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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


CHAIR: I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne; Secretary Frances Adamson; and officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Payne: No, thank you.

CHAIR: Secretary, I understand you have an exceptionally brief one?

Ms Adamson : I do, thank you. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of all Australian officials overseas, as well as my DFAT colleagues at home, in serving Australia and Australians during this prolonged COVID-19 crisis. DFAT has been, and remains, at the front line.

We are leading the government's international agenda in an increasingly complex strategic environment. Colleagues across the department are playing an integral role in Australia's economic recovery.

As DFAT's expertise and assistance are supporting our nearest neighbours to respond to the pandemic, our missions continue to provide non-stop services to Australians in need. Many of our overseas staff have continued to provide this critical support in challenging circumstances while facing a much higher prevalence of COVID-19, sometimes in places with health systems and standards well below our own, and often without the support of family.

I am aware that I acknowledged the work of my colleagues during our last estimates hearing in October. However, as the challenges caused by the ongoing pandemic remain, so too in response have my colleagues continued to deliver exceptional work in support of Australia and Australians' interests. I thank them for their dedication and service.

CHAIR: Can I, on behalf of the committee, echo those sentiments. It's one of those rare occasions, as I said yesterday, where I have absolute confidence that I speak for and on behalf of everybody on this committee. If you can pass that through the various channels, that would be much appreciated by all of us.

Ms Adamson : Thank you. I will.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, do you want to put something on the record as to that as well? I just want to hear her say, 'I agree with Eric'.

Senator WONG: Those word will never leave my lips!

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: That's not fair, Senator Wong!

Senator WONG: I agree with Eric!

CHAIR: It's on the record!

Senator WONG: I've spoken previously. We have had some differences of view about the government's resourcing of DFAT, the government's support for DFAT and the policy frameworks, but I don't doubt the professionalism and commitment of you and your colleagues, Ms Adamson; I think you know that from how I approach the portfolio. From my previous experiences as a minister and as a shadow minister, some of the most impressive public servants that I have ever dealt with are people in this portfolio, particularly in the service that they provide to the nation overseas. Thank you.

Ms Adamson : Thank you.

CHAIR: Before I hand to Senator Wong, I indicated to the secretary and your staff earlier, Minister, that, by agreement of the committee, at 10.25 we will interrupt whatever we're doing to enable myself, on behalf of all the committee, to ask what we're doing in the area of Tigre and the issues there, given that there is a demonstration in support of the plight of our Tigre brothers and sisters scheduled for 10.30 this morning outside Parliament House—so just before the morning tea break, in anticipation of the rally.

Senator WONG: Before I get to the portfolio, I want to ask whether or not the minister can advise us of any cabinet or secretary changes that are pending, given there's quite a lot reported in the media. It might be better not to have those things simply reported and backgrounded by the PMO but to be upfront about them.

Senator Payne: I have no comment to make on that. You asked me yesterday whether I had a comment to make on those reports, and I said no.

Senator WONG: They keep going. There are more reports, including about secretaryships, which are important to the country. I invite you to be upfront with the committee about changes the government is proposing to make.

Senator Payne: Arrangements of that nature are made by governments from time to time in our system, led by the Prime Minister. If there are any arrangements and changes to be made, they will be made by the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Are you part of discussions about such changes?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to comment on that.

Senator WONG: I just wonder if it's just him or whether he's taking advice from anybody.

Senator Payne: I'm not going to comment on that.

Senator WONG: Do we infer from that that he isn't taking advice from you?

Senator Payne: You should not infer anything from that. You know you're just playing politics. I'm not going to comment on this.

Senator WONG: I'm not.

Senator Payne: Actually, you are.

Senator WONG: Actually, I'm not.

CHAIR: Please! It's only ten past nine. Come on.

Senator WONG: It didn't take her long to get to that, did it? I understand she's sensitive, but I don't think it is a good way to run government. Others may well disagree, but to have the Prime Minister's office and senior members of your party backgrounding about the movement of secretaries is, I think, poor administration. So I'm inviting you to clean it up.

Senator Payne: The assertion that you make, for which you have absolutely no evidence and no proof—

Senator WONG: Have you looked at the papers?

Senator Payne: Do you believe everything you read? That's a genuine question, Senator Wong. If you do, that's a very interesting place in which to found your approach.

Senator WONG: I love frontbenchers who are former debaters who create strawmen or women to shoot down. You and I both know that if it's not the Prime Minister's office it's obviously well sourced. These things are being backgrounded extensively to the media. I'm offering you the opportunity to clarify.

Senator Payne: You've made your political point, Senator Wong. Do you want to talk about Foreign Affairs and Trade estimates?

Senator WONG: You don't want to respond?

Senator Payne: I said yesterday I was not going to make any comment. I'm saying today I'm not going to make any comment.

Senator WONG: I have questions about stranded Australians. Can you provide an update on the number of stranded Australians registered with DFAT as wanting to return home?

Ms Wood : As at 23 March 2021 we have 36,206 Australians registered as wishing to return to Australia.

Senator WONG: As at a couple of days ago?

Ms Wood : That's right.

Senator WONG: And the top five countries where they're located?

Ms Wood : The top five countries are India, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Philippines and Thailand.

Senator WONG: Just to be clear: these 36,206 are Australian citizens, not permanent residents?

Ms Wood : It's Australians including family, so it could potentially include some permanent residents.

Senator WONG: But, in the family group, citizens plus possible additional permanent residents?

Ms Wood : That's right.

Senator WONG: How many of them are classified as vulnerable?

Ms Wood : Of those 36,206, 4,860 are identified as vulnerable Australians.

Senator WONG: When the Prime Minister promised on 18 September last year to get stranded Australians home by Christmas, we were told that he meant he would get 4,000 home by Christmas and as many as possible of other stranded Australians. But since that commitment was made there are more people who are vulnerable who are stranded.

Senator Payne: I think Ms Wood would also be able to provide you with the numbers of Australians who returned—

Senator WONG: That's not what I asked, Minister. I ask the questions.

Senator Payne: May I finish?

Senator WONG: It's a non-responsive answer.

Senator Payne: You wouldn't know if it was a non-responsive answer, because I didn't even finish a sentence.

Senator WONG: If you want to spruik what you've done, put a press release out or do a press conference. I'm asking Ms Wood a question. Can she please answer it?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: What happened? Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed?

Senator WONG: I'm just tired of this government's obfuscation, tired of the spin and tired of people not telling the truth.

Senator Payne: To be really clear: between 18 September and Christmas, 63,100 Australians returned from overseas. That included more than 24,800 Australians registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Of those, that included 5,150 who were classified as vulnerable through the categorisation process of the department. In the six weeks prior to Christmas the department made over 50,000 offers of places on flights to Australians registered overseas to support that return process.

Senator WONG: Can we go back to the question, please, Ms Wood. When the Prime Minister said, 'We want to get them home by Christmas', I subsequently spoke—I don't think it was to you; it might have been to PM&C, from memory—about what that commitment meant. I was told that, basically, he didn't mean everybody; he meant, as a priority, the 4,000. Since that time we have got more vulnerable Australians stranded than at the time the Prime Minister made that commitment. That's correct, isn't it?

Ms Wood : In the sense that since 18 September, when the Prime Minister made the announcement, the number of those registering as wanting to return and, of that, the subgroup of those identified as vulnerable has continued to, in some instances, actually increase.

Senator WONG: What do you mean 'in some instances'? Can we do point in time?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: I understand the argument that it's different people, that we got those people home and there are more, but there were 4,000 vulnerable Australians stranded when the Prime Minister made a commitment to bring people home by Christmas. It is now March the next year, and we have 4,860. Those are the facts; correct?

Ms Wood : Yes, that's correct.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Obviously DFAT is not responsible for borders or quarantine, but the band 3 working group—I think PM&C convenes that group, from memory; is that right?

Ms Wood : That is a taskforce established in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It's chaired by Deputy Secretary Tony Sheehan.

Senator WONG: Sorry; I thought there was also a working group convened by PM&C intended to help bring people home and coordinate across government.

Ms Wood : That's also correct.

Senator WONG: Can you give me the nomenclature? You've got—what did you call the internal?

Ms Wood : We have a taskforce.

Senator WONG: We have the DFAT taskforce and—what was the interdepartmental—

Ms Wood : The interdepartmental deputies committee.

Senator WONG: And Mr Sheehan is on that for DFAT?

Ms Wood : That's right.

Senator WONG: So the Prime Minister's department leads the cross-government work to bring stranded Australians home?

Ms Wood : That's right.

Senator WONG: We have dealt with this at length, but, because of the time frame and various obfuscation on Ms Higgins and other matters, we didn't get to this with PM&C. That group, the interdepartmental deputies committee, seeks to coordinate all the arms of government around bringing people home, and the primary limitation on that is the number of quarantine spaces available; correct?

Ms Wood : It's linked to the caps imposed by the jurisdictions around Australia.

Senator WONG: Does every place within the cap have a quarantine place?

Ms Wood : The caps impose a limit on the number of people who can arrive into each jurisdiction, and each person who comes in under the cap is required to undergo quarantine.

Senator WONG: Correct. As I've understood the discussion, though, the caps reflect the availability of quarantine spaces, because we have to have people quarantined; correct?

Ms Wood : That's right.

Senator WONG: Minister Birmingham—I think he was the acting foreign minister at the time—announced on 16 January 2021 that the government would organise 20 repatriation flights from 31 January to 31 March. He also said that they would be taken to Howard Springs as well as to locations in Canberra and Tasmania. Can you tell me how many of those flights have been completed?

Ms Wood : I'd need to double check. I understand that, of the 20 facilitated commercial flights that were announced, 12 have been completed as at 19 March and the final eight will be completed by 17 April.

Senator WONG: How many of the 12 to date have disembarked at Howard Springs and how many have gone to other locations?

Ms Wood : All of them went to Howard Springs except for one, which has gone to Canberra.

Senator WONG: And eight are planned between now and 17 April?

Ms Wood : That's correct.

Senator WONG: And how many thereafter, if any?

Ms Adamson : We want to be very clear about a point made earlier. For the avoidance of all doubt, when you asked about registered Australians and you asked about the difference between Australian citizens and permanent residents, I want to be clear that those numbers do include permanent residents, including when they are not necessarily family members of a citizen. Do you see what I mean? I want to be clear about that.

Senator WONG: I didn't understand Ms Wood.

Ms Adamson : That's what Ms Wood thought she was saying. We just clarified. I want to be absolutely clear.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that. Can you tell me the proportions? Do we have that?

Ms Wood : We can get back to you during the course of the morning.

Senator WONG: We can have that on notice. It's not urgent. Can we go back to the repatriation flights? Is that okay?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: There are eight planned between now and 17 April, so they're obviously slightly delayed. Are there any planned thereafter?

Ms Wood : Yes, Senator. As the Prime Minister announced after national cabinet on 5 March, an arrangement has been established between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory to ramp up the use of Howard Springs. At the moment, on average, on a rolling basis every 16 to 18 days, it has a capacity of around 850, and that's going to be progressively ramped up so it has a capacity in coming months of around 2,000.

Senator WONG: I'm not criticising you, Ms Wood, but there's been announcement after announcement where the words have been pretty fuzzy. When you say—what was the phrase—

Ms Wood : A rolling basis.

Senator WONG: Yes—over the next few months—I don't know how many announcements this government has made. The ministerial taskforce is supposed to report to the Prime Minister—that was last year—about how to get people home. We've had announcement after announcement. Do you have a plan as to the ramp-up for Howard Springs?

Ms Wood : It's in progress, Senator.

Senator WONG: What does that mean? Are you able to tell me what the targets are for each month in terms of the increasing number of places available there?

Ms Wood : Senator, I can't give you specific information.

Senator WONG: No.

Ms Wood : May I explain why?

Senator WONG: Sure.

Ms Wood : The reason is that the arrangement between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory is now shifting to a slightly different footing to what it currently is. Ensuring that we have the wrap-around for the flights which are coming in does take a little bit of time to establish, but the plan is underway. We have a tentative schedule of flights, a tentative schedule of where some of the first ones will come from, but to land that—I'm not obfuscating on this, but, to make sure that we match the capacity of flights coming in with the availability of beds and the support services for the quarantine, we're in the process of establishing that at the moment.

Senator WONG: When were the borders closed?

Ms Wood : On 20 March last year.

Senator WONG: Last year. What's the date today?

Ms Wood : It's 25 March.

Senator WONG: So, it's over a year later and we still don't have a clear plan on this.

Senator Payne: That's not correct.

Senator WONG: Well, it is.

Senator Payne: No, it's not, Senator.

Senator WONG: I don't know whether you engage, Minister, with the many families—some of them in desperate circumstances—

Senator Payne: Of course I do.

Senator WONG: overseas, but, if you want to tell them that you've got a plan and you've had one for the last year, go right ahead, because that is not their experience.

Senator Payne: That's how we have managed 115 of the government facilitated flights. Thirty-four of those have come from India, 14 from the United Kingdom, I think four—

Senator WONG: Minister, I remember you resisting government facilitated flights.

CHAIR: Allow the minister to finish, please, Senator Wong.

Senator Payne: And there are a number of flights from other locations and with other airlines. We have planned departure points through March and into April from the UK, from India, from Europe, from South Africa, and from North America. Senator, we've just heard, I think today, in media—not officially, as far as I'm aware, but I stand to be corrected—that the Victorian government is about to change its position again on quarantine availability, which does have an impact—

Senator WONG: Oh, let's blame Daniel again. I love your government! At least you're predictable! Aged care deaths—it was their fault. Quarantine—it was their fault.

CHAIR: Allow the minister—

Senator WONG: Do you actually ever take responsibility for anything, Senator Payne—anything?

Senator Payne: A hundred and fifteen government-facilitated commercial flights from the countries in the numbers that I have identified, and, as Ms Wood said, the challenge that we have to deal with—one of the challenges that we deal with—in this process is, as you have also identified, the availability of quarantine positions. We have worked with the Northern Territory government in the post-cyclone season, amongst other things to increase the number of beds at Howard Springs. That is not something that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does, but we respond to that availability with flights, as Ms Wood has set out. So we use those to complement the availability of scheduled commercial services, and that, of course, continues to be a significant avenue for Australians to return as well.

Senator WONG: I think anybody watching this knows that there was obviously a very quick decision to shut borders. The government was tardy, slow and reluctant in its response. I remember you telling me off for suggesting you should have commercial facilitated flights. So the government fought dealing with that, and then sought to make it the states' responsibilities. But anyway, I'd like to go back to Ms Wood. The current fortnightly capacity is 850. What's the current capacity relative to Australia's total quarantine capacity? Less than 10 per cent? Eight hundred and fifty per fortnight.

Senator Payne: The quarantine capacity obviously is not managed by us—

Senator WONG: Oh, boy!

Senator Payne: but if Ms Wood has some information there I'll ask her to provide it.

Senator WONG: Wow! Gee.

Senator Payne: By the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Senator.

Senator WONG: But it is relevant to your job.

Senator Payne: Yes, of course it is. I said, if Ms Wood has the information I'll ask her to provide it.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Ms Wood : I do have the information; I simply need to find it.

Senator WONG: It's alright. I will breathe, and wait.

Ms Adamson : If we add up the individual caps for each capital city, it's about 6,700, just on quick—

Senator WONG: Six and a half thousand, I thought.

Ms Adamson : Yes, about that.

Senator WONG: It's been reported—again, background, not announcement, I think—that it will increase to 2,000 per fortnight. Sorry—you have said it will reach 2,000 per fortnight as a goal. Do you have a date? I understand you're saying to me, 'Well, we're working on the transition plan, steps et cetera.' Do you have a date by which you say it will reach approximately 2,000 a fortnight, as per the government's announcement from January?

Ms Wood : We're expecting late April or early May.

Senator WONG: Right—so this financial year?

Ms Wood : Yes. It's largely dependent on the cyclone season. That's one of the reasons why the timing is a little bit uncertain: late April, early May.

Senator WONG: How much of the quarantine capacity is set aside for stranded Australians as opposed to other travellers?

Ms Wood : In Howard Springs?

Senator WONG: Yes. Is there a policy decision about that?

Ms Wood : Can I get back to you during the course of the morning?

Senator WONG: Sure. Can I explain why? I've been so busy I haven't actually had a chance to speak to Senator Keneally about this, but there is data about who is on the flights coming in and there's a very large proportion of non-citizens. I just put that. I don't intend to make a political point about that now, but obviously those are quarantine places which are not available for stranded Australians, so I'm trying to understand if this announcement by government is essentially to deal with the larger numbers of vulnerable Australians who want to come home than when the Prime Minister made his announcement in September. Are you going to allocate the places at Howard Springs to that cohort or not?

Ms Wood : If I can clarify, if you're talking about those coming into Australia in general and taking up quarantine places right around the country, clearly that's not really a question for DFAT. We know there's been some reporting suggesting that there aren't as many Australians on those flights as one might think, but when we've looked at it, the evidence seems to be that, on average, around 85 per cent are Australians and permanent residents.

Senator WONG: Look, I actually didn't ask you a question about that. I'm not making a political point; I'm asking a different question. Can you answer the question I've asked you, please?

Ms Wood : But into Howard Springs the flights we're bringing in are Australians and permanent residents, and among those we prioritise vulnerable Australians on those flights.

Senator WONG: Sure. Are those places guaranteed for the 40,000-plus Australians, as opposed to other visitors? Is there a policy decision which says, 'We will ensure that places in the Howard Springs facility are allocated for stranded Australians?

Ms Wood : Absolutely.

Senator WONG: So there is a policy decision from government?

Ms Wood : Yes. The ramp-up to the 2,000, the top priority is returning Australians and, among those, the most vulnerable.

Senator WONG: Where is this laid out?

Ms Wood : It was in the Prime Minister's announcement.

Senator WONG: But is there a document you can give me other than that? We get a lot of announcements from this Prime Minister, a lot of press conferences, particularly of late. Frankly, I would like to see—is there a government document that sets out the policy about eligibility for Howard Springs? Can you give me anything?

Ms Wood : I don't have anything specific on Howard Springs. It's around the facilitated commercial flight that DFAT is responsible for. Access to those facilitated commercial flights is only to Australians who are registered as wishing to return to Australia.

Senator WONG: Right. Do you allocate on the basis of vulnerability first?

Ms Wood : We do.

Senator WONG: You do. So do you have a sense—it's alright, Ms Wood, I'm not going to yell at you. You look scared! I'm just thinking.

Ms Adamson : Nothing scares Lynette!

Ms Wood : I want to make sure I give you accurate answers, and there are so many moving parts to this. But, echoing what was previously said, I'm so proud of the work that my staff are doing in bringing as many people home as we can.

Senator WONG: I understand the point you've made previously that, although the raw numbers have not moved much, the cohort has changed. I understand there are a lot of moving parts. But are you able to tell this committee anything about when you think we're likely to get all 40,000 Australians currently stranded home?

Ms Wood : Well, if I can start there, at the moment we have around 36,000 registered.

Senator WONG: I said 'almost'.

Ms Wood : But I think that's part of the answer; a few months ago it was 40,000, and now there's 36,000. We don't know all the reasons for it. Part of it is the availability of flights, but part of it is the international situation.

Senator WONG: I'm just asking you when you think they'll all be home.

Ms Wood : It goes to the reasons why people are registering in the first place. Over the winter, we think we saw a big uptick because of the second wave in Europe and North America—

Senator WONG: Why is this such a hard question to answer, Ms Wood?

CHAIR: Please allow the witness to continue.

Senator WONG: This is the question that people want answered.

CHAIR: Please allow the witness to continue.

Ms Wood : I understand exactly what you mean.

Senator WONG: I have people who contact me regularly. This is what they want to know. So I just would ask: does the government have any sense of when the 40,000—sorry, 36,780 or whatever the figure is—Australians who are currently stranded are likely to get home?

Ms Wood : Senator, there are several layers to it. We have 36,000 registered but, as the minister pointed out, even between September and December, the ones who are registered don't necessarily take up the offers of seats on flights. It's difficult to draw a linear line about, if flights are available, who might actually come home when.

Senator WONG: And also there are people who say they can't get on the flights. But I'm actually not trying to make a point about that. Can't you tell people about when you think they'll get home? Because that's what they want to know. It's a pretty simple—

Ms Adamson : We watch this every single day. The numbers have been coming down consistently over the last couple of months. And Ms Wood is right; it was 40 and it remained stubbornly at 40, even edging up above that. But it's been consistently coming down, partly also as the Northern Hemisphere conditions ease and vaccines are rolled out. In response to your question about your constituents, we know that across the committee and across the whole parliament MPs and senators are receiving emails and requests from members of the Australian public. We are too, and our staff are absolutely committed to doing the very best that we can. An increase in numbers at Howard Springs will make that happen more quickly.

Senator WONG: I know you're doing the best you can. I know that. But I don't think it is unreasonable for Australians to ask this department, this minister, this government, 'When will people get home by?'

Ms Adamson : The answer is as soon as we can manage it.

Senator WONG: Well, great.

Ms Adamson : We are committed to that. We are absolutely committed to it.

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister came out—yet another announcement by him—last year in September and told people, 'We want them all home by Christmas.' And we're here at estimates in March and you still can't tell me when people will be home.

Ms Adamson : Because there's a global pandemic.

Senator WONG: I know it's a global pandemic—I think I've worked that out! But the Prime Minister knew that when he said 40,000 and that they'd be home by Christmas, didn't he?

Ms Adamson : Yes, he did.

Senator WONG: But it wasn't true. It wasn't true.

Ms Adamson : He meant what he said and we meant what we do.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to recall. So basically no-one at the table—Minister, Secretary, or you, Ms Wood—is willing to give any indication of when they'll be home by? Just to be clear.

Ms Wood : The cup keeps refilling.

Senator WONG: No kidding!

Ms Wood : It's not as if it's a finite number and the door has closed. More and more people keep registering—

Senator WONG: Ms Wood, please. I know that, but that was the case when the Prime Minister made his commitment.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, please let the witness answer the question.

Senator WONG: Yes, I think we all know the cup keeps filling. We all know that, at the time the Prime Minister made his announcement, the number of vulnerable Australians was less than it is now who were stranded. We also know that the number of people who register with DFAT is only a fraction of the expat population. We know all of those things, and I'm simply asking if the Australian government can give any indication to people stranded overseas when they're likely to get home by.

Ms Adamson : The past is the best guide. We've been able to bring home 46,000 registered Australians since the PM spoke in September, and we will not rest until they are all home.

Senator Payne: The statement from the national cabinet of 5 March, which is focused on supporting Australians to return, notes a static position on passenger arrival caps until 30 April. It notes changes in those caps in a number of locations, particularly Western Australia, from tomorrow, which will return to 1,025 passengers. It notes that Victoria committed to resume international passenger flights as soon as possible. There have been no international passenger flights into Victoria since 13 February, with the exception of the New Zealand flights and freight flights. As I said earlier, there has been some public indication, as I understand it, by the Victorian government about the resumption of that capacity. That makes an important difference in numbers, particularly when we note that New South Wales—which is a state of similar capacity—is taking up to 3,000 returns.

The national cabinet statement of 5 March also indicates the details of the agreement in relation to Howard Springs to increase to 2,000 people per fortnight with, as Ms Wood said, the ramp-up of that beginning in late April of this year and full capacity between June and December. It says in that statement of the national cabinet on 5 March: 'Commonwealth government will continue to support repatriation flights for Australians to the end of 2021.' The statement issued on 5 March is the basis for the development of Howard Springs and for the ongoing facilitated flights. The number of commercial flights that can enter Australia will increase with the reopening of the Victorian international airport capacity. That will enable us to work again with the airlines to prioritise vulnerable Australians. We will continue facilitated flights through this calendar year and beyond, if necessary, to support those Australians who are registered with DFAT as vulnerable to return as soon as possible. That's why we have been engaged in the number of flights that we have. In fact, I think one landed in Darwin today, from New Delhi. I believe that is correct but I'll just check.

So the capacity in Howard Springs is overwhelmingly dedicated to the facilitated commercial flights that DFAT is organising. The Northern Territory administration reserves some space in the facility, because it's theirs, for domestic quarantine. As you may be aware, they had a policy of domestic quarantine for a period. There are also, as I understand it, some Dili-Darwin commercial flights which may also be quarantined in Howard Springs. If we can provide more detail on that, we will. But the government's commitment, through the work of this department, through the work of the department of infrastructure and transport to assist with the arrangements for those facilitated commercial flights—and I want to acknowledge the airlines who are assisting with that process—is to, as Ms Adamson said, return as many Australians on every single flight as we are able to do, and we will continue to do that every day and every week.

Senator WONG: In terms of the federal government's contribution to quarantine, Howard Springs—the current 850 places—is the federal government's contribution. Is that correct?

Ms Wood : That's right.

Senator WONG: I have other questions, but I know that on this Senator Ayres has some questions before I come back, so I'm happy to go to him for a few minutes, Chair, if that's all right.


Senator AYRES: I've got a couple of questions about former Senator Brandis's return to Australia in November last year. What was the purpose of Mr Brandis's return?

Ms Adamson : High Commissioner Brandis was returning to Australia for what we call mid-term consultations and leave.

Senator AYRES: Are they mid-term consultations that every person in that type of role would be required to do?

Ms Adamson : Correct.

Senator AYRES: But it was also for the purposes of leave?

Ms Adamson : Well, that is—

Senator AYRES: That's what generally happens, is it?

Ms Adamson : That's right. They're called mid-term consultations and leave.

Senator AYRES: Was Mr Brandis accompanied by a staff member?

Ms Adamson : I don't have any information about whether he was accompanied or not.

Senator AYRES: Is anybody else in a position to answer that?

Ms Adamson : From the point of view of our staff, it's the head of mission that we focus on. I don't know whether Mr Geering can add anything.

Senator Payne: I'll check. I think we've responded to a question on notice in relation to that. You may know that yourself, Senator. It may have been your question. I'm not sure.

Senator AYRES: I think that there was. Is it the same person who lists himself on his LinkedIn profile as an adviser to the high commissioner?

Senator Payne: I don't know. You asked a question about accompanying staff. I said I thought there was an answer to your question on notice. I'm having officials check that. If you want to continue to ask questions, if the officials can't answer them right now, we'll take them on notice and come back to you.

Senator AYRES: I'm sure there's somebody in a position to resolve this question for us at the moment.

Senator Payne: We'll take them on notice, Senator, if we don't have the details here at the table.

Senator AYRES: I'll come back to that in a moment. How long was Mr Brandis scheduled to stay in Australia before returning to his post?

Ms Adamson : I will have to check precisely, but it might be helpful for you if I explain the normal shape, if you like, of consultations and leave, and then the shape that they've taken during COVID, where, of course, anyone returning to Australia has been required to undergo two weeks of quarantine. In most cases, that has extended the period that they've therefore been away from their posts, although it has been possible for some elements of a consultations program to be carried out from quarantine. Typically, it would be two weeks quarantine, three weeks of consultations and then whatever period of leave that they're entitled to and can manage, given the various demands on them at post. That's the shape of it. Normally it would take over a month.

Senator AYRES: And are all staff able to return to Australia for leave when they need to?

Ms Adamson : Well, we certainly encourage all staff to have periods of leave. That has not been possible for everybody during COVID, so it would be qualified. If we're talking about heads of mission, they are the ones who come back for consultations. That's an obligation that they have. That's what we need them to do for operational reasons. The timing of these things varies according to operational requirements. Of course, during COVID the ability to get on flights and quarantine has been part of the calculation around it. But we certainly had small numbers of heads of mission back here for consultations and leave during this period.

Senator AYRES: So all heads of mission who were at that midterm point, did they all return for leave? Or was it different for Mr Brandis?

Ms Adamson : It's not different for High Commissioner Brandis. He was treated exactly the same way that everybody else was. This notion of 'midterm' is a fairly elastic one. If someone's on a four-year posting, they could theoretically come for midterm consultations at any point after about 18 months until about somewhere over three years. The point of it is flexible and is typically determined by operational requirements.

Senator AYRES: So you can't tell me how long he was scheduled to stay in Australia.

Ms Adamson : I can get back to you pretty quickly. We certainly discussed it in advance, and I approved his leave. Obviously, I also approved the period of consultations because it was definitely time for him to be coming back. We've got a lot going on in our relationship with the UK, and he was able to have valuable consultations and discussions while he was here—some of them were virtual, from quarantine in Queensland, and some of them in person. I saw him in Canberra in person.

Senator AYRES: I'd like to know what his schedule was on his return, and when, in fact, he did return to London. There was a story on 7News on 24 January. I assume Channel Seven contacted the department and Mr Brandis about this?

Ms Adamson : I'm not sure about that, Senator, but can I just say I do recall, because he was in touch with me about it, that there was a need to delay his return—I think by a couple of days. I think that was flight related, but let me check that. He was certainly in touch with me, including an exchange about when was a good time to return, because the number of cases in the UK was rising very substantially then. My advice to him, which he absolutely accepted, was that he should return to the post as scheduled. I think he went a couple of days after the original flight might have been booked, but we can confirm that for you.

Senator AYRES: Was that before or after 7News made contact with him?

Ms Adamson : To my knowledge, that wasn't relevant to any of the considerations. He was in touch with me towards the end of the period, alerting me to the fact—and I was alert to it—of the rising number of cases in London. We talked about the benefits of staying versus going. My recommendation was that he return pretty much as planned, and that's what he did. He has been leading the mission—although I should say he was also able to continue to exercise leadership of the mission while he was here in Australia, as these things can be done virtually these days.

Senator AYRES: What are the quarantine arrangements for returning high commissioners and ambassadors?

Ms Adamson : The arrangements are that they must fulfil whatever the state based requirements are. From the middle of last year, it was recognised that there was an exemption for people returning on official travel to enable them to quarantine privately. Those arrangements then changed in some states. Each state had its own version of this, if you like. Our instructions to staff are, whatever their entry point, they must abide by, and abide strictly by, the requirements that apply at their port of entry. It has been essential to us that they do that.

Senator AYRES: So are ambassadors and high commissioners exempt? You're saying that depends on the state arrangements?

Ms Adamson : It does. And it's not that they're ambassadors or high commissioners; it's that they are government officials covered by the decision that AHPPC made, as I recall, in the middle of last year, recognising the pressure on government quarantine facilities and the way the risks could be managed. To my knowledge, that's what all of our staff have done, but the arrangements have varied over time in the various states.

Senator Payne: A comparable example, Senator Ayres—

Senator AYRES: I'm sorry, Minister, I can't quite hear you. I have a kettle boiling behind me!

Senator Payne: I would have thought Senator Sheldon could do that! A comparable example, Senator Ayres, would be the arrangements that the secretary and I made with our respective jurisdictions on our return from AUSMIN held in the United States in the middle of July last year—the secretary under the ACT requirements, and me under New South Wales Health requirements. Similarly, those arrangements have been made for people like heads of mission and post returning to Australia in those jurisdictions.

Senator AYRES: This is what I'm trying to get to: is the treatment of staff exactly the same as it is for ambassadors and high commissioners?

Ms Adamson : To my knowledge, yes.

Senator AYRES: In terms of the cap?

Ms Adamson : The idea has been that they travel above the cap. They're not counted within the cap, so therefore they're not taking a quarantine place from a returning Australian. They travel above the cap, as a small number of people who receive those exemptions do.

Senator Payne: As a government official.

Ms Adamson : As a government official. You asked me earlier and I wasn't able to answer, but I now can—the high commissioner was not accompanied on his midterm leave and consultations, but two staff from the high commission did travel to Australia around the same time as Mr Brandis. I'm advised that those staff members travelled to Australia at their own cost while undertaking leave. Their travel was not facilitated by the department, including in relation to quarantine.

Senator AYRES: So, they were travelling for leave purposes?

Ms Adamson : Yes, they were. At the high commissioner's request, though, I'm advised one of these staff members travelled from Sydney to Canberra from 7 December to 11 December to support aspects of his program, and that part of the travel was funded by the high commission.

Senator AYRES: And Mr August was one of those?

Ms Adamson : I don't know their names, Senator.

Senator AYRES: The position you've described to me for DFAT staff, that's the same for staff of other government departments who are on—

Ms Adamson : Yes, it is, I mean at the level of principle in terms of ability to return. It has become a bit more complicated during COVID with the slightly different jurisdictional approaches to this. I just want to give that caveat, because there have been differences across states. Ultimately, it's been a state decision, if you like, as to whether to permit them entry and whether to do so on the basis of that exemption.

Senator AYRES: So those two travelled for leave. There are still 40,000 people stranded overseas. In the 7News story, Dr Mackenzie, who was stranded in the UK, noted:

There seems to be this trend, of those in elite positions managing to have one set of rules while the rest of us have a different set of rules.

They were travelling for leave. That's the case, isn't it?

Ms Adamson : I can really only speak about High Commissioner Brandis. He was the one travelling on it for official purposes. Official purposes include consultation and leave. I really can't speak for the private arrangements made by anyone who might have been travelling around the same time.

Senator AYRES: I've got questions about one of the staff members who travelled with Mr Brandis, Mr Zachary August. He's listed as an adviser to Mr Brandis on his LinkedIn profile. Is there anybody in a position to tell me how Mr August was hired?

Ms Adamson : I can't. We'd have to take that question on notice, unless Mr Geering is able to assist as head of the Europe and Latin America division.

Mr Geering : He's a locally engaged staff member at the high commission.

Senator AYRES: Was his position advertised?

Mr Geering : I would presume so, but I would have to take that on notice to check for you. It would be as per our other locally engaged staff arrangements in London.

Senator AYRES: You're assuming the position was advertised?

Mr Geering : I'll have to take it on notice to confirm that.

Senator AYRES: Can you take that on notice and provide us with a copy of the advertisement, if there was an advertisement. When did he take up the position?

Mr Geering : I also would need to take that on notice. I don't have the details of his employment arrangements with me, other than the fact that he's an LES. I'd have to take it on notice.

Senator AYRES: How many other heads of Australian missions employ advisers?

Mr Geering : London has a large range of LES that perform a large range of roles.

Senator AYRES: Is there a position that you understand is called an adviser to the high commission?

Mr Geering : I'm not exactly sure of what the position is in the organisational chart of the high commission, or whether it's called that or not. We employ a very large range of people in the larger missions as locally engaged staff to provide support on a wide range of fronts.

Ms Adamson : I recall that this was a subject—advisers, titles and locally engaged staff—last estimates—

Senator WONG: Thought partners—remember that?

Ms Adamson : That's right, I do. I remember expressing a view, as secretary of the department, on these things—

Senator AYRES: You anticipated my next—

Ms Adamson : I think it would be fair to say, if I reflect on what I said then, that I might have expressed a rather traditional and perhaps even old-fashioned view about these things. But I was subsequently advised that my own network has taken on—

Senator WONG: Thought partners!

Ms Adamson : Not so many of those, actually, Senator, but a small number of people who have taken the title 'adviser' in a small number of posts. To be honest, it's not something I'd encourage, particularly. But it happens, and we have to move with the times.

Senator WONG: It's not very admirable.

Senator AYRES: There was a social media post that said, 'We've deployed an @AusHouseLondon support team to Heathrow Airport,' on 7 September. Can anybody tell me whether Mr August was working at Heathrow Airport or was at Heathrow Airport on that day?

Ms Adamson : We'd have to take that on notice, exactly who went. But, of course, support teams at airports for Australians are strongly encouraged and welcomed by travelling and returning Australians.

Senator AYRES: Whether this interaction was welcomed or not is a matter of opinion. Perth woman Sheree Richardson and her three children had been camped out at Heathrow Airport. We don't know whether Mr August had any interaction with them on the day?

Senator Payne: As the secretary said, we'll take that on notice because we do not know the answer to your first question.

Senator AYRES: What I want to know is if it was Mr August who told Ms Richardson to go to a homeless shelter. That's what I want to know.

Senator Payne: We'll take that on notice.

Senator AYRES: Did he offer any other advice or assistance to the Richardson family?

Senator Payne: The questions in relation to this specific matter we will take on notice. I know we discussed these responses on the previous occasion. The secretary made some remarks in relation to that as well.

Senator AYRES: There was some important information for stranded Australians being posted in the early hours of that morning, local time. Was Mr August, at that time, posting from Australia or from the United Kingdom?

Senator Payne: On what date?

Senator AYRES: On 7 September. He said: 'Someone said, at 1 am, "Is no-one in London anymore?"' And the author of the post said: 'Darren, very much still here. Latest advice came in from Canberra and we've gotten it up straightaway.' Is Mr August still in Australia? Are many locally engaged staff working for overseas DFAT posts in Australia? Could you provide on notice the total number of DFAT staff who are working for overseas missions who are engaged in Australia at the moment.

Finally, Ms Richardson was inundated with media requests after posting photos of her children sleeping at the airport. It has been put to me that someone called Zach, from the High Commission, said to her something to the effect of: if she spoke to anyone in the media, he wouldn't be able to help her get on a new flight—that more media attention would jeopardise her chances. Can you come back to me during the course of the day about whether that was in fact Mr August and whether that is the department's account of what Mr August said to Ms Richardson?

Ms Adamson : We'll certainly do the best we can to get back to you but, given the 11-hour time difference with London, it will probably be towards the end of the day. We'll certainly make inquiries. None of what you have said have I heard before, so we'll follow up.

Senator AYRES: Thank you, Secretary.

Senator WONG: That's not the policy of the government, though, is it—that if you go to the media you're less likely to get on the flight?

Senator Payne: No.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Ayres, if you have finished your questions we'll go to Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: I understand that I have about 20 minutes and then we'll go to Senator Abetz. I had questions on PNG but Senator Rice wants to ask questions about Myanmar, so we thought for convenience it would be better if I asked some questions and then we go to her so that we have that time as a block. So we'll do Myanmar now and I'll drop PNG down the order. Mr Jadwat, could you give us an update on the current situation in Myanmar—how many people have been either killed or injured in protests, the arrest of political figures and so forth—and then I'll have some questions to ask.

Mr Jadwat : The situation in Myanmar remains highly volatile. Nationwide protest and civil disobedience continues to grow. Protesters are facing an increasingly violent response by the military. Civil disobedience is impacting on the provision of essential services, and the economy is obviously being affected. Railways, ports and banking services are all being severely affected by the disobedience campaign. The violent crackdowns on protesters are deeply concerning. They are occurring around the country—not only in the major cities. At least 250 people, unfortunately, have been killed since the coup on 1 February and over 2,300 people have been arrested. Unfortunately, the situation continues to deteriorate.

Senator WONG: On 7 March the minister announced that the ADF's military cooperation program had been suspended and that the Australian aid program would be directed 'to the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor'. Can someone please explain where that funding and all those resources have been redirected to, and how?

Mr Jadwat : Sure. As you said, on 7 March the minister announced that we will be redirecting funding to address 'the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities'. Even prior to the coup, the government did not provide funding directly to the government of Myanmar, but, after careful review, we are redirecting assistance away from working with the government and government related entities and towards working with existing trusted NGOs and multilateral partners. What we're trying to do is to make sure that no money ends up in the hands of the military.

Senator WONG: Given the level of civil disobedience and disruption and what has occurred with the taking of power by the Tatmadaw from the duly elected government, there's obviously a lot of disruption and risk. I understand you've just said that we're directing assistance through NGOs and so forth, but what is our capacity to provide assistance on the ground, given the current circumstances?

Mr Jadwat : We're in regular contact with our embassy in Yangon. In terms of the development assistance program, they are working very closely with trusted partners, but my understanding, from conversations with our ambassador and with the team there, is that it is very difficult at this point, because of the disruption that you mention. That will have an effect on this redirection of assistance, and I think it's going to take some time. It's an ongoing process, and the situation, as I said, remains volatile. It will obviously have a negative impact on how we are able to do our work on the ground, but, if I may say so, our embassy is doing a fantastic job.

Senator WONG: It is a very good post.

Mr Jadwat : It's a fantastic team. Our ambassador is working tirelessly. They're under a lot of pressure—they're facing communication outages; they're facing curfews—but they're turning up to work every day and doing the very best they can.

Senator WONG: And I express our thanks for that. How would you describe our current objectives for the aid program in Myanmar?

Mr Jadwat : Our current objective is to remain steadfast in our support for those who are most vulnerable in Myanmar. We've been a big supporter of the people of Myanmar for a very long time, and we want to make sure that this development assistance program remains dedicated to helping lift people out of poverty and to helping those who are most vulnerable. That includes women and girls, the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.

Senator WONG: On 29 January our embassy joined a statement with other embassies on the ground, urging the Tatmadaw to adhere to democratic norms. Was that something communicated by Australia to the Tatmadaw prior to 1 February by any means other than that press release?

Mr Jadwat : I'm not aware of any other means of contacting the government at that time—or the Tatmadaw since the coup—in relation to that issue. The statement released on, I think, 28 January was in response to some of the news articles that were coming out suggesting that the Tatmadaw were not going to accept the results of the election. Our embassy swung into action very quickly in dealing with other embassies on the ground to put out that statement, but I don't know—

Senator WONG: Was there anything at a ministerial level prior to then?

Senator Payne: Anything in terms of?

Senator WONG: In terms of urging the Tatmadaw to adhere to democratic norms—the same message that was in the embassy's release. Was that something that we communicated from government to government, at any level, prior to that time?

Senator Payne: One of the real challenges of the events as the military coup took place was that there was no capacity for communication government to regime between officials. In fact, the ambassador has spent—and so have her team—a great deal of time trying to identify and find office holders—that is probably the best term I could use; I may be corrected by Mr Jadwat—with whom to engage. So it has not been a case of—

Senator WONG: I'm talking about prior to 1 February. There was obviously a lot of commentary and a lot of concern. The embassies on the ground rightly identified the risk—which proved, regrettably, to be correct—of a coup. I'm asking whether or not, in addition to this statement, there was any communication, formal or otherwise, from our government to the Tatmadaw prior to 1 February about the need to respect democratic processes?

Senator Payne: I could take the timing on notice. I don't have it in front of me. We had obviously been fully engaged through our embassy and were taking advice from them, but let me come back to you on that.

Senator WONG: Yes. I appreciate you need to take this on notice, but I'm asking whether you—

Senator Payne: Yes, I understand that.

Senator WONG: Specifically, did you or the defence minister raise any concerns about the need to respect democratic processes with anyone either in the Tatmadaw or in the then government, or both, prior to 1 February?

Senator Payne: I understand that, Senator.

Senator WONG: In the minister's press release of 7 March, I think the minister talked about the importance of the need to support the people of Myanmar:

We call on the Myanmar regime to engage in dialogue. Australia will continue to play a constructive role, including in consultation with international partners, particularly ASEAN, in support of the Myanmar people.

I wonder if you can tell us more about that, Minister—what we're doing and what you say the government is doing to act with others in support of the Myanmar people.

Senator Payne: There's obviously a very significant focus within ASEAN in particular on the impact of the military coup on the people of Myanmar. In parallel with that, I think there are ongoing concerns, as there have been for some time, and a real frustration with the inability to identify a solution to the position of the Rohingya, particularly in Bangladesh. That has not diminished. So, with our ASEAN colleagues—including with Brunei as chair of ASEAN, with Indonesia and with the Philippines—and with other counterparts and through my discussions and the secretary's discussions and senior officials' discussions—and, indeed, the Prime Minister—we have been working closely in consultation with ASEAN to identify possible paths forward. I spoke with the UN Secretary-General last week on these matters. He has a long and abiding interest in both the issues that I raised at the beginning of this response. There is not a clear path in relation to how to work with partners to address the impacts of the coup and how to engage with the leaders of the regime, if that is appropriate, and what form that would take.

Obviously, at the moment the level of community unrest—the range of protest activity, which manifested again in a different way yesterday—is making work on the ground very difficult, and I think Mr Jadwat has referred to that as well. The focus of ASEAN—and I'm not speaking for ASEAN but only of our work with ASEAN—including with the countries I've mentioned and others with whom we've also engaged, is on trying to address these issues. But there is no clear path.

Senator WONG: You've used the phrase, and I agree with you, to describe what has occurred as a coup—correct?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Why, in an interview with Sabra Lane on 9 February, did you use the phrase 'the incoming government in Myanmar'?

Senator Payne: I used the wrong words there.

Senator WONG: Fair enough. I've done that plenty of times! Obviously, that was raised with me by activists but I think that's good to clarify. Your discussion of ASEAN—

CHAIR: Are you moving on from Myanmar?

Senator WONG: No. The minister just talked about ASEAN's response.

CHAIR: Yes, fine.

Senator WONG: There has been public discussion of an ASEAN summit. Are you able to tell me anything about that, or can I ask anything about that?

Senator Payne: The foreign ministers of ASEAN met—and I don't have the date in front of me—some weeks ago, including with the person nominated to take that so-called role in Tatmadaw. That meeting covered a range of issues; not just events in Myanmar, but a range of issues. As I understand it, that meeting was the first coming together of those foreign ministers on the issue.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I missed the beginning of that—

Senator Payne: I was referring to a meeting of the foreign ministers of ASEAN.

Senator WONG: That was all foreign ministers of ASEAN?

Senator Payne: Yes, in virtual—

Senator WONG: Virtual—right.

Senator Payne: I said including the individual nominated as the representative of Myanmar—

Senator WONG: The new regime—

Senator Payne: The new regime, that's right, as part of that meeting. I know there's a wish to hold an ASEAN summit. That has been very clearly enunciated by the President of Indonesia and also by the Prime Minister of Malaysia in their most recent public statements. My description of that—and I don't mean this in a glib way at all—is that it's a work in progress, from ASEAN's perspective as an observer. I make no comment on it, but it's as an observer.

Senator WONG: Sure. Has there been any discussion of whether or not, in addition to ASEAN, the EAS might play a role later in the year in relation to trying to progress this? Presumably, what we want first is an end to the violence. I also assume that Australia's view would be that whatever we can do to assist with the transition back to normal democracy is in our national interest and in the interests of the region. Obviously, we're not a major player in that but I was wondering whether the government had given consideration to what, if any, constructive role the EAS might play.

Senator Payne: Yes. I would describe it as looking at a number of mechanisms, and that would be included in that. We've also had a number of discussions in other constituent parts of regional architecture, and I'd include the Quad in that. It's not in the regional architecture, but I'd include the UN Security Council activity on this—particularly the efforts of the United Kingdom in that regard.

Senator WONG: I don't necessarily want to have all of that discussion in an open forum, but presumably there would be constraints around that forum?

Senator Payne: Indeed, there are, but they did make a statement early. Our engagement with ASEAN is focused on those pieces of regional architecture which can contribute, as you said, to a path forward, including the cessation of armed violence against peaceful protestors and the path back to democracy.

Senator WONG: Now, I think you said this, but just to confirm: we attended the virtual forum as an observer. Is that right?

Senator Payne: No. I didn't say we attended. I said I was making a comment as an objective observer about the foreign ministers meeting.

Senator WONG: Right. I might be conflating this with the ASEAN Australian forum—

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: where we're also a representative of the Tatmadaw tender, correct?

Senator Payne: Which was an officials-level forum.

Senator WONG: Yes, I was going to say—a different level.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Got it. Can I just quickly go to the sanctions regime? You said in your release that you were reviewing your sanctions regime. I think the US, the UK, the EU and possibly some others have imposed sanctions on the country's military leaders and certain military-linked companies. Are you considering any additional targeted sanctions in Myanmar?

Senator Payne: As you know, we have five people listed currently under the Myanmar autonomous sanctions regime. I am continuing to take advice on that and reviewing that with colleagues.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me when you are likely to have finished reviewing and whether or not you're going to do something additional?

Senator Payne: I actually don't think I can. I think these issues are very dynamic, and the matters that we are dealing with—that all countries are dealing with—inform our decisions in this regard. So, we'd consider all of our equities, all of our commitments, but it is an important matter. I take it seriously. And I undertake to engage appropriately with the committee on that at the time.

Senator WONG: Yes, I think that would be a good thing. Finally, there is a statement by ambassadors to Myanmar, which certainly is on the US embassy's Facebook page. It refers to the brutal violence against unarmed civilians as being immoral and indefensible. So, it's quite a strong statement about the repressive and violent actions of some in the military. And it is referenced as being signed by EU states, the United Kingdom and the US. We're not listed. Can you tell me: did we make a decision not to join with that?

Mr Jadwat : On that statement, may I just say that we support the statement issued by the US, UK and EU ambassadors on 19 March. The Australian embassy in Yangon has issued four statements, some with other missions, and considers a range of factors in deciding whether to join.

Senator WONG: So, why did we not join?

Mr Jadwat : In that case a judgement was made by the ambassador on the ground, and the embassy decided on this occasion that it was not something that they were going to join. But certainly we support the sentiments in the statement.

Senator WONG: Then why not join it? I understand that sometimes you have to be careful what you say. But we are talking about a coup. We are talking about unarmed civilians being—some murdered. We are talking about an escalation of violence. I think this was issued at a time that that was occurring, presumably in an attempt to assert some pressure. Now, if you can explain to me why we would not join, I'd appreciate it. The statement says:

The brutal violence … is immoral and indefensible. We call on Myanmar’s military to cease all violence against people of Myanmar, release all detainees, lift martial law and the nationwide state of emergency, remove telecommunications restrictions, and restore the democratically elected government.

And then it talks about the right to protest peacefully. I mean, is there any part of the statement that does not reflect government policy?

Ms Adamson : Senator, I can see very clearly the direction of your questioning—

Senator WONG: I'm being careful on this, Secretary.

Ms Adamson : I know you are, and I appreciate it, but can I simply say that there've been quite a number of statements. On this occasion a decision was made without consultation with the foreign minister, based on local and other considerations. We should have consulted the foreign minister. That is a failing on our part, and we bear responsibility for it. But it doesn't detract from the fact that we absolutely support the content. We've made that clear on a number of occasions. So, it was not a sort of deliberate, considered—including by the minister—statement that you might be expecting that it would have been and indeed it should have been.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I think that's my time on this. I might have some more when we deal with some consular matters.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Wong. As indicated, I seek to raise the plight of the people of Tigray, and that's been brought to the fore—very much so in recent times. The evidence seems quite overwhelming that human rights abuses are occurring and that the Ethiopian troops, Eritrean troops and Amhara militia are involving themselves in Tigray, with civilians being killed. It's a very sad situation, and when we reflect on that situation, despite our differences here, we can be extremely thankful for the country we live in. But, that aside: what can Australia do, and what is Australia doing?

Senator Payne: If I could say one thing: I learnt from my conversation with the Director-General of the World Health Organization—who is of course a former Ethiopian health and I think foreign minister—that it's pronounced 'Ti-gri'.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Senator Payne: I learnt that last night! But I'll leave it to officials to respond.

Dr Macdonald : As Australia, through DFAT's Twitter account, said on 18 March, Australia shares the concerns of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights over reported atrocities and human rights abuses in Tigray. Australia has expressed its concern to the Ethiopian government about the conflict and the humanitarian impact and has joined calls for independent investigations. This statement follows on from those that we made at the Human Rights Council in February. On 25 February Australia joined over 40 countries in a joint statement expressing concern at allegations of serious rights abuses and violations, the humanitarian crisis and its regional implications. We similarly, on 24 February, during the update to the Human Rights Council by the special rapporteur on Eritrea, expressed our concern at reports of human rights abuses committed by Eritrean soldiers in Tigray, including forced returns of Eritrean refugees. These statements follow on from a number of representations that have been made both here in Canberra, to the Ethiopian embassy, and from our embassy in Addis to the Ethiopian government, including on 18 March with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commissioner there.

We're particularly concerned about the sexual and gender violence and acknowledge the 22 March statement by the heads of UN agencies drawing international attention to that issue. We do welcome the 17 March announcement that the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights will conduct a joint inquiry into the events in Tigray with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. I note the public acknowledgement by Prime Minister Abiy on 23 March of those reported atrocities, the involvement of Eritrean troops in the conflict and, very importantly, his commitment to hold the perpetrators to account.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, would you like to ask a quick question on this matter before we adjourn?

Senator WONG: No, as discussed, I think you speak—we discussed, Senator Abetz, speaking to the committee.

Senator Payne: Mr Gilling may wish to answer as well.

CHAIR: Of course.

Mr Gilling : I'd just like to very quickly draw your attention to four elements of assistance that we provide specifically to this issue in Ethiopia and Tigray. The first is $3 million in World Food Programme support, dedicated to this specific issue. That's to help 1.4 million people who are in very dire food circumstances.

CHAIR: What are other countries doing, if I may interject? I dare say $3 million won't go far with the 1.4. million.

Mr Gilling : That's true.

CHAIR: So, are other countries making a substantial contribution as well?

Mr Gilling : They are. There's a global appeal, and many countries have contributed as we have. In addition, we are providing two Australian assist staff to support the work of the UN OCHA and IOM. We are also seeing some work with our NGO program. We have 14 different programs working in Ethiopia on this and related issues. Finally, we of course are a generous contributor to the World Food Programme, to UN OCHA—the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs—and also to a fund that UN OCHA administers that provides assistance to areas like Ethiopia around the world. So, there is specific assistance plus global assistance.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. And to those who are outside Parliament House today, some of us are required to be inside Parliament House, but our thoughts and support are with you.

Proceedings suspended from 10 : 30 to 10 : 46

CHAIR: I call Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: I might continue asking some questions about the tragic situation in Myanmar. Going back to the embassy statement on 19 March, Minister, I want you to clarify your evidence to Senator Wong before morning tea. Were you saying that if it had been brought to your attention and you'd known about it that Australia would have signed onto that statement?

Senator Payne: In all likelihood. It would have depended on what was happening at the time, what issues we were dealing with at the time, but, in all likelihood, yes.

Senator RICE: Given that, have you considered putting out formally a similar statement?

Senator Payne: We make many statements, including those that are joined by others. I assess whether that is done on each occasion with the advice of the post, the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and senior officials, which assists us in making those decisions.

Senator RICE: Minister, also in response to Senator Wong's questions, you noted that you had misspoken in the ABC interview referring to the Myanmar junta as the 'incoming government'.

Senator Payne: I said I used the wrong words.

Senator RICE: What is the agreed terminology that the government is using when it's referring to the people who have undertaken the military coup?

Senator Payne: There are a number of terms which I have heard used, but most generally 'military regime'.

Senator RICE: So that's officially what the government is using?

Senator Payne: I'm not saying it's an official adoption of a term. I have been in conversations in the last week where the word 'junta' has been used. I don't say this lightly—they are both applicable, frankly—but, broadly speaking, we have been using the term 'military regime'.

Senator RICE: So, given that you say that you used the wrong words, the Australian government does commit to not calling that military regime 'the government'?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator RICE: What's the government's position regarding the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the parliamentarians who have been ousted?

Senator Payne: I might ask Mr Jadwat to respond to that.

Mr Jadwat : We've not yet engaged with the CRPH. We're strongly encouraging the military to engage in dialogue. We are coordinating with like-mindeds on the approaches to how we engage with this particular organisation, and we recognise it's important to engage with a range of political actors. The situation, of course, is complex and sensitive, and there are a range of potential legal, safety and other considerations that we have to take into account. Unfortunately some of the members of this group have been arrested under the penal code for incitement of political unrest, and some are in hiding. So we just have to weigh all of it up and work out how we can best engage and how we can encourage further dialogue.

Senator RICE: Do you have a time line? I understand that they are forming, essentially, a government in exile. What is the time line that the Australian government feels it would need to have a position as to whether or not it is acknowledging their legitimacy?

Mr Jadwat : We don't have a particular time line at the moment. We are consulting our post, and they are also talking to like-mindeds on the ground. We'll also be consulting other like-mindeds through our regular engagement with friends and partners in the region. So I don't have a specific time line, but it's something that we are doing and we are considering right now.

Senator RICE: I want to go back to the process of reviewing our sanctions regime, which, minister, you said you couldn't give any further information on. I wanted to know what the process is. Is there a formal process by which various organisations', peoples' or stakeholders' views are being considered? Do you have a time line or a list of when you're going to consider whether further sanctions are going to be imposed?

Senator Payne: I responded to Senator Wong in relation to the time line. I don't have a time line, and we don't speculate openly in any circumstance about individuals who may be subjected to sanctions. But it is, as I've said both publicly and in response to Senator Wong, a matter that we do review regularly and on which I take advice from the department as well.

Senator RICE: What is that review? You're looking at it. You take advice from the department and, obviously, from the post. Are there other agencies or civil society organisations that are being formally engaged in consideration as to whether to impose further sanctions?

Senator Payne: Those agencies, including human rights agencies, engage with the department and with my office on these matters, as you would expect. We use the information and the matters that they bring to our attention in our considerations.

Senator RICE: Are you considering sanctions also against military owned conglomerates?

Senator Payne: I don't speculate on those individuals or entities against whom we might be considering sanctions anywhere.

Senator RICE: Following the suspension of military ties, can you confirm that no members of the Tatmadaw are currently in Australia?

Senator Payne: My understanding is that would be a matter for the Department of Home Affairs. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would not be in a position to provide that information, but I will ask officials to add if there is anything more. If there is a matter you wish us to take on notice, we, of course, will, unless you've already asked that of Home Affairs. I don't know.

Senator RICE: I haven't, actually.

Mr Jadwat : Just to add, for example, we've held about 12 interdepartmental committee meetings on the crisis in Myanmar, and the Department of Home Affairs is a regular attendee at these meetings. We are not aware of any members of the Tatmadaw that are currently in Australia as far as I know, but we can take that on notice. But, as the minister said, the Department of Home Affairs would have that knowledge.

Senator RICE: And are you aware of any relatives of the Tatmadaw military generals currently residing in Australia?

Mr Jadwat : Again, that would be something for the Department of Home Affairs. We are not aware of it, but we can check on that and get back to you.

Senator RICE: Okay. Thank you. Again, this is largely for Home Affairs but presumably with input from the department: has the department provided any advice to the relevant agencies considering applications for refugee status from people coming from Myanmar?

Mr Jadwat : Again, that would be a matter for the Department of Home Affairs.

Senator RICE: But has DFAT provided any advice to Home Affairs on this issue?

Mr Jadwat : On particular individuals—

Senator RICE: On refugee status for people who are wanting to leave Myanmar or, indeed, people who are currently in Australia, such as the many students who are in Australia who may be seeking refugee status.

Mr Jadwat : As far as I'm aware, we haven't provided any direct advice, but we are in ongoing consultations with the Department of Home Affairs on all issues relating to Myanmar.

Senator RICE: I now want to move to PNG. Yesterday in estimates the health department secretary, Brendan Murphy, was asked about Australia's attempt to convince European countries to release a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in PNG. While he said his colleagues at DFAT are doing everything they can, he didn't seem confident that the EU would release those doses. So I want to know: what is DFAT doing to press European countries to release them?

Ms Adamson : Let me just briefly respond, and I'll ask colleagues to come in with points of detail, because this is a cross-cutting issue and brings into play colleagues who work on vaccines and colleagues who are particularly involved in supervising our missions in Europe. Every one of our missions in Europe is engaged in this exercise, drawing to the attention of host governments the plight, if you like, of Papua New Guinea and the urgent need for vaccines. We're engaging particularly through Brussels, obviously. The Prime Minister, the foreign minister, the Minister for Health and others have been engaged in this enterprise. I saw exactly what Professor Murphy had to say yesterday, and he gave an accurate characterisation of what we're doing. But this is an everyday effort. It's not one of a long list of things we're doing; it's the top priority in Europe.

Senator RICE: We have also made an in-principle commitment that we may use our domestic vaccine supply to help vaccinate PNG once production ramps up. Given the uncertainty of whether the vaccines are going to come from Europe and the dire situation, will we commit to sending vaccines before our production ramps up to full capacity?

Ms Adamson : Again I would say—before I bring in, I think, Robin Davies, as head of the centre for regional health security—that we are exploring all avenues, and the Prime Minister's made this clear as well. He's spoken of the conversation that he had with his fellow Quad leaders. We are engaging not only with Europe but also with India, with Japan and with the United States when it comes to this. The possibility of some of Australia's domestically produced stocks being able to be used for this purpose is certainly something that is live but yet formally to be decided by government.

Senator RICE: So can we get some indication of when that would be decided? Obviously, it's absolutely urgent, with the dire need in PNG. We have got CSL now producing vaccines in Australia. Victoria has just become officially COVID-free. In most of the rest of the country, there's very little COVID. Yet we've got this absolute tragedy unfolding in PNG. What's going to be the time line for making—

Ms Adamson : Rest assured, Senator, that this is a matter of ongoing conversation with all of the inputs that the government has. So it's not a decision that needs to wait; it is ongoing every day, as we're getting advice. Already, as you know, there's been a delivery of Australian vaccines—just over 8,000, I think—through the ADF, and those vaccinations are expected to commence shortly, with frontline health workers. Obviously we're working in very close partnership with PNG, and they need to be the ones, if you like, driving the decisions. But there is no block in the system. This is a matter of ongoing conversations, including through ministers. For the moment, though, we have delivered what can be absorbed by frontline health workers, and we are deeply engaged, including through daily IDETFs and IDCs, on the planning around the next tranche, drawing—a little bit further down the track, of course—on the COVAX AMC supplies. If you'd like more detail, I'll hand to Mr Davies, who is mapping all of this very carefully.

Senator RICE: Yes—just very briefly. I've got about three or four minutes left.

Mr Davies : I think the secretary has largely covered it. The government has indicated that it's looking both to international inventories and to domestically manufactured vaccines in terms of potential dose sharing with countries in our region, including Papua New Guinea. In addition, as I think you'd be aware, the COVAX facility is due to deliver vaccines to Papua New Guinea, at this stage, in mid-April and again in May—quite significant quantities.

Senator RICE: Yes, but I'm thinking much more urgently, given what's unfolding. Would it be possible, Ms Adamson—given that, as you said, this is something very live—that in fact we could have a decision within days to use some of our domestically produced vaccines to be supplied to PNG, given the dire situation there?

Ms Adamson : As I said, there are a range of sources of possible supply. I mentioned Quad countries also. We are working, as I say, with a wide range of potential suppliers, and any decisions made to release vaccine stocks manufactured in Australia will be taken by government. But rest assured that everyone is seized of the urgency of the situation.

Senator RICE: Okay. Chair, have I got time just to have one more minute on another issue?


Senator RICE: Great. I want to move to Thailand and I want to go to the documentary video that was made by the Australian Embassy, Thailand, which portrayed a very positive view of the Thai monarch, despite the growing political protests calling for reforms for the monarchy. I just want to know the details of how that video was made, whether it was done through a procurement or a contract rather than in-house by the embassy.

Mr Jadwat : In relation to the documentary, I'll have to check whether it was done with an external provider. The embassy hired a company to do some of the documentary, some cinematography services in Australia. So it looks like they did hire external providers.

Senator RICE: Can you take on notice to give us the AusTender reference number?

Mr Jadwat : Sure.

Senator RICE: When was the decision taken to make the video?

Mr Jadwat : My understanding, from what I've got here from the embassy, is that that decision was first raised with the palace in October 2018. The documentary commenced in March of 2019.

Senator RICE: Who initiated the decision to make the documentary?

Mr Jadwat : My understanding is that it was a decision by the ambassador in Bangkok.

Senator RICE: What was the cost?

Mr Jadwat : The cost of the documentary was $38,826.34, from the public diplomacy fund, from the embassy.

Senator RICE: Did the department consider the fallout from such a documentary, given it was released at the same time that four democracy activists were charged for lese-majesty?

Mr Jadwat : There was consultation. The documentary was in process; protests were escalating. It was something that was already in train. I think the embassy had already been in touch with the palace about the reception. So we were consulted and a decision was made that the reception or the documentary's showing would go ahead as a lot of work had already been put into it.

Senator RICE: Has the government made, managing that fallout, some public statements to defend the rights of Thai activists to peacefully protest?

Mr Jadwat : The ambassador has made regular representations on human rights. I also spoke to the Thai ambassador very recently about all of these issues, including the protests and including the broader general human rights situation in Thailand.

Senator RICE: How about public statements?

Mr Jadwat : I'm not aware of any public statements that the embassy has put out recently. I can check on that. As far as I'm aware, I don't think we've made any public statements about the situation in Thailand.

Senator WONG: I'd like to start with an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in PNG, the latest data that we have on new cases and some discussion of which parts of PNG are affected.

Mr Thomson : The most recent figures that we have available, in front of us, are figures from 12.00 o'clock on 23 March from the PNG government. Normally, the figures come out at 12.00 o'clock each day, so we haven't yet received the figures released today, as at 24 March. As at 12.00 o'clock on 23 March, PNG had recorded 4,109 cases of COVID. In the 48 hours up to that point they'd recorded 351 new cases. As at that time, there were 39 deaths reported, two in the previous 24 hours. There are now 20 provinces in Papua New Guinea that are affected and have recorded cases. As to the spread across the provinces, I don't have those figures in front of me, but the areas that are most affected include the National Capital District, and there are a number of other provinces that have quite a number of cases as well. But the majority of the cases are in the National Capital District and West Sepik.

Senator WONG: There are four regions and 22 province-level divisions, plus we have obviously the autonomous region, Bougainville and the National Capital District. You said 20 provinces. So, basically it's everywhere.

Mr Thomson : That's right—yes.

Senator WONG: Given Papua New Guinea's challenges in terms of public health infrastructure, what is the assessment that the government made about numbers over and above the reported cases that you just went through?

Mr Thomson : It is very difficult for us to provide an assessment of that. Since the COVID outbreak commenced last year, Papua New Guinea has conducted a total number of tests of around 60,700. You would appreciate that's a fairly low rate of testing. Our assessment, though, is that, certainly in the National Capital District and in other hotspots across the country, there would be widespread community transmission, and the World Health Organization is also saying that.

Senator WONG: Have they provided any estimates?

Mr Thomson : No, not on the number of cases.

Senator WONG: Do we have any working number at the moment in government?

Mr Thomson : No, Senator. It really is extremely difficult.

Senator WONG: I understand it is. Some might say we have a crisis, but we have a widespread outbreak in Papua New Guinea, which has implications for Australian health security as well as consequences for the Papua New Guinean population. I'm not asking you to give me an accurate number. I'm just trying to get a sense. In terms of the scale of the crisis, surely we must have some view about numbers, or is it beyond that?

Mr Thomson : Papua New Guinea is a country of nine to 10 million people and there have been 60,000 tests conducted.

Senator WONG: We both agree that's a very small number. This is part of risk assessment and part of mitigation strategies. If your judgment is that it's probably double that, then you have one set of strategies. If your judgment is that it's maybe one-tenth or less, then that gives rise to a different set of risk mitigation strategies. I'm trying to get, for the purposes of how the government is operating, what the assessment is. Do you not know?

Ms Adamson : From the very outset of COVID, we have been deeply concerned about the spread of COVID across our immediate region and our neighbours, and nowhere has that concern been more heightened than in relation to Papua New Guinea. So, from the outset, we entered into, with Defence and a range of other agencies and with the governments involved, contingency planning in relation to, if you like, a series of those possible scenarios.

Senator WONG: Correct. So where are we up to in terms of—

Ms Adamson : As to where we are up to at the moment, again it doesn't relate to a single figure, and in a way a figure might be potentially misleading because of the different areas. It's in every province. There is community transmission at a rate which is obviously a cause for significant concern, and that is why our government, at all levels, and in the ways we work together, has been mobilising, working closely with our partners in Papua New Guinea.

Senator WONG: I'll come to that. I'm not saying it doesn't make it go away.

Ms Adamson : No, of course not.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to get some sense. The reports through NGOs and other contacts to members of parliament and senators are much more dire than what the government has indicated and they came much earlier. I'm trying to get some assessment of where we think this is tracking. If you don't want to do numbers, do we have—

Mr Thomson : We can say that it looks like there's a serious situation that's unfolding in Papua New Guinea, but we can't give a figure on numbers. I think it would be unhelpful for me to come up with a figure of—

Senator WONG: I really wish people would come to these estimates not just worried about numbers et cetera.

CHAIR: Excuse me, let the witness finish the answer.

Senator WONG: Yes, but I just get more words. You're not answering my question.

Mr Thomson : It's clear that it's a serious situation, but the best evidence that we have of how it's playing out is the number of people that are presenting at hospitals. As the situation stands, in Port Moresby, which is the main centre in terms of the number of cases that are recorded, while the health system is under a lot of strain the health system is not yet completely overwhelmed.

Senator WONG: That is not the advice we are getting from other people. That's not the advice we are receiving. I'm not trying to blow this up; I am trying to get a sense of whether the government has engaged in sound assessment of where we are at in order to try to probe what else must be done. I'd like to get beyond 'a serious situation unfolding in Papua New Guinea', and if that's all you can give me then really that's not particularly helpful. I'd like to know: are we sitting down and saying, 'These are the contingencies, these are the scenarios that we're tracking'—I don't know what you might call them in terms of a hierarchy of seriousness—'and this is where we are'. Because the discussion that is being had in the community and from people who are close to this is much more serious than the words you just used. Much more serious.

Mr Thomson : Please don't misunderstand, we're taking this very, very seriously.

Senator WONG: It goes to the assessment of what Australia needs to do. Or what Australia can do, I should say.

Senator Payne: Indeed. In partnership and in consultation with the Papua New Guinea government and with the lead non-government organisations on the ground, including the WHO and other health-focused bodies, we have, through the High Commission, been meeting with—I don't have the exact terminology in front of me; I have too many pages on this and I can't find the exact body—a High Commission official in one of the organisation bodies that you're talking about. The emergency commission, which is managed by David Manning, who is well known to Australia, is also something we are engaged with very closely. He and the High Commissioner are in regular consultation and discussion about what this trajectory looks like and what they need from Australia from that perspective. That then comes back to the PNG government, and the government comes to us with those formal requests.

In relation to the incoming AUSMAT team, which arrived two days ago, that was a process of juggling vaccinations for them, amongst other things. That AUSMAT team is part of the response process to clinicians and infection control specialists. They have a quarantine waiver so that they are able to commence meeting Papua New Guinea authorities as soon as possible. Then they will do the planning for the future AUSMAT deployments.

Senator WONG: I understand the scheme that the minister's outlined is essentially how we make assessments on the ground, how we engage with the PNG government, and the process of the requests coming through, all of which is appropriate, because ultimately we have to respond to their requests. But can you tell me, first, what is the architecture internal to government about managing this response?

Ms Adamson : Yes, I can do that. I have transferred Ewen McDonald, who heads the Office of the Pacific, to work full time on this issue. He is leading. Because it touches, as you would well know, on so many parts of our work, there is no single existing organisational structure to cope with it.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Ms Adamson : So he has been chairing daily, for some time, interdepartmental emergency taskforce meetings and interdepartmental committees. It's hard to depict on an org chart, but we've been working over the course of the last week on a new approach which would give him direct lines of authority over everyone in the department who is working on this, whether it's people in the Europe and Latin America Division, who are working with the Europeans on vaccines, whether it's the centre for regional health security in terms of their work or whether it's our communications people working with Papua New Guinea with the post. There are about 15 different parts of the department.

Senator WONG: There would be. That makes sense. But this is internal to DFAT.

Ms Adamson : It is internal to DFAT, but we work very closely with Health and Defence.

Senator WONG: So does the interdepartmental taskforce or committee continue as well?

Ms Adamson : Yes. In fact, there's a daily stand-up at 9.45 in the morning on the latest from PNG and asking, 'What are we doing, what are we getting back from them and how are we going?'

Senator WONG: Which departments are on that? PM&C—

Ms Adamson : All relevant departments I've tapped in. I can get you a list.

Senator WONG: If you could. The 8,000 doses have been delivered. I think someone told me that.

Mr Thomson : Yes.

Senator WONG: How will they be rolled out in PNG? The difficulty is how people get it in some of the more remote regions.

Ms Adamson : These are frontline health workers?

Senator WONG: Yes, this is the 8,000. I'll come back to the next set of questions, but I am just trying to work out: what is the plan to roll out the 8,000?

Mr Thomson : For the 8,480 that arrived in Port Moresby on 23 March, we've engaged a private provider to help us implement the roll out of those doses. That provider is going to set up a stand-alone centre in Port Moresby for the rollout there. There will be a centre set up for the rollout. We are hoping they will commence the vaccinations in Port Moresby early next week.

Senator WONG: What about outside of Moresby?

Mr Thomson : Essentially with the 8,480 there is an immediate priority for our frontline health workers in Port Moresby. We estimate there are around 2,500 of those. We're still discussing with the Papua New Guinea government the priorities for the rollout of that batch of vaccines. That's still an ongoing discussion with them about where those vaccinations can take place.

Senator WONG: You would have seen Professor Crabb from the Burnet Institute publicly stated that Australia should provide 20,000 vaccine doses. I'm interested in how the 8,000 was arrived at as a figure?

Mr Thomson : Again, when we started the discussions, the starting point for that was an assessment of the essential health workers in Port Moresby. The advice we got on that was 2,500. We made an assessment of, initially, essential workers in Port Moresby. It was based on Post Moresby, but now we're discussing with Papua New Guinea how to extend it outside that.

Senator WONG: That is an execution point. My point was on the assessment point. How was the figure of 8,000 arrived at? If there are 2,500 frontline workers in Port Moresby, clearly that is not the only basis on which the 8,000 figure was arrived at. Is anybody able to tell me where we got 8,000 from?

Senator Payne: The discussions with the national crisis centre, particularly the head of that centre, with the Papua New Guinea health ministry and the Papua New Guinea government in which post is engaged, and in which WHO and other agencies are engaged, assisted us in that determination. We know there is more to do. This is the first delivery to deal with the frontline workers to enable them to continue to do the health work on the ground that they need to do.

Senator WONG: I don't have in front of me what he said, but, essentially, Professor Crabb says that, if you are looking to deal with frontline workers, 8,000 is insufficient. He references obviously people who are dealing with family violence, domestic violence et cetera, where obviously face-to-face contact is needed. He has a number of other propositions. I'm asking: Has the government looked at what Professor Crabb from Burnet has said? What's the assessment of the frontline worker needs?

Mr Thomson : We have a figure for health workers across Papua New Guinea of about 32,000, which is—

Senator WONG: Health workers?

Mr Thomson : That's right, the frontline health workers and ancillary workers around those workers.

Senator WONG: So the Australian government's assessment of frontline health workers in PNG is 32,000?

Mr Thomson : And ancillary workers. That figure is a figure that's in the PNG government's national plan for the rollout of vaccines.

Senator WONG: 32,000?

Mr Thomson : That's frontline health workers and ancillary workers, and the PNG government haven't requested a specific number of doses; there's been an ongoing discussion with them about—

Senator WONG: They've requested access to the vaccine as quickly as possible.

Mr Thomson : Yes, that's right.

Senator WONG: That's what I understand. Maybe I'm wrong. Did you want to say something, Ms Adamson?

Ms Adamson : I was just going to say that 8,000 doses is the beginning of what will be a much bigger effort, a more responsive effort. Part of what we're focusing on, of course, is the supply, and I'll ask Mr Davies to speak to this as well. But the supply also has to fit what is able to be absorbed, what the priorities are, and of course they've got their national plan, which we were very pleased to be able to assist them with in terms of drawing it up. We very much want to work in close partnership and be guided and led by officials and ministers and leaders in Papua New Guinea, so this will be very long running; it will be complex. We need to be able to match, if you like, what we can supply with the actual demand. As you know, through the Europeans, we've been requesting the one million doses. We really want to get them, but, once we've got them, we also have to think about what the rollout procedure is and the many, many challenges associated with that. But the fact is that we are seized with, if you like, the magnitude of the challenge, the urgency of the challenge. And what we need to do, including through more detailed advice from the AUSMAT team now on the ground—but Mr Davies is a specialist in this area, and he can talk to it.

Senator WONG: I'm going to ask him some questions. I know you want to get onto another track.

Ms Adamson : No, no—he's there—

Senator WONG: I will get to supply. I've been looking at him and I have questions here about supply and what was said by Dr Murphy in Senate estimates yesterday. But at the moment I'm on numbers.

Mr Thomson : Senator, also, just a correction. The figure for healthcare workers and support staff is 30,000. I think I said 32,000.

Senator WONG: Okay, 30,000. I have two questions before I move to other aspects of this. One was vaccine hesitancy, which obviously is a risk everywhere, but a foreseeable risk in relation to the PNG rollout. I'm asking what we are doing to work with PNG authorities to overcome that hesitancy.

Senator Payne: I will ask the officials to answer, but can I just say one thing: the health minister, Minister Jelta Wong, has raised this directly with me as well, so it is something that we're very aware of. He's raised it across a number of community issues, if I could describe it like that. But I will ask the officials to talk about the parts of our vaccine access and health security plans that go to this in Papua New Guinea.

Mr Thomson : In terms of the PNG government's preparedness for rolling out its vaccines, its key partners in preparing for that are the World Health Organization, UNICEF and I would say also the Australian government. In the preparations that they are doing for the rollout, addressing this issue of hesitancy is a core issue that they're seeking to address. As I say, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Australian government are working with them on that. With the specific issue of the 8,480 doses that we've just delivered to Papua New Guinea, as part of the arrangement to that rollout, the private provider is absolutely conscious of this issue as well. We'll be working with the PNG government in terms of the people who are being selected for that rollout.

Senator WONG: Is there a Facebook or other communications campaign planned?

Mr Thomson : Within the PNG government?

Senator WONG: Yes, that we're supportive of.

Mr Thomson : Yes.

Senator Payne: The answer to that is yes.

Mr Thomson : This is all obviously being led by the PNG government. They've got a whole communications strategy they will have to roll out.

Senator WONG: How are we contributing to that, if at all?

Mr Thomson : We're involved in the planning with the World Health Organization and UNICEF. There are materials being prepared in local languages.

Senator WONG: Are we funding anything in terms of what you might call the public information campaign?

Mr Thomson : We are providing assistance to the PNG government for this preparations. Yes.

Senator Payne: The answer to that question is, yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you. He didn't answer that.

Senator Payne: It is part of our vaccine access and health security program for Papua New Guinea, which includes communications funding as well as social media. It will also address issues through relationships with churches as well, which has been raised with me.

Senator WONG: Are we prioritising vaccine availability to Australian aid contractors and partners et cetera in PNG?

Mr Thomson : At this stage they're not being factored into the 8,480.

Senator WONG: So the answer is no?

Mr Thomson : Unless through the process—

Senator WONG: I just wish you would answer the question before you and then explain. Is the answer, 'No, from the Australian government's perspective, we're not prioritising access to the vaccine for any aid contractors.'

Mr Thomson : The priorities for the rollout of the 8,480 is a matter for us to agree with the PNG government. They are selecting the people.

Senator WONG: Sure. I understand. But from the Australian government's perspective, that's all I'm asking. Yes. We work with PNG. They asked for frontline workers. They've asked for the vaccine. The first availability is the 8,000. I'm asking about the Australian government's perspective in terms of the platform to assist with rollout. Is there any separate prioritisation that we are saying we're going to try to make sure the aid delivers may be part of this?

Mr Thomson : Absolutely.

Senator WONG: How are we doing that?

Mr Thomson : As PNG gets access to more doses and there's more availability for them to roll out actual vaccinations, that will absolutely be part of the discussion we're having with them. Their list of priorities is the 30,000 health workers and the 186,000 essential workers. For some of the assistance that we're providing through our different development program activities, some of the individuals will be captured in those figures—the 30,000 and the 186,000.

Senator WONG: Sorry—

Mr Thomson : This is one angle of the PNG government's own approach to its rollout of its vaccination program. We will ask them to prioritise a range of people that are funded through the Australian aid program. That will be part of the conversation.

Senator WONG: Mr Thomson, I think, just—

Mr Thomson : It is part of the conversation.

Senator WONG: I didn't ask what was part of the conversation. I agree with you: obviously the PNG government has its priorities. I wondered if Australia had made a decision to look to how we might protect or support those—

Mr Thomson : Yes.

Senator WONG: please let me finish—workers who are going to be central to the delivery of the vaccine and other supports, in a circumstance where there are challenges for the public health system and for government infrastructure. We do rely, particularly in the regions, on the aid infrastructure. Is that something that the government is considering as yet?

Ms Adamson : Yes, it is, and that is one of the specific questions—one of a number, actually—that Mr McDonald is working through, because we absolutely understand the imperative of ensuring that those advisers on whom we rely so heavily are able to do their work safely.

Senator WONG: Because we don't have access. They're it.

Ms Adamson : Absolutely. If I could also add, though, in relation to your question about vaccine hesitancy and communications plans, part of our $60 million COVID preparedness support in Papua New Guinea has been focused on education and the communication of information to people at risk in a health emergency. That's what we're dealing with at the moment in Papua New Guinea. What we're doing is we're funding a major local media and social media campaign in Papua New Guinea to combat misinformation—there's quite a lot of misinformation, as I am sure you know—and to address vaccine hesitancy. We are also working through the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme and the Media for Development Initiative. Both were developed by the ABC, adapting their activities in response to the pandemic.

As you know, we always work with the churches. We work with all of the partners that we can to support good health messages, in obviously English and Tok Pisin, to ensure that through radio, Facebook—all means of communication—church and sport we can promote factual information.

Senator WONG: Thank you for that. I still don't think I have an answer on how the 8,000 was arrived at. If the 30,000 is the frontline workers, based on the health plan, was the 8,000 a reflection of the supply we could immediately access, or was there some other basis for the figure?

Ms Adamson : Having been involved in the discussions, I can say that it was part data and part a sense of what could be absorbed in the very first instance—what could be got there. There was no particular constraint. It was understood that this was a sensible number to start with and by no means the last word.

Senator WONG: I'm going to come to the AstraZeneca Europe problem. But, as I understand it, we've got the 8,000 now. With COVAX, the earliest we're looking at for vaccine access is mid- to late-April. Obviously, there are a number of valuable days and weeks in between. There are some risks about the COVAX facility and that time frame. Are we looking at contingency plans? Is there a plan B?

Mr Davies : The current forecast is that the COVAX facility is due to deliver its first shipment of vaccines in mid-April, as you said—288,000—but there are always some risks with that. The global supply situation is quite tenuous. The initial supply of 8,480 doses, as the secretary said, didn't reflect any particular supply constraints, but it was in part reflecting the fact that the PNG government is not expecting to be ready to roll out a mass vaccination campaign until mid-May. That's their own planning under their national vaccine deployment plan. In terms of what happens between now and mid-May, there are genuine limitations on PNG's absorptive capacity.

On the broader question of contingency planning for the scenario in which the COVAX vaccines don't materialise, I think the secretary has answered that question. The government has said all along that it intends to share doses from Australia's supply, whether that's the offshore supply or the domestically manufactured supply, as soon as it becomes possible to do so. But I can't say any more on the specifics at this time.

Senator WONG: It's okay—

Ms Adamson : We have this every day—

Senator WONG: We have been very bipartisan and expansive in our comments on this, and I intend to continue to be. I would like to understand or give you the opportunity to respond to the impact of what is occurring in Europe. Dr Murphy told Senate estimates this week there is no expectation Australia will get any additional AstraZeneca doses from Europe. It might have been a temporal point.

Ms Adamson : I read what he said and what Minister Hunt has said as well.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to understand what we do, in relation to PNG vaccine doses, if the contracted arrangements for AstraZeneca from Europe do not eventuate in the time frames we anticipate or are hoping.

Ms Adamson : We are trying as hard as we can in Europe, and if the power of our arguments were the only factor at play the doses would be on their way already. That's true. Clearly, it's compelling, but we recognise the Europeans are dealing with a set of issues and we're trying to find a way, whatever way we can. One of the things that Professor Murphy said yesterday—I know there have been a range of people through estimates who have spoken about this, Minister Hunt as well—is he doesn't want to comment too much, and AstraZeneca have asked us not to, on the particular sources. They have production facilities around the world. I mentioned earlier, advisedly, that the Prime Minister has been in touch with, and we officials in support, with his counterparts across the Quad because they too have capabilities on which we may want to draw.

Senator WONG: I'm coming to that.

Ms Adamson : So it's a full-court press, if you like, on every aspect of this.

Senator WONG: I have until midday, I think it is—is that right?


Senator WONG: I would really like, before we do the next section, to also do a consular update. So I'm going to try and get through some of this, if that's okay.

Ms Adamson : Sure.

Senator WONG: I think you've answered this. If the contracted doses that we have requested be available for PNG are not available in a reasonable time frame, will the government consider providing more from Australia's stocks?

Senator Payne: I think the secretary set out the different parts of government that are engaged on this issue. That does include the cabinet discussions that pertain to this, that I can't go into, but that is—

Senator WONG: A live consideration?

Senator Payne: something that must be on the table.

Senator WONG: I agree. Thank you. You touched on the AUSMAT team. How big is the AUSMAT team?

Senator Payne: This is a small, initial, AUSMAT team. I think I said it is two clinicians and a—what's the second term I'm after?—

Mr Thomson : Infection prevention and control specialist.

Senator Payne: That's the one. Their task is working with the national control centre, with Police Commissioner Manning and Health Minister Jetta Wong, on identifying—

Senator WONG: Sorry, how many?

Senator Payne: Four, I think—

Senator WONG: I thought there were another two.

Senator Payne: Four in total, I believe.

Senator WONG: We deployed AUSMAT teams last year, I think.

Senator Payne: In August, yes.

Senator WONG: How many were in that team?

Mr Thomson : There were two rotations of seven or eight members.

Senator WONG: Given the outbreak, why are we deploying a smaller number now than we did then?

Mr Thomson : This is an immediate response to the unfolding situation. We have three confirmed and we are still looking at a fourth, and there is planning in train to mobilise a larger deployment, subject to AHPPC consideration and the minister's agreement. That contingency work is well underway. The team that's going in now is going to help guide that additional response.

Senator WONG: So contingency work on a larger AUSMAT team. As yet government has not made a decision on that. Is that right?

Senator Payne: That's correct. We're awaiting that advice. But I'm confident there will be a larger team.

Senator WONG: I'm sure there will be. I'm just trying to get a sense of a time frame when that decision and deployment might be. What are we looking at?

Senator Payne: As I understand it, and again I stand to be corrected—I'm not sure what the correct health phrase is, but do they issue 'expressions of interest?—they engage with the professional community to seek those who are prepared to and able to be part of those teams. They're doing that.

Senator WONG: What sorts of numbers are in contemplation?

Senator Payne: That will be part of the advice that comes back from—

Senator WONG: Are you able to give us any sense of that?

Senator Payne: I think that it would be speculative, and I don't want to do that.

Senator WONG: The PPE and medical equipment and supplies that the Prime Minister announced—what's been delivered and at what levels?

Senator Payne: In the delivery last week, we delivered the mobile storage units for part of it on Monday, if I have that date correct in my head. We delivered 200,000 face masks in advance of the commemorative activities around the burial of Sir Michael Somare, which were obviously very significant events. We are delivering the gowns, gloves and goggles on three scheduled flights from Brisbane to Port Moresby today, tomorrow and Saturday. On those flights they will also include antiseptic alcohol swabs and other supplies to support the vaccine rollout. We've determined a location for initial storage, and then we are working on providing further mobile storage units ourselves in country, with the Papua New Guinea government to identify suitable locations for those in consultation with the WHO.

Senator WONG: Could you confirm the government reduced or cut two positions from Port Moresby last year?

Ms Adamson : Yes, I can confirm that that was part of the midyear, if you like, adjustment of staffing resources. But let me immediately then assure you that our post in Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby, has the resources it needs and there is no constraint on anything they need in an emergency response, such as the one we are in the process of implementing now.

Could I, while I'm speaking, just give you—you wanted to know which agencies are on this Inter-departmental Emergency Task Force, and I said I would come back to you. Ewen McDonald chairs it from DFAT and there's Home Affairs, including ABF and the Australian Federal Police, PM&C, Health, Defence, ONI. And, in addition, where they have full visibility of minutes and are able to join when they want to, the Attorney-General's Department, Queensland Health, Finance and Austrade, so we have all agencies we need.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Did the responsibility of one or either of those two officers whose positions were cut include any responsibility for ODA or health care?

Mr Anderson : I can't answer that question precisely, but let me simply say to you that Port Moresby is one of our biggest missions, so there should be no sense whatsoever that any changes to staffing arrangements mid pandemic impaired in any way or reduced in any way their ability to respond—

Senator WONG: I'd asked what their duties were.

Ms Adamson : But the point is that—

Senator WONG: Then you can explain that after you've answered that. If they include that, you can explain why the position being cut didn't have an effect on that. But, actually, I'm just asking about the factual situation.

Ms Adamson : I will need to get back to you on the precise duties. But I also know that you know we very quickly pivot and adjust with any change to personnel in a mission.

Senator WONG: We can have a long discussion.

Ms Adamson : We could.

Senator WONG: I have a view about the funding of DFAT and the resourcing of DFAT, but that's a different discussion. I'm actually just asking: what were the duties of the positions which were cut last year?

Ms Adamson : And what I'm saying though is whatever the duties of a particular person—

Senator WONG: I understand.

Ms Adamson : who often might be the next person to leave, so therefore sensible, are then redistributed, and our missions will always perform the highest priority functions. Port Moresby is big enough to be able to deal with that without there being any measurable impact.

Senator WONG: But they didn't just leave. The positions were reduced. I understand what you're saying and I understand the government's arguments—

Ms Adamson : Yes, the work was then redistributed.

Senator WONG: but I asked a different question, so if people could tell me that, that would help.

Ms Adamson : I will come back to you on that.

Senator WONG: Mr Davies, is there anything else you wanted to say? I'm going to move to consular now, unless you want to inform the committee about anything else about supply.

Mr Davies : I don't think so.

Senator WONG: Okay, thank you very much. I now move to a couple of the sensitive consular cases, not strandeds; it's okay. Ms Wood, I wanted ask you about Dr Yang and Ms Cheng Lei. I wonder if you could provide an update on their situation and also the consular assistance being provided by DFAT?

Ms Wood : Certainly, if I can start with Dr Yang. The update that I can provide is that, since the last estimates, we've made 16 representations to China on Dr Yang's situation. On 12 October 2020, China stated publicly that Dr Yang had been charged with espionage. We continue to have regular consular access. Dr Yang's lawyer advised that he last visited him on 10 February 2021. Our next visit has been approved for today, but has not yet taken place.

Senator WONG: Has been approved for today?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: Face-to-face or on screen, online.

Ms Wood : During the COVID situation, all of our consular visits in China have been via video.

Senator WONG: This would be the first online face-to-face—we'll have to find another phrase for that—since January?

Ms Wood : Since 26 January, so we've maintained a steady pace of visits: 31 August, 22 September, 12 November, 17 December, and 26 January was the last one.

Senator WONG: Just remind me about our consular access agreement. Is it quarterly?

Ms Wood : Monthly.

Senator WONG: I assume the government continues to make representations to the Chinese authorities about Australia's expectations about due process, standards of justice and fair treatment that should be afforded to these two Australian citizens?

Ms Wood : Absolutely, we do that on a regular basis. We take every opportunity, both in representations and in the course of other interactions with the Chinese authorities.

Senator WONG: Thank you for your work, and I want to take the opportunity in public session to reiterate the opposition's support for the work that departmental officials are doing on behalf of the nation in these cases. We continue to join with the government in calling on the Chinese authorities to explain the charges faced by Dr Yang and we share the government's expectation that Dr Yang's case is resolved fairly and transparently and in accordance with China's international obligations. I turn now to Sean Turnell, who's being detained in Myanmar. Are you able to provide me with an update on his situation?

Ms Wood : Certainly. Do you also wish to place on the record that we take the same position in regard to the detention of Cheng Lei, in terms of making regular representations for her access, that we expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met in accordance with international norms, and noting that we've made 14 representations to China regarding Ms Cheng since the last estimates took place—

Senator WONG: Fourteen?

Ms Wood : Yes, 14, and that the last consular visit took place yesterday.

Senator WONG: Yesterday?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: Again online?

Ms Wood : Exactly.

Senator WONG: I make the same comments in relation to Ms Cheng Lei as I made in relation to Dr Yang. Dr Turnell: is he professor or doctor?

Senator Payne: He's well credentialed, but Professor Turnell, I think, is the reference.

Ms Wood : Professor Turnell was detained on 6 February 2021. He remains in detention. We've had access on two occasions since 6 February. But we are undertaking extensive and sustained representations to Myanmar and other governments regarding his detention. There's been a tireless pattern of representations, and we've been supported by a number of other governments also making representations on our behalf.

Senator WONG: I don't know if you touched on this in the beginning, but have we been granted any access?

Ms Wood : We've had two consular contacts with him. They're not in person. The first one was by video link on 11 February, and the second, by phone call, took place yesterday.

Senator WONG: Obviously, the opposition and all of the committee reiterate our support for your efforts to obtain his release. Now there was Osama al-Hasani. I understand he's an Australian citizen who has been extradited to Saudi Arabia from Morocco. I would appreciate an update on his situation and the consular assistance being provided.

Ms Wood : Moroccan authorities confirmed to us on 15 March 2021 that Mr Osama al-Hasani had been extradited to Saudi Arabia on 12 March 2021. The Australian government is concerned about the circumstances of Mr al-Hasani's detention, his access to due process of law and the extradition proceedings that led to his extradition to Saudi Arabia. Australian officials in Canberra, in Rabat and in Riyadh have been active on this case, making representations to ascertain the circumstances of Mr al-Hasani's detention both in Morocco and now in Saudi Arabia. We have repeatedly expressed our concerns for his welfare. We'll continue to advocate for his interests and provide consular assistance to him and his family, which is currently underway in Saudi Arabia at the moment.

Senator WONG: I think you referenced this, but we have concerns about a lack of due process in relation to the extradition.

Ms Wood : We had consular access to Mr Osama al-Hasani when he was detained in Morocco. We were aware that his extradition was being sought. We made representations about that. We were informed after it had happened, which we had some concerns about.

Senator WONG: Has the government or has the department made representations about those concerns?

Ms Wood : Yes, we have, to diplomatic representatives here in Canberra and in the capitals—in Rabat and Riyadh.

Senator WONG: As yet what representations have there been to the Saudi authorities in relation to consular access?

Ms Wood : They have confirmed that he is in detention in Saudi Arabia. We have had one consular access since he's been in detention, and we're working through the Saudi Arabian system to ascertain more details about the circumstances of his detention. It's quite a formal system, so we need to put in notes and seek that access, and we're in the process of doing that.

Senator KITCHING: Could I ask some questions around Australia signing Canada's declaration against arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations? Firstly, I think we should congratulate the Canadian government for its leadership on this issue, and we're supportive of the Australian government's participation in this. We've signed up to the declaration. What else does it involve?

Ms Wood : The minister participated live on 15 February and made a statement on the occasion that the declaration was adopted. It does not have anything specifically associated with it in terms of a plan of action, but we think it's significant that there are now 60 endorsing states plus the European Union who've all signed up to this, so it's broad based, it's international and it is an effort to underscore the importance of the rule of law being associated with the exercise of the judicial system and that it's not arbitrary.

Senator KITCHING: I agree. Has the department allocated any additional resources, whether funding or staff, to address the issue of arbitrary detention?

Ms Wood : It's absorbed within the work of the consular function in the department and, of course, is also exercised through the geographic divisions as well depending on the circumstances.

Senator Payne: This is a subject that we worked on particularly prior to the development of the declaration with the former Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne because of our shared concerns in relation to arbitrary detention. We've also worked with the Swedish foreign minister, Ann Linde, and made approaches both to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and elsewhere on the use of arbitrary detention, arrest and sentencing, particularly in an effort to influence state-to-state relations, as you'll see in the declaration.

The former Canadian foreign minister and his successor, Mark Garneau, along with the UK, Australia and now, as Ms Wood said, a total of over 55 international partners, have been very clear in bringing forward in the declaration that we believe this is against international law. We stand very clearly in support of those countries, including our own, who have citizens which we believe to be detained arbitrarily.

Senator KITCHING: Has the department engaged with any Australians who have been detained arbitrarily by states, and/or the friends and families of those detained, in order to inform the government's approach on this issue?

Ms Wood : I'll give a fairly general response to that—

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Ms Wood : Whenever Australians are detained overseas we provide them with as much consular support and assistance as is possible in the circumstances.

Ms Adamson : And their views, and the views conveyed by their next of kin. Often we have an enormous amount of contact with them, and have had over the years. That's part of what has informed our policy approach to this and the approach of like-minded governments. I really do think that the declaration was—and it's hard to say that it was a turning point now, but I think we'll look back and see that it was—a milestone along the way in terms of how we think about these things and, ultimately, how we seek to deal with them. Australia's attitude has been informed, regrettably, by a number of cases which we regard as falling into that category.

Senator KITCHING: I guess you took not just that information but the wishes of family and friends of Australians who have been detained, whether previously or currently, as an impetus for signing the declaration?

Ms Adamson : It also goes to our values, obviously. It's a deep issue, but when you see examples of it it's not a theoretical thing. This is happening and it must be stopped.

Senator KITCHING: Yes. I want to go to a particular example: Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been quite vocal about this issue since her release from the later prison she was in in Iran. We want to acknowledge the role of the department in this and also, obviously, the former Director-General of the Office of National Intelligence, Nick Warner. Dr Moore-Gilbert has expressed some concern through the media about the government's quiet diplomacy approach to her case. What's your response to that?

Ms Wood : I think we should start probably where you started as well, that we're absolutely delighted that on 27 November 2020 Dr Moore-Gilbert landed back in Australia after she was released from detention in Iran. We never accepted the circumstances of her detention, arrest and imprisonment, and we're delighted that she's now back in Australia.

In terms of comments that she has made: now that she's back in Australia of course we respect to the utmost her privacy, but she also has the right to express her opinions and to talk about her experiences from her perspective. I can simply underscore what you acknowledged: that the department and the Australian government worked tirelessly to secure her release. The ways that we do that mean there are many avenues that we pursue. I really have nothing more to add, other than that there was a lot going on behind the scenes to secure her release.

Senator KITCHING: Have you spoken with her since, or are you speaking with her regularly?

Ms Wood : There has continued to be contact with Dr Moore-Gilbert since she landed back in Australia. Right from the beginning, when she was in quarantine she had DFAT support throughout her time in quarantine. We have supported her in making sure that personal effects were returned from Tehran to her in Australia. We have remained in contact with her since she got back and are seeking to continue to provide advice on support that she may require as she recovers from what she underwent while she was detained in Iran.

Senator WONG: What does 'remained in contact' mean?

CHAIR: That will be the last question at this time.

Ms Wood : We've remained in contact. Normally once somebody returns to Australia they're no longer technically a consular client anymore; they're back in Australia as an Australian citizen. In her case, there has been contact, for example, ensuring that she had her personal effects returned from Tehran. She also had some questions about access to various services in Australia, and so we've been in contact on an occasional basis.

Senator WONG: I suppose the point that Senator Kitching is reasonably making—and I would make too—is that she has a set of experiences which are of value in our understanding of Iran, but also an experience of being in the situation she was, which might inform the department and the government about how to approach these matters in the future. I interrupted Senator Kitching, I think she has one more question.

CHAIR: How many 'one more's' can there be?

Senator KITCHING: Minister, have you spoken with Dr Moore-Gilbert since her release?

Senator Payne: I spoke with her after she was released and conveyed the deep relief of the Australian government that that had been achieved. And she met personally with the Prime Minister, as you know.

Senator KITCHING: On what date?

CHAIR: No, sorry, that was the last question.

Senator WONG: Just on notice, can she—

Senator KITCHING: On what date?

Ms Wood : She met the Prime Minister on 10 February.

CHAIR: Senator Fawcett has the call.

Senator WONG: Can the minister go on notice with the date of her call? Can you just do that?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

CHAIR: That has already been done.

Senator WONG: I don't know if it was.

Senator FAWCETT: I wanted to follow up on some of the earlier questions around the Pacific and vaccine support in the area of COVID. We've had a very detailed discussion around Papua New Guinea, which is appropriate given the urgency of what's occurring there, but I'm interested to get an update on our measures more broadly. We've contributed significantly, the $700 million, to the global vaccine development. My understanding is that we've also looked at a number of specific bilateral measures to assist in the Pacific. Can we get an update on those measures for other Pacific nations in terms of vaccines for COVID?

Mr Davies : I think you're aware that as part of the government's Regional Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative, which was announced at the end of last year, approximately $200 million has been made available to support vaccine access in the Pacific and Timor-Leste. Some of that funding is for procurement of vaccines and some of that funding is for delivery support—in other words, to help governments prepare for the introduction of vaccines and then to roll them out when they're available.

In terms of the delivery support part, a lot of the focus to date has been on the expected arrival of vaccines from the COVAX facility. So far two countries in the Pacific have received vaccines from the COVAX facility: the first was Fiji, which has received 12,000 AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in India, and more recently Solomon Islands has received 24,000 AstraZeneca vaccines. In each of these countries the COVAX facility required the preparation of a national vaccine deployment plan, and the Australian government has been working with partner governments in the Pacific through Australian organisations, like the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, to support some of our partner governments to develop those national vaccine deployment plans.

We have also been working with our partner governments, WHO and UNICEF in many of these countries to cost the elements of the national vaccine rollout plan and to determine how the resources that the government has made available will be used to finance the development of those programs. In some cases the funds will be used to support the activities of WHO country officers, or WHO and UNICEF at the regional level. In other cases the resources are being used to provide direct support to the budgets of our partner governments. That's the broad picture.

Senator FAWCETT: A lot of these efforts—obviously our region is South-East Asia and the Pacific—are part of a global approach to equitable access to vaccines. I'd be interested to know whether we have any plans to expand beyond this region if there is evidence of inequitable access. I refer particularly to media reports that Taiwan, as a nation who very generously gave Australia a large amount of PPE last year, has had contracts that they have executed with, I think, a German pharmaceutical company placed in doubt, and there is speculation it is due to coercive measures. If that were to continue, would we look to expand our support, perhaps through CSL, when we have capacity to countries beyond our region such as Taiwan?

Mr Davies : In relation to the existing regional vaccine access initiative, that is targeting 18 specific partner countries, all of which are ODA, official development assistance, eligible countries. In terms of countries outside that grouping, my information on the case of Taiwan is that they do have contractual arrangements in place, I think with two pharmaceutical companies at this stage—I believe AstraZeneca and Moderna. I don't think they have an arrangement with Pfizer and I think they may be purchasing some vaccines through the COVAX facility with their own resources. All of those arrangements, I believe, add up to approximately full population coverage for Taiwan. So, based on what I know, I think Taiwan's needs are reasonably well covered, even if some of their contractual negotiations have not come to fruition.

Senator FAWCETT: Could I go to the broader economic impacts of COVID in the Pacific and South-East Asian region, particularly the Pacific? Could you just update us on measures that we're looking at to support the Pacific, particularly given that their tourism industry has been significantly impacted by COVID and the lack of travel?

Ms Heinecke : There are a number of things that the government has done to respond to the economic situation in the Pacific. As you outline, tourism has been a particular concern for the tourism-affected economies. Fiji, Vanuatu and Palau are very dependent on tourism. We've done a number of things. The first one is the COVID response package which was announced in the May budget—$304 million. Fiji is a major recipient of that fund. We're currently working through that package with Pacific governments. In Fiji we made a payment of $20 million to support social protection payments. That's benefiting 118,000 Fijians that are vulnerable. That payment is being made over the January to June period. We're currently working with governments on education, health, gender financing through that package.

Pacific labour has been a really important part of our response. There have been around 8½ thousand Pacific workers that have been able to stay in Australia. They've moved across Australia and supported remittances for their families, but they are also important for us here domestically in terms of our agricultural workforce needs. We've been able to bring in 3,124 Pacific workers since national cabinet agreed to the reopening of Pacific labour. They're now working or in quarantine ready to start working. We've also pivoted our aid program in the Pacific. That has been reorientated to both health and economic response needs.

The last thing I'd say is that we've been working very closely with our partners around the world but also our multilateral development partners. They've had requests for $1.7 billion to be brought forward, and they've been able to approve 90 per cent of those. So a lot of the financing that's been really important for this year, for 2021, and also 2020 has come from multilateral development partners. That is one of the reasons why we're back-ending some of our support.

The last thing I would say is that we're working closely now with PNG to understand their financing needs in terms of the current situation there, and we're looking at deploying an additional part of the COVID response package in response to PNG.

CHAIR: That was very impressive, without looking at a single note.

Ms Heinecke : I wouldn't find it in a folder.

Senator FAWCETT: I have just one follow-up on that, once you've taken a breath. Part of the reason for my question is that, yes, we had an announcement in the budget last year, and I think you said $20 million of that has actually gone out the door, so to speak, to the Fiji government for a particular purpose. You mentioned a number of other engagements with Pacific island governments. What I'm interested to understand is how likely we are to actually expend that money so it's achieving the outcomes we're looking for, given that we're approaching another budget cycle at the moment.

Ms Heinecke : We've planned to spend $190 million of that direct financing package, which has $250 million of the $304 million, this financial year. We have programmed with Pacific governments, because, as you know, it is really important to program and plan it with them, and we're confident of that expenditure. What is the unknown part of that package for this financial year at the moment is Papua New Guinea, and we're actively working on what that package, around the fiscal crisis window, will look like for Papua New Guinea. Our early thinking—and, of course, we need to work this through with the Papua New Guinea government—is that it'll be around education, health and hospital expenditure, and we're currently working through the expenditures in the PNG budget and what that might look like. But, as I said, it's very early days in understanding that package. This is what the package was designed for, and that's exactly how we intend to use it.

Senator FAWCETT: Thanks very much.

Senator PATERSON: I have a very brief follow-up question from Senator Wong's line of questioning about the consular cases and their interaction with our travel advice. I note that our travel advice for China is: do not travel. Obviously, there's a COVID-19 element to that, but also in the travel advice it says:

As previously advised, authorities have detained foreigners on grounds of 'endangering national security'. Australians may be at risk of arbitrary detention.

I know that these warnings are carefully made. Was our travel advice updated because we believe that some of our current consular cases in China have been arbitrarily detained?

Ms Wood : Can I ask which particular update you are referring to? We've made a number of—

Senator PATERSON: I'm on the Smartraveller website right now for China. The latest update says: 'Still current at 25 March 2021'. It was updated on 9 February.

Ms Wood : Could you restate the question?

Senator PATERSON: I was just asking a follow-up to Senator Wong's questions about the specific consular cases. Our travel advice to Australians is not to travel to China. In part, it is because of COVID-19, but it also says:

As previously advised, authorities have detained foreigners on grounds of 'endangering national security'. Australians may be at risk of arbitrary detention.

My question is: given that travel advice is carefully made, have we provided this advice to Australians because we believe that there are Australians currently subject to arbitrary detention in China? Do you consider some of those consular cases to be arbitrary detention?

Ms Wood : In terms of those who are currently detained in China, we hold concerns about the grounds for the detention of those people, but I prefer not to go into any further details about those cases at the moment.

Senator PATERSON: I understand.

Senator ANTIC: I have a couple of questions about the new embassy in Adelaide, South Australia, of the People's Republic of China, the PRC, which now sits comfortably in Joslin in suburban South Australia. It is an enormous installation. It covers almost five certificates of title between two streets. It has, understandably, caused a fair bit of angst among the local population. In South Australia there are significant defence projects 20 kilometres down the road at the shipyards at Osbourne. Also material, I think, is that the largest population of Uighur people in Australia lives right there, nearby in Adelaide. I'm interested to know whether or not the department has any particular concerns about the size of the embassy and, if so, is there any proposal to do anything about that?

Ms Adamson : Our chief of protocol is just arriving at the table. But I have just a small point of clarification: the embassies are always in the capital cities, so embassies are in Canberra. The lower level representation, typically in the form of consulates general, is in other cities, both for China here in Australia and for us in China. So it is a consulate general that the Chinese have established in Adelaide, in addition to the ones that they already have in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Let me invite Mr McConville to respond to your particular question.

Mr McConville : Senator, could you please repeat the question. Sorry. I was in transit from upstairs.

Senator ANTIC: Sure. The question was in relation to whether or not the department has concerns in relation to the size of the PRC consulate general in suburban Adelaide and, if so, whether there are plans to take steps in that regard.

Mr McConville : In relation to diplomatic and consular footprints of countries, these, of course, vary depending on the needs and perspectives and priorities. Obviously, we have a situation where China has a lot of important interests across Australia and has a significant consular responsibility within South Australia. The number originally, I think, was 50,000 Chinese passport holders. Although I think that is, after COVID, down to 30,000, it still has a broad set of interests within South Australia, as it does in its other five consulates general. The issue from a Vienna Convention on Consular Relations perspective is that prima facie we are obliged to willingly accept nominations of consulates—or embassies, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. That is subject, of course, to the provision in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations article 20, which talks about it being reasonable.

CHAIR: Mr McConville, time is of the essence. I think the question—if I might try to rephrase it for the good senator—is: how many other consulates general around Australia have the same size and staff as the one in Adelaide, and has that occasioned any interest as to why that might be?

Mr McConville : I will just respond on that. Thank you, Senator Abetz. In terms of the footprint in Adelaide, I think you have to take it in the context of the overall footprint in Australia. I guess the interesting comparison is that, if you include locally engaged staff, the footprint of China is a little more than half what the US equivalent footprint is. If you look at the footprint of the Australian diplomatic and consular presence in China and include the totality of all staff, we actually have a significantly larger number of staff in China, including LE, than China has in Australia.

Senator ANTIC: Thank you, but that still doesn't quite address the issue, insofar as there are, as we understand it, 12 foreign national staff working in what is a state of 1.7 million people, with a significant defence project footprint and a significant Uighur population. Does that not cause any alarm bells to ring?

CHAIR: And what's the US footprint in South Australia?

Mr McConville : So there are two questions.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: If you're comparing, the Italian community in South Australia is quite large, but the Italian consulate in Adelaide doesn't have a very large footprint. When you look at the Italian Australian community here, it's a lot larger than the Chinese. Yet compare those footprints. So where's your thinking?

Mr McConville : For instance, to respond directly, Senator Abetz, on the issue of the US, no, it doesn't have a consulate general in Adelaide.

Senator WONG: We'd be very happy if it did.

Mr McConville : I think the question you would have to ask, Senator, would be: if we had similar interests in China, if we had a population of 30,000 Australian nationals in a particular city—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: That's not the point.

CHAIR: But we don't have a million of those people in concentration camps and a whole stack of refugees and other Uighurs in South Australia. So, please, can we focus on—do we have any idea as to why there might be this interest in South Australia?

Ms Adamson : Can I try and assist the committee here. I fully understand the concerns you are raising, and, Senator Antic, the concerns you're reflecting on the part of the good people of Joslin and surrounding areas. From a DFAT perspective solely, we look at what role it is that the consulate-general is telling us it needs to perform in relation to the number of citizens it needs to service. On the basis of that alone—yes, it looks on the large side but it is not, on its own, a matter of concern. What would be of concern, and what we would seek to act on immediately, is if we—I don't just mean DFAT; I mean all Australian government agencies—observed any behaviours on the part of those staff which were contrary to their formal roles under the Vienna convention and contrary to, if you like, our interest. So we hear what you say. We know that China, as with some other countries—admittedly small—doesn't tend to employ locally engaged staff as we do. I haven't driven past that consulate but I've seen photos of it. It is a typical Chinese footprint. But, as an agency within the government, we are alert to both our obligations under the Vienna Convention and to the point that each of you are making and that have been reflected elsewhere. Obviously, when it comes to defence interests—and a particular point has been made about those—they are matters for the Department of Defence. But I very much appreciate the way in which you've raised them, and this is a matter of active consideration on our part.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: If there are contraventions of Australian law—talk us through the processes. The history of Asia, volumes 1, 2 and 3, tells us there have been contraventions in the past.

CHAIR: Senator, could you ask that question at a later stage. Senator Antic, do you have any specific South Australian issues? I'm mindful that Senator Rice was promised the call at 12.15.

Senator ANTIC: That's all from me. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Alright. We are already eating into lunchtime. Senator Rice, you have the call but I think we'll be revisiting this matter after lunch.

Senator RICE: Thanks, Chair. Does the government have a time frame on when it will respond to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade's report recommending a Magnitsky act?

Mr Newnham : There is no set time frame for a government response. What I can say is that, having been tabled in December of last year and building on over 160 submissions to the committee in over eight days of hearings—there are 33 recommendations and a great deal of material that sits underneath that, and the government is thoroughly working its way through that, not just within the department but across government as well, and in close consultation with the Foreign Minister's office.

Senator RICE: It's disappointing. I think I heard somewhere that it was anticipated by the first quarter. So we don't have a time frame at the moment.

Mr Newnham : We don't have a time frame but, as I said, it's a weighty set of recommendations and materials, building on a lot of submissions to the committee, and the government is thoroughly working its way through that as quickly as we can but noting vast equities throughout that document.

Senator RICE: An excellent report with cross-party support. Is the plan to introduce a Magnitsky bill following consideration of that report?

Mr Newnham : These are decisions for government. We will, as I said, work our way through that with relevant agencies, the minister and across government. But, ultimately, that is a decision for government.

Senator RICE: Minister, do you have a view as to whether government's intention is to introduce Magnitsky legislation?

Senator Payne: I made the referral to ask the committee to provide the government with comprehensive advice on that, and I agree the report is a very helpful one in terms of these issues. We have been working through—the department, as Mr Newnham said, with advice to me—on these matters. It is with government for consideration. I've written to the Prime Minister, and we will make our response public in due course.

Senator RICE: Thank you. On Tuesday, the US, Canadian and EU governments imposed targeted sanctions against Chinese government officials involved in actions against the Uighur people. The original version of the statement that they issued listed Australia as one of the countries issuing the joint statement. When did Australia withdraw from the decision to issue that joint statement?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure what you mean in relation to an original document. We don't have the same sorts of sanctions as those that are applied in this matter, as I understand it, on this occasion. But you will note—if we're talking about the same issue—that the foreign minister of New Zealand and I issued a joint statement on Tuesday in support of those initiatives by the European Union, the US and the UK.

Senator RICE: I'm aware of that. I've got a document I can table, which is the archived version of the US, UK and EU statement that was on the US website, and that was on 22 March, and that says, 'The text of the following statement was released by the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and the United States Secretary of State.'

Senator Payne: That's not correct, Senator.

Senator RICE: I can table it. That's what was on the US website.

Senator Payne: Yes, but it's not correct.

Senator RICE: Okay. So it was entirely an error on the US side, then?

Senator Payne: I can't speak for the United States and what they posted. But, as we made clear, we supported that statement and those applications.

Senator RICE: So why didn't we actually sign onto it, then?

Senator Payne: In the position that we currently have, and you've already raised the status of the joint committee's report, we don't have the same sanction application capacity in the Magnitsky sense. So the entities in this case—I don't have this in front of me—the EU, UK, the US and Canada, I think, who do have that capacity, made those statements, and we supported them.

Senator RICE: Could we have sanctioned under our existing autonomous sanctions framework?

Senator Payne: The Magnitsky system, if it is adopted by government, is going to—

Senator RICE: But I'm talking about our existing framework.

Senator Payne: give us that quick sanctions response for serious human rights abuses anywhere, once it's established. But I will ask Mr Newnham to add to that.

Mr Newnham : Our sanctions regime is made up of two components: long-held UN sanctions, of course, and autonomous sanctions for which we have nine country-specific regimes. We do not have a country-specific regime for China, and therefore there is not the avenue to apply sanctions in this case.

Senator RICE: How long would it take us to amend that autonomous sanctions framework to include China?

Mr Newnham : It very much depends on the circumstances, but, ballpark, it can be up to around six months plus to create a new set of regulations. But that very much flows from the complexities of particular sets of circumstances, countries, country-specific circumstances.

Senator RICE: Are we looking at doing that? Given that we've got no time frame for the government to respond to the Magnitsky report and we've then got no time frame for actually introducing Magnitsky legislation, even if it occurs, are we actually moving forward in considering including China under our autonomous sanctions regime so that we could in fact introduce sanctions against the Chinese officials?

Mr Newnham : I would of course defer to colleagues, but certainly I'm not aware that there's a consideration of the creation of a new country-specific regime. As I said, this has been around for 10 years—the autonomous sanctions system—and we have nine country-specific regimes, in addition to the 13 UN related sanctions regimes. So, at this point, I'm not aware that that's under contemplation.

Senator RICE: Which is disappointing. There are appalling crimes against the Uighur people that have been ongoing now for multiple years, and yet we have made no progress on, not even any investigation of, including China under that autonomous sanctions regime. That's what I hear you're saying.

Ms Lawson : Senator, I think it might be helpful to remind you more broadly of the deep concern we have about the situation in Xinjiang—

Senator RICE: I'm sorry; it would be lovely to hear that, but I've got very limited time.

Ms Lawson : The government has made strong statements, and also—

Senator RICE: I know that. I read the minister's statement saying we supported what was in the statement from the US, the UK and the EU. The issue is us actually having the ability to implement those sanctions.

Senator Payne: That is exactly why I made the referral to the joint standing committee last year. It's exactly why I've considered that comprehensive report. It's exactly why I've written to the Prime Minister with my views on that matter, and the government will progress that.

Senator RICE: In that letter to the Prime Minister, did you stress the need to be fast-tracking the introduction of a response—

Senator Payne: I'm not going into the details of my correspondence with the Prime Minister.

Senator RICE: You know that there is support across the parliament for Australia to be taking stronger action.

Senator Payne: That's why I made the referral, because I know that this is an issue in which Australia can play a strong role. I have a comprehensive report from the committee. I've made a comprehensive response on that to the Prime Minister, and we will progress that.

Senator RICE: Okay.

CHAIR: It's a spooky thing when Senator Rice agrees!

Senator Payne: I don't want to go there!

Senator RICE: Senator Fawcett wanted to make a quick comment.

Senator FAWCETT: Yes, as chair of the committee that did table that report. Mr Newnham, you said there is no time frame. I just note and put on the record that, in accordance with a Senate resolution of 14 March 1973, successive governments have committed to respond to committee reports within three months. That was 7 March this year. So, in actual fact, the response to the committee's report—which is separate to the introduction of any legislation, I will note—is overdue.

Senator Payne: Senator, I would note you did provide it as a Christmas present. In all reasonable considerations, we have progressed it quickly through these processes. That is why I have—

Senator FAWCETT: Minister, I accept that, but I do—again, people may be alarmed at this—agree with Senator Rice that, particularly with what's happening in Myanmar at the moment, as well as other parts of the world, we need to have some levers that we can use to actually do more than issue statements.

Senator Payne: I agree, and that's why we're progressing these matters.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.

Senator RICE: Can I move on? I want to move on to Hong Kong and the deepening crisis in Hong Kong. I want to know the Australian government's current assessment of the level of autonomy in Hong Kong.

Ms Lawson : We have very deep concerns regarding the situation in Hong Kong, including, as we see it, the declining level of autonomy. As you know, changes to the Hong Kong electoral system were adopted at the National People's Congress on 11 March. In our view, this does further undermine Hong Kong's democratic institutions, as well as the autonomy that was promised to Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. You would have noted that the minister has issued a joint statement with her New Zealand counterpart on this matter to register our very strong concerns.

This, of course, compounds the situation after the introduction of the national security law and the disqualification of legislative council lawmakers. This law was imposed without the participation of the Hong Kong people, so we do have deep concerns about that. We feel that the high degree of autonomy under the 'one country, two systems' framework under the Basic Law has been significantly eroded. We are concerned at the arrest of opposition politicians and democracy activists. Essentially what this amounts to is a silencing of critical voices and opposition within the Hong Kong system. We've expressed concerns about that frequently, both bilaterally in public statements and with other partners.

Senator RICE: When you say you've expressed concerns, that's both in Hong Kong and to the Chinese government?

Ms Lawson : Absolutely, yes. Frequently and very frankly.

Senator RICE: Given that, what's the current situation with consideration of lifeboat visas for people from Hong Kong?

Ms Lawson : We've introduced new visa measures for all temporary graduates and skilled workers from Hong Kong who want to work and live in Australia. There have been slightly increased numbers in uptake on that from quite a low base. We have made it easier for people to stay here.

Senator RICE: Is there consideration of expanding those from the current temporary visas?

Ms Lawson : I think we would sort of look at the issue on a case-by-case basis, depending on demand. Of course, we will consider all applications as they come in to our colleagues in immigration.

Senator RICE: Given I've got limited time, I'm now going to move on to the Philippines. In the response to my question on notice No. 133, it was confirmed that the government provided technical assistance to the Philippines government to draft its new counterterrorism law, saying:

This assistance has sought to bring Philippine counter terrorism legislation to modern international standards, including consistency with UN guidance.

Of course, this law has been widely condemned by experts, including the UN, as not meeting international standards. Can I get some more detail, please, as to what that technical assistance consisted of? What staff were involved, what did it cost, who were they working with from the Philippines and over what time frame? That sort detail is what I'd be interested in knowing.

Mr Jadwat : In terms of the assistance that Australia provided to the Philippine government for the antiterrorism act, the Department of Home Affairs provided technical expertise, information exchanges and study visits to the Philippines, which was coordinated with support by our embassy in Manila. The assistance was provided to the Philippine Congress and the Department of Justice, which were responsible for drafting the legislation. Assistance was provided from 7 August 2017 to 16 October 2020, when the implementing rules and regulations were published and the act was finalised. I've been told that the act remains untested because cases have not yet been brought before the courts.

Senator RICE: So it's quite considerable assistance. Given how condemned the law has been, what further representations are being made to the Philippines government to revoke it, as it has ended up, despite our technical assistance, and to adopt the new law that would meet international standards?

Mr Jadwat : In relation to the act, my understanding is that the Australian assistance was to try to make sure that the act was better, that it complied with international—

Senator RICE: But you failed in doing that.

Mr Jadwat : Many of the criticisms, that have been addressed, have been addressed through the implementing rules and regulations underpinning the legislation—for example, the criticisms on lack of protections for dissent, defences for political and civil rights, free speech and the freedom of assembly, the definition of terrorism and now pre-charge detention. A lot of those issues have been addressed. There has been, from what I understand, significant progress in trying to make sure that it complies more closely with international human rights standards.

Senator RICE: Certainly that's not the situation on the ground. You would be aware, since the adoption of the law, we've seen numerous activists, lawyers, journalists who have had ongoing extrajudicial killings, being gunned down, being labelled as terrorists. Is the government monitoring these extrajudicial killings?

Mr Jadwat : Absolutely. We monitor human rights issues in the Philippines very closely, and we raise our concerns with the Philippine government during bilateral representations. We do it here in Canberra and we do it at post. Most recently, the deputy secretary of DFAT made representations with his counterpart, the undersecretary, on 15 March, and our ambassador made representations in Manila with the chief justice on 10 March. We're also engaging with civil society groups to listen to their views and concerns. We're continuing our advocacy on all of these human rights issues in the Philippines.

Senator RICE: But we haven’t made any public statements. It seems that making those representations isn't having much of an impact, given the ongoing killings.

Mr Jadwat : I'm not aware of any public statements the embassy has made. Again, I can check on that for you. But I can assure you that we do regularly raise human rights concerns on a variety of issues, including on extrajudicial killings.

Senator RICE: Minister, have you had engagement with your counterparts, and have you considered making a public statement about the awful situation that's currently happening in the Philippines?

Senator Payne: I spoke recently to my foreign secretary counterpart, Teddy Locsin, specifically in relation to Myanmar. That is the only issue we discussed on that call.

CHAIR: The committee stands adjourned until 1.30, when Senator Roberts will have the call for a short period of time, and then Senator Patrick.

Proceedings suspended from 12:39 to 13:32

CHAIR: It being the allocated time, the committee is resumed and Senator Roberts has the call.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you all for attending today. My questions are about the United Nations. I don't know who will answer those questions. In total, how much does Australia pay to the United Nations or its subsidiaries each year in dollar terms?

CHAIR: Do we need to take that on notice?

Ms Adamson : No, I don't think we do. Someone's coming down from upstairs. We will, unfortunately, get into questions of definition about which subsidiary agencies and all the rest of it. In order to give a completely comprehensive answer we may need to take it on notice, but there'll be a number of things that we can say at a general level that I hope will be what you're after.

Senator ROBERTS: I'm after a comprehensive level.

Senator Payne: Well, if you need comprehensive, Senator, I'll ask the officials to do their best at the table and then, if parts of it need to be taken on notice, we'll return to the committee.

Senator ROBERTS: Of course.

Dr Lee : My apologies; I just had to come down the stairs. Can I just ask you to repeat the question, please.

Senator ROBERTS: Yes. In total, how much does Australia pay to the United Nations or its subsidiaries each year in dollar terms?

Dr Lee : Thank you, Senator. The key contribution that Australia makes is our assessed contribution to the United Nations. That's based upon the size of Australia's economy. Australia contributes 2.21 per cent to the UN regular budget—

CHAIR: The question was in dollar terms.

Dr Lee : Yes. In 20-21 that equates to around $82.2 million—that's our assessed contribution to the UN. We also make other contributions—for example, to UN peacekeeping. That's also based on an assessed contribution to the United Nations. In 2019-20, which is the last year we have a figure for, Australia provided $212 million in assessed contributions to support UN peacekeeping missions.

Of course that is not the total of our contribution to the United Nations. I don't have a figure because that is provided by a range of contributions that may be made through the development corporation program or it may be made to contributions to UN specialised agencies. They would be looked after by other Australian government agencies as well, so getting the total contribution that Australia makes to the UN and all of its subsidiary agencies requires a collation of data from across government, which we don't have.

Senator ROBERTS: I'm happy for you to take that on notice. This is a very important issue for our constituents. They're concerned about the cost and the impact on our country. My next question is in the same vein. In total, how much does it cost Australia to comply with, or to implement, UN dictates in their various forms—treaties, agreements, declarations and protocols—which are expected of UN members?

Dr Lee : I don't think we would be able to provide a figure on that. Australia of course seeks to adhere to its international obligations, including treaty-reporting processes. A lot of that would be the responsibility of Australian government agencies. To calculate that you would need to look at staff costs and time costs, so I don't think we would have that figure available—

Senator ROBERTS: It would be enormous—

Dr Lee : or that we would be able to collect a figure on implementation of international obligations in the way that you portray them.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you for your openness. It would be enormous—I'm thinking of compliance with the UN Kyoto protocol, which has caused a lot of farmers to lose their property rights. That's been estimated by some people to be either $100 billion or $200 billion. It's rubbery, but it's a difficult thing. There's compliance with the Water Act, which puts compliance with international obligations as one of its primary aims right through. There's compliance with the UN Paris agreement, particularly when other nations don't have to wreck their economies to comply because their goals are so easy. Then there's manufacturing and the UN Lima agreement—the declaration from 1975—and the governance impacts from the UN Rio declaration in 1992.

I wonder if anyone has figured out the cost to this country in dollar terms, the cost to our economy and the cost to the loss of our governance and sovereignty?

Dr Lee : I think the other way to portray it, though, is that there are the benefits that Australia gets from these arrangements and agreements—

CHAIR: With respect, I understand that, but this isn't a forum for arguing. Somebody is seeking costs, and if somebody else wants to ask a question about the benefits then that's up to them. But our time is very limited, I'm sorry.

Senator ROBERTS: That leads to my third question, which is: given the globalist approach of the UN what value is there for Australia to constantly pay out money directly, and at a huge indirect cost to our governance and our economy?

Dr Lee : I think the answer to that would be the benefits we get from those arrangements in having rules that guide many things that guide the Australian economy. If we look, for example, at the work we've been doing around rules that guide international aviation, international shipping and telecommunications, all of those rules are set by the United Nations. It means that we have a global economy we can participate in that sets equal rules between countries, which Australia, as an open-trading economy—and as an economy of our size—can benefit from. Similarly, we have international organisations dealing with global challenges, like the role that the WHO is playing in response to COVID, that we want addressed in the world; by making contributions to those, we get benefits from that. We appreciate that there are costs—both direct costs and obligations that Australia has to adhere to—but we also get a number of very significant benefits.

Senator ROBERTS: And I'd put it to you that those benefits—for example, in aviation—could be obtained by having a country host the other countries of the world and coming up with a convention on that. It doesn't have to come from the UN; we've shown that in the history of our planet. What would it mean to Australia if Australia chose to withdraw from the United Nations—if we exited?

Senator Payne: I can assure you that there is no consideration of that. Our engagement in the international system—and, indeed, Australia's security and prosperity—has been underpinned for a very long time by what is known as the rules based international order and the institutions that were created to support that. What we have seen in the last 12 months, frankly—the impact of COVID around the world—is what happens when those systems click into gear and support the countries and the communities that need them. The international cooperation that we have through those UN agencies and organisations is very important to that management. COVID-19, as I was saying, has really exposed the magnitude of the consequences if those global institutions are not working as well as they should. I think the Prime Minister and you have probably engaged on this before. As the Prime Minister said in his Lowy speech last year:

Australia cannot be an indifferent bystander to these events that impact our livelihoods, our safety and our sovereignty. We must, as we have done previously, cultivate, marshal and bring our influence to bear to protect and promote our national interests.

What we seek is an international system that respects the unique characteristics of individual states within it—in our case, Australia—yet still provides a framework for cooperation on security and prosperity. Dr Lee has advanced international aviation, I think, if I heard correctly, as an example of that. But there are countless others where we understand that working cooperatively with others is in our national interest. It allows us to pursue shared regional and global objectives, and it is a centrepiece of our international engagement. We did a lot of work on this last year—a lot of work—and that has crystallised and firmed the government's views on these matters.

Senator ROBERTS: I have a different opinion, but I respect your right to have an opinion.

Senator Payne: As I do yours.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you. I know you've shown that in the past.

Senator Payne: We're in a very good democracy here.

CHAIR: And the five minutes are ticking away.

Senator Payne: Sorry, I took some of those minutes—my apologies.

Senator ROBERTS: I do acknowledge that the Prime Minister said these words on 3 October 2019, when he addressed the Lowy Institute, in Sydney. He spoke of 'an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy' and then promptly advocated to give the World Health Organization more power. I would argue with you about the World Health Organization's benefits, because I think it contributed to the rampant spread of COVID. Nonetheless, how many funding arrangements between Australia and the UN are open-ended?

Dr Lee : I'm not—

Senator ROBERTS: They get ratcheted up automatically, or they haven't got a closing date.

Dr Lee : Yes. I'll try and take that on notice. My initial reaction would be that we would have no open-ended commitments, or that any commitment that we make would be on the basis of an agreement or an understanding, but I can take that on notice.

Senator ROBERTS: I think there are some updates to our laws or our requirements or our commitments that are made automatically if a UN document or protocol is changed. Are you aware of any of those?

Dr Lee : I'm not sure, but you could be referring to what I mentioned earlier, which was our assessed contribution. There is a committee that looks at our assessed contribution and adjusts that contribution according to changes in our national circumstances—the size of our economy, our debt ratios and the like—in comparison to other countries. That is still part of a committee which we participate in, but ultimately we would abide by the finding of that committee at the end of that process. So there is that sort of process, and that is what I was referring to earlier about the calculation of our assessed contributions.

Senator ROBERTS: I'll finish up now. But it may be in the human rights area or the rights of the child area where changes in the UN requirements are automatically fed through to us and we have to comply with them. That may be something to consider, but I believe that's the case.

Dr Lee : I can take that on notice.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you, if you could. From my perspective, I question the need to stay in the UN—and the benefits to this country—because of the governance impacts on our country, the sovereignty impacts on our country and the economic impacts on our country. I recognise and acknowledge that this country's current government is not thinking about exiting the UN, but we certainly are, and a lot of our constituents want it.

CHAIR: Thank you for that comment.

Senator Payne: Senator Roberts, can I also say that I understand the reform issues that you've raised. We are strong supporters of the reform processes that have been underway in the UN, and I acknowledge that there is more to do. I did raise that with the secretary-general last week in a conversation on a number of regional issues but also in passing on the UN reform questions.

Senator PATRICK: Ms Adamson, you might recall that at the last estimates we had a discussion about China and Taiwan, and you were characterising things when you said:

It is certainly something I would be more concerned about this year than a year ago or possibly in fact at any time over the last 3½ decades that I've worked on this subject, if you like.

They were words that stuck in my mind. Five months on, how would DFAT characterise the current situation in respect of China and Taiwan? Have the tensions increased since then? Has the situation deteriorated since then?

Ms Lawson : I think it's fair to say that we have seen an uptick in cross-strait tensions even since October. China's rhetoric has become more forward-leaning, and there have been a range of actions—for example, flights crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait. We are watching this situation very closely. We are concerned. Of course, we don't take a position on Taiwan's future status, and we support a peaceful resolution of differences between the two sides.

Senator PATRICK: Over the past five months, what representation has Australia made to the PRC about the importance of respecting what we'd call the status quo in relation to the Taiwan Strait? How has it featured in our diplomacy with China?

Ms Lawson : We have made a range of representations. I don't have a list in front of me, but I can say that when we do speak to the Chinese government about these issues we speak very frankly and we raise our concerns very consistently. If you like, I can take on notice the times at which we've done that.

Senator PATRICK: Yes, that's fine. I'd appreciate that. This week, the incoming head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Aquilino, told the US Senate Committee on Armed Services that the risk of a Chinese attack on Taiwan is 'much closer to us than most think'. He described Taiwan as the Chinese Communist Party's 'No. 1 priority'. Do you agree with his comments?

Ms Lawson : I would say that the question around Taiwan is a very, very high priority for the Chinese government. I won't make a judgement about the first part of the question, but I will say that this is an issue which we take very, very seriously and we watch very, very closely.

Senator PATRICK: How important is it to the CCP that they exert control over Taiwan and bring democracy in Taiwan to an end?

Ms Adamson : I think the Chinese government has made it very clear that Taiwan is a very, very high priority. It features in all of their statements, including at the recent National People's Congress, and the Chinese government's focus on what it calls 'reunification' is certainly not in doubt.

Senator PATRICK: At the last estimates, I raised questions about the ANZUS alliance and talked about Menzies' view of the alliance in respect of a conflict between China and Taiwan. I'm wondering, firstly, whether or not the Chinese government fully appreciates the United States position in respect of Taiwan, in the context of the use of force, and I wonder why it is that, in the context of ensuring China understands the cost, we are not being a bit more direct in relation to our ANZUS commitments.

Ms Lawson : So the question is: our commitment to—

Senator PATRICK: I just wonder whether the Chinese understand the United States commitment in relation to Taiwan. I'm putting to you that the answer I received last time about almost a noncommitment from the government in relation to our responsibilities under the ANZUS treaty in the event that China were to attack Taiwan may send a weak signal to the Chinese about the US, Australian and, in fact, multilateral positions on such a course of action.

Ms Lawson : I don't think that the Chinese government is in any doubt about the strength of the alliance with the United States. Our position on the question of Taiwan rests on what we are doing with Taiwan, and we are working very closely with Taiwan as an economic partner. We continue to build our strong economic and cultural ties. It is our ninth-largest goods export market. It's very, very important to us in that sense, and we do maintain very regular unofficial contact, including annual economic consultations. We have a range of separate consultations as well on things like energy and minerals. The AUSMIN communique—

Senator PATRICK: I recall that.

Ms Lawson : made very, very clear our position. That was quite significant in affirming Taiwan's important role in the Indo-Pacific and our steady intention to maintain those unofficial ties with Taiwan. Of course we want to ensure that our region remains open, secure and inclusive, and we do support Taiwan's participation in a range of international organisations. Where statehood is a requirement for that participation, we say that Taiwan should be an observer, and the WHA is a very good example of that.

Senator PATRICK: My final question on Taiwan is: how does the government characterise the risk that, say, after the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, China may, in fact, use force against Taiwan, perhaps to invade?

Ms Lawson : I won't comment on those kinds of hypotheticals. All I can say is that we do—

Senator PATRICK: I think it's the role of the department of foreign affairs and, in fact, the government to carry out these sorts of assessments. That's entirely what the defence department does; it deals with hypotheticals and possibilities.

Ms Lawson : That answer doesn't mean that we don't watch the situation closely and make our assessments. It just means that I'm not going to make a judgement in this forum. But of course we're watching the situation and making our very, very careful assessments all of the time.

Senator PATRICK: Minister?

Senator Payne: I think Ms Lawson has put that well—including her reference to the AUSMIN joint statement of last July, where Australia reaffirmed Taiwan's important role in the Indo-Pacific. I don't think engagement in a hypothetical discussion in a situation like this on the circumstances in which the ANZUS treaty might or might not apply is that helpful. But we have been very clear that there's no doubt that conflict in the Taiwan Strait would serve no-one's interests.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. I'm just wondering about the risk of it occurring.

Senator Payne: Australia will continue to advocate, as we do, for peaceful resolution of differences without the threat or use of force or coercion by anyone, and that includes our work with the US, with China and with other regional partners, who are very focused on an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific. Senator, you're correct in saying that it is the job of agencies to do this analysis and to make assessments of the sorts of issues that you have raised. It is also available to you as a committee to seek briefings from agencies on that, and I would assist in that process.

Senator PATRICK: I want to move on very quickly to detention of foreign nationals in consular cases in respect of China. I note that there were two trials in respect of Canadian businessmen in the last week or so, or it might have been just one, and that the Chinese government prohibited the observation of the trial by Canadians. Noting we have similar conditions in our agreement with China on consular activities, have we sought any reason from the Chinese as to why they excluded foreign diplomats from observing proceedings?

Ms Lawson : We have raised this matter with the Chinese government. We actually had people outside the court on these occasions. Yes, we have raised that.

Ms Adamson : The Chinese government, as I'm sure you know, takes the position, with which we disagree, that consular access is not granted where the matter under consideration relates to national security. We have always argued, including in relevant cases going back some years, that our consular agreement provides us with the right, and we feel we also have a responsibility under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to be able to be in a courtroom if any of our nationals is subject to judicial proceedings. That is the same view taken by the Canadian government, and one of the reasons so many diplomatic and consular representatives were outside courtrooms in Da Nang, I think it was—sorry, Xinjiang—and in Beijing to reinforce that important point of principle.

Senator PATRICK: This has some impact on the two Australians who, potentially, will face trial in China. I'm talking about Dr Yang and Ms Cheng Lei. But I'd also point out that agreement we have between China and Australia, the Australia-China agreement on consular relations, permits consular access as well. That access has appeared to have been denied, although I'll give you the opportunity to perhaps advise when we last had access to both of those Australians.

Senator Payne: Senator, I can advise you that Senator Wong did raise these issues earlier in relation to Dr Yang and in relation to Ms Cheng Lei. I can confirm that we had consular access to Ms Cheng Lei yesterday and we are expecting to have access to visit Dr Yang today.

Senator PATRICK: Is it your expectation that under the agreement we should have more ready access? I think the last time we talked, we hadn't had access since, I think, September or something in a couple of these cases.

Ms Adamson : Generally speaking, the Chinese have been—and I think I use the adjective accurately—'meticulous' in granting us monthly access, as provided for under our agreement, where we've had consular cases. Again, this goes back over decades. We encountered a particular issue last year during COVID, where we went for a number of months and made strenuous representations seeking to be able to gain access. Towards the end of that period, the Chinese granted videoconferencing access from the detention facility, so our consular staff go there and they wear masks and they talk through a videoconference facility to exercise that consular access. Although there was a period last year, which I think you're referring to, where that access had not been granted, now, I think—and I'll look to Ms Wood to confirm this—we're back on track with essentially monthly visits.

Senator Payne: That's correct.

Senator PATRICK: I want to understand the case of the Canadians. The two Canadians were arrested very shortly after Canadian border guards acted on a US request for a Huawei executive to be detained as she transited through Vancouver. We then saw—and certainly in the case of Ms Cheng Lei—there were some arrests or some search warrants executed here in Australia on Chinese journalists. Are we right to classify what is happening as hostage diplomacy?

Ms Lawson : I don't think it's helpful to speculate on those kinds of terms.

Senator PATRICK: The reason I'm going down that path is that it will have an impact, or it is having an impact, on two Australians who are detained in China. Indeed, it may affect the trial.

Senator Payne: In the previous responses to Senator Wong, I think Ms Wood, from memory, went through a number of aspects of our access and our representations to Chinese authorities on these matters. We also, in your absence, had a discussion—I think it was initiated by questions from Senator Kitching—in relation to Australia's engagement in the declaration on arbitrary detention, and we would be happy to provide further information on either of those if you require.

Senator PATRICK: Has anyone talked about Julian Assange?

Senator Payne: Today?

Senator PATRICK: Today.

Senator Payne: No.

Senator PATRICK: Can I just get a quick update—because I know the chair is going to wrap me up very shortly—on whether or not we've had access since the court decision was handed down.

Ms Wood : As regards Mr Assange, we have offered him consular assistance on numerous occasions, most recently on 12 March, but he has so far declined to take up those offers of consular assistance.

Senator PATRICK: I thought there was a conversation between DFAT and the lawyers for Mr Assange where you were trying to facilitate at least some understanding through them.

Ms Wood : I can confirm that we have met with his legal representatives at their request, but that is not the same as consular access to Mr Assange.

Senator PATRICK: Since the court decision, have you had any discussions with the Biden administration about efforts to extradite and prosecute Mr Assange?

Ms Wood : We're not part of the case which the US has—

Senator PATRICK: No, this is a question about our dialogue with the United States since the Biden administration came into power. Have we had discussions in relation to Mr Assange, and what was the nature of those discussions?

Ms Wood : I'm just checking my notes. We're primarily focused, of course, from a consular perspective, on his conditions in in the United Kingdom.

Senator PATRICK: Sure, but you would understand that in some respects a decision has been made. The judge did not permit the extradition, based on mental health issues, but found in favour of the United States on all other charges. We now understand that we have a person in the UK who is subject to extradition at the request of the United States and who is really not in a healthy state from a mental perspective. Surely we are talking to the United States administration, running through the decision that's been made and advocating in relation to that.

Ms Wood : It's a matter between the United States, the United Kingdom and Julian Assange. We're not party to this.

Senator PATRICK: No. Respectfully, we have an Australian citizen who is being extradited, or whom there is an attempt to extradite, from the United Kingdom. We know the mental state. A court found that there are huge difficulties in that area. I'm asking about the Australian government's advocacy to the United States. I'm not trying to interfere with the UK judicial process. I'm talking about our advocacy to the United States, to the new administration, in respect of Assange.

Ms Wood : We're not involved in advocacy on this case. We're involved in supporting his welfare in the United Kingdom's judicial process.

Senator PATRICK: Can I direct that to the minister, then.

Ms Wood : As regards his mental state, of course, we continue to offer consular assistance.

Senator PATRICK: I'm not talking about consular assistance now, I'm talking about the Australian government advocating in respect of Mr Assange, noting we know what his mental health situation is, as found by a UK court. Why are we not talking to the United States government about this Australian citizen?

Senator Payne: I had previously raised this matter with both my United States and UK counterparts, in relation to ensuring that Mr Assange is afforded fair process and fair justice and acknowledging that Australia trusts the legal processes of the United States and the United Kingdom. I have not raised this, at this stage, with Secretary Blinken, whom I'm yet to meet in person, but I'm sure it will be a matter which is raised in that conversation.

Senator KITCHING: I notice Sweden has quite recently dropped, I think it's the third time, the investigation into the rape allegations against Mr Assange. Do you consider it likely that Sweden and the court system there would, again, reinitiate proceedings against Mr Assange?

Ms Wood : I can't speculate about what may or may not happen in the future. At present, as you say, the Swedish case has been dropped.

Senator KITCHING: I think they've gone back and forward.

Ms Wood : Yes.

CHAIR: The chair has made a very persuasive case that he ought to be allowed to ask a few questions! Can I ask for the official who may deal with the issue of our involvement in seeking to abolish the death penalty around the world? Also can I ask for our Maldives expert and somebody who might be able to tell me about religious/Christian persecution in Mauritania, Algeria, Somaliland and a few other places? Who can assist with the death penalty? Secretary, can you assist me? I always forget the title of the body that we're a member of.

Ms Adamson : And I always rely on the First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Policy Division. I'm expecting him to walk through the door as I speak and remind us both of the precise name of the body to which you refer, because I recall that was what was done last time. He must have run into someone on the stairs.

CHAIR: Do we have the Maldives person available, perchance?

Ms Adamson : Angela Macdonald can deal with that, and we do have Dr Lee; here he is.

Dr Lee : Sorry, can I just ask for your question again?

CHAIR: What is the name of the organisation of which we are a member, internationally, seeking to abolish the death penalty?

Dr Lee : Thank you.

CHAIR: Anyway, you know the body I'm talking about.

Dr Lee : I do.

CHAIR: So let's keep moving. Have we been able to achieve, through that body, any more countries to abolish their death penalty or, in fact, have more countries now introduced the death penalty? Where are we going on that issue around the world?

Dr Lee : I think I said previously that under this strategy it is difficult to attribute the gains we make in what is a very difficult issue.

CHAIR: What changes have been made on the world landscape, without attribution?

Dr Lee : The latest figures that we have—Amnesty International does these figures but there are gaps in the figures—are from 2018. There were 657 executions in 20 countries. That had been down on the previous year by about five per cent. Our embassies are monitoring, very closely, what's going on in countries as well as making representations.

Senator ABETZ: It's the number of countries I'm interested in. Are there, today, fewer countries in the world that have the death penalty on their statute books or more countries? How does that compare to, let's say, 12 months ago?

Dr Lee : I would say that there hasn't been that level of change, but some developments have occurred, and we are watching the developments very closely. For example, Pakistan carried out no executions in 2020—that was the first year that had occurred since 2014—and a Supreme Court also delivered a landmark verdict declaring that mentally ill people could not be executed. At the same time, though, there's still strong public support there for the death penalty, and there has been strong public support for the implementation of the death penalty for sexual assault cases. Similarly, Japan conducted no executions in 2020. That was for the first time since 2011.

CHAIR: Could you give me that brief, or as much of it as you can, by way of an answer on notice. How many Australians do we believe are currently facing the death penalty in other countries?

Dr Lee : I'd refer that question to our consular colleagues. We deal with the—

CHAIR: Could you take it on notice.

Senator Payne: That would certainly be a consular matter, but I think there would also be proceedings underway about which we would be careful. But we will provide you with what information we can.

CHAIR: I wouldn't want names or countries, just the total. Does Australia, as a government—a minister or a secretary—involve itself in doing amicus briefs to courts where there are hearings that might eventuate in an Australian facing the death penalty?

Ms Adamson : Again, that is really a question for Ms Wood. For every death penalty case, we work up a specialist strategy, if you like, and elements of that can involve high-level representations. It depends a bit on the country and what clemency arrangements there might be. But every single one is looked at individually, and we work with a great deal of commitment, for reasons that you'd well understand, to try to deal with the specific case as well as the general issue, to which you rightly draw attention and to which we remain very strongly committed to seeking to halt.

CHAIR: Does the suite of options that we entertain in each case involve the possibility of an amicus brief? If so, has that ever been done and how often? You can take all of that on notice.

Ms Adamson : Not to my knowledge. Our chief legal officer will come to my rescue if he thinks I'm missing something, and so will Ms Wood, but not typically. Often, when it gets to that point, in reality it can be too late.

CHAIR: Understood. I was just wondering whether it was within the suite of things we did. In relation to the Maldives, in question No. 154 of budget estimates 2021-21, I asked:

Is it true that they are building resorts and airports—just a quick update?

In the answer on notice, that was not provided. I would have thought it would be relatively easy to find that out, given we've got all sorts of wonderful tourism stats and other things that are able to be offered. I was just wondering why that particular aspect was—accidentally, I'm sure—overlooked. Do you have an answer to that question now?

Mr Cowan : We'll take that on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Who is our expert on religious persecution in Algeria and Mauritania?

Ms Adamson : It would be Dr Macdonald, I think.

CHAIR: I receive a concerning number of notifications of Christian persecution in the countries I mentioned and others. What are we doing, as a government? Do we say it's too difficult, or are we continuously making representations to these countries? Even if we don't have embassy officials there—and I understand that—are we seeking to make the point that we find this completely unacceptable?

Dr Macdonald : I'd hesitate to call myself an expert on Algeria, but absolutely Australia strongly supports freedom of religion internationally. Through all of our posts in Africa, including the ones you specifically referred to, we continually take opportunities to raise that in the countries of both resident accreditation and non-resident accreditation. It's difficult, obviously, to do it in person in the current COVID circumstances, but, in conjunction with like-mindeds in a lot of those places, our posts continue to be very active in each of those places.

In Algeria in particular, Algeria's new constitution guarantees this freedom, and we will continue to monitor how this will be implemented on the ground. In December last year, I raised the closure of Protestant churches in Algeria and the difficulty religious groups have in opening new churches with the Algerian ambassador here, who phrased his response in terms of that new law in Algeria. We will continue to monitor that through our embassy. Other representations had been made similarly in October and July last year with Algerian authorities.

Another one you mentioned was Mauritania. Non-Muslims' ability to practise their religion remains a concern for the international community generally, including Australia. You're no doubt referring to the three Christians who were detained last year for apostasy. Their citizenship was revoked in February last year; however, fortunately, they were released in October last year. At Mauritania's universal periodic review in January this year, Australia urged Mauritania to respect religious freedom as a fundamental human right and to promote religious tolerance. We recommended that Mauritania decriminalise apostasy and amend the constitution to protect freedom of religion and allow people of non-Muslim faith to remain citizens. And I think Somalia—

CHAIR: Thank you for that. Could you provide me with the answer for Somalia on notice. What sort of an active role, if any, does the United Nations play in these countries to bring pressure to bear?

Dr Macdonald : Others may be able to talk more fully, but United Nations representatives from a number of the core agencies are present in a lot of those places. Our posts definitely liaise with them very regularly in order to better understand particular cases and the situation on the ground and to work with like-mindeds in a lot of those countries to maintain pressure on those countries' authorities. Obviously, the Human Rights Council, both statements at the various sessions and the universal periodic review, is another forum where Australia makes its statements about our support for religious freedoms.

CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Macdonald. Senator Ayres, you have the call.

Senator AYRES: Thank you, Chair. I have some questions about Mr Cormann's bid for the job of Secretary-General of the OECD. I was going to leave them, but Senator Paterson has been urging me to go ahead with them, so I thought I'd better.

Senator Payne: I believe that's called misleading the Senate.

Senator AYRES: Yes, indeed.

Senator Payne: Well, Senator, I'm very pleased to advise the committee that an Australian has been confirmed as the next Secretary-General of the OECD, as the candidate with the strongest level of support from member countries. I particularly want to acknowledge the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade—our officials, both here, domestically, in Canberra, but also, importantly, in all the OECD member countries and our ambassador to the OECD itself.

This is a very significant role for an Australian. It is very significant for the Indo-Pacific, and I would say it's also very significant for our time in the Indo-Pacific and the perspective that an individual of the background and experience of Mr Cormann will bring to this role. I acknowledge you'll have a range of other questions, but I'm sure that you would join me in congratulating the former minister and senator in that, and I want to acknowledge, in that, also, the correspondence particularly provided by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Albanese, in that campaign.

Senator AYRES: Yes, well, indeed, and Mr Albanese and Senator Wong have both been very clear on that question. I do want to ask some questions about the costs and conduct of the campaign and then I want to ask some policy questions. In the first instance, I guess they're questions directed towards the department. Is it possible—I think, on notice—to provide an itemised list of costs? We did have a discussion in the Finance estimates, a couple of days ago—it feels like a couple of weeks ago—where they indicated, principally, that—besides the $32,000 marquee at a function that they say that the department organised—the costs were essentially allocated to the department. I think that's right, isn't it?

Ms Adamson : That's correct. I think it was actually—if I remember correctly, and you've been on that side of the table—PM&C estimates on Monday where that question was first raised.

Senator AYRES: It was.

Ms Adamson : You may well have taken it up with Finance also, but—

Senator AYRES: No, no. You're right. It's PM&C; thank you.

Ms Adamson : Ms Stylianou is well placed, I think, to answer, I'd like to think, any question you may have about—

Senator AYRES: Good. Thank you. So, on notice, an itemised list of the costs would be helpful, and also which countries Mr Cormann visited and the dates of his travel to them. I'm happy for that to be on notice.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator AYRES: Ms Stylianou?

Ms Stylianou : I can answer that question now, if you like.

Senator AYRES: Yes.

Ms Stylianou : Mr Cormann made two overseas trips. The first was from 8 November to 10 December 2020 and the second from 16 January to 25 February. On the first trip, he visited 15 countries: Turkey, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Austria, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, France, Colombia and Chile. The objective of that trip was in fact to visit as many OECD members as possible, with a view to outlining his case in a very competitive context. Ten candidates were nominated for the position of OECD Secretary-General. On the second trip, he visited France and the United States. The objective of that trip was principally to base himself at the headquarters of the OECD.

Senator AYRES: Did DFAT staff accompany Mr Cormann on either of those two trips?

Ms Stylianou : There was one DFAT officer who accompanied him on both trips.

Senator AYRES: I don't need to know who, but at what level?

Ms Stylianou : The EL2 level.

Senator AYRES: I assume the department covered quarantine costs for staff when they returned to Australia?

Ms Stylianou : Yes. In fact, it was only necessary to cover the costs of the second return visit, but yes.

Senator AYRES: The staff member didn't come back—or the staff member didn't travel for the second trip?

Ms Stylianou : No. It was the route of travel—as the Secretary described this morning, different ports of entry have different conditions—and because, on the first return trip, the officer was able to quarantine at home. On the second return trip, it was necessary to stay in a hotel.

Senator AYRES: So it was for the first trip that the special purpose aircraft and Defence personnel were provided for flying Mr Cormann?

Ms Stylianou : That's correct, yes.

Senator AYRES: And was that for all of that trip?

Ms Stylianou : Yes.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me what the cost per hour of the plane was?

Ms Stylianou : The costs haven't yet been reported by the Department of Defence, but they will be reported by the Department of Defence in their usual reporting by 30 June this year. It'll be tabled.

Senator AYRES: So they'll be reported by Defence, not allocated to DFAT?

Ms Stylianou : That's correct.

Senator AYRES: Then you can't tell me what the cost per hour of the plane was?

Ms Stylianou : That would be a question for the Department of Defence. I don't know.

Senator AYRES: So was it the defence minister—or, Minister, was it you who approved the use of the RAAF plane?

Senator Payne: That would have been prior to my period acting in this role.

Senator AYRES: Sorry—so it was approved by?

Senator Payne: I don't have knowledge of the approvals process, because—

Senator AYRES: So it must have been approved by the defence minister.

Senator Payne: it was prior to my period of acting in this job.

Senator AYRES: Yes, yes. I was referring to your day job, not your additional roles. An article in The Sydney Morning Herald on 16 March by Mr Shields says:

Cormann slipped into the US after President Joe Biden's inauguration for meetings with senior officials … Effort went into making sure the visit stayed under the radar given Cormann's travel through Europe on a Royal Australian Air Force jet had caused controversy in November.

When did that visit take place? That was between 16 January and the end of January, was it?

Ms Stylianou : Yes, that's correct. The purpose of that trip was to make contact with officials in the new administration. The decision-makers had changed in the context of the new administration, so, in order to advocate his case with the US administration, Mr Cormann travelled to the United States—as he had done in the earlier travel to all the countries I listed in my previous answer.

Senator AYRES: So from 16th to the 21st. Was that a RAAF flight?

Ms Stylianou : No, that was a commercial flight. In the case of the second trip, because the objective was principally to base himself in Paris, it wasn't necessary to have a special-purpose aircraft. Commercial arrangements were suitable for that trip, and from there he travelled to Paris.

Senator AYRES: Whose decision was it not to publicise that visit?

Ms Stylianou : I don't know that any decision—

Senator AYRES: Apart from Mr Shields's article, there's nothing on Mr Cormann's Twitter page, which was lit up on the rest of his travel.

Ms Stylianou : I'm not sure that's true. In fact, I'm not sure he publicised any trip.

Senator AYRES: So there wasn't a decision to make that trip a little bit quieter?

Ms Stylianou : No.

Senator AYRES: The article went on:

Also unknown until now was that Cormann quietly returned to Europe—this time via a commercial airline—

to Paris. It is only Mr Shields who has reported on that element of it. The trip to the United States was curiously quiet. Was it a decision in the campaign to not publicise that trip?

Ms Stylianou : The trip was organised while Mr Cormann was in Paris, so it was at relatively short notice. But the objective of that trip was to meet with new officials in the US administration, so it wasn't possible to make appointments before those officials were in place.

Senator AYRES: I'm not suggesting the trip was secret; it's just that there's a curious difference in the public relations strategy for each. The Prime Minister said on 25 November:

The reason we need him to do that in the Air Force jet is because COVID is running rampant in Europe … I mean, there really wasn't the practical option to use commercial flights in the time we had available because of COVID. I mean, if Mathias was flying around on commercial planes, he would have got COVID. The risk of that was extremely high.

Does this mean the Prime Minister believed the risk of COVID in Europe had diminished by January?

Ms Stylianou : As I mentioned in my earlier answer, the objective was to visit as many countries as possible. In the end we managed 15. The itinerary was constantly changing during that 33 days of travel. We took advantage of what opportunities we could to meet with senior decision-makers, whether they were leaders or ministers, in any of the OECD members.

Senator AYRES: So the rationale to use the jet was to provide that kind of flexibility—multiple visits, changing itineraries?

Ms Adamson : The one point Ms Stylianou hasn't made—although she's run the whole taskforce devoted to this extremely capably—is: during that period, the COVID restrictions and COVID rules applicable across the globe were changing quite substantially.

CHAIR: A bit like in Australia.

Ms Adamson : True. Ms Stylianou mentioned that the itinerary needed to be flexible. It was because of all of this. So it would have been impossible to have covered the same ground commercially, whereas for the second trip it was a question of what the restrictions then applying in France were and what the ability subsequently was to enter the United States and return to France. The first trip was a multiple simultaneous equation in trying to work out how to formulate an itinerary that wouldn't have him stuck or locked down and would have him able to have face-to-face or mask-to-mask meetings with interlocutors to set out his attributes and his campaign pitch.

Senator AYRES: The rationale is three things, isn't it: as many countries as possible during the first trip; flexibility in terms of itinerary; and COVID restrictions that may have had to have been faced on commercial travel?

Ms Stylianou : Flexibility to adapt to changing COVID restrictions on the ground, because they were—

Senator AYRES: Sitting in those three rationales. That's a bit different to the Prime Minister's point.

Ms Stylianou : The Prime Minister is quite right that it would have exposed the delegation to a much greater risk had they been—

Senator AYRES: What's the difference in the risk between November—

Ms Stylianou : It's more in the context of the airports and the arrangements—

Senator AYRES: and January? In the United States and Europe, the COVID risk was very high on both occasions.

Ms Adamson : The difference between travelling commercially, in moving through airports in a normal commercial fashion, and being on a special-purpose aircraft with the same people, all adopting strict COVID practices, and being able to fly in and out of airports without having to necessarily go through, depending on the local rules—a risk assessment was done on that. It was very substantially reducing the risk for all those travelling, including, frankly, for the DFAT staff member.

Senator AYRES: Has the Prime Minister expressed any similar concerns about Australians stranded in Europe who face the same risks? Not to anyone's knowledge?

Ms Adamson : We spoke this morning about the enormous effort that is going into enabling Australians to return. I think the situations are not really comparable in terms of that risk in the question you just put to me.

Senator AYRES: In PM&C estimates on Monday, there was some discussion about Mr Cormann travelling with a colour-coded spreadsheet of OECD countries' emissions reduction targets. Can you provide a copy of that spreadsheet to the committee?

Ms Stylianou : I did read that with some amusement, because there is no colour-coded sheet that Mr Cormann was provided with. There were fact sheets included as part of a briefing that Mr Cormann received across a range of issues—all the issues of interest to OECD members, covering policy issues under discussion in the OECD. Part of that briefing did relate to emissions, and there were some colours on some pages, but there was no colour-coded spreadsheet.

Senator WONG: That you're aware of?

Ms Stylianou : That was included as part of his briefing.

Senator WONG: That DFAT provided?

Ms Stylianou : That's correct.

Senator WONG: You don't know why the Prime Minister's office seems to have a predilection for colour-coded spreadsheets provided to him or anything else?

Ms Stylianou : I don't know anything about that.

Senator AYRES: So the department's briefings were in black and white, and there was a set of briefings—

CHAIR: With a touch of colour, I think!

Ms Stylianou : There was some colour; I did say that!

CHAIR: Let's be accurate here.

Senator AYRES: There would have needed to have been! In relation to the emissions issue, I imagine there was some discussion about that issue during the course of the campaign. Is it possible to provide on notice the briefings that the department provided in relation to emissions and energy policy?

Ms Stylianou : I don't believe so. I can take that on notice and look into it.

Senator AYRES: Yes, of course. Did the department liaise with other departments or the foreign minister's office to prepare those?

Ms Stylianou : The briefing process, and, in fact, the whole campaign, was very much a Team Australia approach. It extended from the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's office, the foreign minister's office and the foreign minister, the trade minister's office and the trade minister, and across different agencies of government. The briefing process covering all OECD policy issues of interest to OECD members covered the range of issues that each country was interested in. So, yes, I would say there was consultation.

Senator AYRES: I am intrigued by the transformation that occurred over the course of the campaign. Mr Cormann said in October:

Opportunities like the pursuit of an inclusive and future-focused recovery, including a green recovery with an increased reliance on renewables, improved energy efficiency, addressing climate change and accelerating the transition to a lower-emissions future—

Now, it may be that I wasn't paying attention in the short period that I have been in the Senate but I don't think I heard him use any of those phrases before. Does the Australian government agree that we need a green recovery, Minister?

Senator Payne: I'm sorry, I didn't hear all of your question. I know that Mr Cormann, in his campaign, presented the strongest candidacy that enabled him to be selected. That includes across a wide range of areas. He has indicated that he wants to ensure that we maximise the strength of the economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19 through strong, sustainable, cleaner and more inclusive growth, and that we drive and promote global leadership on ambitious and effective action on climate change to achieve global net zero emissions by 2050, to finalise a multilateral approach to digital taxation, to seize opportunities and better manage the risks in a digital economy, to promote market based policies and a rules based international order, and to strengthen the outreach of the OECD into the Asia-Pacific. There would be nothing with which this government would disagree in those priorities.

Senator AYRES: His language was a bit more full-throated than that:

… the pursuit of an inclusive and future-focused recovery, including a green recovery with an increased reliance on renewables, improved energy efficiency, addressing climate change and accelerating the transition to a lower-emissions future—

Does the government agree that we need a green recovery?

Senator Payne: I think I just said that we would agree with the incoming secretary-general's observations around a strong, sustainable, cleaner recovery. I'm not going to quibble about words. There's nothing in what you've just put to me that this government would disagree with.

Senator AYRES: Has anyone in government ever described the government's post-pandemic response as 'a green recovery'?

Senator Payne: We don't have to use the same language as Mr Cormann to share the same ambitions. The Prime Minister has been very clear. You mentioned renewables. Our record on renewables stands for itself.

Senator AYRES: It does!

Senator Payne: It does, actually. If you want to dismiss the record of Australia and its take-up of renewables, that's a matter for you.

Senator WONG: Here we go—the debating approach again. Create a strawman. So predictable.

CHAIR: No, the minister is quite entitled to defend a very good government record.

Senator WONG: She is. I'm just saying it's the same debating approach.

Senator AYRES: Did Mr Cormann say what he needed to say to be elected, or is there a transformation that's occurred here?

Senator Payne: I reject that reflection on Mr Cormann, Senator Ayres.

CHAIR: I'm sure that was a rhetorical question.

Senator AYRES: Has he ever used the phrase 'green recovery' before? Have you ever heard former minister and former senator Mathias Cormann use the phrase 'green recovery' before?

Senator Payne: I don't have 11 years of collected works of Mr Cormann. Senator Wong might have that!

Senator AYRES: It's possible!

Senator Payne: But I think he has made it very clear, and I can reiterate those priorities. In fact, it would give me great pleasure to do that.

Senator AYRES: Perhaps I might do it, because he does go on to say, on his LinkedIn profile—I don't have a LinkedIn account; it's always a sign of somebody applying for their next job, I think, when they have a LinkedIn account.

Senator Payne: You can dismiss the tens of thousands of LinkedIn account holders like that, if you wish. That's a matter for you.

Senator AYRES: He says:

As secretary-general of the OECD, I will work with member countries and partner organisations … to deploy every policy and analytical capability available through the OECD to help economies around the world achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050.

Now that he's been elected as the secretary-general, has he asked the Australian government to deploy every policy and analytical capability to achieve net zero emissions by 2050?

Ms Stylianou : The OECD's expertise lies in its analytical capabilities, and the commitment that Mr Cormann made were he to be elected as secretary-general was to drive ambitious and effective action on climate change, using the OECD's particular capabilities to guide members to be able to achieve those net zero emissions by 2050.

Senator AYRES: Did any foreign government minister—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Senator Ayres, if I could interrupt—

Senator AYRES: Yes.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Ms Adamson, there is a difference between Australia as a country standing for a position, such as we did for the Human Rights Council and such as we did for a position on the Security Council—that is Australia's standing. This is different. This is an individual who is Australian standing for a position with the support of Australia. There is a distinction, is there not?

Ms Adamson : Yes, there is. One is a national position, but I think within individual candidates there are two categories. One is those Australians who may choose to put themselves forward for a particular role or office. And there are other candidacies as heads of, particularly, organisations such as the OECD, where it is common for a candidate to stand with the full backing of their government. In a number of instances, it's not possible to stand for one of these roles without the formal backing of your government. Ms Stylianou will correct me, but I think all 10 original candidates had the very strong backing of their national governments, including Mr Cormann.

Senator AYRES: Did any foreign government official or minister ever raise Australia's climate change policy in any of Mr Cormann's meetings?

Ms Stylianou : Climate change was discussed in many of his meetings, yes.

Senator AYRES: Would you be able to, on notice, provide the committee with a list of which countries and what dates?

Ms Stylianou : Probably not. It was raised—

Senator AYRES: Minute records weren't kept of those discussions?

Ms Stylianou : Not on all of his discussions, no. In fact, he had many discussions of which we would have no record of the issues that were raised.

Senator WONG: What records do you have? Why don't you provide on notice an answer to Senator Ayres' question based on the documents that DFAT has?

Ms Stylianou : Okay.

Senator AYRES: Did any foreign government official or minister ever ask if the Australian government had committed to net zero emissions by 2050?

Ms Stylianou : No, I don't think they did.

Senator AYRES: They didn't ask that? Nobody raised any concerns about Australia not committing to net zero by 2050?

Ms Stylianou : I think the discussion, in terms of climate change and the way in which Mr Cormann approached the discussion, was to talk about the debate in Australia, the debate in Australia not being about the ambition but about how to get there. That was the issue that he took up with OECD members: how to get there. That's the discussion that as secretary-general he would drive.

Senator WONG: Secretary, at any point, whilst in the position you hold, have you been approached regarding any Australians being appointed or nominated as a UN special envoy, rapporteur or similar for Burma, Myanmar?

Ms Adamson : There's nothing that springs to mind. But you asked that question for a reason.

Senator WONG: Yes, I usually try to ask them for a reason.

Ms Adamson : I know but—

Senator WONG: It's a few years ago now, but could you clarify whether or not, at any time in 2018, you were approached about a prominent Australian—

Ms Adamson : In 2018? I will reflect on that.

Senator WONG: being nominated for or being considered for a position, in relation to Myanmar?

Ms Adamson : Certainly. I will do my best to check.

Senator AYRES: I'll leave my questions there on that issue, but we may come back later on.

Senator WONG: We may come back to climate. I have a couple of other issues first, if I may. I'm not asking any more questions about Myanmar. I want to ask the department and the minister to provide an update from the government's perspective about the situation in Xinjiang. Whilst I was away I did have Senator Patrick on television, so I know that some of these questions have been asked, but I'm interested in the government articulating its view. I'll ask for an update and I would ask for the characterisation from the government's perspective of the human rights violation in Xinjiang.

Ms Lawson : We have very grave concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang. We're continuing to see very credible reports of arbitrary detentions or mass detentions, restrictions on freedom of religion and freedom of beliefs, pervasive surveillance of individuals and communities and, of course, reports of forced labour and forced birth control measures against Uighurs. This includes personal testimonies in a range of reports, the most recent of which was by the BBC on 2 February, with very disturbing allegations of systematic rape, sexual assault and torture in detention facilities. Of course, access to the region continues to be limited. We've called for urgent, immediate and unfettered access by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We continue to raise these serious concerns bilaterally with the Chinese government, very frankly. We also raise them in multilateral forums. The minister has raised concerns with her New Zealand counterpart, expressing our grave concerns about the severe human rights abuses, and we've already discussed announcements by Canada, the EU, the US and the UK, and we've strongly supported those statements.

Senator WONG: Perhaps the minister can tell me: what is the way in which you would describe the human rights violations in Xinjiang?

Senator Payne: We would describe the human rights abuses in Xinjiang as amongst the world's most egregious human rights abuses. We have raised those in that context on Friday 12 March at the Human Rights Council under the item 4 forum, which is the platform at which these matters are articulated. We have, in that context, addressed the recent reports of systematic torture and abuse of women as deeply disturbing, and raised those serious questions regarding the treatment of Uighurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. We have also been very clear about our priority that we place on transparency, and continue to urge international observers to be allowed, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to be provided with immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang at the earliest opportunity.

There is ongoing restricted access, as I understand it—I'm happy for officials to add to that. It is a matter that we discuss and make public comment on both individually, as Australia, and in conjunction with international counterparts very regularly, whether it is in the context that I've just set out at the Human Rights Council or at the general assembly and, in fact, across the last eight Human Rights Council sessions. We also do that bilaterally, including with China as well.

In relation to the last visit we had in Xinjiang, I think it is now five years ago that our then deputy head of mission visited. That does demonstrate the difficulties in independently testing some of these extremely serious allegations. That is another of the reasons for which we press for transparency and join with our international partners in doing so.

Senator WONG: What is the Australian government's view about the legal characterisation of the human rights violations in Xinjiang?

Senator Payne: I might ask Mr Newnham to start with that, if I may.

Mr Newnham : Can I just ask you to repeat your question? Is it a characterisation under—

Senator WONG: I didn't specify.

Senator Payne: The senator asked for a legal—

Senator WONG: What is the government's legal characterisation of the human rights violations in Xinjiang? Ms Lawson is leaning forward; maybe she wants to answer.

Ms Lawson : When you say 'legal characterisation', we would characterise it as credible human rights abuses. We would characterise it as systematic human rights abuses. But I'm not sure we've put a legal frame around that.

Senator WONG: Did you want to add to that?

Mr Newnham : No, that's correct.

Senator WONG: Could you tell me what engagement the minister, her office or the department have had with Uighur community groups in Australia?

Senator Payne: Senator, I haven't met recently with Uighur community groups, but I know that the department does, and members of my staff have met recently with groups as well.

Ms Lawson : Senator, we have had engagement with Uighur communities in the past. We have had a range of concerns expressed to us by Uighurs with family in China, and at times they have requested our assistance in passing across their names to clarify their whereabouts, and we have done that. At times we have been able to provide some information. I think I'd probably prefer to leave it at that.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I didn't hear that.

Ms Lawson : At times we have been able to facilitate some information, going back and getting some information back about their relatives, where we have their approval to do so.

Ms Adamson : Yes, that's absolutely the case, as senators know; we've spoken about this during previous hearings. I think it would be only right to say that our ability to do that is seriously constrained. Indeed, my thinking is that probably very few now are asking for that sort of assistance—

Ms Lawson : That's right.

Ms Adamson : because of the practicalities of what they know to be occurring in Xinjiang.

Senator WONG: Anything further on that? Mr Newnham, you might want to stay there. I would like, given this has been also a subject of discussion in the chamber, to have someone at the table articulate the Australian government's position with respect to the massacre of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire. Can someone tell me how the government characterises these events?

Mr Geering : With regard to Armenia, the characterisation of what occurred—I presume you're referring to the deaths of many thousands at the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16. We have always characterised that as extremely tragic events. We are aware that even Australian soldiers from the First World War witnessed some of these events. There were community groups in Australia set up at the time in the 1920s that recognised what had happened. We recognised there were extremely large numbers of people involved who were displaced from their homes and who were killed. However, we've always recognised it in that form and not in any other form.

Senator WONG: And that remains the position of the government?

Mr Geering : Yes.

Senator WONG: I'm going to go to ODA. Minister, do you have an objection to this document being tabled? We can then work off it.

Senator Payne: It's your document, isn't it?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Senator Payne: I wouldn't object to you—

Senator WONG: I'm just being polite. I'd like to table this document because then Hansard can work off a document that's at least on the public record.

Senator Payne: And the record will show that it's your tabled document.

Senator WONG: Yes. Thank you. I want to know if this is right and, if it's not, where it's wrong.

Mr Venugopal : In the table that you've provided us, the 2020-21 number adds up to $4.385 billion. I'll explain it in this way. If we include the amounts already allocated to DFAT as part of the temporary additional COVID related ODA funding, the total ODA is estimated to be $4.282 billion. So you will notice there's a difference there of around $103 million—

Senator WONG: Sorry. Can you go back?

Mr Venugopal : Sure.

Senator WONG: So for 2021, in the table you've provided us, it adds up to $4.438 billion—

Senator WONG: Actually on the next page as well is the summary of the—

Mr Venugopal : It's caught a discrepancy there, yes. I do notice that. If we include only the amounts allocated to DFAT as part of the portfolio additional estimates process and if we add the temporary additional COVID-related funding provided, it actually adds up to $4.282 billion. The difference there of roughly $103 million actually relates to this. As part of the $500 million COVID vaccine program, all of which we think would be ODA eligible, only $236 million has been allocated to DFAT So, that's the discrepancy. The rest of it is yet to be allocated. But if you add the whole $500 million and then, if we include the profile for 2020-21, the total adds up to what is in your table there of $4.4385 billion.

Senator WONG: So the $4.282 billion means, in both the COVID response package Indo-Pacific and the COVID Response Package Vaccine Access, there is $103 million there, which, as yet, you have not identified as ODA eligible?

Mr Venugopal : Rather, you have included as part of the table—bear with me, I'm just trying to work out—

Senator WONG: It's $4.385 billion. I'm trying to correlate what you've said to me with the entries. You'll see on the right-hand side where we got this from, which is MYEFO and Senate questions on notice. I thought your answer was either you or the Labor Party has included more ODA for those components than we have so far been able to attribute? Is that not right?

Mr Venugopal : Yes. If I may, just slightly nuance my response. In that there is included one line, of which the first number is $165.7 million, in your table. That is against the COVID response package—

Senator WONG: South-East Asia Pacific.

Mr Venugopal : That's right. Not all of the $165 million has been yet allocated to DFAT. While the total of that line item adds up to $500 million, not all of it has been allocated to DFAT yet, only to—

Senator WONG: But it doesn't matter where it's allocated. For the purpose of this table, this is ODA.

Mr Venugopal : That's right. It has not been appropriated. I was just calling that distinction out.

Senator WONG: But there's a difference between what you've just said and what I'm saying. Can we make this clear? From an ODA perspective, it doesn't matter who it's allocated to. I know we'd like it all in DFAT, but it's not the portfolio. It's whether it's ODA eligible. Has there been any decision about how much of that funding from the government will be ODA eligible?

Mr Venugopal : We think all of it, in its entirety, will be eligible.

Senator WONG: In which case—

Mr Venugopal : In which case the $4.385 billion is accurate, just for that qualification. The reason I'm insisting on that is because in the portfolio—

Senator WONG: What I'm a little confused about is: is that for the current financial year?

Mr Venugopal : That particular one, $4.385 billion? Yes.

Senator WONG: No, the $165.7 million which you said has not been allocated to DFAT.

Mr Venugopal : What might be helpful—

Senator WONG: No. Please. This is a current financial year allocation. You're now telling me it has not all been appropriated to DFAT. We're in March. Is it going to be spent?

Mr Venugopal : Yes.

Senator WONG: But why is it not being allocated to DFAT? Is it in the current budget year?

Mr Venugopal : Sure. Out of the $165 million, $62 million have been appropriated to DFAT. The rest of it, which is the difference between the two numbers, has not yet been appropriated to DFAT.

Senator WONG: What's happened to it then?

Mr Venugopal : We assume it is in the contingency reserve.

Senator WONG: The legal process is, you pass budget updates and then we pass the appropriation bills, so, technically and legally, whatever the accounting mechanism is, it has been appropriated, constitutionally, as required for the portfolio. So you haven't actually got it as yet?

Mr Venugopal : We haven't yet got it. That's all. We're going through a process of securing that funding.

Senator WONG: Is it in the ODA budget or not?

Mr Venugopal : I can talk the portfolio initial estimates statements—

Senator WONG: Was it in the appropriations bill or not?

Mr Venugopal : No.

Senator WONG: It wasn't? What a mess.

Mr Venugopal : In relation to DFAT's component of the appropriation bills, which is what is in the document of the portfolio regional estimates, only $62 million of the $165 million was included in DFAT's element of the appropriation bill.

Senator WONG: Where did the remaining $102 million get allocated to?

Mr Venugopal : It hasn't been appropriated to DFAT.

Senator WONG: Did the parliament pass it? Was it in the appropriation bills?

Mr Venugopal : I'm not sure of the balance of it, it is probably a question better directed to the Department of Finance.

Senator WONG: Your own question on notice identifies this.

Mr Venugopal : Yes, I am aware of that question on notice.

Senator WONG: Could you please take on notice the status of the $103 million, was it?

Mr Venugopal : Yes.

Senator WONG: Was that included in the appropriation bills after MYEFO or budget, and the current, has it been appropriated to another agency? Is it ODA eligible?

Mr Venugopal : I can confirm that as and when the whole thing is appropriated, indeed, it is entirely ODA eligible, we believe.

Senator WONG: Otherwise, that's a theoretical discussion if it's not been allocated.

Mr Venugopal : May I add that in the portfolio additional estimates statement, page 27—I notice that you have a copy there—I'm referring to table 2.1.2. I am hoping that will be helpful there. Of course this is talking only about the DFAT components—as you are aware, there is funding also to other governmental departments, but excluding that—you will see that we've almost replicated the table you have produced here. There's a footnote there which clearly talks about the $500 million. I am hoping that will be helpful for you.

Senator WONG: If it hasn't been appropriated, we've got yet another government announcement which hasn't been delivered. There's no point in talking about announcing funding if it isn't even appropriated. It's just a word in a press release.

Mr Venugopal : The $500 million has clearly been announced. All I'm saying is that if it has not been—

Senator WONG: Announcements and appropriations are different things.

Mr Venugopal : It's quite likely that it has been appropriated—

Senator WONG: But you don't know where it is.

Mr Venugopal : but it has not been appropriated to DFAT. That's it exactly.

Senator WONG: Next. The out-years.2021-22, 2022-23, 2023-24 Are there any issues in any of these those?

Mr Venugopal : It is that line and that difference that then carries through each of the forward estimates. Out of the $500 million, $236 million has been appropriated, and $263 million is still yet to be appropriated.

Senator WONG: So $276 million has been appropriated, $263 million as yet. Is that what you just said to me? That doesn't add up to 500.

Mr Venugopal : Let me get my numbers correct. $236 million has been appropriated to DFAT, and $263 million is yet to be appropriated. You add those numbers, you get $500 million.

Senator WONG: That is the only issue?

Mr Venugopal : That's the only discrepancy, yes.

Senator WONG: An announcement that you got $500 million without an appropriation is not actually anything other than words.

Mr Venugopal : All I'm saying is—

Senator WONG: Otherwise it's like saying to your kids 'I will give you one hundred bucks pocket money' but you don't actually do anything with it?

Mr Venugopal : I'm not saying the $263 million has not been appropriated. I'm saying it has not been appropriated to DFAT. It is likely that it is in the appropriation bills. I don't know whether that element is part of the bigger one

Senator WONG: I want to get the variation in each of the years, then. Can you do it over each year, please? You told me $103 million—

Mr Venugopal : $103.6 million.

Senator WONG: This year. So we're clear, the line item is COVID response package, Australia's support for COVID-19 vaccine access Pacific and South-East Asia. The actual appropriation is in 2021 is $103 million?

Mr Venugopal : The actual appropriation for 2021 is $62.102 million.

Senator WONG: I did it backwards. The actual appropriation in 2021-22?

Mr Venugopal : That is $147.335 million. It's on page 27. It's listed there, all of that. In fact it is the third last number from the total.

Senator WONG: I'm using my table right now. It also includes question on notice 2504. What is 2022-23?

Mr Venugopal : It is $27.302 million.

Senator WONG: That's not right. You say this line item is overstated because half of it's not yet to be appropriated to DFAT.

Mr Venugopal : Correct.

Senator WONG: I'm asking what has actually been appropriated for each of those eight years under that line item.

Mr Venugopal : That's what I just said.

Senator WONG: It can't be. If it's $159 million, you've just said $273 million.

Mr Venugopal : $27.302—$27 million.

Senator WONG: $27.302—sorry.

Mr Venugopal : My apologies, I spoke too fast.

Senator WONG: And the last one?

Mr Venugopal : $62.172 million; $147.335 million; $27,302.

Senator WONG: Other than those changes, are there any other details in the table which are incorrect?

Mr Venugopal : No.

Senator WONG: Are the bottom lines in the table—this is the 43859, the bottom line item on the first page, are all of those correct assuming the unappropriated funds are actually appropriated?

Mr Venugopal : Correct.

Senator WONG: They are?

Mr Venugopal : They are.

Senator WONG: So it depends on this remaining 263?

Mr Venugopal : Indeed.

Senator WONG: That's been helpful, thank you. Can anyone else at the table tell me where the $263 million is—more than half the announcement? We're searching for $260 million somewhere.

Ms Adamson : We know it's there. We're very ready to get on with it.

Senator WONG: But we don't know it's there. Mr Hilton, do you know?

Mr Hilton : No.

Senator WONG: I have quite a lot of questions on ODA, but I will check back with staff as to whether the short cut has worked and I don't need to come back to it. I do want to go back, however, to the indexation point. Can you just confirm, does it remain the government's position to resume indexation of the ODA budget in 2022-23?

Mr Venugopal : Yes.

Senator WONG: At what rate?

Mr Venugopal : It's currently estimated at 2.5 per cent.

Senator WONG: So still CPI?

Mr Venugopal : Yes.

Senator WONG: Will indexation apply to the base ODA funding or total funding including the temporary and supplementary measures?

Mr Venugopal : The position regarding indexation actually links back to the 2018-19 MYEFO announcement, which talks about maintaining Australia's ODA budget of $4 billion and indexation resuming in 2022-23. From that, the numbers I just told you relate to the base funding.

Senator WONG: What is the base funding?

Mr Venugopal : Of $4 billion.

Senator WONG: Does that mean the government announces $4 billion in 2018-19 and is going to commence, calculate—does that mean in 2022-23 we do $4 billion plus 2.5 per cent?

Mr Venugopal : That's right. That's what we're estimating at this time. But through that budget process, whatever the CPI is at that time.

Senator WONG: The CPI, whatever it is in the 2022-23 year, will be applied to $4 billion?

Mr Venugopal : That's my understanding, yes.

Senator WONG: So basically that's a freeze of the base rate for five years. If the base is $4 billion—

Mr Venugopal : You're correct, from 2018-19 to 2022-23.

Senator WONG: Half a decade.

Mr Venugopal : There was one other point I would like to make: the total value of the additional supplementary funding adds up to just over $1 billion in ODA over the forward estimates.

Senator WONG: Sorry, say that again?

Mr Venugopal : The additional supplementary or targeted funding, on top of the ODA allocation of $4 billion, adds up to roughly over $1 billion over the forward estimates.

Senator WONG: But you're not rolling that into the base. It's one-off.

Mr Venugopal : That's why I said additional.

Senator WONG: Why is the government making this one-off? Do we really think the global pandemic is going to require less development assistance funding, less support for vaccines?

Mr Venugopal : All the measure descriptions in the budget and in the MYEFO calls these very clearly COVID-19 response.

Senator WONG: I know that. I'm asking about the political decision, the policy decision. We've seen what is happening in PNG. These are investments, in great part, in our own health security and economic security and stability of the region. Can someone plain to me the logic behind the government recognising need but making it one off?

Senator Payne: We've done an extraordinary amount of work through the department over the last year and more to enable our response to COVID-19. We set that out in Partnerships for Recovery, where we pivoted $840 million, which was 23 per cent of the development budget, and $400 million investments to address COVID-19 in the last quarter of the last financial year. You have been discussing the budget supplementary funding including the COVID-19 response package. That's about supporting the Pacific and Timor-Leste to deliver that critical temporary economic support. The investment in vaccines, both in the Pacific and South-East Asia, the initial announcement and the subsequent $100 million announcement as part of the quad leaders meeting—what we have been doing is recognising the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our region.

Senator WONG: And I agree with that Senator.

Senator Payne: And it has been widely welcomed.

Senator WONG: This is one of the frustrations of estimates. That's entirely non-responsive again. I agree with that. I agree there is a need. I agree it is welcome. My question is not about that. My question is about why the government, at a time of such need both in our region and, frankly, in Australia, would make health security and stability a one-off?

Senator Payne: The government is responding based on this approach, temporary, targeted and supplementary. It has been, as I said, widely welcomed by regional leaders.

Senator WONG: Yes, that's a statement of fact. I'm asking what the rational for that is. I'm asking the reason?

Senator Payne: The rational is the extraordinary times in which we find ourselves—

Senator WONG: No!

Senator Payne: that needs this response. We have also worked closely with the non-government sector, particularly, to guide this process and have been acknowledged for doing that.

Senator WONG: I'm not actually asking for you to give me a list of—I'm asking why the government has made a policy decision to make funding for pandemic recovery and vaccine access, that you yourself have said is so important, that you yourself have said is so welcome, temporary. Do you really think that these demands are going to be dealt with in the next couple of years?

Senator Payne: Senator, we are addressing the immediate critical issues which our neighbours, partners, family in some cases—in many cases—have identified, with a focus on health security, on stability and on economic recovery that aligns with the interests and priorities of those countries and with Australia's national interests.

Senator WONG: Alright. Has there been any consideration about whether or not the CPI indexation is appropriate given the low-inflation environment?

Mr Venugopal : Senator, I didn't understand the last part of your question.

Senator WONG: We are in a low-inflation environment. Does the government still consider CPI to be the appropriate indexation measure?

Mr Venugopal : At this stage, yes. These are forward estimates, so we have estimated it using 2.5. Whether that will remain when we get to 2022-23 is to be seen.

Senator WONG: Okay. So that is to be seen—is that right?

Mr Venugopal : That's correct, Senator. As part of the budget process, it will be looked at again I'm sure.

Senator WONG: DFAT has reported ODA expenditure for several years by seven investment priorities—infrastructure, education, health et cetera. There was some evidence given at budget estimates which seemed to suggest that this reporting would be changed from the seven investment priorities and would now be reported against three pillars in the Partnership for Recovery strategy. I would like to understand what DFAT intends to report against going forward.

Mr Venugopal : I'll answer the first part of the question and I think Mr Hilton will be able to help with the second part. What we have continued to report on, in what is called the statistical summary, is indeed against the seven investment categories. I gave evidence at the October estimates that there are three pillars, and there has to be a mapping process that needs to occur to also present the same information under those three pillars. Mr Hilton will be able to talk to you about how that process is going.

Mr Hilton : Thank you. Senator, we are currently in the process of working out the mapping of the various codes we use to track that expenditure. They will be applied to those three pillars, moving forward. And where we do present that disaggregated data—for example, in those development fact sheets that we have on the website—the next time we go through the round we will be presenting that information under those new three pillars.

Senator WONG: So not the seven?

Mr Hilton : Not the seven. We will be updating it to the three pillars. We're giving some thought as to how we might also report on sectoral spends.

Senator WONG: Frankly, that's a smart way to make sure that it's very hard for people to compare and get a longitudinal assessment of outcomes. How do you propose to deal with that?

Mr Hilton : I think that, in terms of the disaggregated information and being able to track longitudinal spends, I'd make the point that, if we were—and we are going through that process—including the sector spends, then we'd be able to have that direct longitudinal process.

Senator WONG: Will we be able to look at what you report and be able to assess how you are currently performing against the pre-existing investment priorities such as education, health and infrastructure?

Mr Hilton : We're still going through the process of identifying the relevant sectors, especially those like health and education, but I anticipate yes.

Senator WONG: How long have you been reporting against the seven priorities?

Mr Hilton : I think it has probably been about four or five years. In terms of tracking expenditure, which I think is the nature of what you're getting at, in terms of our big investments in health and education, the information we will provide going into the future will enable people to make those comparisons.

Senator WONG: It's actually not just a political point; there is a lot of expertise in development efficacy and development outcomes that is not in government, and obviously those researchers and those entities need that base data to get a sense of comparison. If you simply change from oranges to apples, it's extremely difficult.

Mr Venugopal : I might be able to assist here. I can confirm that the statistical summary will continue to include the seven categories and the various sectoral line items under that. I think what Mr Hilton is also saying is we will equally try to remap it to the three pillars so that it reflects the Partnerships for Recovery strategy. So you should be able to do the longitudinal analysis in the 2021 actuals as well.

Senator WONG: I'd like to understand. Can you give me a document that has your new classifications, the seven and where they fit and then the ODA sectoral classifications? Does that make sense?

Mr Hilton : Yes.

Senator WONG: I'd like to understand how you are applying the internal three pillars and where the previous investment priorities and the ODA sectoral classifications will fit. Can you do that?

Mr Hilton : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can I give you an example? Would we be able to see how much is spent on health in Samoa in 2017 and how much is spent in 2022? Are we going to be able to do that?

Mr Venugopal : Senator, yes.

Senator WONG: You said, 'Senator, yes'—correct?

Mr Venugopal : Indeed.

Senator WONG: We will hold you to that.

Mr Venugopal : The statistical summary that we produce every year, which we have produced for 2019-20 as well and which is on the website, provides that level of information and granularity. We will continue to do that. What we're talking about here is, then, also remapping it and presenting the same information in a slightly different fashion, but not losing the longitudinal data, under the three pillars; that's all. It's a remapping exercise.

Mr Venugopal : Whose idea was this? Is this an accounting person's idea, or is this a policy idea?

Ms Adamson : Partnerships for Recovery was intended to be a policy response to COVID, with a performance framework that meets that and enables us to be as agile as we can in that response. The statistical element that Mr Venugopal is talking about and the ability to read across sectorally we fully understand. But, at the same time, as I know you know, Senator, these policies need to evolve, and when we looked at where we were in the early part of last year, we needed—

Senator WONG: I've worked out what you do, Secretary. It's a good tactic. 'As you know, Senator'—which is when you're trying to get my agreement on something. Is it flattery?

Ms Adamson : I didn't do university debating, Senator! We needed to rethink our policy.

Senator WONG: Can I tell you what I'm reflecting, and it is not just us—and those of us in the opposition have a keen interest in development—but many people in the sector. There is an enormous amount of cynicism—there is; you can dismiss it, but it is something to be dealt with—about the sum of these changes and whether or not it is just another exercise in government doing what we saw before. So we have an announcement that appears not to have been appropriated, and this will become more opaque. As you know, we have extremely good researchers in Australia in this area who, I think, even if you don't always agree with them, do provide very high level criticism, analysis, to government, about what's happening to our development dollar. So people think, 'Well, what's this going to be?' Remember, we had the discussion at the last budget where people got far less than they are used to getting. So there is a sense that you're just trying to make sure we can't analyse it.

Ms Adamson : I agree with what you said about the expertise in relation to development that is Australian, if I can put it that way. We highly value that, and many of the people who write on this, who analyse it, who think deeply about it, who from time to time critique us—

Senator WONG: Ex-DFATers, some of them—

Ms Adamson : They may be—

Senator WONG: or AusAIDers.

Ms Adamson : and that's not a bad thing either, because they can continue to contribute in a wide variety of ways. They are close partners. Can I just say, though, this does not feel remotely cynical from the inside. That is not what we are about, absolutely not.

Senator WONG: Well, I think you've got some work to do.

Ms Adamson : We may have some work to do—

Senator WONG: Which was not helped by the last budget.

Ms Adamson : and we are very willing to continue to do that. But, from the inside, there is a very heavy lift going on through the development program to help meet the needs of our regional partners.

Senator WONG: Okay. I've only got a few more minutes. I think at the last estimates you confirmed that, as a result of cost pressures—I can't remember; you used more diplomatic words than that, Secretary—there was a reduction by some 60 positions, including 10 positions from the diplomatic network. Is there an update to that? Have there been further reductions?

Ms Adamson : No, there haven't. In fact, in a number of cases—as I said before, our work is very dynamic. My job is to ensure that people are where they're needed, and that includes Papua New Guinea.

Senator WONG: I didn't ask about PNG. At the previous estimates, we talked about the pressures on the DFAT budget and—it might have been Mr Sheehan, actually—about how many positions were being reduced.

Ms Adamson : And I—

Senator WONG: All I'm asking—I don't want a political discussion about it—is: have there been any changes to those figures?

Ms Adamson : No, and I was answering that question. No.

Senator WONG: Okay. Mr Sheehan was reported last year to have said to staff that 'the department's budget continues to be under significant pressure and this will only increase'. Is it the secretary's or the CFO's assessment that this remains the case?

Ms Adamson : I'll ask the CFO to respond, but I do want to say that what you're referring to is a message that Deputy Secretary Sheehan issued to staff in early July while he was acting secretary for a short period. We have been very focused on DFAT's long-term budget sustainability, and Mr Venugopal, the CFO, can give you an update on that.

Mr Venugopal : The government, Senator, as you're aware, through the budget and MYEFO has provided us with quite significant additional and new funding for a whole range of priorities, which include some of the things that we just discussed, and an element of that is of course—

Senator WONG: And some of that is departmental funding.

Mr Venugopal : That is correct, yes. As a result of that—

Senator WONG: I don't have much time. Is it important that you say this; will it give me that? Because I have other questions and I'm happy to move on.

Mr Venugopal : Indeed, Senator, but I will simply say that, as part of all of that, we are able to carry out our mandate. We are continuing to, as one should responsibly do, pursue the existing efficiency measures that we have put in place. Nothing new has been added. It allowed us to reallocate, and the government has funded us for some sustainability issues as well.

Senator WONG: So no more staff reductions—

CHAIR: Last question.

Senator WONG: I'll have to come back to it. I was hoping to finish this section, but I'll need you back later. That's fine. I was trying to finish it for efficiency reasons.

CHAIR: Senator Paterson.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you, Chair. I'd like to ask questions about the Coast Guard Law in China. As I understand it, the law, which was proposed in October, came into effect on 1 February. What is the Australian government's position on the Coast Guard Law?

Mr Chittick : Senator, you're correct. That new law did come into force in January this year. The Australian government shares concerns with a number of regional partners about key elements of the new China Coast Guard Law, particularly around its implementation, which we believe needs to be very firmly made with regard to consistency with UNCLOS. There are elements of the new law—particularly around providing a legal basis for the use of force in waters that China calls 'jurisdictional waters' and that engage in contested waters in the South China Sea, for instance, or on the high seas—that the Australian government would have concerns about. A number of regional countries have registered those concerns. We have certainly registered our concerns about elements of the law and its implementation with the Chinese government in Beijing.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you. I'll come to that in a second. Just on the specific concerns about the law first; as I understand it, article 47 authorises armed China Coast Guard personnel to forcibly board non-compliant foreign vessels, and article 48 allows the use the shipborne weapons—for example, deck guns. Article 22 allows the coastguard to employ all means necessary, including the use of force, to stop foreigners found infringing Chinese sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdictional rights. I'm indebted to The Strategist from ASPI for providing some insights into this. Is it those specific provisions the Australian government has concerns about, or is it the law in totality?

Mr Chittick : Many countries have coastguard laws that allow for the use of force within their domestic jurisdiction. One of the elements that we are concerned about is how the new law interrelates with China's claims within the South China Sea, which are around certain features in certain contexts but also around the nine-dash line in a more expansive context.

Senator PATERSON: Yes.

Mr Chittick : So our concern goes to the use of force in waters that are either the high seas or in contested areas. From Australia's perspective, we don't have a view on which claims of sovereignty are right; we see those as being properly prosecuted under international law. But there are certainly risks that application or implementation of those use-of-force provisions in areas that the international community regards as high seas, or indeed in contested areas, is of concern.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you. So, to be clear, we don't object to China having a coastguard or, indeed, a coastguard law, but, in the context of a very expansive view of its sovereignty, it raises extra concerns. You mentioned that other regional partners have raised concerns. What other countries have raised concerns?

Mr Chittick : I'm aware that the Philippines, for instance, has registered concerns, as have a number of others as well. I have some notes here.

Senator PATERSON: I think I've seen references to concerns by Japan.

Mr Chittick : Yes, that's correct.

Senator PATERSON: Perhaps you could take that on notice—other countries that have raised concerns.

Mr Chittick : Senator, I've now found my list.

Senator PATERSON: There you go—please.

Mr Chittick : Yes, indeed, Japan, the United States, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines have all made public statements.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you. Finally from me: you mentioned that Australia has raised its concerns with China. In what form and when were those concerns raised?

Mr Chittick : We raised those concerns with the Chinese authorities both orally through our embassy and also by third-person note. The date of that would have been in the month of February. I don't have the exact dates on me.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: Thank you, Chair. I've got 10 minutes until the break and I've got a lot to cover, so I'd appreciate short answers. I want to start with a few questions on Julian Assange and then move on to some climate related questions. Minister, have you personally requested to the Biden administration that they drop their appeal against the UK court finding to not extradite Julian Assange?

Senator Payne: I said in response to Senator Patrick that I have not discussed this matter directly with the Biden administration at this stage but I expect it to be discussed in meetings with the Secretary of State.

Senator RICE: When do you expect those meetings to occur?

Senator Payne: In the coming months.

Senator RICE: Months?

Senator Payne: Nothing is confirmed, because we are making arrangements in relation to travel. If I'm not able to do that in person then I will be raising a number of issues in a virtual engagement and that will be sooner.

Senator RICE: And this is despite the reporting that, if you had actually raised with the Trump administration the issue of dropping the charges against Julian Assange, they were very likely to have done so.

Senator Payne: I did raise the matter with the Trump administration. I raised the matter directly with the Secretary of State at AUSMIN in July 2020.

Senator RICE: In the last months of the Trump administration, that was certainly the reporting. But I'll move on. Were DFAT officials told that Julian Assange was on suicide watch from the time of his arrival at Belmarsh prison on 11 April 2019?

Senator Payne: I would remind you, Senator, as I have done in the Senate, that the Australian government has endeavoured to offer consular assistance—

Senator RICE: My time is short, Minister. I'm aware that you—

Senator Payne: Yes, and I have two things to say. The government has offered consular assistance on 22 occasions from 2019 to 2021. Consent was withdrawn for DFAT to consult about Mr Assange's personal circumstances, his health and his welfare in prison on 13 June 2019 by Mr Assange.

Senator RICE: I am asking about the time between his arrival at Belmarsh prison on 11 April and 13 June, when DFAT had his consent.

Senator Payne: We'll take that on notice for that period of time, given that it was 2019.

Senator RICE: Okay. In that period of time, did DFAT attempt to visit Julian Assangeto monitor his health and wellbeing rather than writing letters to him offering consular support, given it is very clear that Belmarsh prison had him on suicide watch from the time of his arrival on 11 April?

Senator Payne: Given it is 2019, again, I think it is best that we take that on notice, including to check with post.

Senator RICE: Okay. I want to move on to some climate questions. I have one question following up on Senator Ayres' question about Mathias Cormann's OECD secretary. Could the department please table the promotional materials produced for Mr Cormann's campaign, including the letters of support he received from the business community and current and former members of parliament.

Mr Isbister : My colleague Helen Stylianou might come forward. Could you restate the question.

Senator RICE: What I would like is for promotional materials to be tabled that were produced for Mr Cormann's campaign, including the letters of support he received from the business community and current and former members of parliament.

Mr Isbister : I'll refer it to my colleague.

Ms Adamson : She's on her way down.

Senator RICE: Okay, I'll move on and perhaps we could come back to it when she arrives. I have some climate related questions. Has any consideration been given to Australia rejoining the Green Climate Fund, the main multilateral fund for climate action in developing countries?

Mr Isbister : The government isn't considering funding the Green Climate Fund. We withdrew in 2018. The funding that was provided for that is now being allocated much more directly to our region, particularly to support climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Senator RICE: Has Australia's level of climate finance increased or decreased since Australia withdrew from the Green Climate Fund?

Mr Isbister : We had a $1 billion commitment over the last five years, and we've exceeded that to almost $1.4 billion. It's increased in our region over that time.

Senator RICE: Perhaps you could take on notice the details of what our climate finance level has been, both whilst we were in the fund and since we've left.

Mr Isbister : We can take on notice the breakdown of the funding on that.

Senator RICE: Thank you. The UK is hosting a global summit on climate and development on 31 March, with senior ministers from the UK, the EU, the US, India and China attending. Is Australia attending?

Mr Isbister : Australia will be an observer at the ministerial.

Senator RICE: Right. Were we invited to attend as a full participant?

Mr Isbister : It's a ministerial on climate and development.

Senator RICE: No. There are two meetings, I'm told. There's a global summit and then, on the same day, there's a ministerial on climate and development.

Mr Isbister : Yes. The ministerial climate and development summit in the UK, as we understand it, will have 25 to 30 speakers. It's a range of the major donors, a number of vulnerable countries and small island development states.

Senator RICE: So that's the one we're attending as an observer. How about the global summit on climate and development? Which ministers are attending? Has Australia been invited to attend that?

Mr Isbister : Australia has been invited and will participate.

Senator RICE: Are we going to have ministerial representation?

Mr Isbister : A decision on that is still yet to be made.

Senator RICE: Can you confirm whether the Australian government has been invited to President Biden's climate leaders summit on 22 April?

Mr Isbister : I think Prime Minister and Cabinet answered these questions earlier in the week, but, in essence, they haven't yet formally put invitations out, but we're expecting an invitation.

Senator RICE: Is it the intention of the government to be represented at that summit?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator RICE: And who is expected to attend?

Mr Isbister : It's a leaders event—it's a leaders summit.

Senator RICE: So it's expected that the Prime Minister will attend?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator RICE: The EU, the UK, the US, Canada and Japan have either—

Senator Payne: Senator, Ms Stylianou is here, if you wanted an answer in relation to your question—

Senator RICE: I might come back to it in about three minutes time. The EU, the UK, the US, Canada and Japan have all either upgraded or announced in recent months their intention to upgrade their targets for 2030. Given that Germany, France and Italy are all part of the EU, that means the entire G7 have either upgraded their 2030 targets or communicated their intent to upgrade them. Is that what you understand as well?

Mr Isbister : Yes. I think Japan has indicated that it is likely to increase it before COP26.

Senator RICE: Yet our government has actively ruled out increasing our 2030 target. How do you expect this decision to be received at any of the summits—the Biden summit or, in fact, the G7 meeting in June?

Mr Isbister : I think the government has been clear that its focus is actually exceeding its current NDC target, and—

Senator RICE: But that's not my question. How do you expect our refusal to upgrade our 2030 target to be received?

Mr Isbister : The focus at the moment is how countries are continuing to step up their efforts to reduce emissions. It's an area that Australia's got—

Senator RICE: It's our refusal to increase our 2030 target. Can you take on notice, please, any other countries that have outright refused to increase the ambition of their 2030 targets. Given the commitments by the G7, do you expect that the issue of carbon tariffs and other consequences for climate laggards will be raised at the G7 meeting in June?

Mr Isbister : It's not a current issue that's on the agenda. It's being debated more broadly at the moment around the questions of carbon border adjustments. Australia has put its view very clearly on it, but I couldn't say at this stage whether it is an issue that will be discussed at the G7.

Senator RICE: Do you expect Australia to be targeted? If so, what preparations are you undertaking for that meeting in relation to carbon tariffs, 2030 targets and net zero targets?

Mr Isbister : All I would say is that there's a wide range of views on this, including those of the US, Japan and a range of other countries, in relation to concerns around how any mechanism would be put in place. Australia has been very clear that we're not supportive of—

Senator RICE: Yes, but what preparation is the department doing for the fact that these mechanisms are going to be on the table?

Mr Isbister : I'd suggest asking this question in the trade section.

Senator RICE: Okay, I'll see whether I can do that.

CHAIR: One last one.

Senator RICE: And then I want to hear back the answer to my previous one. We've heard that the Prime Minister says that he intends to meet our Paris commitments without Kyoto carryover credits, but what position at this stage is Australia intending to take to COP26 relating to the use of Kyoto-period credits to meet Paris-period credits?

Mr Isbister : As you said, I think the Prime Minister has been very clear that we've focused on exceeding our NDC target, and we're very confident that we're not going to need to utilise carryover.

Senator RICE: So you commit to not blocking the rule book if it excludes the use of Kyoto-period credits for meeting people Paris-period commitments?

Mr Isbister : As I said, the focus of the government is exceeding its current target.

Senator RICE: But do you commit to not blocking the rule book?

Mr Isbister : Decisions about exactly what negotiating position the government's going to take would be decided before COP26.

Senator RICE: But you were just saying that it is clear that we are committed to not using our carryover credits.

Mr Isbister : No, I think the government's been very clear that we're focused on exceeding our current target and we're not needing to utilise—and very likely we're not going to need to—

Senator RICE: That is not the answer to my question. I want a commitment. Basically, your negotiating position is that you're not going to—you're basically saying, 'Yes, we're not going to—'

CHAIR: I'll take that as a comment. The committee will suspend until 4 pm.

Senator RICE: Can I get the answer to my question, please, Senator Abetz?

CHAIR: I should indicate that we are so infatuated with the department that there is a view of keeping the department here—that is, DFAT non-trade—until 7 pm. We'll then have a dinner break and then start with trade at 8 pm, if that doesn't cause too much inconvenience to officials. We are hoping that Austrade, EFA and Tourism might be somewhat truncated.

Senator RICE: Before we break for afternoon tea, could I get an answer to my question about the tabling of the Cormann promotional materials?

Senator Payne: So your question was—

Senator RICE: As to whether we could table the promotional materials that were prepared for Mr Cormann's campaign, including the letters of support that he received from the business community and current and former members of parliament.

Ms Stylianou : I'll take that on notice, thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 15 : 47 to 16 : 03

CHAIR: I call Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: I want to start with the people who are trapped in Syria, in refugee camps; 43 children and their mothers are trapped in the refugee camps in north-east Syria. Save the Children informed me recently about the awful case of an 18-year-old Australian woman who is presently in a dire condition in the al-Roj camp. She has shrapnel wounds, which have led to nerve damage, which hasn't been treated. She's become very ill and could be close to dying. At the moment she's unable to take in fluids and is suffering from extreme dehydration and not able to keep food down. Her skin is turning yellow and she's not able to ingest medicine, and there are no treatment options in al-Roj, not even a stretcher to take her from her tent to the medical clinic. Is the department or the government aware of this case? If so, what is the government doing to ensure that this woman receives the necessary medical assistance and doesn't pass away?

Dr Macdonald : I'm not aware of that specific case, other than through the sorts of reports that you refer to.

Senator RICE: But when you say 'other than through the sorts of reports'—I mean, Save the Children have people on the ground. So—

Dr Macdonald : Through that report that you refer to?

Senator RICE: Yes.

Dr Macdonald : But, as you'd be aware and as has been the government's consistent position, our ability to offer consular assistance inside Syria is very limited. It's a very dangerous situation there.

Senator RICE: So, you're not doing anything?

Dr Macdonald : In terms of individuals there, that's the Australian—

Senator RICE: You're leaving that Australian woman to die.


Senator RICE: Well, you are.

CHAIR: Let's—

Dr Macdonald : That's the government's position.

Senator RICE: Are you aware of the health condition of a 13-year-old Australian girl in the same camp? There are concerns that she may have an insulinoma, a tumour in the pancreas, based on the symptoms that she has. She doesn't have access to insulin. There's no way of undertaking a check at the clinic as there are no testing facilities. Are you aware of that case?

Ms Adamson : Can I just restate what Dr Macdonald has said. We have no capacity to provide consular assistance to anyone in Syria. As you know, we work through NGOs to offer what assistance we can into those camps. But in relation to the individual cases that you mention, I regret to say—and I do use the word 'regret'—that there is nothing we can do.

Senator RICE: Okay, so with this 13-year-old, you're saying there's nothing you can do.

Ms Adamson : We have no people in Syria to enable ourselves to provide assistance, and I think you're aware of that, Senator.

Senator RICE: The UN reported in February that there are over 8,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. So, we're not doing anything to protect our nationals who are there from COVID-19 and other threats to life?

Ms Adamson : As I said, we are unable to provide consular assistance to Syria.

Senator RICE: Okay. In February the UN released a statement urging 57 states, including Australia, to repatriate women and children from the camps, and they issued an official letter to the Australian government regarding its responsibility for Australian nationals who are currently detained in al-Roj. Multiple foreign governments have been able to repatriate around 150 women and children since October. Why hasn't Australia been able to do this?

Dr Macdonald : The government's approach to the question of those Australians who are detained in Syria is predicated on the protection of Australia and the Australian community, and the government takes a case-by-case approach to the question of repatriations.

Senator RICE: Other countries have been able to do it. Why hasn't Australia been able to do it?

Dr Macdonald : As I said, that's the Australian government's approach. The approach of other countries and the repatriations from other countries are largely in relation to unaccompanied minors, whom Australia has repatriated, as you know.

Senator RICE: The fact that we aren't doing so, then—what you're saying—is clearly a political decision, given that other countries have made the decision and they have gone in and sought the support of people on the ground in Syria and have been able to repatriate their nationals. Minister, will the government have a change of heart and organise the repatriation of Australian children and their mothers, some of whom, as we've just heard, are seriously—gravely—ill, and repatriate them back to Australia?

Senator Payne: I apologise for coming back into the room late. I didn't hear the beginning of the exchange that you have had with officials. I think Dr Macdonald has indicated the position that Australia takes in this matter. Indeed, I'm not sure whether Dr Macdonald said this, or the secretary, but we also of course fund international organisations to provide medical and other support in the region. But Australia will always take into account the security circumstances on the ground in the region. As the secretary has been clear, we do not have a presence in Syria and we work with others in that regard and with international organisations.

Senator RICE: How are we responding to the letter from the UN asking us to repatriate our Australian nationals?

Senator Payne: Sorry, Senator: I will take that on notice, because I don't have that information in front of me.

Senator RICE: Okay. I want to move on to Sri Lanka. In a statement two years ago, in January 2019, announcing the appointment of the high commissioner, the foreign minister said:

Australia has a close and long-standing relationship with Sri Lanka, underpinned by extensive bilateral cooperation and people-to-people links.

Is that still the case?

Ms Adamson : Senator, that was a description of our relationship with Sri Lanka which wasn't just specific to 2019.

Senator RICE: So that's still the case, then?

Ms Adamson : We have a strong bilateral relationship, we work closely together on a range of issues, we have strong people-to-people links, and you'll recall it's not so long since we had visits—three in one year, I recall—from the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister.

Senator RICE: So it's continued, even though Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected in 2019, according to Human Rights Watch 'had direct responsibility for the conduct of government forces which committed numerous war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks, summary executions and rape' between 2005 and 2015? Has the election of the new Rajapaksa government changed our relationship with Sri Lanka?

Mr Cowan : Senator, the relationship with Sri Lanka is a close one, and the government is committed to continuing that close partnership.

Senator RICE: Has the Australian government taken any action to review the relationship since the new government came to power?

Mr Cowan : If you're asking about human rights concerns—

Senator RICE: I am! Serious, serious human rights concerns.

Mr Cowan : then we have been clear with the government of Sri Lanka. We have raised a range of concerns, including in the recent Human Rights Council session in Geneva. We made a national statement there, which recognised the concerns the High Commissioner for Human Rights had raised, including the ongoing need for accountability measures that acknowledged past and ongoing grievances. We supported the high commissioner's recommendation that Sri Lanka continue to work with the UN human rights mechanisms. We also co-sponsored the resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka which was adopted by the Human Rights Council by a vote on 23 March.

Senator RICE: Do we have military or police links to Sri Lanka?

Mr Cowan : Would you mind repeating that?

Senator RICE: Do we have any current military and/or police links with Sri Lanka?

Mr Cowan : We have, yes, extensive co-operation with Sri Lanka.

Senator RICE: I will move on. I think that speaks for itself.

Senator Payne: Senator, as you would know, we have been working with authorities in Sri Lanka, particularly in relation to people smuggling, for an extended period of time, and that necessitates those engagements. But Mr Cowan has also laid out a number of the issues we've raised in relation to human rights concerns, and the high commissioner in Colombo has been doing that as recently as this month in meetings with the Sri Lankan government in Colombo, and we have done the same here with the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra and through Australia's permanent representative in Geneva.

Senator RICE: I want to move on to Chechnya and the plight of LGBTIQ+ people in Chechnya. Under our existing autonomous sanctions regime, which we were talking about earlier, which I understand includes Russia and the Ukraine, are we able to sanction individuals in Chechnya?

Senator Payne: We'll ask Simon Newnham to come to the table, and, if we can't provide you with specific advice on Chechnya itself, we will take the questions on notice and return to the committee.

Mr Newnham : Senator, could you just repeat the question for me?

Senator RICE: I am wondering, under our existing autonomous sanctions regime, whether we are able to sanction individuals in Chechnya.

Mr Newnham : The autonomous sanctions regime against Russia relates to Russia's actions in Ukraine specifically, and their occupation of Crimea. It is within that context that we look at those sanctions; that's how the sanctions regime has been developed.

Senator RICE: It's specific to that. So we would not be able to sanction people over the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Chechnya.

Mr Geering : It would need to come within those boundaries, as renewed successively over about six or seven years now.

Senator RICE: My next question is: have we considered following the lead of the US in imposing sanctions against Ayub Katayev, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Abuzayed Vismuradov, the commander of the Terek special rapid response team? Perhaps you could take on notice whether we have done any consideration of sanctions or actions against those two individuals in particular.

Mr Geering : I might have to take that on notice.

Ms Adamson : If we put the two colleagues together, we don't have the ability to do that under the currently operating sanctions regime, and that goes to the discussion that we had this morning. I apologise; I'm not sure whether you were in the room when were talking about Magnitsky.

Senator RICE: Yes, I was; absolutely. But I understood that, under our autonomous sanctions regime, we could apply sanctions against Russia. But, as has been explained, it's only in relation to the Ukraine. I'm now going to hand over to my colleague Senator Faruqi.

Senator FARUQI: I have some questions on ODA. I understand that there has been a decision to cease funding to AMENCA, which is the Australian Middle East NGO Cooperation Agreement. That is the Australian government funded program which was established under the Howard government in 2005 and delivered by Australian aid and development partners. Is it correct that there has been a decision to cease funding to AMENCA?

Dr Macdonald : We're in the third phase of AMENCA through the course of this year, but it's correct that there won't be a continuation of a further iteration of this program.

Senator FARUQI: The DFAT website indicates that in 2019 an independent mid-term review of AMENCA phase 3 found that it had achieved considerable success, with the report noting the program's achievement in supporting social inclusion, particularly for women and youth. It indicated market-level incomes were fragile and indicated there was considerable merit in the AMENCA 3 program continuing over a longer period of time. It looks like the summary says that the program was successful in its goals of boosting productivity and incomes for small-scale farmers and food producers and empowering women, young people and women with disabilities in the agricultural value chain. Would I be correct in assuming that?

Dr Macdonald : That review that you refer to was undertaken with the specific purpose of looking at the extension of the program for a further two years, which is until the end of this current iteration of the program. Yes, it has achieved some significant outcomes, but of course we keep our aid program under constant review, looking at how we can best make it efficient and effective in a very complex operating environment, as you'd appreciate.

Senator FARUQI: Sure. What's the rational for ceasing this funding program?

Dr Macdonald : As I said, it has achieved those outcomes. But there are some changes to the program, and we're looking, then, at the next iteration of the program as a whole.

Senator FARUQI: Will there be an end-of-program evaluation for AMENCA?

Dr Macdonald : I'll have to take that on notice.

Senator FARUQI: Do you not usually evaluate your programs at their end?

Dr Macdonald : We do usually, but I just wouldn't want to say something misleading, so I'll just take that on notice to confirm it.

Senator FARUQI: Could you let me know, and, if it's not happening, why, and, if it is, when it will end?

Dr Macdonald : Certainly.

Senator FARUQI: I'd like now to ask about the overall aid and development budget for Palestine. The 2020 budget saw very significant reductions to the aid budget for Palestine, particularly for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, whose funding was cut from $20 million to $10 million per year. AMENCA was a second major pillar in the Australian aid program to Palestine. I'm interested in whether the cuts to AMENCA represent a further reduction of Australian aid to Palestine or whether, now that this funding has finished, will there be equivalent funding going into other projects inside Palestine?

Dr Macdonald : I must be clear, of course, that the Australian government doesn't recognise the state of Palestine, so we refer to a program in the Palestine territories. The cut to the UNRWA funding was $10 million for this financial year. That was in the context of the Partnerships for Recovery reallocation of funding towards the Indo-Pacific. The bilateral program is $17.1 million for this financial year. At the moment, AMENCA funding comes out of that component. Of course, allocations for the next financial year are yet to be made. That $17.1 million is a slight reduction from the previous year, in the context, again, of reallocation of the funding to the Indo-Pacific.

Senator FARUQI: You said that there would be a new iteration of AMENCA or of a program. What does that mean? When I was asking about AMENCA, you said it's finished now but there'll be a new iteration of a program.

Dr Macdonald : I maybe misspoke. I mean our aid to the Palestinian territories will be directed into particular areas, particularly the health sector, to respond to COVID needs, but the exact allocations through the course of the next financial year are yet to be determined. This financial year, for example, $1 million was allocated to WHO that hasn't been in previous allocations on a financial year basis, but the need there is significant.

Senator FARUQI: So the decisions haven't been made completely about funding allocations for next year?

Dr Macdonald : That's correct.

Senator FARUQI: Is it fair to assume that any aid organisation that receives funding from DFAT would be accredited with DFAT?

Dr Macdonald : I can't answer, at the general level, but there are organisations that receive funding in the Palestinian territories under the Australian NGO cooperation program. Those who receive that funding are accredited under that program.

Senator FARUQI: That's what I am asking. Would DFAT give funding to an organisation that is not accredited by DFAT? Surely you have an answer for that.

Dr Macdonald : If it's specifically in the Palestinian territories. There are a number of other programs across the aid program.

Senator FARUQI: If it's in Palestinian territories or if it's not. I'm asking a general question.

Dr Macdonald : That's not always the case. Under that particular program, yes, there is an accreditation process, but there are other ways that funding is distributed—for example, the direct aid program, DAP, where specific allocations might be made through posts. I wouldn't want to be misleading, in terms of the general principle.

Senator FARUQI: So an organisation may not be accredited with DFAT, and still get DFAT funding?

Ms Adamson : It's not a formal accreditation process, in normal respects. Across the breadth, we do due diligence with our partners. Mr Gilling will be able to give more detail.

Mr Gilling : I think you're referring to the Australian NGO Cooperation Program, which each year is allocated. This year we allocated—

Senator FARUQI: It was a very general question. I think I got the answer to that. That's fine. I know that there was a Palestine aid investment plan review undertaken in 2019. Have the findings of this review been finalised, and when will they be publicly available?

Dr Macdonald : The names of some of these evaluation documents and processes have changed in the context of Partnerships for Recovery and the move from the aid investment plans to the COVID development response plans. I can't answer that specific question, of the particular review you're talking to.

Senator FARUQI: Could you take that on notice?

Dr Macdonald : I can, yes.

Senator FARUQI: Is there a new Palestinian investment plan being undertaken, at the moment, and, if there is, will it be publicly available or is it publicly available?

Dr Macdonald : It's not called anymore an aid investment plan; it's a Palestinian territories COVID-19 development response plan and that's available on the department's website.

Senator KITCHING: There's been some criticism of the Palestinian Authority's recent decision to—they only have a tiny stockpile of coronavirus vaccines and they've diverted some of them to VIPs, to soccer players, for example. Has the Australian government commented on that?

Dr Macdonald : I don't know that we've made any particular comment on that alleged diversion. We do regularly work with UN and other organisations in the Palestinian territories, including the WHO, including to work through entering integrity in their allocation of the vaccines.

Senator KITCHING: I read somewhere that it was seen as feeding into the story of corruption. It was found to have corruption issues itself by the UN audit office. Does this cause concern?

Dr Macdonald : To be very clear, I think the allegations you're talking about that were found to be in UNRWA itself—

Senator KITCHING: The CEO had to resign.

Dr Macdonald : were in relation to some finance mismanagement irregularities. I don't think that we'd characterise—

Senator KITCHING: It was embezzlement. They embezzled the money given by countries around the world that was supposed to go to Palestinian authorities and didn't get there because the officials were embezzling it.

Dr Macdonald : I don't think that the phrase was 'embezzling'; it was in relation to some very specific financial mismanagement.

Senator KITCHING: The CEO left, though.

Dr Macdonald : That's correct. The commissioner-general at the time.

CHAIR: Senator, I gave the call for one question.

Senator KITCHING: I'm not very good at one question!

CHAIR: I admit I'll have further questions on this issue later on. Senator Smith has the call.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I'd like to return to the matter of the military coup in Myanmar. I have had the opportunity to review the questions asked by Senator Wong and Senator Rice, so I will not traverse those topics. Australia, of course, was elected to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Council. Can you explain how Australia has used that opportunity to draw attention to the coup?

Senator Payne: We're not currently a member of the Human Rights Council.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I understand you might have made statements to the Human Rights Council.

Senator Payne: We do. Just to clarify.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Correct, I think it was a 2018-20 term.

Mr Jadwat : On the matter of the Human Rights Council and the response to the coup in Myanmar, we have undertaken extensive advocacy. There have been four statements to the Human Rights Council on Myanmar that we have joined, and we have also co-sponsored two resolutions, including one last night at Human Rights Council session 46, and Australia co-sponsored the resolution on Myanmar. I have copies here if you'd like.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Thanks very much. There are currently five people that are listed under Australia's autonomous sanctions regime with Myanmar. What was the context of their listing?

Mr Jadwat : The five individuals were sanctioned in response to the findings of the UN fact-finding mission report in 2018. The foreign minister imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against these individuals in response to that report.

Senator DEAN SMITH: What was the time frame that it took to list those five individuals?

Mr Jadwat : I don't have the exact time frame here; I'd have to get back to you on that.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Was it a day, a week, a month, a year?

Mr Jadwat : I'd have to check, Senator. It was announced on 23 October 2018, but in terms of how long it took, I can get back to you on that.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Would the time taken to list those people in the context of the UN fact-finding matter serve as a time frame or a model of a time frame to list people associated with the coup?

Mr Newnham : I can answer in the general. Once there is a country-specific framework in place, the time to actually list entities or individuals can be relatively quick. But I would just note, of course, it's not so much the listing operational side of it as the government consideration of the various equities and different mechanisms that may be appropriate in the situation. It may be that the listing process itself is quite expedited and straightforward, but the research and the analysis that goes in beforehand can be quite extensive. So it really depends on the circumstances.

Senator DEAN SMITH: In the matter of the military coup in Myanmar, do you regard it a difficult, extensive or easy task?

Mr Newnham : Of course I would acknowledge the expertise of others, but what I can say is that there will be a range of Australian government equities that are in play in any given set of circumstances, and a there will have to be a great deal of analysis done on what the best mechanisms for pursuing those objectives are in any given situation. I acknowledge absolutely the severity and the concern about the conditions you're raising—

Senator DEAN SMITH: Timeliness.

Mr Newnham : but thinking of the totality and what avenues we may have to pursue our interests.

Senator DEAN SMITH: What is the range of Australian equities?

Mr Newnham : I will defer to my colleague Mr Jadwat.

Mr Jadwat : In relation to Myanmar, the range of equities we have to consider are, of course, registering our concern and making sure the military understand the depth of our feelings and concern on this. We've condemned the coup and we made it very clear. I think they are under no illusion as to Australia's feelings about what happened. We also have to maintain some form of engagement. We have consular equities as well, which I won't go into, but my colleague can.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I understand.

Mr Jadwat : We also have to deal with Myanmar in the context of ASEAN. At the ASEAN-Australia Forum that was held just last week, Deputy Secretary Hayhurst made our concerns clear, and a representative of the military was at that forum and was able to hear our concerns. So we have forums like that where we can register concerns with them directly.

Senator DEAN SMITH: What efforts will you make to reassure the Burmese diaspora in Australia that the exploration of the sanctions arrangements is being done expeditiously?

Mr Jadwat : I'll defer to my colleague Mr Newnham on that one.

Senator DEAN SMITH: You can take it on notice if you like. You're welcome to take it on notice, but you're welcome to share it as well. I'm genuinely interested.

Mr Newnham : I would probably be repeating a number of the points I made earlier. But, just to step away from the specifics and talk about our sanctions regime for a moment, it is important to recognise that sanctions are one foreign policy tool at the disposal of the government to deal with various situations. There will be a number of other avenues and tools that will be in play, and the government, of course, looks at all of them thoroughly and expeditiously in the face of any given set of circumstances. I can be absolutely sure that in these circumstances these various options are being very carefully looked at.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I think timeliness is the concern that people have expressed to me. The autonomous sanctions regime, in item (h), allows family members of a person mentioned on the list to be identified as well.

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator DEAN SMITH: How would a member of the Australian Burmese community draw to the attention of the government and the sanctions regime family members who happen to be living in Australia or are here on visas et cetera? What's the mechanism by which that's drawn to the attention of the department?

Mr Newnham : I just want to say at the outset that we take an intentionally cautious approach to any foreshadowing of sanctions listings, because, of course, the value of sanctions is not foreshadowing where they may be and who they may be against, because assets, of course, can be moved ahead of any listing. But what I can say in general is that we will always look at the particular circumstances that may exist, including what assets may be held by individuals or entities or family members of those individuals, and then ask how they would fit with the best tools we might apply to seek the outcomes that Australia is pushing for.

Senator DEAN SMITH: My specific question is: how does a member of the Australian community make it known to the department that in their view—and they could be wrong—an individual is a family member?

Mr Newnham : I'm sorry. I meant to come back to that. It's a very standard process for individuals, civil society groups and non-government organisations—

Senator DEAN SMITH: Great. What is that process?

Mr Newnham : to come to government and recommend action—

CHAIR: How? Which portal?

Senator DEAN SMITH: Should they be writing to Senator Smith? Should they be writing to Secretary Adamson? Is there an email address?

Mr Newnham : There are multiple avenues, but I can tell you—

CHAIR: What's the best way?

Mr Newnham : There's the Australian Sanctions Office, but of course, in relation to a particular set of circumstances, it would be the geographic desk as well.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Thank you. I'll be looking for an email address or a telephone number.

Mr Newnham : Sure.

CHAIR: Specifically on that, does the department do any of its own assessments—not relying on the diaspora but its own proactive assessments?

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

CHAIR: Are we at liberty to say whether or not there are family members of the junta?

Ms Adamson : No. As we responded before and as Mr Newnham just affirmed, it is not necessarily helpful to the sanctions process to do that.

Senator DEAN SMITH: That's right, and I framed my questions quite deliberately and sensitively. On the matter of the recognition of the CRPH, in earlier evidence it was noted that Australia would give attention to the attitudes of like-mindeds. Who are the like-mindeds that Australia would put greatest emphasis on?

Mr Jadwat : I think we consider quite a few countries to be like-minded on these issues: the UK and the US, for example, but also our friends in the region. At this stage, as I said in the earlier session, we are talking to others. That includes through our embassy on the ground in Yangon but also through extensive consultations that we have with countries around the world. We're doing that on a regular basis. It's something that we are taking very seriously.

Senator DEAN SMITH: How would you characterise the attitude of the United Kingdom and the United States in regard to the CRPH at the moment?

Mr Jadwat : At this stage, I'm not aware of the US or the UK recognising the CRPH.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Again on the matter of the CRPH, you noted the importance of engaging a range of political actors. Does it preclude the department from engaging with the CRPH?

Mr Jadwat : Does it preclude us from having any contact with them? At this stage we are considering a variety of factors, including the safety of some of these people as well. We are in the middle of deliberating about it and thinking about how we go forward on it. As I said, we're also talking to other countries about how we can best approach this quite sensitive matter. We also don't want to put anyone at risk.

Senator DEAN SMITH: What's the timeliness of those considerations?

Mr Jadwat : It's ongoing at the moment. I don't have an exact timeline to put on it right now, but it's something where our ambassador and others are talking to people on the ground in Yangon and to other embassies. We're also talking to other countries here.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Does the department have any idea of the quantum of financial assets that exist in Australia belonging to individuals or entities with a close association or proximity to military leaders in Myanmar?

Mr Jadwat : That's not something I'm aware of. We can check for you on that, but I don't have any information to hand on that.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Secretary, does the department have any information about the quantum of financial assets held in Australia by individuals or entities closely associated with or in close proximity to military leaders in Myanmar?

Ms Adamson : No, not directly.

Senator DEAN SMITH: That's all my questions, but I'll also add my compliments on the professionalism of the Australian mission in Myanmar, which I've had some association with over the last few years. So thank you very much.

Ms Adamson : Thank you, Senator. We'll pass that on.

CHAIR: Is any consideration being given to visa extensions for people from Myanmar in Australia at the moment, mainly students, who are somewhat exercised as to what might happen should they be required to go home given some of the statements they may have made or, indeed, other matters?

Ms Adamson : Could I perhaps refer you to Secretary Pezzullo's testimony at the Home Affairs estimates hearing where he was asked a general question about the ability for people to extend visas or maintain status in Australia. It had a COVID aspect to it, but that wasn't the only aspect. That is something I know through Home Affairs colleagues that the Australian government's relevant department would always be willing to do in the circumstances that you describe. Mr Jadwat may have something more particular.

Mr Jadwat : The issue has been discussed with Home Affairs, but it is a matter for Home Affairs to take forward.

CHAIR: But it is on the government radar?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Mr Jadwat : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Thanks a lot.

Senator DEAN SMITH: So do we have a more precise answer to my question about where members of the Australian community would direct information that they think they might have in regard to family members living, working, residing in Australia who have close proximity to military leaders or regime leaders?

Mr Newnham : I'm very happy to forward the contact details for the Australian Sanctions Office, which is in my division. That can be a first port of call. I would just acknowledge the very great number of geographic desks that deal with different situations and different inputs on sanctions issues.

Ms Adamson : But a start would be

Senator DEAN SMITH: Fantastic. Thank you very much.

Senator McKENZIE: I've got a range of questions I'll put on notice, but I've got a couple of follow-up questions from the line of questioning I pursued in the RRAT hearing earlier in the week. One of our research and development corporations, Australian Wool Innovation Ltd, has developed an emerging market strategy. Given that they are 50 per cent funded by Australian Wool Growers, through a levy payment, and 50 per cent funded by the Australian taxpayer, to support growth in the wool industry, I want to know what consultation they've had with DFAT on identifying and getting data around new and emerging markets.

Ms Adamson : I will give you a general answer and leave it to colleagues who might wish to add. I read that exchange with some interest. We as a department are always willing to work with any arm of government, or indeed, any area of business to ensure that they are well-informed in the strategies they are developing or the decisions they are making, including around trade diversification or emerging market strategies. I'd have to say that my sense from that exchange was that they may not have consulted us, but I will leave it to Mr Newnham. I'm not sure whether he will be speaking with his former hat on, as head of the Trade and Investment Division, or his current one as our senior legal officer.

Senator McKENZIE: It's handy that he's got both hats!

Mr Newnham : We also read that exchange at previous estimates. What I can say is that the Australian Sanctions Office does not have a record of being consulted on AWI's emerging market strategy. We strictly implement UN sanctions and our autonomous sanctions, especially in relation to North Korea. Measures there include restrictions on the export and import or supply of a range of goods including textiles such as fabrics and services. Individuals and all bodies corporate, including companies responsible for compliance with Australian sanctions laws, are expected to conduct due diligence. We will contact AWI to offer advice on Australia's sanctions laws.

Senator McKENZIE: I understand why businesses may not choose to check with the sanctions division, but what about the trade arm of DFAT? I was going to ask these questions later on tonight.

Ms Adamson : We are always willing to assist and provide good advice. Mr Cowan, who has only been in his current role for a relatively short period of time, may or may not be able to add detail. On the basis of what I know, to be honest, I struggle to think that we were involved in this. I've worked very closely with AWI when I have been overseas in particular markets. I have a high regard for the skill with which they do their core work, and we're always willing to help them in areas which perhaps go more to our core work. But let me hand to Mr Cowan.

Mr Cowan : The North and South Asia Division does not have a record of being contacted by Australian Wool Innovation in relation to that matter Mr Newnham referred to.

Senator McKENZIE: The list of emerging markets is quite incredible: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea and Sri Lanka. We were talking about Myanmar earlier. Myanmar, according to this report, shows really good promise as a potential wool supply chain market. This is a report developed for primary producers. It says, 'North Korea creates a high interest in terms of potential'—it's quite incredible! So we can categorically say that the Australian Wool Innovation contacted neither the trade division nor the sanctions division in developing their emerging market strategy?

Senator Payne: To the best of the research—

Senator McKENZIE: Yep. On notice can you check that.

Senator Payne: Senator McKenzie, I think the secretary wants to add to that.

Senator McKENZIE: As I understand it, there was some excitement, maybe five years ago, about the potential of things not ending up where they have with a couple of those emerging markets. Could this advice be received?

Ms Adamson : We will of course check. When any senator uses the word 'categorically', I'm always mindful to go away and check—

Senator Payne: That's why I said 'to the extent of our research'.

Senator McKENZIE: And I would have said the same.

Ms Adamson : However, the one general point that I would make—and if I can do this perhaps slightly in their defence—looking for new markets is a good thing to do, obviously, and we know that, as the cost of production rises in some economies, including some big economies across South-East Asia—and this is particularly the case for textiles—new opportunities open in other markets. I would have said to you two years ago that Myanmar would have been worth looking at. Not today. Not today. I would have said Sri Lanka—

Senator McKENZIE: In 2015 would you have said North Korea might be worth looking at?

Ms Adamson : No, I would never say—and this is your point and that's what caught the attention. Not in our lifetime have we been considering North Korea in that light. So I think that possibly an error was made. For the rest of it, you can have a sensible discussion about whether it's—

CHAIR: It should've been South Korea.

Ms Adamson : No, they'd be high cost of production. So it is sensible up to a point, but it needs to be well-informed sensible.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Ms Adamson, can I add to that. Ten years ago I did a study leave report, 'From the farm gate to the wardrobe', and it was 620 pages of this, so I looked into this issue. If AWI hadn't been so focused on selling IP and genetics and everything else to China, then perhaps they wouldn't be in the position that they're in today. I think that that needs to be added to what Ms Adamson has said, because I think that's part of the problem. It's all very well to scramble for markets now, but they weren't interested in looking at markets because they were just happily selling it all to China, and now the chickens have come home to roost.

CHAIR: A very pertinent comment that is on the Hansard, but let's keep moving because time is of the essence.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you.

Senator McKENZIE: While simultaneously sponsoring Prada yachts in the Mediterranean.

Senator WONG: I had a couple of things to follow up on the ODA component. We had an interchange about the $500 million, the $263 million, which is not yet appropriated to DFAT. Can I ask what your understanding is. Is it intended for those moneys to be appropriated to DFAT, or is it intended that those moneys be appropriated to another department?

Mr Venugopal : To my knowledge, the intent is to appropriate that money to DFAT.

Senator WONG: And, to your knowledge, to date it's not been appropriated to any other department?

Mr Venugopal : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Or portfolio, I should say.

Mr Venugopal : I can confirm that it is in the bottom line, it is in the UCB, which has been published at MYEFO. It's in the UCB, but it has not been appropriated.

Senator WONG: It has not been appropriated. So it was not in the appropriations legislation?

Mr Venugopal : That is correct.

Senator WONG: How is that legal?

Mr Venugopal : I beg your pardon?

Senator WONG: Unless the government made a decision that it was making an announcement about expenditure in a financial year where it is not intending to, generally the additional estimates statements then ground the appropriation bills which reflect this statement. So how is this not?

Mr Venugopal : I think, for the technicality of it, it would be appropriate that the Department of Finance answers.

Senator WONG: No, I'm asking you. If it's your appropriation but you haven't got it, can you tell me what its status is?

Mr Venugopal : What I can tell you is it is not unusual for governments to make decisions—sometimes a decision is taken but not yet announced, as an example of that; in this instance, of course, it was a decision taken and announced.

Senator WONG: Correct!

Mr Venugopal : But, indeed, it is not unusual for governments to reserve a part of that in something like a contingency reserve, the operation of which and the mechanism of appropriation for which is probably a matter for Finance to explain, and they're more qualified to do that. Nevertheless, because it is in the budget papers and it is in the BP2 equivalent in MYEFO, which is appendix A, it is in the bottom line.

Senator WONG: Will you spend it?

Mr Venugopal : I beg your pardon?

Senator WONG: You've told the parliament—and thank you for the reminder about the contingency reserve; I do recall what that is and I do recall what decisions have been taken but are not yet announced—there aren't that many decisions which have been announced but not taken, but there appears to be a new category under this government. The amount that was announced is an amount for 2020-21—that is, the current financial year. So are you going to spend the remaining $263 million in the current financial year?

Mr Venugopal : Yes, that's the intention.

Senator WONG: How?

Mr Venugopal : There are two parts to this—

Senator WONG: Hang on—your evidence to me, which I suspect you'll have to correct, is that it hasn't been appropriated, in which case it won't be part of any appropriations legislation until after the budget. So how are you going to spend it this year?

Mr Venugopal : We of course have prior appropriations available. There are two parts to this.

Senator WONG: Advances from the finance minister are of a different category; what are you—

Mr Venugopal : It is not—

Senator WONG: You have $263 million. You're supposed to spend it on the documents provided to the parliament in the next three months. You're telling me now it's not been appropriated.

Mr Venugopal : Let me clarify what I'm telling you. It is true that the $263 million of the $500 million has not been appropriated. That's the first part. Whether we have enough cash available, if the government does make a decision to appropriate to us, perhaps in bill 5 or 6, is a different question. We believe we have sufficient cash reserves available to be able to make payments under that.

Senator WONG: But that is not transparent accounting.

Mr Venugopal : It is not unusual—

Senator WONG: It is not transparent accounting. This is public money. You don't just go into your reserves because the government forgets to appropriate something in the budget.

Mr Venugopal : It is not unusual for agencies, particularly in administrative appropriations, to have prior appropriations available and to be able to draw on them. It is entirely legal, and the appropriation framework allows you to do that. So it is really a cash flow management issue.

Senator WONG: You've given, actually, three different answers about where the money is. It's either been appropriated but it's in the contingency reserve—

Mr Venugopal : No, what I said—

Senator WONG: No, you're actually no longer saying it might have been appropriated to another department. You've changed—

Mr Venugopal : That is correct. All I said was that it has not been appropriated to DFAT or the portfolio. I suspect it is in the contingency reserve, the operation of which probably Finance is qualified to answer. Nevertheless it is in the bottom line.

Senator WONG: Mr Hilton, are you including these monies in how you—you and those who work with you—are constructing the ODA spend for the current financial year?

Mr Hilton : I don't have anything further to add to what the chief finance officer said on that topic.

Senator WONG: I asked a different question. You've got an additional $62 million which has been announced but appears to be a decision announced but not taken—a new category. Are you including that $62 million—it's actually $263 million over the forward estimates—in how you are running the ODA budget? Are you assuming that you will have that money, and are you acting accordingly or not?

Mr Venugopal : I might be better placed to answer that question.

Senator WONG: Well, are you or not?

Mr Venugopal : I do think that there is some confusion between the $236 million and $263 million; it doesn't help that the last two numbers in that are interchangeable.

Senator WONG: No, they're not. The $236 million is what is appropriated—this is your evidence—to the COVID-19 response package and vaccine access for the Pacific and South-East Asia, and it is reflected in the portfolio additional estimates statements. The $263 million—we had a long discussion about this—is the remainder of the $500 million announced by government, which you're now telling me was announced but not appropriated. I'm asking whether that balance, the $263 million, is reflected in your forward estimates planning and spending for that line item or not. Are you assuming you'll have it in the contracts you're signing and the programs you're engaging in?

Mr Venugopal : Yes. I will invite my colleague Mr Davies to talk to you about the $500 million and programming for that.

Senator WONG: No, I don't want to know about the $500 million again. I don't want another person at the table giving me a press release verbatim. I want to know what you're doing with it. I want to know whether it is real money and whether those who work in this area are saying: 'We've got an additional $263 million. I can now sign these contracts and plan these contracts with PNG, Samoa, Fiji or wherever.' I want to know if you're actually doing something with it, or if it just remains in the ether as $263 million additional—which you say you're going to get, but you're not planning on spending. That is what I want to know. Can anyone answer that?

Mr Venugopal : I can answer it. The $236 million—

Senator WONG: The $263 million. The $236 million is already there. I'm asking about the other $263 million. There was $103 million missing for 2021—what's happened with that? What are you using that for?

Mr Venugopal : There is a decision-making process that we will go through with government. When government makes a decision to approve that funding for us, then, yes, that will also become available.

Senator WONG: They've announced it.

Mr Venugopal : That's correct, but the specifics of the programming and how we will draw that money is going through a government decision-making process.

Senator WONG: Let's try it this way: can you confirm that DFAT has not engaged in any planned expenditure, contractual negotiations or any other administrative action in relation to the additional $103 million for 2020-21?

Mr Venugopal : I'll invite Mr Davies to answer that question, because he is delivering the program.

Mr Davies : In relation to the $263.2 million that is under discussion, this funding is provisioned for the procurement of vaccines. The reason it has not yet been appropriated to DFAT—

Senator WONG: That would have been easier.

Mr Davies : is that it's very difficult, at this point, to determine what the approximate costs of vaccines will be.

Senator WONG: Fair enough.

Mr Davies : In answer to your question just now, yes, we are planning on the basis that this funding will be available, and we are in discussions with vaccine procurement agencies.

Senator WONG: So is the entirety of the remainder of the $500 million intended to be spent on vaccines?

Mr Davies : Yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you. It would have been fantastic if that had been said earlier. I have no further questions on that point.

CHAIR: Alright. Before you get—

Senator WONG: This is Labor time now. We have been very reasonable.

CHAIR: Yes, I know that. The secretary has a few clarifications that I should have invited her to undertake earlier.

Ms Adamson : Thank you. Senator, some of these points of clarification or further answers relate to questions that you yourself have asked. The first one is in relation to the 20 government facilitated commercial flights that were announced on 16 January. All of them, I can confirm, will land in Howard Springs. There was a reference this morning to Canberra—that was an earlier program. I just want to be clear about that.

The second point is, again, a matter you raised in relation to Mr al-Hasani's extradition and our consular access to him—at least, I have your name against the question—the Australian embassy in Riyadh has not yet had consular access to Mr al-Hasani but continues to seek this through official channels as a matter of urgency. And, if I can just be clear, we've had consular access to him once only since he's been in detention. That was in Morocco.

The third question—or third matter, rather; I want to be precise about these things, as you know—concerns AUSMAT. The AUSMAT team comprises three health specialists. Two are currently in Papua New Guinea and the third is expected to arrive by the end of the month. They are an emergency physician, a nurse practitioner who is also a midwife, and a public health specialist.

Senator WONG: So is that correcting evidence about four specialists? So it's three?

Ms Adamson : Yes, that's correct.

Senator Payne: My apologies, Senator.

Senator WONG: No, that's fine.

Ms Adamson : In relation to interest on the part of a number of committee members in Dr Yang Hengjun's case in China—our embassy sought to visit him in February this year. The court authorities advised our embassy that the two-month gap between our January and March visits was attributable to administrative delay arising from the Chinese Spring Festival holiday.

Finally, in relation to a question asked by Senator Paterson—he asked when Australia had registered concerns about China's coastguard law—Mr Chittick, I think, said we had done so in February. In fact, we registered our concerns on the then draft law on 11 December 2020 and 5 January 2021. We submitted a third-person note on 17 December 2020.

Senator WONG: The 2018 approach—you haven't had an opportunity to get any information on that?

Ms Adamson : No. It rings the faintest of bells; I was hoping you might assist me. I'm not sure whether I need to go back through old notebooks. When I thought you were talking about the very recent past, I knew—

Senator WONG: No, 2018.

Ms Adamson : When you talk about 2018, I can do a very thorough search, including through notebooks. But if you're able to give me more information that might assist and I can get back to you as soon as possible.

Senator WONG: I'll see if I can do that.

Ms Adamson : Thank you.

Senator WONG: Okay. I know some questions were asked about this when the Greens were asking questions, but I'll turn now to climate and also COP26 preparations. Did you have an opportunity to read the PM&C International Division questions on climate?

Mr Isbister : Yes, I did.

Senator WONG: I don't really want to traverse all of that, but I think where we got to was that it appears that the Prime Minister was not offered, some might say denied, a speaking slot at the UK's Climate Ambition Summit in December last year. I think that's what the letter said.

Mr Isbister : The Prime Minister wasn't invited to speak at the summit.

Senator WONG: Yes. Obviously, the UK is hosting COP26 in Glasgow.

Mr Isbister : That's right.

Senator WONG: Have we received an invitation to President Biden's proposed climate ambition summit?

Mr Isbister : No; from what I'm aware, formal invitations haven't yet gone out.

Senator WONG: Could you confirm that at least the following countries or groupings have now adopted a target of net zero emissions by 2050: United States, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, European Union and Canada?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Are you able to provide on notice other nations which have committed to net zero emissions by 2050?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Is it the case that China has expressed its desire to reach net zero by 2060?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: What's the nature of the way in which that has been articulated—ambition, aspiration, national plan—how have they expressed it?

Mr Isbister : As I understand it, they've expressed that their intention is to get to net zero by 2060, though they're yet to outline how they'll do that in terms of their road map or submitting a long-term strategy.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to get a sense of how that's been expressed in the Chinese system—is that negotiator work at COP at an official level, is it President Xi or is it the NDRC? How has this been articulated?

Mr Isbister : My understanding is that the president has said China has an intention to get to 2060net zero.

Ms Adamson : It's a statement of an aspiration which, nevertheless, has had some impact. I think when we look in detail at their 14th five-year plan and all of the work you would expect to be undertaken to get there, that's not yet been mapped within the Chinese system. They're focusing on intensity of carbon emissions per unit of GDP and a variety of other things.

Senator WONG: Yes, it's the way they've approached it.

Ms Adamson : It's the way they've approached it. Typically, they've conducted pilots and done all sorts of things over a number of years. They've made some progress, but not really quite as much as—

Senator WONG: You're one of the people with the most experience of China, Secretary. I've not seen the precise wording, but even an aspiration, if articulated by the president within the Chinese system, has a very substantial degree of weight, would you agree?

Ms Adamson : It does, and I think it has had some impact on the negotiations—Mr Isbister can speak to that in more detail than I can. But I also think it's fair to say that amongst experts—and although I know a bit about China I don't know as much about this area, although I regularly saw Xie Zhenhua when I was in China—

Senator WONG: He's not there—

Ms Adamson : He's been brought back, actually.

Senator WONG: You're kidding me! Wow!

Ms Adamson : He has, it's quite interesting.

Senator WONG: As an elder statesperson?

Ms Adamson : As an elder statesperson at this time, including to engage with the Biden administration, which is a further indication of China's appreciation of the issue.

Senator WONG: That is interesting.

Ms Adamson : What I was going to say is I think international opinion amongst experts is divided about—it's beyond most of our lifetimes anyway—the extent to which this is able to be realised. We also know that the Chinese system, particularly when there's a top-down instruction, does often find a way of delivering, even if it's not perfect.

Senator WONG: Delicately put. We had a long discussion on the last occasion about the Australian government's response—it might actually have been with the minister, but I think it was also with you—to the net-zero emissions targets adopted by Japan and South Korea. I think the wording the government used was, 'We acknowledge it.' Have we shifted from 'acknowledge' to anything else? Or are we still at 'acknowledge'?

Mr Isbister : I think last time the minister acknowledged the commitment that both those countries have made to get to 2050—

Senator WONG: We haven't moved to anything warmer than acknowledgement, Minister?

Senator Payne: Sorry?

Senator WONG: Have we moved to any warmer expression than that you acknowledge the net-zero emissions by 2050 targets adopted by Japan and South Korea?

Senator Payne: I think we discussed this on the previous occasion.

Senator WONG: We did. I'm just wondering: have we got any more welcoming?

Senator Payne: No, that is the summation we'd make.

Senator WONG: The US has adopted, as you said, a net-zero emissions target and—I have to say, I'm not sure about the legal actuality—either rejoined or commenced the process of rejoining the Paris Agreement on the day of inauguration. How does that work?

Mr Isbister : They had withdrawn, and then they submitted their intention to join within 30 days. They have now rejoined the Paris Agreement.

Senator WONG: On the day of inauguration what action was actually taken?

Mr Isbister : An executive order, I think.

Senator WONG: Minister, has the government indicated any position on the US's adoption of the net-zero emissions by 2050 target? Have we made any statement?

Senator Payne: We have had a number of conversations, as you know, between the Prime Minister and the President, the Prime Minister and Secretary Kerry, and Minister Taylor and Secretary Kerry, where these issues have been discussed. I don't have all the statements or read-outs that may have been published here with me.

Senator WONG: Have you welcomed it or are you just acknowledging it?

Senator Payne: I don't have that language with me.

Senator WONG: I'm asking you here.

Senator Payne: I'll take it on notice to go to those words.

Senator WONG: You're the foreign minister of Australia. I'm asking you: do you welcome the Biden administration's adoption of a 2050 net-zero emissions target?

Senator Payne: We welcome the Biden administration's engagement on all of these issues, and that's why we have been so ready and—I don't want to use the word 'engaged' twice in the one sentence—engaged with the administration on this.

Senator WONG: Why is it so hard to welcome it? Is it just because it's embarrassing because we don't have one? I just think—

Senator Payne: No, I'm not going to use your language just because you want me to.

Senator WONG: It's not mine. It's a genuine question. Why is it so difficult?

Senator Payne: Just because you want me to—

Senator WONG: No, actually, it's not. It's not about me and it's not about you.

Senator Payne: We have mature relationships with our bilateral partners across all of these issues—

CHAIR: Can you think of the poor Hansard reporters trying to record this; it will be impossible!

Senator Payne: You will use your language, I will use mine, the Prime Minister and colleagues will use the language that they find appropriate. But just because you want me to say something, Senator, I'm not going to say it.

Senator WONG: Do you think the US adoption of a target of net zero by 2050 is a negative or positive development in the global fight against climate change?

Senator Payne: We think the US's engagement is very positive.

Senator WONG: I asked—

Senator Payne: That's why we have been very clear in relation—also, from the Prime Minister's words—to our own goal about reaching net-zero emissions as soon as possible and preferably by 2050, as you know.

Senator WONG: I'll ask the question again. You're the foreign minister. Do you think that having the United States adopt a net-zero emissions by 2050 target is a negative or a positive development in the global fight against climate change?

Senator Payne: And I said that I thought the United States' engagement—including their rejoining the Paris Agreement, which I didn't mention specifically in my previous answer—is all a net positive.

Senator WONG: The reason you can't welcome the adoption of these positions by our ally and by our friends and partners is that the government has refused to adopt a net zero emissions target for 2050.

Senator Payne: I just restated the government's position. Our goal is to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible and preferably by 2050, and we will do that—

Senator WONG: Tell me what 'goal' means.

Senator Payne: You know what 'goal' means.

Senator WONG: No, I'm asking you what you mean when you use that word.

Senator Payne: I mean it's a goal.

Senator WONG: Does that mean it's a policy position, that it's going to be legislated or that it's something that departments will be told they have to work towards? What does 'goal' mean?

Senator Payne: Underpinned by the reduction of emissions we have seen since 2005, of 19 per cent—which, of course, brings emissions to the lowest level since 1995—and underpinned by our deployment of renewables at 10 times the global average, our beating of our Kyoto-era targets and our trajectory—

Senator WONG: I just asked you what 'goal' means.

Senator Payne: towards our 2030 Paris targets, our goal is to reach net zero as soon as possible and preferably by 2050.

Senator WONG: Is it an aspiration?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to play semantic games with you.

Senator WONG: I actually just want to understand, and I suspect—

Senator Payne: It's a goal. It's plain English.

Senator WONG: I don't think it is, just like 'acknowledge' and 'welcome'. We've got a lot of dancing around.

Senator Payne: No, we're not dancing around.

Senator WONG: Does 'goal' mean that it will be legislated—that you'll legislate a target of net zero emissions by 2050?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to speculate on government legislation.

Senator WONG: I'm asking you. It's not speculation; you're the foreign minister.

Senator Payne: I'm not going to speculate on the government's legislative program with you.

Senator WONG: Wow. So you won't tell us if a goal will be legislated?

Senator Payne: I said I'm not going to speculate on the government's legislative program with you.

Senator WONG: Can you tell us: is it—

Senator Payne: That's on any subject, including this one.

Senator WONG: That's just not true. You announce regularly that you're going to put things in parliament. It's just a line, but anyway. Does that goal appear in any government document that you can point me to, other than the Prime Minister's announcement? Is that in our communications to COP26?

Mr Isbister : As you know, the government last year launched the technology road map, which outlines the technologies we're going to use to accelerate efforts. In addition to that, they agreed that they would be releasing a long-term strategy about how Australia will contribute to accelerating efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get to net zero. That long-term strategy, which will be released before COP26, will outline the technologies and the road map that will be used.

Senator WONG: Is it the intention that the goal that the minister has described will be in the long-term strategy ahead of COP26?

Mr Isbister : That's a decision by government as to—

Senator WONG: As someone in this area, can you tell me: is there any document that you have that is official Australian government policy that says the goal is net zero emissions by 2050?

Mr Isbister : No. We have the NDC that we've submitted, which has an outline of it.

Senator Payne: The Prime Minister, of course, Senator, as you well know, has made this statement.

Senator WONG: Yes. He's made a lot of announcements lately, including a whole range of things which I don't think have stood the test of scrutiny, but that's a whole different issue.

CHAIR: I'm sure there's a question coming.

Senator WONG: Yes.

CHAIR: Good.

Senator WONG: Can you confirm that, during an online discussion with former Vice President Al Gore, the current US climate envoy, John Kerry, made a statement along the lines of:

Australia has had some differences with us. We've not been able to get on the same page completely. That was one of the problems in Madrid as you recall, together with Brazil.

Can you confirm that that statement was made?

Mr Isbister : I read the reporting of it in the papers.

Senator WONG: I don't know if that's a response to my question.

Mr Isbister : That's where I'd seen that.

Senator WONG: I'm asking you: to DFAT's knowledge, was that statement made?

Mr Isbister : Was it made?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Mr Isbister : I've got nothing further than what was reported.

Senator WONG: Does that mean you can't tell me any more, you don't recall it being said or you weren't there when it was?

Mr Isbister : I wasn't there when it was.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me: has anyone in the new administration expressed any concern or issues about Australia's position on climate?

Mr Isbister : Did you say: has the new US administration—

Senator WONG: Yes. Since the new administration has been elected, inaugurated et cetera, are you aware of any US government representative expressing any concern or issues with our climate position?

Mr Isbister : There have been lots of conversations with the new administration about our climate policies, including discussions between the PM and Minister Taylor.

Senator WONG: I'm asking what you're aware of.

Mr Isbister : As I said, the discussions have been predominantly how we can work together to collectively increase ambition: what can be done practically through our collaboration on technology, through the bilateral, through the multilateral elements, through the Quad? There was agreement about how we establish a dialogue to accelerate efforts in this, so that's been the focus of discussions.

Senator Payne: Including the Quad climate working group, which I think is Mr Isbister's reference there, which is a good manifestation of that practical work.

Senator WONG: Ambassador Sinodinos is reported, in an article by Katharine Murphy that references a US Studies Centre event in Canberra—presumably he was online—

Senator Payne: Virtual ambassador.

Senator WONG: I'm quoting the article:

Sinodinos said the Biden administration was "very open" to Australia's push to focus on investing in low-emissions technology "but their view is that goes hand-in-hand with how we think about climate ambition".

"Our view is targets are something which are important in their own regard, and Australia is doing further work on what that means in the future as we go to Cop26" …

There are two propositions I want to put to you. The first is: do you think Ambassador Sinodinos's assessment is that the Biden administration's view is that ambition matters, not just technology?

Mr Isbister : Yes, but I'd say they come together.

Senator WONG: Sure. Is Ambassador Sinodinos expressing the government's view when he says, 'Our view is targets are something which are important in their own regard'? Is that the government's position?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: He goes on to say, 'and Australia is doing further work on what that means in the future as we go to Cop26'.

Mr Isbister : Yes. So, as I said, the work's being done around the long-term strategy and how we'll be using technology to increase and accelerate.

Senator WONG: Is it intended that the long-term strategy include an emissions reduction target?

Mr Isbister : That's a decision by government.

Senator WONG: Is the department aware of or participating in any policy work to look at how one might develop an emissions reduction target?

Mr Isbister : As part of the development of a long-term strategy, the government is developing the road map and the methodologies et cetera that will accelerate and get us to net zero as soon as possible.

Senator WONG: Including the possibility of a long-term target?

Mr Isbister : Yes, potentially with a long-term target.

Senator WONG: Can you on notice provide a list of countries that have indicated they will lodge new or updated NDCs for COP26?

Mr Isbister : Yes, I can probably—

Senator WONG: No, would you mind doing it on notice?

Mr Isbister : Yes, that's fine

Senator WONG: Sorry, I'm trying to get through a lot of stuff. Are you able to give me the alternative, which are those who've said they won't? I assume there are three groups. There are: 'Yes we will', 'No we won't' and 'No comment as yet'.

Mr Isbister : Yes, that's probably a fair—

Senator WONG: I want the three categories, if that's okay.

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Minister Taylor said in May of last year that Australia's intention was to just 'recommunicate' its current 2030 target ahead of COP26 rather than lodging a new NDC for COP26. Does this remain the position of the government?

Mr Isbister : The government submitted an updated NDC at the end of 2020, which restated our 2030 target and updated the policies and measures the government will be taking to exceed our target.

Senator WONG: Is the government intending to lodge a new NDC before COP26?

Mr Isbister : It's a decision by government, but we're not due to submit an updated NDC until five years before our current target finishes.

Senator WONG: You say it's a decision for government. We've got a previous statement by Minister Taylor saying we're just going to 'recommunicate' our existing 2030 target. You're saying to me that it's a decision for government as to whether we—

Mr Isbister : No, what I'm probably saying is that we've—

Senator WONG: No, let me finish—whether we lodge a new NDC. They're not entirely the same position. You're either saying that no, as a senior officer your understanding is that we're simply recommunicating the 2030 target or that as a senior officer you understand that it's still a live issue.

Mr Isbister : No, I'd say that we've met the requirement of recommunicating or updating our 2020 target. We don't need to submit another updated—

Senator WONG: Yes, but that's an answer about—

Mr Isbister : All I'd say is—

Senator WONG: Can I finish? Sorry, I did interrupt you, but I don't want to get off track. That is an answer that goes to the obligations under the agreement. That's not my question. My question is government policy.

Mr Isbister : But the issue is that you can update your NDC at any time in the cycle.

Senator WONG: Yes, I know that. So, can we get out of the legal framework? I'm asking you what your understanding of the government's policy position is. Is it, as Minister Taylor said, that the government's intention is only to recommunicate its 2030 target prior to COP26, in which case it has done so? Or is the government considering what it might do prior to COP26?

Mr Isbister : No, I'd say that the government's position has been clear that we've set a target and now the focus is on how we're going to exceed that.

Senator WONG: I'm going to ask the question again, because I didn't ask about the content; I'm having a very specific discussion about whether or not there is any possibility that a new NDC will be lodged or not.

Mr Isbister : Well, I'm just stating what the government has clearly said, which is that we submitted our updated NDC with the target on it and our intention is to go to COP26 with that and before then to release our long-term strategy.

Senator WONG: Okay. Our position on a long-term emissions reduction target I assume is a focus of discussions with us in the context of COP and ancillary discussions?

Mr Isbister : Are you talking about a long-term strategy?

Senator WONG: No. In the COP 26 negotiations, most of the developed world has adopted a clear target of net zero emissions by 2050. We have not. Okay?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: So, I assume that this is something that is raised with you and others in the context of the lead-up to COP26 and associated discussions.

Mr Isbister : Yes, through the negotiations a range of parties are continuing to encourage greater ambition and commitments by countries.

Senator WONG: We've already established that the Prime Minister was not offered a speaking spot at the UK Climate Ambition Summit last year. Is that correct?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Has the UK expressed its desire for Australia to lift its ambition in addressing climate change by COP26?

Mr Isbister : I think the UK's encouraging every country to bring forward—

Senator WONG: I'm asking about us.

Mr Isbister : Yes, they've encouraged Australia, amongst others, to continue to increase ambition. Having said that, I think the government's also been clear in discussions with the UK about ensuring that countries are able to meet the targets they've currently set as we all begin the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Senator WONG: We are increasingly one of the few advanced economies in the world refusing to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050, aren't we?

Mr Isbister : Well, I think you said earlier that the G7 countries committed to 2050 net zero but not all the G20 countries.

Senator WONG: How does that affect your negotiating position when we're so isolated on this?

Mr Isbister : I think the focus is acknowledging that as we get to COP26 countries have each got their processes and are developing strategies and commitments they'll bring to COP26. I think Australia, as the minister said, is very focused on how we continue to highlight what we're doing, not just on practical actions on mitigation but also through adaptation and financing. So as much as there is a focus on targets, I think the discussions have an equal focus on how well countries are delivering on their current targets and the ambition on action.

Senator WONG: Can I now turn to some Pacific issues, quickly, please.

Ms Adamson : Could I ask which Pacific issues, because within the Office of the Pacific we have three division heads and—

Senator WONG: Sorry. I have some PIF questions and some questions about Daru. I'm happy to do them in whichever order—

Ms Adamson : I'll invite Elizabeth Peak to talk about the PIF, and when we talk about Daru I'll invite Gerald Thomson to come to the table.

Senator WONG: Just to confirm, which countries have announced they are leaving the Pacific Islands Forum?

Ms Peak : There are five countries in the Micronesian group that have publicly signalled their intention to withdraw from the Pacific Islands Forum. Three of those have lodged their instruments with the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat to withdraw.

Senator WONG: Are you able to tell me which ones have and which haven't?

Ms Peak : Yes. The countries that have lodged are Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands.

Senator WONG: Is the process that you lodge and then—I presume it takes a while for that to play out?

Ms Peak : Twelve months.

Senator WONG: This is the formal initiation from FSM, Palau and Marshall Islands, correct?

Ms Peak : That's correct.

Senator WONG: But the formal process has not yet been initiated from the other two, which are Kiribati and Nauru. Do we anticipate that the latter two will lodge or are we engaging to try to encourage them not to?

Ms Peak : That will be a matter for Nauru and Kiribati, but we've been active—the foreign minister has been very active, and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific as well as officials—in engaging with Micronesia and all of the countries in the Pacific Islands Forum to express our view that unity of the forum is—

Senator WONG: Particularly at the moment.

Ms Peak : Correct, given the challenges we collectively face.

Senator WONG: Correct. Who decided which candidates Australia would support?

Ms Peak : That was a decision by government.

Senator WONG: Was that a decision, Minister, at a cabinet level or a ministerial level?

Senator Payne: There is no public discussion by government of the candidates that Australia would support.

Senator WONG: I didn't ask you that. I asked you the process question, first. Did it go to cabinet or did you decide or did—who is the minister now?—Minister Hawke or Minister Seselja?

Senator Payne: These matters are discussed by the Prime Minister with senior colleagues, as you would expect.

Senator WONG: Were you involved in the decision?

Senator Payne: Yes, in the discussions.

Senator WONG: In the discussions but not the decision?

Senator Payne: No, Senator, I—

Senator WONG: No, you changed the words. That was deliberate. I'm asking you—

Senator Payne: I'm not intending to speak publicly.

Senator WONG: I didn't ask who. I will ask that, but I can anticipate what the answer will be.

Senator Payne: I'm not intending to speak publicly, because Australia has not. We respect the privacy of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' retreat and of that process.

Senator WONG: It's gone well. All I asked is whether you were part of the decision or not.

Senator Payne: I am part and was part of all of the decisions in relation to the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' meeting.

Senator WONG: Was it the Prime Minister's decision as to which candidate to support, ultimately?

Senator Payne: I'm actually not going to—

Senator WONG: Was it ultimately the PM's decision or was this a collective decision?

Senator PAYNE: These are matters which were deliberated at the senior levels of government, as I said, with the Prime Minister and senior colleagues. I respect the privacy of the leaders' retreat and I don't intend to traverse that in detail.

Senator WONG: When were you aware of who Australia was going to support? Were you aware after or before the forum?

Senator Payne: Senator, I don't intend to traverse this in detail.

Senator WONG: This is a major diplomatic problem for Australia. I haven't yet asked who. I intend to ask that. I anticipate the answer will be: 'I'm not telling you—

Senator Payne: Senator—

Senator WONG: Let me finish, please. I'm asking about process. Did you know before the forum or after the forum who Australia supported?

Senator Payne: Senator, I don't intend to canvass this in detail. What I do want to say is that much of the public commentary has been misinformed.

Senator WONG: Well, then you've got an opportunity to inform it, haven't you?

Senator Payne: I actually respect the processes of the Pacific Islands Forum. I respect the process of a secret ballot where votes are not known. I respect the privacy of the leaders' retreat. Australia didn't engage in lobbying prior to or during the vote. We are working with forum members to find a solution to the very important issue of the Micronesian policy withdrawal.

Senator WONG: I just asked when you knew who we supported. Did you know before the result?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure what the purpose of your question is.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to work out whether this is like Jerusalem and he just told you or whether you were actually part of the decision.

Senator Payne: Although I won't go to the specifics of the aspects of the forum retreat, I was involved, as were the Prime Minister and other senior colleagues, on all matters to do with the Pacific Islands Forum retreat.

Senator WONG: In determining which candidate to support, did the Australian government have regard to the Micronesian view, which has been expressed publicly, as to a longstanding convention of rotation between the regional subgroups?

Senator Payne: The Australian government takes into account, in all of its engagement with members of the forum and the forum leaders' group itself, the very broad range of views that are expressed on these issues.

Senator WONG: I asked a specific question about rotation, and that is certainly something that has publicly been articulated.

Senator Payne: All of these matters are taken into account—yes.

Senator WONG: In deciding which candidate to support, did the Australian government give consideration to the public warnings from Micronesian leaders that they would leave the PIF if Mr Zackios was unsuccessful?

Senator Payne: I've already said that we take into account all of the contributions and views expressed by the members of the forum and that includes those views.

Senator WONG: Has the Prime Minister engaged with any of his Pacific counterparts about this issue since the leaders' meeting?

Senator Payne: I'll take on notice to provide you with the specific detail.

Senator WONG: And have you?

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me what you intend to do to resolve the dispute and try and restore some Pacific unity?

Senator Payne: We are and will work closely with the members of the troika particularly, which is Nauru, Tuvalu and Fiji, and with other members of the Pacific Islands Forum, with leaders around the region, on what are very difficult issues for the forum. I don't diminish those in any way. We certainly want to assist forum members and our neighbours in Micronesia to find a solution to this matter. I actually spoke to the President of Nauru, Lionel Aingimea, on Tuesday this week about these issues and others. It is, as you know, a strong regional organisation with very strong views and very strong senses of sovereignty, if you like. There are issues which arise from time to time, but I do know that there are active efforts underway by leaders, including Australia's participation in that, to identify a way forward.

Ms Adamson : Senator, could I—

Senator WONG: Can I move along?

Ms Adamson : By all means.

Senator Payne: And I say that with the greatest of respect to all of those friends and neighbouring countries who are participants in the forum.

CHAIR: Senator Wong is wanting to move on, so let's allow her to.

Ms Adamson : Can I just say it's moving in the right direction, though.

Senator WONG: I hope so.

Ms Adamson : This is a significant issue. It's important that there be Pacific ownership of it. The response is moving in the right direction. I can understand why you're concerned, but we are very much on the case.

Senator WONG: Which of the final two candidates for the position of secretary-general did Australia vote for?

Senator Payne: I have nothing to add to my previous statement.

Senator WONG: Okay, can I go to Daru now? Is that you, Ms Peak? You came back! Shorter answers! I'll ask short questions. Obviously, this has been the subject of media reports. The government of the Western Province signed an MOU with a Chinese fishery company, which was announced by the Ministry of Commerce, for a multifunctional fishery industrial park on Daru Island. Can I ask when the department first learnt of this deal.

Mr Thomson : We learnt about that proposal when it became public.

Senator WONG: It had been raised previously by Torres Strait local government and other representatives. Were you not aware of that?

Mr Thomson : I'm sorry, your question—your statement about the announcement—which announcement were you talking about? Could you just restate the question?

Senator WONG: Why don't you just tell me what you became aware of when?

Mr Thomson : We became aware of the proposal in December last year.

Senator WONG: You became aware of what proposal in December last year?

Mr Thomson : We became aware that there was an MOU that had been proposed.

Senator WONG: Proposed by the Ministry of Commerce, the Chinese ministry?

Mr Thomson : No, that there was an MOU that was being pursued by the Chinese company.

Senator WONG: How did you become aware?

Mr Thomson : I can't recall exactly how.

Senator WONG: What action, if any, did the government take?

Mr Thomson : Once we became aware of the proposal, we engaged very proactively with the PNG government in order to see if we could see a copy of the MOU. We were able to obtain a copy of the MOU. There have been a number of high-level representations made to the PNG government about the proposal.

Senator WONG: I'm a little confused about the December time frame. This was reported in November. Was DFAT not aware of that? It was November 2020. This was a $200 million Chinese-built fishery plant planned for a Papua New Guinean island that could allow Chinese-backed commercial fishers to fish legally in the Torres Strait et cetera. It goes on. I'll come to this. Mr Entsch even spoke about it. Were you not aware at least, if not prior to, when this occurred, which is before the date you've given me?

Mr Thomson : I can't recall exactly when we became aware of the—

Senator WONG: Why don't you take it on notice. It would be better than giving me the wrong evidence. When did DFAT first become aware of the fact or the possibility of an MOU being signed, or the intention to sign one, between local officials in Western Province and the Fujian fishery company?

Ms Adamson : Of course, in doing that we'll check with our high commission in Port Moresby. They travel widely. They're in touch with locals—

Senator WONG: Sure. I'd like to also understand what action was taken when that occurred. I think, so far, you've said you tried to get a copy of it.

Mr Thomson : And we have received a copy of it. As I said, we've made a wide range of representations to the Papua New Guinea government about the MOU, including high-level political representations, to register our concerns about any developments near to the Torres Strait Protected Zone that may impact on our interests.

Senator WONG: What is the department's understanding of the interaction of this project with the Torres Strait treaty, in particular whether or not the activities contemplated under that could impact on Australian Torres Strait fisheries?

Mr Thomson : The MOU is quite broad in nature. It doesn't set out a particular area where fisheries would occur and it doesn't specify what fishing stocks would be fished, and so it's a very early—

Senator WONG: Yes, but we don't want to wait, surely. We have certain arrangements in relation to these fisheries. We have treaty arrangements which are relevant. Have you done an assessment of what potential risks might be or potential consequences might be of this MOU for those treaty rights?

Mr Thomson : Without an understanding of what's going to happen under this MOU, without knowing what fish stocks are proposed to be fished or what areas are going to be fished it's hard to say what impact it would have on the treaty in a protected zone. What we're saying to the PNG government is that if cooperation under this MOU progresses we want to be consulted because we have interests under the Torres Strait Treaty relating to how any activities in the area could impact on the environment or on fisheries in the protected zone. We've made our position very clear to the Papua New Guinea government that we do want to be consulted as any proposals under this MOU are developed—

Senator WONG: So your response is: please consult us. Have we identified any risks in—I'll put that on notice. Is the department aware of concerns raised by the Torres Strait Sea and land council, including the increased risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing?

Mr Thomson : Yes. We're aware of the concerns that have been raised by members of the community in the Torres Strait. We have been engaging with the community through our liaison officer on Thursday Island. We have explained to them what we know about the MOU and we've also assured them that we're engaging with the government of Papua New Guinea to register our concerns and our interests in relation to any proposals that are developed under the MOU.

Senator WONG: Are you aware of concerns raised by Mayor Vonda Malone who has said, 'It will affect our communities, our people, our families, our resources'.

Mr Thomson : Yes. I'm aware of these concerns that have been raised. But, as I've said, as yet there are no clear proposals under the MOU.

Senator WONG: Minister, do you agree with the concerns that Mr Entsch has raised publicly in relation to this matter?

Senator Payne: I've been discussing these matters with Mr Entsch. He raises a number of important issues, I agree, with his concerns. We have been focused, as Mr Thomson has said, on engaging with the Papua New Guinea government on the issues raised by the Torres Strait communities as well. Mr Newnham might wish to speak to some of the legal issues in relation to the treaty, if you wish, but it is a matter of what time you have available.

Senator WONG: No, I would prefer not to. I'm actually more wanting to understand what you're going to do about it, Minister?

Senator Payne: Obviously we have been actively present in Western Province for some time. The high commissioner and senior members of his team, minister councillors I think if I remember correctly, have been visiting in the region in the back end of 2020—if I go to the most recent, but this is an ongoing engagement. The Prime Minister has spoken to Prime Minister Marape. I have spoken to the foreign minister Eoe. Senator Duniam has spoken to his fisheries minister counterpart. Senator Seselja has spoken to counterparts as well, including the Deputy Prime Minister Sam Basil, to reiterate our concerns in relation to the proposed development.

They have advised us that Australia's interests are clearly understood and that we would be closely consulted going forward. They have told us that final decisions are some way off, and those decisions will be subject to further consideration within the Papua New Guinea system. Formal approvals would have to be given as well prior to any actual agreement being signed or investment made. You asked why there was a delay in communication on the matter. Yes, it was reported in November, but you may recall there were some political changes in the Papua New Guinea administration between the backend of November to the middle of December. My counterpart, for example, was not appointed until 20 December. So there was a gap there.

Senator WONG: Okay. This is obviously something that a number of members of this committee and the parliament are interested in, so I'd encourage you to engage with us.

Senator Payne: Absolutely, Senator.

Senator WONG: You were asked to meet with Torres Strait mayors in relation to this. They requested that you meet regional leaders within the Torres Strait to discuss their concerns, and I just wonder if you have responded to that request.

Senator Payne: I understand that we are planning a virtual meeting.

Senator WONG: Kiribati—I think it was reported that Kiribati and China were developing former climate refuge land in Fiji. This is land that the former government of Kiribati bought in Fiji half a decade ago ostensibly to serve as a refuge when their country was essentially inundated. Does anybody have any information on this? Ms Peak is walking, but slowly, which doesn't—

Ms Adamson : We have seen the report, Senator, but there's a difference between reports and information, as you know. We'll see whether Ms Peak has anything.

Ms Peak : I'm sorry to raise your expectations on that.

Senator WONG: You were walking without real purpose, so I figured the answer was no. On notice, what is your understanding of this project? It was reported in The Guardian on Wednesday, 24 February. What is your understanding of the level or the scope of assistance from or engagement with the Chinese government? Were we asked to provide any assistance in relation to this project? Can someone tell me what we are currently doing in terms of Australia's aid program to provide any food security assistance to Kiribati? But at this stage no-one at the table knows anything about this, is that right?

Mr Thomson : About the particular project?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Mr Thomson : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Okay, thanks very much on that. I'm skipping along. I just have a quick question on AMENCA.

Senator Payne: We responded to some questions from Senator Faruqi on that.

Senator WONG: I know, I'm sorry, I was in and out for some of that.

Senator Payne: Happy to provide any information you need.

Senator WONG: I usually ask things more quickly. You discontinued the Australian Middle East NGO Cooperation Agreement from 30 June 2021, correct?

Dr Macdonald : I'll just have to double-check, but I don't think we discontinued from then. There are some aspects of that program that are continuing through the course of this calendar year—to the end of September at least.

Senator WONG: But you have discontinued it, as of a certain date?

Dr Macdonald : Yes.

Senator WONG: Which date?

Dr Macdonald : It won't be recommenced. I just don't want to mislead you because there is some of the expenditure which continues in terms of the activities there. So the agreement, I think, continues to September.

Senator WONG: 2021.

Dr Macdonald : Yes.

Senator WONG: Okay. Was that a decision made by the minister?

Dr Macdonald : It's in the context of the overall program. I'll have to just double-check, but—

Senator WONG: Somebody makes a decision to discontinue it. That's not a decision made at a departmental level, I'm assuming. It's a decision of government, correct?

Dr Macdonald : Can I just double-check? We consulted with the office, yes, and with the minister.

Ms Adamson : I've got it.

Senator WONG: What?

Ms Adamson : I think it was made in the context of the work we did on Partnerships for Recovery, as I recall—the orientation of funding, as Dr Macdonald explained earlier, to the Indo-Pacific. In order to do that we needed to put to the minister a series of decisions to enable that pivoting of funding to take place.

Senator WONG: If you chose to take money from it, I'd just rather we didn't end up in a discussion about pivoting and get deflected into that. You chose not to continue to fund it. I just want to know who made that decision. Was that a departmental decision? Was it your decision, Minister?

Senator Payne: I don't have this specific decision in my head, but I would say that it is part of the reprioritisation process, which we did to—I'm not going to use a word you've asked me not to use, but which we did for Partnerships for Recovery.

Senator WONG: When you did the reprioritisation, was there any indication that government did not wish to continue funding AMENCA?

Dr Macdonald : There are two aspects of the reprioritisation. One is of the aid program more generally, of course, as you know, through Partnerships for Recovery. The other was actually to COVID responses, if you like, within programs. That's very much where the Palestinian Territories program has pivoted within that to more health security issues, including, for example, WHO funding this year. So it's in that context that—

Senator WONG: Did you hear my question?

Dr Macdonald : I'm not sure I understand the question, so could you just repeat that?

Senator WONG: I was hoping this would not take longer but it's going to take a while. So AMENCA was funded under two heads: COVID-related—correct?

Dr Macdonald : No.

Senator WONG: Well, do you want to explain it to me? All I'm trying to work out is who made the decision. That's actually all I want to know at this point. Then I've got some other questions.

Dr Macdonald : In consultation—

Senator WONG: So we can spend ages going around and around, but I just want to know who decided they shouldn't be funded, and was some of the discussion of your colleagues who had been advocating for it not to be funded taken into account? I just want to know that.

Dr Macdonald : It was in consultation with the minister, but I just want to double check so I don't mislead you.

Senator WONG: When you say 'it'—

Dr Macdonald : The decision not to continue.

Senator Payne: About reprioritisation.

Senator WONG: About cutting AMENCA.

Senator Payne: The movement of funds was made in consultation with me, yes, on this and many other things.

Senator WONG: Were you conscious at the time of the negative view in the coalition party room of funding to the Palestinian Territories?

Senator Payne: Senator, I have been sitting in these estimates for as long as you have if not longer, and I'm aware of concerns that have been raised over time. But if you want to ask me whether that influenced this specific decision, the answer is no.

Senator WONG: I understand there was a mid-term review of AMENCA 3 completed for DFAT in 2019. Is that correct?

Dr Macdonald : That's correct.

Senator WONG: I understand it concluded that the program had 'achieved considerable on-the-ground traction and its success to date more than justifies ongoing support as this will significantly augment the market-level impacts that are currently emerging'—correct?

Dr Macdonald : That's correct. As I said previously, that review was in the context of the continuation of that program for the further two years, the current phase of which expires in September this year.

Senator WONG: Were you asked to table it?

Dr Macdonald : To table—

Senator WONG: The review?

Dr Macdonald : It was published on our website, I think the one you're referring to, in November 2019.

Senator WONG: Is it still there or can you just table it?

Dr Macdonald : I can do that.

Senator WONG: This is a program that has been in place since 2005, correct?

Dr Macdonald : In various iterations, yes. This is the third iteration.

Senator Payne: This was a 5-year iteration, I think—is that right?

Dr Macdonald : That's right.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me how cutting a program that has had that longevity and has had bipartisan support until now since 2005 serves our interests in the region?

Dr Macdonald : This phase comes to an end, and in the context of the very complex operating environment there, as you'd appreciate, and also the pivot within the program—

Senator WONG: The pivot!

Dr Macdonald : to health security, the future allocations are yet to be determined.

Senator WONG: The future allocations are yet to be determined. Is that what you just said?

Dr Macdonald : Yes, so the future allocations from within the PTs aid program, both in terms of quantum—

Senator WONG: The future allocations for what?

Dr Macdonald : Sorry, within the Palestinian program. They are yet to be determined into future financial years.

Senator WONG: So does that mean that AMENCA is potentially fundable, or it is off the table for future financial years, given that answer?

Dr Macdonald : This phase comes to an end at the end of September. The contracting parties, if I can put it that way, our partners there, have been advised that it won't be recontinued after that.

Senator WONG: So there's no possibility of it being allocated any funding beyond September. There's a decision of government to that effect?

Dr Macdonald : That's right.

Senator WONG: I have questions about the Tigray conflict. That conflict began in late last year—November, I think?

Dr Macdonald : Yes.

Senator WONG: Minister, we did join a statement of the Human Rights Council, which I think you might have adverted to in a previous discussion. I did wonder, other than that, what action you had taken, whether this had been something you had raised with any counterparts and whether you had met with any members of the diaspora?

Senator Payne: The statement you refer to is the Human Rights Council, that's correct. We also separately delivered a statement in dialogue with the special rapporteur on Eritrea in February as well. We have been working through our consular and crisis team—actually, it might just be the consular team, I'm not sure exactly where that is—in relation to Australians who have been in the area. We welcomed the March statement by UN agency heads drawing particular attention to sexual and gender based violence and we again discussed these matters last night with Dr Tedros, who has a particular interest. Our posts in the region have been engaged on these issues. Tigrayan community members who are here today have met with my office. I was not able to meet with them today because of course I am here, although I think Senator Abetz did. The issues which have been raised, particularly around sexual and gender based violence, are issues which are very much of concern to the government.

We've also been working with—I'm just trying to find the information in relation to the announcement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and their joint inquiry, which we have welcomed. I can't find it, Senator, so officials may want to add more while I look for this.

Dr Macdonald : It was on 17 March that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights made that announcement about conducting a joint inquiry into events in Tigray with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

Senator Payne: As I think we may have said this morning, we're also deploying two experts to IOM and to OCHA, who are part of helping to coordinate humanitarian access and response efforts and address longer term what are going to be critical recovery and development needs. There is a charge d'affaires from Ethiopia currently in Canberra and we have raised with the charge d'affaires in January our concerns both about the involvement of Eritrean troops and also the reports of the human rights abuses that we have heard.

Senator WONG: I've received quite a lot of engagement from the community. I'm sure you have too. They are concerned.

Senator Payne: Indeed.

Senator WONG: I was going to move now briefly to cyber, if I could.

Ms Adamson : While Dr Feakin comes to the table, could I possibly come back on a couple of questions you had this morning?

Senator WONG: Yes, sure.

Ms Adamson : There is a response in relation to repatriation flights. Senator Wong asked about the proportion of Australian citizens on the repatriatio