just presenting at Sydney airport, because that then gives us less time to work out what our treatment's going to be.

Senator HUME: I want to change the pace almost entirely for a moment and ask some questions of Deputy Commissioner Close. Last year you ran, for the first time, an all-female applications program for entry-level positions to the AFP. I think that opened in September. Can you give the committee an update as to how that went?

Mr McCartney : Certainly. I don't have the specific figures in front of me, but it was quite successful. When we advertise for positions we often get a significant number of men apply. Interestingly, we have had about 23 per cent women sworn into the AFP and generally about 25 per cent of women are applying for our recruitment rounds. In this instance, because we wanted to make sure we had at least 50 per cent male-female in each course, we went out again with a specific female-only marketing drive, and that was quite successful. That's allowed us to ensure we have 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men on every one of our recruit programs.

Senator HUME: And that was announced at a graduation where there it was fifty-fifty men and women—is that correct?

Mr Colvin : I don't know that we announced a special recruitment round at a graduation, but we certainly talk about it regularly at graduations. The special recruitment round did cause a little bit of hysteria at times—a lot of it was misdirected and misguided—but it's been very successful from our perspective, and I note other police organisations around the country are doing something similar.

Senator HUME: Is there a time line associated with the fifty-fifty gender target that the AFP has?

Mr Colvin : There are a range of targets that sit within that, and there are a range of time lines that go out as far as 10 years. At the moment around 36 per cent of our workforce is female; we have a target to get that to 50 per cent. I'd have to double-check the time line. I think it's five years from 18 months ago, and we are working towards that. We're not dropping any standards in terms of changing our recruitment gateways. We're just changing the marketing, and, frankly, I think the AFP presents a very good package for a very diverse range of recruitment personnel, and that's we're trying to do.

Senator HUME: Why do you think there is reluctance by women to apply for roles in the AFP?

Mr Colvin : Frankly, Senator, I think we have not done as good a job as we can in marketing what the AFP do and who we are, and I think there are preconceived ideas about what police work in the modern age is. Those ideas are shaped by old-fashioned thinking of what police work is. So police work is not a male-dominated, macho profession anymore; it's far more nuanced and far more professional than that. We should be offering a much broader array of opportunity for a much broader and more diverse talent pool.

Senator HUME: Like politics.

Mr Colvin : Like politics.

CHAIR: Senator Hinch has indicated he has some questions on this, so I might use the government's time to go to Senator Hinch.

Senator HINCH: I hope this hasn't been covered before, but there was a perturbing article in The Australian yesterday about ISIS losing ground and the so-called black widows infiltrating back to Australia, which the chair was sort of touching on as well. Are you aware of this? And can you tell us what you're doing about it?

Mr Colvin : Yes. Well, let me be clear: the way media portrayed it is a little different to the way I would portray it, with the breakdown of ISIS—the returning 'black widows'. But, as we just discussed, with our security partners we are very consciously monitoring the return of Australians who may wish to come from the conflict zone to Australia. That includes women and children who may have been there wittingly or unwittingly alongside their husbands. Now, I need to be very careful, and we just put some numbers on the record about how many people we believed had travelled to the conflict zone. I want to be careful, though, about what we say. But absolutely we're aware of it, and we're working with our partners to mitigate any risk that somebody returning from the conflict zone poses to Australians.

Senator HINCH: Yes, because we have had cases—I know one case is before the courts, so I'll be careful—where young women have come to Australia and there have been stabbings involved of innocent people here. I just worry, with the so-called black widows coming back here, how you are finding out whether they were willing participants or unwilling participants with their husbands.

Mr Colvin : That's a very good question. The reference, though, to young women coming here and stabbing is a matter before the courts. That's not an individual who we believe has returned from a conflict zone, so I wouldn't put it in the same category as a returning foreign fighter. But we have a range of measures at our disposal across government to try to make these assessments. And of course we'll apply the law as best we can to make sure we're protecting the community in Australia.

Senator MOLAN: My question is really just an extension of what I was talking about before: the National Anti-Gang Squad. My understanding is that this is something that covers over what the states do, and the states hold prime responsibility for anti-gang activity—is that the case?—particularly, say, in Melbourne, where we get so much publicity on what I think are called Sudanese gangs or Sudanese groups, or however we're referring to them.

Mr Colvin : The African youth gang issues that are occurring in Victoria at the moment are by and large almost solely a Victoria Police/Victoria jurisdiction challenge. Where the AFP and the National Anti-Gang Squad will get involved is when we feel that there are organised criminal groups—gangs—who are getting involved in cross-border transnational crimes, and then the jurisdiction sits between the states and the Commonwealth. It may be Crimes Act offences of importing prohibited goods. It may be international offences. It may be gangs setting themselves up in overseas jurisdictions but still impacting Australia. That's where our focus is. It's the transnational serious organised aspects of those gangs.

Senator WATT: Where have we got to on—

CHAIR: Well, I'm waiting for some written advice from the Clerk, so we'll get that. But go ahead just for the moment. We'll just see what the advice is in writing from the Clerk.

Senator WATT: Just getting back to the investigation concerning this leak of information from Minister Cash's office—

Mr Colvin : Sorry, Senator: I don't want to be associated with a comment that says that that's where the leak's come from.

Senator WATT: Sorry—the potentially unauthorised disclosure of information—

Mr Colvin : Yes. Thank you.

Senator WATT: in breach of the Crimes Act, punishable by two years jail. How many interviews have been conducted to date for this investigation?

Ms Close : I haven't got that information. It is an ongoing investigation, so we also have to be careful about how much information we have in the public domain.

Senator WATT: I understand that there's an investigation underway. How exactly would it prejudice the investigation to disclose the number of interviews that have been conducted?

Ms Close : It wouldn't, but I don't have the number in front of me.

Mr Colvin : There have been a number, though.

Senator WATT: Would it be dozens, or handfuls?

Ms Close : I honestly couldn't even guess.

Senator WATT: More than 10?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: Could you take that on notice?

Ms Close : Of course. And perhaps I could clarify something I said earlier. I said that we'd had 50 unauthorised disclosure investigations since 13 July. Of the 50, we accepted 30 referrals; 27 have been finalised and three are ongoing.

Senator WONG: Of which this is one?

Ms Close : Of which this is one, yes.

Senator WATT: Have you interviewed any staff from Minister Cash's office?

Ms Close : I can't talk about that at this point.

Senator WATT: Again, could you just tell us how it does jeopardise the investigation to advise whether you've—

Mr Colvin : Senator, we—

Senator WATT: I'm not asking who, but have you interviewed any of their staff?

Mr Colvin : No, I understand that, but, as a matter of principle, while the investigation's ongoing we don't want to talk about who we have or haven't spoken to, because that may give somebody else a sense of whether they are next on our list or not. I understand why that would be important, but from our perspective, for the integrity of the investigation—I'm happy to give a number of how many people we've spoken to, and that would range from a simple face-to-face chat through to a proper interview, a witness statement. It could be a range of things. But I don't want to get involved in who we've spoken to and where they may be working.

Senator WONG: Just to be clear, the claim for public interest immunity on the basis of an ongoing investigation has two limbs. It's that there is an investigation but also—it's a reasonable question from Senator Watt—we are entitled to ask you. And you are, frankly, required to indicate to the Senate, so that we can accept the claim, what damage it does, what prejudice is occasioned by answering the question to the ongoing investigation. So, it's reasonable for Senator Watt to put that to you. But, similarly, the Senate doesn't simply accept, 'Oh, there's an ongoing investigation—full stop.' We have to be clear about why you assert that that would prejudice the investigation.

CHAIR: Commissioner, you have given the explanation, which I would have thought was self-evident, or obvious, particularly to anyone who's been involved in the law. But you've given the explanation, which I'm sure the committee accepts. So, Senator Watt, can you move on?

Mr Colvin : And we'd need to take it on notice at any rate, because we certainly wouldn't have it, and that would—

CHAIR: You've explained why, very clearly. As I said, it's self-evident.

Senator WATT: Without getting into which minister's office, have you interviewed any staff from ministerial offices generally?

Ms Close : Yes, we have.

Senator WATT: Okay. And that's across multiple ministerial offices?

Ms Close : There's more than one, yes.

Senator WATT: Have you interviewed any ministers?

Ms Close : No.

Senator WATT: Is it intended that any ministers will be interviewed at this point in time?

Ms Close : The matter is still under investigation. That's a matter for the investigators to look at what evidence we have available to us.

Senator WATT: So, it's possible that you may end up interviewing ministers—you may end up interviewing a range of people—as the investigation goes on.

Ms Close : We certainly will.

Mr Colvin : And I might say that there are a few aspects to that. One, I don't know, and neither would the deputy commissioner. We'd need to talk to the lead investigator as to what their investigational strategy is. I don't want to forecast what that strategy might be, though, because we're very intentional about the order in which we would speak to people.

Senator WATT: In a sense you work your way up?

Mr Colvin : No. We have a strategy about how we do it. It's nothing to do with working up or working down. It's about where we think information will be available to us.

Senator WATT: Have you interviewed anyone from the Registered Organisations Commission?

Ms Close : Yes. We have spoken to them.

Senator WATT: And the Fair Work Commission?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: The employment department?

Ms Close : I don't know, I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: The host department.

Senator WATT: Yes. But the Registered Organisations Commission and the Fair Work Commission?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: Are there any other bodies that you've interviewed personnel from?

Ms Close : Not that I'm aware of.

Senator WATT: And I'm not for a moment alleging that this leak came from the AFP or that they were involved. But obviously the AFP were involved in the execution of these warrants. Is anyone interviewing members of the AFP?

Ms Close : We certainly are. We're looking at the whole time line of who had what information when, including the AFP.

Senator WATT: And those interviews of AFP personnel are conducted by AFP personnel?

Ms Close : Yes.

Senator WATT: You've got an ethical standards unit or something like that, have you, that does that?

Ms Close : We do, but in this respect the head office investigations team could also undertake those interviews if they wanted to. If the team thought that there was any impropriety by a member of the AFP, any allegations of corruption would automatically be referred to ACLEI, to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, or to professional standards, depending on what the allegation was.

Senator WATT: But nothing has been referred to ACLEI at this point?

Ms Close : Not at this point, no.

Senator WATT: And I presume that nothing has been referred off to the DPP or anyone else who would ultimately prosecute something here?

Ms Close : No.

Senator WATT: What equipment has been seized or obtained by the AFP as part of this investigation?

Ms Close : I don't know.

Mr Colvin : We'd have to check that.

Senator WATT: There's obviously been a fair bit of interest in things like telephones, laptops and iPads that may have been used.

Mr Colvin : We can take that on notice, but I'll just flag that as part of taking it on notice we will consider whether we feel that that is compromising the investigation, and we may need to seek advice on that.

Senator WATT: One particular aspect of this equipment that I've certainly had some concerns about is it's already been on the public domain that a former staff member of Minister Cash, David De Garis, seems to have been involved in this. I know that's being investigated. We have repeatedly tried to establish with Minister Cash and others whether his phone—

CHAIR: What is your question?

Senator WATT: I'm coming to my question—whether his phone has been obtained by the AFP for this investigation. There seems to be some delineation between a government issued phone that he may have had and a personal phone that he may have had and may have used in leaking this information. I'm particularly interested to know whether this personal phone has been obtained by the AFP as part of its investigation.

CHAIR: Commissioner, you—in fact, I'll rule the question out of order.

Senator WATT: On what basis?

Senator WONG: It's not up to you to do that, Chair. He's entitled to make a PII claim.

Senator WATT: It looks like the commissioner was about to say something anyway.

Senator WONG: If he makes a PII claim the committee can consider it. That's the appropriate way of dealing with it.

CHAIR: The claim's already been made and responded to by the commissioner.

Senator WATT: I can't get an answer to this question in the number of times I have asked this question.

Senator WONG: Can we hear what the commissioner is saying?

CHAIR: Senator Watt, that's because of your interrogation ability.

Senator WATT: No, it's because of you running interference and covering up ministers, that's why.

CHAIR: Commissioner—

Senator WONG: Can we not muzzle the AFP? If the commissioner has something to say, can he say it?

CHAIR: Commissioner, you've already indicated that these sorts of questions will interfere with any investigation.

Senator WATT: I haven't asked any other question about phones.

CHAIR: You're asking about individuals, about the things—

Senator WONG: Can the commissioner respond to the question, please?

CHAIR: Commissioner, I think you've made the appropriate claim previously, about interfering with the investigation as something you wouldn't do, and which has been clearly understood for as long as I've been in parliament. Perhaps, for those of poor hearing, if I could ask you, again, what you will take and what you will comment on while any investigation is under active way.

Mr Colvin : Chair, I think we need to be specific about what we're asking. It's a moot point, in many ways. I'll just check. We don't actually know the answer to the question anyway. So if it suits the committee I would like to take the question of the specifics of the phone on notice. If we are concerned about our ability to answer or otherwise, we'll step through the appropriate process to do that.

Senator WONG: Thank you for that.

Senator WATT: If you haven't yet turned your mind to the need to obtain this personal phone, and you may well have, can I humbly ask that you turn your mind to that?

Mr Colvin : Thank you. I trust that my investigators know exactly what they are doing.

Senator WATT: I'm sure they do. The only reason I'm labouring the point is that we have repeatedly tried to get answers about this, and it seems quite important.

Senator WONG: He's not trying to channel Poirot; he's just trying to be accurate.

Senator WATT: No. I haven't got the moustache, to begin with!

CHAIR: Or the brain.

Senator WATT: I wouldn't be going there! Just getting back to the duration of the investigation, can you confirm that counsel for the AFP told the Federal Court in January that the investigation into the leak would take a short number of months, more than a month, but not a lot of months?

Ms Close : That's correct.

Senator WATT: And that's pretty similar—you think that's an accurate statement?

Ms Close : I still do but, as I said earlier, there have been additional matters that have come into those teams to investigate, so they have to prioritise that amongst their other priorities.

Senator WATT: I haven't got too many more questions on this. You're probably aware that in the hearings we had last year the minister made certain claims of public interest immunity and said she couldn't answer certain questions because of the investigation. You might remember where this began. There was an email sent by Detective Superintendent Andrew Smith, at 7.05 pm, on 26 October. That was, I think, the day after you said that the investigation commenced.

Mr Colvin : That'd be right, yes.

Senator WATT: The only copy we've ever had of this email is quite heavily redacted. Are you able to tell us who that email was sent to?

Ms Close : No, I don't—

Mr Colvin : No, I'm not aware of that. Andrew Smith is the superintendent in charge of the area, so I'm not surprised that he would have sent the email. We'd have to go and look at the provenance of the email ourselves.

Senator WONG: I've just suggested, Commissioner, it was tabled before the employment et cetera committee—it's gone. I've just provided a copy—you don't have a copy here?

Mr Colvin : No.

Senator WONG: I provided a copy to the chairs, in fairness to you. It probably doesn't need to be tabled because it's been tabled before the Senate by another committee, but you may wish to have it in front of you.

Mr Colvin : Thanks.

CHAIR: Okay, thank you, Senator—

Senator WATT: I haven't got too much longer.

CHAIR: No, your time's finished. You didn't come—

Senator WATT: If you could give me until 11 o'clock, that would be ample.

CHAIR: No, other senators have questions. Until I get the written advice from the Clerk, and against my better judgement, we'll continue the questioning. The government has some other questions and I think Senator McKim has other questions, and this means that we may not finish Attorney-General's later. But I'll come back to you if the Clerk can give me some written advice and explanation of his ruling where it's contrary to what my understanding of this was. It seems like the preliminary advice we've got means that we can go on asking about Home Affairs until three o'clock in the morning. Let's just—

Senator WATT: Get on with it.

CHAIR: It's just incredible that that could be the advice, but I'll get it in writing and see.

Senator WONG: Well, we'll probably be finished—

CHAIR: Commissioner, you mentioned before about the Solomon Islands issue—sorry, project—which is now completed. How many officers have been involved in total in the RAMSI thing?

Mr Colvin : Firstly, I would say that the Solomon Islands' assistance mission—RAMSI, as it was known—commenced in 2003 and came to conclusion in mid-last year. It transitioned to a new program, so we still continue to have AFP officers in the Solomon Islands in a capacity-building sense. The total number of officers that have been there since 2003 would be well in excess of a thousand, but I would have to check the numbers. At its height we had upwards of 300 officers in the Solomon Islands, so I would have to check and take that on notice.

CHAIR: How many have you still got in the Solomons doing capacity building?

Ms Close : We still have 41 officers in the Solomon Islands.

CHAIR: Is there a plan for their longevity or—

Ms Close : There is. We work with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Solomon Islands' authorities as well. So we have a plan for continuing to develop the leadership and the capacity of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, and of the law and justice sector as well more broadly. There is drawdown plan, but we've worked hard to understand how we can continue to ensure that the great work of the RAMSI mission doesn't diminish or that things revert back. So it's a continuing, long drawdown to ensure that that capacity—the leadership within the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, for example—is developed over time.

CHAIR: And as well as assisting the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, is there some assessment on how this assists your officers in their general dealings?

Mr Colvin : I think it adds to their breadth of experience. Obviously, overseas deployments are vastly different: policing in the streets of Honiara is very different to policing in the streets of Canberra. It adds to their experience, and, frankly, from my perspective, it makes them a more rounded officer.

CHAIR: Okay, thank you.

Senator MOLAN: My question is just an extension of that: how do you now manage to hang on to those skills? It's a different skill, Honiara and everything else that you do, but how do you manage to hang on to the leadership skills and that? Do you keep people in that stream or have those people who gained all that fantastic experience now moved out of the AFP?

Mr Colvin : No, most of the more recent ones would have stayed in the AFP. In the early days of the IDG—the International Deployment Group, we relied very heavily on state and territory secondments into the IDG. Many of those went back to their home jurisdictions, but many of them came across to the AFP permanently as well. In all of our remit and all of our areas of operations across the AFP, there is a smattering of people who have been to PNG, to Timor-Leste, to Afghanistan, to the Solomon Islands or to South Sudan. In terms of retaining those skills then, of course, should the government ask the AFP to surge again into a neighbouring country, we'd be drawing on those skills first and foremost. But, by large, they now go out into the AFP.

Senator MOLAN: How fast could you put together a RAMSI again, if you had to?

Mr Colvin : It would be very difficult.

Senator MOLAN: Months?

Mr Colvin : It would rely on a few things. We have no standing capacity, so every AFP officer is busy doing something. So I'd have to draw them off. It'd be a matter of priorities. Then I would have to work out how quickly I needed to stand-up a capability, whether I needed to talk to my state and territory partners again and whether I could turn-off other AFP business and refocus towards this. It would really depend on the size, the duration and the type of mission.

Senator MOLAN: And there's no intention of changing that philosophy? That's a fair philosophy, I understand that, but there's no intention of changing that philosophy. I think at one stage the IDG did have a number of people who were more than just the cadre staff who were full-time.

Mr Colvin : Even to support our three major overseas capacity-building missions—

Senator MOLAN: Which are where, sorry?

Mr Colvin : In Timor-Leste, PNG and Solomon Islands. We retain an A-based staff that we can use to supplement and to fill, as people need to rotate in and out. For every officer offshore, there is a percentage of an officer that we need back here to support them and to keep that function going. But no. While in the past there has been a standing capacity to deploy, we don't have that standing capacity any longer.

Senator MOLAN: That's risk management, which you manage.

Mr Colvin : Exactly.

Senator MOLAN: The last question I have really goes to the deradicalisation program. I guess you bear the consequences of failed deradicalisation programs. I notice on the organisational chart that the secretary gave us the other day that there is an organisation called Countering Violent Extremism Centre. I imagine, Secretary, that's where the deradicalisation program lives, is that correct?

Mr Pezzullo : That is correct. That's one of the functions that was switched across from the Attorney-General's Department under the machinery of government change. It is a whole-of-government unit. It's a joint unit, in effect, principally staffed by former AGD staff. They work very closely with state and territory police and other agencies, with the Federal Police and with colleagues in ASIO. They also look at international best practice and they have very strong links to other jurisdictions including the UK and elsewhere.

Senator MOLAN: Roughly, how many people are in that?

Mr Pezzullo : I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator MOLAN: My understanding is that the results that they achieve in prisons, for example, are very low, which I guess you can somehow understand. In other areas though, they're quite spectacularly successful. I guess they're managing state based activities, is that correct?

Mr Colvin : It's not a precise science, and I guess that's the key issue here. Success can depend on a number of factors. I think there has been successful deradicalisation diversion activity to try to take people off a path of radicalisation. From a policing perspective, as you said, we bear the consequence of it, as does the community. My preference is that we drag that as far forward as we can to prevent people radicalising. I'd rather been talking about prevention of radicalisation than deradicalisation.

Senator MOLAN: There's an aspect that I would call 'pre-emptive arrest'.

Mr Colvin : Disruptive arrest.

Senator MOLAN: Can you tell me which jurisdiction that exists in? Does that exist at the federal level?

Mr Colvin : It does, and what it effectively means is that the parliament has seen fit, over a number of legislative amendments, to criminalise earlier and earlier activity on that spectrum of terrorism activity. There are a number of acts in preparation, if you want to look at it that way, that are now criminal in a terrorism context. That gives us the ability to intervene at the earliest possible moment and disrupt something from happening.

Senator MOLAN: Does it exist in any jurisdiction at the moment?

Mr Colvin : It sits in Commonwealth legislation.

Senator MOLAN: Is it tied to a time period or an act?

Mr Colvin : It's an act.

Senator MOLAN: So they have to do something before?

Mr Colvin : Yes.

Senator MOLAN: So you could be doing something—well, you don't know what's going to happen in the future, of course.

Mr Colvin : It's an act in preparation.

Senator MOLAN: Do these people go to jail?

Mr Colvin : Absolutely. The sentence around acts in preparation for a terrorism act is, I think, 25 years imprisonment.

Senator MOLAN: It's got to be a lot more specific than the old Irish Troubles days of the '60s and '70s? This a different thing all together.

Mr Colvin : Very different.

Senator MOLAN: Thank you.

CHAIR: Proceedings will now be suspended, and hopefully we'll have decent advice to determine whether we can move on to the Attorney-General's Department.

Proceedings suspended from 11:04 to 11:20

CHAIR: I propose that we have a private meeting. Can you give me any indication of how much longer you'll be?

Senator McKIM: Five minutes.

Senator WATT: At most 15. Fifteen all up, I'd say.

CHAIR: My inclination, after talking to the Clerk during the break, is to have the committee agree to meet again on spillover, at a time to be fixed. If I can rely on the five and 15 minutes, we might finish now. Otherwise, the committee can go into a private meeting and resolve, in accordance with the standing order, to schedule additional hearings for the purpose. If we don't finish by quarter to, then that's the position I will adopt, in accordance with the standing orders. It will be up to the committee, of course, to decide whether we should schedule additional hearings, in the hope that we may finish this. I'm very conscious that we have a whole department of the Attorney-General waiting to deal with matters which were scheduled to start at 10.45, and we perhaps should have taken this course at 10.45—

Senator WATT: That sounds like a good deal, Chair.

CHAIR: but that wasn't made clear at the time. In the interests of trying to get onto Attorney-General's and not have a whole department of public servants sitting around wasting their time, we'll try for quarter to. If it's not finished at quarter to, I'll call a private meeting at that time. Senator McKim, I'll go to you first.

Senator McKIM: Good morning, Commissioner Colvin and your team. I want to ask a couple of questions around a post on Facebook that was made by Mr George Christensen, the member for Dawson, where he posted a photo of himself holding what appears to be a firearm, with the words 'You gotta ask yourself, do you feel lucky, greenie punks?' Firstly, is the AFP investigating that matter?

Mr Colvin : We're assessing it. As part of that assessment, we're talking to a range of people, including complainants. Once that assessment finishes, that will determine if there's anything further for us to do.

Senator McKIM: How many complaints were there to the AFP?

Mr Colvin : I think only one or maybe two at most—formal complaints. There's been a lot said in the media, and a lot of social media, you can imagine, but, in terms of people that we need to talk to, one or two.

Senator McKIM: Would you have a time frame that you'd ordinarily expect—I think you said it was an assessment at this stage, to be complete and a decision made about whether you'll move to a formal investigation?

Mr Colvin : Part of the issue there is that we're in the hands of other people who make time available to speak to us. That's where we are at the moment. We've requested to speak to a number of individuals, and we're in their hands as to when they make themselves available.

Senator McKIM: Is Mr Christensen one of those?

Mr Colvin : Yes, he is.

Senator McKIM: Have you spoken to him yet?

Mr Colvin : Only to try and set up an opportunity for us to talk to him.

Senator McKIM: But that opportunity hasn't yet occurred?

Mr Colvin : No.

Senator McKIM: As part of your assessment, has the AFP monitored responses on social media to Mr Christensen's post and do you have concerns about anything you've seen that was posted in response?

Mr Colvin : As part of the investigation, I couldn't answer that; I'd need the investigators to tell me. But by and large, there's a lot of stuff put on social media. We see some of it but not all of it. Some of it is certainly offensive and unpleasant. To the extent that it forms evidence or gives us leads or enquiries, that's a different matter.

Senator McKIM: I'm nearly finished, Chair, within my five minutes. Is the fact that Mr Christensen later changed that post and tried to pretend that he was joking germane to your current assessment?

Mr Colvin : I think everything around the post and an individual's intention or otherwise is germane to the investigation.

Senator McKIM: What actions would be within the powers of the AFP if any investigation did find that Mr Christensen was in breach of law?

Mr Colvin : If we establish that an offence has been committed and the offence is a Commonwealth offence, then we'd be considering a brief to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and a prosecution may or may not follow from there.

Senator McKIM: And are there specific Commonwealth statutes that the AFP is looking at to determine whether or not Mr Christensen may have breached those by making that post?

Mr Colvin : This is part of the assessment—to try and understand what's actually occurred and which offences may or may not be applicable.

Senator McKIM: Thank you, Mr Colvin.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator McKim, you were well under time. Senator Watt.

Senator WATT: Thanks, Chair. Just coming back to the email that Detective Superintendent Smith sent, the topic we're getting at is what can and can't be disclosed about this investigation. This email was sent by Detective Superintendent Smith at 7.05 pm on 26 October, which was the day after you commenced the investigation and two days after the search warrants were executed?

Mr Colvin : Correct.

Senator WATT: I've already asked if you can advise us who this email was actually sent to, because it's not clear from the email itself. What was your answer to that?

Mr Colvin : I said I'd take that on notice.

Senator WONG: While you're taking that on notice, Commissioner, we're seeking the provision of that email in toto. The redaction, as I understand it, was not undertaken by the AFP; it was undertaken by Senator Brandis's office. We don't accept that redaction. We are asking you to take on notice—

CHAIR: Do you have a question?

Senator WONG: I'm asking politely if the commissioner could take on notice the provision of the email unredacted.

CHAIR: He said that he would.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Mr Colvin : Senator and Chair, can I just confirm that these do not appear to be our redactions.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Colvin : That's why I need to look at the email—

Senator WONG: I was informing you. I understand the evidence in the other committee is that it was Senator Brandis's office.

Mr Colvin : Thank you.

Senator WATT: Do you know what prompted Detective Superintendent Smith to send this email?

Mr Colvin : No, I don't. It's the first time I've seen the email.

Senator WATT: Ms Close, do you know?

Ms Close : No, I don't. I'd have to speak to Detective Superintendent Smith.

Senator WATT: I take it he's not here today?

Ms Close : No.

Mr Colvin : No. I think actually he might be returning from South Korea, where he was part of the security team for the Olympics.

Senator WATT: I'm sure he did a very good job.

Mr Colvin : I hope so.

Senator WATT: Could you take on notice what prompted it and, in particular, who requested that he send this email and when that request was made?

Mr Colvin : Yes, we can do that.

Senator WATT: The timing is interesting, because it was sent the night before we had a spillover day of estimates to interrogate ministers and other officials about this leak.

Mr Colvin : We'll establish that for certain. It's not unusual for departments to ask us what is appropriate to say or not say in estimates hearings on matters that we have in investigation or matters that are in the media. We'll check what the actual request was on this occasion.

Senator WONG: Commissioner, you and I had a discussion earlier about what Odgers articulates as the bases on which this claim for public interest immunity can be made. The concern I would express to you from the opposition's perspective is that Detective Superintendent Smith's email doesn't recognise—and I appreciate he may not be in the position that you and the deputy are—that there are two actually bases that have to be asserted. With respect, it isn't for the AFP to simply tell an estimates committee they can't ask any questions at all. That seems to be the tenor of the email and the way it was used by the government.

Mr Colvin : I absolutely accept that, Senator. To your point before, with these matters that we have taken on notice about the specifics, we will be quite precise about the two limbs of the privilege claim, to ensure that we are helping the committee where we can.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that. Thank you.

Senator WATT: Having seen that email now—and you may know some background to it—can you tell us what the purpose of that email was?

Mr Colvin : Again, without knowing what's redacted, for a start, and who it was sent to, I would only be speculating as to him being asked what is appropriate to say or not say.

Senator WATT: For the benefit of those who haven't got it in front of them, this email says, 'Good evening [blank]'—the name is blacked out—then:

The AFP has commenced an investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of information concerning recent search warrants executed in support of a Registered Organisations Commission investigation.

Then there's another line redacted. Then:

As this matter is under investigation, it would not be appropriate to discuss the matter further.

It's hard to know, because we don't know who it was sent to, but it reads as if it was provided to—

CHAIR: Do you have a question?

Senator WATT: Would you let me get to it?

CHAIR: Please.

Senator WATT: It reads as if the email was provided either to the minister's office or to the department to provide them with advice about what the AFP was saying publicly about the investigation. Would you agree that that's how it appears?

Mr Colvin : That's a reasonable conclusion, but half the document is missing.

Senator WATT: Sure. Can you confirm that, at least in terms of what we can see before us, the email doesn't make any request that Minister Cash or any minister refrain from commenting on the matter of this leak of information?

Mr Colvin : It's hard for me to say without knowing what's redacted.

Senator WATT: In terms of what we can see here that is not redacted, there's nothing in there that has the AFP requesting that ministers not comment on this investigation?

Mr Colvin : I take Senator Wong's point very carefully. Our officers generally don't want our investigation to be discussed in the public arena, and you can understand that. Has he got the nuance right as to what should satisfy a privilege claim in this instance? Perhaps not. But I think the tenor of what he's asking here—whoever the recipient is—is that from his perspective, from an organisational perspective, we would prefer that it not be spoken about in whatever the public forum is. And I would take that to include a minister discussing any aspect of that investigation.

Senator WATT: When this came in, as Senator Cameron will remember, we certainly took it from that that this was the AFP saying that the AFP was not in a position to comment—

CHAIR: Questions, please.

Senator WATT: about the investigation. But it has been used by ministers as an excuse as to why they can't comment on anything to do with this entire leak.

CHAIR: Is there a question?

Senator WONG: I think the commissioner is clear about—

Mr Colvin : My concern about answering it is that, for all I know, this is an internal email to someone else in the AFP saying, 'Our media position is that we're not going to discuss the investigation.'

Senator WATT: 'Our media position is that'—yes.

Mr Colvin : It could quite well be that. I just don't know who it was sent to and what's redacted.

Senator WATT: Do you know whether the AFP has ever asked Minister Cash not to provide the Senate with answers to questions relating to this leak?

CHAIR: Do you know?

Mr Colvin : No, I don't know.

Senator WATT: Could you take that on notice for us, please?

Mr Colvin : Yes, I'll take it on notice.

Senator WATT: The other thing I found a bit curious this morning is that—and this is probably a question for the minister—when this committee was originally scheduled, we were told that Minister Cash was going to be here, and she isn't here. Is there any reason she was unable to attend this morning?

CHAIR: I'll see if the minister has an answer. As the committee chairman I can tell you that it was always clear that Senator Seselja would be doing this morning's hearing because the senator who was dealing with it yesterday was not available today.

Senator WATT: That's not correct.

Senator Seselja: My understanding is that it was originally Minister Fifield.

Senator WATT: No, Minister Fifield was doing yesterday and Senator Cash was doing today.

Senator Seselja: I can check that but my understanding is that it was Mr Fifield. In relation to the arrangements with Minister Cash, this area of the portfolio, AFP, is obviously not the responsibility of Minister Cash.

Senator WATT: But Minister Cash is likely to be appearing at this committee later today.

Senator Seselja: I don't know the schedule.

Senator PRATT: I have one more question. On 27 October, Senator Linda Reynolds, the chair of the Education and Employment Legislation Committee, received correspondence from Senator Brandis, the then Attorney-General, stating that, 'For the avoidance of doubt, I make the claim over all matters that are the subject of the investigation.' I want to be clear that it's not the AFP that was the source of that very broad public interest immunity claim and the request for that claim at that time. Clearly you've been rather more forthcoming in your answers this morning.

Mr Colvin : I can't speak on behalf of the former Attorney-General or where he took his advice from. I could take on notice whether we have provided any formal position to the Attorney-General's office in the course of this investigation. I'm not aware of us doing that.

Senator PRATT: In Odgers', prejudice to law enforcement investigation states:

For this ground to be invoked it should be established that there are investigations and progress by an agency—

clearly that's the case—

… and the provision of the information sought could interfere with those investigations.

You've clearly stepped through that logically today and provided us with what information you could. As this is a matter for the law enforcement agency concerned to assess, this ground should normally be raised directly by the law enforcement agency, not by some other official who can merely speculate about the relationship of the information to the investigation. I want to clear up that you had not made any such request for public interest immunity in any place.

Mr Colvin : That is the first I've heard of the Attorney making that broad claim. We will take on notice whether there's been any correspondence. As you can imagine, this matter is before the Federal Court in Victoria as well, so there are a lot of aspects to it. We'll take on notice if there's been any formal advice to the department or to the Attorney's office about it.

Senator WONG: Did you just say that's the first you've heard of the Attorney making that claim?

Mr Colvin : That's the first I have personally heard the Attorney making that claim.

Senator WONG: It's been used a fair bit. I'm not having a go at you, Commissioner. I'm just surprised the then Attorney would make the claim without letting the AFP know.

CHAIR: Are there any other questions?

Senator PRATT: No.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Commissioner Colvin. Again, I appreciate the wonderful work that you and your team do for Australia in so many ways. We really do appreciate that. We'll now change over to the Attorney-General's Department.