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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Department of Communications and the Arts

Department of Communications and the Arts


CHAIR: I welcome the minister, Senator Fifield. Do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Fifield: No, thank you.

CHAIR: Excellent. Welcome back, Mr Mrdak. Do you have an opening statement?

Mr Mrdak : No; I'm happy to take questions.

CHAIR: We'll proceed to general questions. Senator Keneally, I believe, would like to open the batting.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, can you confirm for the public record whether you are still a member of the Institute of Public Affairs, otherwise known as the IPA?

Senator Fifield: I am, and that is on my registration of senators' interests.

Senator KENEALLY: Are you a proud member?

Senator Fifield: It depends on the IPA's position on particular issues, I guess, and the day of the week. But I'm happy to be a member of the IPA.

Senator KENEALLY: For how many years have you been a member?

Senator Fifield: I couldn't tell you off the top of my head, but it would be at least 10 years.

Senator KENEALLY: Could you take that on notice?

Senator Fifield: No, I won't take it on notice because it's not relevant to the Communications estimates and my responsibility as a minister. It might be a relevant declaration to the Register of Senators' Interests, but it would be at least 10 years.

Senator KENEALLY: Have you been a member of the IPA for the entire time that you have been a senator?

Senator Fifield: That's possible.

Senator KENEALLY: Surely you could check your declaration of interests and provide them as an answer to a question on notice.

Senator Fifield: I could check it; that's true.

Senator KENEALLY: So could we put that on notice?

Senator Fifield: In the interests of endeavouring to be helpful for the committee, I'll do that.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. Are you a general member or a premium member?

Senator Fifield: I think this is now starting to stray beyond what's relevant for this committee, but I think I'm a garden variety member, if I can put it that way.

Senator KENEALLY: A garden variety member?

Senator Fifield: Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm not sure that that is a category. You have a general member and a premium member.

Senator Fifield: I'm a garden variety kind of guy.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you pay an annual membership charge?

Senator Fifield: I think that's how these memberships usually go.

Senator KENEALLY: Maybe I could help you out here. A general membership is $99 per year and a premium membership is $249 per year. Does that help jog your memory as to whether you're a general member or a premium member?

Senator Fifield: Can I seek some clarification with regard to how this relates to the expenditure of the department or any of the agencies before us?

Senator KENEALLY: This will come very quickly to that point.

CHAIR: Perhaps I could ask you to expedite your journey to that point.

Senator Fifield: For the benefit of the committee, I'm also a member of the Centre for Independent Studies.

CHAIR: Thank you for that frank disclosure.

Senator Fifield: You're welcome.

Senator KENEALLY: General members get a free IPA pen and key ring; premium members also get a lapel badge. Do you have a lapel badge?

Senator Fifield: I don't think so. I'm not really into lapel badges.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you use your key ring much?

Senator Fifield: I don't have a key ring, either.

Senator KENEALLY: You don't have a key ring? General members get one free for their $99 per year.

Senator Fifield: I've obviously been short-changed.

Senator KENEALLY: What IPA meetings have you attended in the last 12 months?

Senator Fifield: I don't think I've attended any.

Senator KENEALLY: Have you made any private donations to the IPA?

Senator Fifield: I don't think so.

Senator KENEALLY: Could you take that on notice?

Senator Fifield: I'm delighted to.

Senator KENEALLY: Presumably they'd be on your Register of Senators' Interests.

Senator Fifield: That would depend on the threshold, but I do tend to over-declare when it comes to the Register of Senators' Interests.

Senator KENEALLY: Have you obtained or received a copy of the latest book by your fellow IPA members Chris Berg and Sinclair Davidson, Against Public Broadcasting: Why and how we should privatise the ABC? Apparently it's coming out this month.

Senator Fifield: I haven't seen it.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you know whether the book has been launched or when it's being launched?

Senator Fifield: I don't know, but I suggest that you ask the authors.

Senator KENEALLY: Were you asked to launch the book?

Senator Fifield: I don't think so, no.

Senator KENEALLY: Were you asked to review the book?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you help the authors in writing the book?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator KENEALLY: No interviews?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator KENEALLY: Would you please inform the committee what the IPA advocates with respect to the ABC and SBS.

Senator Fifield: You'd have to direct those questions to the IPA.

Senator KENEALLY: You're a member of the IPA and you're the minister for communications; you don't know what the IPA advocates with respect to the ABC and SBS?

Senator Fifield: I'm not a spokesperson or office bearer of the IPA and I don't speak for them.

Senator KENEALLY: But you're a member.

Senator Fifield: This is true

Senator KENEALLY: You've declared that.

Senator Fifield: It's not like a union membership. I don't see myself as a delegate of the IPA in this place, as I know some members of your caucus see themselves when it comes to the trade unions that they're members of.

Senator KENEALLY: Presumably you know what their position is. Do you support it as a member; do you agree with their position?

Senator Fifield: I can't tell you what the IPA's position is on different issues. You really need to direct those questions to the IPA. While the IPA might have individual contributors or fellows writing particular papers, I couldn't tell you whether, when they do that, that represents a formal view of the IPA.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you give an address in 2008 to the Australian Adam Smith Club?

Senator Fifield: I did.

Senator KENEALLY: Was the title of that address, 'Fiscal Contraception: Erecting barriers to impulsive spending?'

Senator Fifield: It was. I was a slightly frisky backbencher in those days.

Senator KENEALLY: Is it your testimony to this committee

CHAIR: You're the one taking us down this path, Senator Keneally.

Senator KENEALLY: Is it your testimony to this committee that you're less frisky today, Senator?

Senator Fifield: I'm not a backbencher; I'm a minister in a government. That means that you are at a point where you have a different role in the political firmament.

Senator KENEALLY: I think I'll leave that comment there. In that address, 'Fiscal Contraception: Erecting barriers to impulsive spending', did you say: 'Conservatives have often floated the prospect of privatising the ABC and Australia Post' and, 'There is merit in such proposals'?

Senator Fifield: I'd have to check the transcript of the address because it was some time ago.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you take that on notice, please?

Senator Fifield: Certainly.

Senator KENEALLY: Does that sound like something a frisky backbencher Mitch Fifield might have said in 2008?

Senator Fifield: It could well have been.

Senator KENEALLY: Is that something a less frisky Minister Fifield would say today?

Senator Fifield: It's not a view that I have.

Senator KENEALLY: It's not a view that you have?

Senator Fifield: Correct.

Senator KENEALLY: What is your view about privatisation of the ABC?

Senator Fifield: I do not believe that the ABC should be privatised.

Senator KENEALLY: Can the Australian public trust you with the ABC?

Senator Fifield: Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: You can look the Australian public in the eye and say, 'You can trust Mitch Fifield, a member of the IPA, with the ABC'?

Senator Fifield: Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Come on, Minister; I want to hear you say the words.

Senator Fifield: You've asked me a question and I've answered the question and I've looked you in the eye as I've done it.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you look the Australian people in the eye and say the words?

Senator Fifield: I can only look one person in the eye at a time. You are before me, so

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, look me in the eye, then and say it.

Senator Fifield: I answer questions that are asked. As tempting as it is to engage in playful word games with you, I'll just answer your questions.

Senator KENEALLY: So you're not willing to give us the commitment here today?

Senator Fifield: You've asked me the question. I've answered it and I've given the commitment.

Senator KENEALLY: Why is it so hard for the minister for communications to utter the words, 'The Australian people can trust me with the ABC'?

Senator Fifield: You've asked me the question and I've answered it.

Senator KENEALLY: I just don't understand why you can't make a declarative statement.

Senator Fifield: I know that opposition senators like to have ministers make declaratory statements so that they can then say that there must have been an issue that the minister needed to address, otherwise he wouldn't have had to have made the declaratory statement. So I will do what I've done, and that is to answer your questions.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, last year you did a deal with Pauline Hanson, which the Australian Financial Review described as 'a deal for the biggest assault on the ABC's independence in decades'. The public does want to know and does need to be reassured about whether they can trust you with the ABC.

Senator Fifield: Would you mind citing the reference in the Australian Financial Review?

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, I'd be happy to do that. It was an article called, 'Media reforms on edge after government bows to One Nation demands on the ABC', published on 15 August 2017, by Andrew Tillett and Max Mason:

The Turnbull government's media reforms remain on a knife edge with key Senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon weighing up his support after One Nation clinched a deal for the biggest assault on the ABC's independence in decades.

Minister, can you look me in the eye and declare whether or not the people of Australia can trust you with the ABC?

Senator Fifield: I've already answered that: they can.

Senator KENEALLY: They can what?

Senator Fifield: They can have confidence that this government will always support the independence of the ABC and ensure that it is appropriately resourced.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you, Minister. Minister, of all the areas in the communications portfolio you've probably been most active in relation to the ABC. To illustrate, you've regularly complained about ABC programming, you've lined up another round of budget cuts to the ABC, you've lined up a second efficiency review, you've launched a competitive neutrality inquiry and you've put three bills before parliament to change the ABC Act to satisfy a deal with Pauline Hanson. With this multipronged long-scale intervention, do you genuinely expect Australians to believe that you simply want the ABC to be more efficient?

Senator Fifield: What I would like the ABC to beand I'm sure that this goes for all of my parliamentary colleaguesis the best possible steward of taxpayer resources that it can be and also for the ABC to fulfil and embody the expectations that Australians have for it, which is the purpose of some of the pieces of legislation that we currently have before the parliament, such as putting an explicit reference to the ABC's obligations to rural and regional Australia into its act, which is something I think most Australians assume is there already but isn't, and also to put into the ABC's act a requirement that it be fair and balanced; again that's something that Australians would assume to be there in their act. In the ABC's editorial policies in chapter 4 it talks about the need for a balance that follows the weight of evidence. It also talks about the importance of fair treatment. I think that if it's appropriate for that to be in the ABC's editorial policies then it's entirely appropriate for that to be in the ABC's act.

Senator KENEALLY: Isn't this just part of Pauline Hanson's vendetta against the ABC for a Four Corners story into One Nation for which she threatened to block last year's federal budget unless $600 million was cut from the ABC?

Senator Fifield: If you want to know what is in the minds of One Nation senators then you should direct your questions to them. All I can speak to is what is the government's intention with the measures and legislation that it's pursuing.

Senator KENEALLY: Pauline Hanson has stated that she wants to get rid of the SBS and whack quite a bit of money off the ABC. Do you have a secret deal with Pauline Hanson to get rid of the SBS and to cut the ABC's budget?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you accept that the Australian public have reason to be sceptical about your plans for the ABC and SBS, given your membership of the IPA and given the fact that the Liberals broke an election promise not to cut ABC funding?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator KENEALLY: We should all just say, 'Well, that's hunky dory then'?

Senator Fifield: You should.

Senator KENEALLY: Can the Australian public trust the Liberal Party with the ABC?

Senator Fifield: Of course.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you actually say those words: the Australian public can trust the Liberals with the ABC?

Senator Fifield: This isn't play school. This isn't a case where someone has to repeat a sentence that another senator has said. The Australian public can have confidence that we will always ensure that the ABC is appropriately resourced to fulfil its charter obligations and that the ABC's independence will be supported.

Senator KENEALLY: In response to a question on notice, the ABC has confirmed that, since 1 July 2014, 1,000 positions have been cut from the ABC, with almost 1,000 jobs lost. Don't you think the ABC has been pushed enough to find efficiencies?

Senator Fifield: If you go back and look at the statements of the current managing director and the former managing director what you'll find is that the jobs that they have redeployed or the change in the employment profile of the organisation relate to management decisions which are not related to efficiencies. I think Mark Scott, about the time of the previous efficiency review, made it clear that the staffing changes that he announced around that time actually predated the previous efficiency arrangements. Also, the current managing director, Michelle Guthrie, I think, removed more than 100 middle management positions and made it clear that that was a decision of management with the intention of deploying the resources that were freed up for a content fund in the organisation.

Senator KENEALLY: Given that they've lost 1,000 positions since 1 July 2014they've been cut, with 1,000 jobs losthow many more jobs do you think they will lose in this efficiency review?

CHAIR: I would just remind the senator that we do have the ABC on this evening at 7.35.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes. I do intend to talk to them about a range of these matters.

CHAIR: If you have general questions, as we normally do

Senator KENEALLY: The government has put in an efficiency review and made cuts to the ABC in the 2018 budget, so I'm interested to know the minister's view on how many job losses he expects that will create at the ABC.

Senator Fifield: The ABC, by law, have operational independence, which means that the decisions that the ABC make about how the organisation is run and how resources are deployed are entirely a matter for them.

Senator KENEALLY: So you expect they could maybe put on jobs with these budget cuts?

Senator Fifield: It's up to the ABC.

Senator KENEALLY: That's illogical, isn't it?

Senator Fifield: It's up to the ABC what they do with the more than $1 billion a year that they will continue to receive$3.16 billion over the coming triennium.

Senator KENEALLY: That $1 billion is an investment of public money in content and services that the Australian public trust and rely on. I will talk to the ABC later about exactly how that is broken down and apportioned. But it is the government that made a decision to cut ABC funding in the 2018 budget, so I just wonder whether you can give us a sense of whether that will lead to increased employment or a loss of employment at the ABC.

Senator Fifield: It is entirely up to the ABC how they deploy their resourcesthe proportion that goes into wages and the proportion that goes into content. These are all matters for the ABC.

Senator KENEALLY: You would acknowledge that there are constraints though that they can't control. Transmission and distribution is what it is. Content costs are often outside the control of the ABC. What it costs to make programs is driven by other forces, international costs et cetera. So again, if the government cuts the major source of ABC funding, which is the government, surely that's going to lead to job losses at the ABC.

Senator Fifield: All I can do is restate that the ABC has operational independence. Let me put it this way: I don't think there's any Commonwealth agency that has yet achieved a state of perfection; I don't believe that the ABC has. Every organisation should continue to strive to be the best possible steward of taxpayer dollars that it can be. The purpose of our efficiency review is to assist the ABC in that effort of continual improvement and, beyond that, it's for the ABC as to how it manages its resources.

Senator KENEALLY: So your plan for continual improvement of the ABC is to impose cuts and you think that will lead to continual improvement?

Senator Fifield: We have paired the indexation pause with an efficiency review. I don't think any Commonwealth agency should ever take the view that, just because they looked at themselves a few years ago, they remain in an optimal state. The last efficiency review was four years ago. In the fast-evolving world of media organisations, this four years is an eternity.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you acknowledge that the ABC is in the midst of a major restructure to adapt to the digital age?

Senator Fifield: The ABC has been in a process of continual change to adapt to the digital environment as that has become more pervasive in the way that people consume their media.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you acknowledge thatif we borrow the words of the Australian Financial Reviewyou've launched the biggest attack on the ABC in decades at a time when they are undertaking the biggest restructure?

Senator Fifield: I don't accept that characterisation. I don't think the legislation that we have before the parliament to which that article was referring seeks to do anything other than enhance the ABC's capacity and focus on meeting the expectations of Australians.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you, Minister.

CHAIR: Senator Griff.

Senator GRIFF: Thank you, Chair. I'd like to look at the regional and small publishers innovation fund, which was passed by the Senate in the last sitting and is currently before the House, although I believe that it's actually just been taken off the Notice Paper. That's my understanding as well. Your website states that the first round of recipients will be announced by 1 June 2018 with the first grant payment made from 1 July 2018. Is the timetable on track?

Senator Fifield: I'll ask officers how their administration is progressing.

Mr Eccles : Can you repeat the question, please? Is it about all elements of the package?

Senator GRIFF: Your website still states that grant recipients will be announced on 1 June and payments will be made by 1 July this year. Where are you sitting with the timing? Is the timetable still on track for the grants to be payable?

Mr Eccles : We expect the grant guidelines for the cadetships and scholarships program to be released in the next couple of weeks; so that's for the scholarships and the cadetships program. Then we would look to make the necessary assessments and have the grant funding provided early in the next financial year. In terms of

Senator GRIFF: Early in this coming financial year?

Mr Eccles : The next financial year, yesin July. Is that correct? Yes. In terms of the other program, the innovation

Senator GRIFF: Do you have a tentative date? Given that you're still stating that it will be available on 1 June and 1 July

Mr Eccles : We don't have a specific date.

Senator GRIFF: But sometime in July?

Mr Eccles : Very early in the next financial year, yes.

Senator GRIFF: During the debate on the bill, the minister stated that, as a result of stakeholder feedback, there needed to be some tweaks. Has the minister advised you of these tweaks?

Mr Eccles : We've gone out for a consultation process around all elements of the package. We've taken that into account and we've sought and achieved approval to make some tweaks to the programs and they will be reflected in the program guidelines that are released shortly.

Senator GRIFF: What are these tweaks?

Mr Eccles : I don't know off the top of my head, but they certainly will be apparent when the guidelines are released in the next couple of weeks.

Senator GRIFF: Minister, can you advise what these tweaks are?

Senator Fifield: We're looking at a number of things which have been raised by stakeholders and we will be talking to parties who have a particular interest in this.

Senator O'NEILL: Are you going to be talking to the Guardian?

Senator Fifield: I was making oblique reference to a grouping in the Senate that was very supportive of these arrangements.

Senator GRIFF: Mr Eccles, how are you planning to communicate the changed start dates to the public and potential applicants?

Mr Eccles : When the program guidelines are released in the next couple of weeks, all of that will be apparent.

Senator GRIFF: Are there any particular steps that you intend to take to notify small, often remote publishers?

Mr Eccles : I think it's fair to say that a lot of the publishers, particularly those who have been part of the consultation process, are eagerly awaiting the issuing of the guidelines. But I might ask Dr Patteson to go into a little bit more detail about our communications plan.

Dr Patteson : Mr Eccles is right. We will go back out to all of the people that we consulted with on the scoping papers, once the guidelines are finalised and released, to ensure that they know that they are out there and that the application rounds are then open. Obviously we will update our website and it will be on GrantConnect and other places as well. We will make sure that we inform everybody who we consulted with previously that the guidelines have been updated and applications are open.

Senator GRIFF: It's definitely worth your updating your website now, given 1 June and 1 July, because we're receiving quite a lot of calls from interested parties as well. The fund will provide $16 million in grants per year over three years, and at least two-thirds of these funds are to go exclusively to regional publishers. Will there be rolling grants throughout the year or will they be dispersed in one annual round?

Dr Patteson : I think you're talking about the innovation fund in particular.

Senator GRIFF: Yes.

Dr Patteson : That's the one where, obviously, the legislation is still before parliament because that's the one that the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be administering with the help of an advisory council. So we're still working through the details but I believe the proposal is that we would look at opening up rounds at the beginning or towards the beginning of each financial year to put out the call for applications and bring them all in at once.

Senator GRIFF: But will it be rolling or is it likely to be one single payment?

Dr Patteson : I think there'll be application rounds each year rather than just one.

Senator GRIFF: But will a recipient receive one lump sum or will they be paid over a period of time?

Dr Patteson : They could also be paid over a period of time. It depends on the particular grant that they get. There are different types of grants that may be availablesmall ones up to about $25,000, medium ones for $250,000 and larger ones up to $1 millionand it will depend on the type of proposal as to whether it is something that can be achieved within a particular financial year or whether it would be beneficial for the grant to roll over. That will be up to the ACMA to determine in applying the current guidelines.

Senator GRIFF: Are there set allocations by state?

Dr Patteson : No.

Senator GRIFF: Just briefly, on the regional scholarship fundsyou said, again, it's a couple of weeks down the track before we know exactly where that's going to bewhat steps has the department taken to inform unis of the coming scholarships?

Dr Patteson : As part of the consultation on the scholarships program, we went out to journalism schools and universities around the country to seek feedback on the papers and seek their interest; so we certainly now have a good set of stakeholders across the universities. But once the decisions are made as to which universities or journalism schools receive amounts for scholarships, it will be up to the universities themselves to advertise those and then determine which students receive them.

Senator GRIFF: Just on that point there, my understanding is that there are around 25 unis across Australia that currently offer journalism courses. How are the 60 scholarships proposed going to be divided amongst these institutions?

Dr Patteson : That's part of looking at where the applications come in from and then making a determination around the distribution across the country. I think we're still looking at what the level of interest will be but obviously one of the aims of the fund is to provide a diverse range of scholarships across a diverse range of universities. So that's part of the assessment criteria that we will be using in determining the disbursement of the scholarships.

Senator GRIFF: Will regional universities receive additional scholarship places, given that the emphasis is on regional?

Dr Patteson : I am just trying to remind myself. I think there was an agreement about the focus being on the regional universities. Absolutely, the eligibility criteria and the assessment criteria we will use will be very much focused on regional in ensuring that we meet the original scope of the program.

Senator GRIFF: Minister, is it likely to be dealt with this week in the House?

Senator Fifield: I'll have to check with the Leader of the House. Just as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate conducts his own programs, so it is in the House of Representatives, and I will check with the Leader of the House.

Senator GRIFF: You'll let us know; thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Steele-John.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: My question to start us off will go to the minister. Minister, it has been brought to my attention by a member of the blind community that the contact form on your web page,, is inaccessible due to its use of capture. I have been told that this issue has been repeatedly raised with your office, to no effect. My friend in the blind community would like to know if you are relieved that blind people can't contact you to voice their frustration at your ongoing failure to deliver accessible television because of the inaccessible capture security challenge that you have on your website.

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: No, I would hope not. Have you anything more to add to the fact that this has been repeatedly raised with your office to no effect?

Senator Fifield: I will check on that.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: How familiar are you with your website?

Senator Fifield: I don't visit my own website frequently.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Are you aware that it contains below the capture portion a reference to your accessibility policy?

Senator Fifield: As I say, I don't visit my website frequently.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Are you aware of the content of that accessibility policy?

Senator Fifield: I'll take that on notice.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Let me take a moment now to enlighten you as to the content of the policy on your own website. You are the minister with responsibility for the NBN; that hasn't changed since we last spoke, has it?

Senator Fifield: I'll take that as a rhetorical question.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Good. I will quote directly. It reads:

We are committed to making this website fully accessible to the public, including people with disabilities. In order to achieve this we endeavour to keep the site at the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 Conformance Level "A" rating for accessibility, meaning that all Priority 1 checkpoints are satisfied. Documents which are sometimes displayed on the site in PDF format alone are able to be obtained in more accessible formats by requesting these from us. Please contact us if you have problems locating suitable formats.

Are you aware that the use of only one type of capture and generally capture as a form on its own is utterly in breach of the WCAG?

Senator Fifield: I'll take that on notice.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: From this interaction, can I take it that, at some point soon, members of the blind community will be able to contact you via your website?

Senator Fifield: I have two websites. I have a ministerial website and an electorate office website. At your invitation, I will take a look at both of those.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Would you also extend that invitation to your ministerial colleagues? A lot of folks are unable to talk to you in this way, as is their democratic right. They pay our salaries, after all.

Senator Fifield: I'm happy to convey that to my colleagues.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Wonderful. That is, as they say, a start. We'll move on. I note that the Audio Description Working Group report has finally been released publicly today and I have a couple of questions in relation to the public statement that accompanied that release. Are you familiar with that report and its release today?

Senator Fifield: Yes.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: How much consultation is further needed, given that there have been two trials and a working group report that provides three clear pathways for the government to utilise audio description on Australian television?

Senator Fifield: I think the process of the working group was a good and a positive one. We have now released the results of that working group and I think it's appropriate that there be the opportunity for further discussions on that.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Have you got any ideas as to the level of further discussion that is needed?

Senator Fifield: I think it's appropriate that there's further discussion.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: The accompanying statement refers to further policy work. What exactly is the further policy work that the government is taking to address this clear example of ongoing disability-based discrimination?

Senator Fifield: I'll ask the officers who have been most closely involved with this project to contribute.

Mr Mrdak : I'll ask Ms Williams and Ms Silleri to give you an update on the next steps and the work involved in the next steps.

Ms Silleri : Thanks for the question. As you've noted, the report was released yesterday and the accompanying statement does reference further policy work to be undertaken. The nature of that policy work will be discussions with a number of key parties around what developments have occurred since the report has been released. There have been a number of consultations, not involving the government and not involving the department, between the various parties involved in the working group which have significantly advanced the options available. We're going to encourage further conversations along those lines, also working with the department about what is the pathway where we can take this audio description work to the next level. We've gone through a process where we've had a significant learning from all involvedparticularly industry, I might addand the amount of innovative solutions that has come forward and the development in that space have been very encouraging. We're trying to keep that moving and we will be doing that in the very near future.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I find this kind of language quite concerning, Minister. This has been a two decades long campaign by the blind and vision impaired community. This is a community which comprises 450,000 Australians. There has been now this working group process in addition to two quite extensive trials and we are still talking about further policy work that can be done, when we are the only country in the OECD which does not provide this capability to its citizens. I have had sent to me a statement by Blind Citizens Australia and, quite frankly, they are furious with the outcome of this report. There is no firm commitment to audiovisual description and no firm time line for its implementation. So I would like you to be a little more specific about the further policy work that needs to be done before we can have progress in this area. I would remind you all that this is a large cohort of our population which is currently prevented from enjoying the cultural activity that is shared with their friends and colleaguesthe experience of televisionas is their right as Australian citizens and human beings. So can we please have a little more detail?

Senator Fifield: The work that has been produced doesn't, for example, lay out costs, implementation pathways, detail of legislation or regulation that might be needed to give effect to options, nor would you expect that the working group would produce that information. But they are the sorts of things that need to be tested.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Do you have a time line for finding out any of that information, or are these just kinds of thoughts off the top of your head? I mean, come on!

Senator Fifield: They're just

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Observations?

Senator Fifield: They're just facts. They are just facts; they are things that need to be looked at before this can be put

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Did they occur to you right this minute? If these facts occurred to you, Minister, having considered the content of this working group before, which I presume you would have read before nine o'clock this morning, I'm a little baffled as to why there isn't a clear time line for the discovery of that information.

Senator Fifield: That's work that will be undertaken.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Can you give me any indication as to the time line for that?

Senator Fifield: I wouldn't want to give you a particular date at this stage.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: So, to the 450,000 Australians who require this service and could access it in any of the other 26 OECD nations, your answer is, 'I'm not too sure; we'll still have to keep doing a bit of work.'

Senator Fifield: Senator, I'll take that as an editorial comment on your part.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: How would you respond to that constituency presently?

Senator Fifield: I have answered your question.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: They're probably pretty interested in this exchange. This is your opportunity to talk to them. What would your response be? What kind of confidence can you give them that this work will continue moving forward?

Senator Fifield: I have indicated that it will.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: It will. All right; let's move on. Until the recent reallocation of NRS funding, the service provided an outreach to ensure that users had training and ongoing support that they needed to be able to engage with the broader community. Given that the government appears to be prioritising the transition to mainstream technologies as a way to curtail NRS usage, what training, support and ongoing maintenance will be available to guarantee that anyone who transitions away from the NRS usage will have the support that they need to benefit from the mainstream technologies?

Ms Silleri : For the National Relay Service, you're correct: we have transitioned funds away from the outreach function, primarily because the outreach function wasn't reaching as many people as we hoped it would reach and it wasn't performing the functions that we had expected of it.

In terms of transitioning people to mainstream technology, there's no intention to transition people except where it is clearly a preferred option for them. What the department is doing is taking some of those outreach funds and using them ourselves to take on the role of information dissemination about the National Relay Service, and, more importantly, about broader communications options that are available for people with disability. We are looking at a range of training programs to understand the needs for peoplewhat is not known about how to use mainstream devices and technology in the way that the NRS may be used at the moment, what is available to people in various parts of the country and what their needs are in terms of understanding how to get the most out of the technology.

There are a range of programs that we will be undertaking. A key precursor to that work was the passing of a regulation which occurred a couple of weeks ago, which enabled us to be able to provide outreach and education about communications options other than the NRS for people who may prefer mainstream technologies.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: You're moving from training people in the taking and making of NRS calls to exploring information? I'm not really sure how to summarise it.

Ms Silleri : It's exploring what are people's needs in using mainstream technology, what are the information gaps, what are the knowledge gaps, and how we can best fill those. We will be undertaking a series of programs around that work.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Is there a timeline for these programs?

Ms Silleri : We need the regulation to be tabled, which I think is scheduled for around 30 June-mid July. Once that occurs we will be able to commence, and we will be commencing immediately.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: You mentioned at the beginning of your contribution that the NRS had not been meeting certain targets which you expected.

Ms Silleri : The outreach aspect. The NRS is comprised currently of two componentsthe relay service and the outreach component. With the outreach, and with the numbers of people that were being contacted via training, the sorts of activities were very much focused on past and old technologies like the TTY, which we acknowledge is still an important component for people, but we wanted to make sure that we were broadening the aspect of communications options for people with disability.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Can you give me some percentages around that?

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

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I would like to get more of a detailed understanding of what matrix you used to come to the understanding that you needed to shift the funding in the way that it has been.

Ms Silleri : I am happy to do that.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Thank you very much. I'll move to my second, and last, question. One of the key functions of the recently curtailed NRS outreach service was raising community awareness. This included NRS awareness training for call centre organisations in order to limit the number of NRS call refusals. Without the ongoing critical aspect of the NRS awareness programs, how does the government intend to ensure that essential services and businesses will know how to receive and make NRS calls?

Ms Silleri : As I mentioned in my previous response, we will be undertaking outreach activities within the department. We'll be pursuing a variety of means to make sure that all of those who have access to either receiving calls or making calls to the NRS have access to information about how to do it. We will also be broadening the reach so that it's not just about the NRS; it's about how to make all services more accessible via communications with people with a speech or hearing impairment.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I'll leave it there for now. Thanks, Chair.

CHAIR: Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: Minister, the media release you published on budget night is entitled 'Strengthening Australia's connectivity, creativity and cultural heritage'. How does cutting $83.7 million from the ABC's budget strengthen Australia's connectivity, creativity and cultural heritage?

Senator Fifield: There were a number of elements to that media release. One was the location incentive which we announced, which was effectively an increase in the location offset for overseas film investment in Australia to 30 per cent. So that's good for creativity. We also announced an increase in funding for the SBS, which was to replace the savings taken in anticipation of the passage of the SBS advertising flexibility legislation, which didn't transpire, so we sought to replace that funding.

In relation to the ABC, we did announce an indexation pause for the funding in the ABC's next triennium. As I canvassed with Senator Keneally before, that was paired with an efficiency review to assist the ABC to be the best steward it can be of taxpayer dollars. I don't think seeking a Commonwealth agency to be the best steward it can be of taxpayer dollars is in any way at odds with strengthening connectivity, creativity and cultural heritage.

Senator URQUHART: Doesn't cutting the ABC's budget weaken Australia's connectivity, creativity and cultural heritage, given the reach-out that the ABC has?

Senator Fifield: All Commonwealth agencies need to work within budgets, and that's the expectation for the ABC. The ABC will still receive in excess of a billion dollars a year, and is well resourced to fulfil its charter obligations.

Senator URQUHART: Minister, the budget cuts to the ABC were referred to as 'payback' by Judith Sloan, and Andrew Bolt said that it is now 'open war' between the government and the ABC. Do you still maintain that these cuts are about efficiency? Do you think that people actually buy that?

Senator Fifield: Yes to your first question. In answer to your second question, it's up to each individual to form their own judgements.

Senator URQUHART: Why do you think that commentators are referring to the government's actions in relation to the ABC as 'payback', 'open war' and 'the biggest assault on the ABC in decades'? Those are extraordinary statements for commentators to make.

Senator Fifield: Commentators are in the business of endeavouring to ensure that people pay attention to what they say and write. That's the only comment that I can make about commentators.

Senator URQUHART: Are you ever going to be honest with the Australian people about your intentions for public broadcasting in Australia, or will you keep hiding behind the cover of efficiencies while you try to undermine the ABC and SBS?

Senator Fifield: I don't believe we're doing what you suggested, and we are being straightforward.

Senator URQUHART: Minister, why has the government pre-empted its own efficiency review by cutting $83.7 million from the ABC ahead of that review?

Senator Fifield: That's not actually the case, Senator, because the indexation pause relates to the next triennium. The next triennium doesn't start for a year.

Senator URQUHART: Why don't you wait until after that review has been conducted before you decide whether any savings can be made?

Senator Fifield: That work will be one of the inputs into the discussions which are held in the lead-up to the next triennium. That work will assist the ABC to undertake their activities within the budget that the parliament appropriates for them.

Senator URQUHART: What makes you so confident that further back-office efficiencies can now be found?

Senator Fifield: It's four years since the last efficiency review was undertaken.

Senator URQUHART: So you measure it on a year time scale, not looking deeper into why?

Senator Fifield: As I was just going to say, in discussion with Senator Keneally earlier I indicated that as the last efficiency review was four years ago, that is an eternity when it comes to media organisations in today's environment. Again, as I said to Senator Keneally, I've yet to find a Commonwealth government agency that has achieved perfection.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me why you are confident that further back-office efficiencies can now be found? What makes you so confident that they're there? The ABC is saying they're not.

Senator Fifield: Part of the purpose of the efficiency review is to examine the options and the possibilities.

Senator URQUHART: You've already announced that there will be an efficiency review.

Senator Fifield: We have.

Senator URQUHART: So you're not confident that there will be any?

Senator Fifield: I am confident that there will be efficiencies.

Senator URQUHART: What makes you confident? Just because you've announced a review?

Senator Fifield: I'm confident because all Commonwealth government agencies have the capacity to continually improve.

Senator KENEALLY: Why do you have a review then? Just have a talk.

Senator Fifield: I think a review is good practice periodically.

Senator URQUHART: I am not arguing about having a review being good practice. But you have announced $83.7 million in cuts to the ABC and you are doing it on the whim of, 'Oh well, we'll have a review and it might show something.' You haven't given me any confidence that you can assure us, or the Australian public, that there are further back-office efficiencies that can be found.

Senator Fifield: Senator, let me endeavour to give you confidence. The $83.7 million represents, I think, 2.6 per cent of the ABC's budget. So that's 2.6c in each dollar. I'm confident that the ABC can find efficiencies of 2.6c in each dollar.

Senator URQUHART: But your confidence doesn't give me confidence, Minister.

Senator Fifield: That might just be a case of 'twas ever thus'.

Senator URQUHART: You haven't convinced me

Senator Fifield: That might just be a case of 'twas ever thus', Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: You haven't convinced me at all that you're confident that those efficiencies can be found.

Senator Fifield: I always want to work harder to earn your confidence, Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: So you work harder. That's how you get ahead: you work harder.

Senator Fifield: I have failed today

Senator URQUHART: Like your colleagues, you just have to work harder.

Senator Fifield: but I'm not going to give up.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know what proportion of the ABC's budget goes on overheads? Is it less than 10 per cent, eight per cent or four per cent?

Senator Fifield: These are matters that we can canvass with the ABC this afternoon.

Senator URQUHART: I'm asking you. You're the minister responsible.

Senator Fifield: These are matters that are appropriately directed when we have the ABC before us.

Senator URQUHART: How low would you like the ABC's overheads, the back-of-house expenses, to be?

Senator Fifield: I'm not pre-empting the work of

Senator URQUHART: Well, you are. You've cut $83.7 million out of them.

CHAIR: Please allow the minister to finish his answer, Senator Urquhart. I'd like him to finish his answer before you ask him the next question.

Senator Fifield: This was starting to slightly resemble an interview with Jon Faine, Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: I'm flattered.

Senator Fifield: In terms of the number of words that can be got out. I'm not looking to pre-empt the work or the findings of the efficiency review.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know how much of the ABC's budget goes on overheads?

Senator Fifield: These are questions appropriate for when we have the ABC before us.

Senator URQUHART: So you don't know.

Senator Fifield: I'm not going through here each element of the ABC's internal budget.

CHAIR: The ABC are here at 7.35 pm, as discussed earlier.

Senator URQUHART: I know that, Chair. So Minister you don't know, or you won't tell me, what amount of the ABC's budget goes on overheads. How do you know whether $83.7 million is an appropriate saving to be made? How do you work that out?

Senator Fifield: It is a decision of government in the context of the budget to pause the ABC's indexation in the next triennium.

Senator URQUHART: So it's a budget decision, rather than looking at what the ABC can do?

Senator Fifield: It is a decision that was taken in the context of the budget. Also, a decision taken in the context of the budget was to pair that with an efficiency review.

Senator URQUHART: What if the efficiency review finds that the ABC can't find savings without cuts to jobs, content or services? Will you reverse the indexation freeze?

Senator Fifield: The government has made a decision in relation to the pause in ABC indexation. I am not going to pre-empt the work of the efficiency review before it has been undertaken.

Senator URQUHART: What if the efficiency review finds that the ABC is not sufficiently funded? Will you reverse that freeze?

Senator Fifield: I think the ABC is appropriately funded, with more than a billion dollars a year.

Senator URQUHART: But will you reverse it if you find that the ABC is not sufficiently funded?

CHAIR: It's a hypothetical.

Senator URQUHART: No, it's not. It's a question.

CHAIR: 'If you find', 'if this happens would you do'

Senator URQUHART: It's a question.

CHAIR: It's a hypothetical.

Senator Fifield: The government has taken its budget decisions.

Senator URQUHART: So if you find that the ABC is not sufficiently funded you won't reverse the indexation freeze? It has been done before.

Senator Fifield: You're hypothesising.

Senator URQUHART: What's the point of conducting the review if you've already prejudged the outcome? You're not going to reverse it, so what's the point?

Senator Fifield: The purpose of the efficiency review is to assist the ABC in determining how it can be the best possible steward of taxpayer dollars; how it can be more efficient.

Senator URQUHART: You've said, and you have just reiterated, that it is to help the ABC find savings. Is this over and above the $38.7 million that you have already decided to cut? Are you planning further cuts?

Senator Fifield: We have the triennium process, which will be undertaken in the next budget cycle.

Senator URQUHART: So what is the efficiency review really trying to achieve?

Senator Fifield: It's trying to achieve what I said.

Senator URQUHART: What you said? In a recent interview with Patricia Karvelas you stated that it is appropriate for the efficiency review to look at whether the ABC and SBS should work more closely together to share resources. What level of service is appropriate for the two broadcasters?

Senator Fifield: What do you mean when you say, 'what level of service'?

Senator URQUHART: To share.

Senator Fifield: What level of service to share?

Senator URQUHART: You said that they should work more closely together to share resources. What services are appropriate for those two broadcasters to share?

Senator Fifield: The ABC and SBS are both public broadcasters. I was asked by Ms Karvelas if I thought that the public broadcasters should work more closely together, or whether the efficiency review might traverse those issues. I said that I thought that it would be appropriate if it did.

Senator URQUHART: We know that the ABC and SBS already share some transmission contracts, but that's a part of a trend in broadcasting more generally. Otherwise there's not much back-of-house sharing, is there, amongst other broadcasters?

Senator Fifield: That's something that the efficiency review will examine.

Senator URQUHART: So how far do you think service sharing can go, when the ABC and SBS are so distinct that they have different models and charters? What sort of things do you think they could share? Share legal teams? Share finance teams? Share HR? Share property? How far would it go, and what would that look like?

Senator Fifield: The efficiency review haven't undertaken their work.

Senator URQUHART: So you don't know. You've made that statement in an interview, but you have no idea what it means?

Senator Fifield: I know exactly what I said and what it means, and that is that I think it's appropriate for the efficiency review to see if the public broadcasters can or should work more closely.

Senator URQUHART: But how far? What would that look like? You must have some idea. You've raised the issue. What does it look like? How far would you be prepared to push that?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It sounds like job losses to me.

Senator Fifield: What I said is that the efficiency review would be appropriate to examine this area.

Senator URQUHART: Is the efficiency review actually an early scoping study on how to get started on an eventual merger between the ABC and SBS?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator URQUHART: That was pretty definite. When will the terms of reference for the efficiency review be released?

Senator Fifield: Very soon.

Senator URQUHART: What's 'very soon', Minister? What's your definition of that? Within a week? Within a month?

Senator Fifield: It would be within weeks.

Senator URQUHART: Within weeks?

Senator Fifield: No more than that.

Senator URQUHART: Will the efficiency review be conducted in accordance with best practice?

Senator Fifield: I'm sure that's the objective.

Senator URQUHART: What will the methodology be?

Senator Fifield: We will release the terms of reference.

Senator URQUHART: Will it be conducted by a credible firm?

Senator Fifield: When we release the terms of reference we'll indicate how it will be conducted.

Senator URQUHART: What will it cost?

Senator Fifield: It will be done within existing departmental resources.

Senator URQUHART: What will that cost be?

Senator Fifield: If officers are able to add to it, they're welcome to. But it will be done within the department's existing resources. But if Mr Mrdak would like to add, he's welcome to.

Mr Mrdak : We anticipate it being managed out of the existing team that's managing the competitive neutrality review. Depending on government decisions on who is appointed to undertake the review, the independent reviewers, that will be the additional cost item. We haven't yet set a budget for that. It will likely depend on further government decisions by the minister and the government in relation to who the reviewers are.

Senator URQUHART: That budget has to come out of the department's budget; is that correct?

Mr Mrdak : Yes. The cost of supporting the review and who the reviewers are will be met by the department's budget.

Senator URQUHART: Does that mean that the department will lose staff as a result of that? Does the department have excess funds around to employ a credible firm to do the review?

Mr Mrdak : The department has a budget which is set out in the forward appropriation for the department. We will have to fund that from our existing supply budget. The department staff to work on this will be taking this on as additional work to what they have already got underway.

Senator URQUHART: How long will the efficiency review have to report? What will be the timetable?

Mr Mrdak : We envisage the advice being available to government to inform the mid-year economic review. We anticipate this work will be completed by around September/October this year.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you. Minister, do you acknowledge that the ABC operates within a highly competitive global media market?

Senator Fifield: In the global media market there are options available to consumers, as there are domestically.

Senator URQUHART: But do you acknowledge that that is the market they operate in? It's highly competitive. It's global.

Senator Fifield: The ABC's prime audience and charter relate to Australia.

Senator URQUHART: Do you acknowledge that the ABC faces rising costs, that the cost of producing content is increasing, for example?

Senator Fifield: Some elements of what happens in media organisations are increasing in cost; other elements are decreasing in cost. If you want to go into detail about those elements it's best to do so when ABC are before the committee.

Senator URQUHART: So some costs are increasing?

Senator Fifield: Certainly some costs are increasing, but some costs will be decreasing. Where the ABC has an advantage over every other media organisation in the country is that it has greater revenue certainty than any other media organisation in the country.

Senator URQUHART: But if costs are increasing, and you say that there are some, do you then agree that the rising costs act as an inbuilt efficiency mechanism for the ABC?

Senator Fifield: Hopefully, the ABC will always, just as a matter of good practice, look to be more efficient. But it's a fact that with the revenues of commercial media organisations declining, that creates an imperative for them to be more efficient. The ABC have a level of funding certainty that commercial media organisations don't, so there are probably different dynamics and different imperatives as a result of that difference in revenue certainty between the ABC and commercial media.

Senator URQUHART: How will the ABC continue to produce the quality content that Australians expect if they are facing hyperinflation and budget cuts?

Senator Fifield: The ABC will continue to be well supported to the tune of more than a billion dollars a year.

Senator URQUHART: What incentive is there for the ABC to find efficiencies to meet rising costs if the government keeps cutting its budget?

Senator Fifield: The ABC should be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.

Senator URQUHART: I don't think anyone's arguing that. But they are continually being cut. How do they keep finding those efficiencies when costs are rising, and their budget is continually being cut?

Senator Fifield: The ABC has greater funding certainty than any other media organisation in the country.

Senator URQUHART: Should any savings that the ABC identifies be returned to government or re-invested into content and services and technologies to keep pace with the market?

Senator Fifield: The ABC is capable of both doing what has been asked by way of a pause on indexation, identifying savings, as it has demonstrated in the past separate to that, and investing those in content. Mr Scott did that in the creation of ABC 24. He identified internal savings which were invested in ABC 24. Ms Guthrie has identified savings by reducing the number of people in middle management to free up resources for a content fund. So the ABC has demonstrated that it can both identify savings to invest in content and find efficiencies to meet the funding envelope that government provides.

Senator URQUHART: Minister, what have the $83.7 million in ABC savings been applied to over the forward estimates?

Senator Fifield: All portfolios, in the context of the budget government-wide, produce savings. Then government, as a corporate entity, makes expenditure decisions across government, and those balance out.

Senator URQUHART: So what have these funds been earmarked for? Are they funding the eSafety Commissioner, Ausfilm or the Captain Cook statue? Have they been earmarked for anything?

Senator Fifield: I guess the most straightforward way to put it would be that the funding could equally be seen to be going towards savings which help the overall government budget bottom line; equally, they could be seen to be going towards other activities in the communications portfolio.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Minister, in August last year the leader of One Nation, Pauline Hanson, put a very clear and public request on the line that she wanted the government to cut funding to the ABC. I'll just read her quote to you of which she reiterated on the Andrew Bolt show:

Andrew, I'd whack quite a bit of money off it, hundreds of millions if I possibly could but you know what, I'm going to wait till next year with the budget and I'll talk to the treasurer about that.

That was in August last year. Now, in this budget, you have 'whacked money off' the ABC. Is it as much as Pauline Hanson, the leader of One Nation, asked for, or is it just step 1 in the budget cuts that One Nation has requested?

Senator Fifield: The One Nation party did not seek savings.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It's on the public record.

Senator Fifield: This is a little Jon Faine-like again. The One Nation party did not seek savings in relation to the ABC as part of the media reform arrangements, Senator. Obviously, One Nation have their own views about ABC resourcing, but they weren't part of media reform discussions or agreements reached.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you're saying that Senator Pauline Hanson lied?

Senator Fifield: No. Obviously I'm not a commentator on my colleagues. But any colleague is entitled to have a view and express it in relation to ABC resourcing. Some Senate colleagues think the ABC should be funded less; some Senate colleagues think that the ABC should be funded more. But the government makes its own decisions.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I am putting to you what she has said on the public record, and that is, that she will talk to the Treasurer about ABC budget cuts come the next budget. The next budget has come. Cuts have occurred. You are saying it's simply a matter of coincidence, that Pauline Hanson asked for it, you've now done it, but there were no discussions?

Senator Fifield: The government makes its own decisions in relation to resourcing for the ABC.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It sounds like a pretty convenient coincidence. Can you confirm whether One Nation requested budget cuts to the ABC in any discussions with the Treasurer?

Senator Fifield: I don't know if there were any discussions with the Treasurer.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have there been any conversations with Senator Hanson at any point with you or your office about funding cuts to the ABC?

Senator Fifield: Senator, it's not a proposition that One Nation has put forward to me and my portfolio.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So they're just negotiating via TV interviews, are they?

Senator Fifield: I made it clear in discussions around media reform that ABC resourcing wasn't part of that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has Pauline Hanson congratulated you for cutting funding to the ABC?

Senator Fifield: No, Senator.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could I go to the issue of the efficiency review? You've answered a number of questions from Senator Urquhart. What is the date that that review is meant to be completed?

Senator Fifield: I think September is the target.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The target. How does that line up with the date in relation to the competitive neutrality review?

Senator Fifield: I'll just seek a prompt from Mr Eccles about that.

Mr Mrdak : Senator, it aligns with the completion of the competitive neutrality review. The intention is that both processes will conclude around that late September-October period.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Minister, why did you feel at this point in time that it was important to have an efficiency review of the ABC while already conducting the competitive neutrality review?

Senator Fifield: They have two separate purposes. The competitive neutrality review is to look at whether the ABC and SBS use their position as taxpayer funded entities to compete fairly with commercial broadcasters; and the efficiency review is intended to see that the ABC is being the best steward of taxpayer resources. They are two separate exercises, but it's not inappropriate that they happen in parallel.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Will there be public submissions?

Senator Fifield: There is the opportunity for submissions to the competitive neutrality inquiry. In terms of the efficiency review, we will make the terms of reference public. Who the reviewers choose to consult with we'll leave as a matter for them.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Will you allow any further cuts to the ABC?

Senator Fifield: The ABC's funding is undertaken on a triennium basis, and there will be discussions in the context of the next budget in the lead-up to the next triennium.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you won't rule out less funding for the ABC?

Senator Fifield: Senator, what you are asking me to do is to engage in budget speculation.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm asking for certainty for our public broadcaster.

Senator Fifield: You're asking me to engage in budget speculation. That's not something any minister does. What I can do is point you to what was in the budget that has just been handed down in terms of the indexation pause for the next triennium. That is the only decision that has been taken in relation to ABC funding.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Over the last five years your government has cut $337.7 million from the ABC. Do you agree with that figure?

Senator Fifield: I would have to check your number, Senator.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you remember when the former leader of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, said there would be no cuts to the ABC? Do you remember that statement?

Senator Fifield: I do, Senator.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It seems that that was a lie.

Senator Fifield: What occurred after 2013 is a matter of record. There was an efficiency review that identified savings that could be realised without affecting content.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That's not the view of the ABC, is it? This has affected their ability to do their job.

Senator Fifield: I think, just harking back, Mr Scott indicated that thoseI think we can refer to them as the Lewis review efficiencieswere able to be effected without compromising content.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In relation to the competitive neutrality review, did the government rule out forcing viewers to pay to access content on iview and SBS On Demand?

Senator Fifield: Senator, I don't have those things in contemplation, but I can't tell you what the

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Surely it's a principle for the government to have an opinion on, whether you support charging the public to view content online of the ABC or SBS. Yes or no?

Senator Fifield: Let me explain. It's not something that's in the government's contemplation. Part of the reason for that is that the ABC and SBS have operational independence, so they're not matters for us as the executive government. In terms of what the competitive neutrality review might find or recommend, I can't tell you. What they might come forward with will be an assessment of the lay of the land. They'll make observations and we will see what it is that they produce.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Will you protect the Australian people from having to pay for streaming services of ABC and SBS?

Senator Fifield: The ABC and SBS have legislated independence.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you won't confirm that your government will protect the Australian people from having to pay to access ABC or SBS streaming services?

Senator Fifield: What I'm saying is that the ABC has legislated independence, so I can't direct the public broadcasters as to what they may or may not do operationally.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But you are bringing in legislation, Minister, to force the ABC and SBS to say how much they pay their staff. You're bringing in legislation to change or tweak the charter. It's a little bit laughable to sit here and say you don't have a role. I'm asking whether the government will protect the Australian people from having to pay to access streaming services from their public broadcasters.

Senator Fifield: Let me put it this way: I am not aware that anyone is suggesting that those services be

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you read the submissions to the

Senator Fifield: paid for.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: competitive neutrality review?

Senator Fifield: Senator, if there is something that is relevant in those I'm sure you'll feel free to share it. The proposition that those particular services be paid for by consumers isn't something that I have detected that there is a groundswell around. As I say, the greatest protection for consumers of the ABC and SBS is the fact that they have legislated independence.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you think it would be right for the Australian public to have to pay for access to streaming services on ABC and SBS in addition to the taxes they already pay to fund these services?

Senator Fifield: I am not suggesting that they should.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you'll rule out any government push for a paywall on iview or SBS On Demand?

Senator Fifield: It's not something that's in the government's contemplation. It's something that is wholly within the operational independence of the public broadcasters.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can I ask about the Captain Cook commemorations, please? Can the minister tell me how many plaques, statues or commemorations of Captain Cook already exist in Australia?

Senator Fifield: I don't know, Senator. I would doubt that officers at the table would know.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If you're going to spend 48.7it's nearly $50 millionon commemorating Captain Cook surely you would have checked to see whether there was enough of that already around?

Senator Fifield: Enough of whatsorry, Senator?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Statutes, plaques, commemorations

Senator Fifield: It's not a

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It seems like an awful lot of money.

Senator Fifield: There are a number of developments to that particular announcement, which I am happy for officers to go through.

Mr Eccles : There are multiple parts to the broader package, including funding for the Maritime Museum, the National Library, the National Museum and AIATSIS in addition to the funding that has been set aside for the

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The statue.

Mr Eccles : The statue, the facilitythe statue facility at Kurnell.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How much is being spent on the statue?

Mr Eccles : I wouldn't characterise it as 'just a statue'. Details of that would need to be referred to the department of the environment that would be administering that funding. My understanding is that $25 million has been set aside for that. It is a proposal that is being developed in conjunction with the people at La Perouse. And it is a facility as well as a statue.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could the government tell me on which Indigenous nation's land this statue will be placed?

Mr Eccles : Can you ask the question again?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Which Indigenous nationthe name of the Indigenous nation on whose land this statue will be placed?

Mr Eccles : The location?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes.

Mr Eccles : It will be on the land at La Perouse, is my understanding.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is that the Indigenous nation's name?

Senator Fifield: This portfolio doesn't have carriage of that particular project.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But we're funding it. It could possibly be funded out of the cuts from the ABC, obviously?

Senator Fifield: That funding is being provided to the department of the environment.

Mr Mrdak : It is part of the Kamay Botany Bay National Park master plan, which has been developed by the New South Wales government. They have developed a meeting place-precinct at Kurnell. This has been developed following wide community consultation with Indigenous and other community

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But you can't tell me the name of the indigenous nation. We're spending $15 million on a statue commemorating Captain Cook and you can't tell me the name of the Indigenous nation on whose land the statue is going to be placed?

Mr Mrdak : It's not a statue in that sense. It's a master plan for a precinct in that Kurnell area, which includes a visitor centre, walking tracks and intensive rejuvenation of natural vegetation. I will happily take on notice the Indigenous groups that have been involved, but it is more than just one. It is a series of Indigenous groups in that Kurnell, La Perouse, Botany Bay precinct.

CHAIR: We will have to break here. The committee will suspend and we will continue with the general department at 10.45 or thereabouts.

Proceedings suspended from 10:32 to 10 : 48

CHAIR: We will resume. Senator Urquhart, would you like to start the questioning?

Senator URQUHART: Thank you very much. Mr Mrdak, I will direct a few questions to you in the next session. The pause on indexation of the ABC's budget is mentioned in Budget Paper No. 2 this year; however, that saving doesn't appear in Budget Paper No. 2. On page 79 of Budget Paper 2 there is no change in ABC funding from this measure. Can you tell me why that is? Was it already taken? If so, when?

Mr Eccles : What page, Senator?

Senator URQUHART: Page 79.

Mr Eccles : Page 79 of Budget Paper 2?

Senator URQUHART: Yes.

Mr Eccles : That is because the funding was reflected in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Senator URQUHART: It was already taken off?

Mr Eccles : It was taken in the mid-year, yes.

Senator URQUHART: Mr Mrdak, what is the profile of the ABC's saving over the three years? What are the exact amounts to be saved by pausing indexation each year over three years from 2019-20?

Mr Mrdak : The figures are reducing funding in accordance with the indexation. I should say that this doesn't include indexation for transmission funding, which is excluded, given there are fixed contracts in place. The profile of the measures is $14.6 million in 2019-20, $27.8 million in 2020-21 and $41.3 million in 2021-22.

Senator URQUHART: What information has the department supplied to the minister to inform his view on the cut to the ABC's funding?

Mr Mrdak : As the minister has outlined, these were measures taken in the budget. We provided advice on the amounts that would be involved.

Senator URQUHART: Those are the amounts you've just read out?

Mr Mrdak : The amounts that would be involved in the indexation pause, and we provided advice in relation to how that would apply over the forward estimates. As I said it also included the fact that transmission funding was being excluded. We provide advice on the nature of the indexation pause available and the financial impacts.

Senator URQUHART: Has the department undertaken any internal comparative research on funding for public broadcasters in comparable jurisdictions to assess whether the level of funding for the ABC is appropriate?

Mr Mrdak : No.

Senator URQUHART: Chair, that's all I have in that section.

CHAIR: Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: I want to ask questions about the department's implementation of the Australian government guidelines on the recognition of sex and gender. These guidelines came into play in 2013 and were meant to be implemented by 2016.

Mr Mrdak : We meet the requirements of the Australian government guidelines on the recognition of sex and gender. I'll ask Ms Talbot, our chief operating officer, to give you some information in relation to how we go about meeting those.

Ms Talbot : As Mr Mrdak has pointed out, we have implemented the guidelines. When people are applying for our recruitment processes, and also our personnel records through our human resource information and management system, they enable people to identify as 'male', 'female', 'indeterminate' or 'prefer not to specify' which meets the guideline requirements.

Senator RICE: Did the department undertake the full policy review of all of the legislative, regulatory and policy requirements relating to the collection of that information regarding sex and gender?

Ms Talbot : The department does collect and maintain sex and gender disaggregated data via our human resource management and information system. We do monitor equality of our workforce, basically to inform development of people management policies and strategies, particularly surrounding diversity inclusion.

Senator RICE: There's clear and accessible information for people as to how to go about changing their personnel records as well?

Ms Talbot : There is. In fact we have guidance for our staff on our service portal on how they can actually amend their personnel record. That information is there to enable staff to do that.

Senator RICE: Is the department responsible for any outward-facing contact on collecting people's information, with the community?

Ms Talbot : I would have to

Mr Mrdak : I don't believe so. We certainly assist our portfolio agencies in relation to their requirements, but I don't believe we have any outward communication role.

Senator RICE: What is your interaction with the agencies that fall within the department as to whether they are also compliant?

Mr Mrdak : Where they seek our assistance, Ms Talbot and her team can assist them in relation to ensuring their compliance with the guidelines.

Senator RICE: Do you track whether they are compliant?

Ms Talbot : I haven't actually done any tracking. When there are changes to guidelines or whole-of-government arrangements, we generally advise our portfolio agencies, and provide that information to them. I wasn't in the department when these probably came out; I am not sure whether that

Senator RICE: This is part of the issue. I have been asking about the sex and gender guidelines of the Attorney-General's Department for the last couple of estimates; they have the processes and the skill, and they are a bit non-specific about how many departments are compliant. They are still working on collecting that information. I will ask them again this week how that's going. But it seems we've got the same situation for agencies that fall within departmentsthat there's no-one in fact that's tracking whether the agencies are actually compliant. Would that be something that you feel the department should do in order to make sure that the agencies that fall within your department are compliant?

Mr Mrdak : In my experience the agencies are compliant on all the guidelines and requirements. I'd be surprised if they're not. We can certainly ask the question as a follow-up to today and come back to you. But I would be very surprised if they also haven't met all the requirements. My general sense is that, as these guidelines change, the agencies also follow the requirements and make the necessary changes. But we can take on notice whether there is anything. We work on the basis that they are compliant.

Senator RICE: Certainly, in the questions I have been asking so far, there is often a difference between their HR complianceinternally, departments are compliantand in how they face outward and engage with members of the community, and information that's collected about community members is considered differently.

Mr Mrdak : We can certainly look at that and come back to you if there is anything further we can add to that.

Ms Talbot : Further on that, we have actually promoted the APS gender affirmation guide, which was developed by the Department of Health. We have been promoting that as part of our pride and diversity training. We also promoted it during the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. We have been doing consultation with both our pride and allies network and our gender equality network, particularly around gender inclusive language. I think that will assist us internally as well as in any external-facing work that we do in dealing with stakeholders.

Senator RICE: Terrific. In terms of your relationships and work that you do, are there any operations in the department where you work in partnership with state and territory agencies, to make sure that those operations are also compliant?

Mr Mrdak : No. Our work is largely with Commonwealth government and with portfolio agencies.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, how many times have you complained to the ABC about ABC programming over the last 12 months?

Senator Fifield: I couldn't tell you over the last 12 months. Probably, over the 2½ years that I've been minister, it would be about half-a-dozen occasions.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you take that on notice, please?

Senator Fifield: Certainly.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. What have you complained about? What matters did you complain about?

Senator Fifield: I think you'd be aware of the coverage by Ms Alberici in relation to

Senator KENEALLY: Which time are you referring to about Ms Alberici?

Senator Fifield: In relation to the company tax cut coverage. I havethis is a matter of recordraised the matter of Mr Ballard's program.

Senator KENEALLY: Can I stick with Ms Alberici for a moment. Did you also complain about a story she published on 7 May 2018 regarding innovation?

Senator Fifield: Yes, I did.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. Continue on; what are some other matters you complained about?

Senator Fifield: Mr Ballard's program, the use of language in relation to a candidate for the Batman by-election; also in relation to a former part-time ABC contributor who tweeted in relation to the Anzac Day before last.

Senator KENEALLY: Who was that?

Senator Fifield: Ms Magied.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you complain in January about the date of the Hottest 100?

Senator Fifield: I did.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you complain, either in March or April, about a black comedy sketch on the ABC Indigenous Facebook page?

Senator Fifield: Yes, I think that was in the same letter that contained the comments about Mr Ballard's program.

Senator KENEALLY: Would it be right to say that you averaged about one complaint a month this year?

Senator Fifield: I'd have to check the dates.

Senator KENEALLY: We've got January, the date of the Hottest 100; February, the Emma Alberici corporate tax articles; March, the sketch on the Tonightly with Tom Ballard show; March or April, the Black Comedy sketch on the ABC Indigenous Facebook page; and in May the Emma Alberici innovation story. Have I missed any?

Senator Fifield: I'll check for you. I'll take that on notice.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you make these complaints in writing, Minister?

Senator Fifield: I think some were in writing and some were verbal.

Senator KENEALLY: Would you be willing to table copies of those written complaints?

Senator Fifield: Certainly.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. Minister, what responses have you received from the ABC about these complaints?

Senator Fifield: It varies. On occasions the ABC agree; on other occasions the ABC don't.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, did the ABC's responses to your complaints inform your decision to cut the ABC's budget by $83.7 million in any way?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator KENEALLY: How many complaints about the ABC have you referred to the Australian Communications and Media Authority?

Senator Fifield: One, I believe.

Senator KENEALLY: Is that the Tonightly sketch?

Senator Fifield: That's correct.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you also refer the Black Comedy sketch on the ABC Indigenous Facebook page to ACMA?

Senator Fifield: I did. Part of the purpose was to highlight the fact that ABC online content isn't covered by the ABC code and ACMA's responsibility for looking at complaints.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you know when you made the complaint that ACMA doesn't have remit over Facebook content?

Senator Fifield: I did.

Senator KENEALLY: So you're saying you made that complaint to make a point?

Senator Fifield: Correct.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you think ACMA should have remit over Facebook content?

Senator Fifield: It's an interesting question, and one worth examining.

Senator KENEALLY: Does the government have any policies to expand ACMA's remit to include Facebook content?

Senator Fifield: Not at this point in time.

Senator KENEALLY: What about YouTube content?

Senator Fifield: We don't have any proposition for a change.

Senator KENEALLY: Twitter content?

Senator Fifield: We don't have a proposition for a change in relation to ACMA.

Senator KENEALLY: So you have a personal view that ACMA should have a remit for Facebook content?

Senator Fifield: It is interesting in the current examination of a multi-platform organisation.

Senator KENEALLY: Does the government have any work going onsay a task force or a consultation processto consider whether ACMA should expand its remit to social media?

Senator Fifield: We don't have anything in train.

Senator KENEALLY: So you made a complaint to an authority about content, which that authority doesn't have any regulatory remit or responsibility for, to make a point?

Senator Fifield: It's an interesting point.

Senator KENEALLY: What was the point? You're the minister for communications. What point were you trying to make?

Senator Fifield: I've answered your question.

Senator KENEALLY: I don't think you have. You said it made an interesting point. What's the interest?

Senator Fifield: That the ABC's code only applies to it in its capacity as a broadcaster but it doesn't apply in relation to other platforms when it comes to there being an independent watchdog.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you think it is important that somebody has remitperhaps ACMA, perhaps someone else? What are you doing as minister for communications to follow up on the point you have made?

Senator Fifield: It is a point that is worth being aware of: that the ABC is a multi-platform organisation, but that there's not an equivalence of treatment, depending on the platform upon which something appears.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you make that point in writing when you were making your complaint to ACMA? Did you acknowledge that they didn't have remit over the content you were complaining about?

Senator Fifield: I'll have to check the correspondence.

Senator KENEALLY: Because how else would they have known what point you were trying to make?

Senator Fifield: I'll have to check the correspondence.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you table copies of your complaints to ACMA?

Senator Fifield: Certainly. I'll take on notice the request.

Senator KENEALLY: You'll take on notice the request. What's the status of the complaints you made to ACMA about the ABC content, both the Ballard sketch and the Black Comedy sketch?

Senator Fifield: The ACMA has acknowledged my submission to them.

Senator KENEALLY: They've acknowledged itso in the same way that I write to a senator and I get an email back that says, 'I acknowledge that you've written to me'. But is there any substance to that response as of yet, or have you only had acknowledgment of receipt?

Senator Fifield: They've acknowledged it and said that they are looking at the Mr Ballard matter.

Senator KENEALLY: They have said they're looking at the Ballard matter. So they're considering your complaint, but they haven't responded yet?

Senator Fifield: Correct.

Senator KENEALLY: And what did they say about the Black Comedy sketch?

Senator Fifield: That they didn't have jurisdiction.

Senator KENEALLY: Did they take on board the point you were making?

Senator Fifield: ACMA's responsibility is to administer those things for which they have responsibility.

Senator KENEALLY: Who were you trying to make this point to?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Backbenchers, I would say.

CHAIR: Order!

Senator Fifield: Thank you, Chair. When, as minister, I raise matters with the ABC and with organisations such as ACMA, I fully expect that these will be matters in the public domain.

Senator KENEALLY: So you wanted the public to take note of this point?

Senator Fifield: I knew that they would end up being matters of public discussion.

Senator KENEALLY: What could the public do if they felt that there needed to be a body that considered Facebook content and regulated it? Could they, for example, write to the minister for communications?

Senator Fifield: I'm always happy to receive correspondence.

Senator KENEALLY: Were you trying to incite some sort of ground campaign to expand ACMA's remit; is that the point?

Senator Fifield: No. I think you're looking for

Senator KENEALLY: I'm trying to understand why the minister for communications

Senator Fifield: far deeper meaning in this.

Senator KENEALLY: would write to an agency complaining about content they don't have remit over. You said it was to make a point. I'm trying to understand who should have observed the point and what you would like them to do in response.

Senator Fifield: The point has been made and you've observed it.

Senator KENEALLY: It's also so we could have this exchange at estimates today.

Senator Fifield: I see myself as a content adviser.

Senator KENEALLY: You're certainly doing that today, Minister. I would welcome it if you could table your complaints. Also, could you table the ACMA responses? That would help us to generate debate in the community.

Senator Fifield: Certainly.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. Minister, I believe that your complaint to ACMA makes you the first minister for communications to refer a complaint about the ABC to the regulator since Minister Alston complained in 2004 about the Iraq war. That's a pretty significant step you've taken.

Senator Fifield: I don't think so. I've just taken the step that's available to any member of the community.

Senator KENEALLY: So it's a step you're prepared to continue to take, if necessary?

Senator Fifield: I'm not aware of any other matters that I've raised with the ABC where I'm not satisfied with the response. I can't say what might happen in the future.

Senator KENEALLY: You anticipate that the ACMA response to your complaints will be a public matter?

Senator Fifield: Indeed.

Senator KENEALLY: As they were with Senator Alston at the time; I look forward to finding out what their response is. Minister, in addition to consistently criticising the ABC about its programming decisions, it seems you also want to tell the ABC how to find its own budget efficiencies and what the ABC staff should be paid. You've also intervened in the ABC's enterprise agreement. Do you think perhaps you should just apply for the job of managing director at the ABC?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator KENEALLY: You seem to want to perform a number of the functions that are properly that of the managing director.

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you have confidence in Ms Guthrie?

Senator Fifield: I do.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you respect the independence of the ABC?

Senator Fifield: Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you tell us that you respect the independence of the ABC, Minister?

Senator Fifield: I did that earlier, but I am happy to again say that the government supports the independence of the ABC.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you, Minister. I take you back to the Emma Alberici article on innovation that you complained about in May. Did you complain to ACMA about that?

Senator Fifield: I haven't, because I have written to the ABC.

Senator KENEALLY: Has the ABC acknowledged that complaint?

Senator Fifield: I would have to check with my office.

Senator KENEALLY: Did the PMO also complain about that article?

Senator Fifield: I don't know.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, given that you have averaged about one complaint a month in 2018 alone, including two complaints about Ms Alberici, are you at risk of becoming a vexatious complainant to the ABC?

Senator Fifield: I'll take that as an editorial comment.

CHAIR: Shall we get back to the budget?

Senator KENEALLY: All right, Minister: I will leave that there for now.

Senator Fifield: Senator, this might help. My staff have helpfully advised that the ABC have acknowledged my letter about Ms Alberici and the innovation matter; and also that yes, the PMO did also lodge a matter with the ABC.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you very much.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the minister received the report from the content review?

Senator Fifield: The review is a process, and that process is continuing.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you got a report, Minister?

Senator Fifield: Yes; iterations have come to me, but it's not a concluded work.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: There's no final report?

Mr Eccles : Yes, our findings of the report were provided in late December 2017.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So there are some findings from a report?

Mr Eccles : From a process.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: From a process. It's starting to sound like a Utopia moment here. There are some findings from a report, from a process. Minister, when will they be released publicly and when will the government respond?

Senator Fifield: That work is an input to government. It's not a definitive piece of work; it's an input. What I will be doing, and have started to do, is to engage in some close consultations with stakeholders before any substantive proposition is formally considered by government.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Will you release that report and the findings at any point?

Senator Fifield: I'll take that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you don't have a position on whether that report will ever be released publicly?

Senator Fifield: I'll have to check with the form of it, if it has been prepared as a format for public release or

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You've had this report since December.

Senator Fifield: Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You've been sitting on it. Are you not happy with the findings?

Senator Fifield: It's not a matter of whether I'm happy or unhappy with the findings. It represents an input.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How much did the content review cost?

Senator Fifield: Again, I will be corrected by my officers, but it was undertaken within existing resources.

Mr Eccles : That's right. We had a small team within the department work on it, and we worked closely with Screen Australia and ACMA. So it was done within existing resources.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes. But surely there must be a cost associated with it, otherwise

Mr Eccles : We haven't assessed what that cost would be because there were people who were doing this as well as other duties. It would be difficult to understand exactly what the cost was, but I suspect that it would be in the order of one or two people for the best part of six to eight months, and associated travel.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Minister, last time I asked you about the content review you said it was imminent. That was back in estimates in October. You've had it since December. We're now at the end of May and you still can't tell me when we're going to see it.

Senator Fifield: The important thing is not the work of that process itself. The important thing will be the proposition that is considered by government and decided by government. That's not something that I want to do in a fashion that would surprise stakeholders. I'm keen that we try and approach this the way we did with media reform, where we were able to get stakeholders with disparate views to reach a common view as to what was for the benefit of the sector overall. That's what I'd like to try and achieve in this area.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you still committed to quotas in relation to children's content?

Senator Fifield: The issue of how best to support Australian culture and Australian content, including children's content, is one of the things that we are looking at. As you know, better than most, there are a range of mechanisms that have been put forward as to how that's best achieved.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The status quo is that there are requirements on broadcasters to invest in and broadcast a certain amount of kid's television made here in Australia for Australian audiences. Are you committed to those requirements?

Senator Fifield: We are committed to ensuring that we have ongoing investment into Australian content. We want to find what the best mechanism is to do that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Specifically on children's content, how important do you believe ensuring there are requirements for children's content

Senator Fifield: I think it's very important that there are requirements that support investment in Australian children's content.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Was there any finding in relation to Australian content requirements for streaming services such as Netflix?

Senator Fifield: This is one of the areas in relation to which submissions have been made.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you believe that if Netflix want to continue to offer a service in Australia they should have a local content requirement?

Senator Fifield: That's one of the propositions that have been put forward. We have made no decisions.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When do we expect to have some idea of what the findings of this review are and your government response?

Senator Fifield: As I say, it's not so much the review process that's important but the decisions that are ultimately reached.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When do we expect to see something?

Senator Fifield: Later this year.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It all seems a little bit cloak and dagger, Minister. We've known that this process has been going on. You obviously don't want to talk about it. Is that because there is a disagreement in government, or is it because you haven't worked out how to get everybody in the same room?

Senator Fifield: I haven't put a proposition forward within government. You said that this is something I don't want to talk about. I do want to talk about it. I want to talk about it with stakeholders.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You obviously had some money put aside in the budget for the location incentives. Is that pre-empting a content review or is that separate and in addition to any recommendations that you end up putting to parliament?

Senator Fifield: The location incentive is a decision that was taken by government in the budget.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is it related to your findings and your response and current thinking around the content review, or is it separate?

Senator Fifield: The location incentive is something that is welcomed by the sector but, obviously, it is something that's not directly related to Australian content. It is in the sense that it helps support the domestic screen industry and the training and employment of Australians who will go on to contribute to Australian content. It's related in that sense, but it is separate.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you envisage legislative changes that will have to pass the parliament as a result of your contemplation and decisions in relation to the content review?

Senator Fifield: There could well be legislation required.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you given any direction to your department in terms of drafting as yet?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thanks.

CHAIR: Do you have further questions, Senator Urquhart?

Senator URQUHART: Thank you very much. Minister, will the efficiency review be looking at performance pay in the ABC?

Senator Fifield: It's possible that they could.

Senator URQUHART: Is that something that you requested the review to look at?

Senator Fifield: We haven't yet released the terms of reference.

Senator URQUHART: But is that something that you would ask the review to do?

Senator Fifield: It would be open to the review.

Senator URQUHART: Do you have any concerns about performance pay in the ABC?

Senator Fifield: In the ABC? As I've said in interviews, bonus arrangements were ceased in core APS departments in 2008. There is an arguable case in some agencies, GBEs included, where they operate in more of a commercial sort of environment or a particularly competitive environment for talent. You can make the case for bonus arrangements in those cases. When it comes to the public broadcasters, I'm less comfortable about bonuses. I think SBS have phased out bonuses. SBS arguably operate in a more commercial environment than the ABC, because they do take advertising. I think it's an area appropriate for examination. I was asked my view the other day and I offered it.

Senator URQUHART: Minister, I presume you're aware that the ABC annual report shows that roughly 2.9 per cent of ABC's 4,800 employees earn $200,000 or more. You're aware of that?

Senator Fifield: Yes, those ballpark figures.

Senator URQUHART: And are you aware that eight per cent of NBN Co's 6,000 employees earn $200,000 or more?

Senator Fifield: I take that at face value, Senator.

Senator URQUHART: Can I just remind you that NBN have an estimated 350 more executives earning over $200,000 compared to the ABC?

Senator Fifield: They're very different organisations. The NBN has clear performance milestones, commercial and business imperatives, and it's the intention of this government, as it was the intention of the previous government, that NBN not remain in government hands; that at the conclusion of the rollout that it become a private organisation. So it's operating in a commercial environment. The intention of this government, as it was the intention of the previous government, is that it fully makes that transition out of government hands. So it's very different to the ABC.

Senator URQUHART: Are you aware that there are up to six times as many employees in NBN Co earning over $300,000 as there are in the ABC?

Senator Fifield: That wouldn't surprise me because they have completely different functions, missions, imperatives, and very different ownership futures.

Senator URQUHART: The ABC paid $2.6 million in performance pay across 380 executive and non-executive employees in the last financial year, yet the NBN annual report shows it only took seven NBN executives to earn the same amount in bonuses. Will you be seeking a review into bonuses paid to NBN executives?

Senator Fifield: As I say, NBN operates in a very different environment to the ABC.

Senator URQUHART: So that's a no?

Senator Fifield: There couldn't be more different environments of two government entities than the ABC and NBN, I would contend.

Senator URQUHART: Minister, it's been reported that your office has been shopping around the ABC annual report and pointing journalists towards figures about annual bonuses paid to ABC staff. Do you dispute that?

Senator Fifield: I don't know what the origin point was of that recent article.

Senator URQUHART: It was the Guardian on Friday, 18 May, at 10.35.

Senator Fifield: No, what I'm saying is that I don't know what the origin point of it was. I think it was the Daily Telegraph or the Herald Sun. I don't know what the origin point of that piece was.

Senator URQUHART: So you have no knowledge of it. Is that what you are saying?

Senator Fifield: I know queries are made at my office across a range of portfolio agencies by journalists.

Senator URQUHART: Did you direct your staff to do that?

Senator Fifield: To do what?

Senator URQUHART: To point journalists towards figures in the ABC bonuses?

Senator Fifield: As I say, I don't know what the origin point was.

Senator URQUHART: What's the IPA's position on performance pay?

Senator Fifield: Senator, I don't know.

Senator URQUHART: Why are you attacking the ABC with an efficiency review when it's clear that, on any objective measure, the NBN Co is more bloated, pays excessively larger salaries and pays much larger bonuses?

Senator Fifield: All I can do is restate what I said, which is that NBN operate in a different environment to ABC. I think it's an arguable case that there would be bonuses in that organisation. As to the quantum and circumstances, that's a matter for the board of NBNthe board and management of NBN, I should say.

Senator URQUHART: You've said they have very different ownership futures. Can you clarify that NBN Co will be privatised and not the ABC?

Senator Fifield: The ABC won't be privatised. Our position in relation to NBN ownership is the same as that of the former Labor government.

Senator URQUHART: So why is it one rule for the ABCa first-rate institution that is trusted by Australiansand another rule for your second-rate NBN that is delivering record consumer complaints, despite having a $50 billion budget? Why are there two different sets of rules?

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

CHAIR: Order!

Senator Fifield: NBN have achieved their rollout of milestones, and NBN is now available to more than half the nation. NBN has a good track record on consumer issues. There have been very significant advances over the last six months or so. But, really, this comes down to two very different organisations with two very different ownership futures.

Senator URQUHART: So what guidance would your spiritual mentors in the IPA have to offer you on this contradiction?

Senator Fifield: I think the IPA are a secular organisation; so I don't think they're a source of spiritual advice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did you say 'secret' or 'separate'?

Senator Fifield: Secular. The IPA is a secular organisation; so I don't think it's a source of spiritual advice or comfort for that matter.

Senator URQUHART: I have nothing further on that.

CHAIR: Senator Patrick.

Senator PATRICK: Subscription channels that are deemed to have a low audience share are excluded from the new gambling advertising restrictions, meaning they can broadcast gambling advertisements around the clock. Can you please explain the reason for this exclusion?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Because they voted against our amendment in the Senate, that's why.

Mr Eccles : Could you please repeat the question? It went to the?

Senator PATRICK: The subscription channels with small audiences and why they are excluded from broadcast gambling advertisement rules.

Mr Eccles : That probably is a matter that's best floated with ACMA. But the decision was made based on the cost of intervention for those small channels, which would have seriously compromised their viability.

Senator PATRICK: What qualifies as a 'low audience share'?

Mr Eccles : Again, Dr Patteson might have that, but that really would be best put to ACMA, who are on shortly.

Dr Patteson : The low audience share is typically attracting less than 0.5 per cent of total audience share, I think is the way it was characterised. But Mr Eccles is right, that this was a matter for the ACMA when they were determining the codes of practice for the broadcasters.

Senator PATRICK: Maybe I will stop there and wait until ACMA appears. I do have a question, however, about shortwave. In the government's response to the Senate inquiry into the ABC Amendment (Restoring Shortwave Radio) Bill 2017, and I'll just read from the recommendations:

2.56 The committee recommends that the Senate not pass the bill.

The Government supports this recommendation.

The Government also supports the committee's view that developments in this area continue to be monitored. With this view in mind, in 2018, the Department of Communications and the Arts in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will conduct a review to examine the reach of Australia broadcasting services in the Asia Pacific region, including investigating whether shortwave radio technology should be used.

Can I get a status of where that review is up to, who's conducting it and how many people?

Dr Patteson : Certainly. I think the one that you are referring to there is known as the Review of the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Services. We're in the process of finalising the terms of reference to seek agreement from government for those, and then we would be looking at commencing that review sometime in the next few months. So it would be a joint review between the Department of Communications and the Arts and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator PATRICK: And do you have some idea of how long you think the review might take, or is that premature at this point?

Dr Patteson : I think that's probably premature at this point. I know that we are just looking at scoping it in the terms of reference at the moment, and then trying to understand how long the review might need to take. But I know the plan would be to try and get it done as expeditiously as possible.

Senator PATRICK: When that review is commenced is it likely to have public submissions?

Dr Patteson : I think we're still looking at that in terms of the scope and the terms of reference. We haven't come to a landing on that yet.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much, Dr Patteson. That's fantastic.

CHAIR: Senator O'Neill.

Senator O'NEILL: Could I ask a few questions of the department regarding the total staffing. I've got a few agencies here: the National Film and Sound Archive.

Mr Mrdak : You're looking for total staffing?

Senator O'NEILL: If I just give you these and you might want to come back to me a bit later.

Mr Mrdak : Certainly.

Senator O'NEILL: National Film and Sound Archive, National Gallery of Australia, National Library, National Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Old Parliament House, Australian Film, Television and Radio School and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Mr Mrdak : Certainly we'll come back to you through the course of the afternoon. The current staffing level of each of those?

Senator O'NEILL: If you can, that would be great. Thank you. Could I go to the matter of Mr Morrow, who announced he would be stepping down as CEO before the end of 2018. Could I just ask: when did the NBN CEO first notify the government that he intended to step down?

Senator Fifield: We might have to take that on notice but I'm happy for officers, if they have the date to hand, to answer.

Senator O'NEILL: Mr Mrdak, do you?

Mr Mrdak : It would have been just a couple of days before the announcement. I was advised by the chairman, I believe, the day before the announcement. I'll check that for you though.

Senator O'NEILL: What's the pattern of informing the minister? Did they advise you as the secretary to the department first, or did they advise you first, Senator Fifield?

Senator Fifield: I think the chair would have advised me first.

Senator O'NEILL: When did that happen? We're talking about two separate processes here. The chair of NBN Co

Senator Fifield: There would be advice to Mr Mrdak as the secretary to the shareholder department and there would be advice to me as minister.

Senator O'NEILL: And did they occur simultaneously or were they at different times in the process?

Senator Fifield: I would have been advised, as minister, before.

Mr Mrdak : Just on that, I think the sequence would have been the minister was advised and then there was advice to me and the secretary to the Department of Finance in the day preceding the announcement.

Senator O'NEILL: The day preceding the announcement?

Mr Mrdak : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: If you could give me the correct dates and clarify your answers, that would be helpful. I am sure it is pretty easy to do.

Senator Fifield: We will take that on notice.

Senator O'NEILL: Had there been any prior discussion of Mr Morrow's resignation in 2017?

Mr Mrdak : No, certainly not with me. I started in this role in September 2017 and certainly there had been no discussions with me in relation to this matter.

Senator O'NEILL: Were you surprised, Mr Mrdak?

Mr Mrdak : Yes, I was. In discussions I'd had with Mr Morrow since I'd joined the portfolio he had indicated that he was very pleased with how the project was going, and at some point he would look at what his future would be. But I was surprised at the advice from the chairman and the announcement of his departure by the end of this year, but it is understandable in the light of the explanation he has provided.

Senator O'NEILL: Minister Fifield, you know you've put on the record on a number of occasions, at these estimates and at other hearings, that you are in regular communication with Mr Morrow. Were you surprised? Was there any prior discussion of his resignation with you?

Senator Fifield: All chief executives' tenure comes to a conclusion at some point. Mr Morrow has been in that role for, I think, almost four years. I think he can say this for himself but I think he sees himself as having another significant role still in his professional future.

Senator O'NEILL: Minister, does that mean that he discussed his future plans with you and that you weren't surprised by his departure? Had Mr Morrow discussed a potential departure from the role in the course of 2018 with you prior to you being advised by the chair of NBN Co?

Senator Fifield: I don't believe he did.

Senator O'NEILL: Sorry?

Senator Fifield: I said, 'I don't believe he did,' from memory.

Senator O'NEILL: But you're not sure? I mean somebody either tells you they're going to resign as head of NBN but not

Senator Fifield: You've asked me a question. I've said, 'I don't believe he did.'

Senator O'NEILL: Is that a yes or a no?

Senator Fifield: I don't believe he did.

Senator O'NEILL: So he didn't; okay.

Senator Fifield: Look, I don't believe he did. I'll direct my brain to think if at some point he ever sort of mused about life, the universe. But in relation to this specific question about his announcement, my conversations occurred with the chair.

Senator O'NEILL: Mr Mrdak was pretty clear in saying that he was surprised by the announcement. Senator Fifield, were you surprised by the announcement or not?

Senator Fifield: It's just not a relevant thing. I don't characterise what occurs to me as a surprise or not a surprise. I've explained to you, I think, how Mr Morrow would put what his thinking is.

Senator O'NEILL: I find that a little hard to believe, given the scale of the work that he's undertaken and the way you've characterised your relationship with Mr Morrow in this forum on many occasions. I think it should have been a bit of a surprise to you if it came out of the blue from the chair of the board. I'm just trying to get a straight answer from you, Minister.

Senator Fifield: Every CEO is entitled, every employee is entitled, to think about their future and what they would like to do next.

Senator O'NEILL: Did Mr Morrow discuss his resignation with you in 2017?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator O'NEILL: Are you sure about that, Minister?

Senator Fifield: Yes, correct.

Senator O'NEILL: Not at any point in time did he indicate that he was considering resigning his position?

Senator Fifield: No, I don't think so.

Senator O'NEILL: So there has never been an occasion in the time you've spoken with Mr Morrow where he indicated a desire to leave the role. And the first you heard of it was when the chair of the board of the NBN rang you and said he was not continuing on?

Senator Fifield: People undertake roles until they decide that they intend to leave them. People can't make decisions before they've made decisions.

Senator O'NEILL: Yes, I think that everybody understands that. My question is: did you at any point in time, prior to receiving the call from the chair of NBN Co board, have any indication from Mr Morrow that he was considering resigning his position as the CEO of NBN Co?

Senator Fifield: I don't believe so.

Senator O'NEILL: You don't believe so. I find that a very evasive answer.

Senator Fifield: I've given you my answer.

Senator O'NEILL: Who has the primary responsibility of the process for finding a potential replacement? Is it the board or the department, Mr Mrdak?

Mr Mrdak : It's a matter for the chairman and the board.

Senator O'NEILL: So you're aware of that process, I'm assuming?

Mr Mrdak : I'm aware, in conversations I've had with the chair, that he's advised me that he has now started the process to engage a recruitment specialist firm to assist in a search for a new CEO and has provided advice on the timing of that process in terms of the engagement of a recruitment firm.

Senator O'NEILL: So who has responsibility for the ultimate decisionthe recommendation from the board to the minister, or is it the board independently?

Mr Mrdak : It is a board appointment. The convention would be that there would obviously, as a significant appointment, be advice to the minister and it is put through the established cabinet process. But it is a decision of the board.

Senator O'NEILL: So to the best of your knowledge, Mr Mrdak, given that you're not managing the process, could you outline the process clearly for me so that I can understand what's happening?

Mr Mrdak : My advice from the chair thus far is that the chair is currently seeking to engage a recruitment specialist firm to assist the board undertake a search and recruitment process for the CEO. My understanding is that the board is aiming to have that in place by the end of this month or early June. I don't have any specifics of time frame from there. That will obviously somewhat be driven by the contract and the way in which the board tasks the recruitment firm.

All the advice I have at this stage is that Mr Morrow is looking to depart by the end of this year. And that timing is obviously dependent on the board's recruitment of a successor. So the timetable at this stage is dependent on when the board establishes its recruitment process and undertakes that process.

Senator O'NEILL: Did you want to add something there, Minister?

Senator Fifield: No, thank you.

Senator O'NEILL: Do you know who the recruitment firm is that's being engaged to take this work on?

Mr Mrdak : No, we don't. The board, to my understanding, is currently testing the market with a number of firms and has yet to reach a position, to my knowledge, on whom they will appoint.

Senator O'NEILL: Could you take that on notice? We would be very interested to receive that information when it's available.

Mr Mrdak : I will certainly seek that advice from the NBN Co.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you very much. You've indicated that you expect Mr Morrow to depart by the end of 2018. When do you expect the new CEO to take that role? Will it be in 2018? When do you think this transfer/handover will occur?

Mr Mrdak : I do not have that detail. As I said, that will be very dependent on the board's search process. Obviously, once the board has identified a successful candidate, it will be a matter for negotiation with that candidate.

Senator O'NEILL: Has Mr Morrow given an indication of the date on which he seeks to depart?

Mr Mrdak : The public statement just talked about by the end of this calendar year.

Senator O'NEILL: Minister, can you shed any further light on that?

Senator Fifield: No, because that is the position of Mr Morrow and NBNby the end of this year.

Senator O'NEILL: Do you have any expectation that this could roll over into 2019 or do you expect it to be completed by October, November or December? Roughly, what is your sense of the timing there?

Mr Mrdak : The board, as I understand it, given the way in which they are now proceeding to engage recruitment assistance, are looking to undertake a process over the next couple of months to identify a successful candidate. Obviously, that process will depend on the candidates that are identified and the availability of the successful candidate to commence at a certain time.

Senator O'NEILL: How long is a piece of string? Is that what you are saying to me?

Mr Mrdak : It will very much depend on the search process and the successful candidate's timing.

Senator O'NEILL: How long do these processes normally take? One or two months, three months?

Mr Mrdak : When you are engaged in a search for such a significant CEO appointment, this can take many months, particularly as you would envisage that the field would include potentially a number of international candidates as well as Australian candidates. That will be a matter for the board.

Senator O'NEILL: Are there any non-compete clauses in Mr Morrow's contract with NBN?

Mr Mrdak : I have no access to Mr Morrow's contract. I am not aware. I do not think the department has any visibility of Mr Morrow's contract. That is a question you would have to put to either Mr Morrow or to the board.

Senator O'NEILL: Given that the board communicates with you pretty frequently, Senator Fifield, are you aware of any non-compete clauses in Mr Morrow's contract?

Senator Fifield: We will take that on notice.

Senator O'NEILL: Is the appointment of an internal candidate in the capacity of an interim acting appointment an option that has also been considered?

Mr Mrdak : That would be a matter for the board.

Senator Fifield: That is right.

Mr Mrdak : We have no advice at this stage as to what the board is considering.

Senator O'NEILL: Senator Fifield, you indicated that maybe that is a live consideration.

Senator Fifield: What is a live consideration?

Senator O'NEILL: There might be an internal candidate to act in an interim role until an appointment. Has that been considered by you in your discussions with anyone on the board, including Mr Morrow?

Senator Fifield: That is a matter for the board. I think that the board's intention is that Mr Morrow continues until a substantive replacement is found, but it is ultimately a matter for the board. It depends on a number of factors, so I can't really add to that.

Senator O'NEILL: You indicated in your response that you have had a discussion around this with someone from the board.

Senator Fifield: No; just that the chair has indicated that Mr Morrow intends to leave by the end of the year and that the board has commenced a recruitment process, and those two things may align.

Senator O'NEILL: Since the chair's communication with you, advising you of Mr Morrow's departure, from what you have said it sounds as though you have had a further conversation about the process and potentially the timing. Could you enlighten us with the knowledge that you have?

Senator Fifield: Mr Morrow has not announced a departure date. He has said he will leave by the end of the year. The NBN board is commencing a recruitment process. I can't tell you the time frame of their recruitment process. I can't tell you who will be successful. I can't tell you when they will be able to start. That is as far as I can take it. With the interaction of those variables, I do not know what the upshot will be.

Senator O'NEILL: Did the board ask you for your input about the timing of this process or any of your expectations around it and the process?

Senator Fifield: The board indicated that this is something they are pursuing and that it is a matter of importance and priority for them.

Senator O'NEILL: Did you convey to them that it was an importance and a priority?

Senator Fifield: I do not have to convey to the board of NBN the importance of identifying a suitable successor to Mr Morrow.

Senator O'NEILL: It is a priority for the board. You have indicated that in your answer. Is it a priority for you that this happens sooner rather than later?

Senator Fifield: It is important that the right person is found; absolutely.

Senator O'NEILL: Would you have concerns if it rolled over into 2019?

Senator Fifield: I do not think that is the intention of the board.

Senator O'NEILL: I am assuming, based on your answer, that there have been no candidates selected or formally interviewed at this point?

Senator Fifield: In terms of the organisation and who will be appointed, that is still a work in progress.

Mr Mrdak : That is right. It's underway.

Senator Fifield: I can't really add to that.

Senator O'NEILL: Given your description of the process so far, which sounds like it is still in its reasonably early stages, with the recruitment of an agency to look at replacing Mr Morrow still yet to be determined, I suppose it is pretty unlikely that you have received any advice from the NBN about potential candidates?

Mr Mrdak : That is correct.

Senator MOORE: Mr Mrdak, I want to get some information about your department's involvement with the SDG agenda, in particular the upcoming report that we have to give to the UN. Your department has supporting status on one goal, but I think there is a bit of a role across the board because of the communications element that the department has.

Mr Mrdak : We do. I will ask the officer to come to the table.

Ms Middleton : Could you repeat the question for me?

Senator MOORE: I want to find out what engagement the department has with the SDG agenda in terms of interdepartmental committees and that process, what the process has been within your department to get information together about what your responsibilities are for the response, and other questions that arise.

Ms Middleton : The department is very actively engaged in the development of the sustainable development goal response for Australia. We are participating in the interdepartmental committee process and we are actively involved in Australia's response to the voluntary national review, which is due to go to New York later in the year. We have particular active engagement around two of the sustainable development goals. Those are Nos 9 and 11, in terms of the SDGs themselves. I can look those up for you and give you some more details on those specifically.

Senator MOORE: In terms of what you are doing?

Ms Middleton : In terms of the actual SDGs themselves. We are quite engaged in those specifically. In terms of the actual work around the SDGs, Australia is embedding that in all of our work across all of our current policy agendas, as part of the voluntary national review. That is a whole-of-government effort and, like every other portfolio, we are meeting very regularly. I think we have participated in five IDCs to date. There are a number of working groups associated with that in terms of how each portfolio is bringing their data together, to look at how we are responding in terms of key performance indicators.

Senator MOORE: How many of those working groups is your department involved in?

Ms Middleton : We are involved in both the data working group and a communications working group. We have also been engaged through the IDC in looking at some of the information that is fed back through from engagement with the civil sector.

Senator MOORE: You said that you are embedding the SDG agenda into your policy documents.

Ms Middleton : Absolutely.

Senator MOORE: Can you tell me where that has happened? I have done the website; I have done the strategic plan. I am looking forward to the annual report. And so far I have not found the term.

Ms Middleton : In terms of what we are doing, we are looking at how we will embed that through our corporate plan and our strategic planning documents across the department.

Senator MOORE: So this is action for the future?

Ms Middleton : Yes.

Senator MOORE: I misunderstood. I thought when you said you are doing it, it is actually happening. The strategic plan is for 2017-19. Are you going to amend that before 2019?

Ms Middleton : We will look at

Senator MOORE: You will let 2019 go past and then have a look at it?

Ms Middleton : Yes.

Senator MOORE: How long have we been signed on as a country to the SDG agenda?

Ms Middleton : I would have to check the actual dates for that, but both DFAT

Senator MOORE: It was before the 2017-19 strategic plan; we had made the commitment. Your department is going to look at the 2020-22 plan?

Ms Middleton : Yes.

Senator MOORE: That will be the first time the SDGs are in there. What about this year's annual report?

Ms Middleton : We will be looking at what we can incorporate into this year's annual report.

Senator MOORE: The 2018 annual report might mention them?

Ms Middleton : Yes.

Senator MOORE: That would be good. What kind of awareness training or information assessments do you have for the wider department about the SDG agenda and the responsibilities of the department?

Ms Middleton : We have been doing quite a lot of consultation across our department as part of bringing information forward into Australia's report to the voluntary national report.

Senator MOORE: Do you want to take on notice what that consultation has engaged and who has been part of that?

Ms Middleton : Sure.

Senator MOORE: Have you been doing community engagement as well?

Ms Middleton : No, but we have been doing quite a bit across the department. That generally picks up engagement that the department has more broadly across the sector.

Senator MOORE: If I can get details of what that process has engaged, that would be really good. What about in terms of information to your minister about this process? I'm trying to find out whether the information about the SDG agenda has been part of the departments' interaction with their ministers. I have been asking that of a number of departments, so I am not focusing particularly on you, Minister. In terms of the SDG, has there been interaction with the minister's office about the agenda, and what, if any, briefing notes have there been for speeches on this topic? I can put that on notice.

Mr Eccles : We might need to take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: That is fine. It is in terms of getting the minister talking about what the department does and linking that back to the agenda. I want to see whether that has happened.

Ms Middleton : Sure.

Senator MOORE: Can you give me an idea of any resource dedication to this issue? I know you work in a very wide area that does a whole lot of strategic negotiation, but has the SDG process taken resources?

Ms Middleton : It has been very heavily embedded in the work that we are doing. I am not sure that we could necessarily separate it out, but we have absolutely embedded it in what we are doing.

Senator MOORE: What about the website?

Ms Middleton : We are actively engaged in the work with Environment and ABS to embed the work into the SDG website work that is being developed as part of Australia's SDG work.

Senator MOORE: What about your own website?

Ms Middleton : We are looking at how we will build that in through the communications work that is being coordinated in the whole-of-government effort.

Senator MOORE: In terms of the various other groups that operate and link with the department, is there any interaction between the department and the other agencies? I will be asking Australia Post, and they have given detailed responses at previous estimates about their engagement. With SBS, ABC, Screen Australia and those different organisations, is there a process where the department talks to them about the SDGs?

Ms Middleton : Yes, there has been, as part of how we have been coordinating our work. We will be working with each of them as part of the case study process, as part of the website that has been coordinated whole-of-government wide around case studies.

Senator MOORE: Are the case studies from your department ones that are likely to be involved in the review or be involved in the second website which is looking at a build-up of the whole focus across the community?

Ms Middleton : There has been input coming in as part of the voluntary national review and there will be continuing work as part of the whole-of-government, and actually whole-of-Australia, website. With the website that is going forward as part of Australia's contribution to the SDGs globally, there is a national website. That website is not just a government website; anyone can contribute to that SDG website that is looking nationally. We will be actively engaging across our portfolio in looking at case study opportunities. That will not just be time limited to what can be published when the SDG voluntary national reports are released later this year; that will be an ongoing opportunity for people to contribute as to how they are contributing to the SDGs.

Senator MOORE: It is my understanding after talking with PM&C that there has been an agreement that the work will continue post the review.

Ms Middleton : Absolutely.

Senator MOORE: Is there any understanding from your department of what that will engage?

Ms Middleton : As we are rolling out initiatives right across the forward estimates, we will continue to provide case studies and continue to develop data through the portal and look at where that provides opportunities to add information to that website.

Senator MOORE: Are you aware of what the National Library is doing in this space?

Ms Middleton : We have not done a huge amount of work with the National Library yet, but it is part of our ongoing engagement.

Senator MOORE: It is just that the National Library is a leader in this space and the National Libraries Association are taking international engagement. I know we are not calling them for estimates, but in terms of the process, I was wondering whether you were aware of the extremely fine work that they have done.

Ms Middleton : They have done some good work. Australia Post has some good case studies that we will be incorporating. There's a range of them that will be put together.

Senator MOORE: If we can get the further information on notice, that would be very helpful.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Moore. That takes us to the end of general questions of the department, so thank you, relevant officers.