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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee - 23/02/2015 - Estimates - PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO - Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

[13:36]

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

Senator Abetz: No, I do not, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you. Ms Cross, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Ms Cross : No, thank you.

CHAIR: Ms Kelly, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Ms Kelly : No, thank you.

CHAIR: Excellent. Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: Thank you. So where is the department? Are you hiding them all in the other room?

Senator Abetz: These officials are here to answer questions and if they need assistance I am sure they will be asking for that assistance.

Senator WONG: So Ms Kelly or Ms Cross, who made the decision that fewer departmental officers would actually attend the hearing?

Ms Cross : No decision was taken along those lines, Senator. We have got people here and, depending on which direction your questions move in, we can bring—

Senator WONG: It is very unusual; it is very empty behind you. It would not be because you have suggested that to anyone, would it, Ms Kelly?

Senator SMITH: The officer is very quiet.

Ms Kelly : No, Senator. I think Ms Cross has answered the question. There are not many of you either, Senator, I notice.

Senator WONG: Oh no. I think Senator Ludwig is busy pursuing a public servant who might have given an incorrect answer.

Senator Abetz: Let us be agreed: we have got two quality women there and two quality women on either side of me. Let's get started.

Senator SMITH: And two gentlemen here, Senator Abetz.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Senator Abetz, I am not really sure what the gender issue is.

Senator Abetz: If I were to say 'people', they would say, 'Why can't you mention women?' It is no-win when people have these chips on their shoulders.

CHAIR: I think we have skirted around this issue.

Senator Abetz: Well done; I like that.

Senator WONG: I suppose my answer to Ms Kelly would be that we are not here to answer questions; I need to ask them, which is an obvious one.

Senator Abetz: And we are here to help.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, the Prime Minister in his press conference of 9 February said a number of things. One of the things he said was, 'I've listened, I've learnt and I've changed, and the government will change with me.' Can you tell me how the Prime Minister has changed?

Senator Abetz: The Prime Minister is an exceptionally capable and good individual. Sometimes the good gets even better, and that is what the Prime Minister has committed himself to doing—to be, as he said publicly, more consultative with the backbench and with the community.

Senator WONG: So is the 'I've changed' being more consultative with the backbench and the community?

Senator Abetz: Amongst many other things, I am sure.

Senator WONG: What are the other things?

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice, and I am sure we will be able to provide you with a detailed list.

Senator WONG: You need to take on notice how the Prime Minister has changed?

Senator Abetz: There are so many good things to talk about, Senator, that it is very hard to recall them all immediately.

Senator WONG: You have to take on notice how the Prime Minister has changed?

Senator Abetz: No. I have already mentioned two examples.

Senator WONG: Okay. So you say more consultative with the backbench and more consultative with the community. Is that right?

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator WONG: He goes on to say that the 'government will change'. Can you tell me how the government has changed?

Senator Abetz: In exactly those ways that the Prime Minister said, of being more consultative.

Senator WONG: With whom?

Senator Abetz: With the community.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly or Ms Cross, have these changes been expressed to you in terms of what the expectations of the Prime Minister's own department now are?

Senator Abetz: In the commentary by the Prime Minister you should not interpret that as in any way being a criticism of the department, but rather the style of government. That was a self-reflection on the government and not on the public service.

Senator WONG: I was not being critical of the department. You said that the Prime Minister is going to be more consultative with the community and the backbench, and the government is going to be more consultative with the community and the backbench. This is the Prime Minister's department. I am wondering, Ms Cross, if there has been any direction to you about any change to how you operate that reflects this change.

Ms Cross : I do not think there has been any direction.

Senator WONG: Since 9 February has there been any change in how you operate?

Ms Kelly : I am reluctant to be drawn into a characterisation of particular actions. I am happy to answer questions in relation to any specific matters you might want to raise.

Senator WONG: You, Ms Cross, I think hooked up onto the term 'directed'. Can I find a value-neutral verb to describe communication. Has there been any communication to the department to implement more consultation?

Ms Cross : We are aware of the comments the Prime Minister made publicly, and obviously we are always attempting to be responsive to the Prime Minister in the way he wishes to operate, but there has been no communication that I am aware of about the department therefore changing its way of operating.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, the Prime Minister went on to say there have been 'significant internal changes with cabinet processes'. What are the changes to which the Prime Minister referred?

Senator Abetz: The way that cabinet operates is largely a matter for the Prime Minister and cabinet. I am willing to take that on notice just to see how much the Prime Minister is willing to divulge as to what has changed in that regard.

Senator WONG: The issue there is that it is the Prime Minister who has divulged this. The Prime Minister stood up in front of the nation—

Senator Abetz: That is right—

Senator WONG: And he announced with great fanfare that he is a changed man, his government is a changed entity and the cabinet process has changed. So he has chosen to put that into the public arena. I am simply asking what those changes are?

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice to ensure that you get the appropriate response.

Senator WONG: Well, let's ask a couple of things. Has the Prime Minister's chief of staff ceased attending cabinet?

Senator Abetz: In am not going to go down the track of who and who does not attend cabinet. We have had these discussions in the past.

Senator WONG: Do you tell your backbench who attends cabinet?

Senator Abetz: I am not sure that—

Senator WONG: Would Senator Smith or Senator Bernardi know if Ms Credlin attends cabinet?

Senator Abetz: I do not know what they know, other than they are both very capable individuals. I do not know what they may or may not know in that regard.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Is either them a chair of a coalition policy committee?

Senator SMITH: I am.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Well, you have not received your invitation yet.

Senator SMITH: I would not disclose it if I had.

Senator WONG: In this estimates you were never willing to say whether or not Ms Credlin attended cabinet meetings, because you said that was some state secret. Plenty of your colleagues have expressed that to the paper, but clearly the Senate does not count in terms of accountability when it comes to this government. Leaving that aside, you are now no longer willing to say whether or not she does not attend. Do I have it right?

Senator Abetz: You tried to verbal me and made a whole lot of commentary.

Senator WONG: Which bit is the verballing?

Senator Abetz: At the very beginning of your gratuitous commentary. What I have said, and I believe consistently, is that I have not divulged who attends and therefore who does not attend cabinet.

Senator WONG: Has the party room been advised as to whether or not the Prime Minister's chief of staff—

Senator Abetz: Once again, what is said in the party room is not going to be divulged here.

Senator WONG: Has the Prime Minister or his office advised the backbench as to whether or not his chief of staff will or will not attend cabinet meetings?

Senator Abetz: Whether that has or has not occurred once again is not an issue that I am going to canvass here.

Senator WONG: So you do not want to tell us who attends cabinet—staff members—and whether Ms Credlin stopped? It is in the papers, and if you want to correct it you should do so.

Senator Abetz: You can read the gossip columns and believe what you like. I am not going to indicate one way or the other who attends cabinet meetings.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, regarding a number of the questions you are asking, you know it is not appropriate for the minister to answer, and he has provided the answer to this question.

Senator WONG: Do you think it is appropriate to answer whether a staff member attends cabinet?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, you have asked questions in regard to the Liberal party room and about internal communications to backbench senators.

Senator WONG: That is true, but it is only because he will not talk about cabinet—

CHAIR: It is inappropriate in this forum. The minister has given his answer, so I would ask you to move on.

Senator WONG: Does the Prime Minister's office still vet draft cabinet submissions?

Ms Cross : I doubt that we would comment on the internal operations of the Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: Okay. Is there a requirement that departments provide draft cabinet submissions by their minister to the Prime Minister's office before they are lodged? You can talk about this.

Ms Kelly : I might get Mr Fox, the head of the cabinet division, to assist us.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Is this your first estimates, Mr Fox?

Mr Fox : No.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The first at which you have come forward to the table?

Mr Fox : No.

Senator WONG: We are talking about cabinet procedures. So perhaps the easiest way is for you to tell me, first, whether the Cabinet Handbook on the PM&C website reflects current cabinet practices?

Mr Fox : The cabinet handbook on the website is dated 2012, I believe. It will be updated, but it does reflect, mostly, current practice, but not 100 per cent.

Senator WONG: It is only the federal cabinet. We would not want to have the procedures clear!

Mr Fox : There have been some changes introduced, as I think you were discussing earlier. Those have not yet been reflected in your quoted handbook.

Senator WONG: Let's be clear about it. Until the Prime Minister announced changes, on 9 February, did the Cabinet Handbook on the website from 2012—that is, under the former government—reflect cabinet process?

Mr Fox : Yes.

Senator WONG: So what are the changes that have been introduced to which you and I have both referred?

Mr Fox : I think the minister took some of those on notice.

Senator WONG: No, he took on notice the changes to the Prime Minister's character and behaviour, not changes to the cabinet process.

Senator Abetz: I think I also said that I would take that on notice—the things that are in the public domain. For example, that there will be more meetings of the full ministry.

Senator WONG: I am not asking about the content of submissions. I would express to Mr Fox and Ms Kelly, and perhaps to Mr Thorley that I do regard there as having been a very significant diminution of the willingness to answer a range of legitimate questions of this estimates committee, since September 2013. I am asking about process.

Senator Abetz: Please. That is just a ludicrous proposition.

Senator WONG: I am asking about process. I am not asking which submissions and the content of them. But, routinely in these committees, these process questions have been asked and answered, including whether something had gone to cabinet. So I want to know—

Senator Abetz: Like the live cattle export, which Senator Ludwig well recalls.

Senator WONG: So I would like to know what the changes are—

Senator Abetz: How much were we told?

CHAIR: It will facilitate proceedings if, while the question is being put, the officers and minister remain silent.

Senator Abetz: That is terribly lengthy, Chair, but I accept your recommendation.

CHAIR: Yes, and you may give a terribly lengthy response, if that is what you want.

Senator WONG: What are the changes to cabinet process that are not reflected in the current draft of the handbook?

Mr Fox : A number of changes have been introduced. The first of those is that there has been a new process introduced called a 'first-pass' submission to cabinet. You may remember from government that there has been something similar to that with respect to a number of Defence items, but this introduces a new process that allows the cabinet to consider major policy developments before committing significant resources to the projects. It is a much shorter overview of proposals that are in place and requires the minister to seek the cabinet's agreement for further development of those policies. As with most cabinet things, authority to bring forward a first-pass process is provided by the cabinet or through correspondence from the Prime Minister. The first pass papers are much shorter that a full submission. They have much fewer attachments, for example. That is probably the major change. We have also revised the templates for cabinet submissions to make them much simpler, much less dense and much less repetitive than had been the case previously. We have also revised the time frames to maximise the number of submissions that are available within the time frames that are set out in our circulars—about five working days before a meeting.

Senator WONG: You have revised the time frames?

Mr Fox : Yes.

Senator WONG: Which way?

Mr Fox : We have revised the time frames to require submissions to be circulated five working days before a meeting. If they do not meet those time lines they are not considered at that particular meeting.

Senator WONG: How is that a revision? Was it three?

Mr Fox : Sorry, I think I said three, but it was a mistake. I meant five.

Senator WONG: How is it a revision? What has changed?

Mr Fox : The time frames.

Senator WONG: What was it previously?

Mr Fox : They have been made shorter.

Senator WONG: It used to be 10?

Mr Fox : I beg your pardon, let me say it again: the time frames are being more strictly adhered to to ensure that submissions that are not compliant with those time frames are not listed for a particular cabinet meeting.

Senator WONG: Was there anything else, before I go back to ask some questions about this?

Mr Fox : No, those are the main changes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Can I just clarify one point here. These changes you are referring to here are the changes that the Prime Minister recently announced?

Mr Fox : These date back to November last year.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So they would have been the subject of some of the media reporting around about 13 December?

Mr Fox : That is correct.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: What are the other significant changes since the handbook was first established, back in 2012, relating to the current workings of the cabinet?

Mr Fox : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: These were changes in November 2014—the ones you have just outlined? Is that right?

Mr Fox : Yes.

Senator WONG: Have there been any changes to cabinet process that have been made, or are intended to be made, subsequent to the Prime Minister's press conference of 9 February?

Mr Fox : To cabinet processes? No, not from the PM&C side.

Senator WONG: The first pass and second pass are a little like the Defence acquisition decision-making process?

Mr Fox : Only in the sense of there being two passes in there. Although the Defence first-pass submissions go into much greater detail than the ones we are contemplating here.

Senator WONG: So you have taken on notice what changes there are to cabinet process under the new government in addition to the ones you have given evidence about?

Mr Fox : I think, specifically, Senator Collins asked what other differences there are between the cabinet handbook in 2012 and now, and I just do not have that with me.

Senator WONG: That is fine. But your evidence is that there has been nothing implemented in terms of change or no process of implementation of any change commenced since the beginning of February?

Mr Fox : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Senator Collins went to this. There has also been a public commitment that a cabinet meeting will be held with backbench committee chairs. Has such a meeting been held?

Mr Fox : No, it has not, yet.

Senator WONG: Is there one diarised?

Mr Fox : Yes.

Senator WONG: May I ask when for?

Mr Fox : I think Senator Smith may have alluded to receiving an invitation recently.

Senator SMITH : Just to be clear, I gave absolutely no indication of when or if a meeting was being held yet.

Mr Fox : I am sorry.

Senator WONG: He has not had an invite.

Senator SMITH : I would not know. I would not disclose it here.

CHAIR: The evidence was that he would not disclose whether he had or not, and so I would hate you to verbal Senator Smith.

Senator SMITH : I am not yet on that side of the fence.

Senator WONG: A date has been set?

Mr Fox : Yes, my understanding is that that is happening today.

Senator WONG: That meeting is happening today? There you go.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Six times a year, I think.

Senator WONG: Is it a regular thing?

Mr Fox : I do not know the detail of exactly when those will be.

Senator WONG: Who makes that decision?

Mr Fox : The Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: How were informed that today would be a backbench plus cabinet meeting?

Mr Fox : We were advised that because we have an attendant who basically controls people going in and out of the cabinet room, and we had been advised that, for this afternoon's meeting, the chairs of backbench policy committees would—

Senator WONG: Who advised you?

Mr Fox : The Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: Who in the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Fox : I think it was the Cabinet Secretary. I do not know

Senator WONG: Remind me who the Cabinet Secretary is again?

Mr Fox : Matt Stafford is the Cabinet Secretary.

Senator WONG: Is Mr Stafford a MOP staffer or a public servant?

Mr Fox : I think we have provided an answer before.

Senator WONG: I have just forgotten; I am sorry.

Mr Fox : He is a MOP staffer.

Senator WONG: Obviously, there a range of things in the Cabinet Handbook about access to material and so forth. Will backbench chairs have access to cabinet material?

Mr Fox : Not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: Will this be a normal cabinet meeting, with PM&C officials attending, or not?

Mr Fox : No, it would be in the political part of the conversation.

Senator WONG: Okay The Cabinet Handbook, from memory, has a section which deals with the role of the Cabinet Secretary. Obviously, under the previous government, it was a minister—correct?

Mr Fox : That is right.

Senator WONG: Is that role, when performed by a staff member, the same as when it was performed by a minister?

Mr Fox : In many ways, yes, but of course, being a staffer rather than a member of the executive, the Cabinet Secretary cannot actually exercise executive decision-making authority.

Senator WONG: That was a role you performed, Mr Fox, wasn't it?

Mr Fox : I was acting in that role for some months, yes.

Senator WONG: While you were a MOP staffer?

Mr Fox : It was a combination of departmental staffer and then MOP staffer.

Senator WONG: Which came first?

Mr Fox : Departmental.

Senator WONG: Then you were a MOP staffer?

Mr Fox : Yes. I acted in the role from—I think there are questions on notice answering this—September to December as a departmental officer under the rules that allow those comments, and then I transferred under the MOP(S) Act from December through to May.

Senator WONG: Now you are?

Mr Fox : A departmental official.

Senator WONG: In relation to my cabinet-in-confidence question about backbench chairs, you said, I think, 'Not to my knowledge,' or, 'Not that I'm aware of.' I do not want to put words in your mouth, but I think you were not sure. Can you take that on notice as to whether or not they will have access to cabinet-in-confidence material. I am just asking you to take it on notice.

Mr Fox : I can certainly say that we in the Cabinet Secretariat have not been asked to make available any such documents to backbench chairs, so the answer to the question is no, not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: You do not want to take it on notice? All right, I will ask the minister. Could you take on notice whether or not the backbench chairs will have access to any cabinet-in-confidence material. I understand Mr Fox to be saying, from the department's perspective, the answer is no. Is that right?

Mr Fox : That is correct.

Senator Abetz : Happy to take it on notice.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me why the Cabinet Handbook has not been updated?

Mr Fox : No, I do not have any particular answer. We have provided a draft—

Senator WONG: It is your responsibility.

Mr Fox : We have made some revisions to the draft, but it has not been finalised.

Senator WONG: When did you make those?

Mr Fox : I cannot give you a precise date. I will have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: After the change of government, was there any change to the Cabinet Handbook contemplated?

Mr Fox : Yes.

Senator WONG: You were, at that point, Cabinet Secretary?

Mr Fox : Acting, yes.

Senator WONG: Did you do anything about those changes?

Mr Fox : I am not sure that I should answer questions about my role as a MOP staffer.

Senator WONG: You can answer questions about the cabinet handbook, Mr Fox.

Mr Fox : I can certainly say that since I returned to the department, we have provided a draft update to the cabinet handbook to reflect those changes that I have taken you through earlier. From memory, that was late last year.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me: was any draft provided by the department prior to that draft being provided post-September 2013?

Ms Kelly : I will have to take that on notice and check for you.

Senator WONG: Does anybody know? It is a cabinet handbook. If there was another draft, surely there would be somebody who knows—maybe in one of the rooms?

Ms Kelly : We will make that inquiry.

Senator WONG: Thank you; I appreciate that.

CHAIR: Minister, I am going to direct this to you. Senator Wong has been asking questions about cabinet processes. Are you able to contrast existing cabinet processes versus those of the previous government?

Senator WONG: Ours is the one on the website.

Senator Abetz : The fact that Senator Wong and Senator Collins both laugh indicates to everybody what a mockery they made of the cabinet process. Mr Rudd was the great exemplar of that with some of his decisions and the lack of consultation, as Senator Ludwig would be able to attest to in relation to live exports, done by way of a knee-jerk reaction. Then we have all the wonderful stories about the Home Insulation Program, and the list goes on. I had restrained myself, Chair, until you provoked me with that question, and I will try to desist. Can I say that I do not think it is necessarily the Labor Party's strong suit to be trying to talk about cabinet process.

CHAIR: I think that completes that area.

Senator WONG: Mr Fox, can I just ask you to take something on notice? Can you give me the date on which the draft was provided to the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Fox : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that. I assume it has only been provided once, or has it been provided and redrafted and provided again?

Mr Fox : We have only provided it once, although there may well have been a couple of drafting changes in the meantime as well.

Senator WONG: On notice, I would like to understand the dates on which a draft was provided and any subsequent redraft was received and then re-provided.

Mr Fox : I will take that on notice.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS : Just following up on a couple of issues Senator Wong partly covered—full ministry meetings. The Prime Minister has indicated that they will occur more frequently. Can you advise us how frequently they are envisaged?

Mr Fox : My understanding is that those are going to be roughly every two months.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS : Are they going to coincide with the sessions involving our MP policy committee chairs?

Mr Fox : No, not necessarily.

Senator Abetz : They are separate meetings.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS : This is what I am clarifying. They are envisaged to be separate meetings. In the past, I have asked questions about the cabinet committee process and the cabinet committees that were established. Can you tell me if there have been any changes to the nature or number of cabinet committees?

Mr Fox : Can you clarify from when?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS : I think the last time we had this discussion would have been when you were in your period as acting cabinet secretary, so it is a while ago now—12 months.

Mr Fox : Subject to clarification on that timing, perhaps since that time the revenue review committee that had previously existed no longer exists, and the issues that it dealt with will be dealt with by the Expenditure Review Committee. There has also been established a service delivery and coordination committee of the cabinet since that time. The full list of the committees as currently constituted is the full cabinet, of course. There is the Expenditure Review Committee, which incorporates some of the functions of the previous revenue review committee. There is the service delivery and coordination committee that I just mentioned. There is a governance committee, a national infrastructure committee, the National Security Committee and the Parliamentary Business Committee.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So you still do not have some of the broader policy-related committees that existed in previous cabinets?

Mr Fox : No, the six that I just mentioned are the only ones that exist.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Now it seems we are going to be relying on party political committee representation in cabinet processes?

Senator Abetz: You cannot come to that conclusion at all. There may well be ad hoc meetings to deal with particular policy issues which involve a number of ministers, just as a hypothetical example, so you cannot jump to the conclusion that you have sought to jump to.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Senator Abetz, I am not jumping to any conclusions, I am just quite intrigued about how the party political process is going to engage with the executive process because it seemed a quite novel and quite new proposition that the Prime Minister had announced publicly.

Senator Abetz: You either have a terribly, terribly short memory and think that Australian history started on, what was it, 8 September 2013, but I would just ask you to reflect on the previous six years, and then ask that question again with a straight face—you will not be able to.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I can say with quite a straight face, with 20 years in this parliament I am not aware of Labor Party policy committees participating in cabinet processes.

Senator WONG: That is true.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: It is a new phenomenon. But I am happy to move on.

Senator Abetz: What? So your cabinet never consulted with backbenchers to ventilate policy ideas and issues? That might say a lot about 'Captain Wacky' and how he used to run the show.

Senator WONG: Chair, you are going to let that stand?

CHAIR: Who is Captain Wacky?

Senator Abetz: I withdraw to make it easier, let us keep going—

Senator WONG: Actually, that is a good point. That is a very good point.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes, that is a very good point—

Senator WONG: It could be the incumbent, that is true; he could be talking about the incumbent, that is true—I agree with you Senator Bernardi.

CHAIR: We are all drawing different conclusions about who Captain Wacky is—

Senator WONG: No worries Senator Bernardi—I am amused by your failure to defend the Prime Minister.

CHAIR: 'Captain' is a non-gender specific term, I would point out.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Alright, Chair. Minister, can you inform us why the Prime Minister filled a 19- rather than 20-member cabinet?

Senator Abetz: Sorry, 19 rather than 20? So what is the criticism here, smaller government?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, I am asking the reason. Is it so that Peta Credlin could attend?

Senator Heffernan interjecting

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Heffernan. We do not need that from the back stalls.

Senator Heffernan interjecting

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Heffernan, you can join the table if you would like to. The question was put to Senator Abetz.

Senator Abetz: Which I have answered.

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister also announced changes to the staff appointment process. What are those changes?

Senator Abetz: There are different personnel on it—

Senator WONG: On what?

Senator Abetz: On the staff committee.

Senator WONG: The government staffing committee?

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator WONG: So the personnel have changed?

Senator Abetz: Yes, personnel changes. What was your question again?

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister announced that there would be changes to staff appointments. I am asking what those changes are.

Senator Abetz: The changes are that positions of adviser and above need to go through the staff committee, whereas before it was also below that category. Minister Andrews chairs that committee, and the Special Minister of State is a member.

Senator WONG: Is that a change?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Surely that is not a change.

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: I will get my staff to get the previous evidence. I might come back to this because I think we have had evidence previously about who was on the committee. What I would like to know is what has changed about who was on the committee. I am happy to come back to it. I am flagging—hopefully my office and perhaps yours—that we might return to this. I will move on to a different topic at the moment. I regret, Ms Cross, that I should have said at the outset to please pass on our congratulations to Mr Thawley on his appointment.

Ms Cross : Certainly.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me who in his absence becomes the acting secretary, or do you rotate?

Ms Cross : If he is absent?

Senator WONG: Yes. If he is overseas, is it you or Ms Kelly?

Ms Cross : It would normally be Dr McCarthy. If Dr McCarthy was not available, it would be me, and if I am not available, it would be Ms Kelly.

Senator WONG: Right. So that is an established thing as opposed to a sort of rotating—

Ms Cross : Yes.

Ms Kelly : It is a standing delegation.

Senator WONG: Okay.

Ms Kelly : It was authorised by the Prime Minister at the commencement of this government.

Senator WONG: Is that normal?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Because in some departments you delegate each time.

Ms Kelly : To avoid having to go each time, if the secretary is unavailable there is a standing delegation put in place.

Senator WONG: Fair enough. It is Dr McCarthy, Ms Cross and then Ms Kelly. Has Dr McCarthy's title changed again?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: So deputy secretary, national security and international policy?

Ms Cross : No, she is the associate secretary.

Senator WONG: Is there a deputy secretary, national security and international policy?

Ms Cross : Yes, that would be Mr Allan McKinnon.

Senator WONG: One of five deputy secretaries?

Ms Kelly : Seven.

Senator WONG: Seven. We have got seven deputy secretaries?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: How many associate secretaries?

Ms Kelly : That includes the associate secretaries.

Senator WONG: Right.

Ms Cross : That includes the Indigenous Affairs Group as well.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: How many are associates as opposed to deputies?

Ms Kelly : Two.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So it is the secretary, two associates and four deputies?

Ms Kelly : No. That is two associate secretaries and five deputy secretaries.

Senator WONG: Public service travel—what is the arrangement for authorisation as to public service travel? Who authorises travel?

Senator Abetz: I think the departmental secretary—correct me if I am wrong—up to $20,000 and the relevant minister for anything above. I am going from memory.

Senator WONG: Is that right?

Ms Kelly : Is that in relation to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or in relation to the rest of government?

Senator WONG: Let's do both.

Ms Kelly : The Prime Minister wrote to all ministers on 18 November 2013 setting out the approval requirements. As the minister has indicated, travel under $20,000 is approved by secretaries or agency heads and delegated below that level. Travel between $20,000 and $50,000 is approved by cabinet ministers. Travel over $50,000 is approved by cabinet ministers after consulting the Prime Minister in writing.

Senator WONG: Those figures include accommodation and airfares? Is that a global cost?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Have there been any changes to that since the government changed?

Ms Kelly : Yes, there has been a recent change where the Prime Minister advised cabinet ministers that it will no longer be necessary for ministers to consult the Prime Minister on officials' overseas travel.

Senator WONG: Officials' overseas travel; so not their own but yours?

Ms Kelly : Officials' overseas travel.

Senator WONG: No matter what the cost?

Ms Kelly : There is no longer a requirement to consult.

Senator WONG: When did that change come into place?

Ms Kelly : It is a recent change. I am sorry but I do not have the exact date—but it is a recent change.

Senator WONG: This year?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Was it before or after—

Ms Kelly : It may well be that the guidelines on the Department of Finance website will give you the date. I can have that date checked for you.

Senator WONG: I would appreciate that. Was this before or after Mr Fraser expressed his concern about micromanagement from the hill and, in particular, the requirement that international travel for a public service delegation costing more than $50,000 had to be approved by the Prime Minister's office?

Ms Kelly : As I have indicated, I do not know the exact date, but I will get that information.

Senator WONG: Was Mr Fraser's concern raised with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Ms Kelly : Not with me—not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: Were you asked to provide advice about the change prior to it occurring?

Ms Kelly : In relation to the changes to the guidelines, I do believe that, following the Prime Minister's announcement, staff consulted with the Department of Finance about making the change to guidelines.

Senator WONG: PM&C staff?

Ms Kelly : Yes. My staff would have worked with the Department of Finance in order to change the guidelines.

Senator WONG: Were your staff advised of this before the announcement? I understand that you had to give effect to it, but were you advised before it was made?

Ms Kelly : I would have to take that on notice. I do not know the exact dates.

Senator WONG: Do you know if Mr Fraser raised the concerns which have been reported with Mr Thawley?

Ms Kelly : Not to my knowledge—not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: Please take that on notice.

Ms Kelly : I will.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, do you know if Mr Fraser raised it with the Prime Minister's office or the Prime Minister?

Senator Abetz: No, I do not.

Senator WONG: Can you take that on notice?

Senator Abetz: I will.

Senator WONG: I turn to the Government Staffing Committee. Senator Abetz, you were going to get advice on the changes to the GSC.

Senator Abetz: Minister Andrews and the Special Minister of State have always been members.

Senator WONG: I was asking you what changes have been made.

Senator Abetz: The chief of staff and deputy chief of staff used to be members. It is now a senior staff member from the PMO—but neither of those.

Senator WONG: The Deputy Prime Minister's chief of staff used to be on the committee. Is he still on?

Senator Abetz: He remains.

Senator WONG: The Deputy Prime Minister's chief of staff but not the Prime Minister's chief of staff?

Senator Abetz: That is it.

Senator WONG: I have some questions about knights and dames. I want to start with some process questions. I assume that is the first assistant secretary?

Ms Kelly : If you ask your questions, I am happy to assist you.

Senator WONG: I have asked for the first assistant secretary.

Senator Abetz: No.

Senator WONG: What is the problem, Ms Kelly?

Senator Abetz: No, the staff at the table will seek to answer the questions and, if need be, they will call other staff to assist them.

Senator WONG: Why do you not want the first assistant secretary to come to the table?

Senator Abetz: If you like, you can direct all questions to me. That is the way—

Senator WONG: No, I am asking why Ms Kelly does not want an officer at the table.

Senator Abetz: Excuse me—I was not allowed to interrupt you before, Senator.

CHAIR: It is entirely in accordance for you to ask questions, Senator Wong. The minister can take those questions or indeed Ms Kelly can take those questions. If you ask your questions, they will attempt to answer them. If they cannot, I am sure they will request someone else to do so.

Senator WONG: And I am requesting that the first assistant secretary come to the table—the person who has responsibility—unless—

Senator Abetz: Request denied at this stage. Ask your questions and we will see.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly, why was the request denied?

Senator Abetz: Because I said so, and I am the minister at the table. Now, ask your question.

Senator WONG: Accountability under the Abbott government!

Senator Abetz: Absolutely, but the ministers are accountable, not public servants, like you tried to make them under your government. We actually believe in ministerial accountability.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, the minister has said he will take the question. So, if you have questions in this area, please address them to the minister.

Senator WONG: I do not have to address them to the minister, actually.

CHAIR: Well, the minister has said that he will take the questions. I might go to Senator Smith.

Senator SMITH: Staying with the issue of official travel, can you explain to me what the current policy is with regard to the class of travel—not the dollar amount.

Ms Kelly : They cannot travel at a class higher than business class.

Senator SMITH: When was that announced? Has there been a change in that policy?

Ms Kelly : That was a change initiated by the Prime Minister, and I believe it was in the changes made in November 2013.

Senator SMITH: Is there any further guidance or advice that is provided to officials around the class of travel?

Ms Kelly : It is my understanding that that is all set out in the guidelines that are issued by the Department of Finance that set out the arrangements in relation to that.

Senator SMITH: How many officials have travelled first class this year?

Ms Kelly : I do not have that to hand, but I can take it on notice to provide that for you.

Senator SMITH: Yes, and perhaps you could also let me know how that compares with previous years.

Ms Kelly : Yes, I can do that.

Senator SMITH: Would you be able to provide that during the course of today's evidence? Or on notice?

Ms Kelly : I will have to make that inquiry. I can endeavour to provide it today, but I just cannot guarantee that I am able to do so.

Senator WONG: If I can be clear: I had assumed, looking at your organisational chart, that the process for the knights and dames is managed by the government division. Is that correct?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Under the FAS—and then is this branch head the next level down?

Ms Kelly : That is correct—assistant secretary. But I was involved in those arrangements, so I am happy to answer the questions.

Senator WONG: Perhaps we can start with the beginning of the process for making Prince Philip a Knight of the Order of Australia.

Senator SMITH: Start from 1988, when Bob Hawke made him a Companion of the Order of Australia.

Senator WONG: It is the same thing as a knight, isn't it?

Senator SMITH: It is the same thing as a knighthood. That is exactly right.

Ms Kelly : In November last year the Prime Minister's office contacted the department and had preliminary discussions about the issue.

Senator WONG: Perhaps I could stop you there: this is the first contact about Prince Philip?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Who was the call from, from the Prime Minister's office? And who was it to?

Ms Kelly : We do not generally discuss the details of individual advisers.

Senator WONG: That is just not true.

Senator Abetz: Well, it is.

Senator WONG: You can discuss them by title. I was regularly asked who contacted the department—whether it was your chief of staff or you deputy chief of staff. That regularly occurred.

Ms Kelly : I am happy to say that it was the government adviser in the Prime Minister's office who made the initial contact.

Senator WONG: Was that of you?

Ms Kelly : That was actually with the first assistant secretary of the government division.

Senator WONG: So, the FAS.

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Do you mind if I just call the person the first assistant secretary? I do not know; is it the same person who is on the organisational chart?

Ms Kelly : That is correct, yes.

Senator WONG: All right: preliminary discussions in which Prince Philip's name was raised?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you. And what happens next?

Ms Kelly : The department then considered the mechanism, the processes by which the appointment should be made, including commencing consultations with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel about the appropriate mechanism, because the department was considering whether or not it required a change to the letters patent, which ultimately was the way in which the appointment was made.

Senator WONG: Perhaps I could just pause there. Honours are not my thing, so bear with me. I understand that, as you just said, there was in fact a change to what you described as the letters patent, which, in laypersons' terms, means that the rules establishing the Order of Australia were in fact amended to enable Prince Philip to be made a knight.

Ms Kelly : The letters patent are actually the rules. So, there was an amendment to the letters patent.

Senator WONG: But there was no such amendment required for Angus Houston?

Ms Kelly : One of the things that was considered by the department in determining the appropriate mechanism was to examine the way in which Prince Charles was appointed to the Order.

Senator WONG: What is it about conservative Prime Ministers? They keep wanting to make princes knights.

Senator Abetz: And what was it about a Labor Prime Minister who wanted to make Prince Philip an AC? This affected laughter by you, Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: I am sorry, but really—

Senator SMITH: Companion was the highest order at the time.

Senator WONG: I apologise. I will keep asking the questions. Why was it required, though? We had the letters patent, which established this knights-and-dames so-called grace note, which occurred—when was that originally?—whenever the Prime Minister first announced that.

Ms Kelly : I am sorry; I do not have that date.

Senator WONG: I have momentarily forgotten. And we had a knight and a dame announced with it, correct—Sir Peter Cosgrove and the former Governor-General?

Ms Kelly : Those appointments occurred on an ex officio basis by virtue of the office that was held.

Senator WONG: Sure. But then you have this set of announcements, one of whom—Sir Angus Houston—occurs under the existing letters patent, and then Prince Philip, where an amendment is required. Why is that required?

Ms Kelly : As I said, reference was made to the way in which Prince Charles was appointed to the order, and it was thought appropriate to appoint Prince Philip in the same way in which Prince Charles was appointed to the order.

Senator WONG: Why?

Ms Kelly : One of the reasons is in relation to the order of precedence. If the amendment was not made by virtue of a change to the letters patent, then Prince Charles would prevail over Prince Philip—would be above him in the order of precedence—and that would be inconsistent with the Queen's protocol.

Senator WONG: Was there any other reason?

Ms Kelly : The other factor that was taken into account was that that would not allow the appointment to be made other than on an honorary basis.

Senator WONG: Sorry; you will have to explain to me the significance of that.

Ms Kelly : A non-Australian citizen can be appointed to the Order on an honorary basis, or if it is made by a change to the letters patent.

Senator WONG: So, unless the letters patent were changed, Prince Philip could only have been appointed on an honorary basis, because he is not an Australian citizen.

Ms Kelly : But even if that were the case, then that would disturb the order of precedence in accordance with—

Senator WONG: Sure, I understand the second point. On the first point, though, I am correct, am I not? Apart from the order of precedence issue, if the letters patent had not been amended, Prince Philip could only have been appointed to the knighthood in an honorary capacity.

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

CHAIR: Would that be the same as with Sachin Tendulkar when he was awarded an AC, I think it was?

Ms Kelly : That is the case with a non-Australian citizen. I am not familiar with that particular case, but for any non-Australian citizen that would be the case.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I interrupted you, Ms Kelly. So your staff were contacted in November by an advisor to the Prime Minister's office; contact was made with the FAS; they commenced consultation et cetera. Can you keep going?

Ms Kelly : After considering the issue in relation to the appropriate mechanism to make the appointment, the department provided advice to the Prime Minister on 16 December. The department provided further advice on 18 December.

Senator WONG: What was the need for the second advice?

Ms Kelly : The second advice was the documents attaching the mechanisms to actually make the appointment, rather than advice about the appropriate process.

Senator WONG: What occurred then?

Ms Kelly : The documents then obviously go to the Governor-General and are dispatched to Government House. And then Government House dispatches them to the Queen.

Senator WONG: There was correspondence that was I think released under FOI from Ms Credlin to the private secretary to Her Majesty the Queen—I did that for you, Dean!—

Senator SMITH: Thank you, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: whose name I do not know how to pronounce—Sir Christopher Geidt. Is this in relation to the original letters patent? Or is this in relation to the amendment you are talking about?

Ms Kelly : I do not have that document in front of me, so I am not able to assist.

Senator WONG: I think it is your FOI. I assume this is the original knights and dames letters patent.

Ms Kelly : A date might assist.

Senator WONG: Sorry—19 March 2014, and then a response from the chief clerk on 2 April 2014.

Ms Kelly : The dates would indicate that is the—

Senator WONG: Was a similar letter sent by Ms Credlin to the private secretary in relation to the subsequent amendment?

Ms Kelly : I do not have that letter. I cannot assist, but I can take it on notice and make that inquiry.

Senator WONG: When you say 'the documents', I am asking, first, how did the Prime Minister express his desire to appoint Prince Philip to Her Majesty? Was that done by letter? How was that communicated initially? And was that done prior to the first discussion with the FAS in November of 2014?

Ms Kelly : The PM dispatches the documents to the Governor-General, who dispatches them to Her Majesty the Queen.

Senator WONG: But presumably prior to dispatching the actual decision making documents and amendments to the letters patent somebody checks out whether he actually wants to be a knight.

Ms Kelly : I can take that on notice, but I cannot assist.

Senator WONG: What does that mean, you cannot assist? You do not know?

Ms Kelly : I do not.

Senator WONG: Do you have any information, or was the department asked to provide any advice or draft any letters, prior to November 2014 in relation to this matter?

Ms Kelly : The department provided advice in relation to the process on 16 December, and then the actual documents on the 18th. That was the only advice the department provided.

Senator WONG: Yes. I get that. We have been talking about that. I am just trying to work it out. It seems to me that if you are going to make someone a knight—Prince Phillip—you probably want to check out first if he is prepared to accept it. So presumably there was some contact prior to those letters being generated and those official documents being generated. I am asking whether or not the department had any involvement in that?

Ms Kelly : The department had no involvement in that.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Who prepared the letter recommending that Prince Philip be made a knight? Was that the department?

Ms Kelly : The Prime Minister's letter to the Governor-General dispatching the papers was prepared by the department, yes.

Senator WONG: Was there any letter to Her Majesty, or to Buckingham Palace, prior to November 2014 that the department prepared?

Ms Kelly : Not that I am aware of.

CHAIR: With respect to other processes—for other awards that Australians are nominated for—they are not advised whether they would like to be considered for an award or to receive an award. Other people nominate them, and it is only subsequent to the granting of the award that they are advised. Is that correct?

Ms Kelly : They are matters that you should refer to the Official Secretary of the Governor-General, who is responsible for the Orders of Australia.

Senator WONG: This is different. This is not done through that process, is it?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator Abetz: It was not done through that process; it will now be done through that process.

Senator WONG: Sure. I will come to that shortly. I am still trying to work out whether the recommendation was conveyed to Her Majesty prior to the receipt of the documents in December 2014. Is anyone able to assist?

Ms Kelly : I cannot add anything to my previous answer.

Senator WONG: Would your branch head know?

Ms Kelly : I do not believe so.

Senator WONG: Is he here?

Ms Kelly : I do not believe that he was involved.

Senator WONG: Do you know how the recommendation was conveyed to Her Majesty?

Ms Kelly : No. As I said, the department was not involved in that aspect of the process.

Senator WONG: So the only thing you were involved in was that you had the preliminary discussion in 2014, you prepared advice and then you prepared documents, which were provided on 18 December.

Ms Kelly : That is correct. Then, obviously, when the decision of Her Majesty the Queen was returned, then the department was involved in the final parts of the process.

Senator WONG: I am sorry?

Ms Kelly : When the amended letters patent were signed by Her Majesty the Queen they are returned through the Governor-General and then come to the department and the department is involved in gazetting them.

Senator WONG: I am a little confused here. Are you telling me that the only engagement the department has on this is a discussion in November and then the preparation of documents for 16 and 18 December—pieces of advice and documentation. Is that right?

Ms Kelly : I think I said that the department was not involved in the communication, if there was any communication, with the palace, prior to the announcement.

Senator WONG: So when you were preparing this did the department say, 'Look, you might want to check whether he wants it before we do all this. That would be sensible.'

Ms Kelly : I can make that inquiry.

Senator WONG: Was it your understanding that Buckingham Palace had agreed to this when these documents were being prepared?

Ms Kelly : They are matters for the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: No. I asked what your understanding was.

Ms Kelly : As I said, they are matters for the Prime Minister. The department prepared advice and then prepared the documents in order to bring about the appointment, and then other aspects of the process were handled by others.

Senator WONG: What was your understanding at the time the documents were prepared?

Ms Kelly : At the time the documents were prepared, the initial documents were about the process. I cannot really add anything to my answer that it was just not a matter in which the department was involved.

Senator WONG: I asked what your understanding was. I do not know why that is so difficult to answer.

Ms Kelly : I am just not sure that I had an understanding because it was not a matter in which the department was involved.

Senator WONG: At any point were you aware or did you have any knowledge of Buckingham Palace's attitude to this proposal?

Ms Kelly : I do not think that I had any specific knowledge.

Senator WONG: What does 'any specific knowledge' mean?

Ms Kelly : Exactly that.

Senator WONG: Did you have any understanding that they had ticked off on it, had agreed to it, had consented—ever?

Ms Kelly : As I said, I did not have any specific knowledge.

Senator WONG: Specific knowledge usually means that someone knew but they were not actually told directly, firsthand. Is that what you mean when you say specific or do you mean something else?

Ms Kelly : I did not have any specific knowledge and I do not think that I can add to that.

Senator WONG: I do not know what 'specific' means.

Ms Kelly : That means that I did not have any direct information about that particular issue.

Senator WONG: Did anyone else in the department have any knowledge that they communicated to you about whether the palace had agreed to this?

Ms Kelly : I can take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Thank you. You cannot tell me, though?

Ms Kelly : As I said, I cannot add to my previous answers; but I can make that inquiry and take it on notice.

Senator WONG: Which documents were prepared on the 18th? Can you give me a list of the actual documents? Sorry, they were not prepared on the 18th; they were provided to the office on the 18th.

Ms Kelly : I am not sure that I am going to be able to give you a list. Most certainly, the amended letters patent would have been the key document and there would have been covering brief and, obviously, the letter dispatch to the Governor-General.

Senator WONG: When people describe the Prime Minister's advice to Her Majesty, what form does that take? Is that the amended letters patent? Explain to me that process.

Ms Kelly : The dispatch of the amended letters patent is the advice.

Senator WONG: Was a covering letter included with that?

Ms Kelly : The covering letter was to the Governor-General from the Prime Minister. I am told that there was also a covering letter from the Prime Minister to the Queen attaching the amended letters patent.

Senator WONG: So there was a covering letter to Her Majesty from the PM. Who prepared that? Was that prepared in the department or in the Prime Minister's office?

Ms Kelly : That was prepared in the department, I am told.

Senator WONG: Would that be normal practice?

Ms Kelly : We do not do amended letters patent very often.

Senator WONG: And I do not even understand what they are, really.

Senator Abetz: Chances are it is the same practice that New Zealand and Canada undertook when they provided a similar honour to Prince Philip.

Senator WONG: Yes, I saw in his long list that he is the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: They still do not elect their Senate.

Senator WONG: They do not elect their Senate either, Senator Collins points out. Sorry, Mr Rush, was there something you wanted to add?

Mr Rush : No, thank you.

Senator WONG: While you are here, regarding Senator Bernardi's question about Sachin Tendulkar, I assume his was an honorary award.

Mr Rush : Yes, my recollection is that Sachin Tendulkar was made an honorary appointee to the Order of Australia.

Senator WONG: The letter from the Prime Minister to the Queen was attaching the amended letters patent—was that the evidence?

Mr Rush : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Do you know if that was amended in the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Rush : I do not think so.

Senator WONG: When was that sent and when was that received by the palace?

Ms Kelly : It was signed on 19 December by the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Was there return correspondence? And, if so, what was the date of that?

Mr Rush : We know that Her Majesty the Queen approved that recommendation and the amendments on 7 January 2014.

Senator WONG: 2015.

Mr Rush : I beg your pardon, 2015.

Senator WONG: Was there a response from Buckingham Palace at all to that letter—other than the decision to approve?

Ms Kelly : The palace wrote to the Official Secretary to the Governor-General on 9 January 2015.

Senator WONG: Could you take on notice the provision of that, please—of that letter and the original letter of 19 December?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can you explain something to me; Mr Rush, you might be able to. I did check, Ms Kelly; the document I was referring to is a document released under FOI—No. 12 of 2014. It is published on your disclosure log. I can tell you it is from the chief of staff of the Prime Minister to the private secretary to Her Majesty the Queen recommending amendments to letters patent for the Order of Australia for the appointments of knights and dames, and there is a reply from the chief clerk. Could you tell me why that letter would have been sent by the chief of staff rather than the Prime Minister?

Senator Abetz: It is the chief of staff to an official secretary, which one assumes is the same category—the same level.

Senator WONG: The private secretary did not reply, but the chief clerk did. But that is beside the point. It is just that the subsequent amendment is Prime Minister to Her Majesty, but the original letters patent is Ms Credlin to—is there a reason for that?

Ms Kelly : We do not have that letter in front of us.

Senator WONG: I am sorry.

Ms Kelly : I think it might be most appropriate if we had the document in front of us.

Senator WONG: I am happy to get copies of this and then we can come back to it, if you would like.

Ms Kelly : Perhaps we might need to refer the surrounding correspondence before we are able to reply to that response.

Senator WONG: We can come back to it. Senator Abetz, do you know which colleagues the Prime Minister consulted prior to his decision in December 2014 to appoint Prince Philip a knight?

Senator Abetz: No, I do not, but the Prime Minister himself has acknowledged it was his decision.

Senator WONG: Were you consulted?

Senator Abetz: I am not going to go into private discussions I may or may not have had with the Prime Minister—

Senator WONG: He might have been in.

Senator Abetz: because then we play the game of ruling in or ruling out. But the Prime Minister has said it was his decision.

Senator WONG: So you are not prepared to tell us if the Leader of the Government in the Senate was consulted?

Senator Abetz: I think you can read into what the Prime Minister said that there is every likelihood that I was not consulted, but I am not going to be engaging in this. These are the traps that a good opposition try to lay: you were prepared to tell us about one conversation with the Prime Minister; why not about another? I am not willing to go down that track.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Abetz: Any conversation I have with the Prime Minister remains private.

Senator WONG: Was the Chancellor of the Order of Australia consulted?

Senator Abetz: That I do not know. I can take that on notice.

Ms Kelly : The Chancellor of the Order of Australia is Sir Angus Houston. I am not sure whether the secretariat will be able to answer that tomorrow, but that is a matter that is more properly directed to them.

Senator WONG: Do you know?

Ms Kelly : As I said, I think it is probably more appropriately directed to the secretariat.

Senator WONG: Hang on, Ms Kelly. I am sorry, but that is not a—

Ms Kelly : I have obviously read the newspapers, so I understand that there have been various statements about that, but I cannot add to those.

Senator WONG: I actually cannot recall what the newspapers said.

Senator Abetz: Can I just quickly interrupt here: of whom were you speaking then—the chancellor or the chairman? The chancellor is the Governor-General; the chair is Sir Angus Houston.

Ms Kelly : Sorry; I was referring to Sir Angus.

Senator Abetz: Yes. I think there were crossed lines there. That is why I interrupted.

Ms Kelly : I apologise; I was referring to the chair.

Senator WONG: Was the Governor-General consulted?

Ms Kelly : That would be a matter that you should refer to the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, and you will have that opportunity tomorrow.

Senator WONG: Do you know?

Ms Kelly : I think that is a matter that is properly directed to the official secretary.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly, with respect, you do not get to choose who I ask questions of. If you do not know, that is fine. If you only know on the basis of what you have read in the public then you can say that. But if you know from some other source, I am asking you that question.

CHAIR: I think Ms Kelly has referred your question to the office of the Governor-General.

Senator WONG: I am pressing it, Chair.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I do not think she has that prerogative.

CHAIR: I think she has.

Ms Cross : It has been longstanding practice. In Prime Minister and Cabinet we are asked questions about a whole range of issues, and—

Senator WONG: Sure, and if you do not know—

Ms Cross : it has been longstanding practice to refer them to the appropriate portfolio or agency.

Senator WONG: I am asking what Ms Kelly's knowledge was.

Ms Kelly : Because there has been so much conjecture and so many discussions with many people about this issue, I am unable to say with any confidence just what my source of knowledge was.

Senator WONG: I will not press it. When was Mr Thawley appointed?

Ms Cross : He commenced on 1 December, I think.

Senator WONG: Was he asked his advice prior to the decision being made on these issues?

Ms Cross : I cannot answer that. I would have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: You do not know?

Ms Cross : No.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, did Mr Abbott seek the advice of his chief of staff?

Senator Abetz: That I do not know, but once again he has accepted full responsibility for the appointment.

Senator WONG: I will ask you to take that on notice. I will also ask whether any backbenchers were consulted and, if so, who and when.

Senator Abetz: All right. I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Was Prince Philip asked if he would accept this honour prior to the Prime Minister signing the letter on 19 December?

Senator Abetz: That I do not know, but I can take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Can I go back to my earlier question. I do not quite understand why in order to set it up we have a chief of staff letter but, in order to amend it, we then have a letter from the Prime Minister to Her Majesty.

Senator Abetz: Is this the preliminary—

Senator WONG: No, this is the original notice and date of the decision.

Mr Rush : I think I can assist. The circumstances of the recommendation to reinstate knights and dames in the Order of Australia affected the then Governor-General. Because of that circumstance, rather than the communication happening between the Governor General's office and the palace, as would normally occur, the transmission was between the Prime Minister's office and the palace.

Senator WONG: But you gave evidence, Mr Rush, that the subsequent amendment to the letters patent had a covering letter from the Prime Minister to the palace.

Mr Rush : That is right.

Senator WONG: I am asking why it is that the Prime Minister would write that letter, whereas this one was written at staff level.

Mr Rush : The Prime Minister wrote in both cases. The letter that you have given us a copy of from the Prime Minister's chief of staff attaches a letter from the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: So it is a submission?

Mr Rush : It is a cover letter transmitting advice from the Prime Minister to the Queen. Often that would be done by the Governor-General. In this case, it was done by the Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: So there is no similar letter from the Prime Minister's office attaching the Prime Minister's letter to the Queen on 19 December?

Mr Rush : No. As I think Ms Kelly explained, there would have been a cover letter from the Prime Minister to the Governor-General. The transmission of the Prime Minister's advice to the Queen in that case would have been between Government House and the palace.

Senator WONG: No. The evidence was that there was a covering letter to Her Majesty from the Prime Minister.

Mr Rush : The paperwork that the department prepares for the Prime Minister in that case and in most cases would be a cover letter from the Prime Minister to the Governor-General asking the Governor-General to transmit the letter from the Prime Minister to the Queen and any other necessary documents—in this case, the proposed amendments to the letters patent.

Senator WONG: So there was no letter from the chief of staff in relation to the second appointment?

Mr Rush : Not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: There was only one in relation to the first letters patent?

Mr Rush : That is correct.

Senator WONG: You gave me a date previously, Ms Kelly, which was that the Queen signed on 7 January the amendments to the letters patent.

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: That means that in fact Prince Philip was a knight from that date?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: So who made the decision to not make it public until Australia Day?

Ms Kelly : My understanding is that the intention was always that the announcement would be made on Australia Day when the usual announcements for the Order of Australia are made.

Senator WONG: Where did you get that understanding?

Ms Cross : It has been longstanding practice that the awards are all announced an Australia Day.

Senator WONG: It is not longstanding practice to amend the letters patent, though, is it, when someone is a knight already at that point?

Ms Cross : Decisions on other awards are often made in advance of Australia Day but not announced until that day.

Senator WONG: But isn't the difference here that legally he was already a knight? It was not the announcement of the award which triggered what has occurred; it was the amendment of the letters patent.

Ms Kelly : I can only say that it always the intention from the outset, as soon as the process was put in place, that it would be done as part of the Australia Day announcements.

Senator WONG: This is not the same as other appointments, is it, because you are actually amending the letters patent in order to give effect to it? It is not an announcement that someone has got the award. He was actually a knight—and many other things, but a knight for the purposes of this discussion—for 19 days before it was made public; correct?

Ms Kelly : Certainly it takes effect from the date that the Queen executes the letters patent.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, when did you become aware of the decision?

Senator Abetz: When it was announced.

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister said in his press conference in January:

I consulted with the chairman of the council of the order of Australia and I consulted with the Governor-General.

Are you aware of that, Ms Kelly?

Ms Kelly : As I said, I have obviously read those public statements of the Prime Minister but I cannot take that any further.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz has said a number of times that the Prime Minister has announced that the process has changed. Certainly in the press conference on 9 February the Prime Minister said that:

I have … dropped the Prime Ministerially awarded knighthoods. All awards in the Order of Australia will henceforth be determined by the Council of the Order of Australia.

That is the same as every other honour in Australia other than these knights and dames; correct?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Just remind me: they go through the council process and there is a recommendation from the council; is that right?

Ms Kelly : The recommendation goes from the council to the Governor-General.

Senator WONG: Will that require another change to the letters patent?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Has that occurred?

Ms Kelly : That is in train.

Senator WONG: Tell me how that is in train.

Ms Kelly : It is in train. Obviously it would be inappropriate to pre-empt a decision of Her Majesty the Queen—

Senator WONG: I am not asking about Her Majesty. I am asking where documents are. Has the Prime Minister written or not?

Ms Kelly : Advice has been provided, but it would be inappropriate to pre-empt that decision of Her Majesty the Queen.

Senator WONG: When did you prepare those documents?

Ms Kelly : On 9 February the advice was provided. That process is now in train, as I said.

Senator WONG: When were you asked to prepare that advice?

Ms Kelly : The Prime Minister announced the change in his address to the National Press Club on 2 February, and the advice was set in train as at 2 February.

Senator WONG: At whose request?

Ms Kelly : It was done in response to the announcement made at the National Press Club in consultation with the government adviser in the Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: You keep saying 'government adviser'. Is that an actual position?

Ms Kelly : It is.

Senator WONG: Below chief of staff?

Ms Kelly : It is an adviser position.

Senator WONG: You said we should not pre-empt Her Majesty. Hasn't the Prime Minister already done that? He has told everybody what his advice is.

Ms Kelly : I was merely pointing out that the matter is under consideration by Her Majesty.

Senator WONG: He has already told everybody what his advice is. So what is the problem with me asking questions about it?

Ms Kelly : There is not a problem with you asking questions in relation to the Prime Minister's advice—he has made that clear—but there is a problem with pre-empting the Queen's decision.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Which he has done.

Senator WONG: Which he has done; yes. When was the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet first aware of this further change? Perhaps I will put it this way: were officers of the department advised of this pending change—or this change in policy—prior to the National Press Club speech?

Ms Kelly : I can say that neither I nor my staff were aware. I cannot speak for every officer, but neither I nor my staff were aware prior to the National Press Club address.

Senator WONG: The documents in relation to this subsequent change—was that this branch, as per the process we have previously been traversing?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: How many times has the constitution of the Order of Australia being changed since the last election?

Ms Kelly : Twice.

Senator WONG: So this will be the third?

Ms Kelly : No; this is the second time.

Senator WONG: No.

Ms Kelly : The first time it was changed in order to recreate the order—

Senator WONG: Yes. And the second time it was changed in order to appoint Prince Philip. And this will be a third, if this change is accepted. No?

Ms Kelly : Sorry, it is the third. You are correct, Senator.

Mr Rush : It has only changed twice to date.

Senator WONG: Twice to date.

Senator Abetz: Two changes, and one—

Senator WONG: One pending. I do not think I can ask any more questions about knights and dames. Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Smith may be able to.

Senator WONG: I am sure he can; he loves it!

Senator SMITH: I just want to confirm, what was the total number of non-citizens that received honorary awards in the Order of Australia classification over the previous seven years?

Mr Rush : I would need to take that on notice, the numbers vary.

Senator SMITH: Really? With all due respect, with all of the media that has been available, you would have to take that on notice?

Mr Rush : I do. I am sorry; I do not have those figures available.

Senator SMITH: Is it close to one? Is it close to 10? Is it closer to 30? Is it closer to 45?

Mr Rush : It probably runs to the order of 10 to 20 honorary appointments each year.

Senator SMITH: Each year. I am looking for information over the last seven years.

Mr Rush : So it would be in the order of 100.

Senator SMITH: The point is that there were other non-citizens appointed to the Order of Australia honours system at senior levels in excess of 10 or 20.

Mr Rush : Yes, certainly.

Senator SMITH: I suspect it is close to 45, but you will be able to clarify that.

Mr Rush : It is certainly in excess of 10 or 20. I think it would be more than 40 or 50 across the whole range of levels over that period.

Senator Abetz: I do not know why, but the figure of 46 jumps to mind. I do not know why.

Senator SMITH: It might be 45 plus one.

Senator WONG: May I just ask on notice, if the same number can be provided for the 1996 to 2007 period.

Senator Abetz: I think that was only in the Gillard period—the 46.

Senator SMITH: I just want to turn briefly to some media reports today with regard to some decisions that might have been made with regard to Mr Rolf Harris's awards under the Order of Australia award system. Are you familiar with those media reports?

Ms Kelly : The appropriate agency to put those questions to is the Official Secretary of the Governor-General, who is response for the administration of the order.

Senator SMITH: I thought that might have been the response. If the media reports are correct, there is a suggestion that Mr Rolf Harris has been—what is the right word?—

Senator Abetz: Defrocked.

Senator SMITH: The companion in the order awards have been withdrawn from him.

Ms Kelly : As I said, I am actually a member of the Council for the Order of Australia but it would not be appropriate for me to speak of those matters in the context of these hearings. The Official Secretary for the Governor-General tomorrow will be able to provide a very comprehensive response to your question.

Senator SMITH: Could you also inquire about this for me. When Prime Minister Bob Hawke made the appointment of Prince Phillip to the Companion of the Order of Australia in 1988—I understand at that time it was the highest category in the Order of Australia—what communications were undertaken between the Prime Minister, the Governor-General and Buckingham Palace and when they were undertaken?

Ms Kelly : We can endeavour to do that, to the extent that our files will disclose that. I cannot guarantee the extent to which that will be outlined in the files. But we will make that inquiry. I know that we have those documents—those files—to hand.

Senator WONG: Obviously there have been a lot of reports in the media which appear to be leaks from the cabinet. I am wondering whether or not the Prime Minister or his office has asked the secretary to initiate an investigation of any of those leaks.

Ms Kelly : Not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: Is the secretary initiating any investigation of his own motion?

Ms Kelly : Not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: Isn't part of the department's role to prevent the unauthorised disclosure of cabinet material?

Ms Kelly : The department is responsible for administering the processes of cabinet.

Senator WONG: You do not see preventing the unauthorised disclosure of cabinet discussions and materials as part of the role of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Ms Kelly : I can only say that I am not aware of any inquiry or investigation being commenced.

Senator LUDWIG: Just going through some of those media reports, I think it was a News Limited paper that reported that the ERC knocked back a proposal from the then social services minister, Mr Andrews, to change the assets and income test to reduce the number of Australians eligible for the aged pension. The report says that the Treasurer Mr Hockey preferred to cut everyone's pension by cutting the indexation rate because it would be a larger structural save. Then senior Liberal sources—presumably members of the ERC itself—revealed to a journalist that a cut to indexation in the current term was contemplated. Can you confirm whether Mr Andrews's plan was rejected in favour of a cut to all pensions?

Senator Abetz: Very, very good try, but, as you would know, we do not respond to questions like that! It is speculation, in the nature of gossip, as to what may or may not have been said in Prime Minister and Cabinet. Prime Minister and Cabinet provided the support the staff to ERC but what may or may not be said within ERC is not disclosed.

Senator LUDWIG: Are you saying that that you did not happen.

Senator Abetz: It is not disclosed, as you would well recall, Senator Ludwig, as to whether or not certain things happened in relation to live exports. You were intimately involved in that—or, as some might suggest, not involved in. So you know that that is the state of play. You do not comment; we do not comment. That is the appropriate methodology that governments of both persuasions have abided by.

Senator LUDWIG: Can I put it another way, then?

Senator Abetz: I am sure you can.

Senator LUDWIG: Can you confirm whether or not the government contemplated an earlier cut to indexation?

Senator Abetz: Once again I am not going to speculate about what may or may not have been bounced around, thought or not thought about by whomever. Those discussions remain confidential. The good news is that every single pensioner in Australia is getting their pension increases as they believed they would before the election—in March and September, each and every six months, during this term of government. That promise has been fully kept notwithstanding all the scuttlebutt. Pensioners are surprised each time they receive this full indexation and they ask, 'What has Mr Shorten been on about regarding cuts to our pension when we are getting full indexation?'

Senator LUDWIG: Are you worried that there are effectively senior Liberal sources putting out what are, I suspect, effectively cabinet leaks about pension indexation cuts?

Senator Abetz: What worries me is the debt and deficit that you left behind and the youth unemployment rate that you left behind. Gossip columns and speculations about unnamed sources saying something with certain nuances—'nothing'—do not overly worry me.

Senator LUDWIG: So you have not asked Mr Thawley to examine the issue?

Senator Abetz: No.

Senator LUDWIG: Would you consider that Mr Thawley's role and part of his work—to consider whether or not a cabinet leak of that order should or should not be investigated?

Senator Abetz: It would not be a cabinet leak even if it were true. I think your evidence was that it was the Expenditure Review Committee—so at least get that right. But there was not a named source—'nothing'. It is speculation and we do not respond to that and we would not want the resources of government to be used on that. So we have not inquired.

Senator LUDWIG: In this Saturday's The Weekend Australian, we heard that around November last year Mr Abbott canvassed sending 3,500 troops to Iraq to combat the Islamic State. Was there advice sought on that?

Senator Abetz: The Prime Minister has already indicated that that is incorrect and the CDF, I understand, has similarly indicated that. The manufacturing of stories from 12 months ago—it must have been a pretty slow day at the office for a particular journalist to pull that one out of the bottom drawer. Other people have already remarked that the story said it was going to be unilateral involvement by Australia when—if the story were true, which is denied—there were already troops from other countries on the ground. So it could not have been unilateral in any event. Clearly the research was poor and the objective facts indicate that the assertion simply cannot be sustained.

Senator LUDWIG: It is always about people's choice of words. Mr Abbott said that 'the idea that there was a meeting in late November where I formally asked for advice and formally suggested that a large Australian force should go unilaterally to Iraq is wrong'. That is what he said at the doorstop on 21 February. So I am asking you whether it was informally canvassed to send troops to Iraq?

Senator Abetz: Earlier on I refused to comment on any private discussions that may or may not have been had and I continue to do so. Otherwise we can play the games of what was said and what was not said. The simple fact is that discussions do take place between the Prime Minister and myself and his cabinet colleagues. But those discussions should remain private, and as far as I am concerned they will.

Senator LUDWIG: From the department's perspective, was any advice sought on this either formally or informally?

Dr McCarthy : PM&C has no knowledge of the basis for what is reported in the media.

Senator LUDWIG: In the sad event of MH17, I think I recollect that Mr Abbott suggested sending 1,000 troops to the Ukraine to secure that site. Was that a matter that was canvassed through your department? Was advice sought from PM&C on that issue?

Dr McCarthy : Apart from saying that PM&C provided advice on a range of issues relating to the MH17 matter and of course the national security committee of cabinet was meeting very frequently as Australia responded to that tragedy—apart from indicating that a large amount of advice was provided, I will not go into the detail of what advice was sought and what advice was provided.

Senator LUDWIG: So you are not able to confirm that suggestion of sending 1,000 troops to the Ukraine?

Dr McCarthy : As a matter of longstanding practice, we do not comment on the content of advice that is sought or provided.

Senator LUDWIG: Turning to another reported leak: on 15 February the media reported a leak out of ERC, and there was a Sunday Telegraph article under the headline 'War in PM Tony Abbott's cabinet over six months wait for the dole'. According to the well-sourced report, the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff, Ms Credlin, were the key proponents of a six-month waiting period for Newstart. Also according to the article, comments that the measure was too tough were put by Senator Abetz, Mr Andrews and Mr Dutton, but these were overruled by Mr Abbott and Ms Credlin. Can you shed any light on that, given that it does seem to have suggested that you were a softy on this one?

Senator Abetz: As I have indicated to you before, any discussions in ERC will not be commented on by me or the Prime Minister. They are confidential and the decisions that come out of that process are the decisions of the team.

Senator LUDWIG: So you are not prepared to rule in or out?

Senator Abetz: And that is why I said, 'That's the game,' to Senator Wong earlier on and that is why I do not comment on cabinet, ERC or private discussions with the Prime Minister. As soon you do say, 'Well, I did have a discussion about this,' questions become: 'Well, if you are willing to comment on that particular issue, why not on this issue?' It will be very rare that I make an exemption to that position.

Senator LUDWIG: The question, though, is really to good governance. I know good governance started on 9 February at—

Senator Abetz: Just like ideas started for the ALP in 2015, which suggests they never had any ideas until 2015 when Mr Shorten announced 2015 as the year of ideas. We can play those silly games, but I think people know what Mr Shorten meant and we also know what the Prime Minister meant. We can play tit for tat with these games, but I do not think the Australian people are impressed by it.

Senator LUDWIG: I understand that. But is it true—and this goes to good governance, as distinct from good government—

Senator Abetz: Coming from a cabinet minister from the Rudd-Gillard era, I find that somewhat ironic.

Senator LUDWIG: I haven't got my question out yet.

CHAIR: Minister, it is appropriate for Senator Ludwig to conclude his question.

Senator Abetz: It is.

Senator LUDWIG: My question goes to policy decisions, such as the ones that are in the paper, which goes on to describe witnesses who have a phone exchange amongst senior ministers. This is what is reported. So it is not me who is saying it; it is senior journalists in well-respected newspapers who are saying this.

Senator Abetz: Well-respected newspapers being News Limited? We will just get that on the record—thank you.

Senator LUDWIG: If you do not like them, you can say that.

Senator Abetz: It is like media reporting to some of your colleagues, Senator Ludwig.

Senator LUDWIG: If you do not like them, you can say that. They have revealed that Ms Credlin pushed hard for the six-month—

Senator Abetz: No. They did not reveal; they asserted.

Senator LUDWIG: They asserted that Ms Credlin pushed hard for the six-month waiting period, stunning observers by citing an example of a farmer and others of his generation who did not have access to welfare and the largesse of today when they encountered difficulties. This is where my question goes to good governance. I know you may not want to play the rule-in rule-out game but I think on the basis of good governance you might want to contemplate this. Is it true that the policy decisions which affect the lives of millions of Australians are influenced by what can only be described as family anecdotes or, more significantly, the role the chief of staff would play in this decision-making process of cabinet? This is something which concerns me. It is getting reported. I know you do not want to rule it in or rule it out, but it goes to the very essence of what I describe as good governance to be able to say that this does not happen, 'We do not run government in this way.' Should it be an accurate report, then the lives of millions of people are being gavelled with by anecdotes by the chief of staff.

Senator Abetz: Can I say in relation to good governance that our Prime Minister has never sent his security guard to NSC on his behalf. So let's not go down the track of good governance, Senator Ludwig, because I think there will be a lot of embarrassment there for you and your colleagues. In relation to whether or not the story is correct, I am not going to comment as to what may or may not have been said or done. But the general proposition that people may or may not insert life experiences into policy discussions, should not be, I would have thought, a surprise to anyone that it may or may not have occurred. Just as a general principle—I am not going to comment on the specifics—if somebody made a comment as to something in their life experience, I would have thought that might be welcomed. But, at the end of the day, the decisions that this government makes are made by those who are democratically elected.

Senator LUDWIG: So as to the issue of Ms Credlin's prosecution of a case for a lengthy waiting period for the dole was forceful and at odds with the advice of ministers running the portfolio, you can rule that out?

Senator Abetz: As I said before, I am not going to play the rule-in rule-out game. I said that to Senator Wong very early this afternoon, and I will keep on saying it until 11 o'clock tonight.

Senator LUDWIG: Bear with me—

Senator Abetz: I fear we have no choice.

Senator LUDWIG: because I can only go on what is printed in newspapers—and we can all say we have doubts about the veracity of newspaper reporting—but in these instances they do go to good governance and they do require a question to government. Whether you want to answer it or not is a matter for government, but these are serious matters that are raised in newspapers about—

Senator Abetz: Can I tell you what is not serious is sending bodyguards to MSC—

Senator LUDWIG: I am not asking that question. I am asking this question—

Senator Abetz: I know you are not.

Senator LUDWIG: about your government.

Senator Abetz: I know you are not.

Senator LUDWIG: It is one that concerns me, particularly where the story says one witness insisted that Mr Hockey was, not my words:

… "spineless" in the expenditure review committee in the face of forceful presentations by Ms Credlin and Mr Abbott, …

These are the concerns I wanted clarify, or allow you the opportunity of clarifying, because otherwise it looks like a poor reflection on our Treasurer in the budget process.

Senator Abetz: Some unnamed source becomes the flag post up which the opposition is going to hoist a flag for some sort of quick notoriety at estimates—good luck to you. What I would simply remind you, Senator Ludwig, is that history did not start on 8 September 2013. We have good governance issues in relation to the Home Insulation Program, Building the Education Revolution, laptops in schools, the GP Super Clinics—remember all the wonderful childcare centres that were going to be rolled out?—and so the list goes on. You, of course, were in the debacle of the live export issue. So let's not go to the issue of good governance for the Labor Party's sake. I do not know why I am giving you this gratuitous advice, but for the Labor Party's sake—

Senator LUDWIG: Neither do I, but nonetheless.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: It is repeated time and time again, the whole issue.

Senator LUDWIG: The status of the six-month waiting period for Newstart: is there no change to government policy?

Senator Abetz: The government policy is as it is announced.

Senator LUDWIG: It seems to be turning into a bit of sieve, this ERC. There was another reported leak in January, over the Prime Minister's insistence on a $20 cut to the Medicare rebate for short GP consultations—that played very loudly.

Senator Abetz: Senator, before you keep on, I can say, see answers above—for those that read Hansard.

Senator LUDWIG: It seemed to be a leak from a—

Senator Abetz: No, asserted—

Senator LUDWIG: Asserted leak. It certainly was well played and the government seemed to have acted on it. It was an asserted, highly damaging leak from a powerful committee, the Expenditure Review Committee. Senior ministers confirmed that they were told Mr Hockey and Mr Dutton opposed the move during a heated exchange with the Prime Minister. So it is ditto to the comments you were already making. You cannot—

Senator Abetz: That is right. No counter-comment on what is alleged to have occurred in private discussions. The decisions are the decisions of the team, and they are the decisions.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Why on earth do other people not accept that? Someone within the team is generating this pattern of leaks. It is not just one report, as you asserted earlier.

Senator Abetz: Assertions.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: There is a whole series of them.

Senator Abetz: 'Leaks' suggests that there is actually veracity to that which is being asserted. I am not going to entertain that as being the case, and I am not going to comment on what the discussions may or may not have been. What I will say to you is that at the end of the day the decisions of the government are the decisions of the government and they have been announced.

Senator LUDWIG: So within—

Senator Abetz: But even if some of these stories were true, can I just tell you that we do have discussions from time to time. I will let you into that little secret.

Senator LUDWIG: I was going to go there, whether or not you discuss anything other than fear that it may get leaked—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: That it is going to be leaked!

Senator LUDWIG: out of ERC, but I will not—I withdraw that question! The issue that comes out of that, which I wanted to explore with you a little bit further, was the issue that the development of the policy comes out of the PMO and not from the responsible minister through ERC. And then obviously, depending on the decision, into cabinet. But is it a matter that PMO has the capacity to develop policy in this area? Is it standard practice for a major policy change like that to be developed out of PMO?

Senator Abetz: I am not going to comment on any specifics. What I can say, however, is this is how it should have occurred under your government. One fears that that is the only policy development that actually did occur out of the Prime Minister's office, and that was usually not the most robust. But that aside, it stands to reason that people in the PMO might have certain policy views as, indeed, other departments do. That is why it is a well-known process that for cabinet you have the coordinating comments from all the various departments who proffer their advice and ultimately cabinet makes a decision on the advice that is provided. It stands to reason that some days a portfolio minister might win the day; sometimes it might be PMO. Indeed, the injection of a side suggestion from one of the coordinating comments from one of the departments might be seen as something that possibly the PMO and the relevant portfolio minister had not considered. That is the good iterative process of developing policy and that is what we as a government seek to do on behalf of the Australian people.

Senator LUDWIG: This question is more to the department. No-one has referred any of these ERC asserted leaks for investigation—or have they?

Ms Kelly : I think I answered that question previously.

Senator LUDWIG: That was in relation to a cabinet leak. These are ERC—

Ms Kelly : Not that I am aware of.

Senator LUDWIG: Have you brought it to the attention of your new secretary for consideration?

Ms Cross : I believe he is already aware of the issue. I do not know that we would need to bring it to his attention.

Senator Abetz: But why would you, for example, seek to investigate a leak about the 3,500 soldiers to Iraq when it is completely denied that it ever occurred? Why would you investigate these things? What you are angling at is trying to see whether or not there is any truth or veracity in any particular assertion. All I say to you is do not believe everything you read in newspapers—even News Limited, from time to time.

Senator LUDWIG: No, and I can do my job and you can do yours. But to return—

Senator Abetz: Whilst you are on that side of the table and I am on this side of the table I am very happy about our job roles.

Senator LUDWIG: In terms of Mr Thawley's appreciation of these matters out of the ERC, the leaks, how has that been brought to his attention?

Ms Cross : I said he is aware of the reports in the newspapers, the assertions.

Senator LUDWIG: How is he aware of those? Have you brought them—

Senator Abetz: By reading the papers. Please!

Senator LUDWIG: The deputy secretary provided the response. Does she know he read the papers? I do not know. The evidence is that he is aware of them. Do you read the paper with him, perhaps over a cup of tea in the morning? I do not know.

Senator Abetz: We will take that on notice for you as to how the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet became aware of media stories. That will be a front-page stopper when the answer comes.

Senator WONG: Can I just start as I have been out for a little while? Do you collate or track? Even if you do not investigate, is there anybody or any part of the department which looks at how, or records when, an apparent leak has occurred?

Ms Cross : I do not believe we have a centralised system for doing that.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Ms Cross, in your earlier comment when we were asking about the troops in Iraq, you indicated—and please correct me if I am putting the wrong words into your mouth—that the department had established there was no basis.

Ms Cross : I believe it was Dr McCarthy who answered that question.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes, you are right. Dr McCarthy indicated that it had been established that there was no basis. So, in part, essentially what we are asking is: how was that established? Was there an investigation by the department? If so, how was that conducted?

Dr McCarthy : I think what I may have said is that the department had no knowledge of any basis for that assertion. The same thing has been said in even stronger terms by Mr Richardson, the Secretary of the Department of Defence. I understand that the Chief of the Defence Force maintains the same position and, of course, the Prime Minister has made it very clear.

Senator Abetz: Might I add that all of these denials were before estimates today. Despite that, we have the opposition trawling.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: This is not trawling, Minister. There are a series of leaks that we are seeking to understand. This particular one is the only one where the evidence before us is that there is no knowledge for the basis of that leak, or alleged leak. We are seeking to understand what the difference is. Was there an investigation into this matter which has or has not occurred in others? Why is it that the department is so adamant on this particular alleged leak compared to the series of others that Senator Ludwig has covered?

Dr McCarthy : The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that he did not make any such proposal. I have said to you that the department has no knowledge of any such proposal and I have pointed to statements by other senior officials.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I assume from that, Dr McCarthy, that when you say the department says—and I am only talking about the department now, not the Prime Minister or other senior officials—'We have no knowledge of the basis for such a report,' you have actually conducted some sort of investigation into where such basis may have been?

Dr McCarthy : Given my role, I would be aware if such a proposal had been put.

Senator LUDWIG: A final question: there was a suggestion in the News Limited story that the Prime Minister's office developed the policy and had it then costed by Health and Finance. Can we rule that out or rule that in as the case may be?

Senator Abetz: The advice that is sought or is not sought is not an area that you can go into. You know that as well as I do.

Senator LUDWIG: All right.

Proceedings suspended from 15:38 to 15:56

Senator WONG: I go now to the process for the appointment of the secretary. No-one made an opening statement indicating to the committee the appointment of the new secretary. I just wondered why that was?

Senator Abetz: We knew that you people had read News Ltd very thoroughly.

Senator WONG: It is a matter of accountability to parliament. It would be usual for a department to indicate a change of personnel of that nature.

Ms Cross : I am happy to take that on notice. It was not an intentional omission.

Senator WONG: Before the recommendation goes to the Governor-General that a person be appointed Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, a report must be received by the Prime Minister from the Public Service Commissioner. I asked a question about the timing of this report and that has not been answered. Can you tell me—given that this is statutory requirement—when the Prime Minister received a report about the appointment from the Public Service Commissioner?

Ms Kelly : I do not have the exact date, but it was a very short time before the appointment was made. I can get the exact date for you.

Senator WONG: Yes, I would like it. I asked about it and I would have thought it an unremarkable question. I am asking about compliance with a statutory requirement and I get an answer which is frankly quite dismissive. It just says, 'The Prime Minister has regular conversations with senior officials in his portfolio.' I am asking about compliance with the statutory requirement.

Ms Kelly : I can get that date for you.

Senator WONG: Did you prepare this answer? It is 1067. I asked Senator Abetz.

Senator Abetz: Answers are normally ministerial answers. The department provides advice, but the nature of the advice is not disclosed.

Senator WONG: That is not what I am asking. I did not ask that question. There is a statutory requirement about a report from the PSC for the appointment of a secretary. I asked—a pretty reasonable question—you on notice, question 1067. The answer you provided is, 'The Prime Minister has regular conversations with senior officials in his portfolio on a range of matters, including significant appointments.' With respect, Minister, it reads like some smart-alec response from a ministerial adviser. It is a legitimate question about the compliance with the statutory process.

Senator Abetz: It is.

Senator WONG: I do not know whether it was drafted in your office or in the department, but it is really not an appropriate way to respond to a legitimate question.

Senator Abetz: It is not as responsive as it might be. I would concede that, but I think you are asking the department about whether they had drafted the answer.

Senator WONG: Yes, I did. Did you prepare this answer?

Senator Abetz: And that is what I was responding to. In fairness, what departments usually do is provide draft answers—but then, as we know especially from Senator Conroy's time in a certain portfolio, they can be changed in ministerial offices. But, as to how they are changed and what the changes are, ultimately the minister takes responsibility.

Senator WONG: I agree with that, but what has been asked and answered—and I know because I had to answer—was whether the answer had been changed, not the content but which answers had been changed.

Senator Abetz: Whether there had been a change but not the nature of the change?

Senator WONG: Yes. I wanted to know the date on which this was provided to the relevant minister's office—the Prime Minister and/or Senator Abetz—and whether the answer was changed subsequent to the first draft being provided.

Senator Abetz: We will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Can anyone tell me the answer to the primary question?

Ms Kelly : I am just hoping that there is an officer in the room looking for that.

Senator WONG: We will come back to that. I also asked, in 1068, about the expenses associated with the recruitment and appointment of Mr Thawley, including but not limited to removal and relocation assistance provided under part 7 of the Remuneration Tribunal determination and I again got a non-answer.

Senator Abetz: I am advised that Prime Minister and Cabinet did not incur any costs associated with the recruitment of Mr Thawley. There has been entitlement for travel and temporary accommodation and removal costs.

Ms Kelly : I do not have that question in front of me as yet, but there may have been a timing issue. Certainly in relation to the recruitment of Mr Thawley, the department incurred no costs. In relation to the relocation, removal and accommodation of Mr Thawley, costs have only most recently been settled in relation to that and we now have some costs in relation to that.

Senator Abetz: That was $30,294.73, including travel, temporary accommodation and removal, in three categories.

Senator WONG: Travel?

Senator Abetz: That was $11,440; temporary accommodation and meals was $5,011; and removal was $13,842. There were a few cents on the end of those figures, but in general terms it was $30,294.

Senator WONG: But no recruitment costs, presumably because there was no advertisement.

Ms Kelly : There were no recruitment costs.

Senator WONG: I have forgotten—where was Mr Thawley located?

Senator Abetz: Washington.

Senator WONG: And the temporary accommodation was for what time period?

Senator Abetz: From 18 November to 22 December 2014, so slightly over one month.

Ms Kelly : I should add that Mr Thawley, under the Remuneration Tribunal determination for departmental secretaries, is entitled to some further reimbursement for a further period, and we would expect that, but that amount has not yet been claimed.

Senator WONG: Could you repeat that last part?

Ms Kelly : Further reimbursements will be available to Mr Thawley for accommodation up to 17 February 2015. The claim at the moment relates to the period up to 22 December. This equates to 13 weeks settling-in allowance and is strictly in accordance with the determination of the Remuneration Tribunal.

Senator WONG: Do we have the APSC date yet?

Senator Abetz: Sorry, the APS?

Senator WONG: APSC report.

Senator Abetz: Look, I will have to take that on notice. I do not seem to have that information in the briefing folder.

Senator WONG: We are still waiting for someone to provide Ms Kelly with some assistance.

Ms Kelly : The way the question was asked was on what date did the Prime Minister seek a report from the Public Service Commissioner on the appointment of Mr Thawley, and my recollection of the events is that the department actually made that request of the Public Service Commission, and so—

Senator WONG: Come on! Seriously, you are going to not answer a question because of that, when under the act the Prime Minister has to get the report anyway really?

Ms Kelly : So the date that we will provide for you is the date that the report was provided by the Public Service Commissioner under section 58 of the Public Service Act.

Senator WONG: Which is what?

Ms Kelly : That is the date that I am currently—

Senator WONG: Could you also give me the date on which you sought the report?

Ms Kelly : I can make that inquiry, and we will—

Senator WONG: Thank you. Can I also ask at whose instigation was that?

Ms Kelly : That was upon the request of the Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: When was that request received and by whom?

Ms Kelly : I will make that inquiry and assist you if I am able to.

Senator WONG: You do not know? But that was not the answer you gave. You did not give an answer that said, 'Actually the Prime Minister didn't seek a report; it was a report sought by the department'. I got an answer about regular conversations. So you will give me—later today, hopefully—when the Prime Minister's office first sought that report or raised that report with the department, when the department formally sought the report from the Public Service Commissioner and the date on which it was received, correct?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can I ask was that request from the PM's office directed to you, Ms Kelly? Sorry, are you frowning at me because you are thinking or frowning at me because—

Ms Kelly : I am thinking. The request in relation to seeking the Public Service Commissioner's report, I believe, would have been to the first assistant secretary of the government division.

Senator WONG: Who is not here?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: And you are not able to tell me with whom that discussion occurred?

Ms Kelly : I believe that that discussion was again with the government adviser in the PMO.

Senator WONG: Was that as a result of prompting by the department that such a report was required under the act?

Ms Kelly : I think that it was part of the department's normal processes in bringing about the appointment.

Senator WONG: I am just trying to get the sequence. Does the Prime Minister's office advise the first assistant secretary, 'We're proposing to appoint this person,' and does the FAS then say, 'Well, you've got to get a report under the act'?

Ms Kelly : The Prime Minister and the previous secretary communicated in relation to the matter, and then the previous secretary, Dr Watt, communicated those instructions to us. We then set about the process for appointing Mr Thawley, and as part of that process we had to seek a report from the Public Service Commissioner.

Senator WONG: Was the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet asked to provide any advice ahead of Dr Watt's retirement as to possible appointments to the position?

Ms Kelly : Not that I am aware of, but again those discussions would have been directly between the Prime Minister and the previous secretary, Dr Watt.

Senator WONG: There was no advice containing a list of names provided to the Prime Minister?

Ms Kelly : Not that I am aware of or that came from my staff.

Ms Cross : Not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: And there was no recruitment process undertaken?

Ms Kelly : It was not a matter that was managed by me or the department. I am not privy to what conversations the Prime Minister had with the previous secretary in relation to that.

Senator WONG: So, if it was not managed by you or the department, who was it managed by?

Ms Cross : We are not aware of any recruitment process.

Senator WONG: So who managed it?

Ms Kelly : As I said, I was advised of the appointment by the former secretary of the department, who was dealing with the matter directly with the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: When were you advised by Dr Watt?

Ms Kelly : I will have to take it on notice to give you the date for that.

Senator WONG: Well, presumably before he retired.

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Well before?

Ms Kelly : I will have to make some inquiries. It was definitely before he retired.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, while we are waiting for those dates, I do want to ask you about one thing—

Senator Abetz: Just one thing, all right.

Senator WONG: Oh no, there are plenty more. The Prime Minister has said publicly that backgrounding against ministers by staff is a sackable offence. Correct?

Senator Abetz: I think he is on the public record as saying that.

Senator WONG: Has this always been the case?

Senator Abetz: As I understand it, that has been the case. But I stand to be corrected.

Senator WONG: And what about backgrounding against departmental secretaries by staff. Is that a sackable offence?

Senator Abetz: It depends what you mean by backgrounding and that sort of value-laden term.

Senator WONG: Are members of staff permitted to background media negatively or positively—well, negatively—about a departmental secretary?

Senator Abetz: What, so they can positively but not—

Senator WONG: I am asking.

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: You do not know? Is your chief of staff allowed to background against or for your departmental secretary?

Senator Abetz: My chief of staff is a very good person, but we are not here talking about my portfolio. We are talking about Prime Minister and Cabinet. I will take that on notice for the Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: But I am asking what the rules are. I am asking whether or not the rules are that ministerial staff can or cannot talk to the media about APS officials.

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice as to what the official—

Senator WONG: They should not be able to, and certainly not without the permission of the employer.

Senator Abetz: That stands to reason what you are saying, but I will get the exact wording for you.

Senator WONG: The Sydney Morning Herald reported in December that the Prime Minister's office regarded former PM&C Secretary Dr Watt, as, and I quote: 'an affable but ineffectual officer'. Has anyone investigated who gave that quote to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Senator Abetz: I do not know whether PM&C have but I am not aware of any investigation. Many of these stories that do appear in the media, I suspect, are third or fourth hand.

Senator WONG: The journalist is reporting the views of the Prime Minister's office. Where those views communicated to the journalist with or without the Prime Minister's authority?

Senator Abetz: If they were.

Senator WONG: If what were?

Senator Abetz: If these views—these are allegations and assertions. They are not proven matters, and that is what one always has to be careful of in dealing with these matters. I do not want to give those assertions any credibility by suggesting that it did occur.

Senator WONG: Isn't the problem this: you are suggesting it may or may not have occurred, but to the department somebody is on the record, albeit anonymously, in a piece having a go at Dr Watt?

Senator Abetz: Yes, and that is what makes it extremely difficult to prove the veracity or otherwise of the assertion—when these things are anonymously sourced and asserted by journalists, when you do not know what the source is and nobody is willing to name the source. All governments have had these situations arise from time to time.

Senator WONG: I note that in response to a question of mine, question No. 1411 to you, Senator Abetz, the answer provided was: the comments referred to are not the view of the government. Have any members of the Prime Minister's staff been sanctioned over the negative backgrounding in relation to Dr Watt?

Senator Abetz: I can take that on notice but I would suspect not, because this is not a fact; it is an assertion. And one of the descriptors I would actually agree with—that Dr Watt is very ethical.

Senator WONG: And ineffectual?

Senator Abetz: As to the other matters, I never found him to be that way, I must say. He was the secretary when I was cutting my teeth as a junior minister and I got on exceptionally well with Dr Watt. So, from a personal perspective, I would not agree with that. In fact, I am told that the Prime Minister made the comment, 'The Prime Minister advises that he has the utmost respect for the former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Ian Watt AO, and any speculative comments about his departure are not the view of this government.'

Senator WONG: What you have just read is actually an edited version of the answer provided to me.

Senator Abetz: Sorry?

Senator WONG: What you have read is the edited version of the answer provided to me. The answer provided did not include the word 'speculative'. All right, so no-one has been sanctioned for that, and you say, 'We don't know if it has been said'—

Senator Abetz: They are not the views of the government.

Senator WONG: They are not my views either, but that is not the point. The point is that a journalist has reported that this is something that a staff member of the Prime Minister has said about the former secretary of the department, and no-one has checked whether or not that is the case.

Senator Abetz: Government could tie itself up in knots every time it dealt with an issue that is speculated upon in the media, and we are not going to go down that path.

Senator WONG: That is true, but the PM said this is a standard. Perhaps I can go back to the standard, then, in relation to Senator Sinodinos. Senator Sinodinos's resignation from the ministry was leaked to the media ahead of the timetable which had been agreed with the Prime Minister. Was any action taken as a result of that?

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice. I am not sure whether in my briefs there are—

Senator WONG: I have given you two goes at this, Senator, because I asked you in question time. I assume there has to be something, right?

Senator Abetz: I am without a brief on that matter. I will take it on notice.

Senator WONG: So you cannot tell me if anybody has been sanctioned, or any action has been taken, as a result of the leaking of Senator—

Senator Abetz: No, I cannot. But I will find out.

Senator WONG: Okay, that is fine. Who in the department was responsible for the response to the downing of MH17?

Ms Cross : That would be the national security area.

Senator WONG: I am going to ask a couple of questions about that. Dr McCarthy, you were responsible for coordinating the response on the MH17 tragedy?

Dr McCarthy : I was actually absent, in the United States, at that time. There was someone acting in my position, but I am happy to take questions, obviously.

Senator WONG: Is that person around?

Dr McCarthy : Yes, the person who was acting is here, but I am happy to take questions about it.

Senator WONG: I actually want to know what the interaction was between the Prime Minister's office and the departmental officer. You cannot answer the questions, because I actually want to know—somebody has come to the table; is this the person we are talking about?

Dr McCarthy : That is right—Ms Connick, who was acting at the time.

Senator WONG: Ms Connick, can you tell me what your role was?

Ms Connick : At the time of MH17 I was acting for Dr McCarthy.

Senator WONG: I understand that is the position you were in, but what were you doing? You were coordinating the government's response and liaising with various national security agencies. Can you take us through that.

Ms Connick : Yes, I was doing all of those things, which are the things Dr McCarthy would normally do in that role as Associate Secretary, National Security and International Policy—making sure we provided the advice that was necessary, making sure we were prepared for national security committee meetings and ensuring the secretaries had the information they needed prior to those meetings.

Senator WONG: Presumably this role involved liaison with the Prime Minister's Office.

Ms Connick : It did.

Senator WONG: Did you liaise with a particular adviser or advisers?

Ms Connick : I liaised with several advisers, yes.

Senator WONG: At which level?

Ms Connick : I liaised with Andrew Shearer and Simeon Gilding.

Senator WONG: What is Mr Shearer's title now?

Dr McCarthy : Senior Adviser, National Security.

Senator WONG: What is the position title of the other person you mentioned?

Ms Connick : I think Mr Gilding's position is Senior Adviser, Security and Defence. I would have to check the actual details.

Senator WONG: Anybody else?

Ms Connick : Not that I can recall, no.

Senator WONG: Did you deal directly with the Prime Minister, or was it Dr Watt who did that?

Ms Connick : Dr Watt dealt with the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Dr McCarthy, when did you return?

Dr McCarthy : I was away for three weeks. I actually departed on the morning of the event and returned three weeks later on a Sunday. I do not have the exact dates with me.

Senator WONG: Did anyone from the Prime Minister's Office express concern about the department's response to this event?

Dr McCarthy : We would not normally comment on conversations we have the Prime Minister's Office.

Senator WONG: The reason I ask is that it is also reported that the PMO was frustrated with 'the department's inertia in responding to the shoot down of MH17'. I am trying to ascertain whether there is any truth to that assertion.

Senator Abetz: Could you repeat that question.

Senator WONG: It has been reported that the Prime Minister's Office has been frustrated with Dr Watt and PM&C, and one of the sources of the frustration is 'the department's inertia in responding to the shoot down of MH17'.

Dr McCarthy : I am not going to comment on media speculation.

Senator WONG: It is not media speculation, it is a direct quote.

Senator Abetz: Yes it is.

Senator WONG: It is not speculation, someone has made that comment.

Senator Abetz: It is an assertion. Who said it and when?

Senator WONG: Dr McCarthy, you do not want to answer my question as to whether any concerns were raised by the Prime Minister's Office about PM&C's response?

Dr McCarthy : On the basis that we do not comment upon conversations with the Prime Minister's Office—and my answer would be the same regardless of the subject matter.

Senator WONG: That is true. But I am not asking you to comment. I am just asking you if concerns were raised and, if so, by whom.

Senator Abetz: That goes to—

Senator WONG: Commentary is a different thing. Did she like it? Did she not like it? What did she think of it? That is commentary. I am just asking a factual question: was it raised?

Senator Abetz: No, the type of issue is identified by your use of the word 'concern' as to the type of discussion that may or may not have taken place. You can ask whether a discussion took place, but you cannot ask what the content of that discussion was. By putting into your question the word 'concern', you are seeking to identify the type of discussion.

Senator WONG: I have finished on national security. Can someone explain to me whether Mr Thawley will have a different role to the one Dr Watt had in terms of the government's overarching economic strategy?

Ms Cross : In terms of economic advice to government, obviously the head of Treasury has an important role. And obviously the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the head of the Department of Finance contribute to that discussion. I do not believe any of that has changed.

Senator WONG: So you do not understand Mr Thawley to have a different role in relation to the government's overarching economic strategy than the former secretary of PM&C had?

Ms Cross : I do not think there has been any changes to the role of the secretary at PM&C.

Senator WONG: Is that your understanding too, Minister?

Senator Abetz: The input of both gentlemen, I am sure, would have been more than welcome by the government. At the end of the day, the government makes the decisions.

Senator WONG: In the same report, it was reported that Mr Thawley had been tasked with rethinking the government's overarching economic strategy. Has Mr Thawley been tasked with rethinking the government's overarching economic strategy?

Senator Abetz: Those sorts of discussions and taskings we will not comment on. It stands to reason that anybody who comes new into an area would be asked to come with fresh ideas across the whole gamut of government, so that would not be surprising. But as to whether he was specifically asked or not, we do not go into those matters.

Senator WONG: You do not want to tell us whether someone has been tasked with rethinking your entire economic strategy? Has that been tasked to the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or not?

Senator Abetz: This is what happens when you go off media reports and faithfully regurgitate them word for word. As to whether he will have input into the government's economic strategy, you would want every departmental secretary, including the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to have some input. When it comes to rethinking the entirety of it, that is a value judgement that we are not going to entertain.

Senator WONG: It is not my value judgement, it is the judgement of the Prime Minister's Office.

Senator Abetz: It is asserted. Once again you have fallen for the trap of listening to these unnamed sources. It is courtesy of the gossip columns. I understand that oppositions often live off their sources, but you have to understand that they may not necessarily be robust.

Senator WONG: Senior journalists could make this stuff up, that is true. But there has obviously been a briefing of a journalist by the Prime Minister's Office. Whether it is accurate, I do not know—nor do you.

Senator Abetz: I am not sure that that is obvious, so the premise of your question is not something I would entertain.

Senator WONG: Okay. But, Ms Cross, there is no change to the role?

Ms Cross : The role, the job description, as far as I understand, remains the same.

Senator WONG: Has Mr Thawley been tasked with anything in particular by the government in relation to the economic strategy?

Ms Cross : We do not reveal that sort of information. If he has had private conversations with the Prime Minister, we would not reveal that.

Senator WONG: If you are going to claim public interest immunity, you had better do a little better than that.

Ms Cross : I am not. I am saying the longstanding practice is not to reveal the private conversations between the secretary and the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: I am not asking about a private conversation, I am asking what he has been tasked to do. Would you like me to ask the chair to read again the opening statement which says there is nothing we cannot ask? If you have a claim for public interest immunity, you should undertake it properly.

Ms Cross : I am not making a public interest immunity claim. If you are talking about tasking, if you mean formal tasking, he has not been issued with a direction if that is what you are referring to.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I said: has he been tasked?

Ms Cross : Formally directed?

Senator WONG: I don't know! There is a lot of 'formal' and 'informal'—apparently the Prime Minister did not make a 'formal' request for more troops; he might have made some other request. We can revert to those word games.

Ms Cross : I think a direction is a pretty formal process.

Senator WONG: Has he been tasked with the redesign of the government's economic strategy?

Ms Cross : I think we have answered that question.

Senator WONG: What is the answer to it?

Ms Cross : We have said his role remains the same and we do not discuss—

Senator WONG: All right, has he been 'directed'—would you like me to use that phrase?

Ms Cross : He has not been directed.

Ms Kelly : Before we leave that matter—

Senator WONG: It is a fascinating topic. You are going to give me dates, right?

Ms Kelly : I am going to inform you that the brief in relation to the appointment of Mr Thawley is actually a brief directly from the Public Service Commissioner to the Prime Minister. Although the department assisted the Public Service Commissioner, it did not actually dispatch that brief. So it is a matter that you can take up with the Public Service Commissioner.

Senator WONG: No. You refused to answer the question on notice when I asked you whether the Prime Minister requested the Public Service Commissioner's report because you said it was the department's request. So you can at least give me the date of that. Don't run me around in circles like this!

Ms Kelly : I can give you the date the department had those discussions, but in terms of the date that the brief went to the Prime Minister, that would be a matter that you could take up with the Public Service Commissioner tonight.

Senator WONG: I am happy to do that, but were you not copied in?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: What was the date you requested it?

Ms Kelly : I can obtain that date for you. The difficulty is that these matters were—

Senator WONG: This is extraordinary. It is a question I have been—

Senator Abetz: Can Ms Kelly finish.

Senator WONG: Sorry, you finish.

Ms Kelly : The difficulty is that this matter was the subject of conversations between the previous secretary, Dr Watt, and the previous Public Service Commissioner, Stephen Sedgwick. We can provide as much as we are able to but, ultimately, the matter was dealt with in private conversations between the former secretary and the former Public Service Commissioner.

Senator WONG: Okay. Does that mean I will get an answer before the end of the day?

Senator Abetz: Best endeavours.

Ms Kelly : We will give you an answer as best as we are able to from our involvement in it, but with the qualification that the matter was dealt with on a one-to-one basis between the former secretary and the former Public Service Commissioner.

Senator WONG: A lot of this would have been avoided if I did not receive such dismissive answers to my question initially.

Senator Abetz: If you receive dismissive answers, that is a matter of regret; but, undoubtedly, it is following precedent from the previous government, of which you were a senior minister. I remember the ones I got!

CHAIR: I do not know that we need to go down this path.

Senator WONG: The quality was variable!

CHAIR: Minister, perhaps you and Senator Wong can debate this afterwards.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Abetz: No thanks.

Senator WONG: On compliance: for questions on notice due on 31 December 2014, did you submit a single answer within the time frame, Ms Kelly or Ms Cross?

Senator Abetz: I understand that that is not the case, but allow me to check. I am correct that none were.

Senator WONG: I think it is quite embarrassing for the Prime Minister's department, the central department, not to comply at all with an order of the Senate. Do you regard your obligations to the Senate seriously?

Senator Abetz: Of course they do.

Senator WONG: I am asking Ms Cross and Ms Kelly, actually. Does the department regard its obligations to the Senate seriously?

Senator Abetz: I can answer questions.

Senator WONG: What, they don't want to answer that?

CHAIR: The minister is entitled to respond.

Senator Abetz: I am sure that they do. In fairness, as you would know, often the provision of answers is an iterative process whereby the department provides certain information and then the relevant minister's office has a look through them. From time to time they are either sent back to the department for further information or reworked and ultimately provided. And there has been a substantial increase in the number of questions asked which require an answer.

Senator WONG: Yes. If some questions were answered the first time around, we would not have to keep coming back. I am again going to ask the deputy secretary or the associate secretary, in the absence of the secretary: does the department regard its obligations to the Senate seriously?

Ms Cross : Yes, and we endeavour to answer questions on notice and freedom of information questions—the range of questions we get—as quickly as possible.

Senator WONG: You have a 100 per cent failure rate on this occasion. What sort of example does that set for the rest of the Public Service about accountability to the Senate?

Senator Abetz: And please do not think that history in this area started on 8 September 2013.

Senator WONG: No, and I worked very hard to make sure we improved our response rate. I did.

Senator Abetz: Well, without success.

Senator WONG: No, in my portfolio I did.

Senator Abetz: I am more than willing to accept that you worked exceptionally hard but, regrettably, the success was not reciprocated—

Senator WONG: I do not think that is right. Anyway, you are in government and I am talking about you and I am talking about accountability to the Senate and this committee.

Senator Abetz: That is right; a different standard applies now. That is what you are saying.

Senator WONG: Do you think they should comply or not?

Senator Abetz: Of course I do.

Senator WONG: Well they are not, so what is going to happen about it?

Senator Abetz: Part of the problem is that there is duplication of questions. They are asked at estimates and are also then put as parliamentary questions—

Senator WONG: If they answered them the first time, we would not have to put them in the parliament. You people have not worked this out. Part of the reason you are getting multiple questions is you are not answering them in one forum so we have to pursue other accountability—

Senator Abetz: I am not sure that that is the case, but I am with you, Senator, in heated agreement that questions should be answered in as timely a fashion as possible.

Senator WONG: Orders of the Senate should be complied with. Do we not agree with that?

Senator Abetz: Within reason, absolutely. If every order of the Senate were complied with under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments I would say you as a senior cabinet minister in those governments would have had some credibility in making that assertion here today.

Senator WONG: There is also an order of the Senate agreed to in June 2014 that, no later than 10 days prior to the commencement of budget, supplementary or additional estimates, a statement be tabled showing the number of questions taken on notice, the number of answers and, of those answers not provided to the committee by the due date, the dates on which answers were provided to the approving minister's office. It is an order of continuing effect. Again this order was not complied with because the statement was received after the 10 days. So it is another one. Can I have an explanation as to why?

Senator Abetz: Which one was that, Senator?

Senator WONG: There is an order of the Senate in relation to unanswered estimates questions on notice which requests a range of information that is required to be provided no later than 10 days prior to the commencement of estimates hearings for the relevant round of estimates hearings. That was tabled late. So not only are all the questions late but the statement explaining how many questions were late is late. Can someone tell me why? Is the Prime Minister's office just saying, 'We had a lot of work on'?

Senator Abetz: No. I thought I had written to the—

Senator WONG: You did; it was late. I am going to go to the content of it, but I first want to know why it was late.

Senator Abetz: I will have to go into the detail of that.

Senator WONG: Okay. When did the department prepare the draft statement pursuant to the Senate order and when was it submitted to the Prime Minister's office or Senator Abetz's office?

Senator Abetz: We will take that on notice as well.

Senator WONG: The department does not know when it prepared it?

Ms Kelly : I think Senator Abetz has indicated that we will take it on notice. We can certainly find that date for you.

Senator WONG: I am going to get another run-around answer, am I? So I will have to put more questions no notice. Will I get another non-answer to this question?

Ms Cross : We have taken it on notice.

Senator WONG: Maybe you could answer it.

Ms Kelly : We can get that information.

Senator WONG: When was that draft statement prepared and submitted either to the Prime Minister's office and/or to Senator Abetz's office? Can you tell me who in the department prepared it?

Ms Kelly : That was prepared under my authority by my staff.

Senator WONG: Were there any changes either in the Prime Minister's office or Senator Abetz's office? And can you explain to me why the statement provided does not comply with the order? Not only does it not comply in terms of time frame; it does not comply in terms of content.

Senator Abetz: I do not have the correspondence here.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly, did the draft you prepared comply with the Senate's order or not?

Ms Kelly : I think the minister has indicated we will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: How is that the Prime Minister's department can just wilfully ignore orders of the Senate? Do you just think the Senate can be ignored? Is that how it is?

CHAIR: For my benefit, Senator, are you able to tell me when these Senate orders were introduced?

Senator WONG: June 2014. There was a Minchin one before that that is—

CHAIR: June 2014.

Senator Abetz: As I understand it, the Senate order of June 2014 basically revived previous orders. It was not a new situation, as I recall.

CHAIR: Was the government consulted about it?

Senator Abetz: It was a new order—my apologies.

Senator WONG: I certainly know that that information had been requested previously. Certainly it was requested of me when I was a minister. But that may only have been a Finance and Public Administration committee matter. I thought there was a previous order of the Senate.

CHAIR: Was the government consulted about the order prior to it being introduced into the Senate?

Senator Abetz: One presumes not. I am not sure who moved the order.

Senator WONG: Me.

Senator Abetz: You did?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Senator Abetz: I daresay you did not consult with the government about that, that it was put down—

Senator WONG: Other than giving notice?

Senator Abetz: Yes, other than giving notice.

Senator WONG: I do not think you rang me about it.

Senator Abetz: No, but you could have picked up the phone as well to say, 'This is a brand new idea to apply a different standard to your government than we applied to our own.'

Senator WONG: I do not—

Senator Abetz: Let us have a look at it and I will get back to you.

Senator WONG: It might have been Senator Cormann who sought it before, but I certainly recall having to provide this information previously. It might have been as a request from the committee. But leaving that aside and leaving aside the 'who is better than whom' and the pointing the finger and all that, what concerns me is this. I get that sometimes some questions require more work. Sometimes there are a range of questions that are going to take longer and there might be sensible reasons for things to be late. If there had been a reasonable number filed and a certain number were late, I would still say it was bad but I would understand that there may have been reasons why it had occurred. What concerns me here is that there is a complete failure to comply with the Senate order in relation to the time frame for all questions from this committee to this department and then a failure to comply with the order about explaining why that is the case—or providing the information the order requires about when they were provided to the Prime Minister's office. So at every step of the way the will of the Senate is being ignored by PM&C. I have a problem with that.

Senator Abetz: It is a pity you did not have a problem with budget estimates 2010 when 95 questions were taken on notice and not responded to by the former Labor government until after the caretaker period had commenced—some three months after the due date for answers to be provided to the committee. Neither party has a good track record in government. One of the reasons, I am told, for the 157 questions from the October 2014 hearings is that 85 of those questions were all-agency questions which required a lot of coordination between the various ministerial offices—and regrettably the Christmas leave period extended the period in which answers were provided.

Senator WONG: The first paragraph of the answers says answers were provided on a number of dates. Can the order be complied with and those answers be provided. The order states:

… of those answers not provided to the committee by the due date, the dates on which answers were provided to the approving minister's office.

Can I ask that you comply with the order.

Ms Cross : I will take that on notice, Senator.

Senator Abetz: If I recall, the June 2014 orders did not go through what would have been the normal process of the Senate's Procedure Committee.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, if you do not like an order of the Senate, rather than just not complying with it—

Senator Abetz: I understand that when you have the numbers in the Senate—

Senator WONG: You are complaining about something the Senate agreed to. Senator Cormann asked the same thing of me. So can we just get over this.

CHAIR: Order! One at a time.

Senator Abetz: When you have the numbers in the Senate, you can force things through without going through the proper process—like the 52 bills you rammed through without a single word of discussion in the death throes of your government, Senator Wong and Senator Ludwig. Please do not come high and mighty to this committee pretending that the history of the Senate started on 8 September 2013.

Senator WONG: I am expressing this to the deputy secretaries and the associate secretary and, through you, to the secretary. I would hope that the performance could improve.

CHAIR: And you have made that point very clearly.

Senator WONG: Thank you, Chair.

Senator LUDWIG: I just wanted to go to how the department supports the Prime Minister for question time. Do you prepare the briefs for the Prime Minister?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator LUDWIG: Are they generated from yourself, or through PMO to PM&C, or looked at by PMO before changes? When briefs are made, are they amended by PMO and provided to the Prime Minister?

Ms Kelly : I might get the First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial Support Division, who coordinates that process to assist you.

Senator Abetz: It stands to reason that these things are an iterative process. PM&C would undoubtedly think there might some issues du jour that need to be considered. The PMO might predict certain questions and ask for briefs on particular matters, and then, of course, how those briefs are used is a matter for the relevant minister.

Senator LUDWIG: Very clearly it is always a matter for the Prime Minister. Is that how it works? PM&C might prepare a brief on a topical matter, provide it to PMO, and PMO then obviously prepare it and provide it to the Prime Minister. You may not be aware of the latter process—I suspect you are, though.

Ms Spence : That is the process. The only thing I would probably clarify is that there is a discussion on the topics before the brief is actually prepared. Topics for the briefs are suggested, and then PMO might also request some, and then the briefs are prepared.

Senator LUDWIG: The question time brief for Thursday 12 February went to the disclosure of the contents of the briefing that the Prime Minister received that morning from the director-general of ASIO and the AFP. Was that an iterative process where the PMO requested that information be prepared by PM&C? Or was there a standing brief that PM&C then provided as a consequence of that brief?

Senator Abetz: Before we go there, we do not comment on the information that may or may not be provided. I do not know if you assert you have got a particular document in front of you or you have special knowledge of what the briefing may or may not have contained, but the information that is provided is clearly in the form of advice and we do not comment on it.

Senator LUDWIG: I am not looking for what was in the advice. Let us be clear. I know that (a) you would not answer that and (b) I should not ask it in any event.

Senator Abetz: All right, I am sorry; I may have misinterpreted your question. Can you ask it again?

Senator LUDWIG: Was there a brief provided for the Prime Minister ahead of question time on Thursday, 12 February which went to the answer that he then gave—if I can put it that way?

Senator Abetz: Whether or not a brief was provided on a certain topic you might be able to ask, but whether that then informed his answer in the parliament is not something that you can canvass.

Senator LUDWIG: Let us deal with the first issue then. Was there a brief that went to the issue?

Ms Cross : We would take that on notice. We would not normally reveal what we included in the briefing pack, but we will take that on notice for you.

Senator LUDWIG: In respect of that, which is a slightly ancillary matter, did the PMO ask for a brief to be prepared in relation to that issue?

Ms Cross : Again, we would not normally reveal the nature of—

Senator LUDWIG: I am not looking for the content, just whether or not it was a question that was asked of the pack.

Ms Cross : Again, I do not think we would normally reveal that, but I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: Did the Prime Minister seek advice from the department about the content of the question? In providing the answer to the House, prior to the Prime Minister making that statement, did the Prime Minister seek advice from PM&C about whether or not he could, or should—or can make that statement?

Ms Cross : Again, I do not think we normally reveal the nature of advice that is sought from the department by the Prime Minister, but I am happy to take that on notice and check.

Senator LUDWIG: I am not asking for content, just whether or not the—

Ms Cross : I understand.

Senator LUDWIG: request was made.

Ms Cross : I think the longstanding protocol is—

Senator Abetz: Yes, you are, because you are asking whether he could say whether he should not say et cetera. Clearly you are going to the content of the advice. We will take it on notice and that which we can provide we will.

Senator LUDWIG: In an expansive way I suspect you are correct, but in the more narrow sense, whether advice was requested, I could perhaps stop at that point. But you have indicated that you will take that notice. I would encourage you to provide what can given in the general way these things are answered.

Senator Abetz: Thank you for your encouragement.

Senator LUDWIG: Thank you. Are we aware of whether, in providing the material to the Prime Minister, the video was provided or not?

Senator Abetz: We would be aware of that, but whether we are going to disclose that or not—

Senator LUDWIG: Whether you are going to tell me or not is another matter.

Senator Abetz: is another issue.

Senator LUDWIG: I could chance my hand on this one. Could you tell me whether the Prime Minister watched the video prior to—

Senator Abetz: I have got no idea. We will take that on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: Then there was a translation in respect of that matter. Was PM&C requested to provide a translation?

Ms Cross : Again, I would have to take that on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: There was a quote; it was quoted by the Prime Minister.

Ms Cross : Sorry, Senator, I missed that?

Senator LUDWIG: It was a question of whether the Prime Minister asked the department to check the translation.

Ms Cross : I will take that on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: Were any officers present from PM&C?

Senator Abetz: We are trying to get to the mystery of that of which you speak, but I think you are talking about an incident where two gentlemen were arrested.

Senator LUDWIG: Yes.

Senator Abetz: That is the matter of some court proceedings, so we have to be particularly careful.

Senator LUDWIG: That is why I tried to beat around the bush a little bit.

Senator Abetz: Yes, but you beat around that much that some of us had to scratch our heads as to what happened on 12 February at question time.

Senator LUDWIG: It got a bit wide of the mark.

Senator Abetz: When you mentioned the video it started to make a few things come together for us. I think we now know of that which you speak.

Senator LUDWIG: Now that we are there, it was where the Prime Minister sought advice from the department. So we are on the same page, this is the follow-up question where he told the House, 'We have been saved from an imminent terrorist attack.' He then proceeded to outline the contents of a video that he said men who were arrested earlier that week had prepared. That is the context, and there were obviously translation requirements in that. So at least that gives you a bit more context to the earlier questions. The nub of the issue now is whether or not in the provision of information to the Prime Minister PM&C staff were present.

Senator Abetz: Were PM&C staff present when he—

Senator LUDWIG: Were any officers of the department present for the briefing by the AFP and ASIO to the Prime Minister on this issue?

Senator Abetz: As to their presence, we can take that on notice. Whether somebody was or was not present, I am not sure. But we will take that on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: It would be unusual if they were not present though, wouldn't it?

Senator Abetz: I would say that this whole situation, thank goodness, is absolutely unusual for our nation. Therefore, I am not sure you could say that there was actually a precedent in the way that these matters are dealt with.

Senator LUDWIG: I do not know how much you can help me with this, but it was reported by the Prime Minister's office, who defended the criticism. If you recall, when he made that statement there was criticism of his decision to disclose details of evidence yet to be tendered in court by saying he had permission from the AFP commissioner, Mr Colvin. That way, if a departmental officer was present, they may be able to enlighten the committee. Or was it a matter that the Prime Minister or PMO then sought PM&C to subsequently seek that permission from the AFP?

Ms Cross : I suspect we would refer you to the AFP on that.

Senator LUDWIG: I was going to go across there tomorrow and ask them the same thing. But what I wanted to do was not to at least close the loop where they would then say, 'We advised. We can't tell you who we advised.' Or they might say, 'We advised. You should go and talk to PM&C because they would be the ones that could answer that question.' If you do not think it happens, can I assure you it does happen. I wanted to make sure that I can then respond to Mr Colvin tomorrow and say, 'PM&C has said X.'

Senator Abetz: You tell Mr Colvin that PM&C said, 'Go to AFP.'

Senator LUDWIG: Yes. So you cannot say whether or not, or you do not know whether or not, you sought subsequent permission from the AFP in relation to the statement made by the Prime Minister?

Ms Cross : I do not know, and I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: So no-one in this room knows whether or not permission was—

Ms Cross : I do not know, but I think we would take that on notice anyway.

Senator LUDWIG: All right. You could not find out today, before tomorrow? It would be helpful. We are here until 11 o'clock, as I understand it.

Ms Cross : We will see what we can do.

Senator LUDWIG: The DPP, which also ask tomorrow, issued a statement. Do you know whether or not PM&C asked the DPP to issue a statement on the matter?

Ms Cross : Whether the PM&C did? I will take that on notice and see if I can get that answer for you, as well.

Senator LUDWIG: Or whether the request came from the Prime Minister's office through PM&C to ask the DPP to issue a statement in relation to the matter?

Ms Cross : We will see what we can find out for you.

Senator LUDWIG: Was there any contact between PMO, or through PM&C, and the DPP—or if you are aware of any contact between the PMO and the DPP—prior to the statement being issued? I am just trying to cover—

Ms Cross : Yes, understood.

Senator LUDWIG: all of the questions that I could possibly ask on this issue so that you answer appropriately.

Senator Abetz: I am sure there are more if you thought about. But I am not tempting you, be assured.

Senator LUDWIG: No, no. It is just that earlier today I had to re-ask. There was an interesting question put in another portfolio where their answer was 'no', whereas quite plainly there was a document and it was produced. Upon reflection, the public servant indicated that it was not a mislead; the answer was not contemporaneous. I do not know what that means. It clearly—

Senator Abetz: At the time the answer was given one assumes there was no document in existence. But one has since come into existence, I would imagine.

Senator LUDWIG: Yes, it seems to be that. Did the PM&C communicate with the DPP or the CDPP in relation to the matter? This is without input from the Prime Minister or PMO.

Ms Cross : We will check that for you.

Senator LUDWIG: There were also comments made by the president of the New South Wales Bar Association, Jane Needham SC, at the time, who then indicated that she believed that a court could find it would be impossible to have a jury empanelled who was not affected by the Prime Minister's comment. Has that matter been examined by PM&C?

Senator Abetz: And one wonders whether her comment then might also have an impact on the empanelling of a jury. That is an interesting situation that the president of the bar association has got herself into. We will take that question on notice, as well, because we do not have an answer.

Senator LUDWIG: Surrounding that same issue is a question of whether or not PMO then contacted PM&C in relation to those comments by, I presume, Ms Needham and sought to provide a response.

Ms Cross : We will take that on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: I think we dealt with this earlier, if I remember correctly—the process for approving ministerial travel.

Senator Abetz: Yes, that has been dealt with previously. Do you want to re-canvass it or not?

Senator LUDWIG: No, I will come back to it if I think I need to. I was listening to most and I think it covered a lot of the issues that I would want to raise. There are more specific ones that I might go to then. These are the words of the paper, so please forgive me. You will recall a trip where the Foreign Minister allegedly went bananas at Mr Abbott when she read in the paper that Mr Robb—

Senator Abetz: That is a technical term, I assume.

Senator LUDWIG: It is a Queensland term, anyway. It was the report which said Mr Robb would be shadowing her. But the question I really want to go to, just to put us in context, is: on what date did the Prime Minister and his office first receive the request from the Foreign Minister? And in what form was that request received?

Senator Abetz: We do have, I understand, information from DFAT. On what date did it first submit? That was on 20 May 2014. Your colleague Senator Wong asked that question.

Senator LUDWIG: Have you answered it?

Senator Abetz: Yes. The questions was:

With reference to the request from the Minister to represent Australia at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru (the conference) :

(1) On what date did the Minister first submit a request to the Prime Minister seeking to represent Australia at the conference and in what form was the request made.

We answered on 20 May. The question went on:

(2) On what date did the Minister receive a response refusing her travel request.

That was 18 June. Then:

(3) How was the Minister informed her request to travel was refused.

By letter. So you should talk. You do have cross-factional discussions? Senator Ludwig, you can talk with Senator Wong about these matters? More seriously, it is question No. 1502. I think that was a parliamentary question on notice, asked by your leader, Senator Wong. I hope you are not trying to gazump her, here.

Senator LUDWIG: If I could I would—but that is an aside. I will come back to those. I was not aware of whether the questions had been answered or not, so I can clarify that. When did the department establish a task force to propose a new post-2020 emissions target for Australia to take to the Paris conference of the UNFCCC in December 2015?

Ms Cross : The Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs announced the establishment of the task force on 10 December.

Senator LUDWIG: Who was on the task force?

Ms Cross : The task force has a range of people from different departments on it. It is working within PM&C and working closely with DFAT, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Industry and Science and the department of the Treasury.

Senator LUDWIG: Do they have a work schedule?

Ms Cross : They certainly have a forward work plan; yes.

Senator LUDWIG: They must have a date on which they will have to arrive at a decision point at.

Ms Cross : The government has indicated that its post-2020 target will be announced in mid-2015.

Senator LUDWIG: That is the date for the announcement. So is the work schedule available to the committee?

Ms Cross : I will take that on notice. I do not think it has been publicly released.

Senator LUDWIG: I was interested in whether or not there has been any prepared discussion papers or the like, in accordance with the work schedule. The work schedule would say, 'On this date we expect to have this done.' I am not looking for the decision; I am looking for the work that is currently being done by the task force in preparing information for the government to make a decision. I think that should be available to the committee, because I am not asking for the decision. I am just asking about the work schedule and whether they have prepared any discussion papers or documents for consultation. The following question would be whether or not they intend to have a public consultation in respect of any discussion about this.

Ms Cross : I am not sure that decisions have been taken on that yet but I will take that on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: And you will come back to me on notice as to who is actually on the task force from the department.

Ms Cross : I should be able to get that for you pretty quickly.

Senator LUDWIG: Will that include the targets? You might want to take that on notice too.

Dr Gruen : In answer to your question about whether the consultation has been undertaken, the task force has been out consulting with people, talking to them, but decisions about what further consultation will be undertaken have yet to be made, as Ms Cross said. Ms Pearce is leading the task force in PM&C.

Senator LUDWIG: Is there a work plan?

Dr Gruen : Work is being undertaken, but there is not a work plan as such. We are scoping the exercise at the moment.

Senator LUDWIG: Is there a discussion paper?

Dr Gruen : Not at this stage.

Senator LUDWIG: But you are working towards one for public consultation?

Dr Gruen : Part of the scoping exercise and working out the nature of this exercise is thinking about exactly what we will do. That is a work in progress.

Senator LUDWIG: So I should ask you again at some future time.

Dr Gruen : We would welcome future questions.

Senator Abetz: You are stretching it now.

Senator LUDWIG: Are you on track to meet the government's timetable.

Dr Gruen : Certainly. The government is committed, as I think has already been said, to announcing post 2020 targets in mid-2015. As you would be aware, the crucial meeting will be in Paris in December—at which these commitments will be talked about. But countries are making commitments to announcements at various stages through this year.

Senator LUDWIG: We do not have far to go until mid-2015, have we?

Dr Gruen : I think we can agree how far we have to go between here and 2015. That is not something about which there is any contention.

Senator LUDWIG: In December, the former Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston, was dismissed, sacked, shown the door. Was there a reason provided to Senator Johnston for that?

Senator Abetz: The nature of Senator Johnston's departure was discussed between the Prime Minister and Senator Johnston. As far as I understand, nothing more has been said publicly about it.

Senator LUDWIG: The one that was perplexing was Senator Mason's sacking as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Senator Abetz: Once again you are using that pejorative—

Senator LUDWIG: It did not strike me that he did anything at all wrong.

Senator ABETZ: You are using a pejorative term there.

Senator LUDWIG: I withdraw that, then. It was just very curious.

Senator Abetz: All I can say is that, with Senator Mason as well, there was a discussion between him and the Prime Minister and nothing else has been said publicly.

Senator LUDWIG: For the winners, then, was Ms Bishop consulted on the appointment of Mr Ciobo from Queensland as her new parliamentary secretary?

Senator Abetz: That I do not know. These matters are usually determined by the leader.

Senator LUDWIG: You could take it on notice.

Senator Abetz: I could. I will see if the Prime Minister has anything further to add.

Senator LUDWIG: The administrative arrangements ordered—

Senator Abetz : Sorry?

Senator LUDWIG: In terms of the AAs—the administrative arrangements, depending on how you want to describe them—can you outline the changes that were made?

Ms Cross : In a very broad sense, the responsibilities relating to vocational education and training were moved from the industry department to the education department. The responsibilities relating to childcare and early childhood learning were moved from the Department of Education to the Department of Social Services, and responsibility for small business programs was added to the responsibilities of the Minister for Small Business.

Ms Kelly : I might assist Ms Cross there. The administrative arrangements order was made following the ministry reshuffle on 23 December. At that time, the titles of two departments were re-named; these are the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Industry and Science. Key changes were made to the matters dealt with in the administrative arrangements order. They were the transfer of responsibility for vocational training and adult migrant education, which was moved from the Department of Industry and Science to the Department of Education and Training; childcare policy and programs, which was moved to the Department of Social Services, and small business programs, which was moved from the Department of Industry to the Treasury.

Senator LUDWIG: The support for the introduction of a national occupational licensing system, where did that go?

Ms Cross : The national occupational licensing system was a measure being considered by COAG, and sometime ago COAG decided not to go ahead with the national occupational licensing scheme. Instead, the states are looking at harmonised arrangements, and so there is no longer responsibility for that.

Senator LUDWIG: Was that a COAG decision?

Ms Cross : Yes, it was a COAG decision, I think in 2014.

Senator LUDWIG: Was that in the minutes? It would have been a communique that was released in the COAG process.

Ms Cross : I think it was in the communique, yes.

Senator LUDWIG: Effectively, they would have been consulted through the COAG process, the decision taken—

Ms Cross : I think it was a decision of the states and territories, but you could check the communique.

Senator LUDWIG: If you would not mind. I am curious as to where it happened, but I would not have been looking at the communique to find that. Did Mr Thawley play a role in the machinery-of-government changes? In other words, who did them?

Ms Cross : As is normally the case, we had responsibility for amending the administrative arrangements orders, and so we were involved in the process.

Senator LUDWIG: Does that include Mr Thawley, or is it the royal 'we'? I am just trying to understand who makes the changes.

Ms Cross : I think it is the normal—

Senator Abetz : He is in charge of PM&C, and therefore, he reputedly would be involved, although one assumes he does not personally type the administrative arrangements.

Senator LUDWIG: It is a modern age we live in.

Senator Abetz : I know.

Ms Cross : I think it is normal for the secretary of the department to have some involvement in the process.

Senator LUDWIG: Did he recommend any changes?

Senator Abetz : If he did recommend any changes, that is advice to government, which we do not comment on. I ought to have a little recording of that, so I can just press a button.

Senator LUDWIG: Sometimes you might answer me.

Senator Abetz : Yes. If I have a lapse of concentration, I might.

Senator LUDWIG: Or did he just prepare the paperwork?

Senator Abetz : Chances are he put the staples into the document!

Senator LUDWIG: Is that costed?

Senator Abetz : What, putting the staples into the document?

Senator LUDWIG: That too, but is changing the AA a cost borne by PM&C, or does it not amount to very much?

Senator Abetz : Mainly the departments that are impacted would bear the cost of it, other than the administrative cost within PM&C.

Senator LUDWIG: No-one from the various departments has collated the cost in the changes to—

Senator Abetz : You would have to ask those various departments, I would assume.

Senator LUDWIG: I was worried you might send me back to them. I will do that.

Senator Abetz : I remember when my department was disamalgamated from education and employment—now just employment—there were are all those sorts of—

Senator LUDWIG: There are many changes.

Senator Abetz: We have a very good service centre where we look after both departments and are making savings for the taxpayer.

Senator LUDWIG: In terms of trying to ascertain how the public servants have had to change, I guess, departments, would I ask each department what the impact was or would PM&C have monitored it and have an overview of what actually occurred—like, how many public servants were shifted to X, were they relocated as a consequence, do they change desks or do they move buildings?

Senator Abetz: You would need to ask each department and area that was impacted. The good news is that my department was left untouched, but as to what is happening in—

Senator LUDWIG: I could say they have skinned it down enough for you, but I will not. So when these decisions are made PM&C do not provide advice to government about the cost impact?

Ms Kelly : PM&C's role is to enact the machinery of government changes, so our role is to put the administrative procedures in place in order to bring about the change. It is then a matter to be negotiated bilaterally between each department.

Senator LUDWIG: So if people were to make significant changes, you would not provide advice on the cost implications of that?

Ms Kelly : Whilst I think it is common sense to be aware that any change involves costs—

Senator LUDWIG: That is why I asked the question.

Ms Kelly : I would have to take on notice whether any specific advice was provided in relation to cost, but the quantum of costs would not be known in advance.

Senator LUDWIG: No.

Ms Cross : Senator, can I go back to an earlier question on the National Occupation Licensing System?

Senator LUDWIG: Yes.

Ms Cross : It was the COAG December 2013 communique.

Senator LUDWIG: Thank you, very much. When changes are made is there a process and a time which you expect the changes to be effected by—in other words, do you say, 'Here are the changes and everyone has to shift within a period'?

Senator Abetz: I think that varies from department to department and the extent of the shift but they immediately, one imagines, fall within the purview of the department in which they are put.

Ms Cross : With changes of this nature we would expect them to be put in place very quickly.

Senator LUDWIG: So did the Prime Minister write to the departments impacted and ask them to do it by such and such a date? Is there correspondence that the Prime Minister sent to the departments?

Ms Kelly : I understand that the secretary corresponded with the relevant departmental heads in relation to that and set a time frame—and I will get you the exact time frame set—so there could be absolutely clear expectations about when all of those negotiations would be completed.

Senator LUDWIG: And that correspondence will be available to the committee?

Ms Kelly : I will just make those inquiries now.

Senator LUDWIG: Thank you very much. We might wait to see what that letter is, but that is a letter you say that was written by the secretary.

Ms Kelly : That is my recollection.

Senator LUDWIG: The information I was after in relation to that letter was—it may be on the face of the record—who wrote the letter, when it was sent, whether it was drafted by PM&C, whether it was an instruction from the Prime Minister to the secretary to prepare the letter, who received the letter, obviously whether the deadlines were met by the various departments and, if not, whether there was follow-up by the secretary for the other secretaries not meeting the deadline? Presumably if they did they wrote back saying that they did. That correspondence would be helpful too. Is that clear?

Ms Kelly : Yes. I am not sure I will be able to get all of that, but I will use my best endeavour to get as much as I can.

Senator LUDWIG: Thank you. Going back to the matter I was exploring earlier, I was going to ask the same questions that I thought were unanswered. That was 1501, which was the issue around the foreign minister's travel. What I have now seen was that you did not actually answer all of the questions that were then put on 1501. So if you did not answer all of the questions in 1501 then I might feel obliged to try again.

Senator Abetz: All right. I thought there were about eight questions or something, and I thought we had answered eight questions. I do not know what I have done with that answer. I am being accused of keeping it.

Ms Kelly : No! Falsely accused!

Senator Abetz: Falsely accused! I have got it; excellent. There were 10 questions and 10 answers.

Senator LUDWIG: I thought there were more questions than that. I have got questions 1 to 14.

Senator Abetz: Which question is this?

Senator LUDWIG: This is 1501.

Senator Abetz: Sorry, I was referring to 1502—

Senator LUDWIG: You may have answered 1502.

Senator Abetz: when I was answering your question. That had 10 sub-questions and there were 10 answers. I have not looked at how responsive they are to the questions, other than that this was from Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade as opposed to PM&C.

Senator LUDWIG: The one I am looking at is 1501.

Senator Abetz: To PM&C?

Senator LUDWIG: Yes.

Senator Abetz: Who was the keeper of that question and answer?

Ms Kelly : That has not yet been answered.

Senator Abetz: It is not yet answered. That is where we are at cross-purposes.

Senator LUDWIG: I was thinking, 'I don't know whether you really have answered them,' so I had a look and it did not look like you had.

Senator Abetz: All right. Hit us with your questions. Albeit we have taken them on notice, if there is anything we can provide, we will.

Senator LUDWIG: They would be late, wouldn't they? You do have 1501, but in any event, on what date did the Prime Minister or his office first receive the request from the foreign minister and in what form was that request received?

Senator Abetz: Minister Bishop wrote to the Prime Minister's office on 20 May 2014, so one assumes it was relatively soon thereafter. But we can take that on notice for you.

Senator LUDWIG: We could deal with this another way. You do have 1501. Do you want to have an opportunity of relooking at 1501 and seeing what information you can provide?

Ms Kelly : I do not have that in front of me.

Senator LUDWIG: No, not now.

Senator Abetz: Not now, but on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: It was put on notice.

Senator Abetz: It is a parliamentary question.

Senator LUDWIG: It is some months overdue. I thought I will raise it now and we will come back to it later in the evening. That will give you an opportunity between now and, say, after dinner to look at the question and decide how much you can provide to me rather than me in seriatim going through it and you then saying—

Senator Abetz: I am sure somebody is listening in and that best endeavours will be entered into.

Senator LUDWIG: So I can then go back and quickly ask. Some you may say you are not going to provide an answer to for a range of reasons, but we can at least deal with it in short form rather than spending a long time going through it. Or at least we may later on, but hopefully not. The questions might be able to be answered in relatively short form. There is a project office on the PM&C organisational chart. What does that do?

Ms Cross : The Project Office works on particular pieces of work that come up across the department where we need to put additional resources in. It gives us some flexibility. They have policy analytical capacity so, as different issues become priorities, we can use people from the Project Office to put teams together—for example, the climate change task force that we talked about. If we needed additional resources, we might use a team from the Project Office to work on that sort of task. It is our policy analytical capacity for different priorities as they emerge.

Senator LUDWIG: What projects are they currently working on? I am happy for you to take that on notice.

Ms Cross : I am happy to take that on notice. They have been involved in a range of projects across the department. It changes from week to week and month to month.

Senator LUDWIG: It sounds like they are more like a spare capacity office than a project office.

Ms Cross : No. They have a particular skill set that we can bring to bear on particular policy issues.

Senator LUDWIG: Like what? What is their special skill set?

Ms Cross : It a little bit like if you were to hire BCG, or a company like that, for the particular skills that they bring. It is like having that in-house capacity over and above the policy capacity we have across the department.

Senator LUDWIG: But they could still do any analytical work that you then require as a consequence?

Ms Cross : Allan McKinnon can give some examples of the sort of work they have done.

Mr McKinnon : I have just had responsibility for drafting the two reports on counter-terrorism: one, the Martin Place review, and the other, the review of Commonwealth counter-terrorism arrangements. Each of those brought together a multi-agency team, with the agencies that were the particular focus represented on that team—and we drew in other people as needed. The Project Office formed the core of project expertise to set up the time lines, the templates, and basically start to bring the inchoate mass into a draft that made sense. You basically bring in specialist people from all around the place, and the Project Office knows how to turn that into something that can work, to bring it down the track and to deliver you a product.

Senator LUDWIG: Is it those types of matters only, or is it more broad? Can you give me a flavour of what you have done? How long has it been established?

Ms Cross : It has been in PM&C for several years. Previously it was the Strategy and Delivery Division. Now it is a much smaller team known as the Project Office. They can do project implementation. They can do policy analysis. If you are looking at environmental scanning to see policy developments overseas, they have the skill set. As I said, it is a little bit like having a BCG that you could pull in. They have the skill set to bring to bear on a range of different activities.

Senator LUDWIG: Why was it renamed then?

Ms Cross : Because it was originally a division. It is now a much smaller team, and so we chose to call it the Project Office.

Senator LUDWIG: I will think about that for awhile. The organisational chart currently includes 20 acting appointments. Has that changed? Has that gone up or down? It is a very recent examination by me. I just want to make sure that I was correct about that.

Ms Cross : I would have to take that on notice. I do not have that data in front of me.

Senator LUDWIG: It seems a high level of acting positions. Is there a reason why you have so many acting positions in your organisational chart?

Ms Cross : I would have to look at the individual positions—for example, Ms Pearce, who came to the table earlier, is working on the climate change task force, so there would be someone acting in her job. In some cases it is just that people are off-line. In other cases it will be that we are recruiting to fill positions. Sometimes the person gets promoted and we have acting behind it, so we would have to look at each one.

Senator LUDWIG: So there is no sense of instability in the senior ranks—leaving the ship and creating acting positions?

Ms Cross : No, Senator.

Senator LUDWIG: Maybe you could provide a bit of an analysis of those 20 as you have described.

Ms Cross : I will check how many there are at the moment and certainly we can give some sense of—

Senator LUDWIG: You can appreciate that my concern is, when you then start to have acting positions, what happens below those ranks. If you replace from inside, you have to pull other people up, so they become 'acting'—and so on and so forth. You end up with, from senior ranks all the way down, a significant number of people in acting positions.

Ms Cross : That can be good for an organisation—to give people experience at a higher level.

Senator LUDWIG: Yes, it could also reflect instability in the senior ranks as well. People are not so confident, because they are only acting in their jobs. The answer to many questions becomes, 'I am new and I do not know what went on last month or the last six months.'

Ms Cross : I do not think that is the case with PM&C, but I am happy to give you an analysis of the different reasons for the acting.

Senator LUDWIG: The other thing I noticed on the chart is that the former Deputy Secretary G20, Dr Smith, is now just called 'a deputy secretary'. Who do the deputy secretaries report to?

Ms Cross : To the secretary.

Senator LUDWIG: So there is no division? I am looking for Dr Smith's area of responsibility. I am trying to find the connecting lines. What is under them?

Ms Kelly : Dr Smith is currently on leave and is not returning in the near term. It was three months leave, so that will be made available when she returns.

Senator LUDWIG: Dr Smith is on leave. Upon Dr Smith's return you will decide what her role will be. Is that a fair way of putting it?

Ms Kelly : Yes, Dr Smith is not due to return until next month.

Senator LUDWIG: That is why the organisational chart has no—

Ms Kelly : It would be inappropriate to give her responsibilities while she is on leave for three months.

Senator LUDWIG: The Integration and Efficiency Taskforce—how many people are employed in that?

Ms Kelly : Between 150 and 180, approximately. That is substantially the finance and administration area of the department.

Senator LUDWIG: So it has been renamed?

Ms Kelly : It was named to reflect the fact that the department is currently integrating the new functions that were acquired in September 2013. We expect that integration to be complete by 30 June. That would be revisited then. It is 130 FTE.

Senator LUDWIG: The efficiency part is obviously the bean counters.

Ms Kelly : Yes, that is correct. It is the finance and administration area.

Senator LUDWIG: You are putting the two bits together. There was always one bit; you have just renamed it.

Ms Kelly : It is more than 'putting together'; we are integrating. Part of that integration is the corporate services improvement program. So, it was not just a question of adding bits together. We had 10 departments brought together, nine new and the existing PM&C. So we actually had to create what the best systems were for us going forward as a department. That meant integrating rather than just bunging 10 together, so to speak. There is a substantial body of work that sits behind that task force, and the integration task will be completed by 30 June.

Senator LUDWIG: Are they on track to complete that by 30 June? I should be able to ask you in the budget round of estimates about that.

Ms Kelly : I think it is fair to say that the department was somewhat preoccupied with the G20 for the last several months of last year. That did put some of the projects behind, but we have taken measures to bring them back on track, so we are hopeful that we will still complete that. But some of the measures are longer-term measures that are occurring across government, such as a whole-of-government grant system. So, some of them are contingent on developments occurring elsewhere in government.

Senator LUDWIG: Matters like a whole-of-government grants system: would I ask you those, or elsewhere?

Ms Kelly : Those matters would be for the Department of Finance.

Senator LUDWIG: Is the work schedule that the integration efficiency task force has at the moment available? Do they have a document that you just described—maybe you could provide it on notice—to just outline the type of work they are currently working on and the deadlines they are going to meet by 30 June?

Ms Kelly : We can certainly provide you with our current scheduling. As I said, we manage it carefully and we will be attempting to adhere to that, but I would not be giving you an ironclad guarantee.

Senator LUDWIG: I am not asking for one—yet.

Senator Abetz: Did you say 'yet'?

Senator LUDWIG: I did say 'yet'. I thought we would see how we go.

Ms Kelly : And the matters those relate to are things such as the integration of our extranet and intranet sites. We currently run a protected and an unclassified network for the new department. Under that program we are bringing together those two intranet sites so we have a common intranet site and also a single sign-on so that for all the applications on our desktop that our staff use they will have to sign on only once and will then have access across all networks to those. They are the types of things that are in that program of work.

Senator LUDWIG: So they will do end-to-end testing.

Ms Kelly : That is the plan, in the normal way that IT projects are rolled out, that there will be quality assurance testing and user acceptance testing prior to things being put into practice.

Senator LUDWIG: I will come back to that one. I would not mind a little bit more information around the IT and whether it is being outsourced, how it is being delivered and the contracts associated with it and their time lines.

Ms Kelly : And that is a varied story in the sense that PM&C does purchase some services from elsewhere in government. We outsource some services to the private sector and we provide some services ourselves.

Senator LUDWIG: That is all going to be a single point of entry at some point?

Ms Kelly : I would not be promising that, but certainly for the significant parts of the common applications that our staff use—and they have been telling us it would be much more efficient if they had a single sign-on point—that is what that parcel of work applies to.

Senator LUDWIG: But you are not going to venture a guarantee that there will be one single sign-on.

Ms Kelly : Some of our staff use the systems that are run by the Department of Social Security, so I would expect that our sign-on processes would not necessarily apply to those services that—

Senator LUDWIG: No, I am referring only to that within your own department.

Ms Kelly : Within our own department it is going to cover the applications that are commonly used and that feedback from staff has indicated would greatly assist in efficiency if they had a single sign-on for those.

Senator LUDWIG: What worries me is your phrase 'commonly used'. That connotes some that are not commonly used, which may not fall within the single sign-on. Do you want to reflect on that—'commonly used'?

Ms Kelly : When I say commonly used I mean the HR system and the finance system. They are the systems I think our staff are telling us would be more efficient if they were able to use single sign-on.

Senator LUDWIG: When did the Integration Efficiency Taskforce begin? Was there a start date?

Ms McIntyre : It was formally stood up on 1 June 2014.

Senator LUDWIG: To be completed by 30 June 2015?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator LUDWIG: 12 months?

Ms Kelly : Yes. But of course the efficiency task was an ongoing one, so we will continue to examine and deliver efficiencies indefinitely.

Senator LUDWIG: So, it is the integration part that you are then going to come back to me with more information on. I am just confirming that you will take it on notice, and the scheduling.

Ms Kelly : Yes, we can do that.

Senator LUDWIG: The term that has become commonly used now is 'spill and fill', which I had not heard until a public servant mentioned it in a committee process. Can you give me an update on that process?

Ms Kelly : I might get Mr Neal to assist me.

Senator LUDWIG: You have not changed the term? It is still called spill and fill?

Mr Neal : It is still called spill and fill—certainly colloquially, anyway.

Senator LUDWIG: I just thought I would check. Public servants might have come up with a new term.

Mr Neal : The term 'spill and fill' in my experience in the Public Service goes back many years, so it is certainly not a new one.

Senator LUDWIG: It was never mentioned near me, or I suspect you either, Senator Abetz.

Senator Abetz: 'Spill and fill' seems to be a term that I recognise. But, having promised to take the meataxe to the Public Service in 2007 and then see it grow like topsy, spill and fill may not have been pursued by your government, Senator.

Senator LUDWIG: How many staff were subject to the process?

Mr Neal : There were two processes, one a little bit larger than the other. But the first one we conducted was in the Indigenous affairs group, which related to 10 positions in the senior executive service, and those 10 positions have now been lost in the department. We had a small number of employees in the senior executive service transfer to other agencies, at level, so we have redeployed them. Six of those 10 accepted what we call a section 37 incentive to retire, and a very small number accepted a voluntary reduction to the EL2 level and were redeployed into other roles in the department.

Senator LUDWIG: So, two stayed within the department. Is that correct?

Mr Neal : One stayed in the department via a reduction in classification—went from the SES band 1 level back to an EL2.

Senator LUDWIG: That was out of a total of 10.

Mr Neal : Yes, the 10 positions that were lost. That is correct.

Senator LUDWIG: And then the second process?

Mr Neal : The second process related to a smaller spill and fill in the Social Policy Division. Initially three EL2 positions were lost as a result of that process, but all the employees affected by that process were redeployed, so nobody was involuntarily retired from the service or required to take a reduction at level.

Senator LUDWIG: What was that section called originally?

Mr Neal : It was in the Social Policy Division, and it affected a small number of teams in both the Office for Women and one of the branches within the Social Policy Division.

Senator LUDWIG: How many people in all?

Mr Neal : There were 13 EL2 positions spilled and 10 EL2 positions filled, which left the three officers I mentioned initially, and they have all been redeployed.

Senator LUDWIG: When you say redeployed, is that redeployed within the department or redeployed outside?

Mr Neal : It means redeployed within the department.

Senator LUDWIG: Does that include the Office for Women?

Mr Neal : In which respect? They were not redeployed to the Office for Women, but they were redeployed to other areas of the department.

Senator LUDWIG: How many was that?

Mr Neal : That is the three.

Senator LUDWIG: Of the total number of PM&C staff, how many have been made redundant since this government came to office?

Mr Neal : That is 267.

Senator LUDWIG: Out of a total of how many?

Mr Neal : We currently have a workforce of 2,123. It was about 350 more than that prior to the voluntary redundancy round that we ran some 12 months ago.

Senator LUDWIG: Were they all voluntary?

Mr Neal : Yes.

Senator LUDWIG: How many redeployments were there?

Mr Neal : They were not required to be redeployed, because we conducted a voluntary redundancy process that was designed to reduce our footprint by about 300 to 400 positions.

Senator LUDWIG: Do redundancies also include early retirement—an incentive package to go early?

Mr Neal : That applies only to the Senior Executive Service. It is a different part of the act that is used.

Senator LUDWIG: What part of the act is used for that?

Mr Neal : Section 37 of the Public Service Act deals with the ability of the secretary to declare an SES officer excess. Under those requirements the person can elect to take a severance payment from the service. It is termed 'incentive to retire' under the act.

Senator LUDWIG: Or, in short, a section 37.

Mr Neal : A section 37, correct.

Senator LUDWIG: How many section 37s were in effect for this term of the government?

Mr Neal : I might need to take the actual number on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: There are the ones you mentioned earlier.

Mr Neal : Yes, there are those six, and I believe there were—

Senator LUDWIG: It just struck me whether or not there were any more.

Mr Neal : Yes, there were.

Senator LUDWIG: I am happy for you to take it on notice.

Mr Neal : I believe there were three others, but I will come back to you on those.

Senator LUDWIG: Is there a cost of those redundancies? Are the 267 costed? Is there a cost to government to provide that voluntary redundancy, and what is that cost?

Mr Neal : There is a figure that we have, which is around $16.4 million as the cost of the voluntary redundancy program that we did. But I can provide you with the exact numbers if you like.

Senator LUDWIG: Yes, please. The answer to Senate question No. 1073 provided that 217 of the staff responsible for Indigenous-specific policies and programs have been made redundant since the machinery-of-government changes. Is that still accurate?

Mr Neal : It is 221 now. Of the 267 voluntary redundancies undertaken by the department, 221 were in the Indigenous affairs group.

Senator LUDWIG: Normally you would provide your current organisational chart during these estimates. Is that available? I was asking questions about it, but it struck me that many times before when your charts have changed you have made them available to the Senate estimates process so that we can pore over them in great detail.

Ms Kelly : It is on our website, and we can print it off our website for you.

Senator LUDWIG: It may have been a Faulkner requirement. I can look at it, but it would not hurt for you to provide it in hard copy for the estimates.

Ms Kelly : We can do that over the dinner break.

Senator LUDWIG: I always find that if I have to look you up here there is usually a pause while I do that, before I can ask another question.

Mr Neal : I have that number for you now, if you would like. As at 31 December 2014 the total expenditure on severance payments for voluntary redundancies was $16,352,739.59.

Senator LUDWIG: The enterprise bargaining: where are we up to with the negotiations with PM&C on that?

Mr Neal : The department released both a pay offer and a draft enterprise agreement to staff on 3 and 5 February, respectively. The pay offer is 2.17 per cent over three years, which comprises one per cent in the first year and 0.65 and 0.52 per cent over the three years of the proposed agreement.

Senator LUDWIG: What is that an average of?

Mr Neal : Around 0.7 per cent. We are currently undertaking a round of consultation with our staff so that we can get a feel thematically for the biggest issues. Given, as Ms Kelly indicated before, that we have 10 current sets of terms and conditions in our department, the greatest difficulty for us is synthesising those into a single agreement. The purpose of the consultation is to find out thematically, as I said, which issues are of greatest import to each of those segments. Then we are working with people to come up with a revised draft agreement that might be more palatable.

Senator LUDWIG: As part of that are you seeking productivity offsets for the 0.7 per cent per year?

Mr Neal : As you may be aware, the bargaining policy requires us to fully offset any pay rise. So we do not receive any supplementation for a pay offer, which means that every cent of a pay rise returned to staff must be fully offset by genuine productivity savings.

Senator LUDWIG: Are you able to detail what productivity offsets are being sought by you? I am happy for you to take that on notice.

Mr Neal : I can probably give you the two biggest items which contribute to the cost of the EA, the first being the increase to a 38-hour working week for around 70 per cent of our staff. The pre machinery-of-government part of PM&C was already on a 38-hour week. There is a saving associated with bringing the other 70 per cent of staff up to a 38-hour week. The other is slowing down increment advancement. So the rate of performance-based increments advancement returns a saving to the department. Those two things collectively make up around three-quarters of the available offsets for the department's pay offer.

Senator LUDWIG: Can you remind me what offsets were required when the salary of the secretary of PM&C was increased to $802,000 a year.

Ms Kelly : The secretary's salary is set by the Remuneration Tribunal—an independent body.

Senator LUDWIG: I should have guessed that.

Senator Abetz: As secretaries, including ministers, we went to the Remuneration Tribunal asking for no increase, given the fiscal inheritance. They agreed with us, not only for a zero increase for this year but also to freeze—or not go ahead with—those that were in the pipeline for 2014-15. So you can be assured that at the highest levels we have tried to engage with fiscal restraint and show leadership in this area, given the very tight financial position we have, keeping in mind that any increase in wages will need to be borrowed.

Senator LUDWIG: When you integrate—if I can use that term—let's call them the 'post-election machinery staff', will they receive a pay parity when the agreement is concluded? I am trying to understand this. You will have to sort all those issues out. Do they get a pay freeze at that rate when they come into the integration or do they go to the pay parity with the officer that they are sitting next to?

Senator Abetz: I remember that as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, I signed certain—what are they called?—declarations.

Mr Neal : There is a section 24(3) determination signed by the minister. That preserves the pre-machinery of government terms and conditions of the nine cohorts that transferred into PM&C. That seeks to maintain their terms and conditions immediately before the election. One of the reasons that was undertaken was that the current PM&C agreement does not include some of the requirements needed to operate a department like PM&C with a very regional remote footprint. Things like remote localities allowance were just not covered in enough detail. So we had to preserve those terms and conditions to get that done.

CHAIR: I am loath to interrupt, Mr Neal, but I need to because we are pushed for time. You will be required after dinner.

Mr Neal : We will come back.

[17:59]

CHAIR: I welcome the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, and officers of the Office for Women. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

   (a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

   (b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer's statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

(13 May 2009 J.1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)

Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirement of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document. The committee has set 10 April 2015 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. I would remind the minister and officers that time is of the essence, so brief answers but complete answers would be very helpful. Minister, do you have an opening statement?

Senator Cash: I do not, thank you.

CHAIR: Do any of the officers wish to make an opening statement.

Ms Larkins : No, thank you.

CHAIR: Minister, I have two or three brief questions for you. You announced that the Council of Australian governments, or COAG, will address violence against women in 2015. Can you detail the three priority areas that COAG will consider, and when will COAG meet to consider these issues?

Senator Cash: Thank you very much, Chair. It was on 28 January 2015, as you will be aware, that the Prime Minster announced that the Council of Australian Governments, or COAG as it is known, would address the problem of violence against women at a national level. He also announced at that point in time that there were three particular issues that he would be asking COAG to focus on. They are the implementation of a national domestic violence order scheme; the development of national outcome standards for the perpetrator interventions and the enactment of a national approach to dealing with technology misuse and online safety to protect women against newer forms of abuse, because, in particular in relation to the online technology, what we are literally seeing is that in particular the use of mobile phones is the latest tool in the arsenal for domestic violence abusers. In particular, the issue of online safety has never been discussed at a national level before. So, in terms of the Second Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, the government considered that this was an appropriate mechanism at which to have that holistic discussion between the states and the territories.

You will be aware that the Prime Minister announced a panel, and on the panel is Ken Lay, the former Commissioner of the Victoria Police and someone who is, I think, well known across Australia for the incredible work he has done in relation to reducing women and children—in particular in Victoria—and, of course, the outstanding Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty.

CHAIR: Are there any other panel appointees pending?

Senator Cash: At this particular point in time, I have written to the states and territories—it is COAG—and we have asked them to recommend an appointment to the panel from the relevant state or territory. I understand, however, that Victoria has not been asked for a recommendation, because obviously it already has Rosie Batty and former Commissioner Ken Ly.

CHAIR: Then who is going to make the final decision on appointments?

Senator Cash: I believe it will be the Prime Minister.

CHAIR: The second question: the Australian National Research Organisation for Women's Safety, ANROWS, under this second action plan has been funded to provide a national research program. How many projects form part of this program, to what value, and what does the research focus on.

Senator Cash: I would need to defer to the department for that one to give you an in-depth analysis of ANROWS.

Ms Larkins : I could probably find the answer to that question.

CHAIR: If you find the answer and I ask my third question, which is about funding for sporting codes under the second action plan—

Ms Larkins : And I can also find the answer to that question if you just give me a minute.

CHAIR: Okay. What is the purpose of the $1 million funding over the three years to the sporting codes under the second action plan?

Senator MOORE: While they are there, I just want to put something on notice. It is my own fault, but I would never have approved half an hour for the Office for Women. I misread the agenda and did not know that this committee took a 1½-hour dinner break.

Senator Cash: If you have questions you want to put on notice—

Senator MOORE: I just want to put this clearly on record, and I apologise to the members of staff from the Office for Women that we have actually, I think, dismissed you and been thoughtless by giving you half an hour on the agenda. Thank you for that.

Ms Larkins : Chair, was the third question that you asked in relation to the sports grants bank?

CHAIR: Yes, the $1 million sporting codes—under the second action plan.

Ms Larkins : The Australian government committed $1 million over three years to assist the sporting community to reduce violence against women. That money has been given to Our Watch and will support national supporting organisations in funding violence-prevention activities. This is in an effort to build on the successful engagement with the AFL, NRL and Netball Australia to promote respectful relationships and prevent violence. That funding is administered by the Department of Social Services.

CHAIR: Have you got the answer to the other one—the ANROWS.

Senator MOORE: Can I suggest that, because that is going to be a very detailed answers, we put that on notice? You have asked for the whole work plan of ANROWS.

CHAIR: I have asked for how many projects form part of this program, what the value is and what the focus is on. I am not interested in the full detail but I do want to facilitate this. So I am happy for you to look at that while Senator Moore asks some questions, and then we can come back to it at the end, if that makes it easier for you.

Ms Larkins : Thank you.

Senator Cash: There are 20 programs that have been funded in this round of funding. I believe it is approximately $3.5 million. Unless, Ms Larkins—

CHAIR: And what is the general focus then?

Ms Larkins : I have just been told I do not have the detail in my briefing, so we will have to take it on notice.

Senator Cash: If it assists, we can put on notice for you a list of the 20 individual projects that have been funded and that, obviously, correlate with prevention and particular groups under the second action plan.

CHAIR: Thank you for that, Minister.

Senator MOORE: First of all, Minister, I just want to clarify some small anomalies between the budget papers and the Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements. It is probably just a straightforward technical question. Page 31 of the budget has the Office for Women, and it has a line item across the out years for the funding for the Office for Women. Then page 28 of the PAES has the same line. Whilst 2013-14 and 2014-15 are the same, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 all have reductions—not massive reductions but all reductions. I just want to understand why.

Ms Cross : There was a cut in the budget. I might ask the people in our financial area to see if we can find the source of that for you.

Senator MOORE: I just want find out and quantify the amount.

Ms Cross : Sometimes it can just be that indexation rates have changed, so we will just check that for you.

Senator MOORE: Two other lines did not change in the same area—not in Office for Women but in PM&C—but two did.

Senator Cash: We will check that for you, absolutely.

Senator MOORE: I have a quick one—and I am going to go quickly, because we have limited time and we need to share. One of the particular points that has come to us is concern with the implementation of the second action plan at the same time as having significant cuts to community legal services. There has been a large number of people contacting us and making public statements about how they see that. To actually fulfil the requirements of both the first and second plans, there is a need for very strong legal service. We have stats that so many of the women and families caught up in violence use community legal services. We have identified that all of these issues come through the Office for Women once we identify that they have something to do with women—and this one does. What is the response from the department? You must have the line that goes out; I just have not seen it.

Ms Larkins : I should point out that this is really a question for the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator MOORE: No, it is not.

Ms Larkins : But I can give you—

Senator MOORE: We need to put this really clearly on record: it is not a question for the Attorney-General. In the question I have put to the Office for Women, which actually looks at the budget procedures for all departments and looks at the impact on women, I am wanting to know from the Office for Women what the position is about the impact of the legal cuts on the second plan.

Ms Larkins : Our advice is that the current funding arrangements for all legal assistance services are in place until 30 June 2015, and no reductions have been applied to those services. The government is currently considering legal assistance arrangements beyond that date—and we will consider the Productivity Commission report on access to justice as part of that process—and is also considering the review of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services. New funding arrangements will commence on 1 July 2015. That is part of the budget process, and we cannot speculate on the outcome of those deliberations. But there has been no reduction in community legal centres.

Senator MOORE: Thank you for those lines, because I have not seen them put out in that way. This is a question that I will ask Attorneys, or somebody else will. Has any community legal service been advised of cuts? I will just put that on record to make the whole thing link up. Then, I have a couple of questions about alliances. Can you tell me what the current budget is for the alliances? Also, the website gives me some background to the alliances, but it does not tell me what the budget is. I am just thinking it might be useful for the website to say what the budget is, and it does not.

Ms Larkins : I do not have the budget with me, so I will take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: We asked questions at the last one and I want to acknowledge and thank the minister's office and the department for providing me with a briefing on the process. At that time there had been a budget for a multicultural women's alliance. We were given answers at the last hearing that work on issues to do with multicultural women was going to be given to the other alliances, and their focus would not be lost in the process. Can I have some information about the current work plans of all the alliances and whether there has been dedicated functions in those work plans to look at issues around multicultural women?

Ms Larkins : Again, I could talk in a bit more detail about that, but it is probably better that I take it on notice and give you a comprehensive answer.

Ms Cross : There has been activity included in all of their work programs and some additional projects that have been funded from the women's—

Senator MOORE: With extra funding attached. So can I have the funding allocation as well. Because nothing had been there at the last hearing, the inference was that the money would translate and it would be transparent. If the function is to do with multicultural women the money that would have been allocated to the sixth alliance was—

Ms Cross : Going to us.

Senator MOORE: Yes. So just to see that link.

Ms Cross : Not all of it is going to the alliances. We can also fund other organisations to do things on a national level.

Senator MOORE: I am just wanting to track the money, because there is significant disquiet in the community about the loss of that alliance. Multicultural women are engaged now in the program. I will put a number of questions on notice.

Senator WATERS: I have three issues I want to go through. I want to start with the women's budget impact statement, which we used to have and last year did not have. Has the Office for Women advised on the desirability of restoring the women's budget impact statement?

Ms Cross : I think we answered this question in earlier estimates hearings. There was a decision to reduce the number of budget statements. So there is no longer a regional statement—or I do not believe there was in the first budget. A decision was taken not to include a women's statement. I think we have indicated that over time the nature of the statement had changed considerably. The information that was in the women's statement that was being put out was readily available through other sources. So it was not additional analysis; it was just a pulling together of a number of budget measures that had already been released. We have not had significant concerns raised with us with that statement. It has been raised in Senate estimates, obviously, but there has not been a broad concern raised with us.

Senator MOORE: You say that these things can easily be found elsewhere. Is there any intent for the Office for Women to actually keep a record of significant budget changes that impact on women, and maybe put it on your website? If there were significant changes, and I hope there will be, in areas such as Agriculture or DSS, with different funding, is there any intent not to do a large budget statement, for whatever reason, but to have on the Office for Women website some kind of linkage to budget impacts on women in other departments?

Ms Cross : We can look at doing that. If there is a major initiative for women, obviously the minster may choose to put out a press release. We can certainly look at that.

Senator WATERS: So you have not advised that you think it is worthwhile restoring that?

Ms Cross : From my discussions—again, I think we have answered the question on notice—we were not being told that it was valued, because it was really just pulling together information that most people already had by the time we released it.

Senator Cash: The last time an actual women's budget statement was published—correct me if I am wrong—was around 1995. It actually has been that long since and actual women's budget statement, and it literally had become a collation or distillation.

Senator WATERS: Clearly, there was one published up until very recently. But I think your point is—

Senator Cash: It was a collation.

Senator WATERS: The content was different.

Senator Cash: Yes.

Senator WATERS: I will move on to the gender equity reporting. I would be interested to know if the Office for Women has had any input into the process whereby the gender pay gap reporting requirements are being reviewed?

Ms Larkins : We have. We attended consultations and we have had discussions with the Department of Employment about the process.

Senator WATERS: You have had discussions about the process—

Ms Larkins : And we attended some of the consultations that were run by the Department of Employment for stakeholders.

Senator WATERS: Have you advised on the impact of any substantive change to those reporting requirements?

Ms Larkins : We have discussed possible options that are under consideration.

Senator WATERS: Do you know what the time frame for the resolution of those matters is?

Senator Cash: It is imminent.

Senator WATERS: I cannot go to the content of your advice, but did you feel that you had an adequate input into the consultation?

Ms Larkins : I think we have worked very well with the Department of Employment.

Senator WATERS: That is good to hear. Can I come back to an issue that Senator Moore discussed. There have been more and more media reports and feedback from the sector about the reductions in funding, and the fact that women's shelters are struggling to cope with demand. I would be interested to know whether the office has conducted any nationwide review of whether housing services are adequate to meet existing demand.

Ms Larkins : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WATERS: Is anybody collecting that information?

Ms Cross: Not that I am aware of. I think sometimes that is something that is the responsibility of states and territories. It may of course come up in COAG discussions when we are looking more broadly at violence against women.

Senator WATERS: Given that your office is responsible for whole-of-government policy analysis and is obviously very valuable, are you across those changes to women's shelters and domestic violence services, and the funding reductions?

Ms Cross: The changes in the states and territories?

Senator WATERS: Yes, but also the changes at the federal level that have been flowed through to the states and territories. Are you tracking the diminution—

Senator Cash: Could you outline what the changes are at the federal level that you are referring to?

Senator WATERS: There is the funding uncertainty on the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, given that it has only been extended by one year for the last handful of years; the $44 million cut to the legal sector, of which $19 million has been cut from community legal centres—there seems to be some level of confusion about that, but that is my firm understanding; the funding uncertainty for the family violence legal protection service; and the $21 million funding cut to the homelessness bodies, which was unfortunately just a few days before Christmas. I can go on.

Senator Cash: Perhaps we can give you an explanation in relation to each one of them, because obviously each of what you have mentioned does not actually sit within the Office for Women. The budget that we are responsible for—albeit through DSS—is in relation to the second action plan or the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children. I think we established at the last estimates that there has been no cut at all to the funding under the second action plan. I think we had a discussion, too.

Senator WATERS: We did work that out.

Senator Cash: We worked it out and I think we all agreed that there had been no funding cuts there.

Senator WATERS: We did not agree on the amount. I think there should be more.

Senator Cash: But in relation to the allocation of the funds, we agreed that there had been no cut in what had been allocated. In relation to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, or NPAH, as it is often referred to, one of the issues we were confronted with when we came into government—and I think this has been articulated and is on the record—is that there was no provision by the former government for funding beyond the forward estimates. We have actually allocated an additional amount of funding. It was due to run out on 30 June 2014. We have extended it for a year, and it is now being considered in the context of the 2015-16 budget. So the formal considerations are actually being undertaken.

Ms Cross : It is also the subject of the Federation white paper to look at longer term roles and responsibilities in housing and homelessness. There is another process that is looking broadly at what the Commonwealth and states should be responsible for.

Senator MOORE: Is the Office for Women involved in that?

Ms Cross : It comes under my part of the department and I was out consulting on it last week.

Senator MOORE: My question was: is the Office for Women involved in that?

Ms Cross : I am part of the Office for Women. The answer is yes.

Senator MOORE: It is not that difficult, because PM&C is looking after the whole white paper arrangement. I just wanted to get on record whether the Office for Women, as such—not you—was involved.

Ms Cross : I am part of the Office for Women in a technical sense.

Senator MOORE: So your entire involvement in the white paper is from the Office for Women?

Ms Cross : No, it is part of my involvement.

Senator WATERS: It seems to me that there is some confusion about the scope of responsibility of the office. Is it meant to be a whole-of-government policy review or is it just looking at the second action plan?

Ms Cross : It is the function—whole-of-government advice and policy coordination.

Senator WATERS: Sure, but every time I ask about something you say that is not the office's responsibility.

Ms Cross : The specifics of it are handled by those departments. Those functions have not come into PM&C. For specifics, decisions on funding and things like that, those departments are responsible and they can give you detailed answers.

Senator WATERS: Do you give them detailed advice about the impact of certain funding cuts.

Ms Cross : We have ongoing discussions and provide advice to them, so, yes, certainly.

Senator WATERS: I am sorry, Minister—I interrupted you. Did you want to continue?

Senator Cash: I think you mentioned the DSS funding. That has been continued, on my understanding, until 30 June 2015.

Senator WATERS: In the interests of saving time, I might put those other items on notice to get an explanation for each one.

Senator McKENZIE: I want to get an understanding of how the government's partnership with the Australian Institute of Company Directors is working to increase gender equality.

Ms Cross : I apologise. The head of the Office for Women could not be here because her child is unwell. She would normally be here. If we seem slightly more disorganised than usual, it is because the expert on this is not here.

Ms Larkins : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator McKENZIE: No problems. My understanding is that there are some scholarships that are available. I would also like to understand how that sits with the past four years—some sort of context and comparison. I would also like to know about the interest that is out there in the community in accessing the scholarship program. Are there any areas of focus of the program? Or is it just a broadbrush approach?

Senator Cash: I can give you a very brief update. It is a very good program. It is something the former government started. When we came into government we had a look at it and saw the value in it. We decided it was such a good program we would double the number of scholarships. I think we have given the AICD approximately $650,000 over the next two years to deliver what I understand is a record 140 scholarships to targeted groups of women. My understanding, from the AICD, is that in relation to the two scholarship rounds that have already gone out, the level of interest has been overwhelming.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you so much for the level of detail in your answer, but the target groups? You said there were target groups?

Senator Cash: There are different target groups to ensure that we are getting women from as many different backgrounds as possible. For example, I think the first round was for rural and regional women.

Senator McKENZIE: Well done.

Senator Cash: The second round was the general round—so for anyone across Australia. The third round is going to be for females who are interested in non-traditional roles.

Senator McKENZIE: Fantastic. On international engagement—how many non-government delegates will be attending the 59th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Ms Larkins : There will be two delegates paid for by the Australian government—two delegates who are part of the official Australian delegation and are paid for by the Australian government. There will be a number of alliances that are also—

Senator McKENZIE: So non-government delegates?

Ms Larkins : There will be non-government delegates who will also be funded by the Australian government, but they are not part of the official Australian delegation.

Senator McKENZIE: Right. So how many non-government delegates who are not part of the official delegation are being funded by the government?

Ms Larkins : I will take that on notice. I will confirm that.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.

Senator MOORE: How many government—

Ms Larkins : Two.

Senator MOORE: No, how many government, not departmental people?

Ms Larkins : How many departmental people?

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Ms Larkins : There are two from PM&C.

Senator MOORE: And that is all?

Ms Larkins : And one from the department of foreign affairs.

Senator MOORE: So that is three.

Ms Cross : And Natasha Stott-Despoja and Elizabeth Broderick are also part of the delegation.

Senator MOORE: I would be expecting the same budget report after this meeting as I have had for the last one.

Ms Cross : Yes, we are happy to provide that.

Senator MOORE: I would like to ask about the WLDS grants. The website says that the government has committed $17.891 million from 2013 to 2018, so we are through the first year and the expenditure is $1,722,486.20. I am just wanting to get an idea of how this process works in terms of how you budget across the years. With such a significant amount, which is wonderful, what is the process for determining across those five years how much money is given per year? How do you run the budget rounds? It actually says that all new grants will be published at the Department of Prime Minister of Cabinet's WLDS grant reporting page. I would like to know how they are actually advertised, what the process for decision is and who actually does make the decision. The range of organisations and the terms of the current grants that are on that reporting page are very varied, which is great, but when I divide $17.891 billion by five it does not come up to $1,722,486.20.

Ms Larkins : I would have to take that on notice. I have not been involved in the process.

Ms Cross : There are a number of grants that are ongoing commitments. You would be aware that when we commit funding for the alliances we commit that over three years. Often we have projects that will go for two or three years.

Senator MOORE: So the alliances are funded under this same grant?

Ms Cross : Yes, they are.

Senator MOORE: Are they? So all the alliances and all their activities are funded under that amount?

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator MOORE: So that will come in the detailed list with the alliance funding I will get—

Ms Cross : And then there will be a range of other projects.

Senator MOORE: But they are not listed on the grants page. If someone is trying to trace this—

Ms Cross : They may have been listed the previous year when the grants were made. I would have to check that for you.

Senator MOORE: There is a lot of interest in these grants because they are so varied. It would be useful to have the absolute list. We have the 2013 to 2018 statement. It would be useful to have a historic record if there are more. This was all I could find.

Ms Cross : We will see what we can find for you.

Senator MOORE: That would be really useful.

Ms Cross : I suspect over estimates hearings we have given you the historical information, but we will see what we can pull together for you.

Senator MOORE: I just want to know in the 2013 to 2018 promise what has been expended up till now, which I would think was 2013 and 2014. There are only three years left. I want to know where the money is because they range from smaller grants to fund a UN breakfast, for instance—and by the way is there an International Women's Day breakfast being planned for this year?

Ms Larkins : Yes.

Senator MOORE: So that will be another one that will pop up.

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Good.

Ms Cross : Grants like that we do not advertise. They are things we fund rather than go through a round of calling for—

Senator MOORE: When you are doing your follow-up, Ms Larkins, can I find out how many of these were advertised? People have asked me: how does it work? There is so much money here for projects to advance women. How does it work? Are some recurrent in the sense that, if the UN women's breakfast is there for however much money that was—$5,500 I think—

Ms Cross : I do not think that is recurrent, as in it is not guaranteed ongoing, but it is something that each year we are likely to fund.

Senator MOORE: So if we can actually find that out so there is more detail. As you would expect, the grants page is quite narrow as to what it can put up on that process. Also what is the process for selection—are they closed grants or open grants? All that kind of stuff would be very useful.

CHAIR: It being 6.30 pm, the committee will now suspend and resume at 8 pm with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I thank you, Senator Cash, for your attendance.

Senator Cash: Thank you, very much.

Proceedings suspended from 18:30 to 19:59

Senator WONG: I understand that Senator Ludwig asked you some questions about the story associated with the WeekendAustralian story suggesting that Mr Abbott canvassed the option of sending Australian troops to Iraq to combat IS. This is 3½ thousand troops. I think it was Mr Lyons who wrote that story. A short time ago he gave an interview on Sky on which he stood by that story, that on 25 November last year the Prime Minister canvassed a unilateral invasion of Iraq—that is, sending 3½ thousand Australian ground troops to confront the Islamic State, or Daesh, terrorist group. So, I just want to give you the opportunity, given that the journalist has reiterated his story in the face of denials of the Prime Minister, to confirm, first with the departmental officials: were any of you present at a meeting on 25 November when this proposal was canvassed?

Dr McCarthy : No.

Senator Abetz: And just for the record, this story asserts that it was raised with Australia's leading military planners, and our leading military planners might just happen to include Air Chief Marshal Binskin and Secretary Richardson, and they in a joint statement have said:

At no point has the Prime Minister raised that idea with the ADF and/or the Department of Defence, formally or informally, directly or indirectly.

So, they have yet again confirmed that the story was without substance.

Senator WONG: So, Senator Abetz, you maintain, notwithstanding that the journalist has backed the story again, just a short while ago, that the story is without substance?

Senator Abetz: Absolutely, on the basis of, yet again, the statement from the Secretary of the Department of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force saying:

At no point has the Prime Minister raised that idea with the ADF and/or the Department of Defence, formally or informally, directly or indirectly.

Senator WONG: So, as the Minister representing the Prime Minister, do you maintain the denial of that story?

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator LUDWIG: Did we get anywhere with 1501?

Senator WONG: Ministerial travel?

Senator LUDWIG: Yes.

Ms Kelly : I can provide you with some information. On 20 May 2014 the chief of staff of the Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote to the Prime Minister's chief of staff conveying the minister's overseas travel proposals for 2014-15. It included the proposed travel to Peru. On 18 June 2014 the Prime Minister's chief of staff wrote to the chief of staff of the Minister for Foreign Affairs conveying the Prime Minister's decision on the minister's overseas travel proposals for 2014-15, which included the travel to Peru. On 9 September the Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote to the Prime Minister requesting approval for the minister's proposed travel to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, in December 2014. The chief of staff of the Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote again on 17 November 2014, and the Prime Minister's chief of staff wrote to the chief of staff of the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 28 November 2014 to convey the Prime Minister's approval of the minister's travel to that conference.

Senator LUDWIG: So, the remaining question you are taking on notice and will provide an answer? There were 14 in all.

Senator Abetz: Yes, and some of the information is still not at hand.

Dr McCarthy : May I provide some information that Senator Ludwig requested earlier. Senator Ludwig, you asked whether any PM&C officials were present at a briefing of the Prime Minister by the AFP on terrorist arrests. No PM&C official was at that briefing. The Prime Minister's subsequent remarks drew on information and advice provided in that briefing.

Senator WONG: By whom?

Dr McCarthy : It was the AFP, and I believe DG ASIO also.

Senator WONG: Can I turn now to the issue of submarines. Did the Prime Minister promise Senator Sean Edwards there would be an open tender for Australia's Future Submarine project?

Senator Abetz: Statements have been made in relation to that, and I would also refer you to Senator Edwards's statement in the Senate on a Wednesday—I forget the date—which explains these matters.

Senator WONG: So, as the minister representing, are you saying he did nor did not promise there would be an open tender?

Senator Abetz: What was discussed, as per the statement by Senator Edwards in the Senate, I understand that that presents the position.

Senator WONG: So did he or didn't he?

Senator Abetz: I am not going to get into word games.

Senator WONG: I am not doing word games. It is a straight question.

Senator Abetz: What I am saying is that the statement represents that which was discussed between the Prime Minister and Senator Edwards.

Senator WONG: I am not playing word games. I am asking a very simple straightforward question. Did the Prime Minister promise Senator Edwards there would be an open tender for Australia's future submarines?

Senator Abetz: I have indicated to you what the answer is.

Senator WONG: Which is: look at Sean Edwards's statement.

Senator Abetz: Which I understand clarifies what was discussed between them.

Senator WONG: As the Minister representing the Prime Minister, can you tell me what was discussed between them?

Senator Abetz: I can take that on notice if you like. I do not have the full details as to what was said. But I understand—and I stand to be corrected on that—that Senator Edwards's statement to the Senate represents the position.

Senator WONG: Did the Prime Minister promise any other colleagues there would be an open tender?

Senator Abetz: Are you seeking to assert that such a promise was made?

Senator WONG: No, I asked if he did.

Senator Abetz: Did he promise any other senator—

Senator WONG: Did he promise anybody apart from Senator Edwards, with whom he had a conversation? Were there any colleagues to whom he promised an open tender?

Senator Abetz: The only comment I would make is in relation to Senator Edwards, and he has clarified the position on the Senate Hansard.

Senator WONG: If he did not, can you explain why Senator Bernardi, the chair of this committee, told SkyNews on 9 February, 'The Prime Minister has committed to an open tender on submarines'?

CHAIR: Did I?

Senator WONG: You did.

CHAIR: Are you sure.

Senator WONG: Yes.

CHAIR: I would be interested in that transcript.

Senator WONG: I will apologise to you if that is not the case. But that is the transcript.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, my recollection is that I have never sought to purport what the Prime Minister has committed to, except for the fact that I have been guaranteed that there would be more jobs for South Australia and the bulk of the work would be undertaken in South Australia over the life of the contract. To my recollection that is all I have ever said. But I am happy to stand corrected.

Senator WONG: I have an email saying it was just after 7 am on that day.

CHAIR: What would I be on SkyNews at 7 am for? You are joking, aren't you! I think I might have been preoccupied that day about doing something else. So if I misspoke it was a mistake. But it certainly is not consistent with what my previous—

Senator WONG: Again, I have the quote here: 'The Prime Minister is committed to an open tender on submarines.'

Senator Abetz: Where was that quote?

Senator WONG: Sky News, which is what I just indicated. As the Minister representing the Prime Minister, can you tell this committee whether the Prime Minister has promised an open tender to any senator or member.

Senator Abetz: I am not going to play the word games that you are trying to get me to play.

Senator WONG: Who is playing word games?

Senator Abetz: The language was referred to by Senator Edwards in his speech in the Senate on the Wednesday of the previous sitting week.

Senator WONG: The Minister for Defence issued a statement on 20 February 2015. Dr McCarthy, did PM&C have any role in the preparation of this statement?

Dr McCarthy : In relation to any major announcements—and this was a major announcement—there is as a matter of course consultation by the Department Of Defence with PM&C.

Senator WONG: And I am asking about this statement, so we can focus on it.

Dr McCarthy : We did have interactions with Defence in relation to that statement. I recall that there were general discussions, but as to the exact nature of the consultation, we might just need to check our records. But there were discussions with Defence.

Senator WONG: I am going to want to traverse this. Is there somebody who can check this? I will move to another area and come back to it. This has been an issue of some controversy, so I assume it would not be a surprise that there would be questions asked.

Dr McCarthy : Certainly we have been in discussions with Defence on matters related to the Future Submarine program both prior to and after the statement was made. As to the exact nature of the consultation on the statement itself, we would need to refresh our memories. But we have certainly been in discussions with Defence on an ongoing basis on the matter of the Future Submarine program for some time.

Senator WONG: What was the decision-making process prior to the announcement of this? I am not asking about the content of discussions. What was the decision making process prior to the 20 February announcement?

Dr McCarthy : There have been ongoing discussions within government on the Future Submarine program for some time.

Senator WONG: The government, on 20 February, announced the acquisition strategy for the FSP. I am asking about the decision-making process. Was this a decision between ministers? Was there a formal meeting of the cabinet? Was there a national security meeting in relation to this announcement?

Dr McCarthy : It is not our practice to—

Senator WONG: I am not asking about the content, I am asking about process. These questions are routinely asked and answered.

Ms Cross : In the past, ministers have sometimes indicated whether a matter has gone to cabinet or not. But at Senate estimates hearings we do not normally indicate whether something went to cabinet or not.

Senator WONG: That is not right.

Ms Cross : I think that is correct.

Senator WONG: No, it is not correct.

Ms Cross : If a minister has chosen to make a statement that something has gone to cabinet then it might be something we could discuss, but—

Senator WONG: You have got a choice here, Senator Abetz. You can duck it or you can leave open the possibility that the largest procurement in Australia's history did not go to cabinet.

Senator Abetz: That is suggesting that a procurement has already occurred. If I refer you to the NBN procurement process, I think you might be somewhat embarrassed.

Senator WONG: It went to cabinet.

Senator Abetz: On the back of a case study, yes,

Senator WONG: That is not quite correct. But we are talking about you and your government and the announcement on 20 February. Are you saying to me you do not want to tell us whether the cabinet or the National Security Committee met to determine the acquisition which was then announced by the defence minister?

Dr McCarthy : There was a decision-making process but, as Ms Cross has pointed out, we do not normally confirm the exact details of the process. There was a decision-making process.

Senator WONG: Was there a cabinet decision or not?

Dr McCarthy : There was a government decision. As the media release from Minister Andrews points out, the government announced the acquisition strategy—

Senator WONG: I am pressing—and I will press again in the Senate—to find out whether there was a cabinet decision on this process.

Ms Cross : We are happy to take that on notice. As I said, we do not normally indicate that; it is normally a minister's decision.

Senator WONG: Minister?

Senator Abetz: We will take it on notice and determine our response in due course, keeping in mind that we inherited a blank sheet of paper in relation to this acquisition.

Senator WONG: You should not have used David Johnston's template; it did not help him.

Senator Abetz: Well, tell us how far you got with it and how much money you as the then Minister for Finance allocated to the project. Zero!

Senator WONG: That is not correct.

Senator Abetz: Oh that's right, you stripped $16 billion out of Defence, so it was less than zero.

Senator WONG: Chair, can I ask a question?

CHAIR: Yes, but the minister is entitled to answer the question.

Senator WONG: He is not trying to answer the question. He is just gratuitously wasting time.

CHAIR: He is allowed to conclude his answer.

Senator WONG: Has he finished?

Senator Abetz: I have indeed.

Senator WONG: The decision is to invite France, Germany and Japan to participate in the competitive evaluation process and not Sweden. When was the decision made to include France, Germany and Japan?

Dr McCarthy : I do not have with me information about the time frame you are referring to.

Senator WONG: Can you get it so we can come back to it.

Dr McCarthy : We can take that question on notice.

Senator WONG: I would like to understand time frames. For example, when were the governments of those nations informed? Were they informed prior to the announcement of this? Were the Swedish government informed prior to the announcement? These are the things I would like to know.

Dr McCarthy : I can take that question on notice.

Senator WONG: No, I would like to do it tonight. Can we get whoever knows about it.

Dr McCarthy : We will see if we can get that information for you this evening.

Senator WONG: I would appreciate that. Thank you. We will come back to that. Can you explain to me the role of the Prime Minister's Office in this procurement process?

Dr McCarthy : The role of the Prime Minister's Office—or, indeed, any minister's office—in relation to major government decisions is to provide advice to their minister, who, in the case of the Prime Minister's Office, is the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Mr Sadleir, can you tell me if this is an accurate representation of this process—and I quote:

…the next generation of Australia's submarine program is being personally shepherded by the PM's most trusted national security adviser…Andrew Shearer and, at the PMO's direction, the PM's department - led by first assistant secretary in the National Security Division, Richard Sadleir.

Senator Abetz: What are you quoting from?

Senator WONG: I am quoting from the Australian Financial Review. I am giving the officer an opportunity to tell me whether that is an accurate description of the process.

Senator Abetz: He is a most trusted official, no doubt; that is accurate.

Mr Sadleir : I think a better characterisation would be that this is a major acquisition process being run by the Department of Defence and, while PM&C provides advice on aspects of that on occasions, the reality is that it is a defence matter and the Minister for Defence, and his department, is responsible for running the policy in respect of the acquisition.

Senator WONG: In terms of the relative roles, it is a DOD-run process. Obviously, Prime Minister and Cabinet provide advice and are part of the consultation process. Is that correct?

Dr McCarthy : That is right.

Senator WONG: How else would you describe PM&C's role in the procurement?

Dr McCarthy : We advise the Prime Minister on a whole range of issues relating to national security and international policy, including major defence procurement, and we do that in close consultation with the Department of Defence.

Senator WONG: Mr Sadleir, have you personally been involved in discussions with Japanese officials about these matters?

Mr Sadleir : I have not.

Senator WONG: Has anyone from Prime Minister and Cabinet? Have you, Dr McCarthy?

Dr McCarthy : An officer from Mr Sadleir's division has accompanied Defence delegations to Japan, France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden and has been an observer in the discussions held with those countries. In the case of Japan, those discussions went to not only possible cooperation on the future submarine program but also broader defence, science and technology cooperation. In the case of the visits to Europe, I think they were focused primarily on the matter of possible cooperation in the future submarine program.

Senator WONG: Perhaps on notice because we are running out of time, can you give me more details about the France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden components? When were those delegations and who was on them? I want to turn to the visit to Japan. The PM&C official was an observer. Is that right? I think that was the phrase you used.

Dr McCarthy : Yes.

Senator WONG: Why do you have an observer? That is an unusual term.

Dr McCarthy : There are important issues that go to not only the future submarine program but also, in the case of discussion with Japan, broader efforts to strengthen our security cooperation with Japan on defence. It is by no means unheard of for PM&C officials to take part in delegations led by other departments on important issues.

Senator WONG: I know it is not but I had not heard the phrase 'observer'.

Ms Cross : I think it is a term that is reasonably widely used which indicates that we were not leading but observing the process.

Senator WONG: That is a participant, but an observer is something different. Who was the officer?

Senator Abetz: Do we need to know the person's name?

Senator WONG: Is it a departmental officer?

Dr McCarthy : It is a departmental officer.

Senator WONG: At which level?

Dr McCarthy : At the EL2 level, so not a senior executive service officer.

Senator WONG: At whose request did they participate as an observer?

Dr McCarthy : I think there was an agreement between Defence and PM&C that the PM&C official would participate.

Senator WONG: Was Mr Shearer from the Prime Minister's office an observer or participant in this delegation?

Dr McCarthy : I think, as we have answered in a question on notice previously, Mr Shearer was part of one visit.

Senator WONG: Which visit was that?

Dr McCarthy : In May 2014.

Senator WONG: This was to Japan?

Dr McCarthy : That is right.

Senator WONG: At whose request was that?

Dr McCarthy : Again, my recollection is there was general agreement that Mr Shearer would participate.

Senator WONG: At whose request?

Dr McCarthy : I do not recall the specifics of the request.

Senator WONG: An EL2—with due respect to the officer—is not a very senior person to be sending on an overseas delegation.

Dr McCarthy : The other members of the delegation were very senior. The delegation, as I recall, was led by a deputy secretary from the Department of Defence.

Senator WONG: So why did PM&C choose not to send you or Mr Sadleir?

Dr McCarthy : We were not leading the delegation, and the officer concerned took part in discussions and was able to keep Mr Sadleir and me informed and briefed on the discussions.

Senator WONG: Is this person a former MOPS staffer?

Dr McCarthy : No.

Senator WONG: Did Mr Shearer participate in the May 2014 delegation to Japan at the Prime Minister's request?

Dr McCarthy : Again, I do not recall the specific circumstances in which the decision was made for Mr Shearer to attend.

Senator WONG: The guidelines issued by Prime Minister and Cabinet on overseas visits by ministers and parliamentary secretaries make clear that ministerial staff are not permitted to travel overseas on government business independent of their minister unless approved by the Prime Minister. I assume that the Prime Minister approved this travel.

Dr McCarthy : Certainly.

Senator WONG: Does Mr Shearer have a standing exemption from this rule?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: Because he also travelled, did he not, to the United States in January 2015?

Senator Abetz: Yes, and Dr Andrew Charlton under Kevin Rudd travelled independently of the Prime Minister five times.

Senator WONG: I am asking about this.

Senator Abetz: Yes, but it is established practice.

Senator WONG: I am asking about this.

Senator Abetz: Yes, I know you are, but I am pointing out that Mr Shearer—

Senator WONG: On how many occasions has Mr Shearer been granted an exemption by the Prime Minister to travel overseas independently?

Ms Kelly : I have the information for independent travel by ministers' staff from May last year to 2 February this year, and it does not include any approval that related to Mr Shearer.

Senator WONG: Since the change of government—

Ms Kelly : But I have to say that this list is only those approved that are known to the department, and the department does not become aware of all approvals by the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Is that the case? They are guidelines that you administer.

Ms Kelly : As I said, the department does not always become aware of exceptions granted by the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: But you issue the guidelines with the authority of the Prime Minister—they are your guidelines.

Ms Kelly : The decision is one for the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: He doesn't tell you?

Ms Kelly : The decision is one for the Prime Minister. When the department is aware of it, the department reports it, but I cannot guarantee that this is a comprehensive list.

Senator WONG: I would appreciate if you could provide that list. Are you able to table that, or a version thereof if it has things on it that you do not want me to see?

Senator Abetz: Aren't these things tabled in parliament on a six-monthly basis in any event?

Senator WONG: No, this is independent travel.

Ms Kelly : Can I consider the other information that is in the table?

Senator WONG: Sure. Mr Shearer went to the United States in January 2015. I think that is on the public record. Was that not approved?

Ms Kelly : This list includes independent travel by ministerial staff, and there are not any approvals that relate to the Prime Minister in this list.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, it is on the public record that Mr Shearer went to the United States in January 2015. Given that it appears that the Prime Minister does not always tell his own department when he is allowing his staff to travel independently—contrary to the ministerial guidelines—can you take on notice the number of occasions, and for which staff, the Prime Minister has authorised independent staff travel?

Senator Abetz: I will do that, but one assumes that independent staff travel would be picked up by the department. Who picks up the cost of the travel?

Dr McCarthy : We did not have any role in any travel Mr Shearer did to the United States earlier this year.

Senator Abetz: The Department of Finance picks that up.

Senator WONG: But I am asking about the Prime Minister's authorisation. This is not permitted under the guidelines other than with his authorisation—

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator WONG: so I am asking you as the minister representing him: how many authorisations and in relation to whom?

Senator Abetz: I am taking that on notice, but I think we can assume that it was authorised.

Senator WONG: Dr McCarthy, before I go to the next point, you said you had something.

Dr McCarthy : Mr Sadleir has some information for you.

Mr Sadleir : I am advised that our embassy in Sweden notified the Swedish authorities before the Minister for Defence's media statement on 20 February 2015, and the embassy notified the Swedes that they would not be invited to participate in the evaluation process.

Senator WONG: What does that mean—'before'? A week before? Minutes before? Days before?

Mr Sadleir : I believe it was the night before.

Senator WONG: Was there any contact made with other governments advising them of the content of the announcement?

Ms Cross : I think we will have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Can we go back to this EL2. Dr McCarthy, I might have misheard you, but, after we had the discussion about the observer, I think you also said the officer took part in the discussions. I assume that observers are also participants—is that right?

Dr McCarthy : I think the term 'observer' simply reflects the fact that the officer concerned is quite junior compared to some of the other officers and was there primarily in listening and information-gathering modes to keep the department informed about the discussions.

Senator WONG: Whom did the officer report to on his or her return?

Dr McCarthy : Her return. The officer debriefed Mr Sadleir and me.

Senator WONG: Did the officer brief the Prime Minister or Mr Shearer?

Dr McCarthy : We would have provided information to the Prime Minister's office about the discussions. I do not have the exact details with me, but it would be normal to do that.

Senator WONG: To your knowledge, has Mr Shearer had any discussions with the Japanese government about the procurement of these submarines?

Dr McCarthy : I know that, in the course of, for example, prime ministerial visits to Japan and Prime Minister Abe's visit to Australia, Mr Shearer as a matter of course will have had discussions with senior Japanese officials. I cannot speak to the content of those discussions.

Senator WONG: Why not?

Dr McCarthy : They are confidential discussions and those discussions were between Mr Shearer and—

Senator WONG: But he is representing the Prime Minister. He is not just there for a private chat; he is there as the Prime Minister's adviser. Have you been briefed about the nature of the discussions between Mr Shearer and members of the Japanese government?

Dr McCarthy : As I said, it is quite—

Senator Abetz: In general terms, you have been told that it was to do with defence cooperation and other matters. With respect, I think, when we are dealing with issues of national security, that gives you the umbrella as to what the issues were, and getting into specifics has never been the pursuit of responsible oppositions.

Senator WONG: You are saying Mr Shearer did have conversations with the members of the Japanese government but you cannot tell me what they were about—the details of them?

Dr McCarthy : I would never comment on the details of anyone's discussions—government official or ministerial adviser—with officials from other governments—discussions which are quite normal in the course of international engagement.

Senator WONG: Sure. All right. Rather than looking at it that way, let me do it this way: in terms of what the government's position is, at any point have you understood that the Japanese government have been provided with undertakings in relation to the procurement of submarines by the Prime Minister or his office?

Dr McCarthy : That is not my understanding, and the Prime Minister has made clear that there have been discussions with the German government, with the French government and with the Japanese government on the matter of submarine cooperation.

Senator WONG: So you are saying that, to your knowledge, there has been no undertaking ever given to the Japanese government?

Dr McCarthy : There have been discussions, as I said, with a range of governments, and no undertakings have been given, because no decision has been made. No decision will be made for at least another 10 months.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, I was just going to clarify your question before, because I have received advice that you are quite correct: I did make those comments earlier in a Sky interview.

Senator WONG: Does that mean you apologise to me?

CHAIR: No, I merely make the point that I was clearly basing it on some incomplete information that had appeared in the early morning press, which subsequently proved to be incorrect. I have learned my lesson. I will not rely on media reports ever again, and I take it back.

Senator Abetz: I am glad that has been clarified.

Senator WONG: In relation to the announcement of 20 February 2015, do I understand the various options to mean that, when you say 'options for design and build overseas, in Australia and/or a hybrid approach', it means that an overseas design and build is an option that remains on the table?

Dr McCarthy : That is one of the options that are canvassed in the statement: 'options for design and build overseas, in Australia and/or a hybrid approach'.

Senator WONG: So, with all those words, it means an overseas design and build is an option the government is prepared to contemplate.

Dr McCarthy : That is what the statement indicates. As you can see, it canvasses a number of possible approaches.

Senator WONG: When you were doing your incoming government brief and when you have done your assessment of government policy, has anyone recalled the pledge made by the Liberal Party's defence spokesperson in May 2013:

We will deliver those submarines from right here at ASC in South Australia …The Coalition today is committed to building 12 new submarines here in Adelaide …

Does anyone remember that?

Dr McCarthy : My recollection is that the policy of the then opposition was—I think these were the words—'centred on' Adelaide.

Senator WONG: Yes, but they went further. Were people supposed to disregard what the defence spokesperson said on television in a press conference in front of the ASC? Is that right? That is the position?

Dr McCarthy : I do not recall the press conference.

Senator WONG: You do not know the terms of the government's commitment?

Dr McCarthy : As I said, my recollection of the published policy is that words along the lines of 'centred on' Adelaide were used.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, does 'The Coalition today is committed to building 12 new submarines here in Adelaide' remain government policy or not?

Senator Abetz: Senator Johnston gave very detailed answers in the Senate on this on a number of occasions, as Senator Conroy was flailing around in the Senate during question time, and that which is on the record is on the record.

Senator WONG: Is it government policy or not?

Senator Abetz: The government's policy has been enunciated by Minister Andrews in recent times.

Senator WONG: So another promise junked. When will the potential partners be invited to participate in this competitive evaluation process? This flags that they will be invited. What are the time frames around this?

Dr McCarthy : I do not know the exact time frames, but Defence will certainly have detailed information on the process.

Senator WONG: Are you involved in the industry briefings or appointment of the expert advisory panel?

Dr McCarthy : No.

Senator WONG: Can I just come back to Mr Shearer, who is reported as having travelled to the United States in January. I understand that the fact of the exemption from the guidelines is being taken on notice. But can I ask: what was the purpose of the Prime Minister's staffer's visit?

Dr McCarthy : PM&C was not involved in Mr Shearer's visit, so we do not have that information. We were not involved in any of the preparations.

Senator WONG: Are you able to assist, Senator Abetz? What was the purpose of this—

Senator Abetz: I can take it on notice.

Senator WONG: You do not know if he attended or what the purpose of his visit was?

Senator Abetz: No, I do not. My briefing papers do not indicate that.

Senator WONG: Was Mr Shearer authorised to provide background material and on-the-record comments about intelligence briefings he had received and, if so, who provided that authorisation?

Dr McCarthy : As I have said, PM&C did not have any involvement in the—

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Okay. You might want to have reference to The Australian Financial Review article of—

Senator Abetz: Can you just bear with me, Senator Wong? Sorry. Something has just been revealed as to why the Mr Shearer trip would not be in the exemption list that PM&C has. Ministers that want their staff to travel unaccompanied by the minister have to write to the Prime Minister for that approval—

Senator WONG: Yes, we had that conversation.

Senator Abetz: yes—and the Prime Minister does not write to himself to seek the approval. Therefore PM&C do not get a letter for their files, and that is why it does not appear on their files, but I am sure it will appear on the six-monthly accounting for Finance.

Senator WONG: I still maintain my question on notice, because that does not go to the point.

Senator Abetz: Yes. But, just in case there is a question as to why it was not on that list, that is the explanation.

Senator WONG: According to this article, Mr Shearer went to Washington and attended intelligence briefings. You have no knowledge of this? Prime Minister and Cabinet has no knowledge of this?

Dr McCarthy : I know that Mr Shearer visited Washington and, given that he is the Prime Minister's senior adviser on national security, there is nothing unusual about that. I have been present in meetings where Mr Shearer has, along with other officials, received those briefings. There is nothing necessarily unusual about Mr Shearer—

Senator WONG: No, but it is unusual, isn't it, for staff members, not ministers and not departmental officials, to provide any background information about those briefings to the press?

Dr McCarthy : I think the premise of your question is that Mr Shearer is the source of those comments to the press. I do not have—

Senator WONG: It says:

Andrew Shearer, Mr Abbott's national security adviser who rarely comments publicly, said the "main thing that keeps me awake at night" is "domestic terrorism and the new manifestation of lone-wolf single actors".

The article begins by saying:

… Tony Abbott's national security adviser will return home from Washington armed with top secret intelligence that has increased concerns about Australia's vulnerability to random terrorist attacks.

Dr McCarthy : I do not have the article in front of me, but—

Senator WONG: You would agree, wouldn't you, Dr McCarthy, that it would be most unusual for a staff member to background the media about any intelligence matters?

Dr McCarthy : Well, Senator, I am not—

Senator Abetz: Not about 'any' intelligence matter. I think that is a bridge too far. What was extrapolated by certain journalists—once again, we have taken this on notice and we will come back to you with some information, but sole and wholesome reliance on media stories—

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Abetz: does not necessarily tell you the truth.

Senator WONG: The question I asked was: was Mr Shearer authorised to provide background material and/or on-the-record comment about intelligence briefings he had received and, if so, who provided that authorisation? Was Mr Shearer authorised to provide any on-the-record comments, whilst in Washington, about the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: He is quoted in articles about this. I just wonder on what basis a staffer is briefing the Australian media on the AIIB, rather than the Treasurer.

Senator Abetz: The Prime Minister's office—and this is not an uncommon thing—and the Prime Minister may comment on the whole gamut of government enterprise and endeavour, and I do not think there is anything strange in the Prime Minister's office making comments on national security matters.

Senator WONG: The AIIB would normally be the responsibility of the Treasurer. Mr Shearer is quoted:

Andrew Shearer, Mr Abbott's top international adviser, said there was huge demand for infrastructure. At face value China's initiative was welcome.

He said Australia wanted the bank to be transparent, with sound governance and be genuinely multilateral before joining. "I don't think there is a massive gulf here between our positions."

Mr Shearer also "profoundly rejected" the idea from some "elites" … that the US alliance disadvantages Australia in Asia.

What is a staff member doing providing comment on an international investment vehicle that China has proposed?

Senator Abetz: When was that story?

Senator WONG: On 24 January 2015, in The Australian Financial Review.

Senator Abetz: I will check up on that—

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Senator Abetz: but I think the government's position had been—

Senator WONG: Can I also ask this question, which goes to the US relationship. I think there is a bipartisan commitment to the alliance with the United States and the importance of it.

Senator Abetz: Sorry?

Senator WONG: I am going to ask a question about the relationship with the US, and obviously there is a strong bipartisan commitment to the alliance and a strong relationship with the US. Can you explain to me, Senator Abetz. Ms Credlin is reported as telling a group of journalists that the President of the United States is 'the lamest of lame ducks'. Could you explain to me how that is consistent with a position that recognises the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with the United States?

Senator Abetz: I do not know whether she said that or not. I will take that on notice. It is an assertion that is made.

Senator WONG: It is on the public record that Ms Credlin spent two hours in her office last week talking to a journalist. That was reported in the Weekend Australian of 21 February. Did the Prime Minister authorise that interview?

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: I have some questions about the ABC nomination panel and the SBS nomination panel.

Senator Abetz: For the record, I am advised that Mr Shearer received no intelligence briefings during his visit to the United States. We have taken all of that on notice, but that is—

Senator WONG: But he did provide comment on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Senator Abetz: And that is different to receiving intelligence briefings.

Senator WONG: Can you remind me, Ms Cross, of the role the secretary plays in the appointment of the nomination panel for the ABC and SBS boards?

Ms Cross : Under the legislation, that is a decision of the secretary of PM&C.

Senator WONG: Can you explain why Mr Ric Smith and Mr David Gonski were recently reappointed for seven months?

Ms Cross : Again, I think that was a decision taken by the current secretary of the department and I think it was to give some continuity to the nominations panel.

Senator WONG: But why not continue them for longer? What is the rationale for seven months?

Ms Cross : I think at the end of seven months the two new members will have settled in, and you could then look at replacing them.

Senator WONG: I think we have asked questions about this before. The department provides appointment briefs to the Prime Minister ahead of cabinet consideration of major appointments. Is that correct?

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator WONG: I think you have said to me before that as part of that process you look at CVs, declaration of interest forms and those sorts of issues.

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator WONG: Do you identify sensitive issues? For example, if a proposed appointee is a former MP, is a former minister or has another partisan appointment.

Ms Cross : If that comes up in the statement of conflict of interest.

Senator WONG: Does your section prepare these briefs, Ms Cross?

Ms Cross : I think they are prepared by the cabinet division with input from relevant areas of the department as necessary.

Senator WONG: Who does that report to? You or Ms Kelly?

Ms Cross : Ms Kelly.

Senator WONG: Maybe I will wait for Ms Kelly to return.

Ms Cross : Ms Kelly confirmed that that is the process we follow for PM&C appointments.

Senator WONG: When preparing a brief ahead of Mr Nihal Gupta's appointment as SBS chair, did the department identify him as the co-chair of the political organisation Liberal Friends of India?

Ms Cross : That is not a PM&C appointment; that is a Department of Communications appointment.

Senator WONG: No, but we just established that ahead of significant appointments you prepare appointment briefs.

Senator Abetz: That is for PM&C appointments.

Ms Cross : That is for PM&C appointments.

Senator WONG: So you did not prepare any briefs for the Prime Minister ahead of Mr Gupta's appointment as SBS chair?

Ms Cross : In terms of the question on notice, I do not think we indicated whether that went to cabinet or not. I think we said, as with longstanding practice of successive governments, that details of cabinet considerations are not disclosed. That was a question on notice.

Senator WONG: That is not what I just asked. Did you prepare a brief to the Prime Minister in relation to Mr Gupta's appointment or not?

Ms Cross : May I get Mr Fox to clarify the process in relation to appointments and providing briefing? I may have misled you earlier.

Senator WONG: I would prefer it if you did that on notice, because we are trying to get through some things quickly so that your people do not have to stay.

Ms Cross : It goes to the answer I have just given.

Senator WONG: Mr Fox, you in Cabinet Division prepare all appointments that go to cabinet, do you not?

Mr Fox : That is correct, yes.

Senator WONG: So did this not go to cabinet?

Mr Fox : I missed the introduction to that, I am afraid.

Senator WONG: Mr Nihal Gupta's appointment as SBS chair—did that go to cabinet or not?

Mr Fox : I do not know whether we answer whether a particular appointment went to cabinet or not. Regarding the process: yes, we do prepare briefs on all appointments that go to cabinet.

Senator WONG: Did you prepare a brief in relation to Mr Gupta.

Senator Abetz: That then answers the question, doesn't it—whether it went to cabinet or not?

Senator WONG: Are you really going to avoid answering a question about whether the appointment of a co-chair of Liberal Friends of India as the chair of SBS did or did not go to cabinet? Do you really want that to be the story?

Senator Abetz: I do not think they are holding the front pages for it.

Senator WONG: Did you prepare a brief in relation to Mr Gupta?

Ms Cross : I think I indicated earlier that ministers may choose to disclose whether something goes to cabinet or not, but we do not normally volunteer that information at a Senate estimates.

Senator WONG: I am just asking whether there was a brief prepared in the Cabinet Division.

Ms Cross : That would mean we were confirming whether it had been to cabinet or not. As I said earlier, we do not normally indicate what has or has not gone to cabinet.

Senator WONG: Mr Fox, you are refusing to answer whether a brief was prepared by your division in relation to Mr Gupta?

Mr Fox : No, I do not recall the answer, so I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Mr Fox, are you aware that Mr Gupta is the co-chair of the political organisation Liberal Friends of India?

Mr Fox : I was not aware of that, no.

Senator WONG: Until when?

Mr Fox : Until you asked me the question.

Senator WONG: You were not aware?

Mr Fox : No, I was not aware.

Senator WONG: Were you, Ms Kelly?

Ms Cross : I believe you raised it at the last Senate estimates hearings.

Senator WONG: I did.

Ms Cross : I can see from the transcript that, at that time, I said I was aware of it. I think it may have been from media reporting at the time.

Senator WONG: Has anyone at PM&C examined any of the electoral records which show Mr Gupta is a regular donor to the Liberal Party?

Ms Kelly : Not that I am aware.

Senator WONG: Is Mr Gupta's appointment or the process that led to his appointment being reviewed? If not, why not?

Ms Cross : I am not aware of any review.

Senator Abetz: Why should it be?

Senator WONG: You have to be kidding!

Senator Abetz: So no union official who has ever presided over donations to the ALP should ever have been appointed to the Fair Work Commission? Is that what you are telling us, Senator Wong? I think not.

Senator WONG: Did it go to cabinet? You will not even tell us if it went to cabinet.

Senator Abetz: What does that have to do—

Senator WONG: Liberal Friends of India and a political donor—you made him chair of the SBS.

Senator Abetz: And you appointed trade union officials that donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the ALP to the Fair Work Commission.

Senator WONG: And employers. We appointed employers too. That is not an answer.

Senator Abetz: Oh, really—

Senator WONG: Could you take on notice—

CHAIR: Talking over each other does not assist.

Senator WONG: I am moving on. Can you tell me the total cost to taxpayers of the visit by the Prime Minister of Japan in June last year and can you please break down those costs? Is that available now or do we have to wait? On notice, please identify the relevant contracts published on AusTender that relate to the visit.

Ms Cross : We will take all of that on notice.

Senator WONG: You do not have the costs from a June visit for the February estimates?

Senator Abetz: I dare say that would have been ready for the October estimates.

Senator WONG: No, it was not ready. I asked and they said it was not acquitted. It is now February, so can I please have the costs?

Ms Kelly : I understand, but we do not have that information here.

Ms Spence : We will take it on notice and we will try and get it tonight, but otherwise we will get it you when we can.

Senator WONG: That would be appreciated. The white paper on the reform of the Federation—can you confirm to me that the timetable for the release of the white paper has been shifted by one year? When the Prime Minister announced the white paper, he said an issues paper would be released in the second half of 2014, a green paper in the first half of 2015 and a white paper by the end of 2015. That is from the Prime Minister's statement in June 2014. The most recent issues paper says that the white paper will be published 'towards the end of 2016'. That is a year later.

Ms Cross : I do not think so. I would have to check that. I think we may have indicated that the white paper may be early 2016 rather than late 2015, but I—

Senator WONG: No—'towards the end of 2016' and the Prime Minister's original announcement said that there would be a white paper by the end of 2015.

Ms Cross : That is right. I am saying that may now be early 2016 but it is not shifting to the end of 2016.

Senator WONG: I am quoting: 'towards the end of 2016'.

Ms Cross : I do not know where you are quoting from.

Senator WONG: From the fifth issues paper.

Ms Cross : I do not believe that is in the fifth issues paper, but I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Who made the decision that the Prime Minister's national security statement would occur outside parliament and not in parliament?

Senator Abetz: I dare say the Prime Minister would have made that decision, but I will take that on notice. It stands to reason that he would have made that decision.

Senator WONG: When was PM&C advised of that? It was previously in the media that it would be in the parliament and then today it was at the AFP. When were you made aware of that fact?

Mr M ckinnon : As far as we were aware—and this was for several weeks in the planning process—it was never intended to be in the parliament. There were, I recognise, a number of press reports over the last few days suggesting that, but it had never been considered. The sites that were considered were the ASIO building and, when that proved unacceptable for logistical reasons involving a whole range of communications issues, AFP headquarters. But it was never intended to be in parliament.

Senator WONG: Going back to the Japanese PM's visit, I am confused why you do not have the costings here. My recollection is that you would generally bring the costings for guest-of-government visits to estimates. Why do you not have it for this visit?

Ms Kelly : I have the costs for a number of guest-of-government visits, but I do not have the costs for that particular visit. I have the costs for the guest-of-government visits since the last estimates.

CHAIR: I want to confirm this before we continue, after some discussion, at the moment it appears that the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman will not be required. I am looking around to see if there is consensus. I understand that is the case? Yes. For the record, then, the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman will not be required at estimates later this evening.

Senator McLUCAS: I want to ask about the white paper on agriculture and then the white paper on Northern Australia. I understand that the coalition's pre-election agriculture policy document said that the white paper for agriculture would be conducted by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and would report within 12 months. Is that known to PM&C?

Mr P Morris : Yes, that was the commitment.

Senator McLUCAS: You obviously knew that. When I say 'you', I mean PM&C knew that?

Mr P Morris : Yes.

Senator McLUCAS: We are well beyond 12 months since the election. Why has this been delayed so long?

Mr P Morris : As you perhaps may be aware, Senator, we have had a very extensive consultation process as part of the agricultural white paper process. We had an issues paper that was released early last year and then quite an extensive process around regional Australia where we had meetings in a number of regional centres as well as in capitals. It took several weeks. We then had a green paper which was released in October. Again a very extensive consultation process followed, which carried through into December. As you may have heard from comments from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture in the media, we are now in the final stages of putting together the white paper.

Senator McLUCAS: When did PM&C realise that the promise that was made by the coalition would have to be broken?

Mr P Morris : As I said, we have been working through the process, a very extensive consultation process. The timing has been something that has been commented on by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture, and both have indicated that it is important to get this right. It is going to be—

Senator McLUCAS: That is not my question, Mr Morris, I am sorry. When did you realise that the promise would be broken?

Senator Abetz: The important part of the promise was that there would be consultation. I believe about 350 written submissions were received, so—

Senator McLUCAS: Sorry, Minister. I am really mindful of the time. I really want to understand when PM&C knew that the coalition's commitment for a white paper to be released in 12 months would not be able to be delivered. When was that realised?

Senator Abetz: When we got undoubtedly the huge degree of interest in this process—

Senator McLUCAS: Mr Morris, can you answer that question?

Senator Abetz: wanting to ensure that everybody got a fair and good hearing and that we could ventilate all issues.

Senator McLUCAS: Mr Morris did you want to answer that question?

Mr P Morris : I think the senator has answered the question.

CHAIR: Can we just have one at a time. If a question is directed to an official it is entirely within the prerogative of the minister to respond.

Senator McLUCAS: I understand that, Chair. The commitment to release it within 12 months has not been achieved, so when will the white paper be released?

Mr P Morris : Ultimately that is a question for the government to decide, Senator. We are obviously working closely with government at the moment to finalise the paper, as I mentioned.

Senator McLUCAS: So it is not final?

Mr P Morris : As I said, we are working within government now. We have finished the consultation process and we are working within government to finalise the paper.

Senator McLUCAS: So the question is: has the document been finalised?

Senator Abetz: It is currently being finalised, I am advised. It is important that we take the time to get it right, as it will set the directions for future government agricultural policy. Just for the timetable, the green paper was released on 20 October 2014, public submissions on that closed on 12 December 2014 and around 350 submissions were received.

Senator McLUCAS: Thanks, Minister. I did not ask those questions. What has the white paper cost to date?

Senator Abetz: As at 31 December, $2.4 million.

Senator McLUCAS: Can I now move to the questions on the white paper on Northern Australia, please.

Ms Cross : While we are waiting for the officials to come to the table, could I just respond to Senator Wong in terms of the timing of the federation white paper. I think you were suggesting that it was 12 months late, Senator. As I said at the time, the original time frame was to have the white paper at the end of 2015, and that may have moved to the beginning of 2016, which is not 12 months late. That is consistent with the timing that is in the issues paper.

Senator WONG: Can I have that back, please? It says 'ahead of the publication of the white paper in 2016.' You are saying that is the beginning?

Ms Cross : That is the intention, Senator, yes. As I said in my response, it was late 2015 and our understanding is that it is now early 2016.

Senator WONG: That is not what this says.

Ms Cross : It says 2016.

Senator WONG: It does not say—

Ms Cross : No, but it also does not say—

Senator WONG: Ms Cross, can I finish?

CHAIR: One at a time. Ms Cross, have you completed your answer?

Ms Cross : I was just pointing out that it does not say it will be 12 months late, which I think was the point you are making.

Senator WONG: So you want me to read, after you impugned what I said and suggested that I had got the issues paper wrong, 'A green paper setting out options for reform will be published in the second half of 2015 ahead of the publication of the white paper in 2016.' I would make two points: one, I think you said that the issues paper did not say anything about this, and it clearly does; second, you want us to read this as early 2016 when it does not say that. Is that right?

Ms Cross : I think the starting proposition you put was that the white paper was going to be 12 months late and I indicated that I did not think there was anything in the issues paper that suggested that, and I would still say there is nothing in the issues paper that suggests it will be 12 months.

Senator WONG: Are you telling us that we should read the publication of the white paper in 2016 as early 2016, because that was your evidence?

Ms Cross : I am saying that that is the intention, early 2016.

Senator WONG: But that is not what that says, is it?

Ms Cross : Neither does it say that it will be late 2016.

Senator McLUCAS: Now we move to the Northern Australia white paper, which was also promised in the coalition election commitments to be produced within 12 months of the election—

Senator WONG: Sorry; so how late will it be? It is not 12 months.

Ms Cross : I have indicated that the intention is early 2016.

Senator WONG: Six, three, six, nine—

Ms Cross : Early 2016, Senator.

Senator WONG: So how many months late will it be?

Ms Cross : It depends on what you thought late 2015 meant.

Senator WONG: You are the deputy secretary responsible. You are the one that told me I was wrong. Why don't you tell us—

Ms Cross : I have said early—

Senator WONG: Can I finish my question, or do you want to just keep talking?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, I think the deputy secretary has given a response.

Senator WONG: I have not finished my question.

CHAIR: You have asked it many times.

Senator WONG: I am asking her. She says it is not 12 months late, so I am saying to her—she is the person responsible—how many months late will it be?

Ms Cross : If it is released in February 2016, which is early 2016, that would be about two months late, which in the normal—

Senator WONG: So you tell us when you think it will be released.

Ms Cross : Early 2016.

Senator WONG: You cannot give us how many months late?

Ms Cross : I cannot see that far into the future, but I can tell you the intention is early 2016.

Senator McLUCAS: The Northern Australia white paper was committed in the election material prior to the election to be produced 'within 12 months of the election of an Abbott government'. It is well and truly 12 months in on that timetable. Where are we up to with the white paper on Northern Australia?

Mr Williamson : The process around the Northern Australia white paper is very well advanced. We have completed extensive consultation in Northern Australia. We have received over 180 submissions following the government's green paper in the middle of last year. Of course, as you are aware, most recently we have the report of the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, which was tabled in September, with 42 recommendations and 350-odd submissions of its own that are all being analysed and worked through. We are in the final stages of preparing the white paper.

Senator McLUCAS: What was your last sentence, which was in fact the answer to my question?

Mr Williamson : I said we are finalising preparations for the white paper.

Senator McLUCAS: When do you think that will be released?

Mr Williamson : Again, that will be a matter for the government.

Senator McLUCAS: So it is not complete?

Mr Williamson : It will not be complete until it is released by the government.

Senator McLUCAS: No, the process: there will be a document that is finalised and someone says, 'Tick, that's finished.' Then it goes to government and then it gets released. Has that happened yet?

Mr Williamson : No. The government finalises the white paper.

Senator McLUCAS: It is an iterative process between yourselves and the government, obviously.

Mr Williamson : It is and the government signs off, yes.

Senator McLUCAS: So that has not occurred yet?

Mr Williamson : It has not been released yet, no.

Ms Cross : We are in the process of the finalising the white paper, but it is not finalised—

Senator McLUCAS: So it is not finished?

Senator Abetz: A document can always be changed up until the time of tabling.

Senator McLUCAS: Has there been a decision by the government to identify a date when the Northern Australia white paper will be released?

Mr Williamson : Not that I am aware of.

Senator McLUCAS: Is anyone else aware?

Ms Cross : That is a decision for government.

Senator McLUCAS: So you have not been advised by government that it will be released on this day?

Ms Cross : No.

Senator McLUCAS: What are the costs of preparing the Northern Australia white paper to this period of time?

Mr Williamson : All the costs are met from existing departmental resources, but I think that as at end of December that was about $2.3 million.

Senator Abetz: That does exclude seconded staff costs.

Senator McLUCAS: That is PM&C costs not seconded staff from other departments?

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Mr Williamson : We have had a couple of staff from the environment department, Foreign Affairs and Trade and so on. It includes PM&C costs and Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development costs.

Senator McLUCAS: At $2.3 million. If you would like to take on notice and ascertain an evaluation of what the costs of the other secondees would be, that would be useful.

Senator Abetz: That might be extremely difficult. We gave you that other information for fullness. We will take it on notice and do our best, but I think it could be difficult.

Senator McLUCAS: Thank you. That would be great. How many staff are still working on the white paper on Northern Australia?

Mr Williamson : I think 11.6.

Senator McLUCAS: Will the white paper propose significant new infrastructure in Northern Australia?

Senator Abetz: That is going to what might be in it, so watch this space.

Senator McLUCAS: Mr Williamson will obviously not know what the election commitment from the Liberal Party was. It also will know what the joint parliamentary committee has said. I have read the green paper. Will the white paper propose infrastructure? Will there be an infrastructure plan in the white paper?

Senator Abetz: Wait and see what the white paper proposes.

Senator McLUCAS: Will proposals in the white paper have been costed by the time of publication?

Mr Williamson : Again, that goes to government decisions, and I cannot really answer that.

Senator McLUCAS: It is a process question, Mr Williamson. Will any proposal that is promoted and proposed in the white paper have been through a costings process?

Mr Williamson : Again you are asking me to speculate on what the white paper will contain. The terms of reference talk about a 20-year time frame for the white paper, so depending on where in that 20 years we are talking the answer could be different.

Senator McLUCAS: Okay. I understand that as part of the development of the white paper a 15-year infrastructure plan was to be developed by Infrastructure Australia. Has that work been carried out?

Mr Williamson : That is a piece of work that was mentioned in the election commitment on Northern Australia.

Senator McLUCAS: That is right.

Mr Williamson : It is actually a national piece of work that Infrastructure Australia is undertaking, and that is a question best directed to the Infrastructure and Regional Development portfolio.

Senator McLUCAS: I intend to do that. I am asking you.

Senator WONG: You can still answer your specifics or not.

Senator McLUCAS: I am asking you, Mr Williamson.

Mr Williamson : I am not aware of the current status of that work.

Senator McLUCAS: As part of the work to develop the 15-year infrastructure plan, was that work requested by PM&C of Infrastructure Australia?

Mr Williamson : No. It was an election commitment, and my understanding is the Deputy Prime Minister asked Infrastructure Australia to take that work.

Senator McLUCAS: But it will not be part of the white paper on Northern Australia?

Senator Abetz: Watch this space.

Ms Cross : We are not indicating at this stage.

Senator WONG: Sorry. What did you say?

Ms Cross : I just said the white paper is not finalised, so at this stage we are not indicating what will or will not be in the white paper.

Senator McLUCAS: Correct me if I misunderstood you, Mr Williamson, but I think you are saying that PM&C has not commissioned or asked Infrastructure Australia to do work that was an election commitment from the Liberal Party.

Senator Abetz: It was not PM&C. As I understood Mr Williamson's evidence, the Deputy Prime Minister made an election commitment that his department—

Mr Williamson : Infrastructure Australia. It is in his portfolio.

Senator Abetz: Yes. Infrastructure Australia, which is in his portfolio, would undertake that work, and so it is not surprising PM&C did not commission the work.

Senator McLUCAS: Will the report include a 15-year infrastructure plan for Northern Australia?

Senator Abetz: Wait and see.

Ms Cross : The white paper?

Senator McLUCAS: The white paper.

Ms Cross : We have indicated again that we cannot say what is in or out of the white paper until it is released.

Senator McLUCAS: But it was a commitment in the election.

Senator WONG: So you are leaving open that an election commitment will not be delivered. Is that right?

Senator Abetz: No, the election commitment was that Mr Truss would ask Infrastructure Australia to prepare some work. I believe that if you go to Infrastructure Australia estimates they will confirm that that has occurred. That request has been made. They are working on it. What happens with that body of work is another question.

Senator McLUCAS: But it was a commitment by the Liberal Party at the election that there would be a 15-year plan for infrastructure in Northern Australia and Mr Williamson is now not able to confirm that that will be in the white paper.

Mr Williamson : The election commitment actually had two parts. There was a national commitment that Infrastructure Australia would prepare a 15-year plan for infrastructure nationally. There was a second task which was that it would undertake an audit of infrastructure in Northern Australia.

Senator McLUCAS: That is my next question.

Mr Williamson : So there are two. They are two separate but related commitments. The Deputy Prime Minister has commissioned Infrastructure Australia to undertake both pieces of work.

Senator McLUCAS: So the white paper will not necessarily comment on the audit that was undertaken by Infrastructure Australia—

Senator Abetz: We are not ruling anything in or out.

Senator McLUCAS: How often have the Northern Australia Strategic Partnership met?

Mr Williamson : They have met twice.

Senator McLUCAS: Where have they met?

Mr Williamson : In Canberra.

Senator McLUCAS: How many of those meetings were attended by the Prime Minister?

Mr Williamson : Both.

Senator McLUCAS: Can we have information on any planned meetings of the strategic partnership; any future meetings and locations.

Mr Williamson : I can take that on notice. I do not have that with me.

Senator McLUCAS: How often has the advisory group met and where have those meetings occurred?

Mr Williamson : They have met four times—in Townsville, Canberra, Darwin and Broome.

Senator McLUCAS: Can you tell me about future planned meetings of the advisory group.

Mr Williamson : There is not a meeting planned at this stage but I am happy to take that on notice and confirm that.

Senator McLUCAS: Is that because their services will not be required post the publication of the white paper?

Mr Williamson : No, it is just that there is no meeting planned.

Senator McLUCAS: What is the budget allocation for the advisory group and how much has been spent?

Mr Williamson : I do not have a budget allocation with me. Their expenses to date are $79,000. I think that is as at the end of December. I will double-check that for you.

Senator McLUCAS: That is fine. Thank you very much for appearing today. Could I also now ask some questions on the Council of Federal Financial Relations.

Ms Cross : That is the Treasury portfolio.

Senator McLUCAS: We were advised it was here.

Ms Cross : Council of Federal Financial Relations is the Treasury portfolio.

Senator WONG: We will have trouble doing the federation work then.

CHAIR: Okay, I am looking around optimistically.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly was going to look for the guest-of-government expenditure for the Japanese Prime Minister. You were going to endeavour to get that for me tonight.

Ms Spence : I am sorry, we cannot get it to you tonight. We will get it to you as soon as we can. We will have to take it on notice.

Senator WONG: This is going to be another one of those which goes into the black hole and appears just before the next estimates, right?

Ms Spence : We will pull all the information together as soon as we can.

Senator McLUCAS: Are agendas, minutes and documentation for the advisory group meetings published anywhere?

Mr Williamson : No, they are not.

Senator McLUCAS: Why not?

Mr Williamson : There has not been a decision taken to publish them. I can take on notice what is available.

Ms Cross : If you are having Commonwealth-state discussions, you do not normally publish the minutes and the details. Sometimes you might issue a communique but it is not normal to publish—

Senator McLUCAS: I am talking about the advisory group, Ms Cross, not the strategic partnership.

Mr Williamson : Yes, the advisory group.

Ms Cross : Again, it is part of the Commonwealth-state process—

Senator McLUCAS: There has been no communique from the advisory group at all that I have been able to identify.

Mr Williamson : That is correct.

Ms Cross : That is not unusual for those sorts of arrangements.

Proceedings suspended from 21:24 to 21:39

CHAIR: We now move to the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. I invite you to make an opening statement, if you wish to do so.

Mr Gyles : Bearing in mind the relatively short time I have been in office, I think an opening statement would be a little exaggerated.

CHAIR: Welcome to estimates, Mr Gyles.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: We will be very gentle, Chair, at this hour. Welcome, Mr Gyles.

Mr Gyles : Thank you.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: As you said, your appointment was around 7 December—is that correct.

Mr Gyles : It was the 11th, I think.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Can I just ask—more as a curiosity—why is the acting title still in place?

Mr Gyles : That is because the process of obtaining a top-level security clearance, particularly, I gather over the period of December-January is a time-consuming effort. I have had three quite significant meetings over that period.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I think we understood at the time of the appointment that it related to the formalisation of the process with the Governor-General—is that correct?

Mr Gyles : No. It was always the security clearance which was the barrier to permanent appointment, and the Prime Minister's announcement and statement to me was that my appointment would be or had been recommended to the Governor-General but that could not be consummated at the moment.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am just not sure that the security element was part of the public announcement.

Mr Gyles : It may not have been; I cannot recall.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: On 7 December, the Prime Minister announced that your first task would be to review any impact on journalists with section 35P provisions in the government's first tranche of national security legislation. Taking into account the time frame, I am interested in what progress has been made; when are you looking at reporting; who has been consulted with or who do you plan to consult with; and any preliminary views you have on that section?

Mr Gyles : I do not have a preliminary view at the moment. I have decided that I will have pu