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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2122

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (15:04): by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

I do thank the government for that indulgence. I am particularly concerned about this matter, Minister. I have been here a while now and I do not recall a circumstance where any government agency has publicly acknowledged that on a highly sensitive matter concerning the removal of 350 of our scientists that there has been a use of private email systems to communicate between officers on that matter. The question that arises here goes to some fundamental issues about public servants' responsibilities under the law. But it goes beyond just the legal question; it goes to the ethical question.

There is no issue here about these events actually taking place, because senior officers of CSIRO have acknowledged they have taken place. It is not just at the most senior executive levels where this has occurred; there was evidence presented to the Senate Select Committee into the Scrutiny of Government Budget Measures by Dr Peter Craig, Director of Collaborations for Australian Weather and Climate Research, where he indicated there were up to seven officers down to the research director level who had been directed to use private emails in consideration of matters concerning the removal there of what we have now discovered to be 100 scientists.

Yesterday, Minister, you were asked a question about the breaches of the law under the Archives Act. Your response to that question in this chamber went to the issue of the Crimes Act, so there was clearly a major confusion about what you were answering. You said that there had been no breach of the law because the information had not been passed to third parties. We simply do not know that. We simply do not know, given how many people are being engaged with this matter and given the way in which CSIRO leaks like a sieve, how a minister can come to this chamber and claim that there has been no exchange of information to third parties involving the use of private emails—not to mention the well-known fact that any of us here who have had executive experience understand about the ability of other governments to actually make inquiries into the operations of ministerial offices or senior public servants' offices. We are all strictly advised about the way we should communicate, particularly involving devices that do not have security clearance. So I am concerned on that level.

I am particularly concerned about the assertions you made today, Minister, that on advice from A-G's there had been no breach of the law. It strikes me that that is an extraordinary proposition, given what the Archives Act actually contains, and, furthermore, that there had been no breach in the law with regard to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act. Again, these are extraordinary propositions, given the acknowledgement that this has occurred. It has been widespread, I know, in the case of one division, but I will assert that these are matters that go to the Land and Water division and they of course go to the Oceans and Atmosphere division. It is my contention that they also go to Manufacturing. There may well be many officers in the CSIRO who have been directed to use private emails and have of course complied with that, down to the research director level.

I am further concerned that these are matters that cannot be dismissed in a cavalier way, as the minister has done today, and simply will require further action in terms of the return to order that we have seen. It has now been asserted that CSIRO, recognising that there is a problem here, has returned information to the organisation—back to the central filing system. These are matters that should be tested. Minister, I look forward to those answers coming back from the CSIRO. We will establish exactly how many officers have been involved and, in particular, who directed that communications be undertaken on a private email system. Who issued that directive? And I am particularly concerned about the role of the government. CSIRO reports to a minister in the government under its act, and there is an obligation on government to ensure that laws are upheld.