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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
17/03/2016
Estimates
DEFENCE PORTFOLIO

DEFENCE PORTFOLIO

In Attendance

Senator Payne, Minister for Defence

Department of Defence

Mr Dennis Richardson AO, Secretary

Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, AO, CSC, Vice Chief of the Defence Force

Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, AO, CSC, Chief of Navy

Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, DSC, AM, Chief of Army

Air Marshal Leo Davies, AO, CSC, Chief of Air Force

Rear Admiral Tony Dalton, Head Joint Systems Division

Air Vice Marshal Neil Hart, AM, Head One Defence Implement

Mr Steve Grzeskowiak, Deputy Secretary Estate & Infrastructure

Ms Rebecca Skinner, Deputy Secretary Defence People

Dr Peter Lawrence, Chief Information Officer

Mr Neil Orme, Force Structure Review Team

Ms Kate Louis, First Assistant Secretary Defence Industry Policy

Mr David Cochrane, Program Manager Combat System Acquisition

Mr Alan Nicholl, General Manager Ships

Mr Peter Croser, Director General Specialist Ships Acquisition

Mr Stephen Johnson, General Manager Submarines

Major General David Coghlan, Head Land Systems Division

Brigadier Gregory McGlone, Director-General Combined Arms Fighting System

Committee met at 15:30

CHAIR ( Senator Back ): I declare open this hearing of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. The committee has fixed Friday, 1 April 2016 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice. The committee will today receive evidence from the Department of Defence until 7.30 pm if required. Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session. That includes answers to questions taken on notice. I remind all witnesses that, in giving evidence to the committee, they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. The Senate, by resolution in 1999, endorsed the following test of relevance of questions at estimates hearings: any questions going to the operations or financial positions of departments and agencies which are seeking funds in the estimates are relevant questions for the purposes of estimates hearings. I remind officers that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has a discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise. The Senate has resolved also that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

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. 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 requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from disclosure of the information or the document.

The extract reads 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)