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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
08/02/2016
Estimates
PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS
Department of the Senate

Department of the Senate

CHAIR: I welcome the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon. Stephen Parry; the Clerk of the Senate, Dr Rosemary Laing; and officers of the Department of the Senate. I thank the department for providing the committee with updated information on Senate committee activity and the Senate Occasional Lecture Series. This information has been circulated to the committee. Senator Parry, do you wish to make an opening statement?

The President: No, thank you.

CHAIR: Dr Laing, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Dr Laing : I do.

CHAIR: Please proceed.

Dr Laing : I would like to briefly mention two matters. The first is that the Department of the Senate has no additional estimates and we have therefore not prepared a portfolio additional estimates statement, so you do not have that in front of you. As you have mentioned, Chair, we have provided the committee with the usual updates on our occasional lecture program and on committee activity.

In relation to committee activity, I advise the committee that, after three sitting days of 2016, the figures have changed. First, the number of select committees has increased from five to six with the addition of the Senate Select Committee on School Funding Investment. Furthermore, last week the Senate agreed to 11 other new inquiries. A 12th is pending the outcome of a division to be held on the next sitting day. Six of those new inquiries were references committee inquiries and five were bills or packages of bills referred to legislation committees.

For the information of the committee, there has been an average of three new references inquiries for each sitting week for the whole of the parliament and two bills on average per sitting day for the whole of the parliament. The economics committees currently have 17 inquiries, followed by the legal and constitutional affairs committees with 10. Overall, the Senate Committee Office is currently supporting 83 separate inquiries, which is either a record or pretty near it. This number does not include the work of the legislative scrutiny committees or those joint committees whose secretariats are provided by the other side.

While the number of staff has increased because of temporary funding—for one year—provided in the last budget, the ultimate capacity of committees, measured by the number of senators available to serve on them, has not increased for over three decades and is not likely to for the foreseeable future. Frankly, I wonder where all this is heading. I conclude by saying that I sincerely hope that the thoroughness and credibility of Senate committee inquiries, the willingness of witnesses to make submissions and keep coming back to give evidence, and the value of what is unique about Senate committee inquiries, which are all the product of decades of sustained efforts by senators and staff, will survive the demands currently being placed on the system.

CHAIR: Before we go to questions—and I will start with the opposition—I would like to say that I share your sentiments and concerns about Senate inquiries. I wonder if you have any information, or whether you can provide it on notice, about senators who have supported the initiation of an inquiry—either sponsoring the inquiry or as a party to the motion—but who have then failed to participate in that inquiry?

Dr Laing : We do not have that information to hand. It would be quite difficult to extract, but we will have a look and see if there is anything that is—

CHAIR: It may be quite enlightening, no matter how difficult it is to extract.

Senator McALLISTER: Absolutely!

Dr Laing : It may be enlightening, but it is the Senate that makes decisions. One senator may put up a notice of motion for decision, but it is the Senate that makes the decision.

CHAIR: Indeed that is true, but the inquiry is initiated at the instigation of the people named in the reference. It has been my experience, on some inquiries that I have participated in, that sometimes the people who have initiated the reference do not even turn up to it. It beggars belief that a senator wants to initiate an inquiry and then does not participate in it. It is extraordinary. We have to pick up the load and you guys have to pick up the load as well.

Dr Laing : As I said, it is a matter for senators and the Senate, but we will see if we can retrieve anything enlightening.

CHAIR: It would be most helpful.

Senator WONG: I saw in the paper—and because he is hanging around my office—that Mr Zimmerman is in the Senate wing. Clerk, were you consulted about this prior to Mr Zimmerman taking up office? I am sorry: 'taking up office' is actually not correct. I should say 'moving in'.

Dr Laing : Yes, we were consulted. When I say 'we', I mean the Serjeant-at-Arms consulted the Usher of the Black Rod, who raised the matter with me. The Speaker then wrote to the President with a formal request for us to accommodate Mr Zimmerman. At the outset, let me say that I am not one of these people who subscribes to the theory that the real estate is imbued with some sort of sanctity because it is on the Senate side. The Senate chamber, certainly, is governed and protected by standing orders which determine who may go into the Senate chamber and onto the floor. But, as for the rest of the building, the precincts are under the joint control of the Speaker and the President of the Senate, and given the number of 'tenants' that we have in the Senate wing—the Parliamentary Budget Office, Hansard, the DPS executive, DPS building management, the press gallery—there was nothing in principle that led me to think that this could not be accommodated.

Senator WONG: Can I ask for the time frame. When was the first contact? When was the letter written?

Dr Laing : The letter was written on 27 January, but the contact was in the second half of the week before.

Senator WONG: Can we be provided with a copy of the letter?

Dr Laing : Yes.

Senator WONG: While that is being obtained, is the basis of it that there is not enough room in the Reps?

Dr Laing : That is right. With the current situation—with some ministers returning to the House of Representatives side—there was no spare suite or accommodation that would be suitable for a member or quickly able to be turned into something suitable for a member, whereas on our side we had three spare suites.

Senator WONG: By the current situation, you mean ministers who are no longer in the ministry have returned to the Reps wing—correct?

Dr Laing : Yes.

Senator WONG: But, as yet, there have been no further appointments to the ministry, so essentially there are suites available in the ministerial wing, but not in the House of Representatives wing?

Dr Laing : That is not in my knowledge.

Senator WONG: Is it anticipated that when the Prime Minister appoints further ministers, Mr Zimmerman will return to the House of Representatives wing?

Dr Laing : It is expected that this is a temporary arrangement, and as soon as there is available accommodation—because it cannot be easy for Mr Zimmerman; he is quite a long way from the House of Representatives chamber.

Senator WONG: Sure. I am just trying to clarify.

Senator LUDWIG: He is in the other wing. You could not get him any further. Is that the best you could do?

Dr Laing : We actually could get him slightly further.

Senator WONG: Yes, you could go up high or down the end. Mr President, has there been a discussion with you about this?

The President: Yes, the Speaker spoke to me just prior to writing to me, and I had no problem. There is another issue too. We are fortunate that there are more senators in the ministry than ever before, so we have more space from that perspective as well.

Senator WONG: But you understand it to be temporary?

The President: Absolutely.

Senator WONG: Pending what?

The President: Whether they make accommodation, whether they change a suite—I do not know. I do not understand why or how, but I know it will be temporary. It is in everyone's interests that Mr Zimmerman moves back to the House of Representatives wing when he possibly can, although he has indicated that he is becoming a lot fitter.

Dr Laing : May I also add that services to Mr Zimmerman are being provided exclusively by the House of Representatives.

Senator WONG: I will come to that. I am just trying to understand—Mr President, has it been raised with you that, once the ministerial changes subsequent to Mr Brigg's resignation and Mr Brough standing aside are resolved, there is likely to be a change to his accommodation?

The President: No, not directly like that.

Senator WONG: Has there been a discussion about the ministerial arrangements at all, in relation to Mr Zimmerman's accommodation?

The President: Not with me, but I understand that is the reason why there is no office space available. As far as what the rectification is: no, no discussion.

Senator WONG: Has there ever been a member of the Reps accommodated in the Senate wing?

Dr Laing : Not to our knowledge. We cannot think of a previous example, but as I mentioned we have accommodated temporary needs, including DPS executives, in senatorial suites while refurbishments were being done.

Senator WONG: I assume moving costs in relation to Mr Zimmerman were met by the Reps?

Dr Laing : Absolutely.

Senator WONG: You said before that the Department of the House of Representatives was meeting the costs of services to Mr Zimmerman—

Dr Laing : That is right.

Senator WONG: Which costs are they meeting?

Dr Laing : That includes mail delivery, newspapers, suite requisites—the sorts of things that our senators services section will provide for senators.

Senator WONG: What about the landlines in the office?

Dr Laing : All the ICT equipment is the responsibility of DPS, for everybody.

Senator WONG: Are there any costs being met by the Department of the Senate?

Dr Laing : No.

Senator WONG: Any maintenance on the suite prior to his arrival?

Dr Laing : No. It was a suite that was ready to go.

Senator WONG: So all items supplied in the suite are the responsibility of the House department?

Dr Laing : We left the standard Senate equipment in the suite—including, for example, the fridge. It is a Senate suite set-up as such, but anything else is provided by the House of Representatives.

Senator WONG: DPS meets costs for electricity, phones—all that kind of stuff?

Dr Laing : That is correct.

Senator WONG: So everything else that the Senate would normally provide to a senator is being provided by the Reps. Is that right?

Dr Laing : That is right. And we made that a condition of the tenancy so that the lines would be clear.

Senator WONG: Does the department receive any compensation? Is there any financial arrangement associated with the provision of the suite?

Dr Laing : No.

Senator WONG: You should have negotiated that, Rosemary.

The President: You should have taken a bond.

Senator WONG: You should have negotiated that.

Dr Laing : We did it out of a spirit of cooperation and pragmatism.

Senator WONG: Both of you have said 'temporary'. Have you been given any indication of the expected duration of the stay?

Dr Laing : No. My understanding is that the first event that makes it possible for Mr Zimmerman to leave us is the duration of the arrangement. Whether that is related to ministerial movements or an election, none of us knows.

Senator WONG: Has anything been raised with you, Ms Callinan, at your level?

Ms Callinan : My understanding is the same as the Clerk's; that as soon as a suite becomes available in the House of Representatives wing, that Mr Zimmerman will be moving in.

Senator WONG: That was not my question.

Ms Callinan : Sorry.

Senator WONG: I asked if whether or not you had been given any indication as to the time frame for this temporary appointment.

Ms Callinan : No, a specific time frame was not given to me. I think that was because it was not able to be given. We were advised that the need for it did relate to the unavailability of suites arising due to ministers coming back from the ministerial wing, so we had drawn the conclusion that as soon as matters related to that were resolved, that would free up a suite. But a specific time frame was not able to be provided.

Senator WONG: That is fine. Thank you. The letter actually references directly the return of members from the ministerial wing.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, do you mind if I ask Ms Callinan a question?

Senator WONG: I was moving on to a different topic, but you go ahead.

CHAIR: It is a different topic; it goes back to previous estimates. I have received answers to question on notice No. 23 about car park security breaches, and it was sent to DPS. Ms Callinan, you have previously been asked about instances of car park misuse—tailgating and so on. In previous evidence you said that you were only aware of one incident. It was in May 2015 that you gave that evidence.

Ms Callinan : Yes, Senator.

CHAIR: And yet in the question on notice that was returned, it says 'the following instances have been recorded since January', and there were three in the car park. Did the extra incidents occur after your evidence, or were you not informed of the problem?

Ms Callinan : I read those answers to questions on notice just on the weekend. In order to prepare for this hearing I went back through those, and I read that for the first time then. I had previously been not informed of any incidents in the Senate car park.

CHAIR: Is that unusual given that you are the person, I understand, given evidence, that reports these things to the President?

Ms Callinan : It would depend on the nature of those incidents. I would be interested to find out what they were. There are certainly some incidents that we would report to the President. We would be circumspect in the number of issues we bring to the President, of course. If things were of a very low level or minor matters we might not draw them to his attention. It would depend on what they were and what they involved.

CHAIR: So it would not be unusual, then, that an incident was not brought to your attention, even though it involved the jurisdiction, effectively, of the Senate.

Ms Callinan : Actually, having read that, I did think that it was unusual that I was not informed of it. But, as I said, I do not quite know the detail. I am leaving open in my mind the possibility that it was something so minor that it did not need to be brought to my attention. I think I am being generous in my interpretation there.

CHAIR: You are less suspicious than I am, Ms Callinan. That is what I would say.

Ms Callinan : I suppose I will just wait to be advised.

CHAIR: Okay, but you are standing by your evidence that you were not informed?

Ms Callinan : Yes, that is right.

CHAIR: Okay, that is all I want to know.

Senator WONG: Can I just get an update on enterprise bargaining? I think Senator Gallagher, Dr Laing, asked you some questions.

Dr Laing : Yes, that is right. Last hearing Senator Gallagher asked some questions about enterprise bargaining, on 19 October. The situation is much as it was then. We have had a further consultation meeting with the bargaining representatives. At the moment, given the pressure of sittings at the end of the year, the need for people to take a break over Christmas, and the current sittings—three out of four weeks in February—we are expecting to restart the process in March. At the moment we are looking at costing of various proposals that have been put forward by staff and by management representatives, assessing claims made by the various parties, and drafting a proposed new enterprise agreement. We expect to make further progress on that in March. The next step after that would be to seek in-principle approval from the President in relation to the department's bargaining position and then to meet with bargaining representatives to discuss an offer.

Senator WONG: Rather than going through it now, you gave an answer to a question on notice, I think No. 5.

Dr Laing : Yes.

Senator WONG: Would it be useful to update that?

Dr Laing : We can do that. There is one minor change I need to make to that, I think. We had a period of time nominated towards the end for lodging the enterprise agreement with the Fair Work Commission, which I think because of a typographical error said 16 days. It should be 14 days. I will update that now and then we will have a look at what we provided last time—

Senator WONG: Yes, just the time frames are different, obviously. That is fine.

Dr Laing : and see if there is anything new to add.

Senator WONG: I was interested in the productivity proposals, in particular the APSC review of same. Has that occurred? Has the APSC reviewed the productivity proposals and their costings?

Dr Laing : We have not put our proposals to the APSC.

Senator WONG: Has the President provided in-principle support for the department's bargaining position?

Dr Laing : That is to come. We have not provided the President of the bargaining position. That is what we are working out.

Senator WONG: At any point does the Standing Committee on Appropriations, Staffing and Security get engaged?

Dr Laing : I am not sure that it has in past enterprise agreements. There might be circumstances in which we would want to go to the committee, but it is not really within its terms of reference.

Senator WONG: My observation is the staff retention in the Senate is strong.

Dr Laing : Yes, I can give you some information about that. We have about 25 per cent of staff who have been with the department for 10 years or more and approximately eight per cent that have more than 20 years of service. Of course we are recruiting all the time as well and, at the moment, 29 per cent of employees have less than two years of service. In 2015-16 we had a separation rate of nine per cent, which is down from previous years and I think reflects employment mobility across the public sector. The average years of departmental service are increasing. At the moment staff across the department have an average of 7½ years of departmental service, which is up from 7.1 years in 2014, a similar figure in 2013 and 6.8 years of service average in 2012. So I think that you are right—there is a strong continuity of staffing, but we do have significant renewal as well.

Senator WONG: What are some of the reasons behind that?

Dr Laing : As I said, maybe at the last estimates hearings, there is a strong culture in the Department of the Senate. We try to recruit people who will enjoy that culture—it is a culture of service and commitment. I think there is an element of the importance of the institution we work for, the direct relationship we have with the outcomes of our work and their having effect, whether it is in the form of committee service or chamber service or Black Rod's office service, or in other areas. I think that people work very hard, but there is a sense of great satisfaction in doing a job well and being able to get feedback and see the results.

The President: Chair, can I add a comment there? It is not for the Clerk to say this, but could I commend the Clerk and the senior management team in how the Department of the Senate is run and operated and cared for. I get to witness this first hand probably more than any other senator, and I do commend the Clerk and the team for the way they manage the department, which helps with that culture.

Dr Laing : Thank you.

Senator McALLISTER: I have some questions regarding responses you have given to questions on notice, particularly Nos 2860 and 2871. Those go to the breakdown in the allocation of responsibility for costs associated with the President and his office. With question 2871, the answer indicates that the Department of the Senate covered some of the airline costs for an official visit to New Zealand, but not for other visits. I am wondering why this trip falls within the responsibility of the Department of the Senate.

The President: The Clerk is going to make some comments, and I can make some comments after that.

Dr Laing : In the answer to question on notice 2871, there was an amount for the President and the senior adviser for airfares and associated costs with a trip to New Zealand. This trip to New Zealand occurred latish in the year last year at a time when the President's travel was, I think, under review. In light of that I agreed that, as a special circumstance, the department would fund the costs for New Zealand, which were going to be modest. I agreed that the proposed travel to New Zealand fell into a special category of parliamentary travel where, not to undertake it, for lack of funding, would be a regrettable outcome. In coming to that conclusion I took into account the short and very focused nature of the proposed visit to New Zealand; the proximity of New Zealand in terms of travel costs; the fact that the New Zealand parliament was hosting the visit; the importance of our parliamentary partnerships with New Zealand in fostering strong parliamentary relationships throughout the South Pacific; the leadership roles that the Commonwealth and New Zealand parliament's play in capacity-building in the South Pacific region; the commonality of issues faced by both parliaments; and, in the context of the President is a relatively new Presiding Officer and it is always a very useful thing for Presiding Officers to be able to have confidential and frank discussions with others in a similar position.

One example of the commonality between our systems is the fact that New Zealand very recently enacted a parliamentary privileges act that was based on our Parliamentary Privilege Act and came after similar steps that led to the enactment of ours. There was also the importance of discussing future involvement in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and also the opportunity to compare approaches to parliamentary procedure and administration. So, in view of all those factors I consider that it was expenditure that was warranted.

Senator McALLISTER: But in providing that answer you are conceding that it is unusual that this would not be met by the Department of Finance?

Dr Laing : It is only unusual in the sense that for some years the President's travel arrangements have been, I suppose, governed—if I could use that in a loose sense—by the executive government: the Department of Finance and the Prime Minister's office. So there has been an arrangement—

Member of the committee interjecting—

Dr Laing : I am just going on to explain, Senator. There has been an arrangement where previous Presidents had arrangements for a certain number of trips per year—not an amount of money, but a number of trips.

Senator Conroy interjecting

CHAIR: Senator Conroy, just a moment. We have reached an understanding that when witnesses are speaking we try not to interrupt them. It is rude. You will have an opportunity to ask questions, so I would ask you to please allow Dr Laing to conclude her answer, and then you can ask questions.

Dr Laing : The number is five, and it goes back to arrangements that I think were developed under the presidency of Senator Reid.

Senator McALLISTER: Are those arrangements codified in any way? Are they written down?

Dr Laing : I think they are a matter for the Department of Finance and the Prime Minister's office.

Senator McALLISTER: So it is an arrangement between the Department of Finance and the Prime Minister's office?

Dr Laing : The Department of Finance funds those.

Senator CONROY: Except in this case?

Dr Laing : Except in this case.

Senator McALLISTER: How was the shortfall of funds, as associated with this planned trip, brought to your attention, Dr Laing? How did you become aware that there was this opportunity for the President?

Dr Laing : I have discussions on a daily basis with the President. This was something that the President mentioned to me. Also, in the context of another trip that the President undertook to participate in the inaugural Group of Five jurisdictions that were attempting to develop stronger relationships—it is called MIKTA, which stands for Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia—there was a desire to build stronger parliamentary relationships within that group, and the President went to the inaugural meeting in Korea. That was funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. So, in the context of a period where there were some negotiations going on between the President's office and the former Prime Minister's office about travel, and the presentation of useful opportunities for the President to travel, that was the context in which we had the discussions about the department possibly funding the trip to New Zealand.

Senator CONROY: Was the budget blown on the first four trips, or was there a reduction in the budget? How did we get to a situation where there were no funds left for the fifth trip?

The President: To the contrary, I have not taken one cent from the Department of Finance this financial year. So, I could have had one of those five trips, but I prefer not to use the Department of Finance. I will put a submission to the Prime Minister that we do not go through the Department of Finance. We are under discussions for a more independent funding model. So, if you like, the Commonwealth has had no net loss or net gain in this. The Department of the Senate has funded one trip, in September. We are now in February and so far I have not drawn a cent from the Department of Finance for travel.

Senator CONROY: That is not what I asked. I am trying to establish if there is an informal agreement for five trips that has existed for some time?

The President: That has been the arrangement—

Senator CONROY: I am just saying that that is a fact: an informal agreement about five strips that have been funded by Finance. So that is not on the departmental budget?

The President: Correct.

Senator CONROY: But you are seeking at the moment to get yourself out of supervision by the executive and the Department of Finance by having a self-funding model? Is that what you are saying? So you get to approve your own trips on an ongoing basis all the time?

The President: Let me go back. We use the words 'supervision by the Department of Finance'. The only body that I consider supervises me is this body. The Senate should be the only body that scrutinises the role of the President and the Department of the Senate. It should not be the Department of Finance and it should not be the Prime Minister's office.

Senator CONROY: So the Prime Minister's office has had approval of your trips previously?

The President: The Prime Minister never granted approval, but always concurrence. I would write to the Prime Minister, as would my predecessors, requesting one of those five allocations. Then, I think, on all bar one occasion—for President Hogg, in his final months—they have always been approved without question. I have a different view about the way that we are funded, and the independent nature of the Senate. I have been pursuing this from day one. We have now put in a different budget this year for which we went through the appropriations and staffing committee. The budget will have an amount of money. Currently—and this is the ludicrous situation I have mentioned to the current Prime Minister, and he agrees with me—it is an uncapped five trips per year per Presiding Officer. That is just uncapped. There should be capped amount, in my view. A good example is that I would have attended the funeral of the president of the senate of Canada—Australia was not represented. He died in office and it would have been an appropriate thing for me to attend, but the number of trip allocations is five, where I think there should be a capped amount. Another example is that I was invited to go to the 50th anniversary commemoration by the parliament in Singapore. Again, it would have been a short, sharp overnight trip. I think that is better utilisation of our representation in the international sphere.

Senator CONROY: I appreciate the explanation you are giving to a question I did not ask. But I would like to come back to the question of your removing yourself from a concurrence process.

The President: That has already been achieved. We now do not have to seek concurrence.

Senator CONROY: Did the Prime Minister's office not concur with the New Zealand trip?

The President: We did not ask the Prime Minister.

Senator CONROY: Is that what led you to fund it yourself?

The President: No, I did not even ask the Prime Minister.

Senator CONROY: That is not what I asked you. You mentioned the Prime Minister's office not concurring. Is that why you decided to undertake the trip yourself?

The President: No, we did not even ask the Prime Minister's office, or Finance.

Senator CONROY: No, but that is because you decided to fund it yourself?

The President: Correct.

Senator CONROY: Had the change in systems been put in place at that stage?

The President: The only change so far that the Prime Minister has instantly agreed to is that we do not have to write to him to seek concurrence—

Senator CONROY: No, I am asking if the New Zealand trip happened before this new agreement was in place, or did you just unilaterally decide to take a trip without seeking concurrence?

The President: It was before—the arrangements were put in place before the current Prime Minister took office.

Senator CONROY: So, under the old system concurrence was required and you decided not to go through the existing procedure—

The President: Correct.

Senator CONROY: You decided to implement your own procedure prior to any agreement reached?

The President: This was with the previous Prime Minister, but that is correct. We did not approach the Prime Minister's office at all.

Senator CONROY: So you did not comply with the existing agreement or understanding—I am not sure what the correct phrase is, Dr Laing. You did not seek concurrence even though that is what the rules were at that time.

The President: There are no rules. The purpose of concurrence is so the Prime Minister can then write a letter to the Department of Finance to release funds which will go towards—

Senator CONROY: I am familiar with the system.

The President: And there was no need to do that, because we were not seeking funds from the Department of Finance.

Senator CONROY: So you decided not to go through the existing process. You decided to implement your own process without having got agreement to change the process.

The President: The purpose of the process is if you are seeking funding, and we were not seeking funding.

Senator CONROY: No, but Dr Laing has explained that there were roughly five trips that were inside this process that existed. You decided to go outside the existing system that was in place—

The President: It did not require using the existing system.

Senator CONROY: and decided to fund it from departmental funds at a time when the department is constantly telling the committee it is underfunded.

The President: No, we did not need to use the Department of Finance.

Senator CONROY: No, my point is that you yourself sit here and say on an ongoing basis that the department needs more finances, but you decided to undertake a trip outside the guidelines that existed out of the budget of a department you constantly tell this committee and the parliament is underfunded.

The President: I do not think I constantly tell this committee, but yes.

Senator CONROY: I do not think you want to pretend now you are suddenly overfunded.

The President: No. I said not necessarily this committee. I have certainly mentioned this to the appropriations and staffing committee.

Senator CONROY: I am familiar with you and previous speakers making this point, which is why I am so surprised to see that you decided to flout the guidelines and spend the department's money.

The President: It is not flouting the guidelines.

Senator CONROY: Dr Laing has explained there was a system in place, and you decided to go outside the system—

The President: I disagree with you.

Senator CONROY: and funded it out of the departmental budget which you have consistently, as previous speakers have, maintained does not have sufficient funds. You are looking for savings from all around the parliament but, at a time when you are looking for savings from everybody else, you decided to fund your own trip outside the guidelines that existed at the time.

The President: If that is your interpretation, that is your interpretation.

Senator CONROY: Those are just the facts.

CHAIR: What was the reason for the determination not to seek concurrence from the Prime Minister in order to fund it through the Department of Finance?

The President: The long-term strategy here is to remove ourselves from any control of the executive government, and that includes funding for travel. The current budget we have put before the executive is to include a component for travel. We will then never have to go back to the Department of Finance for funding.

CHAIR: You mentioned that former President Hogg had been denied concurrence for one request of travel which was under the five-trip guideline process.

The President: Correct.

Senator WONG: Sorry; can I be clear what—

CHAIR: Earlier the President explained that concurrence had always been agreed except one circumstance where the former President Hogg had it denied to him by the previous Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Yes.

CHAIR: Have you had difficulties in getting concurrence for any of the five trips that have previously been agreed?

The President: Yes.

CHAIR: Is there a requirement for justification to be provided by the person denying concurrence?

The President: No.

CHAIR: So it can be at the whim of prime ministers to say no.

The President: Correct.

CHAIR: Hence I could understand why you may want to consider a more autonomous position.

The President: It goes deeper than that. It goes to the fact that the parliament and, in this case, the Department of the Senate and the Office of the President should not be bound by an executive government. An executive government could potentially starve a department of finance—not the Department of Finance but a department of funds. I have a strong view about us becoming more financially independent. I expressed this to people far and wide well before I became President. Currently, the Prime Minister, Speaker and I are in discussions about this, and the Prime Minister has sympathetic views towards this.

CHAIR: Okay.

Senator WONG: Can I jump in? I appreciate my colleague was on credit cards, so I am sure she will want to return to that. I might be a little dense, but I am having a little bit of difficulty here. As I understood it, the previous arrangement—and I understand your legitimate and cogent philosophical views about the independence of the Senate and the way that translates to financial arrangements, but put that aside—was that there was an allocation for presiding officers' travel in recognition of the status of the positions. The Prime Minister's office was asked to provide concurrence but not approval. Correct?

The President: Correct.

Senator WONG: Other than the one occasion after the change in government when President Hogg's concurrence was declined, I think that in general that convention has been observed by executive government and a range of presiding officers. Would that be accurate?

The President: No. It changed.

Senator WONG: Sorry—prior to the change of government.

The President: Up until discussions with Prime Minister Turnbull—

Senator WONG: Okay. I am about to ask you about the period under Prime Minister Abbott.

CHAIR: I think the convention was that five trips were generally always concurred with.

The President: Generally, but my understanding from speaking with past presiding officers and past Speakers is that the arrangements from the refusal to grant Senator Hogg's request and onward were a lot more difficult than what they were.

CHAIR: Yes. We were just talking about before that.

Senator WONG: Yes, exactly. We are on the same page.

The President: Before Senator Hogg's experience, I understand that, yes, that was the arrangement.

Senator WONG: So until recently governments of both political persuasions, including in periods where the President is of a different political party for the period of time until the changeover, have generally observed the convention.

The President: Correct.

Senator WONG: Then the change occurs when Prime Minister is elected and Senator Hogg is denied concurrence. I think you said that subsequent to that arrangements became more difficult. I cannot recall the phrase you used.

The President: Correct.

Senator WONG: Who were you dealing with?

The President: My chief of staff was dealing with the Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: Any particular individual in the Prime Minister's office?

The President: I think there were a variety of officers. It would have included the chief of staff of the Prime Minister's office and other officers who were charged with looking after areas in relation to the Senate.

Senator WONG: How was the anticipated denial of concurrence communicated to your chief of staff?

The President: Verbally and in writing.

Senator WONG: Can you tell us how it was communicated in writing?

The President: I believe it was a letter written to me by the chief of staff, but I would have to check.

Senator WONG: What did the letter express?

The President: It was seeking further clarification and disagreeing with some aspects of proposed travel.

Senator WONG: Of a proposed travel arrangement. Okay. I ask you to provide a copy of that letter. Were there any further letters?

The President: The quantity I would have to check, but that was in the early stages. Things improved in the second half of that financial year—the second half of the 2014-15 financial year—and so far this financial year I have not needed to draw at all on the Department of Finance. I have an understanding now from the Prime Minister's—

Senator WONG: I will come to that. I am asking for the period only under the previous Prime Minister. I ask for all correspondence between the Prime Minister and/or the Prime Minister's office and you and your office in relation to pending travel. Thank you.

The President: I am sympathetic to that request, but let me go away and think about that.

Senator WONG: Of course.

CHAIR: May I ask a question in this respect? What is the time sensitivity of some of these trips? I understand exactly why you want to go down a different path, but how quickly does concurrence need to be granted? Where concurrence has been denied, how close to the trip do these things come into play?

The President: On two occasions. One involved President Hogg, which I think was on the eve of travel. The other, in relation to me, was maybe two or three days before proposed travel, so the trip was cancelled because we could not confirm anything and concurrence was granted too late.

CHAIR: Clearly arrangements are not made in the last 24 hours in international delegations and things of that nature, so a lot of work has been invested into it by the Department of the Senate and other departments and, on the eve of travel—in the case of Senator Hogg—or a couple of days before, concurrence has been denied.

Senator WONG: Could you, on notice—if it is possible—provide information regarding telephone conversations, verbal conversations, between the offices in relation to concurrence for that period. You or your chief of staff may have some notes.

The President: I will take that on board. I will not make any firm commitment. I will go and consider that.

Senator WONG: Of course, I understand that. I think you said, in answer to Senator Bernardi, that concurrence was denied two to three days before travel on one occasion. This is not Senator Hogg but yourself.

The President: Yes.

Senator WONG: Where were you going?

The President: The United States and Canada.

Senator WONG: What was the approximate date of that travel?

The President: I think it was about three days prior to travel that concurrence was granted.

Senator WONG: It was granted?

The President: Yes, it was—three days prior to travel—but, before that, we could not lock in. We had a lot of things on standby, but it became too late, so we cancelled the travel.

CHAIR: My question was really about the denial of concurrence.

The President: I would much rather have it denied well and truly in advance. It made life a little bit difficult, especially with the work that the post had done twice on this same travel. It was President Hogg's cancelled trip that I picked up, because it was suggested by the then Prime Minister that I do that when I take up my turn, and concurrence was not granted soon enough.

CHAIR: So now the system that is in place and agreed with Mr Turnbull is that concurrence is not required?

The President: Correct.

CHAIR: Okay, so things have changed.

The President: Yes.

Senator WONG: Is that documented?

The President: No, I do not think it is documented, but it is an understanding we now have. It was put in place with the meeting the Speaker and I had with the Prime Minister in relation to a number of matters about the independence of the parliament. The Prime Minister agreed that, from that moment on, we would not need to seek his concurrence.

Senator WONG: Shortly after he became Prime Minister?

The President: Within the first five weeks.

Senator WONG: It is a significant change to existing arrangements. I appreciate that it did not work, because personnel chose to alter how they would operate it, but it is a substantial change.

The President: I do not think it is. I think this was instigated within the last decade or so—I stand to be corrected. It was President Reid that started this concurrence matter with the Prime Minister, I believe. Before that, Presiding Officers determined their own travel. That started in 1998, I am told.

Senator WONG: That is a fair while. So, something that has been in place since 1998 has been removed, because, for a period of time under the previous Prime Minister, you were unable to get cooperation with the Prime Minister's office. You now have an arrangement with the Prime Minister that you no longer have to seek concurrence. Has anyone else been advised of that?

The President: The Speaker has, obviously. Neither the Speaker nor I have had to actually apply for travel, so, in effect, we have not tested the new arrangement. We have not have to do that yet.

Senator WONG: Has anyone else been advised of the new arrangement?

The President: I think there was an officer from the Department of Finance present at this meeting. No, just officers in the Prime Minister's office, my office and the Speaker's office. We have had no reason to formalise this yet, but I am sure it will be.

Senator WONG: If it is something which has been around for almost 20 years that has been changed, I am wondering whether it has been reduced to writing, whether you are proposing to advise the Speaker, whether the Speaker has advised any House committee, or whether you have advised any Senate committee.

The President: No. I did not see the need to, but I am more than happy to.

Senator WONG: Is there any financial cap on travel?

The President: Not at this point in time, but we are seeking that.

CHAIR: And this is the significant thing, Senator Wong, if I may. You are seeking to take it from a five-trip unlimited cap to a singular budget item—

The President: Correct

CHAIR: that you can use or that the department can use at the discretion—so that it may be an inexpensive trip to New Zealand for a funeral or a meeting of something rather than count against a fixed measurement of trips.

The President: Correct. I think it provides greater accountability, and also there is a set budget line item.

CHAIR: But that has not been approved as yet?

The President: No. That is—

CHAIR: It is a work in progress.

The President: In fact, that has been placed to the Prime Minister in writing by virtue of the current budget that we have sitting with the Prime Minister. So, we are trying to break away—the parliamentary departments are trying to become independent and not go through the current arrangement that all other departments have to go through. And most Western democracies operate that way.

CHAIR: But it may in actual fact entail some savings—it could do.

The President: Potentially, yes.

CHAIR: Or at least it could provide a cap on your expenditure.

The President: Well, I would say that having a cap in the first place would be a good measure.

Senator WONG: But who is setting the cap?

The President: Well, I think we will negotiate—we have actually provided for a line item which would be less than the average expenditure of presiding officers prior, and that line item also includes provision for the office facilities of the President, which currently the finance department pays for.

Senator WONG: Right. So, what is the line item currently proposed?

The President: In the current budget it is $400,000, which would be for presidential office in addition to the electorate office, which Finance pays, and currently Finance provides for the President and the Speaker in capital cities, which I think is wrong; I think it should be provided by the home department. So, that will cover other incidentals and international travel.

Senator WONG: Right. And is the Speaker making a similar bid—and I use the term in a process sense.

The President: I cannot comment. The spirit is—

Senator WONG: No, I know you cannot; I am not trying to impinge upon the privileges of the house. But this is a new arrangement that you and he have discussed with the Prime Minister. Are you both implementing it? Or are only you implementing it?

The President: No, we are in agreement with this arrangement.

Senator WONG: So, around $400,000. And you say that is less than the average?—of past—

The President: Well, if you break out the component for the presidential office, if you like, and as provided in the capital city, yes, it would be.

Senator WONG: In terms of the building blocks of that line item, what is the assumed cost of travel?

The President: I think it is around the $250,000 mark.

Senator McALLISTER: I want to go to some of the specifics about the New Zealand trip, noting that this was, as I understand from Dr Laing, a temporary arrangement that the Department of the Senate would deal with the costs of this trip on this occasion—

Dr Laing : And bearing in mind the timing of it. It was in September, which was a time of a bit of flux, shall we say.

Senator McALLISTER: The answer to question on notice No. 2872 goes to the use of a credit card by the President and his staff. I am assuming that since the answer suggests that the President has not used his card, all of those items on the list were incurred by the President's senior adviser?

Dr Laing : That is right, yes.

The President: My car is locked in the Clerk's safe; I have no need for it.

Senator McALLISTER: Have you frozen it?

The President: It is active and I just do not use it. I have no need to.

Dr Laing : It has been returned to us.

The President: It has been returned to the Clerk.

Senator McALLISTER: It seems from these records that the airfares for the overseas travel were placed on a departmental credit card by the senior adviser.

Dr Laing : That is correct.

Senator McALLISTER: How did that come about? That seems an unusual way to proceed in terms of booking travel.

Dr Laing : The agreement was conveyed by me to the senior adviser on 9 September in writing, and I confirmed my reasons for justification of the expenditure being met by the department. And then it was over to the President's office to make the arrangements.

Senator LUDWIG: What was that justification?

Dr Laing : I went through it before, just a few minutes ago, in answer to Senator McAllister's question.

Senator LUDWIG: Notwithstanding that there is a five-trips cap in place, you have approved an additional trip and put it on the departmental credit card. It just seems extraordinary to me. So, did you write to the Department of Finance? Did you seek advice from your CFO as to whether you should do this or not?

Dr Laing : No, I took the decision at a more first-principles level than that. I think throughout the parliamentary year there are always a number of events that are not anticipated. There are a number of meetings of international parliamentary bodies, perhaps smaller executive committee groups. And not so much on our side of the building but on the other side there has always been a practice of departmental funding of these short, inexpensive, unanticipated trips so that they do not detract from the five that are available under the—

Senator LUDWIG: But the trip included both President and partner, did it not?

Dr Laing : No, it was the President and the senior adviser. Normally for such a trip the department may well have provided a delegation secretary. In this case, because of the focus of the discussions on things like regional capacity building, the future of the CPA, I considered that there was much greater value for the President's adviser to undertake that role because of his personal knowledge and very long experience in that field.

Senator LUDWIG: And do you recall the reason the five-trip cap, if we might call it that, was put in place originally? I knew it was by—

Dr Laing : It was 1998. It was an agreement between then President Reid and then Prime Minister Howard. It was possibly based in part on expenditure or travel patterns by—

Senator LUDWIG: Excessive travel patterns, wasn’t it? My recollection is pretty hazy too, but wasn’t it a case that Senator Reid had—I think there was an expose in a local paper about the number of trips that had been taken by the President over a period of time, and I think that caused some concern or at least—

Dr Laing : I do not remember that. It may have been. What is a newspaper expose worth?

Senator LUDWIG: Well, obviously a five-cap limit on a President, a travel arrangement; that is what it is worth. Why? Because there is excessive travel that was going on. That must have been the concern that was raised at the time.

Dr Laing : No, I do not have any recollection. And at the time we were expecting major international events related to the centenary of Federation in 2001. I think that was another factor in setting the limit. But I do not have personal recollection of why it was set at five, and there is nobody in the department left who has that recollection either.

Senator McALLISTER: Perhaps I can come back, then, to the sequence of events that saw the travel booked on the credit card of the senior adviser. So, the President spoke with you, Dr Laing, and raised this issue. What happened then? You gave it some consideration? Did the President write to you and formalise his request in writing?

Dr Laing : The President's senior adviser wrote to me and formalised the President's request.

Senator McALLISTER: And then you provided a response in writing?

Dr Laing : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Is that the entire correspondence in relation to the arrangement?

Dr Laing : I believe so, yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Is that something you would be able to provide the committee?

Dr Laing : I will consult the President about that.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you. I would appreciate it. It goes, then, to a related but separate issue which I suppose is what constraints, if any, sit around the use of the credit card by the senior adviser. Are there guidelines around the use of that card, Mr President, that you are aware of?

The President: I am not aware of any, but let's just put this into perspective. Every single cent that is spent from my office is discoverable—every single cent—and that includes the senior adviser's credit card. So, I just place that on the record. I think we need to keep this in perspective.

Senator WONG: That is the case with all Commonwealth expenditure.

The President: Exactly, and I have no—

Senator WONG: She is just asking about—it is a legitimate question.

The President: Yes, but I do not know whether there are guidelines or not. Maybe I will check with my staff.

Dr Laing : Well, there are. I can answer that. The normal departmental guidelines that—

Senator WONG: Is he a MOP staffer or a departmental staffer?

Dr Laing : A MOP staffer, but the credit card—

Senator WONG: Sure, but it is unusual for MOP staffers to have a departmental credit card. I do not recall ever as a minister having a MOP staffer with a credit card. So, let's be clear. It is a legitimate question to ask, if this is granted on—

Senator McKENZIE: No-one has ruled the question out of order.

CHAIR: The question has been asked; it is acknowledged that—

Senator WONG: Well, I am saying—

The President: And we are trying to provide the answer.

Senator WONG: There may be legitimate reasons for it, Mr President. We are just asking how this particular unusual set of circumstances is regulated.

The President: Well, I have just found out from my chief of staff that all use of the credit card has to be approved by me, and I have approved all the expenditure by credit card.

Senator WONG: Are there guidelines associated? That was the question. Are there procedures, guidelines, what you can and cannot use it for?

Dr Laing : The guidelines are the departmental guidelines for the expenditure of public funds. Now: yes, this is unusual, but it is pretty unusual to have the staff of a presiding officer of the parliament employed under executive government parameters.

Senator WONG: That is true.

Dr Laing : And it is only in relatively recent times that the staff of the President and Deputy President became MOP(S) Act staffers. Previously they were attached to the Senate department for administrative purposes. But they were employed directly by the—

CHAIR: How recently?

Dr Laing : Again, that would have been late 1990s, or a bit later.

CHAIR: Okay—but in the last 20 years.

Dr Laing : No, it was later than that; it was under President Calvert. So, it is a relatively recent development, when you think that this is an institution that has been running for 115 years. It is an issue that raises issues about separation of powers. And the way we address it is that we recognise that in running the President's office there are expenses that are legitimately met by the department. And, for flexibility under the normal expenditure of public funds policy, we recognise that the provision of a credit card to the senior adviser is a useful, flexible but also accountable thing. And we have given a list of the full expenditure under that card.

The President: And perhaps I could add, before we lose the thread: Senator Ludwig did ask the Clerk as to the purpose of the five—how they five-annual allocation arose. I have been advised that it was for two CPA meetings per annum and three delegations per annum. So, that is how it was arrived at, or that was the result.

Senator McALLISTER: Mr President, you indicated that it is your responsibility to approve all expenditure associated with the two cards.

The President: Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: How do you normally communicate that approval?

The President: It would be probably verbal. I cannot recall—

Senator McALLISTER: So there is no written record.

The President: any written advice. No, because the written record ends up being the statement after the card has been used.

Senator McALLISTER: So, you verify that afterwards?

The President: Yes.

Dr Laing : Then formally for the departmental records, it is verified and signed off by the Usher of the Black Rod.

Senator McALLISTER: Not by the President?

Dr Laing : Well, the President gives the in-principle approval, but for administrative purposes the statements come to the Usher of the Black Rod.

Senator McALLISTER: And Black Rod, how is it communicated to you when you are reviewing those statements that the President has indeed approved the expenditure that appears on the statements?

Ms Callinan : The invoices come to me from the President's office. There is an indication or marking on there that the services have been received, so that is an indication that it has been checked. And that is what I would expect when I would sign any credit card off that would come to me. And then I sign it off and send it on to Finance. And the receipts are attached, and I would check against the receipts as well.

Senator McALLISTER: Yes. I suppose there are two questions. One is that the services were indeed received, but the preceding question really is: ought the services to have been purchased in the first instance? That, you are indicating, is your responsibility, Mr President.

The President: Correct.

Senator McALLISTER: I am just interested in that chain of communication about how that is verified and checked.

The President: Yes. It is my verbal approval in the first instance and the sighting of statements where necessary, and then, of course, the department checks; it has access to all those statements and checks them all.

Dr Laing : And asks questions if necessary.

The President: And they do ask questions, often.

Senator McALLISTER: I am pleased to hear it.

CHAIR: But the buck stops with you, Mr President.

The President: Correct.

CHAIR: Not with Ms Callinan—is that right, if there is a problem?

The President: But the Usher of the Black Rod has questioned expenditure, which I welcome. I think that is correct.

CHAIR: Yes, but, in the event it goes through the process and there has been a misuse of the credit card, it comes back to you.

The President: It is my responsibility—correct.

Senator McALLISTER: In terms of the particular trip, the New Zealand trip, we have had a long discussion about it. It arises in a context where your travel arrangements are under review, and I think we are interested in how the new arrangements will be regularised, formalised and communicated. Is there an intention to recover the costs associated with the New Zealand trip from the Department of Finance, or is this a cost that will be borne by the Department of the Senate, Dr Laing?

Dr Laing : It is a cost that will be borne by the department.

The President: We are talking of a figure of $4,690.

Senator McALLISTER: Sure. You mentioned earlier in your testimony, Dr Laing, that it is routine, I think, or not unusual for the department to cover what you describe as minor expenses associated with travel. Can you elaborate on that.

Dr Laing : It is a practice that applies in the chamber departments. For example, one of the things I did when I received a request from the President's office—I had chatted to my colleague in the House and said: 'What's your practice? What do you do? What are the sorts of travel expenditure that you might consider funding?' I had that useful discussion, and that informed my consideration of the issue.

Senator LUDWIG: Was there any correspondence?

Senator McALLISTER: Yes, is there any correspondence in relation to that conversation?

Dr Laing : No, it was a phone conversation.

Senator McALLISTER: No notes in relation to that?

Senator LUDWIG: No sort of subsequent approval? Was there any email—

Dr Laing : Sorry, I cannot hear you, Senator Ludwig.

Senator LUDWIG: Was there any confirmation or email approval? It just seems odd—a very loose arrangement—that you decide that it is okay for a $4,600 trip to be whacked on the credit card.

Dr Laing : Yes, but we have covered that. There was correspondence.

Senator LUDWIG: But, in relation to your conversation, was there subsequent email confirmation?

Dr Laing : No, because I can often remember what I am told on the telephone.

Senator LUDWIG: You are doing better than I!

Senator McALLISTER: In relation to the amounts that are listed in the answer to question on notice 2872, it lists a postage of conference materials and gifts received by the President in South Korea.

Senator LUDWIG: If we are going back to some other issue, you had five trips available to seek concurrence, and you had not used those, as I understood it.

The President: Zero.

Senator LUDWIG: Why couldn't this trip just be one of those? Why did it have to stand outside the five? I just do not quite understand that. To me, it would be more logical—

The President: My statement of independence—

Senator LUDWIG: to take the one trip and subsequently have a review and decide that you are going to now have an uncapped—effectively unlimited—licence to fly around the world.

The President: No, that is totally incorrect. But this is my statement about independence. I am demonstrating that we do not need to rely on the Department of Finance. My travel budget will be fairly modest—it is fairly modest—and I am seeking to have a capped amount rather than an open-ended five allocations.

Senator LUDWIG: What amount are you seeking to have capped?

The President: We discussed it. It is about $250,000 in round figures.

Senator WONG: Which is actually more than you have spent—is that right? That is more than you have annually spent.

The President: It is lower than what the general number of five allocations for Presiding Officers has been, and it is probably higher than what I have currently spent. It certainly is this year—it has been zero, apart from $4,690.

Senator LUDWIG: So it is a significant cap, in the sense that over the last couple of years—

The President: Well, for the first time it is capping it—that is right.

Senator LUDWIG: But it is also 2½ times your last year's expenditure and overseas travel.

The President: But it is a capped amount. It is like a speed limit.

Senator LUDWIG: Why wouldn't you cap it at $150,000?

The President: You do not have to reach the speed limit. It is the top end.

Senator LUDWIG: Why wouldn't you cap it at $150,000, which would be a 50 per cent increase on your last year's overseas expenditure? Why would you have 2½ times the cap?

The President: Because this is the problem. I mean, we—

Senator LUDWIG: Are you intending to travel a lot this year?

The President: No. We have a quantum. I do not have much time left. I am not intending to, apart from one delegation that I am required to attend. But let me just go back to this concept. We are trying to move away from the executive government effectively controlling what happens in the Department of the Senate, including my travel. And also it is an antiquated system—five allocations for overseas travel with an uncapped amount for your senior adviser and your spouse. That is completely uncapped in that sense. So bringing it back into some sort of control, where there is a finite amount that can be spent and you are not then required to spend it only five times—you can use it for more specific purposes that will actually aid the parliament and the Senate—is my focus, as well as making us far more independent. If you can have short, sharp, focused trips, such as this three-day trip to New Zealand, that is exactly what I want to do.

CHAIR: Mr President, you said before that the five-cap limit came in because there were three delegation trips and two CPA trips?

The President: Correct.

CHAIR: Am I correct to say that the CPA trips have been minimised in recent times?

The President: Zero.

CHAIR: There have been zero?

The President: Yes.

CHAIR: Hence that explains the underspend to some degree, because we have not been attending the CPA conference?

The President: Correct. That is one element—that is right.

Senator LUDWIG: Let me understand this. The reason, or your 'why' for it, is (a) that you have decided that you want the Department of Senate to have more independence. I understand that.

Senator CONROY: He did not want any supervision.

Senator LUDWIG: But what I am missing in all of this is: why decide today—when you purchased the $4,600 trip on a credit card—to buck the system at that point unilaterally? Why not properly establish a review; make the review relevant to the issue; look at the recommendations, which are that this is subject and should be subject to a Department of Senate ruling; seek the Prime Minister's concurrence that there be a cap or talk to the Department of Finance and seek a cap or talk to the Department of the Senate and seek a cap; and reasonably set the cap based on the last number of trips that both the Speaker and you have had—or why don't both the Speaker and you decide to have a review and then formally implement the system? I just do not understand why you suddenly decide unilaterally to buck the system.

The President: That is in effect what you have just described. It is really what actually happened behind the scenes. That is what we have been doing.

Senator LUDWIG: But that is post the trip?

The President: Yes. That September trip was in the previous Prime Minister's term, and my discussions about this have started with the current Prime Minister.

Senator LUDWIG: Yes. You still have not provided the reason why you bucked the system then and did not have the conversation with the then Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, about your view.

The President: I had an invitation from the New Zealand Speaker. I discussed it with the Clerk. The minimal amount of $4,690 was then—

Senator WONG: Mr President, did you not utilise the existing system because you thought you would have difficulty, given past experience, with the then Prime Minister's office in getting approval or concurrence?

The President: I wanted to make a decision fairly quickly about it to accept, so that would have been part of the rationale.

Senator WONG: It is just that Senator Ludwig is asking questions about the rationale for a unilateral change in the system, because from this side of the table, from what you are saying—and I appreciate you do not want to drop people in it—it looks a little incomprehensible that you have a system in place and you then just decide, 'I'm not going to follow it; I'm going to ask the Clerk if we can put it on the credit card.' Is the reason for it that you had such difficulty with the former Prime Minister's office?

The President: That would have been part of our rationale, but that is not the complete picture. It is about the independence. I am trying not to rely on the Department of Finance, where possible, and our current budget before the Prime Minister—

Senator CONROY: But I was a minister, and I still had to go through—

CHAIR: Senator Conroy, order! Allow the President to conclude his answer.

The President: If I can pick up on Senator Conroy's point: yes, you were a minister of the executive government. The parliament and the Department of the Senate are not a part of the executive government and should not be bound by the executive government. That is my strong view.

Senator WONG: But you do not just decide to do that by whacking stuff on a credit card.

The President: I think we are conflating two issues.

Senator CONROY: No, we are not.

Senator WONG: No, you are, Mr President. You are. You have said, 'The reason I didn't follow the existing system'—and I have given you the opportunity to say that it was because it was not working, and you said, 'That's part of it—'is part of it was I wanted to change the system.' People do not just change how budgets are run in departments by just deciding that someone else will pay for them.

Senator CONROY: By whacking it on a credit card. This is my point.

The President: I have no further answers, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Can you explain this to me: $250,000 is a pretty significant amount. Whilst I understand the speed limit analogy, it is certainly more than you yourself have spent in an analogous period. The Leader of the Opposition's annual budget for overseas travel is under $9,000.

The President: Under $9,000?

Senator WONG: Correct.

The President: I thought it was $100,000.

Senator WONG: For the Leader of the Opposition.

The President: Yes, I thought it was $100,000.

Senator WONG: For overseas travel.

The President: Yes, I thought it was $100,000. That is my understanding.

Senator WONG: I do not think that is right. Travel overseas, leader, cost of fares, case of the leader, $8,889.

Senator CONROY: Plus an allowance.

Senator WONG: Plus an allowance. You say it is $100,000.

The President: That is my understanding. I examined it.

Senator WONG: And is your $250,000 analogous? What is included in your $250,000? Is that everything—fares plus?

The President: It is just an arbitrary amount at this stage. It is less than what has been spent by presiding officers traditionally. It is an arbitrary amount. We may not land on that space, but that is what we have put in at the moment.

Senator CONROY: So is $250,000 for your travel or do staff go with you?

The President: That would be for a senior adviser and spouse, where appropriate.

Senator WONG: So that is fares, accommodation, all expenses—

The President: Everything.

Senator WONG: For President, partner and senior adviser as appropriate.

Senator CONROY: At the moment, ministers have to get specific approval to take spouses on trips—is that correct?

The President: That may be the case, yes.

Senator CONROY: But you are exempting yourself from that.

The President: There are times when—and it is acknowledged—

Senator CONROY: My point is that by moving out of this system to your now preferred system—spouses require prime ministerial approval, which you would have had to have got under the old system—or concurrence, if you want to be polite.

The President: Concurrence, yes.

Senator CONROY: I am perfectly happy to use the word 'concurrence'. You are now putting your own travel and your spouse's travel outside of any scrutiny of anyone other than yourself.

The President: No, the scrutiny of this committee.

Senator CONROY: Concurrence or approval was required previously for your spouse to travel with you. Now there is no concurrence. You are the sole determiner of whether your spouse travels with you now.

The President: Correct.

Senator CONROY: Every minister has to get approval for a spouse.

The President: But I am not a minister, Senator.

Senator CONROY: Every minister has to get concurrence from the Prime Minister of the day, but you have removed yourself from that system so that you approve your spouse's travel now.

The President: I will in future, if the budget amount is granted. Yes, that is what I will be doing.

Senator CONROY: I am looking for the rules of authority. You will approve your own travel and your spouse's travel—

The President: And staff.

Senator CONROY: And staff, going forward, if this agreement is reached.

The President: If the budget amount is allocated. That is correct.

CHAIR: And it will be subject to the scrutiny of this committee, Senator Conroy.

The President: Absolutely.

CHAIR: And of the media.

The President: That is right.

Senator CONROY: As ministers have experienced, Prime Ministers and departments have had to go through this. Rules are set by Prime Ministers about ministerial travel and spouse accompaniment.

The President: Yes, for the executive government.

Senator CONROY: But Senator Parry wants to exempt himself from the Prime Minister's guidelines.

CHAIR: I think the President has pointed out—quite rightly—that he is not a minister. He has established the principle upon which he is trying to progress the operations of the office.

Senator CONROY: I understand. He wants to remove himself from any scrutiny. I understand that entirely.

Senator McKENZIE: I would like to hear what the Chair has to say.

CHAIR: No, Senator Conroy, that is entirely misrepresentative of what has happened.

Senator CONROY: It is entirely what is happening.

CHAIR: No, it is not. The scrutiny will still be maintained.

Senator CONROY: He currently requires concurrence of the Prime Minister.

CHAIR: Actually, you are wrong there, Senator Conroy. You need to catch up. I think it has been established that concurrence from the Prime Minister is not required.

The President: It is no longer required.

CHAIR: What Senator Parry has clearly detailed is that he is trying to establish a cap for travel, which is consistent with many other aspects of the parliament and provides for the independence and autonomy of the Department of the Senate and the office of the President. It is not just designed to benefit him; it is designed to benefit every successor in that role and in the Department of the Senate. So let's not misrepresent what has happened.

Senator CONROY: It is just my own view. It does not have to be shared. Personally, I find it extraordinarily arrogant that somebody wants to put themselves out of any other scrutiny of their own and their partner's travel.

CHAIR: You would understand the term 'arrogant', Senator Conroy.

Senator CONROY: I find that an extraordinarily arrogant position. It is entirely my opinion. Others will disagree, but I find it incredibly arrogant to remove yourself from external scrutiny of your own and your wife's travel.

CHAIR: You and I are not here to have a debate. You are here to ask questions.

Senator CONROY: You keep interrupting me.

CHAIR: I am trying to establish things. If you have questions please proceed with them. Otherwise I will go to Senator Wong.

Senator CONROY: I defer to Senator Wong, my leader.

The President: Chair, I just want to place clearly on the record that I totally disagree with Senator Conroy's view.

Senator WONG: I am afraid we keep interrupting Senator McAllister, so I will proceed to her shortly. Mr President, I would like to put something to you and give you the opportunity to respond. I understand that the pre-existing arrangement became unworkable because of the conduct of some personnel in the former Prime Minister's office. I also understand your in-principle view about the independence of the parliament and of the Senate. Having said that, should your position be filled by someone who may perhaps be not as careful with public expenditure as one might hope, the problem with the system you are proposing is that there is no check and balance, except ex post, of expenditure of the office.

The President: No—

Senator WONG: It would seem to me that, assuming that the Prime Minister's office behaved appropriately, one of the benefits of concurrence is that there is some check on a President who might lose a little perspective about what would be a sensible extent of expenditure of public moneys on overseas trips—like a helicopter ride, for example, in the other place.

The President: That was domestic, but that does not matter.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that, but the point is that just because someone is a presiding officer does not mean that they have perfect perspective on what would be appropriate.

The President: I totally agree. Let me outline the checks and balances that you have overlooked. The first one is the Appropriations and Staffing Committee of the Senate—

Senator WONG: But you have not raised your change with us. You are saying, 'Here is a check and balance,' but—

The President: You are not even letting me explain the check and balance.

CHAIR: The question has been put.

Senator CONROY: The check and balance for the New Zealand trip is that Dr Laing signed a—

CHAIR: Senator Conroy, it is not helpful—

Dr Laing : Is that not good enough for you, Senator Conroy?

Senator CONROY: No. I prefer—

CHAIR: Let us just take a deep breath for a moment.

Senator CONROY: If you want to interject and start having a political argument, you are welcome to.

CHAIR: Senator Conroy, Senator Wong has asked a question. It is entirely appropriate for the President to respond. Mr President, would you proceed with your answer.

The President: In relation to the approval of the budget for the line item for the travel for the President of the Senate, that has to be approved by the Appropriations and Staffing Committee for each budget in advance of the financial year. That is the first check.

Senator WONG: Can I stop you there are a moment. Did you advise that committee that you were seeking this system—a self-approval system with removal of concurrence of the Prime Minister? The reality is that if I had not asked this question on notice we would not be having this discussion.

The President: I believe that I have made it fairly clear to the Appropriations and Staffing Committee about the line item. There was a line item that clearly said, 'President's expenditure'.

Senator WONG: That was not my question.

The President: That is what was put to that committee.

Senator WONG: No. I was in that meeting.

The PRESIDENT: It was in the papers, also.

Senator WONG: Okay. I am sorry that in the midst of what is a very busy Senate, as we all know and as Dr Laing has reminded us, I did not read every line item in the budget and infer from that that there was a change to a 20-year-old procedure around prime ministerial office concurrence. I am sorry I missed that. But at no point have you actually told us that, and this would not have been made public had I not asked a question on notice about credit card usage.

The PRESIDENT: I think you have acknowledged, and I have said ad nauseam, how much I am seeking to be independent from the executive government. This is a part of that whole process.

The PRESIDENT: Did you not think it was appropriate to tell the committee that you were changing the procedure and going to a self-administered system?

Senator LUDWIG: It is a lot of money to go overseas.

Senator WONG: Did you not think that appropriate?

The PRESIDENT: I regard that as encompassing the whole nature of the independence. Quite frankly, I think this is a low order issue. I appreciate the questions and I am very happy to answer them, but I think it is a low order issue. I am very happy to brief the committee in more detail next time we meet. And I am happy for the committee to play a role if that is what you deem the committee needs to do.

Senator WONG: With these answers, I do not think now that we will be finishing before the break.

Proceedings suspended from 10:29 to 10:44

CHAIR: The committee will now resume. We are hearing from the Department of the Senate.

Senator WONG: Mr President, can I ask why your proposed changes to your travel entitlements were not referred to the parliamentary entitlements review.

The President: They have been.

Senator WONG: So you are implementing them ahead of the review reporting?

The President: I assume so. I presume the report has not come down yet. But yes, I have raised it with the committee examining parliamentary entitlements.

Senator WONG: Let us be very clear: you have unilaterally changed the pre-existing practice by which the Presiding Officer had to notify the Prime Minister's office and seek concurrence. You are proposing an increased travel budget as compared with your last year's travel. You are proposing a system which relies on the Presiding Officer's judgement at a time, when, with respect, the judgement of the former Speaker—and I appreciate it involved domestic travel—was obviously in the public eye. And you had done so—other than today—without discussions with any relevant Senate committee or Senate leadership.

The President: I do not agree.

Senator WONG: With which bit?

The President: Let me go through them. Firstly, in relation to the stepping outside of guidelines—as you have put it—or changing the system, that was a one-off expenditure of $4,690 from the Department of the Senate.

Senator WONG: Can I pause you there. That is not your evidence, Mr President. Your evidence is that that was as a result of you, essentially, changing the arrangements. You already have gone about doing that, because you already do not have to get concurrence—so it is not a one-off. You are proposing a fundamental change in the arrangements.

The President: I am hoping to achieve that fundamental change, that is right.

Senator WONG: You are actually giving effect to it, which we have only just discovered now. You are giving effect to it unilaterally.

The President: Let me go back also. You yourself agreed, Senator Wong, that you did not read the detail necessarily. If we are going to appreciate the busyness of life in the Senate—

Senator WONG: Let's stop there. At any point in the document or in any meeting, have you ever told the Senate that you were proposing to change a 20-year convention around the approval of travel?

The President: Yes.

Senator WONG: You say you did?

The President: Yes, because it is in the documents.

Senator WONG: That you were proposing to change a 20 year convention?

The President: I did not put it in those words—'proposing to change a 20-year convention.'

Senator WONG: I am sure you did not put it in those words.

The President: It has not been hidden.

Senator WONG: I might be wrong—I do not know—but has any senator ever heard the words come out of your mouth that you were changing this arrangement, other than in the context of this committee this morning? I do not mind a discussion about this, but please do not say, 'It's you guys' fault because you did not ask me the right questions previously, or you didn't read the fine print.' And please tell me which document that is detailed in, other than the line item for the $400,000.

The President: It is in the letter to the Prime Minister dated 15 October, which you received a copy of. It was a draft—the appropriations and staffing committee approved the draft.

Senator WONG: I do not recall that letter.

The President: Let us accept, then, that you did not understand and I was not clear enough with my articulation. I am happy to accept that.

Senator WONG: Does anybody else remember this?

The President: Look, I am happy to accept that.

Senator WONG: If you want to blame the Senate for not—

CHAIR: Order! Senator Wong!

Senator WONG: I am not happy with this.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, the President was explaining the circumstances and he was accepting some of the things you put to him.

The President: I was conceding.

CHAIR: Let him conclude his answer.

Senator WONG: He blamed us for not reading it.

The President: I am conceding to your point that were not aware, Senator Wong, and that I might not have clearly articulated. I am agreeing with you.

Senator WONG: Was any senator aware, other than you?

The President: Yes, I believe that I have been up-front and discussed this—

Senator WONG: Who knew about this? Somehow the entire opposition does not know. Who knows? Did Senator McKenzie know? Did Senator Smith know? Did Senator Bernardi know?

The President: No, this has been a matter for the appropriations and staffing committee only.

Senator WONG: Right. So, if I go to Senator Madigan, will he know?

The President: You will have to go to Senator Madigan and ask.

Senator LUDWIG: I am not on the appropriations and staffing committee, so how would I know?

Senator WONG: Was it reported to the Senate?

CHAIR: It is very difficult to blame the President for a circumstance because he has communicated to the appropriate people and you have not noticed it. It is a bit rough to do that.

Senator WONG: I am going to go back and find the email and see whether it is there and in what terms—don't you worry about that.

The President: I am conceding, for the purposes of moving forward in the debate, that I did not articulate it clearly enough. I am happy to accept that.

Senator WONG: You did not articulate it at all.

The President: I disagree with that.

Senator CONROY: Are you prepared to put it to the floor of the Senate? Are you prepared to? You are sitting here saying that it is the Senate's role for scrutiny. Are you prepared to put your proposal—

The President: Well, if the Senate wants me to.

Senator CONROY: for $250,000 of unsupervised travel for you and your spouse to the floor of the Senate? Will you draft a motion and put that motion to the floor?

The President: Firstly, let me correct your statement. I am very happy to put anything to the Senate that the Senate requires. I am very happy to actually have a zero budget if that is what the Senate requires. I am happy to do anything that the Senate requires. You are completely wrong with this unsupervised travel for me and my spouse. That is not the purpose of this at all.

Senator CONROY: It is exactly what it is.

The President: It is not unsupervised.

Senator WONG: Well, who supervises it?

Senator CONROY: Saying an employee supervises you is not going to pass the public smell test.

The President: Wouldn't you much rather have the appropriations and staffing committee allocate an amount of money—

Senator LUDWIG: No, it is not a question of what we would rather—

The President: than the Prime Minister when it comes to dealings with the Senate?

Senator WONG: So the committee that you say, which a number of us are members of—

Senator CONROY: This is an issue around travel only.

Senator WONG: The committee that you never told you were changing the arrangement in the terms that we discussed today, you say, will now have a role in approving your travel. Is that what you are saying?

The President: No, I am saying I will comply with whatever the Senate requires me to do.

Senator WONG: What are you saying about supervision? You said to Senator Conroy it is not unsupervised: I want to know who is supervising it.

The President: Well, to an effect none of my travel is ever supervised, nor is any minister's travel supervised.

Senator WONG: All right, now it is a different answer: it is never supervised anyway.

The President: In the context of 'supervised', it is the amount of expenditure. That is what Senator Conroy is insinuating.

Senator WONG: No, it was not. Senator Conroy said—

The President: Well, what does he mean by 'not supervised'?

Senator WONG: Okay, we will ask him.

Senator CONROY: No peer or person above you in an overall process is able to actually approve it. Dr Laing has made the point when she interjected before to say, 'Aren't I good enough?' In general, having an employee approve the travel of the boss is not usually considered to be an appropriate form of governance.

The President: I am happy to consider any model that you might think is deemed suitable.

Senator CONROY: So I repeat: are you prepared to put a motion about your travel to the floor of the Senate? You draft it and you put it up and ask for the approval of the Senate.

The President: I am happy to do that once my discussions with the Prime Minister's office are complete and the amount of budget itself—

Senator CONROY: But you have already implemented the new system. It is already complete.

The President: No, it is not. We are awaiting on approval for the budget to be approved. Otherwise this conversation is moot in that sense.

Senator CONROY: You have already started travelling without the Prime Minister's permission, so you are already implementing this, as Senator Wong has made the point a number of times. You have actually already abolished it yourself.

The President: That was a one-off. That was a one-off expenditure of $4,690. The Clerk has outlined why that took place.

CHAIR: And under the existing guidelines it has been made clear—

Senator CONROY: He has abolished the existing guidelines. He has implemented the new ones.

CHAIR: that it is not required because it was not a request for funds from the Department of Finance.

Senator CONROY: No, he decided to spend the department's own money as opposed to the Department of Finance's.

CHAIR: Senator Conroy, I do not want you to—

Senator CONROY: You are actually interjecting on my questions.

CHAIR: Because I do not want you to mislead the committee. The issue is that no permission was sought, because permission was not required to be sought, because it was not an acquisition or requisition of funds from the Department of Finance. Is that correct?

The President: Correct.

Senator CONROY: That does not pass the smell test, frankly, Senator Bernardi. He did not have to ask for permission because it was not sought. He dipped into the credit card.

CHAIR: I can only establish what the evidence is, and that is what it is.

Senator WONG: The evidence is that it is a different bucket of money so we did not need to seek approval.

Senator CONROY: Yes, but it is a bucket of money that he did not have approval for the travel from, because it did not include a travel component for the President, because it was paid for separately, so he dipped into the corporate credit card.

CHAIR: You are trying to mischaracterise what the evidence was previously. Now, if you would like to ask a question I would invite you to do so.

Senator WONG: Actually, he was going through my answer that he said he disagreed with.

The President: Do you mind telling me what those points were and what your questions were, Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: We might have to read back through Hansard, so this might be erroneous. You have introduced a system. You have overturned a 20-year-old system, I assert, without appropriate transparency and disclosure. At no stage has any conversation occurred such as there is here, and this is only occurring because we asked questions on notice. I preceded this by saying I understand the argument about the independence of the Senate and so forth, but the system that is proposed, without review, is one which relies on the judgement of the Presiding Officers, absent another external check and balance, at a time when one of the controversial issues where the parliament and the public have obviously been focused has been the judgement of the former Speaker.

Senator CONROY: So—

Senator WONG: Does he want to respond to it?

Senator CONROY: Did you want to respond?

The President: Yes. The 20-year-old convention was not unilaterally changed by me. It was the Speaker, myself and the current Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: I have the letter of 15 October. We can have this discussion now. Let's have this discussion.

The President: Well, do you want me to answer this question or leave that to later?

Senator WONG: Yes, you know that. And then we can go back to this.

The President: Let's go back to the letter.

Senator WONG: I have the agenda item for 15 October, which is what you rely on to suggest that we did not read stuff properly, and so it is our fault.

The President: They were your words, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: No, I think they were yours actually.

Senator CONROY: No, I think took that implication—certainly.

CHAIR: One at a time.

Senator WONG: Someone said it—I don't think it was me. It might have been the chair! I say I apologise, Mr President; it was Senator Bernardi!

Senator CONROY: Bring guidance to the committee. and your wisdom!

Senator WONG: The agenda item I was sent did not have the letter to the Prime Minister on the agenda. It was a late item in draft. In the 15 October letter to Mr Turnbull, the only aspect my staff can find in the time frame since you asserted that—so it is a whole discussion about, essentially, the independent funding model for the parliament, which you and I, and many senators, have discussed on a range of occasions; and, as I said, I have some sympathy for the principles behind that. The dot point on page 3 is, 'Transfer of certain office holder expenses with corresponding funding from the Department of Finance to the Department of the Senate.' So am I supposed to infer from that, 'By the way, that means I am now going to—'

Senator CONROY: 'Unsupervised travel for me and the spouse.'

CHAIR: Order! Senator Conroy—

Senator WONG: Is that what you are relying on, Mr President? I do regard that as a breach of good faith, frankly, if you are saying that that letter is how we all should have worked out the change in procedure that you are proposing.

The President: Plus, you were also given a copy of the proposed budget, and there was a subsequent meeting, I think, where a subsequent letter was also considered. Again, we had a lot of discussion; I can recall a lot of discussion about a budget taking place and the proposed budget documents that we were all submitting. So, yes, there was discussion there. Questions were not asked—

Senator CONROY: We did not ask the right questions, but, 'I expect you to just blindly go along with me'!

CHAIR: Order! Senator Conroy.

The President: Senator Wong, I do concede I did not articulate it in the way that you have indicated.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

The President: And I conceded that earlier on.

Senator CONROY: I am asking whether you are prepared to draft a motion to put to the chamber the specific transfer of authority from a concurrence model with the Prime Minister to your own tick-off for your and your spouse's, and for your staffs', travel—not waiting until after the Prime Minister has agreed but whether the Senate actually agrees with you putting that proposal forward on its behalf. Are you prepared to put a motion to the Senate in the first sitting week that we come back after estimates seeking approval from the Senate for the specific transference of the responsibility to move from concurrence with the Prime Minister to you approving your own travel, your spouse's travel and your staffs' travel? Are you prepared to do that—not when the Prime Minister approves it or not it could become moot; whether the principle is acceptable to the floor of the Senate?

The President: What I am now prepared to do, Senator Conroy, is be guided by the appropriations and staffing committee in relation to this matter. That comprises, basically, the leadership group of the Senate. It comprises of a Senate committee elected, but, also, every senator—every single senator—is allowed to attend an appropriations and staffing committee meeting. That is the most appropriate vehicle—

Senator CONROY: Hiding behind a process—

The President: No, no. That is not—

Senator CONROY: given what we have just had demonstrated in the letter, where you had to decipher a totally ambiguous dot point to understand that you were actually proposing to put yourself in charge of your own travel and your spouse's, and your staffs'.

The President: Which, in effect, is what I have been doing, and what every President and Speaker has done in any event. The Prime Minister has always granted concurrence.

Senator CONROY: We have agreed that you have concurrence. As has been demonstrated—I think it was Senator Hogg that you mentioned—

The President: The only one in 19 years.

Senator CONROY: That was not concurrent. But the fact that there is oversight on a governance basis usually means that people behave differently to having no oversight. It is rules of governance. Unless you want to challenge all good governance in all institutions by saying, no, you are better than everybody else and you do not need any good governance on your travel and your spouse's travel.

The President: That is a gross exaggeration, mind you. I am prepared to be guided by the appropriation—

Senator CONROY: So you are not prepared to go to the floor of the Senate and seek approval for a significant change?

The President: This is a matter for the appropriations and staffing committee. If that committee then suggests that the whole Senate needs to make a decision well that committee can make that decision.

CHAIR: Was the original determination or agreement between Senator Reid and the Prime Minister at the time ever visited on the floor of the Senate or was it just an agreement?

The President: No, was my understanding. It would get to the ridiculous stage where you put everything before the Senate. We have got to operate to some degree. Concurrence has been granted on every occasion in 19 years bar one so really the Presiding Officers, both Speaker and President, have been determining their own travel. In fact, the letter that comes back from the Prime Minister says, 'I acknowledge that the Presiding Officers have the right to determine their own travel. 'And that is in every letter.

CHAIR: The essence of it was that the denial of concurrence on the eve of the trip, which was the evidence earlier for Senator Hogg, created obviously a precedent, it created some issues, a lot of time and investment were wasted in it, and you are seeking to—

The President: And embarrassment overseas. From overseas posts there was a lot of—

CHAIR: Embarrassment overseas and also the late agreement of concurrence for subsequent requests has necessitated a review of the system.

The President: That is correct. I think it is beholden upon the President and the senior staff of the Department of the Senate and others to review matters from time to time and to implement change where necessary. If this committee wants me to take every single change to the Senate, well so be it but it would be very tiresome process.

Senator WONG: Frankly, as someone on that committee, I do not feel like we have been dealt with in good faith. I appreciate that is not your view. I read out what was put to us. You used that in this hearing to try and justify an assertion of consultation. I do not feel like I have been dealt with in good faith and if that is way the committee proceeds, we will consider our participation, frankly.

The President: I want finish on this point—it is not okay to leave things hanging. In relation to that dot point in the letter that was sent to you and in addition to the budget paper that was presented as well, basically the only expense of the President has is travel or office expenses.

Senator WONG: You can assert all you like around dot points and line items. At no stage until this hearing did anybody—I suspect anybody at all other than you—any senator understand that you were proposing this sort of change to your travel arrangements. It only came to light because we asked questions about the use of a credit card. You have a different view; that is fine. But I do not believe there was a frank transparent discussion about what you were proposing to change about your personal entitlements with the staffing committee. If the committee is not going to be run in that way, we will consider our participation in it and we will deal with things in a different way. Can I ask you a question?

The President: I would like to conclude. I do not want to leave that hanging again. I think you were out of the room when I said to Senator Conroy that I am very happy to be guided by the appropriations and staffing committee.

Senator WONG: But you have not been because you keep saying things. We were only going to ask what happened with the credit card. We then found out it was a whole change in the way the system is administered. You then seek to point the finger at us for not reading something—although maybe that was Senator Bernardi. If the committee is not going to be dealt with transparently, that is a matter for you, and I think it is to the detriment of the Senate.

The President: I think I have been more than up-front and there was been ample opportunity for people to question me on any aspect of it.

Senator WONG: You need to hear that that is not the perception or experience over here.

The President: I take it on board.

Senator WONG: Hence we have had two hours of discussion about something we were not aware of. I am now going to ask a question. I do not think it is public but I want tabled the draft letter to Mr Turnbull of 13 October. I would like tabled the formal letter to Mr Turnbull and any correspondence from Mr Turnbull to you in relation to this matter.

The President: Senator Wong, in relation to your questions, again, I am sympathetic to doing that. I will have further discussions with the Clerk about that and provide what correspondence we can.

Senator McALLISTER: I just wanted to come back round to the related—I guess adjacent—issue of the credit card and the arrangements for that. You mentioned earlier, I think, that use of the credit card by you and your senior adviser, Mr President, is governed by the guidelines which apply across the Department of the Senate. Is that correct?

The President: Yes, that is correct.

Senator McALLISTER: So I assume that they are publicly available. It would help the committee, I think, if those guidelines could be provided to us.

The President: I am sure they can be provided.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you. Dr Laing, do those guidelines translate sensibly into application for a MOPS staffer working in a parliamentary office, in as far as a departmental delegation of authority is normally targeted at the structure of that department, and the staff in question in the President's office, of course, are not subject to that structure?

CHAIR: Order!

Senator CONROY: You normally need to seek permission to photograph the event. I am sure it will be forthcoming.

CHAIR: Generally we have had an agreement in this committee that—

Senator CONROY: I just wanted to clarify. Some committees actually ask for specific permission.

CHAIR: No-one has asked me for specific permission to take photos, but—

Senator CONROY: I will move it.

CHAIR: I will seek some advice. Generally we have had an understanding that, as long as the media were confined to particular areas, this was—

Senator CONROY: I am happy to move it if there is a need. If there is no need, I—

CHAIR: I do not think it is necessary.

Senator WONG: He is being reasonably—

Senator CONROY: I am happy to.

CHAIR: I am glad you are as cooperative as you have ever been.

Dr Laing : Senator, given the interplay here, I would like to re-read your question and consider an answer. Can I give that to you on notice?

Senator McALLISTER: Yes. That is fine. Can I ask about some specific items of expenditure. The answer to question on notice 2872 indicates that $948 was incurred in postage back to Australia of conference materials and gifts received by the President during the MIKTA conference in South Korea. Can you just explain that line item?

Dr Laing : That amount was, as it says, postage of material back from the MIKTA conference. The MIKTA conference was the new interparliamentary forum that I explained earlier, comprising Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia. Normally these things are covered by the post, but this was an expense that the post would not cover, and therefore the credit card was used to pay for that postage. The fact that we do not really know what the post will cover and what they will not cover when it comes to things at the margins is another indication that there is some need to rationalise and clarify the whole system.

Senator McALLISTER: Do you have any information about why the post would not cover this particular collection of materials?

Dr Laing : No, we do not have any information. We will have a look and see if we do.

Senator McALLISTER: Can you advise the Senate what was in that collection of materials?

The President: I can. There were a lot of books and conference papers which were quite weighty. There was a very heavy brass ornament. There was some fragility, with a vase. There were a lots of other bits and pieces, but they were the key items that would have caused the cost of the freight.

Senator McALLISTER: The registry indicates the gifts that were received by the President and Mrs Parry. The ornament is shown in that registry as having been—

The President: I am just going to that now and I will be able to assist you.

Senator McALLISTER: It is the answer to question on notice 2875.

The President: Yes, the two vases from the Speaker of the Korean parliament—correct; a coffee pot from the Speaker of the Turkish parliament; and the ornament was from the Speaker of the Mexican parliament, which was very weighty. Those gifts, as listed, are correct.

Senator McALLISTER: Right. And it is your understanding that they were all posted back as part of that expense of $948?

The President: Yes, it was in one large consignment.

Senator McALLISTER: Who was the carrier for that; do you know?

The President: No.

Senator McALLISTER: Was it by courier?

The President: No—DHL.

Senator McALLISTER: Right, by courier—DHL.

Senator LUDWIG: Did post ask to post it back?

The President: I think they volunteered. It was a huge amount of volume and weight, and obviously I could not leave it there. Everything just ended up in my room and post cleaned it out and sent it back. That is my understanding.

Senator LUDWIG: No. My question was: did you ask post to send it back by DHL or did they do it on their own volition?

The President: I think they did it on their own volition. I really cannot recall. It is something I did not really get involved in. It was just done for me.

Senator LUDWIG: Perhaps you could check.

Dr Laing : Senator, I do need to check the basis of this. I have been handed some information that such postage would normally be covered by the Senate department, so I may have inadvertently misled the committee. I will have a look into exactly who covers what and advise the committee accordingly. My apologies for that.

Senator LUDWIG: Thank you.

Senator McALLISTER: Turning to some of the other items that were paid for on a credit card. Can you provide an explanation, Mr President, about why $704 was extended for diplomatic passports for yourself and your wife, and $250 for the senior adviser for an official passport?

The President: Certainly. It has been the practice of the Senate to always provide for visas and passports for the President, the President's spouse and staff.

Senator McALLISTER: That is not something that would ordinarily have been dealt with by the Department of Finance under the old arrangements that we have been discussing?

The President: No. I understand it has happened forever.

Senator McALLISTER: Is that right, Dr Laing?

Dr Laing : I do not have it in my direct knowledge. I will check that.

Senator McALLISTER: If you are able to confirm that, that would be good. Dr Laing, I think we agreed earlier that you will provide the guidelines for credit card use and perhaps provide some commentary about whether they translate directly into the circumstances where someone is working in the President's office.

Dr Laing : Yes, I will provide that.

Senator McALLISTER: I do not have any more questions on that issue.

Senator WONG: I have been given the papers for 15 October. I do recall—because we had the discussion about the ordinary annual services. There was a discussion also of the Clerk's letter to the President, which does reference this: 'In order to give you appropriate autonomy in conducting business as President of the Senate, the estimates include a sum for certain support for your office, which would no longer be a charge on the Department of Finance.' Is that what you rely on?

The President: I have conceded earlier that I have not articulated it as clear as possible. I did not think this would be a huge issue, but obviously it is and I am very happy to discuss it in more detail. I cannot offer any more than that. I have not hidden anything, but I understand it has not been articulated—

Senator WONG: Perhaps trying to suggest that we dealt with it at appropriations and staffing was unwise.

The President: Okay. We have a difference of opinion there.

Senator WONG: Which is it? Are you seriously suggesting that the things I have read out in this hearing were sufficient—

The President: Would you like me to read the whole letter? The whole letter contains the whole thrust of the independence of the parliament and the independence of financing.

Senator WONG: You see the difficulty is, Mr President, you conflate an issue we did discuss on a number of occasions, which is the independence of the parliament, with a unilateral decision by you without taking fellow senators through it or this committee, or the appropriations and staffing committee—

Senator CONROY: Or the floor of the Senate.

Senator WONG: or the Senate generally, that you would then remove any concurrence arrangement in relation to your travel, that you would become the sole decision maker on your travel. You conflate those two propositions and we do not accept that.

The President: I accept what you are saying and I am happy to have a detailed discussion in the future about these matters.

Senator WONG: Why don't we table all the letters, and people can make their own judgement?

The President: As I said, I have taken that on board. I am sympathetic to that. I am more sympathetic to discussing and tabling those within the appropriations and staffing committee, which any senator is entitled to attend—

Senator WONG: No. I have asked for them to be tabled here—

The President: And I will consider that.

Senator WONG: This came to light here. It did not come to light at the appropriations committee, because it was not raised by you. It was not disclosed that you were proposing this change in procedure.

The President: I have said I will take that on board.

Senator CONROY: Can I be clear: you are refusing to allow the floor of the Senate to draft a motion so that the floor of the Senate can pass a view on whether or not you should be in charge of supervising your travel, your staff's travel and your spouse's travel?

The President: I will discuss that with the appropriations and staffing committee.

Senator CONROY: No, I am asking you whether you are prepared to put it to the floor and seek the approval—

CHAIR: The President has given an answer already.

Senator CONROY: Otherwise, I will take that as a 'no'.

The President: I am not going to be doing it next week, if that is what you are asking.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions. I am just seeking some guidance here—

Senator WONG: Yes, I had questions about the security review. Were you going to do those?

Senator LUDWIG: Yes.

CHAIR: We will move on to the security review.

Senator LUDWIG: Senator Bernardi, in supplementary budget estimates you asked about an APH security review, which I was going to follow-up on. It was question on notice No. 64. According to the answer it was commissioned by the Attorney-General's Department and included representatives from the Department of Parliamentary Services. It is to Black Rod—do you have the answer to question on notice No. 64? It would be helpful if you have it before you.

Ms Callinan : Yes I do.

Senator LUDWIG: Do you know why the office of the Prime Minister was represented on the security review but not the opposition, or senators, members or representatives from the Department of the Senate and the Department of the House of Representatives?

Ms Callinan : This review was conducted in early September of 2014. As it says, the review was conducted by the Attorney-General's Department, with the participation of the AFP and the Department of Parliamentary Services. I was not involved in that review and I do not have any knowledge about decisions made as to who would participate in the review.

Senator LUDWIG: Did you know about the review at the time?

Ms Callinan : Yes, I was informed that the security review was taking place, after the decisions were made to have the review conducted.

Senator LUDWIG: Did you inquire why you were not included in the review itself, given that you, as I understand it, are in charge of security for the Senate?

Ms Callinan : The review was conducted at a time following the increase in the national threat level. My understanding of the review is that it was a fairly technical review of the security arrangements within Parliament House and the operational methods in place in Parliament House. Because of the technical nature of the review I would not have expected to have been asked to participate in the review process itself.

Senator LUDWIG: You are not seriously telling me you could not get your head around the technical detail of a security review of the Senate?

Ms Callinan : I am just indicating that the decision to undertake the review was made by people other than myself. I did not participate in that decision making. I was not invited to participate in the review. I would like to think I might have had something to contribute had I then asked to participate, but that was not the circumstance at the time.

Senator LUDWIG: So the Serjeant-at-Arms was not there, either?

Ms Callinan : No, that is right.

Senator LUDWIG: So, no-one from the Senate or the House participated in a security review, where both the Serjeant-at-Arms and you are in charge of security of both houses of parliament? I find it extraordinary, quite frankly, that you have a security review and leave off the two people who are head of security of the two houses of parliament.

Ms Callinan : As I said, I was not involved in the decision-making as to who would comprise that review body.

Senator LUDWIG: You already have a Security Management Board to handle matters relating to the security of Parliament House?

Ms Callinan : Yes.

Senator LUDWIG: Was that represented on the security review at all?

Ms Callinan : The Security Management Board itself did not participate in the review. The Department of Parliamentary Services participated in the review, and that department is also on Security Management Board.

The President: And the Australian Federal Police.

Senator LUDWIG: Yes, but they are not in charge of the security of the Senate or the House of Representatives.

The President: No, but they are on the Security Management Board.

Senator LUDWIG: Yes.

The President: Which is your question.

Senator LUDWIG: Was a reason given as to why the review was handled separately from the Security Management Board itself? The reason I am asking the question is that I find it odd that you have the Black Rod and Serjeant-at-Arms in charge of security and you have the Security Management Board, and then you have a separate review by the Attorney-General, with the AFP on it, but do not include the Serjeant-at-Arms or the Black Rod, and you do not involve the Security Management Board, or in fact you do not have the review by the Security Management Board. Can someone enlighten me as to why?

The President: We went through this last estimates, but I am happy to recap. It was not a review. It was a collection of government departments that were going to be responsible for the implementation of a capital works program. It did relate to security, but it was a capital works program. We agreed last time that it would have been ideal to have the Serjeant-at-Arms and Black Rod attend, but they now do attend. Since that last estimates hearing, the Black Rod and the Serjeant-at-Arms have attended every task force meeting. So this estimates process picked up a slight flaw and we amended it straight away.

Senator LUDWIG: So you do now have the technical skills to participate in a task force. That is wonderful in hear.

The President: Black Rod has always had the technical skills—

Senator LUDWIG: That is what I would have thought.

The President: That's right. And does her job superbly well.

Senator LUDWIG: I concur absolutely, and I am astonished as to why both the Serjeant-at-Arms and the Black Rod were not included in the original review.

The President: Because we deemed it to be mostly capital works, but we picked it up—

Senator LUDWIG: Capital works are about providing huge fences, guard posts and all sorts of things additional to the security for Parliament House.

The President: I listened to the estimates last time and changed it straight away. I do not think we can get a better result than that.

Senator LUDWIG: The answer given to Senator Bernardi indicated that the Australian Parliament House Security Upgrade Implementation Plan Version 2.0 is a classified document. Is that still the case?

The President: My understanding—and the chair of the committee may be able to assist me here—is that a private briefing pertaining to that document was given to this committee. Is that correct? I understand that the Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services, or the Acting Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services, with security people, met with the committee in private.

CHAIR: Mr President, I am going to have to examine the diary, but we have had many private briefings in regard to the security, particularly late last year. I could not confirm that, but it may be one of a number of private briefings that we did have. You may in fact have been there, Senator Ludwig.

Senator LUDWIG: The question I was then going to ask is whether the Black Rod or the President have seen version 2.0 of the plan?

The President: Yes.

Ms Callinan : Yes.

Senator LUDWIG: I will not pursue the private briefing issue.

CHAIR: We can confirm that.

Senator LUDWIG: This is a public hearing so I do not want to add anything to it.

CHAIR: We are hoping to move on to the PBO relatively soon. Given the facilitation of that we will get onto DPS prior to lunch, but it is highly unlikely we will get to Parliamentary Service Commissioner before lunch.

Senator LUDWIG: One final question, but I do not want to labour it overly. Mr President, you were aware of the capital works program, you are aware that it was a security upgrade, you are aware that there were going to be significant works to Parliament House, and that there was significant expenditure, and that it would then have security implications for both the Senate and the House. I am a bit surprised you did not insist that the Black Rod or the Serjeant-at-Arms participate in that review. It there a reason you did not?

The President: They were not excluded—I think I mentioned this last time—but they were not included. I agreed with you last time that it is something that should have happened and it was implemented from the last estimates. I cannot add any further to that.