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Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity - 04/10/2012 - Integrity of overseas Commonwealth law enforcement operations

GRIGSON, Mr Paul, Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

SCOTT, Mr Peter Guinn, Director, Sanctions and Transnational Crime Section, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

TWOMEY, Ms Katherine, Executive Officer, Resources and Business Liaison Section, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

[12:31]

CHAIR: I now welcome Mr Grigson and representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Mr Grigson : No, I do not have anything to say at the beginning.

CHAIR: Very well. Are you satisfied that the circumstances that led to the Securency and Note Printing Australia matters that are now before the court will be avoided in future?

Mr Grigson : We review our procedures after each such incident. We compare our standards to other agencies and test them internationally. We will have a look at the lessons learned following the completion of our proceedings and investigations in this case. We are pretty confident about our processes, but we are always open minded about what we might learn from different cases as they come up.

CHAIR: What about the circumstances of Tenix, which have been widely reported as well?

Mr Grigson : We will need to wait to see what the outcome of the investigation is there. It is ongoing, as you know.

CHAIR: Has DFAT used the services of the Australian Public Service Commission in investigating the actions of any DFAT staff, including Austrade staff?

Mr Grigson : Austrade is a different agency within the portfolio. For DFAT, I think the answer to that is no, but let me check for you. I will take it on notice and check for you.

CHAIR: Has DFAT referred any matters for investigation to the AFP?

Mr Grigson : In terms of DFAT staff, we have referred a number of allegations. I could check on the number for you. Do you know off the top of your head?

Mr Scott : Yes, we have some rough figures in relation to that. Staff have reported to us about the conduct of non-DFAT staff in relation to foreign bribery type matters that—

CHAIR: When you say 'DFAT' and 'non-DFAT' and when you think of Austrade, are they DFAT?

Mr Grigson : No. Austrade, AusAID and DFAT each have separate agency processes for dealing with claims made about their staff. The process for us is that, if it is either in camera or overseas, it is reported to the Conduct and Ethics Unit, which works with Peter Scott's legal area to make a decision about whether it should be referred to the AFP for further investigation. I have to say that our bar is pretty low, so if we have any doubts we refer them on.

CHAIR: Do you think that it is wise to have all of these silos in dealing with staff, particularly given that in international scenarios the officers are working so closely together much of the time?

Mr Grigson : I think that there are two answers to that. The first is that the endpoint for each agency is that if there are concerns they are referred to the AFP. So we end in the same place, and I think that is the right place to end.

There are different operating environments at different agencies; Austrade does different work to what we do. I have followed Austrade's evidence and I would be pretty confident about their processes today. I have not followed their processes in the past so I cannot make any judgement about that, but it looks good to us. As I said, we test our processes not only internationally but against other agencies, and we work with the Attorney-General's Department. So we are pretty confident that the different approaches that we take—where there are differences—are justified.

CHAIR: In the section entitled 'Security review' in the document that was submitted to us this morning from Austrade—an outline of Austrade governance changes 2010 to the present—Austrade notes that it operates in 90 offices in 50 countries, often under very difficult conditions: 'Austrade, for example, managed the consulate in Tripoli during the recent violence'. So it does sometimes take on functions that otherwise would be in DFAT.

Mr Grigson : Yes, it does. It issues passports for us in some locations as well. For instance, in the passport circumstance we would provide them with advice on passport fraud control and passport risk controls. In Libya, which is one of the areas of my responsibility, we work very closely with Austrade in security advice and the way that the consul-general—who did not spend much of the time there, I have to say, for security reasons—worked throughout that crisis.

In security circumstances we work very closely together, and there is a standard approach to security matters.

CHAIR: Even though you have separate management regimes, obviously Austrade still comes within DFAT's general portfolio. Has Austrade's involvement in those bribery scandals been a matter of great concern to DFAT?

Mr Grigson : I could not make a comment on that at this point, subject to the conclusion of the court case.

CHAIR: Really? You have no comment, even though Austrade officials have admitted to involvement in these things?

Mr Grigson : No, not while there is an ongoing court case.

CHAIR: Have there been any code of conduct inquiries in relation to those matters?

Mr Grigson : The Securency matters? No.

CHAIR: Not in DFAT?

Mr Grigson : Not in DFAT, no.

CHAIR: And you would not know about what is happening in Austrade?

Mr Grigson : Not necessarily, no. I do not know, but I would not necessarily know. Code of conduct matters are handled by each agency. Again, as we have discussed before—I think at our last hearing—we have a conduct and ethics unit that looks after DFAT departmental staff. Other agencies have their own processes for that.

CHAIR: I guess that the concern is that DFAT does not seem to see that it has any responsibility in relation to Austrade. And yet what Austrade does, or has done in the past, does reflect on Australia's reputation overseas and in Australia too. In my view it should be a matter of concern for—

Mr Grigson : If we are talking about reputational risk, that is certainly the case. My judgement would be that our reputation internationally is strong in these areas. The fact that we pursue bribery allegations counts for us, not against us. If you look at transparency internationally as a measure we are climbing the ladder. A couple of years ago we were eighth out of 22; now we are sixth out of 28. We are ahead of the US and we are ahead of Singapore, so our reputation is pretty good I have to say.

CHAIR: We do have robust antibribery laws but the risk of detection is very low and it seems to be relying mainly upon whistleblowers at the moment for information to come out. Do you consider that the protection regime for whistleblowers in the public sector and the private sector is sufficient?

Mr Grigson : I would certainly argue that in our department it is; I could not comment on other agencies, really. But in our department we have a significant process for protection of whistleblowers.

CHAIR: Is that over and above the Australian public sector provisions?

Mr Grigson : No. We would certainly meet that standard, but I do not know whether we would say we had exceeded it.

CHAIR: EFIC is another one of your sub-agencies. How would you describe its relationship to DFAT?

Mr Grigson : It is a government agency in which we have a board member but which operates independently of us.

CHAIR: It has a code of conduct, in relation to receiving gifts, that employees should make a diary note of any gift, hospitality or entertainment received in connection with their employment and then notify their manager that they have accepted the gift, hospitality or entertainment. Employees are to seek approval from the board secretary of any gift, hospitality or entertainment received which exceeds $300 in value. Is that the kind of position that DFAT has?

Mr Grigson : Yes. We have a very clear process for accepting gifts: you cannot accept a gift without the approval of your supervisor. We have a monetary limit, which evades me at the moment. If it is pens, notebooks or calendars—the usual promotional activity—we do not get too carried away about that. But, as the head of mission, for instance, I would expect anybody getting a gift worth $15 or $20 to put in a form saying that they had got a gift and seeking approval to accept it.

CHAIR: And you do not have any opinion on EFIC's code?

Mr Grigson : I do not know the details of it. I know that ours is very strict and very clear for staff. I sign more gift forms than I care to think about, I have to say, when I am overseas. So staff do know it is a requirement and, as far as I can tell, abide by it.

CHAIR: EFIC's executive have said that a gift can be received at any time and that it can decide which gifts will be kept, returned to the giver or handed over to EFIC. Do you think that is a desirable level of flexibility in a gift policy?

Mr Grigson : With our gift process, it is for the supervisor to decide whether the recipient can retain the gift or has to hand it over. So, that requirement is the same. I will have to take on notice our dollar figures, but I do know that it is, for us, quite low.

CHAIR: In terms of portfolio responsibilities, you are saying EFIC does not come within DFAT at all.

Mr Grigson : No, it operates independently of us.

CHAIR: But there is one person from DFAT—

Mr Grigson : Yes, we have a deputy secretary who sits on the board, from the trade area.

Mr ZAPPIA: Perhaps I could just follow up on the question of gifts—and I was going to ask this earlier on. Do you often get officers who report gifts being made to them that exceed the value that would normally be acceptable?

Mr Grigson : No.

Mr ZAPPIA: I think you said that if a gift was made and it did exceed the acceptable value then the supervisor would make a judgement call as to whether that ought to be reported or whether anything else should be done.

Mr Grigson : Yes. In most circumstances I think a supervisor would say no. If they were to say yes for some particular reason, at the very least we would expect the recipient to pay the difference. I must say, there is no science in my answer; I am just trying to be helpful here. But I think the majority of senior officers, for a gift of significant value—let's use a term like that—would most likely say no, that you cannot accept it, and you would surrender it. There may be a circumstance where there is a particular reason for accepting the gift, or for the person wanting to keep the gift, but I myself have certainly never approved such a circumstance. We are very cautious about gifts because it is very easy for gifts to become something else. It can be tricky for us because a lot of the cultures that we work in are gift-giving cultures and refusing a gift causes offence. What most officers will do in that circumstance is accept it and then bring it back to the mission, where a decision is made.

CHAIR: You have given evidence that DFAT works closely with other Australian agencies overseas, including sharing locally engaged staff, but ultimately investigations in relation to misconduct are handled by each of the agencies themselves.

Mr Grigson : For locally engaged staff there is a slightly different arrangement. We employ, on behalf of most other agencies, locally engaged staff. From memory, Austrade and AusAID are two exceptions; they employ their own staff. For us, however, locally engaged staff that we employ, even if they work for another agency, will be dealt with by us for conduct and ethics issues that affect them. So if they are contracted to us, we take responsibility for allegations made about their conduct.

CHAIR: In relation to where there are differences in approach, including different codes of conduct for different agencies, do you see any challenges in possible inconsistencies?

Mr Grigson : No. There is a single overriding APS Code of Conduct and a single overriding code of conduct for overseas service. All agencies, certainly those posted to our missions, abide by those codes. I am not aware of any discrepancies between other codes that agencies might have and those, but certainly the APS Code of Conduct and the code of conduct for overseas service that we generate would be the premier documents that I would expect—certainly when I was a head of mission—agencies to abide by. And I do not know of any evidence where they have not.

Mr MATHESON: Can you give us an example of where you might query, using the code of conduct, an overseas staff member or another employee as far as bribery or corruption goes? Do you have any integrity testing yourself?

Mr Grigson : For bribery allegations, whether it involves our own staff or non-DFAT staff—either embassy staff or external individuals—the process is the same. You are not to undertake any investigations yourself, you are not to make any judgements about the validity of it or not; you are to report it to Canberra where it is considered by the conduct and ethics unit of the legal area, and they will make a judgement about referring it on to the AFP. As I said before, it is a very low bar.

Mr MATHESON: So you would not conduct an integrity test yourself?

Mr Grigson : No. Our view here is that the experts in investigation are the AFP, not us. We are not an investigatory agency, and the AFP have made it pretty clear to us at different times that it actually does not help if people run their own investigations and trample across what may be evidence. I have to say we are a little wary about that.

CHAIR: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today.

Committee adjourned at 12:48