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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee

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In Attendance

Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate

Senator Arbib, Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development and Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Outcome 1—Program 1

Mr Stephen Brady, Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Mr Mark Fraser, Deputy Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Ms Karen Baker, Director Corporate Services Branch

Ms Sharon Prendergast, Director Australian Honours and Awards Branch

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Outcome 1


Mr Duncan Lewis, National Security Adviser

Mr Barry Sterland, Acting Deputy Secretary (Governance)

Dr Gordon de Brouwer, Acting Associate Secretary (Domestic Policy)

1.1 Domestic Policy

Dr Gordon de Brouwer, Acting Associate Secretary (Domestic Policy)

Ms Rebecca Cross, Acting Deputy Secretary (Social Policy)

Dr Paul Schreier, First Assistant Secretary, Industry, Infrastructure and Environment Division

Mr Paul Ronalds, First Assistant Secretary, Office of Work and Family

Mr Dom English (former First Assistant Secretary, Economic Division)

Mr David Turvey, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Economic Division

Mr Tim Beresford, First Assistant Secretary, Social Policy Division

Paul Elton, Deputy Head, COAG Reform Council Secretariat

Ms Mary Ann O’Loughlin, COAG Reform Council Secretariat

Mr Michael Frost, COAG Reform Council Secretariat

1.2 National Security and International Policy

Mr Duncan Lewis, National Security Adviser

Dr Margot McCarthy, Deputy National Security Adviser

Ms Rachel Noble, National Security Chief Information Officer

Mr Graham Eveille, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Defence, Intelligence and Research Coordination Division

Mr Dave Sharma, Acting First Assistant Secretary, International Division

Ms Sachi Wimmer, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Homeland and Border Security Division

Ms Marina Tsirbas, Assistant Secretary, DIRC

1.3 Strategic P olicy and Implementation

Mr Ben Rimmer, Deputy Secretary

Mr Dom English, First Assistant Secretary, Strategy and Delivery Division

Mr James Flintoft, Executive Coordinator, Strategic Policy and Implementation

1.4 Support Services for Government Operations

Mr Barry Sterland, Acting Deputy Secretary (Governance)

Mr Kim Terrell, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial Support Unit

Ms Bernadette Welch, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services Division

Ms Philippa Lynch, First Assistant Secretary, Government Division

Mr David Macgill, Assistant Secretary, Parliamentary and Government Branch, Government Division

Mr Chris Angus, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Cabinet Division

Mr Peter Docwra, Chief Information Officer

Mr Matthew King, Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Services Division

2.1 Official and Ceremonial Support

Mr Barry Sterland, Acting Deputy Secretary (Governance)

Mr Kim Terrell, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial Support Unit

Mr Frank Leverett, Assistant Secretary, Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch

CHAIR ( Senator Polley ): We now move to the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio and I call forward the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General. I welcome Mr Stephen Brady, Official Secretary to the Governor-General and officers. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance the secretariat has copies of the rules. 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 committee has set Friday 8 July 2011 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. Mr Brady, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Mr Brady : As an office, we are keenly aware of the difficult budgetary environment faced by the government and the broader Australian community. We have implemented a range of austerity measures to cut costs and to create efficiencies. Last financial year we saved close to $700,000 in operating expenditure, and we are on track to save a similar amount this financial year. This includes a reduction in supplier costs of 35 per cent and official hospitality expenses are down considerably; average per head cost is down by 20 per cent, expenditure on flowers is down by 38 per cent, dry cleaning is down by 58 per cent, expenditure on beverages, including alcohol, is down by 33 per cent and casual staff wages are down by 50 per cent. When the Governor-General has been required to travel overseas at the request of the government, average trip costs have been reduced by 34 per cent compared with the average trip cost of Governors-General over the past decade. As part of a program of restructuring and streamlining functions across the board, we have also been able to reduce total staffing levels by 13 per cent in FTE terms, while simultaneously supporting a significant increase in activity and outreach by the Governor-General.

It has been my practice just to very quickly update the Governor-General's activities. Two years and eight months into her term, she has participated in over 2,000 official engagements around the country and overseas and she has visited 124 different locations in Australia on 285 separate visits. Senator Kroger, you asked me last time whether the Governor-General would be able to visit those communities in Victoria. I am pleased to say that she will visit Kerang and Benjeroop tomorrow, so that is very good.

The Governor-General has attended almost double the number of external engagements, has hosted over 40 per cent more internal events and is patron of 50 per cent more community organisations. All of this has been achieved with less resources, lower overall staff numbers and reduced operational expenditure.

Senator FIFIELD: Let us start on a festive note, if we may. Did the Governor-General give a gift to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge? Is there a protocol that the Governor-General at such an occasion does give a gift? If so, what was it?

Mr Brady : Prince William and the then Catherine Middleton asked all attendees at their wedding to donate to a list of charities that they had nominated. The Australian government on behalf of the Australian people gave a cheque to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Senator FIFIELD: That was on behalf of the Australian government.

Mr Brady : That was on behalf of the Australian people.

Senator FIFIELD: Thanks.

Senator FAULKNER: And for how much money?

Mr Brady : I am not certain; I saw a figure in the newspaper of $25,000.

Senator FIFIELD: That is a question we should ask Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Mr Brady : That is right.

Senator FIFIELD: How many staff flew to the United Kingdom with the Governor-General and Mr Bryce?

Mr Brady : The travelling party was the Governor-General, Mr Bryce and four staff from my office.

Senator FIFIELD: Not including you.

Mr Brady : No. The Governor-General, Mr Bryce, me plus three others from the office—

Senator FIFIELD: So four in total.

Mr Brady : and then the Australian Federal Police support, a medical physician and the ADC.

Senator FIFIELD: Did the Governor-General host any functions while in the United Kingdom?

Mr Brady : The Governor-General was in the United Kingdom from 27 to 30 April. While she was there, she attended a reception hosted by Rio Tinto, which was to mark the Kew Gardens Australian exhibition at the British Museum. She attended a ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in London. She visited Christchurch College at Oxford and met with Australian academics and Rhodes scholars. She attended a lunch with those. She met with University of Canterbury students studying at Oxford to commiserate about the earthquake in Christchurch. She attended a reception and a concert for the Australian Music Foundation. She attended a dinner hosted for Governors-General by William Hague, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. She led the Australian representation at the royal wedding. She attended the royal wedding reception as guests of Her Majesty and she invested our High Commissioner, Mr Douth, with an Order of Australia.

Senator FIFIELD: Very nice. Thank you, Mr Brady. Where did the Governor-General and Mr Bryce stay in the United Kingdom?

Mr Brady : They stayed at a hotel recommended by the Australian High Commission.

Senator FIFIELD: Which hotel?

Mr Brady : The Savoy.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. It was good to hear the efforts of your office to reduce costs. When looking through the various contracts which the office of the official secretary have engaged in—I am not suggesting there is anything not as it should be here; I am just giving you an opportunity to put some of these in context. Tender note CN355543 and CN371941; an amount of $36,573 on tree surgery—I appreciate tree surgery probably does not come cheap, but could you outline the details of that tree surgery?

Mr Fraser : As you may recall, late last year there was a significant storm front that came through the Canberra region. Approximately 140 trees were severely damaged and knocked over in the grounds of Government House. It was quite a severe storm and, as a result of that, a number of trees have needed to be removed and there was associated work with that. About $150,000 worth of damage was created by that storm.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. So that was for safety reasons as well aesthetic reasons.

Mr Fraser : That is right. The trees that were down needed to be removed, the stumps needed to be ground down as is appropriate and the remaining wood and things removed from site.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you.

Senator KROGER: Being storm damage, is that covered by insurance?

Mr Fraser : Some of it is. The challenge in these instances is that acts of god like this where trees fall over and do no damage to any buildings are not insurable acts as such. The only thing that is insurable is if damage is done to a building or other infrastructure. We do have an insurance case pending with Comcover that we are looking forward to resolving in the near future.

Senator FIFIELD: With regard to contractor notices CN361199, CN366852 and CN3840134, there is an amount of more than $10,000 for electricity in the months of November and December. That sounds like a large bill, but you might be able to put that into some context for the operations of Government House.

Mr Fraser : Certainly. That is a regular quarterly electricity supply bill for the property. That is not a bill that is out of the ordinary. I should say, as many people are aware, that electricity prices are increasing. It is something that we manage very actively. We have put in place a number of efficiency measures, including energy efficient light bulbs—LED light bulbs—and things which we hope are going to significantly reduce electricity usage at the properties.

Senator FIFIELD: I refer you to contract notice CN378775, which is for $53,434.80 on passenger motor vehicles. Is that a single motor vehicle or a number of vehicles?

Mr Fraser : That is a single motor vehicle. It is an official vehicle used by their excellencies. It is a Holden vehicle.

Senator FIFIELD: What sort of Holden?

Mr Fraser : It is a Holden Calais.

Senator FIFIELD: Is that a car that they use themselves to get around, as opposed to a car that they are driven in?

Mr Fraser : There are two official vehicles. Both are Holden. One is a Caprice and the other is a Calais. The Caprice is generally used as the vice-regal vehicle for official functions and the second vehicle is used as a general office vehicle for a range of other purposes and also by their excellencies for any private driving.

Senator FIFIELD: Is that a replacement vehicle?

Mr Fraser : Absolutely. That was procured under the Commonwealth procurement guidelines from lease plan.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. I refer you to AusTender documents CN376739 and CN376740, which indicate that $372,000 has been budgeted for domestic airfares and $875,000 on international airfares between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2013. Is that correct?

Mr Fraser : I do not have those contract notices in front of me. I will refer to my notes.

Senator FIFIELD: That contract note covers a number of government departments and agencies; it is not specifically one for the office of the official secretary, so I appreciate that you might not have that immediately to hand.

Mr Fraser : As you will be aware, we are part of the Commonwealth-wide procurement guidelines for travel. As part of that, we do procure both domestic and overseas travel under that contract arrangement.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. I just wanted to confirm that those are the figures as you have them. Does the Governor-General have any specific international trips planned over the next six months?

Mr Brady : The Prime Minister announced, last week, I think, that the Governor-General will represent Australia at the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Italian Republic. The Governor-General will leave this Sunday and return to Australia on 11 June.

Senator FIFIELD: Any other trips planned at this stage?

Mr Brady : There is a likelihood that she will represent Australia in Tonga at their national day.

Senator FIFIELD: At the Tongan national day?

Mr Brady : The Tongan national day. She has been invited by the King of Tonga.

Senator FIFIELD: When is the Tongan national day?

Mr Brady : I think it is 1 August, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: In terms of trips the Governor-General has already taken, are the details of the costs of those trips published online as a matter of course? I am just wondering what arrangements Government House itself has to make those available?

Mr Brady : You may recall that a journalist from News Ltd asked a series of questions relating to the costs of the Governor-General's travel. When we receive questions like that, we answer them; when I am before the committee, I try to have the information available; but we do not put it on the website as a matter of course.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. But requests are readily answered?

Mr Brady : They are readily answered.

Senator FIFIELD: Are the arrangements for the Governor-General's overseas travel—the flights and other fares, the deals—all purchased as part of the whole-of-government contract?

Mr Brady : In most cases, the Governor-General travels on the RAAF—

Senator FIFIELD: Yes.

Mr Brady : So there are only two trips that she has undertaken where she used commercial travel: when she went to the Fromelles memorial for the internment of the Unknown Soldier, and on the first trip she made as Governor-General, also to Fromelles—to France; it was a wider trip to France.

Senator FIFIELD: That answers my question. I was wondering why the travel to Fromelles was the only travel on the AusTender website, and that explains why—because everything else has been via Air Force aircraft.

Mr Brady : By RAAF, yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Kroger.

Senator KROGER: At the last round of estimates, my colleague Senator Ronaldson asked a series of questions in relation to the presentation of the unit citation for gallantry to veterans of Delta Company, 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. You may recall that you indicated that invitations had gone out to the veterans of the Battle of Long Tan who had earned that citation, but I understand that there may still be some concerns in relation to that matter and the way it was handled. Can you give me an update of Government House considerations on that.

Mr Brady : Can I preface my response by just putting it on the record that, on 13 May—so only 10 days ago—the Governor-General became the first Governor-General to actually visit the site of the Battle of Long Tan. She did so in the course of a state visit to Vietnam. At the end of the state visit, she was able to travel to Long Tan. I think it is fair to say that that visit, that personal experience of Long Tan, only reinforced the Governor-General's very strong admiration for the courage and loyalty of those Australians who gave their lives or were injured at Long Tan.

The Governor-General is very keen to have Colonel Harry Smith appropriately recognised for his gallantry and that of his men. Since we last met, Colonel Harry Smith has written a couple of times to the office. We have necessarily forwarded that correspondence to the Department of Defence, seeking their advice on how best we could reach, let us say, a pragmatic conclusion to this matter. The Department of Defence have provided their consistent advice and, on the basis of that advice, the Governor-General will host a major ceremonial activity on the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. That will be held on 18 August 2011 at the Enoggera Barracks.

Senator KROGER: Sorry, which barracks?

Mr Brady : Enoggera.

Senator FIFIELD: That is in Brisbane.

Mr Brady : Yes, in Brisbane. I have just been advised that the event itself will be hosted by Defence but the Governor-General will officiate. Essentially, any other questions relating to how Colonel Smith might like to be recognised and have his men recognised need to be directed to the Department of Defence.

Senator KROGER: Thanks for that advice. Are there logistical advantages in it being held in Canberra? Would the Governor-General like to have the opportunity to host it here?

Mr Brady : We did have an investiture ceremony here in Canberra. That was held on 17 August 2010, on the eve of the 44th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. On that occasion Colonel Harry Smith decided not to attend.

Senator KROGER: From that I am hearing that the Governor-General would think it would be a reasonable thing to have at Government House—it would be nice thing to suitably acknowledge this pretty significant event.

Mr Brady : It is an issue that has gone on for some time, and I think the best way of describing the Governor-General's view would be that we should seek a pragmatic solution. She is keen to have Harry Smith and his men appropriately recognised.

Senator KROGER: With good reason. Mr Brady, a letter from Ms Prendergast dated 17 March was received correcting evidence from the last hearing. In that letter she states:

In relation to questions from Senator the Hon Michael Ronaldson regarding communication between the Department of Defence and this office on the provision of transport to attend an investiture ceremony in Canberra in August 2010, I advised that I was not aware of any correspondence and, after receiving external advice during the hearing, that there was no correspondence. I must advise that this was my understanding at the time, however I have since been advised that there is in fact correspondence, in writing, from the Department of Defence referring to the provision of transport.

Do you have a copy of that correspondence that you can table?

Mr Brady : We do, Senator. Would you like us to table it?

Senator KROGER: Yes, I would. Can you furnish us with the details of that correspondence and tell us what it says?

Mr Brady : We can.

Senator KROGER: Are you able to table that today? Do you have that there?

Mr Brady : I have it here.

Senator KROGER: What is the date of that?

Mr Brady : It is not dated. It was received in the office on 29 July 2010.

Senator KROGER: But not dated.

Mr Brady : Not dated.

Senator KROGER: For the purpose of the record, could you tell us what that correspondence says.

Mr Brady : The letter is from the Acting Chief of Staff at the Army Headquarters to the Deputy Official Secretary. He says, 'There is no capacity within Army funding of this travel.' I think that is the—

Senator KROGER: Sorry—say that again.

Mr Brady : 'There is no capacity within Army funding of this travel.' I am happy, obviously, to table the whole letter.

Senator KROGER: I am a bit surprised by that because Minister Snowdon in a press release noted, 'The Australian government will also fund reasonable transport costs of relevant veterans involved in the ceremony.' That is dated 23 February 2011. You have received no subsequent advice since then?

Mr Brady : As the correspondence went to Mr Fraser, I think he has something that might be useful to add.

Mr Fraser : Just to clarify, there were two transport issues. I think the first related to the invitation the Governor-General issued for the investiture ceremony that took place on Long Tan day last year, and on that occasion, I understand—and, as Mr Brady has indicated, this is a matter for the Department of Defence—they extended transportation to the four individual award recipients. The matter at that time was more a matter of whether the entitled veterans from Delta Company would also be offered travel to Canberra, and on that occasion transportation was not offered to those veterans of the campaign but was offered to the individual awardees of the unit's citation for gallantry.

In relation to this year, I believe the minister was referring to the major ceremonial occasion to take place in Enoggera later this year. He has indicated in that press release that reasonable travel costs will be met.

Senator KROGER: So your understanding of this would be that the position would be different and that travel costs would be met for the ceremony planned for the barracks in Brisbane. Am I correct?

Mr Brady : That is our understanding.

Senator KROGER: All right. I might take this up further with the Department of Defence. Thank you very much. Now I want to go back to something that I believe has come up before—that is, something in relation to a register of personal gifts and so on. I appreciate that there is no public disclosure of a register, but I understand that a register is kept of gifts given to the Governor-General. I assume that would include discounts for special rates or something for the promotion of an Australian product or the like. Am I right in making that assumption?

Mr Brady : Thanks, Senator—your question gives me good opportunity, which I would like to take. First of all, I would like to make a point that the Office of the Official Secretary put in place a revised gift policy shortly after the Governor-General commenced in office. We did that to ensure that the gifts received by the Governor-General in the course of her official duties overseas or in Australia were properly recorded and properly accounted for. The policy is in line with the gift policy put in place for the government. It is also useful to put on record that the office halved the gift threshold below which gifts could be retained by the Governor-General.

Senator KROGER: What is that threshold?

Mr Brady : It is now $1,000. I propose today to table the gift register. I think it is in the public interest that the gift register be tabled. Senators will see from the gift register that the Governor-General has only retained three items of the many that have been presented and she has purchased one. The one item that she has purchased fell over the $1,000 threshold and she met the difference. In making the Governor-General's gift register available to the public, it is important to make clear, as will be seen when it is examined, that almost all of the gifts fall within the description of unique souvenirs of the countries often that she has visited.

Senator KROGER: The odd spear or two?

Mr Brady : Here is one of them. This is a caribou's head. The Governor-General receives many—

Senator FAULKNER: It looks pink from here.

Senator KROGER: What is it actually sitting on?

Mr Brady : That is just one. This one is called 'forbidden fruits'. It may be just as well that you don't zero in on it.

Senator KROGER: I do not know that we need to see that one.

Mr Brady : No, but it is indicative of the fact without identifying—

Senator FIFIELD: What is it actually?

Mr Brady : It is a very rare double coconut.

Senator FIFIELD: AQIS would have something to say about it.

Mr Brady : I guess it is a way of saying that a Governor-General receives a whole range of gifts. They all receive asset numbers. They are all audited. In fact, we had an ANAO audit recently which found that the gifts were held in good order, not just from this Governor-General but from her predecessors. The important thing is to ensure that the gift register and the gift policy is accountable and that our register is transparent. I have decided that this would be the right moment to effectively change perhaps the inhibition that has prevented the gift register from being released to release the current Governor-General's.

Senator KROGER: Firstly, may I commend you for that initiative. I think it is a very good thing to do. So you have established a protocol. Can you table that protocol?

Mr Brady : Yes.

Senator KROGER: That protocol as well as—

Mr Brady : The policy as well as the register.

Senator KROGER: And the register itself is from when?

Mr Brady : The register is from 8 September 2008, I think, when she took office. The part of your question that I have not yet addressed is the issue of discounts. With all due respect, I have to say that that falls within the privacy area of the Governor-General. What you may be referring to, which was given some media airing, came within what I could only describes a private or personal expenditure and that, of course, is not reflected in the gift register.

Senator KROGER: I am not suggesting that it's the one we are alluding to which was in the paper, but if your threshold is $1,000 and something had been discounted to that effect, I presume then that would be in the register?

Mr Brady : The policy that we have is that, if items are valued at $100 or less, they do not appear on the register.

Senator KROGER: Oh, $100—sorry, I thought you said $1,000.

Mr Brady : No, $1,000 is the threshold by which the Governor-General is entitled to keep a gift. If her gift is valued at over $1,000 the Governor-General can seek to retain the gift but to pay the difference.

Senator KROGER: I understand. Where are all these wonderful gifts stored?

Mr Brady : They are stored in a room at Government House which is under lock and key.

Senator KROGER: It must be a very big room.

Mr Brady : No, it is quite a smallish room but it goes to the ceiling.

Senator FAULKNER: In that room, Mr Brady, what would be the longest standing item that has been there for the longest period of time?

Senator KROGER: Not literally standing though.

Senator FAULKNER: That is why I used a more precise form of words to say what would be the item that you have had in the treasure trove for the longest period of time?

Mr Brady : I think I recall seeing a helmet given to Sir Paul Hasluck and I think there is something there from Lord Casey. There is a bit of exotica collected by Mr Hayden. These are items that governors-general on departure from office have elected not to retain and are left behind for the benefit of all Australians.

Senator FAULKNER: Sorry to interrupt but if I could ask one other question: is there capacity in the new guidelines for a decision to be made by the Governor-General for an appropriate item perhaps to be donated to charity, which is a commonplace provision, as I am sure you are aware, in similar protocols? And has that happened?

Mr Brady : I know it has happened in relation to the Governor-General donating her own personal items for auction which have raised money for charity. I know that within our guidelines gifts can be used at Government House or at Admiralty House or they can be offered to a national museum. In the guidelines it says:

Options for gifts received include: display in the house, houses or chancery; transfer to repositories of national collections including museums, galleries, libraries, archives; and special interest collections, educational community institutions; donate to a nominated non-profit organisation or charity at the discretion of the Governor-General and/or the Official Secretary; or to dispose in an appropriate manner by the office as determined by the Deputy Official Secretary and/or the Director of Corporate Services in consultation with the Official Secretary.

Senator FAULKNER: I note that certain ministers have utilised a similar provision from time to time.

Mr Brady : Where we find it a little awkward is that gifts given to any governor-general by heads of state or heads of government often come badged—

Senator FAULKNER: That is a very perspicacious point, Mr Brady, because so many of these things have inscriptions and the like, and judgment has to be exercised on whether the person providing the gift would think this is appropriate. Some of these things are done largely for form only; some are more personal in nature; some have inscriptions and the like. It is not a 'one size fits all' situation, is it?

Mr Brady : No, it is not. If I may come back to Senator Kroger, we have just tallied it up: on that gift register there are 175 gifts that the Governor-General has received officially, so I repeat she has retained three of them and she has purchased one.

Senator KROGER: My question was more in relation to museums and so on, but you have covered that in your protocol. That is all, chair. Thanks, Mr Brady.

CHAIR: There being no further questions for this area, thank you very much Mr Brady and officers for appearing before us and we will see you at the next round of estimates.

Proceedings suspended from 15 : 35 to 15 : 55

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

CHAIR: I welcome back my colleagues. I also welcome Senator the Hon. Chris Evans, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, representing the Prime Minister; and officers of the department. We will be commencing with outcome 1, followed by the listed agencies. The committee will move to outcomes 2 and 3 later in the day.

Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance, the secretariat has copies of the rules. 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 committee has set Friday, 8 July 2011 as the date by which answers to questions on notice must be returned. Officers called upon for the first time to answer a question should state their name and position for the Hansard record, speak clearly into the microphone and have your nameplates at the front of the desk to assist Hansard and committee members. Minister, do you have an opening statement?

Senator Chris Evans: No, thank you, Madam Chair, but I think Mr Lewis has some arrangements he would like to clarify with you.

CHAIR: Mr Lewis, you have the call. Welcome.

Mr Lewis : Madam Chair, members of the committee, good afternoon. We are broken into three outputs in this department: output 1 is the department's core business, and 2 and 3 are the sport and arts functions. I have all of the senior officials here today, but I would just beg the indulgence of the committee to break off the sport and arts section, which comes up, I think, tomorrow evening, and allow Richard Eccles, who is the deputy secretary responsible for that area, to be excused now. Then he will come back tomorrow and handle that part of the proceedings.

CHAIR: That is fine.

Mr Lewis : The second thing is that, once we are done, once output 1 is done, I would like the other officers of the department to be excused. Richard will come back to make himself available for the hearing tomorrow into sport and arts.

CHAIR: Yes, that is understandable.

Mr Lewis : Are you happy with that?

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you, Mr Lewis.

Mr Lewis : Thank you. One other thing is that I am pleased to report that all of the questions on notice that were given to the department were answered on time, so that part of the proceedings is complete. There were two other questions that were asked of two of our portfolio agencies, and they now have been satisfactorily answered—I think as of 13 May.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. It is noted by the committee that questions on notice for the department have come back with responses, so thank you very much to your officers for that. Senator Payne.

Senator PAYNE: Thank you, Chair. Can I first seek some clarification, perhaps from the officers or perhaps from the minister at the table, about questions in relation to COAG and questions in relation to the COAG Reform Council. Is it your preference that they be separate or that the reform council representatives be at the table with your representatives, Mr Lewis? How have you planned it to work?

Mr Lewis : I think the arrangement would normally be to have the COAG Reform Council officers here separately. They are waiting outside—actually, they are waiting inside!—and, depending on the time frames, we would be happy for them to take the stand and we will wait until you have finished, depending on the wish of the chair.

CHAIR: If we can, we will deal first with program 1.1.1, Domestic policy, and Domestic Policy Group under that.

Senator PAYNE: Sure, I will start there, Madam Chair—

CHAIR: Start there and then we will move on.

Senator PAYNE: and then we can go on to the COAG Reform Council. I was just seeking that clarification. Thank you very much; I appreciate that. Let me start with the additional funding in the budget in relation to COAG, to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, to maintain support for the delivery of the COAG reform agenda. Could you advise me, please, how that $1.6 million a year to PM&C is determined. Is it to be used for departmental staffing or is it directed to the COAG Reform Council or is it other direct COAG costs or other costs?

Mr Sterland : I am not responsible for the COAG function internally but will have a more oversight role for the portfolio budget statements, so it is probably best to start with me for that measure. The measure is for funding programs under staff mainly, under the department itself. It is about the departmental role in oversighting COAG and implementing the COAG reforms.

Senator PAYNE: Does any of it go to the COAG Reform Council?

Mr Sterland : No, none of it.

Senator PAYNE: Given the significant workload that COAG has and has been carrying, as I recall last year the budget gave an additional $3.5 million to Treasury, to Finance and to DEEWR. Do they also have augmented funding in this budget that you are aware of?

Mr Sterland : I am not aware of any.

Senator PAYNE: Thank you very much for that. There are a number of areas that I wanted to follow up in terms of general questions and information which was provided in answers to questions on notice and in the context of our previous discussions. I start with one in relation to housing supply papers and the work of the Housing Supply and Affordability Reform Working Party. I think we were advised at the previous estimates that the time frame for finalising that work had been reconsidered to be finalised by the middle of this year. Can you advise me what progress has been made on that and when those papers would be finalised?

Mr Lewis : I might just ask Ms Cross and Mr English to field those questions.

Ms Cross : The time frame for that work remains the middle of this year.

Senator PAYNE: Do you have a date, Ms Cross?

Ms Cross : It will probably be brought to the next COAG meeting and the date for that has not yet been settled.

Senator PAYNE: That was a question I was going to ask you. So you cannot provide me with any assistance on the date for the next COAG meeting. Will those documents be publicly released, are you aware?

Ms Cross : That is a decision for COAG. There may be some reference to them in the communique, but that is a decision COAG would take.

Senator PAYNE: Has the information from that working party been previously publicly released?

Ms Cross : There has been work in progress, but nothing that has been publicly released or finalised.

Senator PAYNE: You are confident that that particular aspect of the working party's work is on time?

Ms Cross : As far as we are aware, but it is led by the Treasury portfolio rather than by PM&C.

Senator PAYNE: What inquiries do you make to determine the timeliness of that sort of work between meetings of COAG, which of course do not really adhere to any schedule other than, as far as we can tell, prime ministerial whim?

Ms Cross : At the last COAG meeting the Prime Minister indicated that there would be a mid-year COAG, so all officials involved in COAG work will have been working towards the middle of the year.

Senator PAYNE: Just to clarify that a little more, in the view of the government, does the middle of the year actually mean around the end of June?

Ms Cross : We would assume the middle of the year would be June-July—somewhere around that time.

Senator PAYNE: Okay. As long as it does not go to August-September. Similarly, I think we discussed on the last occasion the development assessment reform process, which is again under this working party, I think.

Mr English : That is actually part of the single national economy reform agenda being led by the Business Regulation and Competition Working Group.

Senator PAYNE: When the CRC reported on development assessment, I thought that COAG came back to the CRC—so the CRC did report on development assessment in its national partnership agreement to deliver a seamless national economy—that is correct, they did say that on page 12 of the summary—and they noted there were significant risks to the reform. The COAG response to that, as I read it, was to ask the Housing Supply and Affordability Reform Working Party to consider the merits of the remaining reforms as they relate to enhancing housing supply and affordability. So I envisaged that work to be undertaken by that working party. Is that not correct, Mr English?

Mr English : No, apologies, there are now in effect two elements to the work: the finalisation of the existing development assessment reform agenda which is within the SNE framework; and then the identification of a future reform agenda, which you are quite right is now a request of that housing working group process.

Senator PAYNE: Can you tell me what the status of that work within the Housing Supply and Affordability Reform Working Party is into those DA reforms?

Mr English : The range of reforms being proposed in that agenda are still under negotiation with the states and territories and the Commonwealth obviously. I would need to get some further advice about the precise nature of the proposition currently being considered by that group. The agenda is not yet finalised so it will be a matter for that group to work up for the next COAG meeting.

Senator PAYNE: When you say the agenda has not been finalised, do you mean the COAG agenda is not finalised?

Mr English : No, the reform agenda for the housing work, to my understanding, is still being discussed across the states and territories and the Commonwealth, and that would be one of the elements of it. I would need to get further advice if there was to be any more detail about that reform and, to be honest, we probably would not be able to give you a concrete proposition in that space until the work has finished.

Senator PAYNE: The CRC says in that performance report for the seamless national economy that I referred to earlier that there are significant risks to that reform, so that would seem to me to be a red flag for the issues in this area. If you can tell me—if not now, then if you can find out for me—what the status of that review into the development assessment reforms is; what the new timeframe for completion of those reforms is in light of the comments by the CRC and the timeline for the ongoing review. Can you tell me also following the Productivity Commission's report which was released recently on planning, zoning and development assessments, will this process be reconsidered in any way in light of the Productivity Commission's findings or is it set in stone as it currently stands?

Mr English : I think that question is probably best put to the Treasury who are convening that process and working with the states closely. PM&C has some engagement, as you have pointed out before, to keep track of where all the processes leading towards the COAG are, but Treasury have the lead on this. I am certainly happy to take on notice if there is anything remaining after you get the evidence from Treasury I suspect might be the better way, because Treasury will be able to talk to you about the major considerations that they are taking into that working group.

Senator PAYNE: As a senior official though, Mr English, do you have an informed perspective on whether a report of the significance of the one brought down by the Productivity Commission is capable in objective terms of influencing the COAG process in an area as important as this for housing affordability; or is the process so entrenched and so insular to COAG that it is not impacted by a report like that of the Productivity Commission?

Mr English : No, as a senior official I would expect both the Treasury and the states and territories to seriously consider the recommendations of the Productivity Commission and to determine whether they give insight or options that we should be taking forward. I think you would find that COAG work across the board is, as a rule, cognisant of the work that the PC does amongst other experts. So in principle I would be expecting that work to have some influence, but in practice I am not in possession of that material.

Senator PAYNE: I understand that. Thank you very much for that clarification, Mr English. If you could come back to me with that information that would be very helpful in terms of the timing and time frames that I asked about. We also discussed on the previous occasion the review intention in relation to payroll tax and directors' liability reforms. I am not sure if that was with you or with someone else, but it was flagged for the middle of this year. Has that review been completed or is it close to completion?

Mr English : I think that sort of detail through the single national economy reform agenda would best be put to the department of finance, who are coordinating the BRC working group as part of their support of the Commonwealth minister who is chair of that group.

Senator PAYNE: I think that if you were not then perhaps Dr de Brouwer was able to assist me with answers on the previous occasion. We did in fact discuss what the minister described at the time as a 'well established tactical response', which is 'Go talk to finance, they will send you to Treasury and then you can come back here.'

Senator Evans : I am sure I only did that to deny that that would ever occur.

Senator PAYNE: You did say, 'It is a well established tactical response.'

Senator Evans : I did do 12 years of opposition questioning, Senator.

Senator PAYNE: I thought it was your skills as a former shadow defence minister!

Ms Cross : We may have been able to answer the question a bit more fully last time because the hearing was shortly after a COAG meeting where there had just been a report to COAG on progress with the reforms. At this point, we are just signalling that the department of finance would be more up to date on the progress of all of the individual elements of the seamless national economy.

Senator PAYNE: So you cannot tell me whether any other jurisdictions have introduced or passed legislation in relation to that?

Ms Cross : Again, I think that would be best directed to the department of finance. Or we can take it on notice.

Senator PAYNE: I might put some questions in relation to that on notice and also pursue them with finance, probably on notice as well. You make an interesting point in terms of this department's capacity to respond to questions in this area. In general, it relies on a recent COAG meeting, does it? That is going to put us all into terrible trouble if that is the case.

Ms Cross : If we are not directly responsible for the policy area then we would normally refer you to the relevant department. I was merely saying that when you last asked questions there had been a very recent COAG decision, we had all been present at the COAG meeting and we were therefore able to answer your questions.

Senator PAYNE: Does the same go for legal profession reforms?

Mr English : Yes, I think the work is being coordinated by both the department of finance and the Attorney-General's Department, which I understand is leading the intergovernmental work to define that reform agenda.

Senator PAYNE: Do you know what the status of the draft IGA is in this case, Mr English?

Mr English : No, I am not personally aware of that. I would need to consult with one of those two agencies.

Senator PAYNE: So when it comes to putting forward a COAG agenda for the Prime Minister and updating the status of the reform processes across government, what role does the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have? Or do you just hope that everyone else will turn up with the information on the day?

Ms Cross : We are certainly involved in working with other departments to prepare all of the necessary paperwork. As part of that process we work through the agenda with those departments. Then if there are meetings with senior officials from other premier's departments, they are led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Those meetings take place in the lead-up to a COAG meeting.

Senator PAYNE: There is an awful lot sitting in the time frame for mid-2011—the June-July period that we have discussed—plus a potential COAG meeting for mid-2011 as well, and here we are on 23 May, which is not a long way from mid-2011. What status does your department give to preparation of the agenda and knowing where these things are actually up to? Would you ask two weeks before the planned meeting and hope to heaven that they are on track? I might add that they have not been on track in the past.

Ms Cross : We were just discussing whether there is any report that is required for COAG in the middle of the year on the seamless national economy. There is a report back on the future reform agenda; I would need to check whether there is actually a report back on the measures which were considered in February.

Senator PAYNE: At least in relation to the legal profession reforms I think that COAG has said that the working group:

… will bring forward, for COAG’s consideration by 30 June 2011, amended Implementation Plan milestones to clarify the final 2010-11 milestone and outline any further actions required to implement this reform.

Does that mean that COAG is expecting to do something with that in the middle of this year or not?

Ms Cross : I think that suggests there will be a report back to COAG.

Senator PAYNE: That is what I thought it might suggest. But we do not know where it is up to? I am interested in getting a better understanding of how you ensure that things are actually on time and going to report back when agreed. It is not like we have not seen things delayed in recent years. What approach does your department take to ensure the timeliness of the working groups, whether they are in Treasury or Finance or Attorney-General's? We are six weeks from the middle of the year, and the middle of the year is lit up in lights for me through a number of these processes, and I am not persuaded by our discussion so far that it will necessarily be on time for that date.

Ms Cross : We have a COAG unit that stays in touch with all of the departments which are responsible for different pieces of work coming back to COAG. They monitor and track that, and as the meeting approaches they make sure, through the senior officials, that papers are brought forward in accordance with previous decisions by COAG. So there is a process that follows up on all of those matters. Mr English and I were just saying that as we do not have carriage of those things, and as the meeting date has not yet been settled, we cannot take those questions of detail unless we take them on notice. If you spoke to the relevant department-either Attorney-General's or Finance-they would readily be able to answer those questions.

Senator PAYNE: I cannot speak to the COAG unit in PM&C?

Ms Cross : The COAG unit comes under my area, and previously under Mr English's area.

Senator PAYNE: I had kind of hoped that in speaking to you that the sort of advice that the COAG unit obviously has would be able to be made available to this committee.

Senator CORMANN: That is really the point, is not it?

Senator PAYNE: Yes, I think Senator Cormann is correct; isn't that really the point?

Ms Cross : I think it is simply a question of the degree of detail on individual reform items within the seamless national economy. As I said, we are not at the stage of the COAG process where we have that information readily at hand, but the relevant departments could. Or we can take that on notice and endeavour to get you a response.

Senator PAYNE: I have to say that this is not the first time, and one suspects that it will not be the last, that I have asked questions of this nature with this particular responsibility in the parliament, and so it is not unusual for me to seek this sort of information. I assumed, given that the advertised program for COAG was for a middle-of-the-year meeting-so we are probably between six and eight weeks away from that-that it would be reasonable for me to be expected to ask these questions. I have asked them consistently both in the hearings and on notice over an extended period of time. Do I have to, perhaps, make a specific request to have more representatives of the COAG unit within PM&C appear to try to get further detail?

Senator Chris Evans: Perhaps I could help here. I have two things to say. Firstly, I think there is probably more a devolution of authority and activity than perhaps your questions reflect in the sense that my department and I are running a series of issues as part of the COAG reform agenda—occupational health and safety standardisation, VET regulation reform, et cetera. We end up, through the ministerial council, sort of running those agendas and dealing with state ministers et cetera and then that comes back into the central agency in a sense of preparation for the first ministers COAGs, but the work is done between me and the state ministers as we pursue those agendas. There are obviously linkages into PM&C but we tend to run that agenda and have ministerial council meetings and pursue those issues. As I say, harmonisation of occupational health and safety legislation is something I am dealing with the state ministers on and we are progressing through those issues, but no doubt we report back into the central sort of COAG machinery in the lead-up to first ministers meetings et cetera.

Secondly, I think it is fair enough for you to make the point that, as a senator with responsibilities for the opposition in this area, you probably have more interest than most in the subject matter, although Senator Cormann—

Senator PAYNE: My colleagues are very interested.

Senator Chris Evans: was showing deep interest. I think it is reasonable for us to come prepared next time with a bit more of an update where we are at with some of that stuff. That will require PM&C to prepare a brief for your more general interest, but I do not think that is unreasonable. It might take on board the fact that we will have to do it either here or when we take questions on notice. I always think it is better to do it here. I suspect it is less work than responding to the questions on notice. I think it is a reasonable point. We will see if we can try to pull together a bit of a brief on what is going on so the officers at the table are able to be more helpful with things that perhaps they not engaged with on a day-to-day basis.

Senator PAYNE: I do appreciate that undertaking, Minister. I appreciate it very much.

Senator Chris Evans: I have to remember to say, 'Can I have a parliamentary question and answer, a PPQ, prepared,' because when you suddenly jump up in the Senate and ask me about how all that is going I am generally a little underprepared, as you have noted, because it is not on my agenda every day of the week either.

Senator PAYNE: It is not something I understand. I am sure it is on your agenda every day. I am sure the department will prepare you well for that. As I said, I do appreciate that undertaking. I want to ask a question about the general reporting process and another comment in relation to some work of the CRC on the seamless national economy NPA. The accountability task is often confused by the timing of milestones—'milestones' seems to me to be a very COAG word. You will have milestones at the very beginning of a reporting period with a 1 July deadline for the commencement of a new scheme and the calendar does not quite work in the reporting process. I think the CRC has observed that such milestones could be framed as due on 30 June in the previous period so they were assessable a year earlier. It is the view of the council that that would improve public accountability. The items they have noted in that regard are: health workforce, trade measurements, standard business reporting and food in particular. Is that being considered as an approach from COAG so that it does provide the capacity for assessment of the previous financial year rather than a delay in the oversight process?

Ms Cross : I think as a general observation we think that is a useful recommendation from the COAG Reform Council and something that should be taken into account when framing milestones in future. Obviously, we have to look at the availability of data and other issues when setting those milestones, but we think that is worth looking into.

Senator PAYNE: How will you disseminate that view, Ms Cross? Is it disseminated from your unit across departments or is it actually done at a first ministers type COAG meeting in a formal way?

Ms Cross : There are normally officials groups set up to establish new agreements or to review existing agreements. That is the sort of issue that would be taken up in that forum in the first instance and any recommendations from those groups would go to first ministers.

Senator PAYNE: Okay. Is it possible to ask you a question here derived out of the COAG communique from this year's meeting—is this where I should ask it?

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator PAYNE: I know that, in acknowledgement of some of the progress that was made in relation to the seamless national economy reforms, the communique said:

… COAG agreed to bring forward its final completion date from June 2013 to December 2012.

Given the high priority all governments attach to boosting productivity and the competitiveness of the economy, COAG asked relevant ministers and officials for options to be developed for a further wave of regulatory and competition reforms. COAG will consider the options later in 2011.

Is it possible to give the committee some idea of the status of that development? Is it underway or will it start from the next COAG meeting, or is it planned to be part of the agenda for that COAG meeting?

Ms Cross : The work is certainly already underway, looking both at what some of the future competition reforms might be and separately at what some of the regulatory reforms might be, and then those two processes will come together with some advice to COAG later in the year.

Senator PAYNE: Not for the mid-year meeting?

Ms Cross : It is possible there will be a progress report in the middle of the year.

Senator PAYNE: Can I go to that Productivity Commission report on the planning, zoning and development assessment processes. Is that policy area part of the competition reform consideration?

Ms Cross : Sorry, the planning?

Senator PAYNE: The planning, zoning and DA processes. Does that fall into the competition reform area in the context of this discussion or is it over in housing supply and affordability?

Mr English : There is potential for both processes to look into that. I think at the moment we expect that the housing reform agenda would be the primary place that work would be pursued, but that may have implications for the agenda that is determined for the second wave of the single, national economy reforms if COAG decides to join those processes down the track. I would expect in the first instance the next consideration of that matter to come out of the housing reform agenda.

Senator PAYNE: Okay. Is this an appropriate place to ask further questions about that in the future, Mr English, or would you like to send me elsewhere?

Senator Chris Evans: One was a question of fact; one was a question of opinion!

Senator PAYNE: Yes, that is true.

Senator Chris Evans: He might say yes to both!

Senator PAYNE: But I am sure Mr English is a gentleman, Minister.

Mr English : Certainly we would be prepared to deal with questions that come out of that work for the COAG agenda. I think progress on the reform in development and planning approval work is likely to be the responsibility going forward of the department of—we'll get the title wrong, but the Environment—

Senator PAYNE: SEWPaC.

Mr English : Yes, SEWPaC.

Senator PAYNE: We love that!

Mr English : I suspect they would be more able to help with detail on those reform agendas once they are taken up by COAG, if they are.

Senator PAYNE: Okay. I want to come back to a question we discussed on the last occasion in the reform of the standing structures of COAG—working groups, select councils, standing councils and so on. I asked some questions on the previous occasion in relation to the Indigenous council in particular and you provided me with some answers to questions on notice PM17 and PM18 about that. Is the government still maintaining its position that any potentially outstanding work in relation to the Indigenous area will be handed over to a working group rather than having a standing council established?

Ms Cross : I think the response we gave last time was that all of the standing councils will have core responsibility for Indigenous issues within their area, which is a sort of mainstreaming of Indigenous policy responsibilities. In addition to that, the Working Group on Indigenous Reform will continue.

Senator PAYNE: You did say that. You said 'standing councils will ensure that Indigenous matters are considered as appropriate within their work program'. How will that be managed? Can you give me any idea?

Ms Cross : We are in the process of finalising the terms of reference and the work programs for all the standing councils and select councils. As part of that, consideration is being given to the relevant Indigenous policy issues and how they might be picked up by those new councils. That will be part of the new arrangements that start from 1 July.

Senator PAYNE: How are those terms of reference and work plans to be agreed?

Ms Cross : They will be agreed by COAG.

Senator PAYNE: Before 1 July?

Ms Cross : That is the intention.

Senator PAYNE: Will they be agreed by a COAG meeting or out of session?

Ms Cross : It depends on the timing of the meeting. It could be either.

Senator PAYNE: With regard to the determination of the terms of reference and the work plans—the subject matter of those—and the extent to which they are focused on Indigenous matters, does FaHCSIA as a department with policy responsibility in this area have a significant input to that process?

Ms Cross : Yes, and it will all go through a cabinet process that it will be viewed from a whole-of-government perspective.

Senator PAYNE: But can you indicate to the committee that those terms of reference and those work plans will be agreed before 1 July?

Ms Cross : That is the intention.

Senator PAYNE: Is there any likelihood that that will not happen?

Ms Cross : Not that I am aware of, but they are subject to agreement with states and territories, so there is a process that needs to be gone through.

Senator PAYNE: Are they already with the states and territories for consideration, or have they not yet been distributed?

Ms Cross : There is a commonwealth-state transition work group that has been working on the terms of reference and work programs, and that work is progressing.

Senator PAYNE: Does it have a standing brief to include matters related to Indigenous affairs—that transitional working group?

Ms Cross : Certainly that is part of what the group is looking at in finalising the terms of reference.

Senator PAYNE: Is FaHCSIA represented on that?

Ms Cross : No, it is a process between premiers' departments and the central agencies in the Commonwealth.

Senator Chris Evans: The ministers have been engaged, and then I have been engaged, with Ms Macklin and others about this issue and others. How we best manage it has certainly been actively considered. It was in the educational issues of my portfolio. It is a huge issue and consideration for us.

Senator PAYNE: In answer to PM17, from additional estimates, it said that the working group on Indigenous reform will oversee the COAG Indigenous reform agenda. Does the working group have particular tasks to attend to, and then will it wind up or continue operation to coordinate Indigenous matters across the COAG council?

Ms Cross : At this stage there is a plan for it to continue its work in this area. Obviously most working groups will have some sort of review point where that is reconsidered, but the decision was that COAG was to continue that working group.

Senator PAYNE: Is there a point in time at which that is intended to be reconsidered?

Ms Cross : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator PAYNE: Would you do that.

Ms Cross : With most of these groups a review point is built in to their terms of reference.

Senator PAYNE: The answer to PM18 indicated that the chair of MCATSIA will basically oversee the determination of how the council's work can be completed or handed to another council by the end of this year. Are you able to indicate what sort of work remains outstanding? Does it have a large agenda?

Ms Cross : I can confirm that that will happen in June, rather than at the end of the year. Again, I think that if you look at the range of work that MCATSIA has been doing, there will be some work that needs to be handed over to officials or the Working Group on Indigenous Reform or a relevant ministerial council. Again, a process is underway with the chairs of all the committees that are ceasing, to make sure that that is managed in an orderly way. So there is a process underway with each chair to go through their work program and work out the transition arrangements. Again, that will be finalised by 30 June.

Senator PAYNE: Thank you very much. Madam Chair, I have some questions for the COAG Reform Council, which I would like to go to now, if I may. I am not sure whether Senator Cormann wanted to jump in there?

Senator CORMANN: I am quite happy for Senator Payne to finish off all her questions as long as I can go back to domestic policy across the board, including some COAG related matters, after that.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Cross and Mr English.


Senator PAYNE: Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and thank you very much to the officers of the COAG Reform Council for appearing. This seems to have been a long process but, nevertheless, it is nice to see you here. The work of the COAG Reform Council—which seems to me, as an objective observer, extraordinarily complex and extraordinarily in-depth—is very much valued by those of us who are interested in and engaged in this process. I know that Senator Evans reads the reports regularly and in-depth, because I ask him about them in the chamber. They are very commendable pieces of work and very important in the reform process.

I have prepared some questions for the reform council today which are aligned with some of my questions to the COAG representatives from PM&C, so if we start to move across the same theme areas you will appreciate that that might be why. I have indicated to my colleagues to not take any more than an hour, in total, so this will not take that long.

There has been quite some delay in the development of the papers attached to the work of the housing supply and affordability reform working party. I am sure it is a subject area to which the reform council turns its mind. Can you give, for the committee, any assessment of your perspective on how that impacts on the time frames and the effectiveness of the reforms under the COAG process when there is a lag time in the reporting and in the reform process?

Ms O'Loughlin : We receive the information from COAG when it is available, so what is available for our reports is what we assess against. So we do not have a judgment, if I can put it like that, about whether it is impacting on the reform of the time. We assess the reform information for the reporting period that falls under either our national agreement or national partnership.

Senator PAYNE: Although in your work, Ms O'Loughlin, the council does comment on timeliness, often. Across a whole range of subject matters, it comments on timeliness and the effectiveness of the information with which you are provided and the impacts that you perceive it has. You comment on those in your reports, do you not?

Ms O'Loughlin : The council comments when we have a role to report against a performance indicator or a milestone. When, say, the performance indicator has data attached to it and we cannot get timely data for reporting against that performance indicator, then the council comments that given we are an annual reporting body it is essential to have up-to-date and readily available data for reporting against the performance indicator, for good public accountability.

Senator PAYNE: I spoke to the officers previously about the development assessment reform process, amongst other things. I think the CRC's report on the seamless national economy commented quite specifically—in fact, I referred to it before—on significant risks to that reform process. Your report says:

The National Partnership implementation plan only presents a partial and mainly process-orientated picture of governments’ agreement towards achieving the five project streams …

You went on to say:

… the electronic development assessment initiative faces major technical and resourcing issues.

I did discuss this in part with the officers and we will come back to it on questions in notice but, when COAG considered your report, the response was to ask the housing affordability working group to report back by the middle of this year—again a very important time—with recommendations about forming a more cohesive approach in that space. Is that the sort of response that the reform council seeks to elicit or are you looking for more responses or a different response?

Ms O'Loughlin : I will refer to my colleague Mr Paul Elton who is in charge of the seamless national economy under the council.

Mr Elton : Yes, that is the sort of response that we would be looking for. That matter and three others were matters where COAG accepted the council's recommendation to seek further advice on what could be done to address risks identified in relation to those reform streams. The key outcome from our point of view is to see that advice reflected in a revised implementation plan for the seamless national economy agreement and the implementation plan is required to be updated every year under the agreement. That is what we would be looking for and that would become the basis for our assessment in next year's report.

Senator PAYNE: Do you see the time frames that are established for this particular reform area and particularly around the development assessment issue which are—'contentious' is probably the wrong word—but which have achieved a degree of notoriety, I suppose. Do you see those time frames being at any risk at the moment between the jurisdictions?

Mr Elton : We would not have any information available to us to assess whether those are at risk or not. All we know is that COAG has set those deadlines and those deadlines were consistent with what our council recommended in its report, so we would be hoping to see that those deadlines were met.

Senator PAYNE: When are you next due to report in that particular area?

Mr Elton : Our next report is due to COAG at the end of this calendar year and then would be released publicly in February next year.

Senator PAYNE: And the public release is within your hands isn't it? It is not within the government's hands.

Mr Elton : That is the view that our council has taken. They have chosen to release reports within one to two months after they are submitted to COAG. The rationale for that is to allow governments a reasonable period to formulate their responses to the council's reports.

Senator PAYNE: Thank you. I wanted to ask a question around some of the observations in that report on the electronic development assessment initiative. You mentioned resourcing issues and technical issues. Do you mean in that context resourcing from the jurisdictions or from councils? What is the context in which you make that observation?

Mr Elton : Those observations were largely drawn from the advice that governments themselves have given to us. The way this process works is that the governments give us progress reports by the end of September each year. In those reports in relation to that reform stream some of the governments identified resourcing issues.

Senator PAYNE: By that do they mean they are not resourcing it enough or is it a different issue?

Mr Elton : I am not sure that we always know the answer to those questions. If you wanted me to elaborate on what those technical resourcing issues were I would need to go back and probably take that question on notice.

Senator PAYNE: If you would, I would be grateful. Thank you very much. Then if that leads you to being able to provide the committee with information on how that resourcing should be derived because of what they have said to you, I would be interested in that as well.

Mr Elton : Okay.

Senator PAYNE: The next area I wanted to ask you about was in relation to the payroll tax and directors liability reforms. I want to find Mr McClintock's speech, which serves as a very useful tick-the-box commentary on where things are up to. On page 3 of his speech to CEDA in March Mr McClintock makes observations in relation to these reform areas. In the last estimates discussion the directors' liability reforms had reached the stage of the jurisdictions introducing legislation. Is that your understanding?

Mr Elton : The deadlines set in the implementation plan for implementation of the legislation I recall was December 2010, so that falls within the current financial year and will be a matter we will be assessing in our next report.

Senator PAYNE: In your consideration of that will you potentially look at the fact that the review of the question of uniformity is potentially being undertaken after the introduction of legislation and the potential conflict that that sets up?

Mr Elton : I think so, yes. In the council's last report we found that, whilst significant steps had been taken, including the agreement through the COAG processes on the principles and that individual jurisdictions had completed audits and prepared implementation plans, we nevertheless expressed some concerns about whether a consistent principles based approach would be achieved nationally and so recommended that COAG look at that. So in next year assessing this matter we will reappraise those matters as well as look at any legislative amendments that have been made this year.

Senator PAYNE: So you will start that assessment from 1 July this year?

Mr Elton : That is correct.

Senator PAYNE: Looking at the previous financial year?

Mr Elton : Yes.

Senator PAYNE: When would you expect that report to be produced?

Mr Elton : As I explained before, it is all part of the same report—

Senator PAYNE: That is at the end of the calendar year as well?

Mr Elton : Yes.

Senator PAYNE: Another area which Mr McClintock and the council reports have commented on is the national legal profession reforms. Mr McClintock has commented on that in both reports and publicly. Is that one which you are currently examining or is that for the end of the financial year as well?

Mr Elton : Yes, that is on the same timetable. That is part of the seamless national economy agreement as well. I should clarify: it is a new, additional reform stream which COAG asked us to also report on through the same reporting mechanism.

Senator PAYNE: You have received COAG responses to your reports and in this case it notes your identification of the risks regarding the proposed legal profession reforms, which were quite considerable in terms of lack of consistency between the states, the funding challenges associated with the IGA seeming to slow its processes, and issues around a number of state governments' views. The government's response was:

COAG … agrees that BRCWG will bring forward, for COAG’s consideration by 30 June 2011, amended Implementation Plan milestones to clarify the final 2010-11 milestone and outline any further actions required to implement this reform.

Does that have the degree of specificity, the degree of detail, that you would expect to address the concerns that have been raised in your report?

Mr Elton : Yes. At the time that COAG issued its response to our report, that was sufficient detail from our point of view. What matters further then, of course, is what detail is included in the implementation plan which, as I mentioned before, is what we are expecting to see by the middle of this year.

Senator PAYNE: You probably heard me ask some questions about the timing of the reporting dates of 1 July and 30 June conflict that sometimes pushes you out into the next year. I note that you have said in your reports that that was relevant in areas such as health, workforce, trade measurement, the standard business reporting and food. Are you confident that the point that you have made in those reports has been and will be taken up by governments to change that process?

Mr Elton : Yes, I am confident.

Senator PAYNE: I know it is very broad but, nevertheless, are there any other parts of the COAG agenda that you see falling into that same timing trap?

Mr Elton : I do not believe we have seen that particular style of construction of a milestone in any of the other agreements.

Senator PAYNE: I do not know whether you have commented in this way in your reports. I do not recall reading a specific comment about it, but would it be something that the CRC would say should be closely examined across the NPAs and across other IGAs to ensure that problem is not replicated?

Ms O'Loughlin : The only case where we would look at that is if we found there were examples elsewhere. I am trying to run through the agreements and the national partnerships in my head and I cannot think of another example. If we did find there were examples where that was more of a general problem that went across agreements, the council could consider that in the context of its annual report on the COAG reform agenda, where it brings together views about the performance reporting framework that goes across agreements.

Senator PAYNE: Could I get some clarification for the committee about how the CRC receives the information that it deals with? You obviously receives substantial information from the Commonwealth. Do you also receive separate information from the state and territory jurisdictions?

Ms O'Loughlin : It goes to each agreement or which national partnership you are talking about. They vary quite a lot. Are you still talking about the seamless national economy?

Senator PAYNE: No, just broadly.

Ms O'Loughlin : If I may take it in some sets of agreements. The six national agreements that we report against which go across health, education, workforce, skills, Indigenous reform, housing and disability are six big national agreements. The Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations sets out how we get most of the information for those reports in that they are set against quantitative performance indicators. So we get the date against those performance indicators from the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Services Provision, the secretariat of which is in the Productivity Commission. That steering committee is a cross-jurisdictional steering committee, which means that the data that they get—whether from the Australian Bureau of Statistics or the Australian Bureau of Health and Welfare—is collated. They give reports to the council for each of those agreements and they also give us advice about whether, in their view, the data is robust enough for reporting, for example, small jurisdiction. For that set of agreements it is very clear where we get the information from.

For the national partnerships it varies national partnership by national partnership. Some of them are very similar to the national agreements in that they have quantitative performance indicators and we get the data through the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Services Provision, just like the national agreements. In other cases, and Mr Elton was talking about the seamless national economy, we get the information from the jurisdictions in the first instance through their reports to us. We will supplement that information through desktop research-just looking at what is available publicly. Then, if I may go to the third area of agreement, which is the city's area, where there is another body of work; the information for that is very similar to the seamless national economy. We get the first batch of information from the jurisdictions themselves and then we also supplement that with information that is publicly available.

Senator PAYNE: If you thought that a jurisdiction or an agency was providing you with inadequate information you would be able to raise that through PM&C-or how would you pursue that?

Ms O'Loughlin : In the case of the national agreements, the data comes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, or the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare or the Australian Council for Educational Research. Those bodies collect the administrative data or the survey data, in which case they are the source of that data and they are not something that the jurisdictions have any influence on, if I can put it like that.

In other areas of the seamless national economy-say, the cities work-where we are reliant on the self reporting of jurisdictions, it is up to us to assess if we have enough information. We often go back to the states and territories and say, 'You have given us this, but we would like to follow up with some other questions to make sure that we think we have got enough information to assess and report against'.

Senator PAYNE: Thank you, I do appreciate that clarification. There was one specific recommendation-recommendation 4-in relation to the deregulation priorities from the last National Partnership Agreement to Deliver a Seamless National Economy performance report. I think the council's recommendation was quite explicitly that the working group bring forward updated implementation plans before 31 March this year so that COAG could approve by 30 June this year. There are a number of areas in that: the stage 2 of the payroll tax reforms, any additional revised milestones agreed by COAG, some jurisdictional accountabilities and some other deadlines. But I think that the government's response was not to do that until 30 June. Does that give you any problems with reporting on those reforms?

Mr Elton : The COAG response, I believe, was couched in terms of it being brought forward so it could be considered by COAG by 30 June, and that is consistent-

Senator PAYNE: So that would meet that 31 March time frame?

Mr Elton : If that took place, then yes.

Senator PAYNE: But you will not know whether they did until-

Mr Elton : Indeed.

Senator PAYNE: It is a very extended process and time frames that you work within. I cannot imagine it is easy-but that is all right! Thank you.

I just want to finish with one question around the Indigenous affairs area, which I have asked of the department today and on a previous occasion. As you would be aware, in the restructuring Indigenous affairs did not end up with a council as such. I think that previous reports of the CRC which I have read have had to consider areas in relation to Indigenous affairs, whether they be health reporting, education reporting or those sorts of issues. You have commented quite explicitly on the challenges of obtaining data and information for adequate reporting, in your view. Given the very much cross-portfolio approach taken to Indigenous affairs these days, have you given any thought to how the lack of a specific and dedicated Indigenous affairs council at the COAG level will impact on the coordination and implementation of what are very significant Indigenous reforms?

Ms O'Loughlin : For the council, it is in the receipt of the data on Indigenous issues. You are quite right; the council has raised issues around Indigenous data: the collection of it, the timeliness of it and a number of those issues around adequacy of the data which is available. But those are the issues which the council is concerned about. How COAG works out how to do its Indigenous relationships across its states and territories and its ministerial councils is an issue for the jurisdictions. It is not one for the council. Having said that, we are very aware that it is a difficult area for data collation and for the adequacy of the data. If the council found that the data were less timely, less adequate, then the council would comment on that in its reports.

Senator PAYNE: When are you next due to report in that policy area?

Ms O'Loughlin : We report on the national agreement on Indigenous reform on 9 June. We are publicly releasing that report. The report has gone to COAG and it is to be publicly released on 9 June.

Senator PAYNE: What would be the due time of the next report?

Ms O'Loughlin : They are annual, so it would be next June.

Senator PAYNE: That would give you an opportunity to experience, for want of a better word, the changed arrangements and to report in that context.

Ms O'Loughlin : Yes, but those arrangements may or may not impact upon our work.

Senator PAYNE: No, they might not. I understand that.

Ms O'Loughlin : We may not know if they are the source of any good or bad issues around the data. We would still just go to, 'We have problems, perhaps, with the data's timeliness.'

Senator PAYNE: Thank you very much, Ms O'Loughlin, and I thank the CRC for appearing this afternoon. It is very helpful to the consideration of the estimates.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Senator Cormann.

Senator CORMANN: I have a series of questions of officers that provided advice to the Prime Minister on the mining tax deal that was entered into in July last year—including whether or not and when this is going to be dealt with at COAG. First up, I assume that PM&C did provide advice to the Prime Minister before she signed, along with the Treasurer and the Minister for Resources and Energy, the so-called MRRT heads of agreement with BHP Billiton, Rio and Xstrata?

Mr English : We provided advice to government on a range of matters around the minerals resource tax arrangements in 2010. So at various times we have, yes.

Senator CORMANN: So the answer is yes.

Mr English : I am not confirming a particular briefing at a particular time; I am just saying that we have supported, as best we can, the Prime Minister on this matter.

Senator CORMANN: Let's establish this upfront, because we have had these discussions in the past. We have established that the existence of advice can be confirmed. You might have some issues about revealing the content of advice. While we might have a discussion about that, that is a different matter altogether. You have in the past answered questions on a whole range of policy matters on the question of whether you have provided advice and when you have provided advice. My very specific question is for you to confirm that the Prime Minister's department provided advice to the Prime Minister in relation to the proposed mining tax deal before the Prime Minister decided to sign on the dotted line along with the Treasurer and the Minister for Resources and Energy.

Mr English : On that occasion, the advice was provided to the Prime Minister by the Treasurer.

Senator CORMANN: So the Prime Minister received advice from the Treasurer, not from her own department.

Mr English : On that occasion, yes.

Senator Chris Evans: Could you be a little more specific, because you have talked about the deal and what have you—just for the officer's sake so he is clear on what he is answering.

Senator CORMANN: I think the officers know what I am talking about.

Senator Chris Evans: In terms of the Hansard.

Senator CORMANN: I am talking about the heads of agreement that was announced on 2 July 2010 by the Prime Minister together with the Treasurer and the Minister for Resources and Energy, and I think the officer is well aware. Was the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet aware at the time when the Prime Minister signed the deal that Western Australia was considering increasing its iron ore royalties on fines, as they have now announced in the budget, effective 1 July 2012?

Mr English : I would have to take on notice the timing at which that change to the royalty regime was provided to the department.

Senator CORMANN: To the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet .

Mr English : Yes. I am not personally aware of the date.

Senator CORMANN: So you did become aware at some point but you are not able to tell us whether you became aware before the deal was signed or after the deal was signed.

Mr English : Certainly we are aware as a result of the announcement. I would need to go back and check the record.

Senator CORMANN: What are you aware of exactly?

Senator CHRIS EVANS: I think the officer is saying that he is not confirming that the department were advised prior to the budget announcement by the WA Premier, but he will take it on notice.

Senator CORMANN: You are saying that you were not aware prior to the budget announcement by the WA state government last week?

Mr English : I personally cannot recall this detailed announcement that they have now made. Whether that advice has been provided to us previously—

Senator CORMANN: You say you are not aware of this detailed announcement they have now made; were you aware, at the time that this discussion took place on the heads of agreement on the MRRT and expanded PRRT, that the Western Australian state government was considering increasing royalties on iron ore finds by 1 July 2012.

Mr English : That is a question of fact that I would need to test.

Senator CORMANN: I grant you that. I understand because it is a year ago. But there is a significant difference between you saying you only became aware of it last week and saying that you have to check whether you were aware of it back 12 months ago.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: I think the officer said earlier that he would need to check the knowledge of the department that you seek—he will have to take on notice whether the department had knowledge from the Western Australian government of any intention. That is what he will take on notice. If the suggestion is that the WA government provided some advice to PM&C or the federal government that they were considering that royalty increase, the officer will take that question on notice and provide you with an answer.

Senator CORMANN: I just want PM&C to say very clearly to us today that they did not know before 2 July. You can tell us categorically that you have no recollection right now that the Western Australian state government was considering increasing its iron ore royalties on finds before the Prime Minister signed the deal on 2 July.

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

Senator CORMANN: So you cannot actually rule out that you knew before then?

Mr English : I would not like to rule it in or out at this point.

Senator CORMANN: Given that the heads of agreement included a commitment that 'all state and territory royalties will be creditable against a resources tax liability,' did you seek clarification from any of the state or territory governments about what their intentions were before the Prime Minister signed the deal?

Mr English : That is a question you would have to put to the Treasury portfolio. They were designing the tax at the time.

Senator CORMANN: That is on the basis, as you said, that you did not actually provide advice to the Prime Minister on this; that the Prime Minister took the advice directly from the Treasurer, Mr Swan.

Mr English : Yes.

Senator CORMANN: Given the way that was worded, there was always the risk that the federal budget would be exposed from state government decisions to increase royalties, wasn't there?

Mr English : That is a matter of opinion. It is beyond my remit to answer that.

Senator CORMANN: Just to be absolutely clear; you cannot tell us today whether you knew, before the Prime Minister signed on the dotted line, Western Australia was considering increasing iron ore royalties.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator, the officer has taken that question on notice. You are asking whether, a year or so ago, the PM&C had advice from the WA government to that effect. The officer will take that on notice. He is not prepared to hazard a guess. He does not know. Quite frankly, even if he did he would probably not know the dates. I think it is best that he takes that on notice.

Senator CORMANN: Were you personally involved in the mining tax agreement and the heads of agreement negotiations?

Mr English : No.

Senator CORMANN: So you were not the person involved. Who was the personally involved from Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Mr English : I am not aware of an official who participated in those discussions.

Senator CORMANN: You are not aware whether any official participated in these discussions.

Mr English : From the Prime Minister's department. The discussions were being held by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer directly with the companies.

Senator CORMANN: So you're not aware then of a letter from the Under Treasurer in Western Australia, Mr Tim Marney, dated 10 May 2010 where he wrote to Dr Henry, the then Secretary of the Treasury:

To that end, I seek your urgent confirmation that 'scheduled' increases in Western Australia would include the removal of existing iron ore royalty right concessions, which would see both fine and lump iron ore royalty rights being levied at 7.5 per cent ... by 1 July 2012.

You are not aware of that?

Mr English : I would need to check whether that letter was provided to the department.

Senator CORMANN: And you're not aware of an executive Treasury minute to the Treasurer, Mr Swan, dated 17 May, where he was told:

Western Australia indicated at a recent Commonwealth Grants Commission meeting (prior to the announcement of the Resource Super Profits Tax) it was considering increasing the royalty rate on iron ore fines from the current rate of 5.625 per cent, to the 7.5 per cent rate for lump ore.

You are not aware of that?

Mr English : Again, it is a matter of factual accuracy. I would need to confirm whether or not the department was provided with that material and the date it was provided.

Senator CORMANN: Is that a bit unusual for something as significant as this—the Prime Minister signing on the dotted line on an issue that has caused, quite frankly, the downfall of a Prime Minister; it is that significant—that you as a department would allow the Prime Minister to sign without doing a quality check and without making sure that all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed?

Senator Chris Evans: I think you have made a couple of leaps there.

Senator CORMANN: What is the leap, Minister?

Senator Chris Evans: The leap is the officer said he was not responsible and he would take on notice your earlier question. Then you ask the question: is it reasonable that you did not? The answer to the question was 'I do not know and I will take it on notice.' So that is the leap.

Senator CORMANN: You might try to fudge this—

Senator Chris Evans: The officer cannot tell you what he does not know. You asked a question about the knowledge of PM&C; not the officer personally, but the knowledge of PM&C around those dates. He said to you he would take that on notice. He cannot therefore then take the next step of further information if he does not actually have the knowledge.

Senator CORMANN: Thank you, Minister. I certainly agree with you. The officer cannot answer questions about things he does not know, so let me clarify the question. Is it unusual for the Prime Minister to sign on the dotted line in relation to an agreement on a policy issue that was this significant, this controversial, this wide-ranging, to the point where a Prime Minister had lost his job over it, without seeking prior advice from the officials of her department? You have said that officers from the department were not involved. That is the basis for me asking that question. You are telling me that the Prime Minister sought exclusive advice from the Treasurer. Is that usual process?

Senator Chris Evans: The way the question is structured there is no way the officer could be required to answer that. You were seeking opinion and you are making a number of judgments in the question. The officer has made clear to you that primary responsibility for this matter lay with the Treasurer and the Treasury officials. He has taken on notice a couple of questions about the knowledge of PM&C of these matters at the dates you refer to. Whether or not it is usual for the Prime Minister to do this or that, clearly that is not an appropriate question for an officer.

Senator CORMANN: I am not asking for an opinion.

Senator Chris Evans: You did, Senator. I will show you the Hansard of the question. It was politically loaded: 'brought about the downfall of a Prime Minister' and all that stuff. You are very unfair to the official to expect him to respond to that, and you know he will not.

Senator CORMANN: It was clearly a pretty involved public policy issue and I am sure you would agree with that. It was a public policy issue and one of the three issues where the Prime Minister, on becoming the Prime Minister, pointed to as an issue that she would personally resolve. In that context I am well entitled to ask whether it is normal practice. I am not asking for an opinion, I am just asking whether this is the way it normally happens that a Prime Minister would make a decision signing off on something that obliges and signs up the Commonwealth government, that contracts the Commonwealth government to a whole series of commitments. Is it usual practice, is this what normally happens, that the Prime Minister would sign without getting separate advice from her department—that is, advice separate from the Treasurer's advice?

Mr English : I think it is fair to say that the Prime Minister's approach to a range of issues is dictated by the circumstances of the issue.

Senator CORMANN: The circumstances of the issue were that it was a very challenging political situation. The government was approaching an election and was in a rush to get the big mining companies off their back and sign on the dotted line.

Senator Chris Evans: You cannot expect the official to respond to that sort of nonsense.

Senator CORMANN: I am happy to say that that was not a question.

CHAIR: Can I remind people that this is a question and answer process so, rather than making statements, we should be asking questions. Senator Cormann, you have the call.

Senator CORMANN: Do you expect any other state or territory governments to increase royalties in a similar fashion to Western Australia?

Mr English : That would be a matter best put to the Treasury portfolio. They have those discussions with the states and territories.

Senator CORMANN: We had this discussion last estimates. The Prime Minister was going to take the mining tax to COAG in February. Last time you took a question on notice and you eventually came back with an answer to say that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was not aware of any suggestions that the Commonwealth government would take the minerals resource rent tax to the February 2011 Council of Australian Governments meeting. Clearly there is an issue here where the Prime Minister, as head of the government, has some direct responsibility. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have both been out there in the last couple of days essentially threatening to withdraw funding for infrastructure or threatening ramifications around the GST. Is it proposed that this whole issue is going to go to COAG at some point in the near future?

Senator Chris Evans: Clearly that is outside the officials' responsibility. You can ask the officials about activities relating to their official duties working for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Opinions about whether things are going to cabinet or COAG, or the officials' view about what Queensland might do, are clearly well beyond what it is reasonable for them to answer.

Senator CORMANN: With all due respect, I am quoting from the department's own answer. The answer was that back in February the department was not aware of any suggestions that the Commonwealth government would take the MRRT to the 2011 Council of Australian Governments. Are you now aware that the Commonwealth government would take the MRRT to a future COAG meeting, or is that something that you are still unaware of?

Mr English : The answer to that question on notice was in response to a particular article that was cited at the last hearing which claimed I think in December that the Prime Minister determined that the tax would be taken to the next COAG meeting. The answer to that question on notice merely stated that we were unaware of any basis in fact for that article. The agenda for the next COAG meeting remains a matter for the Prime Minister to determine, and we do not yet have a decision on that.

Senator CORMANN: So it is yet to be determined whether that is going to be the case. Minister, may I suggest it might be better to take a constructive approach through COAG than to declare a tax war on the people of Western Australia and other states potentially.

Senator Chris Evans: Senator, I will bear in mind your advice. I will give it due weight.

Senator CORMANN: I appreciate that. Mr English, back in February 2011 was there any discussion at the officials meetings about the MRRT and any plans the state government of Western Australia might have had about increasing their royalties on iron ore finds?

Mr English : In the lead-up to COAG, do you mean?

Senator CORMANN: In the lead-up or around the COAG meeting—around about that time.

Mr English : I would need to check the record but my recollection is that there was no discussion in the COAG context, in those COAG meetings, about the WA approach to those finds royalties.

Senator CORMANN: Has PM&C been involved in any discussions about WA plans to increase royalties on iron ore finds?

Mr Lewis : Senator, I think Mr English has fielded this question on a number of occasions. You have put a similar question three or four times. He will take on notice the issue about the knowledge that this department had about WA's pending action. He cannot be more specific than that.

Senator CORMANN: No, but I am led to believe that there were some discussions at an official level that involved Prime Minister and Cabinet officials in more recent times about the prospects of WA increasing its royalties on iron ore finds. The question I asked before was about what happened in the lead-up to the 2 July heads of agreement being signed; I am now asking about more recent events.

Senator Chris Evans: Over a period of weeks or months?

Senator CORMANN: Since January or February—have there been any discussions that PM&C have been involved in in relation to WA plans to increase iron ore royalties on finds?

Mr English : I can only inform you that I have not participated in any such discussion, and I would need to check the record for any broader question within Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator CORMANN: Are you aware of any correspondence since the correspondence I read to you dated 10 May 2010 between the Western Australian state government and the federal government about WA plans to increase royalties, or remove the concession on royalties, for iron ore finds?

Senator Chris Evans: I am not personally aware of any such further correspondence.

Senator CORMANN: So you will take on notice whether there is such further correspondence and advise the committee?

Senator Chris Evans: Yes.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I will start by asking some questions in relation to the mental health package announced in the budget and ask about the Prime Minister's involvement in relation to that package. Can you tell me?

Mr Rimmer : In all the movement I heard you ask a question about the mental health package—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It is about the mental health package, and I would like to ask about the Prime Minister's involvement in this package. Is this something that is driven by your department or by Health and Ageing.

Mr Rimmer : This package was primarily driven by the Department of Health and Ageing. It involved very strong across-department work with FaHCSIA and DEEWR as well significant engagement with the central agencies. As you would expect, the Prime Minister was involved through ERC and through cabinet processes in the same way as she would be on other significant reforms.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: What is the lead department, if I could put it that way, Mr Rimmer?

Mr Rimmer : Health and Ageing.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Did the Prime Minister meet with Professor McGorry and Professor Hickie on 13 April?

Mr Rimmer : That sounds about right but I want to take that on notice in order to be confident of my answer.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Are you aware of whether you met with them?

Mr Rimmer : I will check whether we have any further information. To the best recollection of the officers here, including me, we recall a meeting but we cannot remember the dates. We will endeavour to find that information and get it to you.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: In relation to this package you spoke earlier about cabinet submissions. Was this a matter for Minister Roxon as the lead agency? I am not asking about the content; I am asking about who was responsible for this.

Mr Rimmer : In the cabinet arrangements there is a Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Minister Butler, and he played a lead role in the development of the package, as you would expect.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So it was his submission that was taken to cabinet?

Senator Chris Evans: It would be a submission sponsored by the senior minister, but it is no secret that Mr Butler was—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am just trying to get a handle on where it was driven from.

Senator Chris Evans: Mr Butler was the responsible minister doing the legwork but Ms Roxon is the cabinet minister responsible for the area, so any submission taken forward would be taken forward by her as well.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: When was this package formulated as such? Did this process go through the normal budget processes?

Mr Rimmer : I am not sure I am at liberty to discuss when this matter went to cabinet, so I am not sure I can help you with that question.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Were costings done to your knowledge, Mr Rimmer, by Treasury in relation to this package?

Senator Chris Evans: This package was announced as part of the budget process. It went through the normal ERC and cabinet deliberations and obviously costings were done by central agencies, but I am not sure we are inclined to go further than that in terms of the specifics. This was a major package that was put through normal government processes and announced as part of the budget.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Were the substantial cuts that are part of this package identified by DoHA? This package transcends a number of different departments and I am tried to get to the bottom of who was actually responsible for putting the package together and who was responsible for identifying cuts. Who was driving this? That is the question I would like answered.

Senator Chris Evans: The package was put together by the health minister and the Health portfolio. Any budget decisions regarding funding of that package or, as you call them, 'cuts' were taken by the ERC and cabinet as part of the budget processes. Those decisions are taken as part of the cabinet processes, not by individual ministers, in formulating the final budget.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: As part of the COAG process and the National Action Plan on Mental Health 2006-2011 there are a number of progress reports outstanding. The progress report 2006-07 is dated February 2008. The second progress report covering implementation to 2007-08 is dated September 2009. Can somebody assist me as to where the progress reports are for 2008-09 and 2009-10? Were these progress reports available to government in relation to the preparation of this national mental health package?

Mr Rimmer : We would have to take that question on notice.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I have sought to get answers to this through the process. The reason I am asking the question now is that I did not get an answer last time I asked it on notice. This is supposed to be on the COAG agenda. You have now announced what purports to be a major mental health announcement. One would have supposed that you would have had available progress reports on the National Action Plan on Mental Health, which was a major COAG reform of the previous government but covers your area. I am trying to get to the bottom of where these progress reports are and, most importantly, whether you had them available to you to enable you to put together the package. It is a legitimate question.

Senator Chris Evans: I think it is, but I think Mr Rimmer is not able to answer it off the top of his head. We will see if we can get some information to help you. Clearly, as we indicated, the policy drive for this came out of the Health and Ageing portfolio, so their knowledge of these matters is probably the most pertinent. We will see if anyone can help in terms of the actual reports and assessments you asked for.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I appreciate that, Minister. Given the various components traverse a number of portfolios and do traverse what appear to be matters that were covered as part of the COAG mental health platform of the past, I am asking these questions now. I do not want to go to Health and be told that I should have asked the questions as part of COAG.

Senator Chris Evans: No. We will see if we can get anything to help you at the moment, otherwise you will have to go to Health, but I will make sure Health know you are coming with those questions—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am sure they already know, Minister.

Senator Chris Evans: and they will be taking a huge risk if they are not ready with the appropriate answers.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Perhaps I can ask a question in relation to the document entitled Delivering better hospital, mental health and health services. Do I go to Treasury to ask for details in relation to this document?

Mr Rimmer : I cannot see the document that you have in front of you. If that is the budget document, as we have—

Senator Chris Evans: Madam Chair, it might be best if Senator Fierravanti-Wells hands it up so that the officer can see the front page and then we will be sure what we are talking about, rather than having a crack—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Madam Chair, Mr Rimmer has told me that I should go to Treasury to get the details in relation to this document even though it is part of the overall mental health package. Can I then ask a question in relation to the National Mental Health Commission?

Mr Rimmer : Yes, Senator.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I noticed that it is to be within the Prime Minister's department? Is that to be housed within Mr Beresford's area? I see Mr Beresford smiling over there. As a former banker his involvement in these matters really surprises me. Perhaps he will bring some fiscal responsibility to the role.

Mr Rimmer : The Mental Health Commission is to be established within the Prime Minister's portfolio, not within her department. It is to be established as a separate executive agency within the Prime Minister's portfolio.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: You have set aside $23 million for it. Is it going to be set up under the financial management legislation? Can you tell me a bit about it? There only seems to be one line there.

Mr Rimmer : The commission is to be established as an executive agency and an executive agency, as you will know, Senator, is established by order of the Governor-General. It reports to a minister. The Prime Minister has decided that she will swear the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing into her portfolio so that he can be identified as the agency minister. An executive agency has financial and staffing autonomy. It prepares an annual report for parliament. The commission will have a CEO who will report to the agency minister and a number of commissioners. The process for appointing those will be worked through over the coming months.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So it is not a commission in the same mould as the mental health commission that has been established in Western Australia or the mental health commission that has been proposed in New South Wales?

Mr Rimmer : I think the purposes, role and functions of those commissions are different in each commission and they are different from the one that is being established here.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Is it basically a replica of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, which the minister chairs? I do not understand where the commission fits in in relation to the national advisory council, of which Professor Mendoza used to be chair until he resigned from that position. It now appears that Minister Roxon has appointed him as the chair of that committee. How a council can provide independent and confidential advice to the minister when he actually chairs it is beyond me, but I am trying to understand how this new commission will fit alongside or will be in addition to the National Advisory Council on Mental Health.

Mr Rimmer : The commission is more than an advisory council. It has staffing, functions and responsibilities that go well beyond the advisory council. The government is giving consideration to the question of how the establishment of the commission interfaces with the existence of other advisory groups and bodies across government.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Can you tell me a bit more about it? How many staff will it have?

Mr Rimmer : From January 2012 it is envisaged that the commission itself will have 13 ASLs.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: How many commissioners?

Mr Rimmer : I do not think it has been decided yet.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: What are its functions and roles? Are they available in any written form? You must have given some thought to it; you did allocate $23 million.

Mr Rimmer : The functions of the commission will include managing and administering the annual National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, which was announced in the 2010-11 budget. It will include: collating, analysing and developing data and analysing emerging trends and indicators in mental health; providing policy advice to government in consultation with relevant lead agencies, including producing an annual report, which will be tabled in parliament as I mentioned earlier; informing the development of the national mental health services directory, which was an important commitment supporting consumer and carer advocacy activities; and, as resources allow, getting involved in mental health promotion and stigma reduction activities.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So, doing a bit more than the national advisory council is doing, only it is going to do it in the Prime Minister's portfolio. That is it in a nutshell, though, isn't it?

Senator Chris Evans: No, Senator, it is an executive agency. It will report to parliament. It is a much stronger body and more established body. As I say, it is the role of an agency inside the portfolio. I am trying to think of what would be a comparable agency.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It is not an independent body as such.

Senator Chris Evans: It will have commissioners appointed to it.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It is not an independent statutory authority.

Senator Chris Evans: It is an executive agency.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, but it is not independent. It is within the Prime Minister's portfolio. In relation to the COAG health mark 1 and 2, in terms of the heads of agreement, where are we at with the signing of the actual agreement?

Mr Rimmer : Following the February COAG meeting there have been very good and productive conversations with the states and territories, and there have been a whole range of bilateral and multilateral meetings to progress those further discussions on the technical details. Our expectation is that there will be an agreement ready for COAG to consider within the timeline specified in the heads of agreement.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: The heads of agreement says by 1 July 2011, so is that what you are saying?

Mr Rimmer : That is what we are currently working towards and I have no reason to believe that it is not possible to achieve it at this stage.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I have sought to try and elicit this in other areas, but it is not clear how much of the heads of agreement mark II relates to mark I—what is superseded in the mark II document compared to mark I. Mark I was very detailed, Mr Rimmer. We have traversed a whole lot. I will not go through that again. What is unclear is what has been superseded. Many of the clauses in mark II are in general terms and it is not very clear what is superseded. Is there a document in your possession which looks at the two agreements and gives us a combination of the two so that we know which clauses are still in existence in toto from mark I and what has been superseded by mark II.

Mr Rimmer : That is a very difficult question to answer in the broad. It is perhaps best if there are some specific aspects that you would like further information about. I am sure we can help or we can ensure that the department of health are ready to help you at their estimates. In the broad, it is a difficult question to answer.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: For example, in the mark I agreement we talk about the responsibilities of the Commonwealth and it sets out a whole range of responsibilities to 1 July—for example, B10 and B11. How much of B10 and B11 have been superseded by the second agreement, given the general descriptions? What are very specific clauses about responsibilities of the Commonwealth appear to be superseded by more general terms of pursuing further reforms in mental health, dental health and aged care over the next three years. Do you see my point, Mr Rimmer? I am just not sure what survives and what does not, and there are the time frames, particularly in terms of the time frames in the yellow book. We have traversed those.

Mr Rimmer : I will enquire as to whether we have information on that question.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Surely, Mr Rimmer. I do not want to trawl through each of the clauses, but you can appreciate what I am trying to get to the bottom of. We have a very detailed mark I agreement, we have a not so detailed mark II agreement, and I am not sure how they compare. Perhaps I can ask this question: is it envisaged that the agreement that is to be signed by 1 July will be a much more detailed agreement? Is that envisaged?

Mr Rimmer : Yes, Senator.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Will you be then effectively superseding this document? Is that what you will be doing?

Mr Rimmer : The heads of agreement signed in February says two things: firstly, that—and forgive me for getting the language slightly wrong—unless otherwise specified, the NHHN document continues to be the agreement between jurisdictions, and, secondly, that a further and more detailed agreement will be negotiated in the time lines you have discussed to give effect to the technical detail underpinning the heads of agreement. Our expectation is that that will be done and it will involve the detail that you are talking about.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: You are obviously in the throes of negotiations, but which clauses from the first agreement are envisaged to be altered as part of the second agreement?

Mr Rimmer : A range of things change in the agreement that is currently being negotiated by dint of the February heads of agreement. They affect a very large number of the clauses of the NHHN agreement. I do not think it is possible or indeed helpful to try and do a clause by clause version of that. What I can say is that there are many elements of the NHHN agreement that continue effectively unchanged into the current arrangements, including local hospital networks, Medicare Locals, the commitment to activity based funding, and the like.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: All right. There are a whole series of agreements in health: have you done a stocktake of which agreements-take New South Wales as an example-are now currently in place, and which agreements were signed by the previous government and have not survived the change of government in New South Wales? Are there any agreements which fall into that category?

Mr Rimmer : Not to my knowledge. We have not done a stocktake of the kind that you refer to. There are four or five significant COAG agreements, and we are not aware of any particular problems with any one of them in relation to New South Wales.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Can you please take that on notice and tell me which documents were signed, in particular by New South Wales in the time between 13 February and the election?

Mr Rimmer : We can take that on notice, or potentially even give you an answer sooner than that.

Senator ABETZ: I assume this is for the domestic policy group: how is the leaders' debate commission going? I understand that the Prime Minister wrote to Senator Brown about that?

Senator Chris Evans: Just give us a second to see that we have the right officer at the table.

Mr Lewis : Could you just put that question again, please?

Senator ABETZ: The leaders' debates commission-I am not sure of the date, but the Prime Minister wrote to Senator Brown in response to his letter of 16 March 2011. It relates to paragraph 3(a) of the Green-Labor deal after the election, about a leaders' debate commission.

Mr Lewis : I understand that that letter did not come from the department.

Senator ABETZ: Aha! All right. In that case, Minister, can you take it on notice please-I assume you are not necessarily across the detail in this-just as to how things are progressing and with whom the Prime Minister is liaising? I would assume from the letter that is with the Hon. Gary Gray MP and, also from the letter, with the President of the Press Gallery. It would be interesting to know if the coalition has been consulted in relation to this.

Senator Chris Evans: I suspect it would be best to ask these questions under the Special Minister of State's portfolio. I am not trying to be unhelpful, I am trying to be helpful as to where-

Senator ABETZ: If somebody can guide me as to where the leaders'-

Senator Chris Evans: You refer to Minister Gray, and I suspect it is under his portfolio.

Senator ABETZ: In this letter the Prime Minister says, 'I am currently considering options for delivering this commitment in conjunction with the SMOS,' but also we are told that in this letter that she is communicating the government's intention to the President of the Press Gallery. Of course, I cannot talk to them, although I suppose I could make a phone call; but to get something on the record I was thinking this might be-

Senator Chris Evans: You have a copy of the letter?

Senator ABETZ: Yes, albeit that it only has 2011 under the Prime Minister's signature and not a date beforehand. But I assume this is her signature, and it was attached to a Greens media release of Friday 15 April.

Senator Chris Evans: I can ascertain whether or not it is a genuine letter for you, and see what other advice I can find.

Senator ABETZ: It was released to the 'hate' media by the Greens, so it will be interesting to see. Anyway, you cannot take us any further, can you?

Senator Chris Evans: I suspect you ought to ask your questions under SMOS, but I will take the question on notice that you have put.

Senator ABETZ: Where would that be? The only thing under SMOS is usually ministerial and parliamentary services, which it would not fit into.

Senator Chris Evans: I will take the question on notice.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you.

Senator Chris Evans: If that requires liaising with Minister Gray, we will do that.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you for that. How many public servants in PM&C are advising the government on climate change and the carbon pricing mechanism?

Mr Lewis : We will just get another officer to the table, Paul Schreier. I am advised that it is five, Senator .

Senator ABETZ: How many people have been recruited by PM&C in the last six months to work in this area? Has that figure remained constant or—

Mr Lewis : I will get Dr Schreier to field this question.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, I have got a few questions in this area. Dr Schreier, I have been told that there are five in PM&C working on climate change and the carbon pricing mechanism. Is that correct?

Dr Schreier : That is right.

Senator ABETZ: How many people have been recruited in the last six months to work in this area? Have all five been there for more than six months?

Dr Schreier : Yes, I think all five have been there for more than six months within the department.

Senator ABETZ: And no changes were made after the declaration that there would be no carbon tax?

Dr Schreier : No, there were no changes to the size of the effort there as a result of that.

Senator ABETZ: Going back even earlier, in April 2010, when the then Prime Minister said that the CPRS was shelved, at least until 2013, if I recall correctly, was there any change in the number allocated in PM&C in relation to climate change and carbon pricing?

Dr Schreier : No. It is one section within my division which has remained the same size throughout. I would just like to enter a correction into the record. There has been one change. We have replaced one person, one for one. One person left in the ordinary course of events and one person joined.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you for that clarification. So no matter what the government's policy—and sure enough it has shifted a bit—the number of staff has remained constant over the past, let us say, 18 months. Would that be fair?

Dr Schreier : Broadly constant over that period. To be accurate I would have to go back and check the organisational structures back beyond 12 months ago when I joined the department myself, but it has been broadly constant.

Senator ABETZ: How many of these five people have science degrees or equivalent type degrees?

Dr Schreier : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator ABETZ: Can I ask how many contractors are advising the government and PM&C on climate change and the carbon pricing mechanisms?

Dr Schreier : In PM&C I am not aware of anybody. I would like to take that on notice for accuracy.

Senator ABETZ: If you could. Thank you very much. That is all I have on 1.1.1.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions on domestic policy?

Senator KROGER: I just wanted to follow up on the reconstruction projects in Victoria following the floods earlier in the year. I do not know who the right officer would be to address this.

Mr Lewis : Senator, I think Ms Cross can probably take this question.

Senator KROGER: Thank you, Ms Cross. Firstly, I want to know what the process is in terms of the rolling out of grants for reconstruction. Is it something that the state government has carriage of or does the Commonwealth have oversight in the way in which the various grants and reconstruction projects and what is necessary are considered?

Ms Cross : In the case of the current arrangements for the recent disasters in Victoria—

Senator KROGER: Yes, in relation to the floods mainly in northern Victoria but also in the Wannon electorate earlier in the year.

Ms Cross : The Commonwealth government and the Victorian government have signed a national partnership agreement.

Senator KROGER: I understand that just happened last week.

Ms Cross : That is right. The national disaster recovery arrangements guidelines apply in terms of the different categories of assistance and the processes that the state goes through in order to request Commonwealth assistance. But the detail of that is best directed to the Attorney-General's Department or the department of regional Australia because they actually have carriage of those specific arrangements.

Senator KROGER: So they oversee the actual deployment, if you like, of those funds?

Ms Cross : That is right. The department of regional Australia has the coordination role in the light of the individual decisions are taken by the Attorney-General's Department in accordance with the guidelines.

Senator KROGER: I will refer to them then. Thank you very much.

Senator FIFIELD: Could I have another bite of the cherry please, Chair?

CHAIR: Senator Abetz, you have the call.

Senator ABETZ: Can I inquire, hopefully the official has not left as yet, as to whether there are any plans to increase the complement of people in PM&C working on climate change and carbon pricing mechanisms.

Mr Schreier : There are no plans at this stage.

Senator ABETZ: That was easy.

Senator KROGER: Following up on that, staff numbers in PM&C I understand have gone up quite significantly—what is the total number of staff now in PM&C?

Mr Sterland : The budget papers outline an increase in staff which is almost entirely explained by the machinery of government changes and the full year effect of those, so the Office of the Arts, the Office for Sport. There are corresponding decreases elsewhere in the Public Service.

Senator KROGER: What is the total number of that increased staff level?

Mr Sterland : I will find the details for you.

CHAIR: I remind committee members that we are actually dealing with domestic policy and we cannot stray too far outside of that.

Senator KROGER: Sorry, I was just doing a follow-on, Chair.

Senator Chris Evans: Because those department resources were moved into PM&C it inflates PM&C's numbers but there are consequential decreases in the old portfolios. That was their defence when I raised it with them anyway.

Senator KROGER: So by that you are telling me that whatever the increase is in PM&C there is the same decrease in those other two—

Senator Chris Evans: That is the general answer, but I would not say that is all of it.

Mr Sterland : There is an increase of 200 reported in the budget statements from 780 in 2010-11 to 980 in 2011-12. The vast majority of that is Office of the Arts and Office for Sport. They came from respectively the sustainability and health portfolios. There are other changes to those portfolios which may mask the exact amount but I am saying that those figures are a result of direct transfer of staff. It was not a result of recruitment actions.

Senator KROGER: So if I go to the other departments and ask what diminution of numbers they have—

Mr Sterland : Accountable for that transfer of functions?

Senator KROGER: One would suggest that there would be the same reduction in staff numbers.

Mr Sterland : Yes. There are some details around that, but 90 per cent is that, and then there is, as we just talked about, the national Mental Health Commission. We talked about the staff numbers for that in a full year. So there are other amounts in there, but the majority of that staff increase by 200 is from that change, and that is clearly outlined in the budget papers.

Senator FIFIELD: Minister Plibersek as the Minister for Social Inclusion is a Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio minister, is she not?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: It is not clear from the administrative arrangement orders what legislation she is responsible for as the Minister for Social Inclusion. Are you able to assist in that regard?

Ms Cross : I do not believe there is any legislation that she is responsible for as Minister for Social Inclusion. There would be in her other role as Minister for Human Services.

Senator FIFIELD: So there is no act of parliament which is specifically ascribed to her. On that basis, are you able to assist me a little bit to understand what that role means, other than fostering social inclusion?

Ms Cross : The Minister for Social Inclusion is responsible for the whole-of-government approach to social inclusion. The Australian Social Inclusion Board, which the government has established, reports to her and, within the social inclusion area, she is also responsible for the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector—so that sits alongside her social inclusion role.

Senator FIFIELD: So there may be some legislation coming that she will have responsibility for?

Ms Cross : In the area of—

Senator FIFIELD: You are saying that she will be responsible for the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector. Would that require legislation to establish it?

Ms Cross : It will not require legislation to establish the office. The office has already been established within the department.

Senator FIFIELD: I am sorry; that is right. It was set up in 2010. I was thinking of the proposed charities regulator.

Ms Cross : So she certainly has a role in that area, but that legislation is likely to be the responsibility of the Treasury portfolio.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. I have a question on the support that is provided to prime ministerial spouses. Would that be a domestic policy matter or would that be something that came in under program 1.1.4?

Senator Chris Evans: It might be within their domestic setting, but I am not sure about generally, Senator!

Senator FIFIELD: That is right—very cute. But is that something for 1.1.4?

Mr Lewis : Yes, it is something for later on in the evening, Senator, if you are able to wait.

Senator FIFIELD: Sure. Thank you for that heads-up.

Mr Lewis : Sorry, Senator, just a correction; it is under the next item but we can take it now. It might be tidier just to take it now. We would be happy to do that. Mr Sterland can take that question.

Senator FIFIELD: Sure. Thank you for your cooperation. I will preface my questions by saying that I think we all recognise the important role that the spouses of prime ministers have played over the years and continue to play in support of the leader of the country of the time and that they do perform a number of important community tasks for a range of organisations. I just really want to get a handle on what degree of support there is today for a prime ministerial spouse, recognising that it is not a clearly defined role, and it is a role that evolves over time, and it is a role which is construed, understandably, differently by each person who finds themselves in that position. Is there at the moment a dedicated person, be they a departmental officer or a ministerial staff member, who as part of their duties has the role of assisting the prime ministerial spouse?

Mr Terrell : Recently a person was employed by the Prime Minister's office on a part-time basis to provide Mr Mathieson with those sorts of services.

Senator FIFIELD: They would be a MOPS staffer?

Mr Terrell : That is correct.

Senator FIFIELD: Do you know when they were actually employed?

Mr Terrell : My recollection is about a month or so ago.

Senator FIFIELD: To your knowledge there was not anyone providing is this support specifically to the prime ministerial spouse before the appointment—dedicated to the task?

Mr Terrell : No.

Senator FIFIELD: Not in either the Prime Minister's office or the department itself?

Mr Terrell : Correct.

Senator FIFIELD: Do you know what the selection process was for that position? Or was it something that was in the domain of the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Terrell : The department had nothing to do with the process.

Senator FIFIELD: Have been, previous to this, dedicated staff members in the Prime Minister's office to provide support to the prime ministerial spouse?

Mr Terrell : I will have to take that on notice. I am not familiar with what has happened previously.

Senator FIFIELD: If you could, thank you.

Mr Lewis : I can think of one particular case where that was so. But to get a fuller answer we would have to check it out.

Senator FIFIELD: Your understanding is that it is a part-time position?

Mr Terrell : That is correct.

Senator FIFIELD: Do you know the nature of the duties of that person? I assume they would be a point of liaison with the department.

Mr Terrell : We deal generally with the office on a range of issues. My understanding is that that person is mainly there to assist Mr Mathieson with the scheduling of his official events, if you like, as the Prime Minister's spouse, to ensure that the arrangements for those events are properly put in place and to assist Mr Mathieson with fulfilling, if you like, his official duties.

Senator FIFIELD: They would perform a diary function, receive and clear invitations for different functions, and respond to those invitations. Does that role, to your knowledge, include any media assistance or serve as a contact for media?

Mr Terrell : Not to my knowledge.

Senator FIFIELD: Does that role also include the booking of travel for Mr Mathieson where he might be travelling separate from the Prime Minister?

Mr Terrell : I am not familiar as to how those arrangements are executed within the Prime Minister's office.

Senator FIFIELD: Do you know whether the staff member who has been employed by the Prime Minister's office accompanies the prime ministerial spouse in the course of their activities and duties?

Mr Terrell : I am aware that this individual has accompanied Mr Mathieson on several domestic and international trips. Other than that I am not sure whether it is a regular thing, or how it works.

Senator FIFIELD: Do you know which domestic and international trips the officer—

Mr Terrell : I know of one recent one. He visited Sydney for a meeting of the Australiana Fund. I believe he travelled recently with the Prime Minister and Mr Mathieson when they travelled overseas.

Senator FIFIELD: Is any component of the expenses of that prime ministerial staff member for travelling overseas picked up by PM&C or is it through the usual MoPS arrangements?

Mr Terrell : Precisely. Just to be clear, for all prime ministerial overseas travel, there is specific administered funding which covers all of the travel arrangements for the travelling party.

Senator FIFIELD: You mentioned that the staff member travelled to Sydney for a meeting of the Australiana Fund.

Mr Terrell : Correct.

Senator FIFIELD: Does Mr Mathieson have a role with the Australiana Fund?

Mr Terrell : He does. At their suggestion, he has recently been appointed as the ex-officio president of the fund.

Senator FIFIELD: Is that a role that previous prime ministerial spouses have held?

Mr Terrell : I believe that is correct.

Senator FIFIELD: So it is a common practice?

Mr Terrell : Correct.

Senator FIFIELD: A staff member accompanied Mr Mathieson to that meeting, so their role is broader than diary? Clearly they provide some travelling support, some on-the-road support as well?

Mr Terrell : Precisely.

Senator FIFIELD: And that would be for logistical and briefing arrangements?

Mr Terrell : As I understand it.

Senator FIFIELD: Again, you will direct me if I am asking these questions in the wrong area. This is probably a grey area, but are there any defined entitlements for prime ministerial spouses for things such as travel—entitlements which are separate to that for any other spouse of a member of parliament?

Mr Terrell : I do not think there are any defined entitlements per se. I think there is a longstanding expectation that the partner of the Prime Minister will engage in and undertake various official and semi-official duties—working with charities, for example. There has been a long tradition of Prime Minister's spouses engaging in that sort of work. I believe that is what is happening now.

Senator FIFIELD: Is there an access to support such as Comcar which is above or beyond what another parliamentary spouse would receive to reflect the nature of the things that the prime ministerial spouse does?

Mr Terrell : I cannot comment on what other parliamentary spouses would be entitled to. That would be something for Finance. For instance, Mr Mathieson's travel for official duties would be covered by the Commonwealth in the same way that it has been covered for previous spouses of prime ministers.

Senator FIFIELD: I appreciate that. I am just trying to get this clear in my head. Obviously members and senators have an awareness of the level of access that parliamentary spouses have for travel, and the department of finance, through Ministerial and Parliamentary Services, look after that. I appreciate that that is not your area, so you do not necessarily know what they are entitled to. But you would know if there were anything not provided by the department of finance in terms of travel because, if there were, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet would pick up the bill for it. Is there any other on-ground transport or—

Senator Evans : The officer is at a bit of a disadvantage, because, as I understand it, the sorts of things that you are canvassing are handled by finance through ministerial and parliamentary services. I am happy for him to be helpful, but I am flashing outside the off stump in the sense in that we generally deal with this in that area and not in PM&C.

Senator FIFIELD: That may well be the case, and probably is for a majority of things. But I am inquiring as to whether there are any peculiarities. I am not using that as a pejorative, but just reflecting that there is a different role for a prime ministerial spouse and that they are—

Senator ABETZ: Unique.

Senator FIFIELD: Unique, thank you. There may be things that PM&C covers the cost of and has done over time.

Mr Terrell : If you were to consider the entitlements broadly, it is very similar to what would happen with other Commonwealth travel purposes. The only difference here would be that the Prime Minister's spouse, as with previous arrangements, has a fair degree of autonomy in terms of choosing when to attend particular functions. If they are official functions, he is obviously entitled to do so.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. To distil it down, I know that there are certain Comcar entitlements. But there are other occasions when a Comcar can be booked for someone. Parliamentary secretaries can book Comcars. That is something that is outside of MaPS entitlements. I wonder whether, for instance, prime ministerial spouses separate to MaPS entitlements had access to Comcars that were paid for by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Mr Terrell : PM&C picks up the costs of travel for both the Prime Minister and Mr Mathieson.

Senator FIFIELD: I guess that is getting to part of what I am trying to get an understanding of: where, as Senator Abetz said, unique arrangements for a prime ministerial spouse. That is one of them: that travel, whether it be by Comcar hire, hire car or plane, of the prime ministerial spouse is covered by PM&C.

Mr Terrell : I am told that we do not pick up the airfares for domestic travel.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. But you do for ground transport.

Mr Terrell : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: So a Comcar booked by the department on behalf of the prime ministerial spouse would be paid for pay the PM&C.

Mr Terrell : We would not be involved in the booking process.

Senator FIFIELD: But you would cover the cost of it? I am not thinking that there is anything going on that should not be going on.

Senator Evans : The question is: who meets the cost of official use of transport by the spouse of the Prime Minister? Is that PM&C?

Mr Terrell : PM&C does for ground transport.

Senator ABETZ: All of it above and beyond normal parliamentary entitlements and normal parliamentary entitlements. That is included.

Mr Terrell : Just to be clear, for all official travel for Mr Mathieson and the Prime Minister, PM&C will pick up the costs other than, as we indicated, domestic flights.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. That is a different arrangement to that for other ministers, whose home departments do not cover their travel costs; that is done through ministerial and parliamentary services.

Mr Terrell : I could not comment.

Senator FIFIELD: Given that the department covers these ground transport costs, are they periodically reported? For instance, for members of parliament, their staff and their spouses, the costs that they incur through Department of Finance and Deregulation entitlements are periodically tabled in the parliamentary. Do you know how those equivalent costs for prime ministerial spouses that are picked up by PM&C are publicly reported?

Mr Terrell : We are not aware of any reporting that has occurred in this area for Mr Mathieson or any other former prime ministerial spouse.

Senator FIFIELD: That would be information that you would have.

Mr Terrell : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Is there information that could be made available to the committee?

Mr Terrell : I would probably have to take it on notice, but yes.

Senator Chris Evans: We will take it on notice if it has not been reported previously. But I do not see a problem; we will take the question on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: Are there any other unique costs for a prime ministerial spouse, apart from ground transport?

Senator Chris Evans: Privacy.

Mr Terrell : The Prime Minister's spouse is housed at the Lodge or Kirribilli and hence there is sustenance involved. There are a whole range of costs associated with the Prime Minister's spouse.

Senator FIFIELD: What you might call incidentals, because they are there with the Prime Minister; they are an entity. I guess my question is really looking for costs and support of a prime ministerial spouse which relates to things they do often by themselves, as a prime ministerial spouse—the functions that they attend.

Mr Terrell : PM&C provides additional support for Melbourne—


Senator FIFIELD: So it is only ground transport costs?

Mr Terrell : Precisely.

Senator FIFIELD: Is there any briefing prepared by PM&C for prime ministerial spouses in support of them attending functions?

Mr Terrell : Not that I am aware of.

Senator FIFIELD: So if a prime ministerial spouse was going to the launch of a not-for-profit organisation to support people suffering with cancer, would they get a background brief or is that something that would be prepared in the Prime Minister's office, drawing on a briefing from PM&C to the Prime Minister's office, and then that office will provide whatever briefing they think necessary for the spouse?

Mr Terrell : There have been occasions, for example on international travel, where briefs have been provided to the spouse of the Prime Minister, as I understand it. Generally speaking the department would not be involved in briefing the spouse of a Prime Minister. The office may informally seek our advice from time to time on whether or not it would be appropriate for the Prime Minister's spouse to attend a particular function, but we would not provide any formal advice per se on that type of topic.

Mr Lewis : It is a fairly long-standing practice that the prime ministerial spouse, while travelling internationally, does receive support during the course of the visit from the officials that are accompanying the Prime Minister—that is for programming and background briefings on what the prime ministerial spouse may encounter or engage and so on. I cannot speak domestically, but internationally that is a long-standing practice.

Senator FIFIELD: In relation to the appointment in the Prime Minister's office of a staff member to assist Mr Mathieson, has the department made any recommendations in relation to the need for support to the prime ministerial spouse?

Mr Terrell : We have made no formal recommendations.

Senator FIFIELD: Any informal recommendations?

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

Senator FIFIELD: If you could.

Senator Chris Evans: I am not sure how you take informal recommendations on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: I have seen it done before! That would be useful. I think there is a general interest in how the role of a prime ministerial spouse evolves over time and the nature of tasks they perform, and how the role is interpreted by each person who finds himself in that position. It would be helpful if you could take that request on notice.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions, Senator Colbeck?

Senator COLBECK: I think Senator Colbeck has a domestic policy question.

CHAIR: We have five minutes before we adjourn for the dinner break. Will it take longer than that?

Senator COLBECK: I should be able to sort it out within that time frame, I hope. Just as a little background, I have been working with the lobster sector in Australia with respect to their exports into China over a period of time. We do not need to go into the detail of that. That is something that has been dealt with through the relative portfolio. In the lead-up to the Prime Minister's recent trip to China, the industry provided me with an update and a brief on where their issue was up to and asked me to communicate that to the Prime Minister. On 18 April, I sent an email to the Prime Minister's email address, the APH email address, and because I was concerned that the information would get through I asked for a delivery receipt and I also asked for a read receipt. The email went off and I received straightaway a delivery receipt from Prime Minister Gillard's address, but what was most disconcerting to me was that on 9 May, having heard nothing else in relation to the matter, I received a receipt that said, 'Your message was deleted without being read.' That was on 9 May 2011 at 2.31 pm. My concern is: what do I tell my constituents? That was obviously after the trip to China. What do I tell my constituents as far as the communication to the Prime Minister goes when the email was deleted without being read?

Mr Lewis : That is not something that the department can answer. That is not a matter that I can address, I am sorry.

Senator COLBECK: How do I communicate with the Prime Minister?

Senator KROGER: The minister is here.

Senator Chris Evans: I am happy to take on board your question as to whether or not it was read or what have you.

Senator COLBECK: I am happy to provide you with the information.

Senator Chris Evans: I am happy to take it and I am happy to make some inquiries on your behalf as to what occurred. As you know, the Prime Minister, ministers and members of parliament get thousands of emails—

Senator COLBECK: We all get lots of emails.

Senator Chris Evans: but I am happy to see if I can help with any information as to what happened to that particular email. I will make some inquiries for you.

Senator COLBECK: Can you give me some commitment about a time frame? It is over a month now. I must admit that it is not usual for me to ask for these sorts of documents, it is just that I was concerned about the documentation getting there. I also sent a hard copy because I was concerned that the matter did get to the Prime Minister. It is of significant concern to the lobster industry and the potential impacts of it not being dealt with are major for an important industry in certain regional areas.

Senator Chris Evans: Did you send that to the minister as well?

Senator COLBECK: I sent that to the Prime Minister's office through the parliamentary in-house mail, so it was done here in Canberra.

Senator Chris Evans: Did you send the submission to the minister as well?

Senator COLBECK: No, I did not. He was not going to China.

Senator Chris Evans: No, but I am just trying to check.

Senator COLBECK: Again, I have not had any response about the letter that was sent on the same day and, again, that was over a month ago. I have not even had an acknowledgement of receipt of that documentation. It is a month later and, obviously, the trip to China has been and gone and I am not in a position to say anything to my constituents in the lobster industry.

Senator Chris Evans: Senator, I am happy to make some inquiries as to whether or not the correspondence was received. I will do that for you.

Senator COLBECK: What do any of us do in relation to communicating with the Prime Minister? Had I not asked for the read receipt, I would not have known that the information did not get through.

Senator Chris Evans: Whether or not there was time for her office to deal with the information and brief her on it before going to China, I do not know. Clearly, the agenda for China would have been set by then, but you have a legitimate inquiry as to whether or not your correspondence was received and I will take that up and see what I can find out for you.

Senator COLBECK: Okay.

CHAIR: Thank you, Committee—

Senator ABETZ: Chair, can I ask one last quick question—

CHAIR: Very quick, Senator Abetz. We are due to suspend.

Senator ABETZ: on the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector. Are they—

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Abetz; with the not-for-profit office, there are other senators who want to ask questions—

Senator ABETZ: On that one as well?

CHAIR: On not-for-profit. There will be other senators coming in for that after dinner.

Senator ABETZ: In that case, that is fine.

CHAIR: Can I just clarify, before we suspend proceedings for the dinner break, whether we have now concluded with the COAG Reform Council? Yes. Those officers are no longer required. What about questions for the Domestic Policy Group?

Senator FIFIELD: Senator Birmingham has some questions.

Senator ABETZ: Better keep that open.

CHAIR: So then, when we recommence, it will be Domestic Policy Group that we will go to and then the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector.

Senator FIFIELD: Let me just check my notes.

Senator Chris Evans: If Senator Birmingham's inquiries are related to one particular area, we could let the other officers go home and see their families.

Senator FIFIELD: Is the water unit under COAG?

Senator COLBECK: It is in domestic policy.

Senator Chris Evans: So, if we hold on to the officers for water, the others are free to go? Is that fair enough?

Senator FIFIELD: Yes. Obviously, we cannot speak for the Greens or Independent senators.

CHAIR: I have no knowledge of any other senators wanting to come in and talk about anything else.

Senator Chris Evans: Okay. We will make sure the water people are here.

CHAIR: The committee is suspended for dinner.

Proceedings suspended from 18:31 to 19:49

CHAIR: Thank you and welcome back. I would like to welcome Minister Arbib to the table. I am going to give Mr Lewis the call before going to Senator Birmingham.

Mr Lewis : Chair, thank you very much. There are a couple of matters that I would like to tidy up from the previous session. Senator Colbeck asked a question with regard to his correspondence and, to make the record plain, I gave an answer which does need correction. I have here-and I am happy to table this-the response that anybody who emails the Prime Minister, as described by Senator Colbeck, would get. This is a sort of audit trail of where his email will have gone.

CHAIR: Is it the wish of the committee to have that document tabled? It is so agreed.

Mr Lewis : That is fine. Also this document details that the letter that Senator Colbeck spoke of from his constituent from the seafood council sent to the Prime Minister was received by the Prime Minister's office the day after the Prime Minister left for her overseas trip. That was the eve of Easter. It was received in the department on the next working day-the first day after Easter-27 April. As a matter of course for constituents' correspondence we have a guideline of 20 days to respond. That 20-day period expires a few days hence. Those are the facts around the issue of the letter: we did receive it on 27 April, but it was not received until after the Prime Minister had left on her trip. I want to clarify that point.

Senator FIFIELD: Is that 20 business days or 20 days?

Mr Lewis : It is 20 business days.

Senator MOORE: Does that 20 days involve the performance indicator-exactly how long has that been around?

Mr Lewis : We could find out a precise answer, but since at least two Prime Ministers ago.

Senator MOORE: It is a longstanding 20 days?

Mr Lewis : It is longstanding. The second point concerns a couple of issues from the last session, that Mr Rimmer will address.

Mr Rimmer : Senator Fierravanti-Wells asked about the 2006 COAG National Action Plan on Mental Health and the use of that in preparation of the mental health package in the budget. We have checked our records and we do not have anything useful to add on that matter. We think questions about that should be addressed to Health and Ageing.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells also asked about whether the Prime Minister met Professor McGorry and Professor Hickey on 13 April. There was no meeting between the Prime Minister and professors McGorry and Hickey on that date. We are not aware of any formal meeting between those two eminent professors and the Prime Minister. On 21 April, the Acting Prime Minister, Mr Swan, met with Professor McGorry in Townsville, from memory, and spoke via teleconference with Professor Hickey. There was one other matter that we are taking on notice in relation to New South Wales.

Mr Lewis : There is one final matter which Ms Cross can address, a question from Senator Payne earlier in the proceedings.

Ms Cross : Senator Payne asked whether the Working Group on Indigenous Reform had a review date when its future would be considered. We have checked the terms of reference and there is no review point for the working group. It is an ongoing group at this point in time.

CHAIR: So people are aware, we are still dealing with domestic policy group and we have moved on to the subject of water.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: My understanding is there is a water policy or a water reform group established within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Is that correct?

Mr Lewis : Yes, there is one. We will just get the appropriate officers to the table.

Dr Schreier : There is a section within my division which covers the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities as a line agency. That includes taking the PM&C perspective on water policy.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Dr Schreier. Has there been any particular expansion or establishment of a unit there that does relate to water policy issues in the last year or two?

Dr Schreier : I have been in the department under a year myself, but the size of that section of my division has been broadly constant over that time. To go back earlier than that I would have to take on notice.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Okay. In terms of the function of that group, is there anything different or unique about that compared with the other portfolio areas of PM&C?

Dr Schreier : There is nothing particularly unique about it.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: And the functions are, generally speaking, policy advice type roles?

Dr Schreier : Yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Program oversight?

Dr Schreier : We have no programs within PM&C. We do not manage programs in my division at all. We have programs in other parts of the department, but not in my area.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: How many staff do you have dedicated to that area?

Dr Schreier : Over the course of the last year it has varied between three and five, depending upon the workload. In common with other parts of my division we will veer and haul and flex resources as required, depending upon load of material coming through in terms of briefing or responding to cabinet material. On average it would be about four. If you need more detail about how that variation has been in terms of dedicated staff, I can again take that on notice and provide you with that detail. It has been broadly constant over that time, though.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Okay, thank you. You may or may not be able to help with this, because it relates partly to a different department, but out of interest in this regard, are you aware of any particular new group that may have been established, particularly in the Regional Development portfolio, looking at water policy matters?

Dr Schreier : I am not, no. That would be a matter best addressed to the Department of Regional Australia.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: That is okay, thank you. In terms of your relationships established with the department, what relationship do you have with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority?

Dr Schreier : We do not really have any relationship with the authority per se. The MDBA is an independent statutory authority. In terms of governmental dealings with it, SEWPaC is the lead agency, if you like, for making that connection with them.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Has the department dealt with issues regarding water infrastructure projects and arrangements between the Commonwealth and the states in that matter?

Dr Schreier : Not in particular in my time. I would have to take on notice whether it has occurred earlier. The only sort of involvement we have had in this space is just providing the normal briefing, that we do as PM&C, around matters as they arise. We have not been responsible for water programs or environmental infrastructure programs. Again, that is a matter for SEWPaC.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: So, for example, late last year, during the Victorian election campaign, I think the Prime Minister made an announcement with the then Premier Brumby regarding the infrastructure projects in Victoria. That would have all been facilitated by SEWPaC?

Dr Schreier : Yes. In terms of the production of the material and content for that program, that is a matter for SEWPaC. Clearly, we brief the Prime Minister on a range of matters over the course of the year for every portfolio we deal with.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Lastly, are there any intentions or plans that water would be a subject matter of COAG discussions again in the near future?

Dr Schreier : I am not aware of plans for that at the moment. I would have to take that on notice to give you a completely accurate answer.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Sure, if you could. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions on Domestic Policy Group? If not, we can dispense with those officers and move on to the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector. Senator Fifield?


Senator FIFIELD: I will start with some straightforward matters. It is a relatively new office; how many staff does the office have at the moment?

Mr Ronalds : The office currently has around 11 staff.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. You can take this on notice: are you able to provide a breakdown of their classifications and roles?

Mr Ronalds : I am happy to do that, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: Was the Not-for-Profit Sector Reform Council formed at the same time as the office itself?

Mr Ronalds : Shortly after. The office was established in October last year and the reform council was formally announced around mid-December—14 December, from memory.

Senator FIFIELD: Is that now functioning?

Mr Ronalds : It is, Senator, and it has met twice.

Senator FIFIELD: When did it meet?

Mr Ronalds : The first meeting was held on 17 February 2011. That was in Sydney, and then the council met again recently, on 18 May here in Canberra.

Senator FIFIELD: How frequently is it envisaged that it will meet?

Mr Ronalds : We envisage that they would meet face to face around four times a year. Of course, there may be work out of session and the council may create working groups from time to time, and they might meet between main meetings.

Senator FIFIELD: The government announced in the budget that it will be establishing a one-stop shop regulator for the not-for-profit sector, in the form of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, which is a bit of a mouthful. What role did the Not-for-Profit Sector Reform Council play in the establishment of the commission? I know that this is something which has been canvassed before, but what was their role in the gestation of this?

Mr Ronalds : Certainly the reform council were engaged by Treasury in discussions, so Treasury presented to the first reform council meeting in relation to the Productivity Commission recommendation and the paper that Treasury had released at that stage. We had envisaged that they would continue to engage with the reform council on this as that measure progressed.

Senator FIFIELD: Will the reform council be a permanent entity into the future? Will its function be somewhat superseded by the new commission that has been established, or do you see an ongoing role for the reform council—the government sees an ongoing role, I should say.

Mr Ronalds : The council was established for an initial period of three years, and their purpose was primarily to support the office of the not-for-profit sector to implement very broadly the government's commitment to not-for-profit reform. During that period we would envisage that they would continue to engage with Treasury in relation to the regulator and a range of other not-for-profit reforms.

Senator FIFIELD: What will the relationship be between the office of the not-for-profit sector and the new commission?

Mr Ronalds : We would imagine that we will have a fairly close working relationship. Of course the regulator itself is being managed out of the Treasury portfolio and they have principle carriage for that. Clearly it is relevant to the office's whole-of-government reform agenda and as such we continue to work closely in relation to the common points of intersection.

Senator FIFIELD: I might refer you to a document which is from the office of the not-for-profit sector website, headed 'Budget measures to strengthen the not-for-profit sector'. It is a landscape layout. Are you familiar with it?

Mr Ronalds : I am familiar with it. I do not have it in front of me, but I am familiar with it.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. I am curious about why one of the key not-for-profit-sector 'reforms' from the budget, which was headed 'better targeting of not-for-profit tax concessions' was not in that budget guide. The budget guide is headed 'budget measures to strengthen the not-for-profit sector'. Does one draw the conclusion, therefore, that by its exclusion it is not considered to be a measure which would strengthen the not-for-profit sector?

Mr Ronalds : Which measure are you referring to?

Senator FIFIELD: That is the 'better targeting of not-for-profit tax concessions:

The Government will reform the tax concessions provided to not-for-profit (NFP) entities to ensure they are targeted only at those activities that directly further a NFP's altruistic purposes.

Mr Ronalds : That measure is encompassed underneath the broader Treasury announcements in relation to the not-for-profit regulator and the statutory definition of charity. So it is captured within that. The idea was to very quickly provide on budget night an outline of the key measures and point people in the direction for further information.

Senator FIFIELD: You say 'very quickly', but the government, in the form of departments and agencies, has the advantage of knowing before budget night those things within their portfolio, so one would presume that was prepared before the day.

Mr Ronalds : Yes. When I say 'quickly' I mean allow not for profits to quickly get a sense of the whole. That document was not in any way intended to be a comprehensive outline of all of the measures. It was to provide an indication of the key measures impacting on the not-for-profit sector.

Senator MOORE: Does the document say that? It is very difficult for you—I appreciate that you do have it in front of you and it is normal practice to look—but does it say in the document you could look elsewhere for other things?

Mr Ronalds : By its very nature the document was clearly an overview of the measures. It was not a detailed investigation of each of the measures. I would need to check the website, but my recollection was that it pointed people to further information on the Treasury website and other places. I would have to check that.

Senator FIFIELD: It is a 10-page document that has 37 elements to it, so I am surprised that a significant change to the taxation of the not-for-profit sector did not make the cut.

Mr Ronalds : That is one of a number of changes announced in relation to the not-for-profit regulator and the introduction of a statutory definition of charity as part of that package. Without having the document in front of me, my recollection is that the document certainly pointed towards those changes.

Senator FIFIELD: Should it be one that is under the heading 'budget measures to strengthen the not-for-profit sector'?

Mr Ronalds : It is clearly a budget measure that impacts on the not-for-profit sector.

Senator FIFIELD: Does it strengthen the not-for-profit sector? I am wondering if there were criteria—'this one strengthens; this one might have debate about it'—

Mr Ronalds : No, I do not think so. I think we were trying to be relatively comprehensive in relation to those issues that touched on not for profits. Clearly there will be a variety of views about each of the measures. We were not trying to impart any value judgment in that regard.

Senator FIFIELD: I guess the emphasis is on the word 'relatively' rather than on 'comprehensive' on this occasion. Has the officer received much feedback on that particular measure?

Mr Ronalds : It was an issue that came up, for example, during the recent reform council meeting.

Senator FIFIELD: Give me the dates of the reform council meetings again.

Mr Ronalds : The most recent reform council meeting was 18 May.

Senator FIFIELD: It was 18 May, so that was post—

Mr Ronalds : Shortly after the budget.

Senator FIFIELD: Was the feedback discussion happy, contented, positive? Overall, yes, but what about in relation to that particular measure?

Mr Ronalds : I think there were a variety of views expressed to the reform council in relation to that measure.

Senator FIFIELD: I appreciate that that, technically, is a Treasury portfolio measure, but you are the office taking the whole-of-government perspective on these things. I know that it is intended that there will be consultation on that particular measure. Will that consultation be conducted by the Treasury portfolio or by the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector?

Mr Ronalds : No, it will be conducted by the Treasury.

Senator FIFIELD: Will the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector have a role in it?

Mr Ronalds : We will certainly be kept aware of their planned activities in relation to that consultation, but that really is a matter for Treasury to take forward.

Senator FIFIELD: Will the reform council have a role in that consultation?

Mr Ronalds : I do not know if that is the case. I would recommend that perhaps you ask Treasury for further details on exactly how they are planning to manage that consultation.

Senator FIFIELD: About the extent to which they will talk to you and the reform council. I thought the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector was meant to take a whole-of-government view and that the reform council was meant to be vitally engaged in reform issues to do with the sector. I am not wishing to be cynical, but it does sound a little bit like it is window dressing. We have got the reform council there, we have got this whole-of-government office, but the Treasury will be conducting this consultation. It sounds like there is a bit of a disconnect there. I am not saying that Treasury should not be fully involved. It is part of their job. They look after the revenue side of things. Is there something that I am missing here in terms of the role of the reform council or the office?

Mr Ronalds : No, the role of the office is, as you say, whole-of-government coordination. The reform agenda though is quite significant. Clearly with 11 people it is not possible for the office to manage each of those reforms. In fact, it relies on all government agencies to be engaged with it. With each of the various measures, as appropriately, other agencies take the lead. In this case it is clearly appropriate for Treasury to take the lead on the regulator and any tax changes. So, while we work very closely with Treasury, it is their responsibility to manage the consultation process. Certainly we facilitate their access into the Not-for-Profit Sector Reform Council. The office is the secretariat for the reform council. As I said, at each meeting it would be our expectation that Treasury would present to the reform council on progress.

Senator FIFIELD: Progress on their consultations on that particular measure?

Mr Ronalds : On the measure, outlining consultation, if that is appropriate et cetera.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I ask will it be the Treasury or the commission doing that consultation?

Mr Ronalds : My understanding is that the Treasury is planning to do it. The Treasury is intending obviously to create an implementation task force for the regulator in the short term. Clearly the task force would also be significantly involved. Because this also goes to tax issues, I would imagine other Treasury officials would also be involved. Again, for the details you will need to go and speak to Treasury.

Senator SIEWERT: There is a timeline detail that I would like to know that you may not be able to answer. I understand the task force is establishing the commission and it is anticipated that the head of the task force—I have read this somewhere and I cannot remember which document I read it in—will then become head of the commission.

Mr Ronalds : Certainly the person will be appointed as interim commissioner. Whether that person then goes on and becomes the commissioner when the regulator is fully formed in the following financial year remains to be seen.

Senator SIEWERT: Is it envisaged that the creation of the task force to establish the commission and the tax concession discussion will be happening at the same time?

Mr Ronalds : Generally at the same time. They are related, but different, issues. The establishment of the regulator is one piece of the reform. There are changes to the taxation arrangements in relation to the not-for-profit sector; so the statutory definition and other changes that the senator has mentioned. I would imagine, because they are significant changes, there would be a range of officials from Treasury involved in all of those.

Senator SIEWERT: There is some confusion in some of the media about minister's statements. They are varied and almost contradictory comments that I have seen in the media and in the minister's statements around this tax concession. There is a comment made that the government believes that it is important that charities use their tax concession only to assist disadvantaged people. Can you clarify for me whether we are using disadvantage people in terms of 'just for people' or are we talking about this issue as it relates to the broader definition of charity?

Mr Ronalds : Sorry, Senator, is that in a media release?

Senator SIEWERT: It was in a media release from the government.

Senator Arbib: Sorry, Senator, could we have a copy of that? Which minister was it? You are not talking about the Prime Minister here are you?

Senator SIEWERT: No. I beg your pardon; I do not have it on me. Can you clarify the tax concession purposes as they relate to the broader definition of charity? The definition that will be used, as I understand it, is the 2001 definition. Tax concession processes will be used for all those definitions, not just disadvantage people?

Mr Ronalds : Yes, that is correct.

Senator FIFIELD: Was it the phrase, 'Tax concessions only to assist disadvantaged people'?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: That was from Minister Shorten's press release.

Senator SIEWERT: There were about three at the same time.

Senator FIFIELD: It is press release No. 77.

Mr Lewis : We will take that on notice and have a look at the document. It a bit hard answering a question when we do not have the press release in front of us.

Senator Arbib: It is a minister outside this department. Minister Shorten is out of Treasury.

Senator FIFIELD: Sure although, given this office is meant to have a whole-of-government perspective, I would have thought that maybe Minister Shorten's press releases and the summaries on the office's website on measures announced in the budget might be close to hand. I do not think that is an unrealistic expectation.

Senator Arbib: Sure, but if it is not possible as, obviously, we are only getting a copy of it now, then maybe this is a question you may want to raise with Treasury.

Mr Lewis : They are Minister Shorten's statements, Senator. We do not know the veracity of the news clipping on and so forth.

Senator FIFIELD: It is a press release from his website.

Senator SIEWERT: It was contained in a budget package on the night. I am not trying to get into an argument here. I am trying to find out and clarify to make sure that tax concessions are going to be available for the full range of the definition of a charity. The 2001 definition goes through who is covered and what activities are covered. I am keen to make sure that, in fact, there is no intention to just make it available for charities that are dealing with community services or disadvantage people.

Mr Ronalds : Senator, the reforms will be based on the 2001 definition with some modifications. Again, in a broad sense, it will apply to the entire sector.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the definition, I understand that there will be a consultation process undertaken on the definition based on the 2001 report. Is that the implementation task force that will undertake consultations or will it wait until the establishment of the commission before the work is done?

Mr Ronalds : Senator, I think there is the reform in relation to the one-stop-shop regulator, if you like. The implementation task force, as I understand it, will be responsible for taking that reform forward. The tax reforms are a different issue, although clearly related. I would imagine, though you would need to seek Treasury's confirmation, that there will be other Treasury officials taking it forward.

Senator SIEWERT: Because it is stretched across the two portfolio areas, I am not sure which question should go where. You may or may not be able to tell me this. The documentation I have read to date is a little unclear around determining the status once the definition is done. Does it mean that all 70,000 not-for-profits are going to have to go through a reassessment process?

Mr Ronalds : Again, you will need to speak to Treasury about the details. Certainly the intention is not to create more red tape. I have no knowledge of any reassessment process that will be required.

Senator SIEWERT: That has not come up with the council?

Mr Ronalds : No.

Senator SIEWERT: I will follow that up with Treasury. You may or may not be able to answer these questions. I understand that $53 million has been allocated to the Charities and Not-for-profits Commission over four years.

Mr Ronalds : Yes, $53.6 million from memory.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you tell me how that figure was arrived at? Is that something I should be asking you or Treasury?

Mr Ronalds : That is definitely a question for Treasury.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you, I will go there. Also there is additional revenue of $41 million in the budget papers.

Mr Ronalds : Again, that is a question for Treasury.

Senator SIEWERT: Where do I ask about the public information portal, the one-stop shop?

Mr Ronalds : Again, that will be connected with the regulator, so that should be a question directed to Treasury.

Senator SIEWERT: Is it anticipated that that would be established during the implementation task force phase or is it envisaged that that would be after the commission was set up?

Mr Ronalds : I think it is still too early in the process to be able to determine the exact time when the portal will become live. Again, you can ask Treasury as to their timing.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go back to the $53.6 million question. I appreciate that you said I need to ask Treasury the details, but was there discussion, through any process that you are aware of, around how much people thought would be needed to establish an effective commission?

Mr Ronalds : Not to my knowledge.

Senator FIFIELD: I am wondering if the office is aware that, according to Treasury's regulatory impact statement for the not-for-profit regulator proposed in the budget, small charities may see an increase in compliance costs in the initial stage.

Mr Ronalds : I do not have a copy of the regulatory impact statement in front of me. If that is what the document says and you have it in front of you, I will take that.

Senator FIFIELD: It says:

… small charities may see an increase in compliance costs in the initial stage of this option.

That is not something that you are aware of?

Mr Ronalds : Not something particularly that has been raised with the office to my knowledge. Clearly, our intent is to minimise red tape wherever possible and that is what the office is endeavouring to do.

Senator Arbib: Senator Fifield, I would want to see the full document and the context of that quote. Not that I disbelieve—

Senator FIFIELD: We are mere opposition and non-government senators and we have the government's press release and the office does not, we have the office's budget summary and the office does not, and we have the Treasury regulatory impact statement and the office does not. Should we swap sides?

Senator Arbib: We cannot have every document in front of us. If you want to hand it over to us, we would be happy to respond to your questions on it.

Senator FIFIELD: How about some documents?

Senator Arbib: That is normal for Senate estimates. This does not seem any different to any other night.

CHAIR: Senator Fifield, do you have some questions?

Senator Arbib: You are paraphrasing; it is the usual night.

Senator FIFIELD: I am not paraphrasing. I think it is a little unusual that the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector, which has a whole-of-government view, are not aware of Treasury impact statements, are not aware of Assistant Treasurer Shorten's press release and do not have a copy of their own budget summary from budget website. It just surprises me.

Senator Arbib: Senator, I think the officials have answered every question appropriately and in detail. If you want to provide us with the documents that you are quoting from, we can probably provide you with more information. As well, we have mentioned that Minister Shorten is outside Prime Minister and Cabinet but we still answered the questions that you have asked.

Senator FIFIELD: He is outside, but what is the purpose of having the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector, which has a whole-of-government view, if part of the response we get from the other side of the table is, 'He's outside the portfolio'?

Senator Arbib: The officials have answered—

Senator FIFIELD: The whole purpose of PM&C and an office in PM&C is that it is whole of government. Whole of government includes Mr Shorten and the areas of his portfolio which relate to the not-for-profit sector.

Senator Arbib: Senator Fifield, if you want to keep grandstanding that is fine, but every question you have asked has been answered appropriately. If you want to provide the document so we can give you are more detailed response, that is fine. If not, then you are grandstanding and you are just wasting your own time.

Senator FIFIELD: Minister, it was not grandstanding; that was—

Senator Arbib: That is what it sounds like.

Senator FIFIELD: No, it was an expression of frustration.

Senator Arbib: Every question has been answered, so I cannot understand why you would be frustrated.

Senator FIFIELD: I have explained why I am frustrated already.

CHAIR: Senator Fifield, do you have a question? You have the call. Do you want to table the document?

Senator FIFIELD: Questions flow much more freely if relevant documents which should be at the hand of officers are there?

CHAIR: You could table the document that you are quoting from.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay, I will. I will table the regulatory impact statement. It is 33 pages. Are there any other government documents that the government would like me to provided them with?

Senator Arbib: Are there any that you are going to paraphrase from?

CHAIR: Senator Fifield, do you have any other serious questions?

Senator FIFIELD: Yes. I may need to table this document as well, but we will just play it by ear. Is the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector aware of the equal remuneration case, the decision handed down recently by Fair Work Australia?

Mr Ronalds : Yes, we are.

Senator FIFIELD: And you would be aware, in general terms, of the decision itself?

Mr Ronalds : In general terms.

Senator FIFIELD: Has the office read the decision?

Mr Ronalds : I have not personally read the decision; I have read summaries of the decision.

Senator FIFIELD: Have any of your staff read the decision?

Mr Ronalds : I can take that question on notice and ask them and write a response.

Senator FIFIELD: If you could.; thank you. You would accept that it is a relevant decision for the not-for-profit sector?

Mr Ronalds : Highly relevant, yes.

Senator FIFIELD: So we would concerned if it had not been read by someone in the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector. Did the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector make any submissions to the fair work inquiry?

Mr Ronalds : No. Again, this is an issue that goes beyond the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector. Clearly we are well aware of the issue and have been following it, and so have my colleague from across the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, particularly, for example, in our economic division.

Senator FIFIELD: But, as the office taking a whole-of-government perspective on these things, your office would follow the case and the submissions as they are made.

Ms Cross : There was a government submission. That was coordinated by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. You pre-empted my question, which was: did the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations seek the input of the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector in its submission?

Ms Cross : The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet had discussions with DEEWR about that submission.

Senator FIFIELD: Including the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector?

Ms Cross : I would have to take that on notice, but across the department we consult.

Senator FIFIELD: How many people are there in the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector?

Ms Cross : 11.3.

Senator FIFIELD: Are all 11 here?

Ms Cross : No, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: How many are here today in the room?

Ms Cross : Mr Ronalds heads up the Office of Work and Family, and the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector falls within that division of the department.

Senator FIFIELD: There are eleven people so it should not be too hard to establish if the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector had its views sought in the whole-of-government submission?

Ms Cross : Certainly PM&C did and we can confirm who within PM&C, but we will have to take it on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: If you could, that would be helpful because I am trying to get a handle on what the scope of the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector is, the extent to which it is an office—the window dressing—and the extent to which it really does have serious input and to which it provides a whole-of-government perspective on issues to do with the sector. So you will take on notice whether the office was consulted?

Ms Cross : Yes, we will.

Senator FIFIELD: Does the office have any views on the decision itself and the impact on the not-for-profit sector?

Mr Ronalds : We have been watching the decision very closely. The decision has a number of ramifications both for the sector and for the government more broadly, and we are certainly well aware of all of those.

Senator FIFIELD: Could you take the committee through your understanding of the possible implications for the not-for-profit sector of the decision.

Mr Ronalds : I am happy to. Essentially, the decision depending on how the next stage proceeds could obviously have a fairly significant impact for the wages paid to a very large number of employees in the sector. That will obviously flow through to the overall costs of providing programs and that is going to be a fairly significant issue for not-for-profits.

Senator FIFIELD: Do you expect that your advice on this issue would continue to be sought by the government?

Mr Ronalds : The advice of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, of which the office is a part, would continue to be sought, yes.

Senator FIFIELD: I will wait to hear the response to the questions you have taken on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Was any consideration given in the budget to budgeting for the impact this is going to have on the not-for-profit sector?

Mr Lewis : We do not discuss the details of what was in the budget or the deliberations that went into those final results. I am sorry; we cannot take that question.

Senator SIEWERT: Let me phrase it in another way: what consideration has the office taken in terms of what impact this will have on the not-for-profit sector when they are having to pay significantly higher wage bills and the impact that will have on the contracts they have with government and the services they are expected to deliver under those contracts?

Mr Lewis : The officer has given an answer with regard to the offices' initial reaction and the impact they think that legislation has. He has said that he will take further detail on notice, and we will that do

Senator SIEWERT: Can you take that on notice, please: what has been the whole-of-government approach across all the agencies to the provision of services that the not-for-profit sector provides to government when it is unable to provide them because their budgets have blown out significantly?

Mr Lewis : Just to qualify that question: it cannot go to the issue of the advice we have given to government—just so long as you accept that.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, okay, so very simply: has it been considered? Not what the advice is that you gave to government, but has it been considered?

Mr Lewis : The decision has been considered, and the department made a response. We just heard that a moment ago.

Ms Cross : Obviously, as we said, there was a government submission to the inquiry. Then there is a process now to look at the government response to the decision that has been handed down.

Senator SIEWERT: And when is that expected?

Ms Cross : I do not have a time frame for you. That work is underway but it has not yet been finalised.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you talking to the not-for-profit sector already about it?

Ms Cross : I think that at this stage it is a discussion within government while the government considers its response.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, and what is the timeline for talking to the not-for-profit sector about it?

Mr Ronalds : We can take on notice what consultation arrangements have already been put in place. Again, it is an issue that goes across the whole of government, so I would imagine that a range of agencies are engaged and we would need to take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask about another element of the reform process, which is the report-once use-often' approach. Should I ask you? It is not obvious that it is a Treasury question. It seems to me that it is a whole-of-government approach, so am I asking in the right place?

Mr Ronalds : Quite possibly.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to know what process you are going to undertake to put this in place? I presume it is across government for all the not-for-profit sector?

Mr Ronalds : Yes, if you are referring to the standard charter of accounts-is that the issue that you are referring to?

Senator SIEWERT: That is a good question you have asked back! Does report-once use-often just relate to the standard charter of accounts, or is it actually going to go wider than that? The red tape is not just about that.

Mr Ronalds : I think I understand your question. Again, I understand the issue will be taken up in the design of the portal. You may like to ask Treasury about the design of the portal and how they are facilitating that report-once use-often principle.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay-and I apologise if I am asking a question that is not dealing with what the measure is supposed to be addressing. Do I read from that that it is purely about financial reporting, not all the other range of reporting that has to be undertaken?

Mr Ronalds : No. The standard charter of accounts obviously goes to financial reporting. That is one issue. But the portal that has been announced as part of the one-stop shop regulator will seek to implement the principle that you have talked about in a broad way, as I understand it. But, again, my recommendation would be to speak to Treasury in more detail about how they are going to implement that principle in relation to the regulator.

Senator SIEWERT: Maybe I am trying to push the envelope here-I am not trying to be difficult-is the report-once use-often process envisaged purely for the regulatory process for the commission, not for all the other reports that the not-for-profit sector report on? For example-off the top of my head-the overburden report, which talks about the Aboriginal health organisations. It is not uncommon for them to have about 42 grants, and you have heard Catholic Social Services Australia say, 'We have 600-odd grants that we have to report against'. Are we dealing with that full extent of reporting, or just as it relates to the tax concession stuff and the charity stuff-the actual regulatory process?

Mr Ronalds : It is a broad principle that the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector is seeking to take forward across government. However, in how it is being implemented in the short term there are a number of ways. An example of that is the standard chart of accounts. Another example will be the design of the portal. As the reform process continues, there will be a range of other ways that we seek to take forward that principle.

Senator SIEWERT: Tell me about the portal and how it will reduce the reporting process.

Mr Ronalds : My reluctance here is again because the budget has obviously only just been handed down. The task force that will be established to set out the sorts of issues that you are asking about has not been created yet. So the design, for example, of the portal is still some time off and the people who will be taking that forward have not yet even been engaged. But where I want to provide assurances is in relation to the principle that will be taken forward in the design elements of the portal.

Senator SIEWERT: I am not trying to labour the point. I want to be really clear. The principle is that it will as much as possible go across all reporting requirements. That will be the philosophy: report once and use often?

Mr Ronalds : As far as practicable, that is the principle.

Senator SIEWERT: What is the time line that you are setting for accomplishing that?

Mr Ronalds : The implementation task force is to be created from 1 July this year. That implementation task force will have 12 months to look at a range of issues associated with the one-stop shop regulator, of which the portal is one.

Senator SIEWERT: When you say portal, that is the process you are going to use to refine the reporting process, is it?

Mr Ronalds : That will be the online tool that it is envisaged not-for-profits would use to report once, which government can use often.

Senator SIEWERT: On all their grants?

Mr Ronalds : Among other things, yes.

Senator FIFIELD: I have questions on the volunteer management program. In this budget there were funds transferred from FaHCSIA to your office, weren't there?

Mr Ronalds : There were, not as part of this budget but as part of the machinery of government changes.

Senator FIFIELD: So it was reallocated as a function of—

Mr Ronalds : That is right. Some functions that were previously undertaken by FaHCSIA were transferred to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator FIFIELD: Could you take me through the dollar value of what has transferred?

Mr Ronalds : Certainly. The total amount of administered funds was, from memory, $17 million over the forward estimates.

Senator FIFIELD: Is that covering the national compact, philanthropy and volunteering, or is that just covering volunteering?

Mr Ronalds : No, the national compact is outside of that. That is in relation to volunteering particularly.

Senator FIFIELD: So it is $17 million for volunteering. When you add the national compact, volunteering and philanthropy together—

Mr Ronalds : There are no administered funds associated with the national compact or with philanthropy.

Senator FIFIELD: I am just going from the PM&C budget statement, page 36, annual administered expenses—national compact, philanthropy and volunteering.

Mr Ronalds : That is right. There were five staff transferred from FaHCSIA. You asked earlier about the number of staff in the office. Of those 11 staff, five ASL were transferred from FaHCSIA in relation to those functions, in addition to the administered funds that I previously mentioned.

Senator FIFIELD: That figure you mentioned was about $6 million, was it?

Mr Ronalds : The figure is about $17 million in total.

Senator FIFIELD: So that is $17 million over the—but $5½ or $6 million. Could you give me a year-by-year breakdown?

Mr Ronalds : I am happy to do that on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: What is the total budget of the office?

Mr Ronalds : The office has, as I said, 11 staff and is part of the overall division. I do not have a separate budget for it per se. It has those staff and it has those administered funds for which it is responsible.

Senator FIFIELD: Correct me if I am wrong, but the volunteer management program is due to expire at the end of next financial year—is that correct?

Mr Ronalds : To date it has been annual contracts, so there have been annual payments to volunteer resource centres each year. That is a part of the administered funding. Another part obviously goes to Volunteering Australia, as a peak body.

Senator FIFIELD: Is there money for the volunteer management program in the 2011-12 budget?

Mr Ronalds : There is. Again, perhaps it is a question of terminology. There is funding for which we are responsible, for the volunteer resource centres. That is funding in the 2011-12 year of $5.13 million. That is part of the overall funds.

Senator FIFIELD: So it is not separately identified; it is part of the overall?

Mr Ronalds : My caution is that there is a range of volunteer small grants funds that are administered by FaHCSIA and continue to be administered by FaHCSIA. Again, that is part of the overall funds that are going to volunteering, but they are not administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. I think that is all I have for the Office of the Not-for-Profit Sector.

Mr Ronalds : If I may, the figure was actually $17.1 million. I finally found my notes. So $17.1 million is the total administrative funding.

CHAIR: We have completed 1.1.1. Because we have rearranged the schedule, we are now moving to 1.1.3, strategic policy and implementation.

Mr Lewis : Just before we move on to strategic policy and so on, perhaps I could get Mr Rimmer to clarify and expand on one answer that was given during the last session.

CHAIR: Yes. Senators, Mr Rimmer has some additional information that might be of interest.

Mr Rimmer : Senator Birmingham asked about resourcing and tasking within PM&C on water reform. I have a clarification on that. The answer the officer gave was entirely correct in terms of matters that were being directed within PM&C but, for full transparency, there are a small number of people who are effectively being loaned to SEWPaC, the sustainability department, and a very small part of one person that has been loaned to the MDBA at the moment to help them with their resourcing at what is a very busy time for them. So they are effectively under the control of those organisations; they are not under PM&C's control. For complete transparency, I think that clarification is helpful.


CHAIR: As there are no questions for 1.1.3, strategic policy and implementation, we will move on the 1.1.4, support services for government operations, cabinet support.

Senator ABETZ: Is cabinet support under the community cabinet area as well? Excellent.

Mr Lewis : Sorry to interrupt, but could you indulge me?

Senator ABETZ: Sure.

Mr Lewis : Chair, I wonder if I could get a ruling on those officers in the department who are involved in domestic policy. Have you now finished questions for them?

CHAIR: We have finished.

Mr Lewis : Okay. So you would be happy for them to leave at this point?

CHAIR: Not as happy as they will be.

Mr Lewis : Thank you.

Senator FIFIELD: I do not think that we should have problems here, but there is something in 1.4 that I am told is domestic, but I do not think so.

Senator Evans : I suppose if we get to that point, we are back in the morning, so we could organise to do that first thing in the morning. This will let some people pretend they have a life and get home.

Senator ABETZ: Possibly the minister can answer this one for us. Has Mr Rudd attended any community cabinet meetings since Ms Gillard became Prime Minister?

Senator Evans : I am afraid that I would have to take that on notice. I am not sure. We have in recent times had a bit of a different mix of cabinet members, outer ministers and parliamentary secretaries at some of these things, depending on locations. I will take that on notice; I am not sure what the answer is.

Senator ABETZ: All right. He was such a champion of it when he was Prime Minister, it looks as though the interest may have waned somewhat, but let us see what the answer on notice tells us.

Senator Evans : You will find that the foreign affairs ministers are probably the ministers who least attend, but I will take it on notice.

Senator ABETZ: That might because they are overseas a lot, which is a good segue into my next question. Do ministers need to seek approval from the Prime Minister to travel overseas?

Mr Lewis : In short, yes.

Senator ABETZ: Does that rule apply equally to the foreign minister?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: What role does PM&C play in that? Is it solely administered in the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Lewis : I will get Mr Sterland to step you through the process.

Mr Sterland : The process for seeking and gaining the PM's approval for the overseas travel for ministers is similar to what applied under previous governments. A minister who proposes the travel must seek the PM's agreement to the proposed travel. It is analysed within PM&C and advice is provided to the Prime Minister and/or her office. PM&C has regard to the ministerial travel guidelines, including whether the visit relates to specific outcomes, whether ministerial level involvement is essential and whether the duration of the visit is reasonable. Ministers are expected to seek value for money when travelling overseas. They or their chief of staff are required to confirm that that most cost-effective arrangements have been sought for proposed travel.

Senator ABETZ: Does PM&C cast any value judgments in relation to these value for money considerations or is that left to the particular minister?

Mr Sterland : I will have to take the specifics of that on notice. As I said, PM&C has regard to the general elements in the ministerial travel guidelines in providing its advice.

Senator ABETZ: If you can take that on notice and come back to us, that would be good. I take it, then, that the foreign minister has had all his travel arrangements approved by the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Sterland : Let me check with the relevant officers. I am advised that the answer to that is yes. It would have been approved either by the PM or the chief of staff of the PMO.

Senator ABETZ: So the trip to the royal wedding, the trip to China, the trip to New York quite urgently after Osama bin Laden's death so that we could see him on TV with Hilary Clinton were all seen as being value for money?

Senator Evans : My limited understanding of what occurred—and officers can take you through it—is that the colour and interpretation that you place on those things is not correct. As I understand it, Mr Rudd did not attend the royal wedding but had a meeting in London a couple of days prior to the royal wedding. The officers can go through the details.

Senator ABETZ: Fortuitously coinciding—I accept that.

Senator Chris Evans: I think it was a CHOGM related meeting. The officer can help you with what it was, but it is not right to categorise it as him being in London for that purpose.

Mr Sterland : Senator, it was a long scheduled—

Senator ABETZ: And on the value for money on Osama Bin Laden's death, what was—

Senator Chris Evans: Perhaps we will deal with one allegation at a time, Senator.

Mr Sterland : On the London travel I am advised that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting had been scheduled for some time, and it had been approved in advance.

Senator ABETZ: The action group?

Mr Lewis : The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group for COAG.

Mr Sterland : For CHOGM.

Mr Lewis : CHOGM; sorry.

Senator ABETZ: You can understand why we ask these questions!

Mr Lewis : It has been a long evening, Senator! It is a Commonwealth institution that is going to be reporting at the upcoming CHOGM meeting. It is a priority. Australia is part of it.

Senator Chris Evans: Of course, you know we are hosting that, Senator.

Senator ABETZ: Has Mr Rudd put in any requests for overseas travel that have been denied since Ms Gillard has become Prime Minister?

Mr Sterland : I think we would have to take that on notice.

Senator ABETZ: All right; if you could, please. If there have been such requests, could you also advise us what they were for. I assume that cabinet met during the month of April of this year.

Mr Sterland : As you know, we tend to answer questions on cabinet meetings in general terms, but that answer would be, in a general sense over a period of time like that, yes.

Senator ABETZ: Did cabinet definitely meet in April?

Senator Chris Evans: We meet every week when the parliament sits and most weeks when it does not. I would—

Senator ABETZ: All right; take it on notice, please.

Senator Chris Evans: I would want to take it on notice. We have not had long breaks between cabinet meetings. So we can get that information for you, but I am 99 per cent sure we met in April. It is just that, when you ask directly, I think, 'Well, hang on.'

Senator ABETZ: I know it was a long time ago. Are ministerial staff appointed with the approval of the Prime Minister in the various ministerial offices?

Mr Sterland : Decisions on staffing matters are taken by the Government Staffing Committee.

Senator ABETZ: Is that run out of the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Sterland : The membership of that includes the Deputy Prime Minister, the Special Minister of State, Senator Ludwig, the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff and the Special Minister of State's Chief of Staff.

Senator Chris Evans: I think the Special Minister of State does the hack work, Senator—you might recall doing it yourself.

Senator ABETZ: For five years. Can we confirm that the Deputy Prime Minister—this is in relation to staff in the ministerial offices—has three media contact people in his office?

Senator Chris Evans: We would have to take that on notice.

Senator ABETZ: All right. And Mr Albanese, Senator Carr, Mr Combet, Mr Crean, Dr Emerson and you, Minister, each have two media contact people.

Senator Chris Evans: That is right. Occasionally there would be someone else on the list as well, when someone is on leave or on a special project.

Senator ABETZ: Very wisely, Mr Garrett is only given one to ensure that he is not out in the media too much. Ms Macklin has two and the health minister has three. There seems to be a huge number of media appointments in the various ministerial offices. Are you able to take notice for us exactly how many media advisers there are within the various ministerial and parliamentary secretary offices as approved by this government's staffing committee?

Mr Sterland : Responsibility for MoP staff is with the finance portfolio and so we would suggest that they take that on notice. It is not within PM&C's remit.

Senator ABETZ: MaPS puts everything into place once these appointments are determined as being appropriate but ultimately there is a decision made that the Deputy Prime Minister can have three media people and that Ms Roxon can have three media people and then MaPS just implements that. What I am trying to find out is whether the government itself knows how many media people have been appointed throughout the whole ministry and the basis of the numbers in relation to the various portfolios. If what I have in front of me is correct, it makes interesting reading for the—

Senator Chris Evans: I do not know whether it is interesting reading or not but Ministerial and Parliamentary Services is responsible for staffing matters and the officers have made clear to you that you are best asking the question there and they can give you the establishments through to the ministerial offices I am sure.

Senator ABETZ: I am sure they can, but they will not tell me why.

Senator Chris Evans: Why what?

Senator ABETZ: Why there are three media people needed, let's say, for Ms Roxon but only one for Mr Garrett. Is that because you do not want Mr Garrett in the media or because Mr Garrett is such an accomplished performer that he does not need three media people to get him out there on the TV screen?

Senator Chris Evans: Whether someone is formally listed as media I am not sure but, as you would know, there is multitasking. For instance, one of my media people is based in Perth and the other is based in Canberra. We have organised our internal staffing because of those needs.

Senator ABETZ: MaPS will not be able to tell me exactly the instance that you have given for yourself, which is a fair enough—

Senator Chris Evans: I assume MaPS will tell you that I have one position, as most cabinet ministers do, which is a senior media adviser, but you will find the name of one of my electorate officers on some of the press releases because it is a local WA thing and she knows more about it. She is not a media officer, she is an electorate officer. Anyway, if you want to ask questions about ministerial staffing, you need to go to Ministerial and Parliamentary Services.

Senator ABETZ: If we do not get any further here. I would have thought talking about the spin machine and the government is not necessarily something you would want to talk about, so we will try MaPS later on.

Senator Chris Evans: Senator, after you presided over the abuse of taxpayers' money and advertising dollars I would not be taking any rubbish like that from you.

Senator ABETZ: But you see, Minister, your great difficulty is that you went to the elections swearing and declaring, like no carbon tax, that you would not engage in spin, that you would not engage in government advertising and you are doing exactly that.

CHAIR: Senator Abetz, is there a question?

Senator ABETZ: I was responding to the minister's provocation and setting the record straight.

CHAIR: While it is helpful to have cross-table dialogue, there is a process here of asking questions and having them answered. Do you have any further questions?

Senator ABETZ: If the minister does not provoke, you will not have those issues.

CHAIR: Do you have any further questions?

Senator ABETZ: No. There is a thin line between love and hate they tell me.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions on cabinet support?

Senator FIFIELD: Since the last election, how many community cabinet meetings have there been? We asked about which ones Mr Rudd had attended, but I am just interested in how many there have actually been.

Mr Sterland : Since the last election, there have been three, I think. I will check my figures.

Senator FIFIELD: While you are looking—

Senator Chris Evans: There was one in Western Australia and one in South Australia. Was there a third?

Mr Lewis : There have been two meetings held since the last estimates hearing, which was back in February.

Senator FIFIELD: While we are here, could you give them to me since the last election—the date, the city or the town and the suburb.

Senator Chris Evans: Adelaide was last week, Fremantle was about a month and a half before that—

Mr Lewis : And Redcliffe, north of Brisbane.

Senator Chris Evans: Yes, there was one in Brisbane. We will get you the definitive list.

Senator FIFIELD: In the process of determining the locations, I assume it is the Prime Minister who says, 'We'll have one here.' Is that essentially the case? I am not saying it should be otherwise, but I assume it is the case that it is basically the Prime Minister's decision.

Mr Lewis : Could I just go back to your earlier question as to how many there have been since the last election. In June, which was before the election, was the last one in the life of the previous government. Since then, they have been in Redcliffe Peninsula, Queensland, in December last year; in Fremantle, in WA, in March this year; and in Modbury Heights, in South Australia, in May this year.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. Regarding location choice, I assume it is the Prime Minister's call as to where and when they happen.

Senator Chris Evans: I think so, Senator. We move around the states and we move around regions inside the states, giving a spread. I am not sure there is anything—

Senator ABETZ: The question is: whose call is it?

Senator FIFIELD: That is right. I assume it is the Prime Minister's. I would be surprised if it were anything else.

Senator Chris Evans: I presume it is made inside—

Mr Lewis : It is a matter for government. I am sorry I cannot answer.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but the minister can. I accept that PM&C cannot.

Senator Chris Evans: I was trying to be helpful. To be absolutely correct, I will take it on notice.

Senator ABETZ: You just go along and go where you are told to go.

Senator Chris Evans: It is in my diary and I turn up. I will take it formally on notice. But it is fair to assume the Prime Minister gets the final call. If that is not right, I will come back to you.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. You see it in your diary and you smile with delight.

Senator ABETZ: Especially when it is in Fremantle!

Senator FIFIELD: I go to the Caucus Communications Team. I know they have gone through a few incarnations and have had a few different names. They change from portfolio to portfolio, as to who looks after them. Once upon a time it was the department of finance that paid their way. Is that still the case? They are not paid by PM&C, are they?

Mr Sterland : The latter part of the answer is that they are not paid by PM&C.

Senator FIFIELD: Do you happen to know who they are paid by?

Mr Sterland : No.

Senator FIFIELD: We will ask MaPS. The minister may know whether officers at the table would know if any members of the Caucus Communications Team travel to the committee cabinet meetings.

Senator Chris Evans: I do not know. I would have to take that on notice. I know that ministerial staff do and representatives of the departments do. All of this has been on the record for a long time—

Senator FIFIELD: Sure.

Senator Chris Evans: but I am not sure about the answer to that question. Again, you would probably have to ask that when MaPS are here. I think the Special Minister of State is the responsible minister. Is that right?

Senator FIFIELD: If they are MaPS employees, then that would be the case.

Senator Chris Evans: You would probably best ask when MaPS are here.

Senator FIFIELD: Again, you may need to take this on notice: venue hire, any hire or catering expenses for the community cabinet meetings.

Mr Sterland : PM&C takes those costs.

Senator FIFIELD: Do you have those costs?

Mr Sterland : Yes, I have some costs.

Senator FIFIELD: I am sure they are not exorbitant.

Mr Sterland : The detail could be taken on notice, if you want—just set it out.

Senator FIFIELD: If you have them there now.

Mr Sterland : We have some average figures. We only got the estimated cost of two of the three meetings held to date after the election. The total estimated cost is $160,152.

Senator FIFIELD: That is for the three meetings?

Mr Sterland : No, that is for the two meetings. For the third meeting, which was held just last week, the costs are still being finalised.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. So we are looking at about 80 grand per community cabinet meeting. What is the breakdown of those costs? It is just a higher figure than I would have been expecting; because that does not cover the travel costs of ministers or staff, because that is all covered by Finance through Ministerial and Parliamentary Services. Do you have a breakdown?

Mr Sterland : The average—about $24,000 is travel for the officials attending. It is a reasonably large logistical exercise and there is a lot of support from officials there. This is a large event with several hundred people.

Senator FIFIELD: It sounds like a large event. Several hundred people?

Mr Sterland : The community who come—

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. You are not saying there are several hundred officers?

Mr Sterland : No. There is quite a lot to do there. A combination for that staff—the average I have for those two meetings for which data is available is $8,600.

Senator FIFIELD: For?

Mr Sterland : The accommodation for staff. Other expenses: there are some miscellaneous expenses.

Senator FIFIELD: What are the miscellaneous expenses? What is the figure for that?

Mr Sterland : It is $5,838.

Senator FIFIELD: Is that for things like—

Mr Sterland : That is the average for the two meetings. That is the Redcliffe and the Fremantle—

Senator FIFIELD: Does that cover things like PA systems and staging?

Mr Sterland : Meals, other allowances, largely. That is staff travel and accommodation.

Senator FIFIELD: Sorry, that is miscellaneous costs for staff?

Mr Sterland : For staff, yes. Travel allowance and the like.

Senator FIFIELD: So this $8,600 for accommodation—$5,538 for miscellaneous, are they subsets—

Mr Sterland : $5,838.

Senator FIFIELD: $5,838. Are they subsets of the $24,000 or in addition to the $24,000?

Mr Sterland : They are in addition.

Senator FIFIELD: So the $24,000 is basically flights and travel, is it?

Mr Sterland : Yes. So, obviously, the Fremantle meeting was more expensive than the Redcliffe, so that is an average. Then there are some venues costs.

Senator FIFIELD: What are the venue costs?

Mr Sterland : $1,758 on average.

Senator FIFIELD: I would not have thought that would have been a big expense.

Senator Chris Evans: That would be declared in costs for the school, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: They mainly use school high schools.

Senator Chris Evans: That is right. There would be cleaning costs et cetera.

Mr Sterland : The next one on my list is advertisements. So this is in local newspapers, to advertise the events and publicise how to become involved. I have $2,839 here as an average cost. Audiovisual staging—so this is building stages up and any of the audiovisual equipment—$11,841. Then there is the hire of equipment: $16,937.

Senator FIFIELD: Is that chairs and tables?

Mr Sterland : I think it would be that, but let me take it on notice in case it is different to that.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. Any more figures?

Mr Sterland : There are a few smaller ones: freight. I do not have all the detail on each item for that; $37 that says. I think that is just for taking the cases of material across. Communications: $325 on average. Catering: $2,685.

Senator FIFIELD: And that is catering for the members of the community, is it?

Mr Sterland : It is a combined cost. There are some elements of catering for the community that comes and there is some catering for the officials that are attending et cetera.

Senator FIFIELD: How many officials do attend?

Mr Sterland : Can I take that on notice?

Senator FIFIELD: Yes.

Mr Sterland : There is a PM&C contingent operating the event, assisting with security et cetera and servicing the ministers. The relevant ministers bring an official along to assist them in taking notes and that sort of thing for the one-on-one meetings. I can take it on notice.

Senator Chris Evans: They used to encourage secretaries to attend. Certainly I took to a practice where I encouraged the state manager to be there. Quite frankly, with all due respect to the secretaries, they have a better feel for the local issues and services being provided. So we do not fly an official in. When we did the Perth one we had the WA state director. I think there are fewer officials than there used to be. Clearly, the organisational side requires a few people.

CHAIR: Senator Fifield, do you have many more questions on this issue?

Senator FIFIELD: No, I do not.

Mr Sterland : If you want that sort of detail, I could take it on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: Sure. If you could, thank you. You have become a bit of an events management outfit, Mr Sterland, by the look of things.

Mr Sterland : There is a team that has become proficient at this. The department does not maintain many permanent resources on hold for it. As a community cabinet approaches graduates and other people from around the department volunteer for it. So it is not the case that there is a large community cabinet team in place. There is a core team and then it expands as the events come to meet the requirements.

Senator Chris Evans: Senator, if you want to get a feel for it, you can chat to Senator Judith Adams. She came to the last one in Fremantle, I think. She can take you through it.

Senator FIFIELD: She gets around.

Senator Chris Evans: She sat in the front row. We have had a few conservatives turn up to them.

Senator FIFIELD: Mr Sterland, I think probably each senator sitting around this table has had experience organising public meetings for several hundred people, and I think probably each person around this table could perhaps do it for a little under $80,000 a pop. If you are looking to outsource any time—

Senator Chris Evans: Senator, with all due respect, your local branch stacking exercise is not the cabinet of Australia.

Senator FIFIELD: I am not talking branch stacking exercises; I am talking large community functions. I will finish on that point.

Proceedings suspended from 21:18 to 21:35

CHAIR: We have dealt with cabinet support. We are now on support for ministerial offices. If there are no questions, we will move on to the Parliament House briefing room.

Senator FIFIELD: Mr Lewis, the Department of Parliamentary Services has now, I understand, handed over the keys or the day-to-day running of the briefing room to PM&C, but I think this question goes to you. How many times has the briefing room been used since its inauguration?

Mr Lewis : The door to the room is electronic and it has a lot of gadgetry around it—

Senator FIFIELD: No keys?

Mr Lewis : so they certainly would not have entrusted that to me.

Senator Chris Evans: If we told you, we would have to kill you, Senator.

Mr Lewis : I cannot give you a figure, but it is appropriate for me to say that the room is being used for a range of purposes on a regular basis. It is being used for committee of cabinet meetings. It is being used for ministers and the Prime Minister to contact members out in the states and territories—premiers and so forth. It is being used for ministers and the Prime Minister to engage with opposite numbers by teleconference overseas, such as leaders in the United States or the UK. It is used by some senior officials supporting those ministers. I use it for talking to opposite numbers in the United States and the United Kingdom. It is used regularly for what I describe as Commonwealth hook-ups with the states and territories. So I cannot give you a figure, but it is used on a daily basis.

Senator FIFIELD: It is used frequently, constantly.

Mr Lewis : Yes. Every day, basically, there is something going on in there.

Senator FIFIELD: Since it was first opened, have there been any significant additions or alterations to the room or its functionality?

Mr Lewis : No. There were a few gremlins with the air conditioning which I think have been sorted out now, but no, there have been no changes to its form or function.

Senator FIFIELD: No new tables or furniture? It is all as it was when it first opened.

Mr Lewis : Not to my knowledge, no. It is still in its pristine condition.

Senator FIFIELD: No artwork to help enhance the spirit and mood of those in the room?

Mr Lewis : No, I do not think so. I do not recall that there is anything hanging on the walls, other than the electronic screens and so forth.

Senator FIFIELD: Or off the walls. Are there any catering facilities in the briefing suite?

Mr Lewis : No, not in the facility. If meetings are there for a protracted period, there can be tea and coffee points set up, but there is no—

Senator FIFIELD: It is serviced from the wider cabinet suite in the usual way.

Mr Lewis : That is correct.

Senator FIFIELD: Have there been any incidents in the room—any surprises; anything that has gone 'bing' and required maintenance?

Mr Lewis : Do you mean some sort of system failure?

Senator FIFIELD: Yes, a systems failure or anything to do with the architecture of the place?

Mr Lewis : Not really. There have been gremlins in the electronics but I would not describe it as having been any catastrophic failure of the systems that required major work.

Senator FIFIELD: You mentioned that there is no key, as such—are they swipe passes, or keypads?

Mr Lewis : I do not want to bore you with the details, but you have to put your eyes up to the machine. It does an iris scan.

Senator FIFIELD: How many irises are registered in the system?

Mr Lewis : I do not know how many irises have been scanned. I have no idea. But there is a secure, positive control over who goes in and who does not.

Senator FIFIELD: Just to give me a handle on it, are we talking dozens of people who are biometrically registered, or hundreds?

Mr Lewis : I suspect it would be dozens. If there is some radical change to that I will come back to you, but it would be some dozens.

Senator FIFIELD: Are there any special maintenance arrangements that set the room apart from any other part of Parliament House?

Mr Lewis : No, there are routine maintenance contracts between DPS and our department. There is a bit of sharing in that, but they are routine.

Senator FIFIELD: I am captivated by the irises. Are all ministers biometrically registered? All cabinet ministers?

Mr Lewis : Let me check. Ministers are not scanned for their irises; it is only supporting staff.

Senator FIFIELD: So ministerial staff—

Mr Lewis : All beyond minister—whether they be MOPS staff or officials from departments. Everybody who is not a minister.

Senator FIFIELD: Everyone who is not a minister is scanned, but ministers are not?

Mr Lewis : That is correct.

Senator FIFIELD: So it is officials who need to have access to the room to set it up, basically?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Your irises are scanned, no doubt?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Mr Sterland, are yours?

Mr Sterland : No.

Senator FIFIELD: I am just trying to get a handle on who is on the list and who is not.

Senator Chris Evans: I think we are getting a bit close to being overdramatic. It is appropriate for you to understand broadly how it works but I do not think we should be supplying you with lists or information on each officer as to whether or not they have access et cetera. It is a secure facility and we ought to draw the line.

Senator FIFIELD: I was not going to ask for a list of those who have or have not been scanned, but I think it was relevant to ask whether ministers are or not. I think we can all understand the reasons why they are probably not.

Senator TROOD: Does the briefing room has a permanent staff?

Mr Lewis : Some staff are drawn from within our department who service the room when it is in use. They are in varying numbers, depending on exactly what technology is being used in the room. They come out of our department.

Senator TROOD: So there are some identified staff who are responsible for being in the room when it is being used—is that right?

Mr Lewis : Yes, there are a small number of staff who will be required, depending on which of the technologies is being engaged at the time.

Senator TROOD: Is small two or is it 10?

Mr Lewis : No, I think it is five.

Senator FIFIELD: Is there the capacity for, say, the Prime Minister to do a television broadcast from within the briefing room?

Mr Lewis : I do not believe so, not without bringing television broadcasting facilities in there. It would not be consistent with a secure facility.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay, so it is not part of the set-up for that to happen?

Mr Lewis : No.

Senator FAULKNER: I want to ask officials, if I could, Madam Chair, how we are going with the 80th birthday present of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, given that she is now over 85.

Senator Chris Evans: Some people would say it is worth waiting for.

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator FAULKNER: This is where I have been told to ask these questions, Senator Abetz. I am no expert in all these outputs. One follows the advice of the committee experts on these things.

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator FAULKNER: This is the Britannia royal coach, which you as you would be aware, Mr Leverett, was an 80th birthday present to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, or supposed to be. It is true, isn't it, that the royal coach Britannia was supposed to be an 80th birthday present to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II?

Mr Leverett : That is partly true. If you are suggesting it is an official gift from the Australian government, that is not true. I think the builder of the coach intended it as a birthday gift but that was not, and never was, the government's intention.

Senator FAULKNER: Is it true that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II turned 85 on 21 April 2011?

Mr Leverett : I believe that is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: When you say it is not an official gift, was it supposed to be an unofficial gift?

Mr Leverett : No, not even an unofficial gift. The Australian government—

Senator FAULKNER: An unofficial nongift.

Mr Leverett : No—if I can explain. The Australian government made a decision about a birthday gift for the Queen's 80th birthday and that gift was delivered for her birthday. A citizen of Sydney, a Mr Frecklington, decided many years ago to build another coach—he has already built and delivered one to the palace—and forward it; you will have to ask him that question. The timing did coincide with the Queen's birthday. I think Mr Frecklington was hopeful that the gift would be ready for her birthday but, as I understand it—

Senator FAULKNER: It is clearly not. That was five years ago.

Mr Leverett : I do not know where the coach is and I do not know whether it has been presented. But I think had it been presented it would have been subject to some sort of publicity; therefore I can only assume that it has not been delivered.

Senator FAULKNER: How much Commonwealth money was spent on this coach?

Mr Leverett : In round figures, $250,000.

Senator FAULKNER: How do you know the money was spent?

Mr Leverett : The money was not provided in advance for services; it was paid on the presentation of receipts by Mr Frecklington. The government of the time decided that it would make a contribution towards the cost of the coach. Their description at the time was that it was in recognition of the quality of the Australian craftsmanship in the coach. But the government at the time also made it clear that it was not an official gift.

Senator FAULKNER: Has anyone from the government ever sighted the coach?

Mr Leverett : I cannot answer that. I can say that nobody from the Prime Minister's department has seen it.

Senator Evans : I think Mr Abbott and Ms Bronwyn Bishop, from my recollection, may have sighted it. Certainly, we were engaged with the issue at one stage. We might have took an interest in this matter.

Senator FAULKNER: But no-one from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet sighted it?

Mr Leverett : No.

Senator FAULKNER: Has there been any investigation about whether or not the $250,000 spent on this was an appropriate use of Commonwealth monies?

Mr Leverett : To my knowledge there was no investigation.

Senator FAULKNER: Would you expect any due diligence on this?

Mr Leverett : I believe there was due diligence at the time. There was—

Senator FAULKNER: What was it?

Mr Leverett : The matter went to cabinet and cabinet made a decision that it would make this amount of money available in recognition of, I think the words were, 'the quality of the Australian craftsmanship'.

Senator FAULKNER: Is it true that, as I have read, the coach is just sitting in a shed in the Northern Beaches in Sydney?

Mr Leverett : I cannot verify that, but I have read the same things you have read. But I cannot verify it.

Senator FAULKNER: So we do not know where it is?

Mr Leverett : No, I cannot answer that question.

Senator FAULKNER: Someone could have absconded with the thing and you would not know, even though you have spent a quarter of a million dollars on it?

Mr Leverett : I think it would be a difficult object to abscond with.

Senator FAULKNER: That is if it exists.

Mr Leverett : There are certainly photographs of it, and I think there are—

Senator FAULKNER: I am sure it does exist, but I am surprised that no effort has been made by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to follow this through.

Mr Leverett : Staff from the office of the Prime Minister of the day did see it at the time.

Senator FAULKNER: How do you know that?

Mr Leverett : I am told by the officers concerned—

Senator FAULKNER: You were 'told' by them.

Mr Leverett : They told me at the time that they had been to Manly and seen it.

Senator FAULKNER: Do you know whether it is still at Manly?

Mr Leverett : No, I do not know.

Senator FAULKNER: Have any lessons been learnt by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet about expenditure of taxpayers' money in this way, or is this accepted as best practice?

Mr Leverett : I do not think I can answer that question. The decision was made by the cabinet of the day and the department had to implement the decision of cabinet.

Senator FAULKNER: Could I ask you, Mr Lewis, if this is regarded as good practice in terms of financial management and the expenditure of Commonwealth moneys? It seems a very odd situation to me. I was asking questions about this years ago, around the time of Her Majesty's 80th birthday. But I thought I would just come back to it five years later because I knew you would be interested.

Mr Lewis : I also recall sitting around this table and having discussions at the time about the coach. I think I would not want to offer any further comment than has been made with regard to the deliberations of a former government. I do not think that is appropriate. Those deliberations were made, decisions were taken and the money was expended, as Mr Leverett has described, with what was considered to be adequate due diligence at the time. What has happened to the coach since then is something that we have not monitored. I do not think we particularly would. But I cannot really offer anything more than that.

Senator FAULKNER: But you are satisfied that the $250,000 was well spent?

Mr Lewis : It is not for me to decide whether it was well spent or not; that was a decision that was made by a former government. What I can say is that the money was spent in such a way that due diligence was exercised and adequate care was taken over the expenditure of public moneys.

Senator FAULKNER: Have any of your departmental audit processes been engaged in considering how this payment was made and whether it conformed with best practice at the time?

Mr Lewis : I do recall at the time that there was consideration given to that issue, but it is so long ago that I would have to go back and check the record to see exactly what was done. I do recall in our previous discussions about this that checks were made by the department pursuant, as I recall, to your questions around that issue.

Senator Evans : My recollection was that the maker of the carriage wrote a letter to the Prime Minister where he detailed his expenses for things such as gold leaves and gave an estimate of the costs. That was my recollection.

Senator FAULKNER: I said at the time, possibly ungenerously, about the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet:

So the department couldn't care less it was going to pay up to $350,000 for an 80th birthday present for the Queen and … didn't give a damn whether she got it when she was 90.

Well, she is 85. For your edification, the figure of $350,000 came about because there was a suggestion at the time that the government would fork out another $100,000 to pay for the thing to be transported to the United Kingdom.

Senator FIFIELD: I was here.

Senator FAULKNER: So it is now just a forgotten episode, is it?

Mr Lewis : I would not characterise it as a forgotten episode—

Senator FAULKNER: So it is a remembered episode?

Mr Lewis : It is very well remembered by a few of us around the table, but I think it was a matter that was settled to the satisfaction of the department in terms of the proper accounting for the moneys involved. Beyond that, I cannot add anything further.

Senator FAULKNER: I am glad that the PM&C was satisfied. When Mr Tanner was the finance minister he was not satisfied, was he? He had indicated at some point that he or his department might have a look at it, but that has not been followed through to your knowledge?

Mr Lewis : I was not aware of his interest. I am sure that it happened but I am not familiar with it.

Senator FAULKNER: I recall that being raised in a committee hearing. So time ticks on? Is there any hope that the carriage will be provided to Her Majesty by the time she is 90?

Mr Lewis : That would be a matter for Mr Frecklington, I presume.

Senator FAULKNER: Really? The Commonwealth does not have an interest in that given that it forked out a quarter of a million dollars?

Mr Lewis : It had an interest in the artisanship and the craftsmanship that was involved, as was described by Mr Leverett, but we would not have residual interest in what actually happens to the coach. That is a matter for Mr Frecklington, I believe.

Senator FAULKNER: Is it true that basically if you fork out you can get to eyeball the coach? Is that true?

Mr Lewis : I am sorry, Senator, are you saying that you pay to go and see it?

Senator FAULKNER: Yes.

Mr Lewis : I have no idea.

Senator FAULKNER: I was using the vernacular.

Mr Lewis : I have no idea.

Senator FAULKNER: Do you know about that, Mr Leverett?

Mr Leverett : I have seen press reports to that effect.

Senator FAULKNER: But you do not know if that is right?

Mr Leverett : I cannot verify it, no.

Senator FAULKNER: Do you think it might be reasonable for the Commonwealth to ask for its cut?

Mr Leverett : That is not a question I can answer, Senator. I do not know. I come back to the point that it never was a gift from the Australian government. The government of the day was asked if it would help defray the cost of construction. The government of the day decided to do that, but in doing so made it very clear that it was not an official gift and that any ongoing relationship was between Mr Frecklington and the palace. That has been reaffirmed by two successive governments in writing: by Mr Rudd's office and more recently by Ms Gillard's office. Any ongoing discussion about the matter is for Mr Frecklington to deal directly with the palace. It has no official status.

Senator FAULKNER: When was it first determined that it would have no official status?

Mr Leverett : When the money was made available by the Howard government. Money was made available on the basis I described before and, in making that payment, it was made clear that the government was not buying into the gift and did not claim any ownership of the project.

Senator FAULKNER: Was there actually a contractual arrangement with Mr Frecklington?

Mr Leverett : I hope you did not interpret me saying 'buying in' as a contract. I was using the vernacular.

Senator FAULKNER: I think someone reading the Hansard might interpret it like that.

Mr Leverett : I am glad you brought it to my attention. I will clarify: there was no contract.

Senator FAULKNER: What was there if there was no contract?

Mr Leverett : Mr Frecklington wrote and asked the office of the former Prime Minister—

Senator FAULKNER: I believe Mr Frecklington's letter was provided to this committee on a previous occasion.

Mr Leverett : That is correct. And the matter was considered by government, and cabinet made the decision to make a financial contribution. That contribution was on the basis of Mr Frecklington producing evidence of expenditure. He subsequently did that. This was some years ago and I do not have the details, but I do know that not all the items he submitted were approved. The bulk of them were. The precise total was $245,000. That was made available. As you rightly say, $350,000 was identified. The balance was not necessarily for transport—it was up to that amount. That was an undertaking of the Howard government. When that government lost office the incoming government made it clear that it did not feel any need to honour that earlier undertaking and that all future dealings should be between Mr Frecklington and the palace.

Senator FAULKNER: So we do not know if there is any intention for this coach to end up in London?

Mr Leverett : I think it is clear from the various letters and so on that that is the intention. Whether it finishes there, I cannot answer. I think it is very clear that that is the intention.

Mr Lewis : I think that is a matter for Mr Frecklington.

Senator FAULKNER: You might consider so, but some people think that the Commonwealth is entitled to have an interest given it has forked out $245,000. Don't you think?

Mr Lewis : The interest was in no way, as Mr Leverett has said on several occasions, in relation to some form of Commonwealth ownership of the coach. It was to do with restitution of costs for some of the materials and recognition of the artisanship or the craftsmanship involved.

Senator FAULKNER: Do we know if there is any disappointment in the palace that the coach has not arrived?

Mr Lewis : I am not familiar with the response from the palace.

Senator FAULKNER: The issue of the coach was raised again at the time of the recent royal wedding, wasn't it?

Mr Leverett : Raised by whom?

Senator FAULKNER: The absence of this coach, which is sitting somewhere on the northern beaches of Sydney, from the recent royal wedding was noted by some. That is true, isn't it?

Mr Leverett : I do not know.

Mr Lewis : It certainly was not raised with us as a department. I do not know if anyone else has raised it. I am not aware of any—

Senator FAULKNER: It was the subject of some media commentary, but you may not have been—

Mr Leverett : I am sorry; I missed that media. I have seen much of the media commentary over the years, but I did not see that particular reference.

Senator FAULKNER: There it is. Anyway, we will see what develops in the period ahead. But I get the general impression that the department appears to have washed its hands of it.

Mr Lewis : I think we were satisfied that the money was paid in a proper manner in terms of the accountability, so we have no further interest in the coach beyond that.

Senator FAULKNER: Except that the impression was left that this would be a gift that would be provided to Her Majesty, but it remains firmly ensconced on the north shore of Sydney—nowhere near. It certainly has not been provided, some five years after Her Majesty's 80th birthday, as a gift.

Mr Leverett : That may be an impression. It was never a decision or a thought within government that it was a gift from the Australian government. On the contrary, it was made very clear that it was not.

Senator FAULKNER: Ex post facto?

Mr Leverett : No, no. As I said earlier, at the time of the original discussion with the Howard government, it was made clear when the money was provided that it was not an official gift and it had no official status from the Australian government's perspective.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes—so it became an unofficial gift.

Mr Leverett : No. It became a gift from Mr Frecklington.

Senator FAULKNER: As it turns out, it became an unofficial nongift. Still, I am sure Her Majesty is looking forward to receiving it sometime in the future, so we will just see what happens.

Senator Chris Evans: We are currently making the transportation plans for CHOGM in Perth in October.

Senator FAULKNER: Perhaps you could travel to Perth in the coach! That would be the first useful thing that has occurred with it—and it sounds like it is very comfortable, because it is certainly air-conditioned, isn't it?

CHAIR: No further questions, Senator Faulkner?

Senator FAULKNER: There will be, but not at the moment.

CHAIR: Any further questions? We are dealing with 1.1.4.

Senator FIFIELD: The government's emergency medal—would that come under here, like the National Australia Day Council? It seems almost anything can come under 1.1.4!

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Thanks. I am sure the officers at the table would be well aware that, on Australia Day this year, the Prime Minister—in Toowoomba, the scene of significant flooding—announced a new medal for people who perform extraordinary acts or services during a national emergency. The proposed new medal will be a permanent element of the national honours system. In her condolence motion to the parliament on 8 February, the Prime Minister said:

Next Australia Day, I am confident we will present our first awards to those who have performed heroic and selfless acts and volunteered their services across Australia in times of crisis. We will backdate those awards to include those who reached out to each other during Black Saturday.

How many medals have been budgeted for, or what allocation has there been in the budget to support this new medal?

Mr Lewis : Senator, I think it is safe to say that the details of eligibility and the mechanics around the award—and I am expecting this will go to the ratios of the award—are still being settled. That piece of work is not complete at this stage.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. So there is no particular budget allocation for the medals?

Mr Lewis : Not as yet, no.

Senator FIFIELD: And we do not know how many medals are likely to be awarded. What part of government will administer the new medal and its awarding?

Mr Lewis : It is right to be asking that in this portfolio, but the medal is likely to be administered from Government House.

Senator FIFIELD: Have award criteria been developed?

Mr Lewis : No. There is a consultation happening.

Senator FIFIELD: That is underway?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Will the public be able to nominate people for these awards, as is the case with other honours? Is that part of the consultation?

Mr Lewis : That is part of the consultation process.

Senator FIFIELD: I assume that a design has not been approved for the medal?

Mr Lewis : No.

Senator FIFIELD: Has any consideration been given by government to whether people who are awarded this medal and were involved in the Queensland floods will be exempted from the flood tax?

Mr Lewis : I doubt it. As I say, these processes are still ongoing but I have not heard any discussion to that end.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay, we will stay tuned on that. That is all I have on that particular item.

Senator FAULKNER: This is also on the recognition issue, and goes to the issue of the Australian Women's Land Army. There has been a longstanding view that there ought to be recognition of the Australian Women's Land Army as a fourth ancillary service. This is something, of course, that the Departments of Defence and Veterans' Affairs have had involvement in. By way of background, it is obviously fair to say it is not a defence honour and it is not in any way related to veterans' benefits. But there has been a suggestion, and I wonder if this has been drawn to the attention of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet—I think it appropriate that the question be raised here, given the circumstances—there are now around 450 living members of the Australian Women's Land Army remaining—of the appropriateness of now presenting to permanent members of the Women's Land Army who enlisted for the duration of World War II a brooch, a booklet and a certificate. Is this something that the department has been engaged in or is aware of? Can you assist me with that?

Mr Lewis : I am sorry, I cannot assist you. I am not aware that any approach has been made to the department, but I would not rule it out. There may have been some early approaches made. It certainly has not developed any momentum in relation to the work of relevant officers of the department to my knowledge. Perhaps if I could take that question on notice—I need to speak to the precise section that is doing this work—and we could come back to you.

Senator FAULKNER: I think that the issue here, which I am sure you would appreciate, Mr Lewis, is that the 70th anniversary, in 2012, of the Australian Women's Land Army is nigh. I support strongly the appropriate recognition of these women, who I think were quite remarkable in what they achieved for our nation. I think the situation we are faced with here is that there is strong support for such recognition broadly within agencies, within government and, I am sure, within the community; but I suspect it is a question of which agency might properly coordinate it. I think in the circumstances it is becoming more and more logical that this is something that falls to PM&C. Minister, I might ask you or Mr Lewis to have a look at this, because I think it is becoming more and more urgent. I stress that it is not a Defence honour, and of course it is not intended that there be a veterans entitlements or benefits issue. It is merely an appropriate acknowledgment and honouring of these extraordinary Australians. I might commend that to the minister at the table to perhaps pass on to the Prime Minister—and yourself, Mr Lewis, to see about some of the spadework that I know has been done in other agencies, particularly Defence where I am sure this has been carried out with very good will but an inability to progress through those agencies because it is effectively not a Defence honour.

Senator Chris Evans: We will make some inquiries and I am sure Mr Lewis will take up the question of PM&C engagement just to see where developments in this matter—

Senator FAULKNER: I hope that, if there has been no communication from either the Department of Defence or the Department of Veterans' Affairs it might be something where PM&C themselves could take an initiative. This is obviously something that would not be at all controversial or costly to government, but in the circumstances I think it is time to act on it.

Mr Lewis : Senator, whether the department has or has not been advised is something I will come back to you on as a question on notice. With regard to the sentiment that you express, I understand that precisely and we will certainly check out exactly where this matter lies.

Senator FAULKNER: I can say to you, Mr Lewis, that there are no questions with the other two agencies I mentioned—Vets and Defence. There has been formal communication. I think the difficulty is the technical issue of where this responsibility lies. I suspect the other agencies now acknowledge that it is more likely to be with PM&C because of the specific circumstances. Thank you for that.

Senator FIFIELD: While we are on recognition, if I could go back to the emergency medal for a moment. I neglected to give the minister at the table the opportunity to give his view as to whether he thinks that people who might be recipients of an emergency medal for their actions in flood-affected areas should be exempt from the flood tax.

Senator Chris Evans: Senator, that is a policy question that the government may consider when we are further down the track. I do not have any particular information on that. I am happy to take it on notice, but I think the department have indicated they are still in the development stage of the awards process. I think as we move down that path we will get more clarity about these issues, but I will take on notice whether there has been any consideration given to that. It is not primarily an issue in terms of the medal, but I am happy to take it on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. One of the criteria for determining who is exempt from the flood tax is if they have been directly affected and you would have to think that people who were given emergency recognition awards for their efforts in flood areas must by definition have been directly affected.

Senator Chris Evans: Some of them may not actually choose to be treated in that way, Senator. Some of them actually regard their contribution to the reconstruction efforts as being important.

Senator FIFIELD: They could find themselves in a situation where they are effectively paying for their own medal through the flood tax levy. We would not want to see that situation.

Senator Chris Evans: I certainly would not characterise it in that way, but I do not assume that people who have made a great effort and shown leadership in a crisis are necessarily focused on whether they are affected by the levy. Anyway, we will take it up as a policy question.

Senator FIFIELD: I am sure they are not, but maybe we should be focused on that. I appreciate that the government at the moment cannot rule out that those people who are awarded that honour may have to pay the flood tax.

CHAIR: Is there anything further on compensation and legal?

Senator LUDLAM: Chair, if we do not get through outcome 1 tonight—for example, on national security and international policy, we are running the clock down—will these officers still be available first thing in the morning?

CHAIR: Yes, I do not see why not.

Senator Chris Evans: They will be back bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

Senator LUDLAM: As will we. Thank you.


CHAIR: As there are no questions on freedom of information and privacy policy or the National Australia Day Council, we move on to program 1.1.5, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011.

Senator FIFIELD: Mr Lewis, I understand that the department is planning to spend up to $1.9 million on the opening ceremony for CHOGM, according to contract notice CN374304.

Mr Lewis : Mr Sterland will field this question.

Senator FIFIELD: I am referring to contract notice CN374304 which is headed 'CHOGM Opening Ceremony' and there is a contract value of $1.9 million. This is from the AusTender website.

Mr Sterland : This is for the opening ceremony?

Senator FIFIELD: That is right. That is the amount that the department is looking at for the CHOGM opening ceremony, $1.9 million?

Mr Sterland : That is what my advice is. I indicate the head of the CHOGM task force, with a good part of his team, is in London for organisational meetings at the moment. If at some point you need too much detail, I will indicate that, take it on notice and the team will look at it on return. We have information about that.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. I just want to make it clear: the $1.9 million is just for the opening ceremony? I see other contract notices that cover hotel rooms, accommodation et cetera.

Mr Lewis : That is correct.

Mr Sterland : I am not sure whether, in a sense, some of the other contracts may relate in some way to the opening ceremony, but that contract is specifically for the opening ceremony. If there is other venue preparation which is going to be used for more than the opening ceremony, that would be included under some of the others.

Senator FIFIELD: So it is at least $1.9 million.

Mr Sterland : It is $1.9 million for the opening ceremony per se.

Senator FIFIELD: I know there is a cost to these international events. I thought $80,000 for a community cabinet meeting was a large figure but I will not prejudge the figure. Are you able to provide a breakdown of what is envisaged at this stage? As I say, I will not prejudge it because—

Mr Sterland : For the whole event—

Senator FIFIELD: For the opening ceremony.

Mr Sterland : We will take it on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: If you could. The breakdown may tell the story and who knows what the view might be after having that breakdown. Would that opening ceremony figure also include the purchase of official gifts for delegates?

Mr Sterland : We will take that on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: If you could and also if any thought has been given, or if any conclusion has been reached, as to what those official gifts may be.

Mr Sterland : The conclusion has not been made at the moment so it will be a subject of future estimates, no doubt.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. Is the department intending on enlisting the help of any external media management professionals for the CHOGM event, given the number of international media who would be attending, or are these details yet to be worked out?

Senator CHRIS EVANS: In addition to Premier Barnett?

Senator FIFIELD: In addition to Premier Barnett, who is the premier of the host state. He does a good job.

Mr Sterland : I know there are facilities at the event. I will take on notice the precise details of what contracting is happening.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. Has a CHOGM secretariat been established?

Mr Sterland : Yes, a task force has been established.

Senator FIFIELD: I imagine that will naturally grow over time as the event gets closer.

Mr Sterland : It is the nature of these events. It has grown already, and we are now getting into the final stages of planning for such a big event.

Senator FIFIELD: How many staff are involved full time with the CHOGM task force?

Mr Sterland : I have not got those details on me. I will take that on notice. There are a number of permanent PM&C staff on it. There are some non-ongoing staff because it is a one-off event and contractors; it would be better for us to specify those on notice.

Senator Chris Evans: I might say that people tend to think of CHOGM in the context of a previous occasion in Australia at Coolum—was it?

Mr Sterland : Yes.

Senator Chris Evans: This is going to be a very big thing. The business observers program, for instance, has gone gang busters. Western Australian business are really supportive of the program; various peak industry associations have been supporting it, et cetera. Their registrations are going through the roof. So there are a whole range of activities around the CHOGM meeting that are really taking off. I think the expectation now is that it will actually be the largest event conducted in Perth since the Commonwealth Games ,and perhaps it will surpass the Commonwealth Games in terms of the number of people coming.

Mr Lewis : If I might just go back to one of the earlier questions about the staffing of the task force. As of the 4th this month, there are 57 members on the task force.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. Mr Sterland, I appreciate your having taken those questions on notice. I appreciate that it is a big logistical exercise, but we will look forward to your answers.

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam on the same issue of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011.

Senator LUDLAM: It is in my home town. Have you started shifting PM&C staff across to Perth?

Mr Sterland : Yes. I believe a small leading contingent has gone—the ones involved with facilities, as I understand it. And then they will progressively transfer there.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Can you give us an idea of how many are already there?

Mr Sterland : It is changing as we speak. Now is the time when the move is underway. I have not got precise numbers on me. I would say that it is around 10 or under at the moment out of the numbers that I mentioned earlier.

Senator LUDLAM: Could you on notice confirm for us whether that is accurate—the number of staff from PM&C that you have there now relative to the numbers that you will have in Perth when the thing actually kicks off.

Mr Sterland : When the financial year kicks off—

Senator LUDLAM: Sorry, the event.

Mr Sterland : The event. My understanding is that the bulk of the team will be heading over during the month of June.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay.

Mr Sterland : It will be substantially there at the start of the year and then planning intensively.

Senator LUDLAM: So you can provide us with those numbers when you can verify them.

Senator Chris Evans: Senator Ludlam, I would be happy to organise something for you. I am trying to think of the name of the gentleman who is heading up the Western Australian side of the operation now.

Mr Sterland : Terry Crane is the head of the taskforce. He is based here but he is there now.

Senator Chris Evans: There is one guy in Western Australia already.

Mr Sterland : Terry stays all the time.

Senator Chris Evans: They offered me a briefing, because I was doing a couple of events around this. But it might be useful for us to organise for all the Western Australian senators and members to be briefed, because increasingly you will be asked to be involved and there will be various issues coming up. We can organise that.

Mr Sterland : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: I think that we should take you up on that offer. The Western Australian government is proposing some fairly severe law reforms, if you could call them that, some of which I understand will be temporary and will be in force only for the duration of the event. Some of them might last a bit longer, as the ones around APEC did in New South Wales. Has the Commonwealth advised the state of Western Australia or has there been contact between the Prime Minister's office and the Premier on the nature of the laws that they are proposing to pass?

Mr Lewis : I will have to take that on notice. I am sure that the answer is no. What laws are passed in Western Australia is a matter for the Western Australian government. If they were of the view that laws needed to be adjusted for some reason or other to meet the security needs of this event then that would be a decision for them. You asked about consultation. There is what I would describe as ongoing and continuous engagement between the federal and the state security agencies with regard to the security arrangements for the event. I would be very surprised if there was advice being given with regard to the specifics of legal changes that are required in Western Australia.

Senator LUDLAM: Would I be better off pursuing some of those questions with the Federal Police, for example? Who is in charge of security for the event?

Mr Lewis : Security for the event is first and foremost a matter for the Western Australian government and the Western Australian Police Force, because it is in their jurisdiction. We run, if you like, a laminated system of security arrangements, where the security of the venue—that is inside the venue—is a matter that the Commonwealth has a say in but which is delivered by the state government. The security beyond the venue is then a matter for the state government. The federal government will put, where necessary, an overlay over the top—for example, if there was a requirement for the use of the ADF or any federal assets by way of security. So it is a fairly well-tried and tested standing arrangement, which we used, for example, at APEC and other major events that we have run here. On the division of responsibility between the states and territories and the Commonwealth, the Attorney-General's portfolio is the best place to ask that question. They have specific carriage of that division between federal and state authorities with regard to security.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks. I will pursue that there a little bit later in the week. You can defer to other portfolios if you wish, but I understand that there was some controversy around proposals to move homeless people out of sight or to get them out of the area so that delegates and guests and people arriving for CHOGM would not see any homeless people when they visited Perth. Was the Prime Minister's office consulted about that or should I pursue with the housing ministers?

Mr Lewis : No, I have no visibility of that at all, and I do not believe we do in the department.

Senator LUDLAM: All right. That is fine. I can pursue that with the housing ministers. One issue that is concerning me greatly is the apparent very high visibility of state police, presumably riot police, dignitary protection police. You have mentioned the possibility of the Army. I am just wondering to what degree you are able to tell us that that enormous placement of force in the city of Perth is about genuine security from terrorism, for example, or attempts to violently disrupt the event, as opposed to people who might be gathering to express political views or dissent around CHOGM itself?

Mr Lewis : I am sorry, Senator. The point of your question is whether the security arrangements are designed to provide security against, for example, politically motivated violence that might go to acts of terrorism or whether they are designed to meet the issue of what one might describe as legitimate dissent and demonstration?

Senator LUDLAM: Yes.

Mr Lewis : I think the answer is probably that the entire spectrum will be addressed. At the lower end of that spectrum—that is, the expression of dissent and so forth—so long as it is lawful, that will continue, but, where that breaks the bounds of the local law, that would be a matter for the Western Australia Police. At the top end of the spectrum, that is definitely a matter for the triple layered arrangement that I spoke of earlier between the federal and the state authorities—that is, inside the venue, around the venue and then the more global posture of Australian security arrangements.

Senator LUDLAM: Who will actually be in charge, though? Is there an officer in control or a particular agency in charge?

Mr Lewis : Yes. There will be a Western Australia Police officer. I cannot tell you who that will be, but there will be a senior Western Australia Police officer who will be responsible for security of the event.

Senator LUDLAM: I will leave it there, thanks.


CHAIR: As there are no further questions on that, we will go back now to 1.2, National security and international policy.

Senator LUDLAM: I am wondering whether this is an appropriate place to ask about WikiLeaks and the direction, I suppose, of the Prime Minister specifically.

Mr Lewis : Yes, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: I am interested to know when the department first started to provide advice to the PM on WikiLeaks, or when you first advised the PM of the existence of this group.

Mr Lewis : I will call on Dr McCarthy to field the detail of these questions. Dr McCarthy chaired, at least in the first instance, an interdepartmental committee for managing across government the issue of WikiLeaks.

Dr McCarthy : We certainly provided briefing to the Prime Minister ahead of the first publication of that material on the internet, but I do not have the exact date of the first—

Senator LUDLAM: Sorry, which material? They have been publishing for years.

Dr McCarthy : The US Department of State cables. I do not have the date with me of the first brief provided to the Prime Minister on that.

Senator LUDLAM: I will ask you for some fairly specific information that I will not expect you to have with you at the table. You have said you briefed the Prime Minister at some stage before the Department of State document drop occurred. WikiLeaks had been in existence for years before that. They had released material that had been sensitive, if not controversial, before that, and it was also, I think, reasonably well understood that the Department of State had lost control over a huge volume of documentation months before. It was apparent that newspapers were going to be publishing it. I am interested to know when the department first provided advice to the Prime Minister that Australia might be implicated in some of the material that was to be released by that website or through news organisations.

Dr McCarthy : It certainly was not months before the first publication. I will need to take on notice the question of when the first brief was provided to the Prime Minister.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks; I would appreciate that. Did your office or the department provide a briefing after the release of the film Collateral Murder, which was released in April?

Dr McCarthy : Not that I am aware of.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you provide us with some information on the number of times that you provided briefings to the Prime Minister when you became aware that the documents were about to be leaked from the US Department of State?

Dr McCarthy : I do not have the information with me about exactly how many briefs were provided but I can take that on notice. My apologies; I have just found a reference to the preparation of 12 briefs for the Prime Minister on WikiLeaks. I do not have information on what period that took place over.

Senator LUDLAM: Are those briefs delivered verbally or does the Prime Minister receive them in writing?

Dr McCarthy : They are written briefs, written advice.

Senator LUDLAM: They are all written briefs. So there are 12. Are you able to provide us—not tonight, I understand—on notice the dates of those briefings?

Dr McCarthy : I could do that.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. Is there a particular unit, office or working group charged with investigating what WikiLeaks is doing?

Dr McCarthy : As I explained at the last estimates hearings, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet continues to coordinate a whole-of-government effort in relation to assessing the information that is released, providing information to ministers and monitoring the media, but I would not call that an investigation. If you mean 'investigation' in a legal sense, it is not a legal investigation; it is a coordination function.

For a time the WikiLeaks task force operated out of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, staffed by members of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and other agencies. But towards Christmas the operations of the task force were located within PM&C. That was from Monday 29 November to Monday 13 December. On 13 December, following a meeting of the interdepartmental committee that I chaired regularly over that period, we agreed that, given the very slow release of the material into the public domain, task force members could continue to assist in that coordinated effort from their home agencies.

Senator LUDLAM: Is that task force still a standing group?

Dr McCarthy : Yes, it still exists in what we refer to as a virtual form, if you like. It is not co-located but there are members of the task force operating from their home agencies and we could reconvene it in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet should circumstances change such that that was necessary.

Senator LUDLAM: Are you still its virtual chair?

Dr McCarthy : I am its real chair, but I have not chaired any of the interdepartmental committees now for some time. As I said, the material is being released very slowly.

Senator LUDLAM: What fraction of the material has been released into the public domain?

Dr McCarthy : As of this morning, my colleague tells me, 12,600 cables have been released on the WikiLeaks website—obviously not all of them referencing Australia. The information I have here is that as of 2 May approximately 200 referenced Australia.

Senator LUDLAM: Out of about a quarter of a million cables, they have dropped somewhere between—

Dr McCarthy : As I have just indicated, a quarter of a million cables have not yet been released into the public domain—it is some 12,600 or so, as I have just mentioned.

Senator LUDLAM: Who has contacted the United States government to ask for what they think has gone missing? Have you requested briefings on what has gone, and what were you told?

Dr McCarthy : Yes, at the time that the task force was set up and the issue first arose, we were in contact with the United States and the embassy here in Canberra provided a number of briefings to the Australian government, primarily to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator LUDLAM: How forthcoming has the State Department or whoever you have been dealing with been on what they think they have lost?

Dr McCarthy : It was the policy of the US government not to make the cables available, so we were provided with briefings of a more general nature.

Senator LUDLAM: So WikiLeaks have them but they will not provide them to the Australian government, so they will be released on a timetable of that organisation's choosing and the Australian government will not be given a heads-up by the US State Department. Is that satisfactory behaviour?

Dr McCarthy : As I said, it was the policy of the US government not to provide the cables. We respected that policy, and against that background the United States did what they could to advise other countries, including Australia, of what the material might contain.

Senator LUDLAM: Have they made reasonable efforts to advise us of that? It does not sound as though they have done anything of the kind.

Dr McCarthy : I think against the background of the policy of the US government not to provide the actual cables, and given that Australia was one of many countries who may have been mentioned or referenced in the cables, I think the United States was having to advise a large number of countries within a very limited period. It was against that background that they made the efforts that they could.

Mr Lewis : It is safe to say that we would have preferred to have had full knowledge of the cables, and I think it was made plain perhaps not in this hearing but certainly during the last Senate estimates hearings that we would have preferred a quicker start for that information to flow. But, as Dr McCarthy has described, we have been given descriptions of those cables ahead of their release on a progressive basis.

Senator LUDLAM: Is it Australian government policy to seek the closure of the WikiLeaks website?

Dr McCarthy : Not that I am aware of, no.

Senator LUDLAM: Minister, do you want to address that? It is probably not fair to ask the department.

Senator Chris Evans: I have no knowledge of any such policy, but I am happy to take it on notice.

Dr McCarthy : I am as sure as I can be, Senator, that there is no such policy.

Senator Chris Evans: That would have been my first reaction but, rather than give you evidence that I was not sure was absolutely correct, I thought I should take it on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks. Dr McCarthy, you said that the task force that you were the chair of, before it virtualised itself, while it was still meeting, was not investigative as such; it was monitoring what was occurring—and information sharing, it sounds like. Can you tell me how you reconcile that with the fact that it appears that Australian security and intelligence organisations have been investigating WikiLeaks personnel? Were they doing that not under the direction of the task force? Was it some separate activity that was occurring or was it being done with the knowledge of the task force?

Dr McCarthy : I am not going to depart from the long-standing convention of not commenting on speculation about the activities of Australia's intelligence agencies.

Senator LUDLAM: I am not asking you to speculate; I am asking you to tell us whether they—

Dr McCarthy : It is a longstanding convention not to comment on intelligence and security matters.

Senator LUDLAM: The agencies themselves are reasonably—

Dr McCarthy : And you should take nothing more from that than that I am observing a longstanding convention.

Senator LUDLAM: The agencies themselves are generally willing to put a certain amount of information on the record. ASIO in particular have been forthcoming about the broad parameters of what they do and do not do.

Mr Lewis : Perhaps it would be better to direct that question to the agencies. I just reinforce Dr McCarthy's point that it is a longstanding convention; we would not go into the detail of what intelligence agencies are or are not doing. The statutory officeholders that head up those agencies would be better able to field those questions.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Can I just clarify then, before we move on: did that task force have any investigatory role or not?

Dr McCarthy : It was a coordinating body.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you provide us with the membership—not necessarily the names but the agencies that were members—of that task force?

Dr McCarthy : I can.

Senator LUDLAM: Would you be able to table that for us now?

Dr McCarthy : I can tell you that the task force comprised representatives from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Defence, Attorney-General's Department, Office of National Assessments and the Australian Federal Police.

Senator LUDLAM: I don't think I caught ASIS or ASIO in that or DSD? Were they not there?

Dr McCarthy : They were not part of the task force.

Senator LUDLAM: I presume the AFP would be the lead agency as far as—did you list the AFP?

Dr McCarthy : I did list the AFP.

Senator Chris Evans: The officer listed the Department of Defence, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. I will put these questions to ASIO when we get them a little bit later in the week but I presume they will refer me back to the minister because they are policy questions and not strictly operational. There is a report in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age this morning that the government is moving through a bill that is before the Senate at the moment—it is with the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee—to expand substantial liaisons, ASIO's capacity to investigate civil society organisations. I am wondering if you can tell us whether that policy has flowed, as the reporting seems to state? Does the Australian government feel that its intelligence agencies need greater capacities to investigate organisations like Wikileaks?

Dr McCarthy : The amendment you are referring to has not flowed from the Wikileaks events as described in that reporting this morning. The amendment you are referring to, Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, is designed to provide a consistent meaning of foreign intelligence and a consistent approach to foreign intelligence between three related acts: the ASIO Act, the Intelligence Services Act 2001 and the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. The Attorney-General's portfolio will be able to answer more detailed questions on that. But the amendment is not as reported in this morning's press flowing from the Wikileaks—

Senator LUDLAM: I understand that the bill may not be; I am referring to a specific amendment which departmental officers apparently refer to as 'the Wikileaks amendment'.

Dr McCarthy : That is the first time I have ever heard that amendment referred to as 'the Wikileaks amendment'.

Senator LUDLAM: You should obviously spend more time in the Attorney-General's Department. I thought it was worth putting to you. So, in your view, if you are refuting—I guess, I do not want to put words in your mouth—some of the implications of that article, does the Australian government feel that it needs additional surveillance powers over civil society organisations such as Wikileaks or do we have sufficient capacity in that regard already?

Dr McCarthy : I think those questions are best directed to the Attorney-General's portfolio.

Senator LUDLAM: So long as they don't refer me back to you.

Senator Chris Evans: The legislation as you know is the Attorney-General's legislation before the parliament. There is a Senate legal committee inquiry and obviously there is opportunity to ask questions of the Attorney-General's Department later in the week. That is where those matters are best pursued.

Senator LUDLAM: I will just ask one final one, because I presume this does relate directly to PM&C. Can you update us on what is currently being done to provide Mr Julian Assange» protection as enshrined in the rule of law—his citizenship entitlements, essentially?

Dr McCarthy : Those questions are best directed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. That goes to consular matters.

Senator LUDLAM: I am very happy to do that, as long as you are ruling out for me that the PM's office is having anything to do with that issue at all. The PM made very strong statements that Mr «Assange» had broken the law, so I am just trying to test whether she is retaining an interest in this or whether it has been devolved entirely to the Attorney-General's Department.

Dr McCarthy : Consular matters have always been a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator Chris Evans: Senator, you referred to citizenship. I did not quite pick up the question. What is the question?

Senator LUDLAM: He is under threat of extradition. You would be aware of the circumstances that he is facing at the moment, and at one time the Prime Minister had prejudged that he had broken the law, which was later retracted. I am wondering whether he has asked formally or what kind of requests for assistance he has put to the Australian government. I am happy to be referred to specific places, as long as they do not later in the week refer me back to PM&C.

Senator Chris Evans: No, I think you are best asking DFAT.

Senator LUDLAM: All right. When was the last time the Prime Minister was briefed on matters directly relevant to WikiLeaks cables?

Dr McCarthy : I do not have that information.

Senator LUDLAM: I will just tack that on to the list of things I asked you to take on notice earlier, if I could. I will leave it there.

Senator TROOD: I have a question about this «Assange» matter. On the last occasion we were here I asked some questions about advice that the Prime Minister and cabinet department had received in relation to WikiLeaks. I also asked you to take a question on notice. Dr McCarthy and Mr Lewis, you were involved in questioning. It was question 21 and you provided me with an answer to the question as to what advice was given. You said that you provided the Prime Minister with some advice on possible laws which had been broken, as I understand it.

Dr McCarthy : I have the answer to the question on notice here, and it was that—

Senator TROOD: No, I have the question, so you do not need to read it out to me.

Dr McCarthy : Can I just clarify. The phrase was 'possible US laws that may have been breached by Mr «Assange and/or WikiLeaks'.

Senator TROOD: I accept the literal reading. Can you just tell me who provided that advice to the department?

Dr McCarthy : This was not by way of formal legal advice. As the answer to the question indicates, it was advice to the Prime Minister about US laws that may have been broken. It was very general advice and we would have consulted with the Attorney-General's portfolio in providing that advice.

Senator TROOD: This was advice that you passed on to the Prime Minister?

Dr McCarthy : We would have consulted with the Attorney-General's portfolio—

Senator TROOD: I will get to that, but my question is—

Dr McCarthy : This was a brief from us.

Senator TROOD: Is this advice that you briefed the Prime Minister about with information provided from the Attorney-General's Department? Is that correct?

Dr McCarthy : To my recollection, that is correct.

Senator TROOD: Can you tell us when they made that advice?

Dr McCarthy : I do not have that date with me.

Senator TROOD: Perhaps you could take that on notice for tomorrow morning, would you?

Dr McCarthy : Certainly.

Senator TROOD: Thank you.

CHAIR: I thank the witnesses and invite you back tomorrow morning to continue. Drive safely.

Committee adjourned at 22:58