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Family and Community Affairs PORTFOLIO

CHAIR —I declare open this hearing of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee considering the supplementary budget estimates for the portfolio of Family and Community Services. The committee has before it a list of the outcomes relating to matters which senators have indicated they wish to raise at this hearing. It is a fairly well-ordered list and I thank the senators who contributed to that. I welcome the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator the Hon. Kay Patterson; the departmental secretary, Mr Sullivan; Ms Sue Vardon, Chief Executive Officer of Centrelink; and officers of the Department of Family and Community Services and Centrelink. Witnesses are reminded of the procedures to be observed by Senate committees for the protection of witnesses and in particular of the resolution which states in part:

Where a witness objects to answering any question put to the witness on any ground, including the ground that the question is not relevant or that the answer may incriminate the witness, the witness shall be invited to state the ground upon which objection to answering the question is taken.

I also remind officers that they shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to the minister. Evidence given to the committee is protected by parliamentary privilege, and the giving of false or misleading evidence to the committee may constitute a contempt of the Senate.

As far as the taking of questions on notice is concerned, can I suggest that in order to make sure that proceedings move swiftly and that answers are provided in a timely way we provide any questions on notice that we require the minister or officers to answer by close of business tomorrow, so that we can get those answers as quickly as possible. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Patterson —No, thank you.

CHAIR —In that case, we will—I understand, by tradition—proceed immediately to questions for Centrelink. Welcome again, Ms Vardon. We have an order of matters there; would members of the committee like to proceed in that order or randomly fire questions from that list—any volunteers?

[9.08 a.m.]