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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
17/10/2016
Estimates
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO

PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO

In Attendance

Senator Brandis, Attorney-General

Senator Cash, Minister for Employment, Minister for Women and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Overview

Ms Elizabeth Kelly, Deputy Secretary, Governance Group

Economic Group

Dr David Gruen, Deputy Secretary

Mr Simon Duggan, First Assistant Secretary, Economic Division

Ms Josephine Laduzko, Assistant Secretary, Commonwealth-State Relations Branch

Mr Luke Yeaman, First Assistant Secretary, Industry, Infrastructure and Environment Division

Mr Neil Williams, Assistant Secretary, Industry and Communications Branch

Ms Kelly Pearce, Assistant Secretary, Climate Change and Environment Branch

Mr William Story, Assistant Secretary, Strategic Coordination Unit

Mr Simon Quarrell, Senior Adviser, Data Infrastructure and Government Engagement

Social Policy Group

Ms Lin Hatfield Dodds, Deputy Secretary

Mr Nathan Williamson, First Assistant Secretary, Social Policy Division

Ms Amanda McIntyre, First Assistant Secretary, Office for Women

Ms Katrina Chatham, Acting Assistant Secretary, Social Services and Immigration Branch

Ms Susan Fitzgerald, Acting Assistant Secretary, Health and Education Branch

Innovation and Transformation Group

Dr Steven Kennedy, Deputy Secretary

Ms Tanja Cvijanovic, First Assistant Secretary, Regulatory Reform Division

Mr Tony Simovski, Acting Deputy Executive Director, Office of Best Practice Regulation, Regulatory Reform Division

Mr Wayne Poels, Assistant Secretary, Regulatory Policy and Review Branch

Ms Angela Wright, Assistant Secretary, Regulatory Performance and Engagement Branch

Mrs Mary Wiley-Smith, First Assistant Secretary, Cities Division

Mrs Kate Lynch, Assistant Secretary, Cities Division

Governance Group

Ms Elizabeth Kelly, Deputy Secretary

Ms Paula Ganly, First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial Support Division

Ms Deborah Lewis, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services Division

Ms Charlotte Tressler, First Assistant Secretary, Financial Services Division

Ms Sarah Vandenbroek, Assistant Secretary, Budgets and Reporting Branch

Mr Bruce Taloni, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Cabinet Division

Mr Patrick Sowry, Assistant Secretary, Business Services Branch

Ms Emma Greenwood, Assistant Secretary, People Branch

National Security Group

Mr Allan McKinnon, Deputy Secretary

Ms HK Yu, First Assistant Secretary, International Division

Mr Hugh Jeffrey, Acting First Assistant Secretary, International Division

Ms Lynwen Connick, First Assistant Secretary Information Sharing and Intelligence Division

Mr Chris Angus, Information Sharing and Intelligence Branch

Ms Kylie Bryant, First Assistant Secretary, National Security

Governance Group

Ms Philippa Lynch, First Assistant Secretary, Government Division

Mr Peter Rush, Assistant Secretary, Government Division

Mr Peter Arnaudo, Assistant Secretary, Government Division

Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security

Mr Alastair MacGibbon, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security

Ms Sandra Ragg, Assistant Secretary, Cyber Security Branch

Commonwealth Counter-Terrorism Coordinator

Mr Tony Sheehan, Commonwealth Counter-Terrorism Coordinator

Mr Chris Constable, Deputy Counter-Terrorism Coordinator

Independent National Security Legislation Monitor

Mr Roger Gyles AO, QC

Australian Public Service Commission

The Hon. John Lloyd PSM, Australian Public Service Commissioner

Ms Kerryn Vine-Camp, Acting Deputy Australian Public Service Commissioner

Ms Annwyn Godwin, Merit Protection Commissioner

Mr Marco Spaccavento, Group Manager, Workplace Relations

Ms Caroline Walsh, Group Manager, Employment Policy

Ms Clare Page, Group Manager, Corporate

Mr Lucy Poole, Group Manager, Australian Public Service Reform

Ms Helen Bull, Group Manager, Workforce Information

Mr Patrick Palmer, Group Manager, Tribunals

Ms Liz Quinn, Group Manager, Centre for Leadership and Learning

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Mr Mark Fraser, Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Mr Paul Singer, Acting Deputy Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Australian National Audit Office

Mr Grant Hehir, Auditor-General

Ms Rona Mellor PSM, Deputy Auditor-General

Ms Deborah Rolling, Senior Executive Director

Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman

Mr Colin Neave, Commonwealth Ombudsman

Mr Richard Glenn, Deputy Ombudsman

Mr Rodney Lee Walsh, Acting First Assistant Ombudsman

Mr Paul Pfitzner, Acting Senior Assistant Ombudsman

Mr Dermot Walsh, Acting Chief Operating Officer

Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

The Hon. Margaret Stone, Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

Mr Jake Blight, Assistant Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

Ms Annette Willing, Assistant Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

Digital Transformation Office

Mr Peter Alexander, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Jose Del Rio, Head of Partnerships

National Australia Day Council

Mr Ben Roberts-Smith, VC, MG, Chairman

Mr Chris Kirby, Chief Executive Officer

Ms Beth Fiedler, Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Ms Carolyn Ludovici, General Manager, Programs and Operations

[11:22]

CHAIR: I welcome the Hon. George Brandis, Minister representing the Prime Minister; and officers of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised, an extract of which will be incorporated in the Hansard.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

   (a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

   (b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

( 13 May 2009 J.1941 )

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders)

Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that the information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document. The committee has set 2 December 2016 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. Attorney-General, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Brandis: No thank you, Mr Chairman.

CHAIR: Ms Kelly, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Ms Kelly : Yes, Chair. I inform the committee that the members of the department's executive in attendance for this session are Dr David Gruen, Deputy Secretary, Economic Group; Mr Allan McKinnon, Deputy Secretary, National Security Group; Dr Steven Kennedy, Deputy Secretary, Innovation and Transformation Group; Mr Tony Sheehan, Commonwealth Counter-Terrorism Coordinator; Ms Lin Hatfield Dodds, Deputy Secretary, Social Policy Group; and Mr Alastair MacGibbon, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security. Other senior officers will be available to assist the committee as required.

I should update the committee about changes in the executive since the last hearing of this committee. On 30 May, following the release of Australia's Cyber Security Strategy, Mr Alastair MacGibbon commenced in the new role of Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security. On 18 July, Ms Lin Hatfield Dodds commenced in the position of Deputy Secretary, Social Policy Group. On 2 September, Mr Greg Moriarty, then Commonwealth Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, took up the role of international adviser to the Prime Minister. Mr Tony Sheehan commenced in that position on 5 September 2016. I have a copy of the up-to-date organisational chart to table for the committee's information.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I have questions for the Office of Best Practice Regulation. I refer to the OBPR's response to the changes to the vocational education and training, or VET FEE-HELP, scheme. I do not have particular qualms about what the government is proposing to do—and that is not your issue, I know. What it is proposing to do is regulate which courses are eligible for concessional loans, regulate course fees and cap course fees and loan amounts, with provisions for the minister to amend or withdraw caps, increase regulatory requirements on training providers, extend the regulation of training providers to subcontracted training providers and increase enforcement of the regulation of training providers, imposing an annual levy on providers and a ban on VET broking services.

The Department of Education and Training produced a regulation impact statement which compares the proposal with the status quo, which includes a freeze on the limits of total loans at 2015 levels and alternative options of increasing information to students. It does not consider other policy options, such as faster or early repayment of loans to encourage students to think more seriously about taking out a loan, or other benchmarks, such as what was in place prior to the 2016 freeze on total loan limits. The Department of Education and Training estimates in the RIS that its proposal will reduce annual regulatory costs over 10 years by $853,000. It has not published increased departmental expenses associated with changes to the scheme. The Office of Best Practice Regulation wrote to DET on 10 September 2016 advising that the risk is compliant with the government requirements and that regulatory costs have been agreed with the OBPR. Was OBPR rushed in its consideration of the RIS?

Dr Kennedy : I am going to pass over to the head of OBPR, Tony Simovski, in a moment to answer that question. But I think, at the outset, I can outline that the department gave OBPR plenty of notice, in the context of that policy development, about what it was doing and then worked with it throughout that process in determining that RIS. But perhaps it would be best if I handed over to Tony and, to give you some confidence, he can outline for you how that process unfolded.

Mr Simovski : The normal process for RISs is for agencies to submit the RIS to the OBPR for our comments and assessment, and on this occasion the department followed due course. In other words, the way the system runs is that the final assessment goes through two passes. There is a first pass and then a second pass, and both of those have five business days allowed for the OBPR to comment on the RIS requirements, and we went through that process with the department, essentially, just like any other RIS.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I want to get into a little bit more of the detail on this particular issue. Is any regulatory saving generated from the introduction of regulation determining which courses are eligible for concessional loans?

Mr Simovski : I am not across the details of the regulatory costs or savings. I will have to take that one on notice.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I would have thought there were no regulatory savings from introducing a new regulation. A similar thing would perhaps apply in this instance: is there any regulatory saving from the introduction of a regulation introducing various caps on loans based on the nature of the course?

Mr Simovski : Again, I will have to take that one on notice.

Dr Kennedy : Perhaps I might be of some help. As Tony is indicating, we can take it on notice and provide you with some information but the department is responsible for those calculations and should fully disclose them to you in the course of its estimates hearings. When departments are changing or even introducing regulations, we are encouraging them to see that they undertake that regulatory practice in the most efficient way possible and it can be the case—I am not sure that it is the case in this circumstance—that they find a more efficient way of doing their current business. The net effect can see a reduction in regulatory costs but the department is the responsible entity for that calculation. They should, as I understand it, be in a position to detail for you exactly how they went about doing those costings in the estimates periods. We can take on notice what was submitted to us and we are happy to provide that on notice.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I would be interested in having that. I want to pursue this a little bit further. It is difficult to see how regulatory saving can be generated from the fact that a proposal will reduce the size of the VET industry with fewer providers and students. Apparently OBPR has accepted that assertion by DET. Are you familiar enough with the issue to address that?

Mr Simovski : The RIS still has not been published on our website. We expect that should occur in the next week or so, given that the bill was introduced last week, and the RIS does include calculations about the way the regulatory costings have been estimated. The way the regulatory costings are estimated there is a cost per interaction with the government. There is also a population change as well. To the extent that the reforms are going to result in changes to industry, that is also reflected in the costings.

Senator LEYONHJELM: It seems to me, though, that OBPR has accepted DET's cost estimates without challenge, and DET's cost estimates are based on what the proposal envisages compared to the status quo. The status quo is very, very recent and is based on legislation—which the government said was temporary when it was introduced just months ago—capping the VET FEE-HELP loan scheme. It is a re-regulation of the VET FEE-HELP industry, and yet OBPR is saying, 'Oh, no, it is consistent with the government's deregulatory direction.' I struggle to understand how you could come to that conclusion.

Dr Kennedy : I might address part of it; I will get my colleague to confirm it. The regulatory costings aspect that has been calculated in these policies looks at the cost of interaction—the red-tape aspect of doing business with government. It is not capturing the opportunity cost of regulation as such that might change if you are diverting resources in some way in the community that you otherwise would not have done without the regulation. We should be very clear on what regulatory costings capture. They really capture a cost of doing business—not perhaps an economic cost that you might have in mind. Having said that, the regulatory impact analysis itself—while it may not have a formal cost of, say, the opportunity cost of a movement of economic resources from what they would have otherwise been—should capture that process of whether you have considered the suitable set of alternatives.

The last part I would say is that OBPR does not accept without challenge calculations of those regulatory costs. They are the agency's calculations; they are not the OBPR's. The calculations come forward. They look at them. They check the calculations. Of course, the clearest mechanism is for them to be published, and they are published in the RIS, which enables people to then have a more careful look.

You are obviously asking questions ahead of that RIS being published. We will certainly pass on to our colleagues in that department your interest in the details of how they calculated the regulatory costs of doing business around that activity, and not the broader economic cost.

Senator LEYONHJELM: The regulatory costs, all right, but still it would appear that—and correct me if I am wrong—the analysis is based on a comparison with the status quo, but if you went back 12 months before the status quo changed you would come to an entirely different conclusion. I would hate to think that the OBPR is being led by the nose by DET to that extent. I think you guys are smarter than that. Perhaps you could take that one on notice too, unless you want to respond now.

Dr Kennedy : No, I do not feel that we are being led by the nose, but I am happy to take your issue about cumulative changes and whether we have the right baseline upon which to make that calculation.

Senator LEYONHJELM: That is the issue. I will leave it there.

Senator WONG: There are quite a lot of answers to questions from both the February round and the May round—was it?—provided this morning, well after they were due. Are you going to offer an explanation?

Ms Kelly : I believe that the notice under order 299 was filed in the Senate in relation to the provision. As always—

Senator WONG: Actually, it is silent on the whole batch. I am asking for the department's explanation as to why you filed them so late.

Ms Kelly : As always, we deal with those matters as quickly as we possibly can. As you know—

Senator WONG: February to October.

Ms Kelly : As you know, there was a significant period during that time when we were in caretaker, and so those matters have been returned to at the conclusion of that period. We try at all times to get the responses to you as quickly as we can.

Senator WONG: I would like you to pass on to Dr Parkinson my disappointment—and I am sure I share that with some of my Senate colleagues—with the discourtesy that has been shown by the most senior department in the Commonwealth to this Senate committee and to the Senate. As a courtesy, we do not call the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, but if this continues we will certainly be seeking to call him.

Ms Kelly : I will certainly pass that on, Senator Wong.

Senator McALLISTER: Amongst the many pages of answers we received today, question 234 states that 'Part of The Lodge refurbishment included a specialist luggage lift costing $83,535.75, excluding GST.' Is someone coming to the table?

Ms Kelly : I was just trying to get a copy of that response. I do not have it in front of me but I am happy for your question to proceed.

Senator McALLISTER: Very good. Can you provide some details about the specialist luggage lift?

Ms Kelly : I can. I think I have spoken to the committee before about the concern in relation to the safety of staff using the front stairwell. The stairs are of an unusual depth and so we have had a member of our staff injure herself on the stairwell. It is not safe for staff to use the front staircase to carry things up and down the stairs. In addition to that, the stairs are actually one of the most significant heritage aspects of the house and so preserving the stairs—including the balustrade which is one of the most significant parts of the stairwell—are important in preserving the heritage of the house. My understanding is that the luggage lift was something that was recommended by the architects in the early stages of the refurbishment.

Senator McALLISTER: To whom was that recommended, Ms Kelly?

Ms Kelly : I can get you the detail of that, but my understanding is that it was originally in terms of the heritage value of the front staircase and the danger to staff in using the staircase to carry heavy items up the stairs. Usually it is luggage. When the Prime Minister is travelling and suitcases have to be taken up and down the stairs, then it is not safe, nor is it the best for preserving the stairwell to use it in that way.

Senator McALLISTER: Do you know the brand of the lift?

Ms Kelly : I do not.

Senator McALLISTER: Is it an Australian made lift?

Ms Kelly : I cannot answer that, but I can get that information for you.

Senator McALLISTER: I think we would appreciate that. Do you know the dimensions of the lift?

Ms Kelly : I do not, but I understand that it is designed to take a large suitcase.

Senator McALLISTER: The weight capacity of the lift is for luggage only, not personnel.

Ms Kelly : It is a specialised luggage lift. No, it is not for personnel; it is only for heavy items that cannot be carried up the stairs by staff.

Senator WONG: What does this $100,000 lift look like?

Ms Kelly : I think it is an $83,000—

Senator WONG: Ninety something thousand. But, anyway, what is eight and a bit grand between friends? Can you just tell me what it looks like?

Ms Kelly : It looks like something that has the capability to carry a number of large suitcases or a box. The door opens and the suitcases go in—

Senator WONG: Up the stairs?

Ms Kelly : No, it is at the edge of the stairwell.

Senator WONG: A whole lift shaft has been built.

Ms Kelly : I understand that it was in a recess that was available, but I might get Ms Ganly to provide—

Senator WONG: It has its own lift shaft.

Ms Ganly : As you look at the stairwell, it is to the left. It fits in with the wall, and it is just a sliding component that you can put the suitcase in, and it goes upstairs just with a button. It is a normal movement, not dissimilar to what we used to refer to as the 'dumb waiter', but it is electronic.

Senator McALLISTER: Ordinarily, what happens is that a member of staff unpacks the Prime Minister's luggage.

Ms Ganly : That is right. The luggage would be brought into the foyer and then put into the lift and taken upstairs. So it gets put in and then someone takes it out up on the next level.

Senator McALLISTER: The staff member brings it in on a trolley.

Ms Ganly : Yes, sometimes. It depends on the size of it as to how it is brought in. A lot of the suitcases et cetera are on wheels, so they will be unloaded from the vehicle, brought in and put in there.

Senator McALLISTER: The staff member places it in the new lift, takes it upstairs, unloads it and then unpacks it.

Ms Ganly : Yes, that is my understanding. I have not been there when they have actually done it, but that is my understanding of how the process works.

Senator McALLISTER: Are there any pictures or schematics of the lift that you could provide to the committee?

Ms Ganly : The Department of Finance would have all these. They were responsible for the refurbishment of the Lodge and they have all the drawings associated with the installation of the lift.

Senator McALLISTER: We might ask them tomorrow.

Senator WONG: You do not have any in your department?

Ms Ganly : We would have rough plans but not the schematics as such. I can certainly have a look, but it is not something that we generally refer to, because it does go back to the Department of Finance.

Senator McALLISTER: Is it operational now?

Ms Ganly : It has been operational. I could not tell you exactly if it is working today, but, yes, I presume it is. I have not had any reports requiring any maintenance on it, so I assume it is working today.

Senator McALLISTER: Is it something that is used regularly?

Ms Ganly : Not always. The Prime Minister will come from time to time with just suit bags, or things will be unpacked downstairs. So it would not be something that would be used on a daily or weekly basis, but it certainly would be used after longer trips.

Senator McALLISTER: Are you aware of any other Commonwealth buildings that have a specialised luggage lift of this nature?

Ms Ganly : I am not aware of any. As Ms Kelly mentioned, the reasons why a decision was taken on this were, essentially, the heritage value of the entrance and not wanting to take these items up and also concern for staff carrying the heavy suitcases up and down those stairs, which are pretty precarious stairs to be walking up and down.

Senator WONG: No other Prime Minister has needed this.

Ms Kelly : The luggage lift was part of the earliest discussions about the refurbishment in 2010, when there was a different Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Mr Turnbull is the only Prime Minister who has had a lift?

Ms Kelly : He is the only Prime Minister who has actually lived in the refurbished Lodge, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Is that a yes? Why is it so hard to answer a question, Ms Kelly? He is the only Prime Minister who has used the lift. Is that right or not?

Ms Kelly : I am just making it clear so as not to mislead the committee that the luggage lift was part of the 2010 earliest plans for the refurbishment of the Lodge.

Senator WONG: Has any other Prime Minister used the lift?

Ms Kelly : It was not available to any other Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: What is so hard about saying no?

Ms Ganly : It was not available. It has only just been installed and it was not at the request of this Prime Minister, as Ms Kelly indicated.

Senator SMITH: Perhaps just on notice if you could confirm the date on which the former Special Minister of State Mr Gray wrote to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard advising that she was not able to return to the Lodge because there had been some delay with the works that had been commissioned or were about to be commissioned. I think that would have been at some point in the period 2010-12.

Ms Kelly : We can take that on notice, Senator Smith.

Senator WONG: Chair, Senator Moore has a finite series of questions, and she is required at another committee.

CHAIR: Of course.

Senator MOORE: Ms Kelly, I am wanting to find out the process in PM&C around the sustainable development goals in terms of the internal processes and also the way that it is being looked at both domestically and internationally.

Ms Kelly : I think that might be Dr Gruen.

Dr Gruen : I am going to need to get some help, I think, from Kelly Pearce, if she is here.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The sustainable development goals process for the Australian government is being led by the Department of Foreign Affairs, with support from Prime Minister and Cabinet. So, in terms of the internal processes, we have an interdepartmental committee that Prime Minister and Cabinet are co-chairing with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We are establishing a working group to sit under that. So that group, the IDC, has met once, to my knowledge.

Senator MOORE: Ms Hatfield Dodds, your area is social policy?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That is correct.

Senator MOORE: So, within PM&C, it will be social policy that will be the responsible group?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : What I am responsible for?

Senator MOORE: Will be the responsible group for the SDG process.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes. Working with deputy secretary colleagues across the department.

Senator MOORE: I know that they created the IDC fairly recently. Can you give me any expectation through PM&C of what the process is going to be to coordinate it? I cannot think of a single department that should not have some role. I cannot get to every one of them in these Senate estimates, but I am trying. Are there going to be individual departmental plans linked into the process?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : There has been one meeting of the IDC to date, and the IDC has flagged that as an issue yet to be determined. It is not clear yet whether there will be a whole-of-service and whole-of-government approach or whether that will be broken down by department.

Senator MOORE: Can you tell me who is on the IDC?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I would have to take that on notice. I think it would be in excess of 15 departments who were represented at the deputy level at the first meeting.

Senator MOORE: Who determined which departments would be involved?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That would have happened before I commenced with Prime Minister and Cabinet, so I would need to take that on notice. I can probably find out when we take a break.

Senator MOORE: That will be fine. I understand the role of Foreign Affairs in terms of the international aspects. I am trying to get through the way that the domestic responsibilities are going to be there, because in terms of the discussions I have heard so far it has been focused on our role as an international aid provider as opposed to our own domestic responsibilities.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Certainly the IDC is taking the domestic side of our response seriously, but I can come back to you on that as well.

Senator MOORE: Is responsibility for the IDC going to be Foreign Affairs?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Are they providing the secretariat?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes. For the secretariat, as I understand it, people are being seconded. We have not yet got there. The plan is they are seconded from across several departments, but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will be chairing that group.

Senator MOORE: So, in the way it works, the department that chairs has the primary responsibility. Is that right?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes, that is right.

Senator MOORE: In terms of reporting, because another aspect is reporting back around how the SDGs operate, do you know whose responsibility that is going to be, which minister will have responsibility for looking at Australia's response?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I do not but, again, I can find out.

Senator MOORE: That would be good. Also, in terms of reporting processes internationally, is that going to be a responsibility through the IDC and then back to foreign affairs or is that yet to be determined?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : It is yet to be determined.

Senator MOORE: Has the schedule of meetings of the IDC been determined yet?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I believe it has. I can find that out for you as well.

Senator MOORE: That would be fine. Are they dedicated resources, within PM&C, that are looking at this or is it added to existing responsibilities in the department?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The IDC met relatively recently so we will be providing some support to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in terms of the secretariat. There are no fully dedicated resources to the SDG process but there are parts of people's time, from across the department, that will be put into this work.

Senator MOORE: You said in one of your previous answers that it would be shared with other deputy secretaries across the department. Looking across that area, in the structure document we have—and thank very much for that—if you are looking at the SDGs, it would seem that each of those areas has some responsibility under the SDGs.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Indeed.

Senator MOORE: That would then mean that if you were the 'go to point' in PM&C you would be requiring information and data—data being one of the key aspects of the whole process—back through you from all the areas. Is that right?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I believe that is going to be the process.

Senator MOORE: Okay. I will be asking other questions across the board. Thank you very much.

Senator WONG: I think we had a discussion previously, Mr McKinnon, about the use of various, I think you described them as, certified cloud services. Yes?

Mr McKinnon : Yes.

Senator WONG: You tabled a letter, I think at the last estimates, from you to the Prime Minister in which you set out the arrangements by which ministers and staff may use non-official communication systems to convey official information. You consulted with the Australian Signals Directorate, which has responsibility for the Information Security Manual, and you advised 'that official government information may be conveyed on non-government devices and systems not subject to ISM controls in cases where the information is unclassified, not sensitive and not otherwise caveated with distribution limiting instructions'. However, you then went on to say even unclassified official information that is sensitive had to be conveyed in accordance with the ISM controls. Right?

Mr McKinnon : That is a reasonable paraphrasing of it.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I am truncating. It is the document dated 13 October from you to the PM.

Mr McKinnon : That is right.

Senator WONG: Has that been updated? Has there been further advice provided?

Mr McKinnon : No, there has not.

Senator WONG: Have you been asked to provide advice in relation—

Mr McKinnon : I should just clarify: I have not provided further advice. It is quite possible that the PMO might have sought further advice from ASD directly.

Senator WONG: Would you not be aware of a request for advice from ASD on this issue?

Mr McKinnon : We would expect to get most advices from ASD to the PMO. But I cannot tell you with absolute certainty just now that that has happened or that they have or have not provided advice. But this was a definitive advice.

Senator WONG: Are you able to inquire over the lunch break whether PM&C is aware of any additional advice subsequent to this letter being provided by ASD to the PMO or to the Prime Minister?

Mr McKinnon : Yes, I am.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Senator Brandis, I wonder if you could do the same?

Senator Brandis: What, Senator?

Senator WONG: It was a question of whether ASD had provided advice directly to PMO in relation to communications.

Senator Brandis: What is it I am being asked to do?

Senator WONG: It is about whether or not they have. Mr McKinnon said he was not sure if they had.

Senator Brandis: I will have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Yes. I am asking if that could be done over the lunch break. Mr McKinnon, I use WhatsApp to communicate with my family—but that is a completely different proposition. Prior to public reports, were you aware that Mr Turnbull and cabinet ministers were using WhatsApp to conduct discussions between themselves?

Mr McKinnon : I was aware that the Prime Minister was an enthusiastic user of a range of applications. I assumed that WhatsApp was amongst those.

Senator WONG: I ask the question again.

Mr McKinnon : I was not aware of that specifically.

Senator WONG: Were you aware of or did you apprise yourself of the public reports in the Fairfax media that Mr Turnbull and his most senior cabinet ministers were using WhatsApp to conduct confidential discussions?

Mr McKinnon : No, I did not. I was not aware that they were using them to conduct confidential discussions. In fact, I do not accept the basis of that. From each of the comments that I have seen publicly from the Prime Minister, he is well aware of what he can use on apps and what he cannot.

Senator WONG: I will give you the opportunity to respond to this. The reports also indicate that the use of WhatsApp was not limited to senior ministers and that private chat groups existed for chiefs of staff, media advisers, a frontline economic team and a defence focused broadcast group used by defence industry minister Christopher Pyne to communicate with MPs and staff. Were you aware of those reports?

Mr McKinnon : I think I read a range of articles.

Senator WONG: As a result of those reports, did you undertake any investigations or inquiries to confirm the assumption that you just gave evidence about, which is that there was no problem, essentially?

Mr McKinnon : No, there was not, to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: You did not undertake any inquiries?

Mr McKinnon : It is not our responsibility to sit over ministers' and parliamentarians' shoulders as they have their communications, whether that is on a telephone or by an app or anything else.

Senator WONG: Nobody is asking you to sit on their shoulders. The question is whether or not there are any security implications from the use of this application for the purposes that were reported.

Mr McKinnon : Well, I do not know about the veracity of those reports.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that, but did you inquire about them?

Mr McKinnon : I tended not to attach particular credence to them, but I have seen a range of statements by the Prime Minister which indicate that he is well aware of his obligations in relation to sensitive secure information being transmitted across a range of different platforms, including the government's systems and his own.

Senator WONG: That is very comforting, but it is not just the Prime Minister, is it? What is reported is that a range of cabinet ministers and cabinet ministers' staff and the defence industry minister are communicating via this application. It may be that it is all hunky-dory. I am simply asking whether, as a result of these allegations being reported publicly, anyone in PM&C made inquiries.

Mr McKinnon : I would suspect that almost all PM&C staff are on apps of one sort or another as well.

Senator WONG: Mr McKinnon, that was not my question. Please answer my question.

Mr McKinnon : The answer is no.

Senator WONG: I did not ask about PM&C staff—and, frankly, that is a flippant answer. I asked very specifically. You have heard a range of allegations reported in the Fairfax media. You, and your evidence to me, are essentially saying that you have dismissed them out of hand. On what basis did you just dismiss them? Did you make any inquiries?

Mr McKinnon : I referred to the widespread use of apps because it is not surprising that they are on apps. I do not take any special inference out of that, and Fairfax may report is it pleases.

Senator WONG: You made no inquiries as a result of those public reports.

Mr McKinnon : It is not actually the role of this position—

Senator WONG: How about we start with a 'No, I didn't.'

Mr McKinnon : No, I did not.

Senator WONG: And you are saying to us that it is because it is not your job. Is that right?

Mr McKinnon : I am saying it is for two reasons. First of all, I do not have that responsibility of policing the use of government systems. That is simply not my role. But, secondly, I have seen numerous responses from the Prime Minister when asked about this that indicate he is fully aware of his responsibilities. So I have no reason to assume—

Senator WONG: Mr McKinnon, we are not talking just about the Prime Minister, are we? I have asked you that twice. I know that is your answer, but I have asked you a couple of times.

Senator McKENZIE: I wouldn't see why his answer would change, Senator, if you have asked him a couple of times—

Senator WONG: That is very kind of you, but I have not actually asked him only about the Prime Minister. Mr McKinnon, whose job is it? You say it is not your job. If there are concerns raised about the security of communications between cabinet ministers and whether or not things are being communicated on applications where there is a question as to their security, whose job is it to check?

Mr McKinnon : Within each of those portfolios, those ministers could be taking advice from their own agencies about the security of the system that they are using, Senator.

Senator WONG: Could you say that again?

Mr McKinnon : I am saying that each of those portfolios, in providing their information systems to ministers, would be advising them of their responsibilities and what they can use their various systems for. Should they have any queries, they can ask there.

Senator WONG: I understand that, for example, the defence portfolio, defence department, has indicated that this is a matter which sits with PM&C, not Defence, in response to a media inquiry. Is that correct?

Ms Kelly : Senator, I do not think we can speak for responses to media inquiries from another department.

Senator WONG: There is a problem here, isn't there? Whether or not you agree with the contents of the report—can we just set that aside for the minute—you have a newspaper report which is making allegations about insecure communications between cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister, between cabinet ministers and between cabinet ministers' staff et cetera. Senator McKenzie, I am just setting aside the content of the veracity of that for a moment. Mr McKinnon says there is nothing to worry about because the Prime Minister understands. I say that the report relates not only to the Prime Minister but to many people. I am simply asking whose job it is. Does anybody check? Or does government simply say 'It's not my job to check whether or not that is happening'?

Ms Kelly : Senator Wong, I think the premise of your question has no foundation in the sense that—

Senator WONG: How do you know?

Ms Kelly : when you say concerns have been raised—

Senator WONG: How do you know?

Ms Kelly : there have been a number of media reports. Against that, the Prime Minister has made numerous public statements. And the Prime Minister as the chair of cabinet has made numerous public statements about the appropriate use and—

Senator WONG: This is on the basis that the Prime Minister can vouch for every chief of staff of all of his ministers, making sure—

Ms Kelly : That is not what I have said—

Senator WONG: Hang on! It is the logical extension of what you are saying. You are saying that—

Ms Kelly : I don't think I said that, Senator Wong.

Senator Brandis: Chairman, I wonder if Senator Wong would have the manners to allow Ms Kelly to answer her questions, without being constantly badgered—

Senator WONG: I wish you were this polite—

Senator Brandis: and interrupted.

CHAIR: Good point, Senator Brandis.

Senator WONG: This is because you allow—

CHAIR: Please, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Let me tell you: if that is the standard, why did you not intervene when Senators Macdonald and O'Sullivan were bullying the Solicitor-General? Unbelievable!

CHAIR: They are not here, Senator Wong. I am chairing here, so could you please just not badger the witness.

Senator WONG: Okay. I will try not to badger her if she answers the question. Ms Kelly—

CHAIR: Or just not at all.

Senator Brandis: Senator Wong: not at all.

Senator WONG: I look forward to you rebuking your colleagues for the disgusting bullying of a statutory officer on Friday. I look forward to it and I am sure everybody else does, too.

Senator Brandis: Ms Kelly is a statutory officer, Senator Wong, and you seem to be bullying her.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly, you say my assertions have no foundation in fact, and I say: how do you know that? You cannot possibly verify that this has no foundation simply because the Prime Minister has made some public statements, because the allegations relate to people in relation to whom the Prime Minister cannot possibly vouch. He cannot vouch for what every staffer, every chief of staff or every minister does on WhatsApp. So all I am asking is: if these concerns are raised, does anybody check?

Ms Kelly : My point, Senator Wong, was that it is excluding a negative. Media articles have been published. That does not for our part establish that a concern has been raised. We are very much just noting the public statements of the Prime Minister in relation to his use of these applications.

Senator WONG: In other words, you do not think you need to check it?

Ms Kelly : I can only restate my previous answer that the Prime Minister has made his use and his position in relation to the use of these applications extremely clear.

CHAIR: Just while we are here on this, Mr McKinnon, how does WhatsApp's security compare with other alternatives available for ministers and staff to communicate?

Mr McKinnon : With all due respect, that is not the issue that we think about. They are meant to be using the secure government system for the passage of secure information. If you are asking for a more technical explanation about WhatsApp versus others in that completely unrelated context, my colleague Alastair MacGibbon can give you that.

CHAIR: If you could, just briefly.

Mr MacGibbon : If I cannot give you an assessment of WhatsApp versus other apps, what I can say is that the use of messaging apps can increase privacy and security, based on their encryption, versus a telephone call or an email or an SMS. So if I do not give you a league table, if that's okay with you—

CHAIR: Yes, of course.

Mr MacGibbon : certainly I can tell you that apps can improve communications security.

CHAIR: For example, is WhatsApp more secure than a text message?

Mr MacGibbon : It depends on how the text message is sent, whether it is an iMessage versus a standard text message. What I would say is that all communications, by their nature, can be attacked. That is why, as Mr McKinnon said, anything that is classified needs to be going through government classified systems. If a person chooses to communicate their normal business through other channels, such as apps, it really is up to them.

CHAIR: Understood. Just for the record, what about a regular SMS compared to WhatsApp?

Mr MacGibbon : Can each be secure? I would say that the encrypted end-to-end nature of apps can increase security.

CHAIR: Am I getting from your answer, there, that WhatsApp could be more secure than an SMS?

Mr MacGibbon : It could well be. If the phone is locked and all those other things that are good practice, then it could be.

Senator WONG: Is WhatsApp on the ASD, the Australian Signals Directorate, list of approved platforms for sensitive communications?

Mr MacGibbon : Not to my knowledge. I do not think they have done any apps on their list. That is because in the Information Security Manual, published by ASD, it tells you the structure and nature of classified communications systems, and anything that is classified needs to go over those systems.

Senator WONG: Or sensitive.

Mr MacGibbon : Yes.

Senator WONG: ASD has verified—what—BlackBerry is an approved platform?

Mr MacGibbon : Can I suggest that is better to be coming from ASD and Defence?

Senator WONG: I am sure I can ask them that, but surely you know?

Mr MacGibbon : I would have to get the list.

Senator WONG: You do not have the list?

Mr MacGibbon : No, I do not.

Senator WONG: If there are communications between ministers—let's do it this way. On the assumption, I think you have confirmed, that ASD have not included WhatsApp, as on the list of approved platforms, for sensitive communications—I think we agreed that earlier, didn't we?

Mr MacGibbon : Yes.

Senator WONG: Has the Prime Minister or his department taken any steps to ensure that secure communications are not happening between ministers or chiefs of staff on WhatsApp?

Mr McKinnon : All ministerial staff with access to or the need to have access to any sensitive material are security cleared by the Department of Finance. As part of that process, they are made well aware of what they can and cannot do. The PMO, at the instigation of the Prime Minister, took special interest in this and requested our advice. So we are reasonably confident that people are aware of what their obligations are.

Senator WONG: What is the basis of your confidence?

Mr McKinnon : That they have been security cleared, which involves a check of their background and their history, but also of their attitude to security. Similarly, with the Prime Minister's own interest in this matter, he sought advice on what he could and could not do.

Senator WONG: Is this written somewhere, is there some communication to staff and ministers about what cannot be communicated on WhatsApp?

Mr McKinnon : No, it is not at that level of specificity. But it would be in the nature of the security clearance process, which is, as I know you are aware, one that takes time and is very exhaustive and comprehensive, depending upon the level of security clearance required. But, in essence, as an integral part of that, they are made very aware of what their obligations are in the handling of secure, confidential and other sensitive material, and of the fact that, if there are significant concerns about people's attitudes to those things, that is a reason to lose a security clearance, and that might affect their employment.

Senator WONG: Is this a fair summary of your evidence: we have not, as PM&C, issued any written outline reminding people of their responsibilities around information and what cannot be shared on WhatsApp or any other unsecured platform; we rely on the security clearance that people eventually receive as the process by which people are informed of that?

Mr McKinnon : I am not aware Prime Minister and Cabinet has offered up particular advice. It may be that that could occur in the establishment of a ministerial office. I might ask my colleague Elizabeth Kelly whether that is the case.

Senator WONG: I am sorry?

Mr McKinnon : I am not aware that we broadcast or promulgate particular guidelines at any time, but I am just raising the possibility that might be done as part of the establishment of ministerial offices.

Ms Kelly : Not to my knowledge, Senator.

Senator WONG: How many people have not yet received security clearance? I will come back to that. Have any foreign governments raised with PM&C the issue of ministers using WhatsApp?

Mr McKinnon : Not to my knowledge. I do not think so.

Senator WONG: Have any raised it with the Prime Minister's office? Senator Brandis, I am asking you a question.

Senator Brandis: Sorry, what was the question?

Senator WONG: Have any foreign governments raised with the Prime Minister or his office the use of WhatsApp for ministerial communications?

Senator Brandis: I will take that on notice. But it is, for reasons that you would appreciate, I am sure, not a question that should appropriately be asked or responded to in a public forum.

Senator WONG: If you are using WhatsApp for sensitive communications—

Senator Brandis: But I will take it on notice.

Senator WONG: then I think that refusing to do anything about it is absolutely a question that should be in the public forum, because you ought to be doing something about it. But that is a different issue.

Senator Brandis: What you have asked is for the government to disclose communications with foreign governments—if there are any—and there is no suggestion that there are. If there are any, that is not an appropriate thing to be disclosed in this forum, as you well know, Senator. But, nevertheless, out of abundant caution, I will take the question on notice.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Ms Kelly : Senator Wong, I have the information in relation to security clearances, if now is a convenient time. Of the 50 staff working in the Prime Minister's office, 41 have an NV2 clearance or higher, two have an NV1 clearance or waiver with an upgrade in progress and seven have a baseline clearance or waiver with an upgrade in process.

Senator WONG: But you do not have the information in relation to other portfolios; that would have to go to Finance?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: You do not keep them?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: I want to go to the ISM, at the Information Security Manual. Is this information outlined in the manual? Does the manual say you cannot communicate about X, Y and Z on WhatsApp?

Mr McKinnon : To my knowledge, it does not. Rather than try to exhaust the list of what you cannot do, it explains the way you must handle sensitive information—secure information, caveated or whatever.

Senator WONG: Has there been any consideration to updating it, in light of what has not actually been refuted publicly, which is that ministers and their chiefs of staff are using WhatsApp to communicate? I understand that has not actually been refuted.

Mr McKinnon : I am sorry, what exactly is your question there, Senator?

Senator WONG: Given that we know that ministers and their staff are communicating on WhatsApp, I am asking whether or not there has been thought to updating the ISM.

Mr McKinnon : No, there has not. There is probably an app a day released, so we would be chasing our tails to say that you can use this app or cannot use that app.

Senator WONG: This is quite circular. You say, 'Well, you know, they might be using WhatsApp, but just because a reporter says they're communicating on WhatsApp doesn't mean we have to do anything about it, but we're sure they're not doing anything wrong and we're not actually updating any of the instructions to ensure that they're not doing anything wrong.' Are you just hoping and praying that no information that is classified sensitive or of national security character is being communicated by the government ministers or staff on WhatsApp?

Mr McKinnon : Ultimately, as you would know, with the insider threat there is absolutely nothing you can do beyond the clearances and the checking and the assurances and the training—

Senator WONG: There is telling people what they cannot do—and actually acting when things go into the public arena.

Mr McKinnon : It tells them what they can do, but it is as sensible as me going to them and saying, 'Are you aware you shouldn't be discussing classified information on the telephone?' Well, yes, they are. But, if they do, then you have to say they haven't followed instructions as carefully as they could have.

Senator WONG: Do you know where WhatsApp's servers are?

Mr McKinnon : Do you know where WhatsApp's servers are?

Mr MacGibbon : No, I do not.

Mr McKinnon : Not Canada.

Senator WONG: Sorry?

Mr McKinnon : I said, 'Not Canada'—just referring to BlackBerry.

Senator WONG: Do I understand this to be the case: you do not accept what was in the Fairfax press, you have not taken any further steps to ensure that secure communications are not occurring on WhatsApp between ministerial chiefs of staff, and you are relying on past security clearances?

Mr McKinnon : Security clearances are regularly updated.

Senator WONG: Is the answer to my question 'Yes'?

Mr McKinnon : Whether it is WhatsApp or a range of other applications, we have to rely on their following the instructions and the guidance that they are given.

Senator WONG: Is the information on WhatsApp still subject to freedom of information requirements?

Mr McKinnon : If there is a document created, then it is subject to FOI.

Senator WONG: The document is the communication. That can be subject to FOI. Why are you shrugging your shoulders, Mr McKinnon?

Mr McKinnon : I think you are right.

Senator WONG: I am right.

Mr MacGibbon : Regardless of any technology used, whether it is a letter or a text message or a WhatsApp message—

Senator WONG: Correct. What action is being taken to ensure that discussions on WhatsApp can be retrieved for the purposes of FOI applications?

Mr MacGibbon : I think I saw a public statement by the Information Commissioner the other day on the matter of FOI applying across all means of communication. But maybe that is a matter for him.

Senator WONG: No, what are you doing? You know that your minister, the Prime Minister, communicates on WhatsApp. What are you doing to ensure that that information is retrievable for the purposes of FOI applications?

Mr McKinnon : What I can tell you is that significant decisions of government in-cabinet processes and any significant meetings are properly recorded and documented.

Senator WONG: That is not my question. Please answer my question.

Ms Kelly : Senator, I think Mr MacGibbon and Mr McKinnon—

Senator WONG: Let me explain this. Just because another document—

CHAIR: Senator Wong, Ms Kelly was in the middle of her answer—

Senator McKENZIE: Ms Kelly has something to say, Senator. You are very belligerent in attacking her—

Senator WONG: I actually was not attacking her; I was responding to Mr MacGibbon.

Senator McKENZIE: rather than giving her the same courtesy that you give Mr MacGibbon and McKinnon.

CHAIR: I think Ms Kelly was trying to assist with an answer.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly, can I assist. As I understand Mr McKinnon's answer, he is suggesting other documents can be created. I understand that. But the point I am making is that the communication itself is potentially FOI-able—depending on the scope and whether the legislation requires that it be released or whether you do another one of your 'we're not going to release it to Penny Wong' things. But, leaving that aside, the fact that another document is created does not obviate the fact that these communications are within the scope of FOI.

Ms Kelly : I accept that, Senator Wong. I was merely trying to suggest that Mr McKinnon and Mr MacGibbon do not have responsibility for FOI, and questions about the FOI Act and how it is being promulgated across government should be addressed to the Attorney-General's portfolio.

Senator Brandis: Senator Wong, lest there be any misunderstanding here, nobody has controverted the proposition that the FOI Act is platform neutral.

Senator WONG: I would like to understand what PM&C is doing in relation to documents that PM&C would have that would potentially be subject to an FOI application to you. If an FOI application were to be made to you that included communications that the Prime Minister had engaged in on WhatsApp, I want to understand what PM&C is doing to ensure that those communications would be retrievable.

Ms Kelly : As you know, PM&C responds to a large number of FOI requests and maintains information in a way that allows that to occur. In relation to any policy guidance about the particular treatment of particular apps, we would look to the Attorney-General's Department, who have policy responsibility for FOI.

Senator WONG: Can you retrieve WhatsApp communications? If I were to put in an FOI application to you and to the Prime Minister seeking communications, including those on WhatsApp, could you retrieve them?

Ms Kelly : Would that be an FOI application to the Prime Minister or to the department?

Senator WONG: Say I did both, could you retrieve them?

Ms Kelly : I would have to get advice on that.

Senator WONG: What I want to know is: could you retrieve them?

Ms Kelly : I can take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Does anybody know?

Mr MacGibbon : I assume it would be the same as for a text message that the department does not capture centrally. If the officer were asked if they had relevant information relating to an FOI request, then a text message, just like any other social media messaging app, would be provided by that officer.

Senator Brandis: I think you may take it, Senator Wong, that an FOI request would be processed in the normal way and any form in which a document that is potentially answerable to the request is retained would be the subject of appropriate inquiry.

Senator WONG: Mr MacGibbon, do you communicate on WhatsApp with anyone in the Prime Minister's office?

Mr MacGibbon : Yes, I do from time to time.

Senator WONG: Who do you communicate with on WhatsApp?

Mr MacGibbon : Various people. It might be something like 'Could you call me?' which would be totally available if that was relevant to an FOI application.

Senator WONG: With whom and at what level—chiefs of staff, the national security adviser?

Mr MacGibbon : I would have to get back to you, if that is okay. But I have communicated with several people inside the PMO—

Senator WONG: What about the Prime Minister?

Mr MacGibbon : Yes.

Senator WONG: You communicate with the Prime Minister on WhatsApp.

Mr MacGibbon : He has communicated with me on WhatsApp—about nothing at all of a national security nature. It would be the same as if he sent me a text message asking me to go to his office or a phone call from his office asking me to go to his office or letter to me asking me to go to his office. It would all be exactly the same thing.

Senator Brandis: Senator, I can assure you, having myself communicated with the Prime Minister and other cabinet colleagues on WhatsApp, there has never been an occasion ever in which the material on WhatsApp has been other than of an extremely routine nature, as Mr MacGibbon has said: 'Can you call me?' Never ever ever has there been an occasion when a sensitive or national security matter has been reduced to that form, for obvious reasons.

Senator WONG: There is a cabinet WhatsApp group, isn't there, Attorney-General?

Senator Brandis: Members of cabinet communicate with each other from time to time.

Senator WONG: Do you have a group, like a chat group?

Senator Brandis: That is a definitional issue, I think.

Senator WONG: No. On WhatsApp you can set up a group that you communicate with. Do you have a cabinet group?

Senator Brandis: I do not want to essay a view as to what the technical description of a communication is.

Senator WONG: You communicate with members of cabinet on WhatsApp.

Senator Brandis: From time to time members of cabinet communicate—I communicate with my colleagues and they communicate with me.

Senator WONG: Has there ever been a discussion about cabinet meetings?

Senator Brandis: No.

Senator WONG: The fact of a cabinet meeting?

Senator Brandis: Not that I can recall.

Senator WONG: What do you talk about?

Senator Brandis: Nothing of public sensitivity.

Senator WONG: If that is the case, are you prepared to give us a copy of your cabinet WhatsApp chat? You can export it as a text file.

Senator Brandis: No.

Senator WONG: You are not? So it is entirely unremarkable, but you do not want it exposed to the public.

Senator Brandis: It is entirely unremarkable.

Senator WONG: Then why don't you give us a copy of the chat?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, I note we are due to go to lunch in five minutes.

Senator WONG: I guess that the silence means 'no'. Is that right?

CHAIR: I just want to clarify whether you will still be going with this matter after lunch.

Senator WONG: I have got a range of PM&C matters, but I am happy to stop if other senators have questions.

CHAIR: I am aware that Senator Rhiannon has some questions. Can you fit them in now?

Senator RHIANNON: I would hope to go for more than five minutes.

CHAIR: Let's start with you after lunch, Senator Rhiannon. Senator Dodson.

Senator DODSON: I noticed on the flowchart that we have got that there is a vacancy in relation to the principal adviser for Indigenous affairs. How long has that vacancy been there?

Ms Kelly : That vacancy was caused by the departure of Ms Tims, so it has not been for a long period, but I will have to make some inquiries about how filling that vacancy is proceeding.

Senator DODSON: Thank you. Can you advise me of the relationship between this particular adviser and the Indigenous advisory entity to the Prime Minister?

Ms Kelly : The Indigenous affairs deputies are not here with us today. They come to the Friday estimates on Indigenous matters.

Senator DODSON: I understand that, but I thought you might know from a governance point of view.

Ms Kelly : I am sorry; I am not able to assist. I am happy to take it on notice, or you can raise it on Friday at the Indigenous estimates hearing.

Senator DODSON: Okay. Maybe this is not the right question to be asking you if the deputy secretary is not here, and it may well be a matter for Friday, but is there any disparity between the salaries of those people who come over from FaHCSIA into the Prime Minister and cabinet department, and is that matter being resolved?

Ms Kelly : We currently have 10 different enterprise agreements in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and each of those enterprise agreements has its own set of terms and conditions. They include salary but they also include other terms and conditions that differ in terms of leave, allowances and all of those sorts of matters. We are currently operating on 10 different sets of terms and conditions, and one of those enterprise agreements is the former FaHCSIA enterprise agreement.

Senator DODSON: And how long has that been?

Ms Kelly : Since September 2013. We are currently in negotiations for a new enterprise agreement. We have put a proposal to staff on two occasions, and it has been rejected. We are currently in consultations with staff about the approach going forward. We remain very committed to resolving this as quickly as we possibly can, but it is clear that staff have told us on two occasions that the proposal we put to them for one enterprise agreement was not acceptable, so we are currently consulting with staff about different ways forward.

Senator DODSON: Thank you. Two more questions. Again this may be inappropriate to be asking this particular department, but who is responsible for checking that legislation complies with international commitments that the Australian government has entered into—when legislation has been proposed, of course.

Ms Kelly : I think there is quite an answer to that question. The Attorney-General's Department does provide coordination comments on proposals that result in legislation, and they would consider international law as part of that coordination comment. There is also the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties that has a role, and I also would expect the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights to also have a role in advising on those matters.

Senator DODSON: Whose job is it—and it may not be anyone's job, but if there is someone who has this job—to assess and monitor the impact of legislation particularly on the budgetary positions of service agencies or other entities when legislation is passed? There is an implementation of policy that legislation puts into play. Who assesses the implications of the financial burden that that translates onto a service agency or a particular entity?

Ms Kelly : Is that an entity outside government or within government?

Senator DODSON: Probably outside government if you took, for instance, legal services.

Ms Kelly : If there is a proposal that is considered by the cabinet then the implications of implementation should be considered as part of that process, but I do not think that I can speak more generally about that. It would be a matter for every department and agency. In their policy development proposal it would be one of the matters that they would consider: what would be the impact of this policy proposal on service delivery agencies on the ground?

Senator DODSON: Is there a framework that is used to do this assessment?

Ms Kelly : If it is a cabinet process, there is a cabinet template, and these matters would be considered in that section. In relation to proposals that occur within departments and agencies, each department and agency would have its own process, so there is not a process that sits across everyone.

Senator DODSON: Okay. I will probably pursue this on Friday with your counterparts.

Ms Kelly : Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 12:29 to 13:32

CHAIR: We will recommence.

Senator RHIANNON: Former resources minister Mr Ian Macfarlane, who had nine years as resources minister, was quoted in media coverage in late September as saying that he had checked his new appointment as CEO with the Queensland Resources Council with the PMO and that they were 'cool with it'. Is that accurate?

Ms Kelly : That is my responsibility. If I can just take a moment to find my relevant briefings, I may be able to answer that question.

We are unaware of the answer to that question.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say you are unaware of the answer to the question, are you unaware that Mr Macfarlane used the words 'cool with it', or are you unaware that he checked his new appointment with the PMO, as he stated?

Ms Kelly : The latter.

Senator RHIANNON: You do not have a record of him checking with the department.

Ms Kelly : We would not keep records of matters that were dealt with by the Prime Minister's Office unless we were asked for advice, and that was not the case in this instance.

Senator RHIANNON: Does that mean that you do not know if the PM or the PMO or PM&C approved or condoned Mr Macfarlane's apparent disregard for the Statement of Ministerial Standards?

Ms Kelly : The department does not have any knowledge or involvement in that matter at this stage.

Senator WONG: If I may, Chair, I will just to follow up. You asked to check your notes, Ms Kelly. What did the department deal with?

Ms Kelly : The department noted the media reports.

Senator WONG: So that generated a brief.

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: That generated your estimates brief.

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Not a brief to the PM.

Ms Kelly : Yes. It generated a note to that effect.

Senator RHIANNON: Just with regard to post-ministerial employment, 2.24 sets out:

Ministers are required to undertake that, for an eighteen month period after ceasing to be a Minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government …

I was just interested in the words 'lobby, advocate or have business meetings with'. How do you interpret that?

Ms Kelly : I think the words would be given their ordinary English usage, but perhaps with the exception of 'lobby', which I suspect would be interpreted—in fact, I think would be reasonable to interpret—in accordance with the Lobbying Code of Conduct, which has a definition of 'lobbying' in it.

Senator RHIANNON: Also, is it supposed to be restricted to the activities of somebody who appears on the federal Lobbyists Register. Is that what is meant by that?

Ms Kelly : I do not know that I would be able to go that far, but I do know that the meaning of the word 'lobbying' would be interpreted by reference to the Lobbying Code of Conduct.

Senator RHIANNON: Just sticking with this word 'lobbying', I noted that Mr Macfarlane was quoted in the media as saying that he is not a lobbyist, he is an engager. Is there any reason why an engager would not also fall foul of the Statement of Ministerial Standards if they engaged in conduct that meets the definition of 'lobby, advocate or have business meetings with'?

Ms Kelly : There is a very specific definition of 'lobbying' under the Lobbying Code of Conduct, and the Lobbying Code of Conduct does refer to third-party lobbying. I am not familiar with the detail of the circumstances that you are raising, but I would just refer you to the Lobbying Code of Conduct definition, which is limited to third-party lobbying.

Senator RHIANNON: Would you interpret an engager as a third-party lobbyist?

Ms Kelly : I would not offer hypothetical advice. I am merely saying that there is a quite specific and detailed description of what constitutes third-party lobbying in the Lobbying Code of Conduct, and I think how that matter would be interpreted would be by reference to that definition.

Senator RHIANNON: How do we deal with this situation? You have acknowledged that it is a detailed description. Does that mean that if somebody changes their title from 'lobbyist' to 'engager' they no longer come under that description?

Ms Kelly : I think there is more to the definition of 'lobbying' under the Lobbying Code of Conduct than a title. It is a substantive test. That is my understanding.

Senator RHIANNON: A 'substantive test' of activities. If you were engaging substantially with somebody on issues that were to do with your previous work as a minister, would that be captured by that definition?

Ms Kelly : I will just get the definition for you. In addition to the substance, it is also actually on whose behalf. That is my understanding of the definition. Under clause 3.5 of the Lobbying Code of Conduct:

"Lobbyist" means any person, company or organisation who conducts lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client or whose employees conduct lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client …

Then there is a range of exemptions that follow that.

Senator RHIANNON: Has Mr Macfarlane disregarded the statement in your view?

Ms Kelly : The department has not been asked for advice in relation to those particular circumstances, so I am not in a position to provide any advice in relation to them.

CHAIR: Are industry associations on the Lobbyist Register?

Ms Kelly : I cannot answer that. I can make some inquiries and determine that. But if they had people who met the definition of 'lobbyist', then they could certainly seek registration on the register.

CHAIR: I am happy for you to take that on notice, but my understanding is a third-party lobbyist is a professional firm that engages on behalf of paying clients. A peak representative body such as the Business Council of Australia or ACCI are not typically regarded as lobbyists.

Ms Kelly : That is my understanding.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator RHIANNON: Which actually identifies why the definition of 'lobbyist' needs to change, so thank you for drawing that out, Chair. Senator Brandis, if Mr Macfarlane wanted to meet with you on matters that you may be discussing in cabinet, would you decline his request?

Senator Brandis: It is a hypothetical question. It would depend on the circumstances.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you expand on those circumstances? You could sit here and get away with saying every question is hypothetical, but we are just asking you a question to explore an important issue.

CHAIR: Allow the minister to answer.

Senator Brandis: It all depends what he wanted to meet about. I know Mr Macfarlane quite well. I have known him for nearly 20 years. If Mr Macfarlane wanted to have a talk to me about the political tactics of the LNP in Queensland, I would not see anything wrong with having a conversation with him about that.

Senator RHIANNON: The question was quite specific. It was—

Senator Brandis: No, it was not specific. It was completely open-ended, as a matter of fact.

Senator RHIANNON: It was quite specific. Would you meet with Mr Macfarlane if he wished to discuss with you matters that you could be considering in cabinet. That was the question.

Senator Brandis: I do not disclose to anyone what is disclosed in cabinet, so the issue would never arise.

Senator RHIANNON: You can tell what will be coming up in cabinet because there are issues before the government.

Senator Brandis: Can we?

Senator RHIANNON: And Mr Macfarlane knows how things work. He could easily guess that.

Senator Brandis: This is a matter of conjecture.

Senator RHIANNON: You could therefore be in an interesting situation. It is a fair question.

Senator Brandis: I would not be discussing with anyone matters that are before cabinet.

Senator RHIANNON: Even if they are not before cabinet but may come before cabinet—hot issues of the moment?

Senator Brandis: I will choose my own words, thank you. I would not be discussing with anyone matters that are before cabinet.

Senator RHIANNON: Ms Kelly, you have set out the description and offered some other information about the standards, but what is the point of the standards if they can simply be ignored?

Ms Kelly : The standards are a set of guidance and behaviours to ensure that members and senators conduct themselves appropriately. I cannot speak to the policy of the standards. That is a matter for the Prime Minister.

Senator RHIANNON: To ask about the previous government: Labor ministers like Martin Ferguson moved directly from the cabinet to work for APPEA as chair of their advisory board just a month after the 2013 election. Given that Mr Abbott brought in the Statement of ministerial standards in 2013, was it the policy of the government to decline meetings with former ministers who had not observed the cooling-off period?

Ms Kelly : I cannot answer that question, but I am happy to take it on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for taking it on notice. Is that how the policy works or is intended to work now?

Ms Kelly : Again, I would have to take that on notice. I obviously have the Statement of ministerial standards, and the department from time to time is requested to provide advice and provides advice, but I would have to take the specific matter you raised on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: I would like to ask about the cooling-off period because that is essentially what now has a considerable cloud over it. Do you have any processes to ensure the departments are able to offer their ministers advice about when the cooling-off period may be breached?

Ms Kelly : As I said, we do not have processes. We are requested for advice on specific issues from time to time and we provide that advice, so that is not an issue upon which we have provided advice.

Senator RHIANNON: Senator Waters this morning asked the Department of the Environment and Energy about whether they have any administrative practices in place to advise ministers about potential breaches of the statement, and they indicated they did not.

Ms Kelly : As I said, I cannot take that any further. We provide advice on request from the Prime Minister about specific aspects. We have not provided advice on that aspect.

Senator RHIANNON: We now have this example with the department of the environment. Are you saying that you would only be providing advice if they asked for the advice? Is that how it works?

Ms Kelly : That is specifically the role of the department that is described in the Statement of ministerial standards, and so we carry out the role that is specifically described for us to do.

Senator RHIANNON: Which is one of offering advice when it is asked for—

Ms Kelly : Absolutely, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: not just assisting—being proactive—in an area where there is clearly uncertainty.

Ms Kelly : We carry out the role that is described for us in the Statement of ministerial standards.

Senator RHIANNON: It would seem that this is a key risk management measure. There is significant media risk and reputational risk for current ministers who flout the Statement of ministerial standards by meeting with former ministers inside the cooling-off period or who allow their department to do so. Surely this is something that your department or line departments like environment should be briefed about.

Ms Kelly : I can only repeat my previous answer: the role provided for the department described in the standards, which are the Prime Minister's document, is that we provide advice upon request. Any further discussion about the adequacy of them is a policy matter on which I could not express a view.

Senator RHIANNON: I am not trying to get into the policy of it; I am just trying to understand how the process works, because what is becoming apparent is that the process is not working. You would have to ask what the point of standards is if no-one, including the departments, is paying them attention and working out how they work.

Ms Kelly : I note that that is a policy view on your part. It is not one that I can comment on.

Senator RHIANNON: So you do not share that position?

Ms Kelly : I can only reiterate my previous answer.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you think the system—

Senator Brandis: I think, with respect, you are asking the officer to comment on policy.

Senator RHIANNON: It is not policy. Don't hide behind that, Senator Brandis. It is asking how the system works.

CHAIR: Please allow Senator Brandis to finish.

Senator Brandis: Ms Kelly has said in her view that is a matter of policy, as, in my view, plainly it is. You have asked her about what the words mean. You have asked her a series of questions about the operation of the standards. Whether the standards in your view should be varied is a policy matter, and you cannot ask officials about policy matters.

Senator RHIANNON: Don't verbal me. I did not talk about variation. I am just trying to understand the process, and you bringing up the old one of policy is a way of avoiding the question. So I will ask a question directly to you.

Senator Brandis: The 'old one' is in fact the standard of this committee.

Senator RHIANNON: Is the system working? Do you believe the current system is working?

Senator Brandis: I do, as a matter of fact.

Senator RHIANNON: Even though there is this 18-month period and Mr Macfarlane has jumped into this job?

Senator Brandis: There are so many false premises and untested assumptions in your question, but—

Senator RHIANNON: You are saying 18 months is untested?

Senator Brandis: For a start, as the chair of the committee has pointed out in the observation he made, a distinction is drawn between professional lobbyists and industry peak bodies. My understanding—I do not know the details of Mr Macfarlane's employment contract—is that he is engaged in some capacity for an industry peak body.

CHAIR: Senator McAllister, I think, had a related question.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Senator McALLISTER: I have a follow-on if that is all right.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Ms Kelly or perhaps Senator Brandis, in addition to the provisions around lobbying, advocating or having business meetings with members of the government, parliament, Public Service or Defence Force on any matters in which they have had official dealings as a minister, the cooling-off period relates to a much broader range of activities than lobbying. You would agree with that?

Senator Brandis: I am not going to gloss the terms of the convention. It says what it says.

Senator McALLISTER: In addition to those, then, perhaps I can remind you that it also says 'they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.' I do not imagine you dispute that.

Senator Brandis: You are reading from the document, aren't you? I do not dispute the accuracy of your reading aloud from the document.

Senator McALLISTER: I wonder then if it has not occurred to the Prime Minister that Mr Macfarlane's new responsibilities as the Chief Executive of the Queensland Resources Council might be likely to cross over with his former responsibilities as minister for industry. Has this not been discussed by the Prime Minister?

Senator Brandis: I do not know about the second part of that question; but, in relation to the broader issue, the test is taking, as you say, personal advantage. I think any former member of parliament, any former minister, is perfectly entitled to remain interested in an area of policy. Mr Macfarlane was interested in this area before he was a member of parliament, while he was a member of parliament, while he was a shadow minister and then a minister, and since. This is one of Mr Macfarlane's areas of specialisation, irrespective of the fact that he may have been for a period of time the minister. So I think it is unreasonable to suggest that he cannot continue to take an interest in it.

Senator McALLISTER: I put it to you that in the context of a ministerial code of conduct we ought to make a distinction between taking an interest in taking on a role in paid employment to advocate for a particular industry for which you have very recently been the minister.

Senator Brandis: I think it is a hard distinction to maintain, frankly, when a person has a wide body of knowledge of an area, the source of which is not necessarily his experience as a minister.

Senator McALLISTER: Ms Kelly, you said that you have not been asked to provide any advice about this to the Prime Minister. Is that correct?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: And you have not initiated any advice, because you consider that that is not your role under process that has been established. You would only provide advice if the Prime Minister requested it.

Ms Kelly : It is not a process that has been established. It is actually in the terms of the Statement of Ministerial Standards.

Senator McALLISTER: Does anyone know whether Mr Macfarlane has met with any government representatives in relation to matters on which he would have had official dealings as a minister in his last 18 months in office?

Ms Kelly : I certainly do not have that within my knowledge, Senator.

Senator McALLISTER: Senator Brandis?

Senator Brandis: Nor do I.

Senator McALLISTER: Is that something that you could answer for the committee subsequently on notice?

Senator Brandis: What is the question you want me to take on notice?

Senator McALLISTER: I want to know whether Mr Macfarlane has had any business meetings with members of the government, the parliament or the Public Service on any matter on which he had official dealings as a minister in his last 18 months of office.

Senator Brandis: Not all of that question, I think, is the government able to respond to. For example, I would not know whether Mr Macfarlane had met individual members of parliament or perhaps members of the opposition. I just do not know. But, insofar as the question is directed to meetings of the kind you describe with members of the government—that is, members or assistant ministers—I will take that part of the question on notice.

CHAIR: Ms Kelly, have any concerns been raised about the minister for resources in the previous government, Martin Ferguson, and a similar role that he took on with the mining industry following his retirement from parliament?

Ms Kelly : I will have to take that on notice, Chair.

CHAIR: Please do.

Senator McALLISTER: In the same vein I would like to ask some questions about Mr Bob Baldwin. He was a member of parliament prior to the 2016 federal election. Up until 21 September 2015 he was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment. I am aware that Mr Baldwin has established a lobbying company and that he is registered with the federal lobbyist register.

Ms Kelly : I can check that, Senator, but I do not know offhand whether that is the case. There are a lot of people on the lobbyist register.

Senator McALLISTER: Of course, but Mr Baldwin is unusual in that he is a very recent member of parliament.

Ms Kelly : There are quite a number of people, but I can have that checked now and come back to you as soon as possible.

Senator McKENZIE: On a related issue, could you also check former minister Craig Thomson and Simon Crean?

Ms Kelly : Yes, we can check those three names.

Senator McALLISTER: It is my understanding that he is in fact on the lobbyist register. You may not wish to answer any further questions about that until you have confirmed that or are satisfied that that is the case.

Ms Kelly : It would probably be best to wait until we get the information about the current state of the registration.

Senator McALLISTER: While we are waiting, I will ask about the postministerial career of Mr Andrew Robb, the former trade minister.

Ms Kelly : I can now confirm that Mr Baldwin is a registered lobbyist.

Senator McKENZIE: Ms Kelly, did you have any advice about my former ministers?

Ms Kelly : We are just making those inquiries now.

Senator McKENZIE: We are going one by one?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Excellent.

Senator McALLISTER: Is it appropriate for the department to accept Mr Baldwin's application to register as a lobbyist, given he is still subject to the 18-month postministerial lobbying ban?

Ms Kelly : I don't have the detail of that application for registration or how it was dealt with, so I will have to take that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: Has the department given any consideration to whether or not that is consistent with clause 2.24 of the ministerial code of conduct?

Ms Kelly : I will have to take that on notice and make inquiries.

Senator McALLISTER: Clause 7.1 of the lobbying code of conduct—

Ms Kelly : Excuse me, Senator McAllister, can I just answer in relation to the other two. Craig Emerson is a registered lobbyist.

Senator McKENZIE: Do we have a date for that registration?

Ms Kelly : The date isn't made public on the site. In relation to Mr Crean, there is no indication that he is a registered lobbyist.

CHAIR: And Mr Ferguson?

Senator McKENZIE: I thought we all assumed he was.

Ms Kelly : We are checking now.

Senator RHIANNON: Chair, one question before we move past this. With regard to Mr Macfarlane, did the Prime Minister approve his new position with the Queensland Resources Council?

Ms Kelly : As I have indicated, the department has not had any involvement in that matter, so I am not able to assist you with that.

Senator RHIANNON: Not even at that point of—

Ms Kelly : The department has had no involvement in that matter. In relation to Mr Ferguson, he is not a registered lobbyist.

Senator McALLISTER: I was asking you whether or not the department has examined whether Mr Baldwin is in compliance with clause 2.24 of the ministerial code of conduct or not.

Ms Kelly : Again, I will have to take that on notice. Not to my recollection, but I will take that on notice and be sure to come back to you accurately.

Senator McALLISTER: Have you been asked by the Prime Minister for advice on that question?

Ms Kelly : Not to my recollection, but I will confirm that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: The Lobbying Code of Conduct indicates:

Persons who … retire from office as a Minister … shall not, for a period of 18 months after they cease to hold office, engage in lobbying activities relating to any matter that they had official dealings with in their last 18 months in office

Ms Kelly : I think that is in the statement of ministerial standards rather than the Lobbying Code of Conduct.

Senator McALLISTER: The information I have indicates that it is also in the Lobbying Code of Conduct.

Ms Kelly : It is in both, is it? Sorry.

Senator WONG: We can check that.

Ms Kelly : Yes, it is certainly in clause 8.3 of the Statement of Ministerial Standards.

Senator McALLISTER: One of Mr Baldwin's clients—this is entered in the lobbyist register list—is Nino Lani, which is a forestry firm that has dealings with environmental regulators; for example, in 2012 Nino Lani was fined $53,000 by environmental regulators for illegal land clearing in New South Wales. Is the department aware that Mr Baldwin is lobbying on behalf of clients who do business in the environment portfolio?

Ms Kelly : The department would only be aware of the clients as notified by the registered lobbyist in accordance with the Lobbying Code of Conduct. To that extent the department is aware and not beyond that.

Senator McALLISTER: Isn't that a clear breach though of clause 7.1 in the Lobbying Code of Conduct?

Ms Kelly : Senator McAllister, I do not know the full circumstances of the matter that you are referring to. I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: That matter has not been referred to you by the Prime Minister for your advice?

Ms Kelly : Not that I am aware of, but again I will confirm that.

Senator McALLISTER: You indicated earlier that you would only investigate a matter of this kind if it was referred to you by the Prime Minister. Is this the case also for breaches of the Lobbying Code of Conduct or do you have the power to initiate an investigation independently?

Ms Kelly : I was referring to the role of the department that is set out in relation to the Statement of Ministerial Standards. In relation to the Lobbying Code of Conduct, it is a different procedure. I will get Mr Rush to assist me with that.

Mr Rush : Senator, can you repeat the question for me please?

Senator McALLISTER: Ms Kelly has previously given evidence that under the ministerial code of conduct an investigation into whether or not an individual is in compliance would only be undertaken if the Prime Minister requested it. I am asking whether the department has the ability to initiate an investigation of whether an individual is in compliance with the Lobbying Code of Conduct independent of a request from the Prime Minister.

Mr Rush : When a lobbyist registers if we are aware that they were a former government representative, as is the case when somebody has been a minister, we make sure that they are aware of the particular terms of the Lobbying Code of Conduct, so in the case of a former minister we draw their attention to the relevant clause and ask them to acknowledge their awareness of that clause at the same time as they make a statutory declaration for their registration in relation to a number of things which may affect their registration. So, once registered, there is the capacity for anybody to bring to the department's attention an alleged breach of the code of conduct. We would rely on an allegation being brought to our attention.

Senator McALLISTER: Has any such allegation been brought to you about Nino Lani and Mr Baldwin's role in representing Nino Lani as a client?

Mr Rush : No, we have had no such allegation.

Senator McALLISTER: I want to finally ask Ms Kelly about Mr Robb. It has been reported in the media—in The Courier-Mail on 9 October—that Mr Robb has established a boutique investment firm that courts businesses wanting to invest in Asia and Australia. Are you aware of Mr Robb's business activities?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: This would seem to draw on his experience as trade minister and Special Envoy for Trade; wouldn't you agree?

Ms Kelly : I do not know the detail of Mr Robb's business enterprise.

Senator McALLISTER: So you are aware of it but you do not know the detail?

Ms Kelly : I am aware of it, yes, but I do not know the detail.

Senator McALLISTER: Has the department been asked to provide any advice?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator McALLISTER: So the Prime Minister has not sought advice on Mr Robb's business activities, Mr Macfarlane's business activities or Mr Baldwin's business activities?

Ms Kelly : That is correct. I understand Mr Robb has made a number of statements in relation to it, but no advice has been sought by the Prime Minister.

Senator McALLISTER: How would the Prime Minister know then whether or not each of these three former members of the government are in compliance with the ministerial code of conduct?

Ms Kelly : As I said, we provide advice upon request. The Prime Minister obviously deals with matters in relation to the Statement of Ministerial Standards directly with his colleagues on a number of occasions. If he requires advice, he requests it of the secretary and we provide it.

Senator McALLISTER: Senator Brandis, can you inform the committee if the Prime Minister is satisfied that Mr Robb, Mr Macfarlane and Mr Baldwin are in compliance with the ministerial code of conduct?

Senator Brandis: I think the Prime Minister has already had something to say in relation to Mr Robb, but I will just check his transcript. In relation to the other two, I have no reason to believe that he is not. I am not aware of any public comments he may have made, so I will check that as well.

Senator WONG: It is the Prime Minister's standards.

Senator Brandis: Well, it has not been established that standards have not been complied with.

Senator WONG: No. So we are not asking: has he said anything or not? You are here representing him. We are asking him: is it the Prime Minister's view that the conduct of these gentlemen complies with the standards that he has set?

Senator Brandis: The point I was trying to make to your colleague, Senator Wong, is that I think Mr Turnbull has spoken for himself on that issue in relation to Mr Robb. But, as I said, I will check. I am not aware of him addressing the other two, but again I will check. But I will take the question on notice.

Senator WONG: Yes. My point was the second point, which is whether or not he has expressed a view publicly. We are now asking the question.

Senator Brandis: I understand the question.

Senator McKENZIE: I also have a follow-up on that. Did former Prime Minister Rudd seek advice about the former trade minister Dr Emerson, upon leaving his role in July 2013, setting up Craig Emerson Economics, which, according to their website, in September provided trade and investment policy about relationships in Asia—bearing in mind he had just completed the white paper for that government, so there was a very strong link between his previous ministerial work and this lobbying firm, which he set up within three months of leaving? Did the former Prime Minister seek your advice about that particular issue?

Ms Kelly : If it is not within Mr Rush's knowledge then it is something we will have to take on notice. It was before my time.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you, if you could.

Senator RHIANNON: Listening to the responses, we have a curious situation where Mr Macfarlane has said that the PMO have been contacted and they were 'cool with it'—they were his words. If the DPMC did not give any advice to the PMO re the appointment, it appears we have two choices, and this is what I wanted you to help me with: either Mr Macfarlane is lying or the PMO approved the appointment without any advice from the department. Are they the two choices? Is the conclusion that it could be either one of those and that is what we now have to explore?

Ms Kelly : I expect that there are matters that the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's office have discussions with individuals about all the time in relation to the Statement of Ministerial Standards. They decide, on particular matters, to seek advice. This was not a matter on which advice was sought from the department. But I simply do not know what processes took place in the Prime Minister's office in relation to this matter.

Senator RHIANNON: So you cannot throw any light on that. We are not able to take it any further. If the statement, 'The PMO was cool with it,' is accurate, we cannot take that any further. So we do not know if it is accurate or a lie, and we do not know if the PMO approved the appointment.

Ms Kelly : As I said, the department was not involved.

Senator WONG: I have a few topics. I will try to skip through them reasonably quickly if I can. The first is in relation to the new VIPs. What engagement, if any, have PM&C had in consideration of the acquisition of a new VIP aircraft or aircrafts?

Ms Kelly : To the extent that there has been engagement, I believe it is Mr McKinnon's area.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Mr McKinnon : We have seen some discussion and consideration of policy and approach to new VIPs over the years, including in this iteration as well, but that was fairly early in the process.

Senator WONG: Has a decision been made to acquire a new aircraft, or more than one?

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

Senator WONG: What? You do not know?

Mr McKinnon : No, I do not know.

Senator WONG: When you say, 'We've been part of the discussions and consideration,' can you tell me what you have actually been party to recently.

Mr McKinnon : Recently? In what span of time are you talking about, Senator? I do not mean to be difficult but we had some involvement in it up to about six months ago but not much since then that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: Okay. In the last six months, has anyone from PM&C been engaged in the process of considering whether or not a new VIP aircraft is purchased or any matters associated with such a purchase?

Mr McKinnon : Not in the last six months, and prior to that it was really in terms of scoping the requirements, including range, including security, including comms status and that sort of thing.

Senator WONG: Who makes the decision, and who is the department that handles it? Is it Defence?

Mr McKinnon : It is handled by Defence.

Senator WONG: Right, but presumably you would be engaged.

Mr McKinnon : We were engaged, but it is handled by Defence.

Senator WONG: So, are you saying that in the last six months very little has happened?

Mr McKinnon : In the last six months I have not personally had any involvement with it—

Senator WONG: I am asking you as the deputy secretary, though, so I am asking about the department, not just you.

Mr McKinnon : I would have to take it on notice then, to make sure.

Senator WONG: Okay. Maybe you can do that and then we can come back to this set of questions. I would like to understand, and I would also like to understand what was scoped and determined in the last six months. We have a couple of hours, so I will go to something else. Regarding staff support, are there particular staffing arrangements to support Mrs Turnbull?

Ms Kelly : They would be MOP(S) staffers; they certainly are not departmental staffers.

Senator WONG: That is clear. So, there are no departmental staff allocated to support Mrs Turnbull?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: If there are questions about MOP(S) staffers you would want us to ask Finance, presumably? I just want to know. We are asking whether or not there has been a staffing allocation. It is nothing particularly unusual.

Ms Kelly : You could ask the Department of Finance. I could make the inquiry from the Prime Minister's office. But it is not something that the department deals with.

Senator WONG: You have not dealt with it and there is no departmental officer allocated to Mrs Turnbull.

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: Perhaps I could ask about conflicts of interest. Obviously the Cabinet Handbook identifies a process by which ministers declare private interests—paragraphs 49, 50 and 51. Who keeps a record of the declarations? Is that PM&C?

Ms Kelly : The cabinet secretary, which is PM&C, yes.

Senator WONG: How many occasions in the last 12 months has there been such a declaration?

Ms Kelly : Unless Mr Taloni is able to answer that question, as the acting head of the cabinet division, I will have to take that on notice.

Mr Taloni : I do not have that information to hand. I would have to take that question on notice.

Senator WONG: Do you record it, specifically?

Mr Taloni : It is recorded as it is raised.

Senator WONG: Yes, in the minutes; I understand that. But for the purposes of this question, would you have to go back and look at all the notes of cabinet? Or is there a separate record of—

Mr Taloni : We would have to look at the notes of cabinet.

Senator WONG: There have been some public questions about an appointment Senator Brandis made to the AAT in relation to a Mr Theo Tavoularis. I would like to know: was there any declaration pursuant to the Cabinet Handbook in relation to that appointment?

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

Senator WONG: Of the 76 appointments to the AAT prior to the parliament being dissolved, were there any declarations as to private interests by Senator Brandis in relation to any of those?

Mr Taloni : Again, I would have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: It has been reported I think that the senator has agreed that Mr Tavoularis donated money to the LNP. Was that something that the department was aware of prior to it being made public through the media?

Mr Taloni : I was not aware of it.

Senator WONG: Did the department give any advice as to whether this constituted a conflict of interest, and was that brought to the attention of the Prime Minister or the cabinet?

Mr Taloni : I would have to take that on notice too.

Senator WONG: You do not know any of that?

Mr Taloni : Not off the top of my head, no.

Senator WONG: It has also been reported publicly that a member of Senator Brandis's family was represented by Mr Tavoularis. Was the department aware of this prior to its being made public?

Mr Taloni : I would have to check that as well.

Senator WONG: Was any advice provided as to whether it was a conflict of interest?

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

Senator WONG: It is a very lengthy period on notice. Is this going to be another one that I get the morning of the next estimates?

CHAIR: Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: Well, I am just asking. That is pretty reasonable. We have had February and May estimates provided this morning. Do not roll your eyes at me, Senator. Do you think that is acceptable for the Senate?

Senator Brandis: Chair—

CHAIR: Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: Well, he just rolled his eyes at me. I am going to put that on the record, if that is how he is going to behave. What is wrong with that question?

Senator Brandis: Senator Wong, behave like an adult.

Senator WONG: You do not think it is inappropriate to ask—

CHAIR: Senator Wong, I suggest that you proceed with your questions, or I will give the call to someone else.

Senator WONG: Well, I was just checking that the chair did not think it was appropriate for—

CHAIR: I am not expressing any view; I am encouraging you to move on with your questions.

Senator WONG: I think you have expressed a view pretty clearly. Senator Brandis, you declined to answer this question in the Senate. I am asking you again. Did you declare any conflict of interest in relation to Mr Tavoularis's appointment when it was considered by the cabinet?

Senator Brandis: I do not consider, and I did not consider, that I had any conflict, and I do not reveal what is said in cabinet.

Senator WONG: I did not ask what was said; I just asked whether or not you declared a conflict.

Senator Brandis: I have answered your question.

Senator WONG: You do not consider there was one, so—

Senator Brandis: I have answered your question.

Senator WONG: You were also asked in the Senate whether or not you had involved yourself in arranging for discounted legal services for this family member by Mr Tavoularis. I am asking you that again.

Senator Brandis: What is your question?

Senator WONG: Were you involved in arranging for discounted legal services to be provided by Mr Tavoularis to your family member?

Senator Brandis: I would have to check. It was a long time ago, but I will take it on notice.

Senator WONG: That is interesting. Do you regard the provision of discounted services to a family member as something—

Senator Brandis: Well, I am not accepting the premise of your question.

Senator WONG: Sure. I can still ask it, and then you can respond. Do you regard the provision of discounted legal services to a family member as being a matter you should declare to the cabinet?

Senator Brandis: That is not a question I have ever turned my mind to.

Senator WONG: And you will come back to us on whether or not that is the case.

Senator Brandis: I have taken the question on notice.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I think we talked about the rare coin, the Tom Roberts coin, that was donated to the Prime Minister's office and was handed to Mr Napthali, a prime ministerial adviser at a National Gallery function. I just wondered whether the coin had been recovered. I understand that a member of Mr Roberts's family, one of his descendants, provided the coin, which had belonged to the artist, at this function for provision to the Prime Minister, and it appeared that on the last occasion it had been lost. Has anything happened with that?

Ms Kelly : We will make those inquiries now and see whether or not there have been any further developments.

Senator WONG: Okay, I can come back to that. I will turn now to the coalition agreement and some of the answers you provided today, Ms Kelly. I think they are for the additional estimates; these are the February questions, No. 32 and No. 34. Ms Kelly, do you have those?

Ms Kelly : I am just having those retrieved.

Senator WONG: I asked about this document, the coalition agreement. You said your evidence was political, but the letter was one the officers concerned considered was political in nature. It is not a letter we considered a departmental letter and so forth. What was Ms Lynch's position at the time that she received this?

Ms Kelly : First assistant secretary, government division.

Senator WONG: Is she still in that position?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: She received a copy of the letter?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: She received a copy of the letter and has retained a copy of the letter?

Ms Kelly : In fact, she did not retain a copy of the letter because she did not consider that she needed to retain that. It was attached to another letter that needed to go on her file. It was received by another area of the department, the fiscal area, and they retained a copy of the letter. They received it electronically.

Senator WONG: The fiscal part of the department received a copy of the letter. In question No. 34, where this document, which the government has gone to such lengths to hide, is asked about, the answer is that the department does—

Senator Brandis: That is a—

Senator WONG: It is true—

Senator Brandis: characteristically dishonest rhetorical claim.

Senator WONG: Characteristically dishonest—coming from you. So I suppose you are going to chide him now, Chair, for personal matters. Are you going to chide him now for personal accusations?

Senator Brandis: Nobody has suggested that this is a hidden—

Senator WONG: Are you going to try to hit me now with personal accusations—

Senator Brandis: This document has been hidden.

Senator WONG: Yes, it has.

Senator Brandis: You have asked a question about it on notice, and the question has been responded to—

Senator WONG: No, actually, Senator Brandis—

Senator Brandis: The character of the document is that it is not a public document; it is an exchange between two individuals in their capacities as leaders of political parties not as public office holders.

Senator WONG: Two points: first, it is a document that goes to public administration, the allocation of portfolios, the holding of a plebiscite and is so relevant to government administration that the finance division of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet keep it. Second, I said you have gone to lengths to hide it, because you have. I have put in questions, I have put in FOI applications and they all have been denied, because you do not want to release it.

Senator Brandis: The innuendo in your questions is completely baseless, Senator. The reason the document is—

Senator WONG: I am going to say to the chair I object and I notice the chair did not protect me.

Senator Brandis: Excuse me, Senator, may I finish my answer without being interrupted and being spoken over by Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: I object to being described as uncharacteristically dishonest—

Senator Brandis: I have the call, Chairman.

Senator WONG: Point of order, Chair.

CHAIR: You do have the call, Senator Brandis.

Senator WONG: Point of order, Chair.

CHAIR: Senator Brandis has the call and we will come to you in a moment.

Senator WONG: Point of order. You cannot give him the call when I have a point of order.

CHAIR: All right.

Senator WONG: I am asking him to withdraw.

Senator Brandis: I withdraw. Senator Wong, you have mischaracterised the document in your assertion, because it was not produced because it was not regarded as a public document. It was a private communication between two individuals, not in their official capacities as office holders but in their personal capacities as the leaders of political parties. The fact that it may have referred to political matters does not change its character as a private document.

Senator WONG: How does the private document end up in the finance division of PM&C? I should just clarify before I ask you to answer that. In answer to No. 34, where you say, 'Yes, we have a copy of the document,' is the only copy to which you are referring in that answer, Ms Kelly, the one that is retained in the finance division—is that the better phrase?

Ms Kelly : Fiscal branch of the economic division.

Senator WONG: Sorry, fiscal branch. Is that the only copy?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: So Ms Lynch destroyed hers?

Ms Kelly : Ms Lynch did not consider that the document was properly a departmental document and she did not retain her copy. It was attached to another document that was appropriate to retain in our files and so she retained that document.

Senator WONG: The fiscal branch of the economic division has a copy, correct?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Why do they have a copy?

Ms Kelly : It was provided to the fiscal branch, I understand, for advice.

Senator WONG: On what?

Ms Kelly : This was after the signing and delivery of the letter.

Senator WONG: Dr Gruen, have you seen a copy of the coalition agreement?

Dr Gruen : I do not think so.

Senator WONG: Do you know in relation to what issues the fiscal branch was asked for advice?

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

Senator WONG: In answer to 32, I asked what the circumstances were, and why Ms Lynch was appraising herself of the document—I think that is meant to be, rather than 'off' the document—and the answer is: it was provided to her by an officer of PM&C who had been assisting Mr Turnbull's office with the transition. If this is so private, what is in the document that requires one officer of PM&C to provide the document to the other in order to assist with transition?

Senator Brandis: Given that the document has not been produced or the reasons explained, I do not think you are liberty to inquire about its contents.

Senator WONG: For goodness sake. You have got people who are paid for by taxpayers communicating with each other—

Senator Brandis: We do not need a political speech—

Senator WONG: Chair, I had not finished.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: —paid for by taxpayers, who are being asked to undertake duties by reference to this document that you do not want to provide, but you also do not want me to ask questions about.

Senator Brandis: No. What I am saying is, as you know, the government has treated this document as being a private document and therefore, the contents of the document are not subject to inquiry by this committee.

Senator WONG: The actions of public servants are. The evidence, which flies in the face—

Senator Brandis: That is not the question that you asked. Just be a little more precise with your choice of language and we will get a lot further.

Senator WONG: Thank you very much, Senator Brandis, for the lecture. The evidence before this committee, in answer to a question from me, is that the document was provided by one officer of PM&C to Ms Lynch to assist the office with transition—is that not correct?

Ms Kelly : Perhaps that could have been drafted in a clearer way. The 'with transition' reference actually refers to the officer who handed it to Ms Lynch. So we had an officer who had gone up to the Prime Minister's office to assist with the transition. That officer handed the document in question—the letter—to Ms Lynch. It was actually stapled to another letter which was the letter that Ms Lynch did need to retain for her files. The reference to 'assisting with transition' actually refers to a description of why the officer was in the Prime Minister's office rather than the purpose of the handing over of the document.

Senator WONG: Right. I am assuming that your refusal to release the document continues—does it?

Ms Kelly : I understand that the matter is currently with the Information Commissioner—

Senator WONG: Will you have a copy now?

CHAIR: Please allow Ms Kelly to answer the question.

Ms Kelly : I understand the matter is currently with the Information Commissioner.

Senator WONG: That is an FOI issue. In this committee, you have not got clear evidence that the fiscal branch of the Economic Division has a copy, and I am requesting that you release it.

Ms Kelly : I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: No doubt you will be told by your political masters not to, again.

CHAIR: Come on, Senator Wong, commentary is not necessary. Any further questions?

Senator WONG: Lots of further questions, thank you. I asked this question today: did anyone from the department have any role in advising as to the content of the letter prior to it being sent or after? And the answer is yes. I asked that of Senator McGrath, and the answer has come back yes?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: What number question?

Senator WONG: It is 224, it one of the batch we were given this morning. I think this might have been the later batch or maybe it is the 7.42 am batch.

Senator McKENZIE: Well, at least they arrived before the hearing started which I do not think was the practice under the former Labor government.

Senator WONG: I actually used to try to make sure I got them in on time.

CHAIR: Let's go back to questions, Senators.

Ms Kelly : Sorry, the question was?

Senator WONG: I want to understand what you meant by that. What was the role advising as to the content of the letter prior to its being sent, or after—was it before or after?

Ms Kelly : It was before. And it was not about the substantive content of the letter. It was a conversation in the Prime Minister's office between the secretary of the department and another officer that went to administrative matters rather than the content of the letter, but it did relate to the letter.

Senator WONG: Would it be something like the AAO implications of the letter?

Ms Kelly : Exactly.

Senator WONG: So we have a letter that is ostensibly a private political letter, in relation to which PM&C provided advice on content, that has been provided to PM&C post being sent and that PM&C still retains, but still the government says it has nothing to do with anything government does.

Ms Kelly : I do not think I can add to my answers.

Senator WONG: I am sure you cannot. Are you saying that the only advice as to the content was by Dr Parkinson orally to a member of the Prime Minister's staff?

Ms Kelly : It was actually Mr Thawley. Mr Thawley was the secretary at that time.

Senator WONG: Sorry. And I think I have mischaracterised your evidence. I think you said it was the secretary to another officer of PM&C—is that right?

Ms Kelly : That is my understanding.

Senator WONG: Were any drafts of the document sighted by any member of the department?

Ms Kelly : Not to my knowledge. I obviously cannot conduct an inquiry with Mr Thawley—but not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: Are you taking that on notice?

Ms Kelly : I think Mr Thawley would be the only person whom I would be unable to absolutely certify had not had any previous dealings with it, and he is obviously no longer—

Senator WONG: No but there were others.

Ms Kelly : In relation to others my understanding is that there was no other advice.

Senator WONG: Was there a revision of the letter upon Mr Turnbull becoming Prime Minister—a revision of the agreement—to your knowledge?

Ms Kelly : We have only seen the letter as I have outlined.

Senator WONG: The only letter you have seen is the one from Mr Truss to Mr Turnbull? I am confused now about which letter we are talking about. Sorry—it is Mr Turnbull to Mr Truss.

Ms Kelly : That is my understanding.

Senator WONG: Has there been another letter post the election, from Mr Turnbull to Mr Joyce?

Ms Kelly : The department has not had any involvement in or seen anything to that effect.

Senator WONG: No member of the department has seen a copy of that letter?

Ms Kelly : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: Have you enquired?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: Could you? I am asking you to take it on notice.

Ms Kelly : I can take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I understand from public statements that when the Prime Minister is in Sydney he tends to remain at his private residence at Point Piper, not stay at Kirribilli. Is that right?

Ms Kelly : I think the Prime Minister has indicated quite clearly that his Sydney residence is his private residence.

Senator WONG: I think you told us, maybe last year, that security and mail redirection were the only additional services that Mr Turnbull received at his private residence in Sydney. Is that right?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Is that still the case?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Have there been security modifications to the Point Piper residence?

Ms Kelly : As I think I have said on a number of occasions, security is something that is an ongoing issue and so, in the course of that ongoing examination, from time to time adjustments are made.

Senator WONG: Thank you for the general answer; I just want to know how much money has been spend and—

Ms Kelly : That would be a matter for the Attorney-General's Department, who oversee and actually—

Senator WONG: Have you done anything? Have you been involved in these security modifications?

Ms Kelly : We have certainly ensured that the Attorney-General’s Department has been doing the tasks allocated to them.

Senator WONG: Have you allocated tasks to them?

Ms Kelly : No but their responsibility is to do the physicial security arrangements. They have been doing that and we have been aware that they have been doing that.

Senator WONG: What is your involvement? The Prime Minister becomes Prime Minister and he is a very large residence at Point Piper, a security assessment is undertaken by the Attorney-General's Department, surely PM&C is aware of what capital works, what things require expenditure, are associated with that assessment. Is that correct?

Ms Kelly : We are.

Senator WONG: Are you aware as to how much to date has been spent?

Ms Kelly : No I am not but the Attorney-General's Department would have that information.

Senator WONG: Who pays that?

Ms Kelly : The Attorney-General's Department.

Senator WONG: Does anything come from the host department?

Ms Kelly : Not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: What about additional personnel? What about recurrent costs?

Ms Kelly : That is a matter for the Attorney-General's Department and, of course, the AFP.

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister has a New York property as well. Are any services provided to those properties?

Ms Kelly : No. I understand that that is Mrs Turnbull's property.

Senator WONG: Sorry.

Senator SIEWERT: I would like to move on to the response to the royal commisssion report on redress and civil litigation. I will like an update on where the consideration of where the commission's report is at and where we are at, specifically, in terms of I am focussed on the redress side of it.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet established a task force to look at the Commonwealth government's approach to redress in May of this year and is committed to ensuring that redress is provided to survivors by responsbile institutions. One of the things that the government is looking at very clearly is quality of access to redress inconsistency of treatment. The task force is preparing advice for government at the moment.

Senator SIEWERT: Is there a long list of people on the task force? Who is on the task force?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : It is officers from across the public servie. I can get those names for you today.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be appreciated. How many times has the task force met?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That task force is located in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It is staff working for a period on this issue. It is not that it is meeting but it is a group of staff working on it.

Senator SIEWERT: I see. Okay. Without telling me the names, because that will take a long time, how many people are on it?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The staffing has fluctuated since May of this year. At its maximum the task force was comprsied 7.6 full-time equivalent staff. Four of those were funded by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and that included two project office staff for about six weeks. At its peak we had 1.8 staff at the SES 1 level, both of whom were seconded in. One from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and one from the Depatment of Social Sevice. We had 2.8 staff at the EL2, two from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and 0.8 from the Attorney-General's Department. We had two at the EL1 level from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and one from the APS 6 level from the Attorney-General's Department. The current task force resourcing is 5.6 FTE, three of those are PM&C funded. It is made up of 1.8 at the SES Band 1 level, one through PM&C, 0.8 from the Department of Social Services, 0.8 of an EL2 position from the Attorney-General's Department, one EL1 from PM&C and two staff at the APS6 level from PM&C and the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator SIEWERT: So they are still currently working?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That is right, they are working now.

Senator SIEWERT: What is the reason for the up and down? There is now a different number of staff than there was previously.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I would have to take that on notice because the current task force resourcing was as it was when I commenced with the department.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you take on notice why the different levels. That is all from the Commonwealth level. How are you interacting with the states and territories?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The task force and the department are working through normal channels in communicating with the state and territory governments and keeping them apprised to the extent we can of the development of advice.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you take us through where you are up to with your deliberations on the recommendations on redress, and then I would like to know where you are up to with the states.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : In January this year the Attorney-General and the Minister for Social Services announced that the government would commence negotiations with the states and territories, as you know. Since then officials from the Attorney-General's Department and the Department of Social Services have met with officials from all states and territories. In addition to that, the task force based in Prime Minister and Cabinet has conducted informal discussions since its establishment with colleagues from across the state and territory jurisdictions. The task force has also conducted a range of informal and ongoing conversations and discussions with a range of stakeholders including the royal commission, the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, the Law Council of Australia, knowmore, Care Leavers Australia Network, the Blue Knot Foundation, the Insurance Council of Australia and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.

Senator SIEWERT: Are those ongoing discussions or one-off consultations?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : My understanding is they are ongoing discussions but I can check that if you would like.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you take that on notice, please. I will come back to my questions.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you, Senator Siewert. I want some background on the refurbishment of The Lodge. I know we have talked about this here before. When was the expenditure for the luggage lift approved?

Ms Kelly : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: Here in estimates back in 2015 I think you told Senator Gallagher that there was a significant variation of scope in time for the 2014-15 budget that included additional funding for continuation of remedial building works at The Lodge to address some security matters and some building compliance and safety matters. Was the luggage lift included in that particular variation?

Ms Kelly : I will have to take it on notice. All can say is that it was certainly prior to Mr Turnbull becoming Prime Minister. So it was sometime prior to September last year.

Senator McALLISTER: Is it possible for you to get that information relatively quickly?

Ms Kelly : The Department of Finance will have that detail, so you can take it up with the Department of Finance or we can make the inquiry of the Department of Finance.

Senator SIEWERT: We were in the middle of a discussion about ongoing consultations. Was that correct or—

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I would need to check that. My understanding is many of them have been undertaken by phone.

Senator SIEWERT: This is a process of talking to these groups. Have there been any roundtables or bringing stakeholders together?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Not to knowledge, but I can take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. What is the task force doing now in its ongoing activities?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The taskforce is focused on the preparation of advice for consideration by government in terms of the government's response—?

Senator SIEWERT: On just the redress?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: It has being going since May; when is it expected to report?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : It anticipates that the government would be considering advice sometime later this year.

Senator SIEWERT: So the taskforce will be providing advice, some time later this year, as to the nature of the redress; how it is being provided? What is on the table in terms of what they are going to provide advice on? Has anything been ruled in or out already?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : No, nothing has been ruled in or out already. The task force is developing a comprehensive suite of advice for the Australian government to consider in terms of its response to the royal commission's recommendations and what actions it might choose to take in responding to the needs of survivors.

Senator SIEWERT: Will that provide advice on what states and territories may or may not be prepared to do?

Mr Williamson : That advice, as Ms Hatfield Dodds said, will cover the whole range of options that government may wish to consider and that will be informed by our consultations with states and territories, and stakeholders as well.

Senator SIEWERT: I am thinking of who is going to be the payer of last resort and what happens if institutions are closed down et cetera.

Mr Williamson : That was certainly an issue that was raised by the royal commission and will form part of the advice.

Senator SIEWERT: And whether it is going to be a national scheme or a state-by-state scheme?

Mr Williamson : As Ms Hatfield Dodds said, there have been no options ruled in or out, so they are clearly two options.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I go back to when the advice is expected to be provided to government.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The task force is working to the provision of advice in the latter part of this year.

Senator SIEWERT: The latter part of this year is—November, December?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Eight weeks away.

Senator SIEWERT: Attorney-General, is it expected that that report will be made public?

Senator Brandis: I am not sure. I will take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: That sounds like you have not made a decision.

Senator Brandis: That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: There are two things you would do then; you would make a decision—how long is it before, usually, if you make a decision and consider a report, that you would release it to the public?

Senator Brandis: It all depends on the nature and complexity of the report and whether intermediately there are any policy decisions that have to be taken by government. There might be financial issues as well. So in relation to how we would be dealing with this matter going forward, rather than give you an unconsidered answer here, let me take it on notice and give you a reasonably thorough response.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be much appreciated, thank you.

Senator McALLISTER: This morning we received an answer to question on notice No. 289. That question asked for a copy of the furniture layout that had been developed by Adelaide Bragg & Associates for the Lodge, and the department and said that for security reasons the floor plans are not provided.

Am I correct in understanding that there are security considerations in the public knowing where the furniture sits in the three rooms that were designed by Adelaide Bragg—the dining room, the morning room and the drawing room; is that correct? Do you have a morning room at your place, Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: No, that's the kitchen, I reckon.

Senator McALLISTER: The kitchen; is that correct!

Senator WONG: That's where we are in the morning, and the afternoon!

Senator McALLISTER: There were photos released quite publicly some time ago—and I am happy to table these—and the article says:

Lucy Turnbull guides a small media gaggle through The Lodge to see the personal touch she's put on the prime minister's official residence.

Are you aware of these photos? Do these photos raise security implications?

Ms Kelly : My understanding is that we had procedures in place in relation to the photographs that were finally released. I might see if Ms Ganly can assist in that regard.

Ms Ganley : We cleared all the photographs through the relevant security areas, and the rooms themselves were not identified on the plan as such. So it was a walk through but no clear plan.

Ms Kelly : And no dimensions or layouts were provided with the photographs.

Senator McALLISTER: Isn't it the case that the department is now refusing, in response to a question on notice, to provide information that really is already in the public domain, with the detailed set of photographs that are appearing on the internet?

Ms Kelly : Senator McAllister, we take the Prime Minister's security as a very serious responsibility. We take the advice of experts and we act in accordance with that advice.

Senator McALLISTER: I suppose my question is how seriously we take the question on notice process—but we can move on.

Senator Brandis: Senator McAllister, I do not think we should trivialise this. Protective security is taken extremely seriously by ministers in governments from both sides of politics. The AFP and other relevant authorities go to very, very great lengths to ensure the security of members of parliament, ministers and senior political figures, including the leader of your party. This is a non-trivial issue, Senator, and I think it ought to be treated as such.

Senator WONG: I ask Senator Brandis, as the Minister representing the Prime Minister: has the Prime Minister had any discussions with any member of the cabinet about potential diplomatic or other appointments that could be offered to the Attorney-General?

Senator Brandis: Not that I am aware, Senator Wong. As you know, conversations between ministers on such matters are never an appropriate matter for public discussion.

Senator WONG: Never? I am not sure that is right. I just want to know if he has spoken to other people about getting you another job.

Senator Brandis: Do you have a question, Senator?

Senator WONG: Yes. I want to know if the Prime Minister has spoken—

Senator Brandis: I do not know the answer to your question. Not that I am aware.

Senator WONG: There has been some reporting of Mr Downer being 'furious his job could go to resolve the battle back home between Attorney-General George Brandis and Solicitor-General Justice Gleeson'. Is the Prime Minister aware of Mr Downer's views?

Senator Brandis: I do not know, Senator.

Senator WONG: Has he had any conversations with Mr Downer about this?

Senator Brandis: I do not know, Senator.

Senator WONG: Has the department had any communications with Mr Downer?

Ms Kelly : That would be Mr McKinnon's area.

Senator WONG: It could be you—your governance.

Ms Kelly : No. Not my part, Senator Wong.

Mr McKinnon : International Division has had no communication with Mr Downer.

Senator WONG: Is there anything on the coin? You were coming back on that—Tom Roberts' lost coin.

Ms Kelly : I am advised that the department has no other knowledge in relation to the coin since the last estimates.

Senator WONG: Is the gentleman in question no longer working for the Prime Minister? Is that right?

Ms Kelly : I do not know the detail of that.

Senator WONG: Did the department undertake any investigation on this matter? It is embarrassing.

Ms Kelly : We have had no involvement in the matter since the last estimates.

Senator WONG: Since the last estimates. So is that the last estimates—let me just see where we got to last time. What has been reported publicly is that the coin and a note were given to the Prime Minister's adviser on 2 December 2015. We know this from public reports, but I want to know when the department was advised that the coin had been lost?

Ms Ganly : We became aware, essentially, of media reports regarding the coin. Normally, what would happen with gifts that are received by the Prime Minister is that they come down through the department for declaration purposes. We were asked simply whether this had been received by the department. It had not been received, and we have had no further involvement in the matter.

Senator WONG: So no investigation by you at all into this matter?

Ms Ganly : We have not undertaken any investigation. I do not know of any other—

Senator WONG: Any discussions with the National Gallery about this?

Ms Ganly : Not from the department's perspective. I believe it is being handled separately.

Senator WONG: Where is it being handled then?

Ms Ganly : I am not aware of that. I have just been told that others were discussing the matter. I presume that is through the National Gallery, but I will not speak to—

Senator WONG: I just want to know who is looking into it. I am not trying to be—

Ms Ganly : No—

Senator WONG: Can someone assist?

Ms Ganly : Yes. We will ask the question—we will take that on notice to find out—

Senator WONG: Mr McKinnon, you do not know anything about this?

Mr McKinnon : It is not a national security—

Senator WONG: No, it is not a national security issue—

Mr McKinnon : I know absolutely nothing about it. The first I have heard is listening to this conversation.

Senator WONG: Yes. I just want to know—

Ms Ganly : We will make inquiries of the Prime Minister's office, just to see where it is up to. We will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Senator McALLISTER: I would like to ask some questions about a document relating to the Prime Minister that was published on the Department of Defence's FOI disclosure log.

Ms Kelly : You might have to provide a bit more detail, Senator McAllister.

Senator McALLISTER: It is the VIP catering profile for Mr Turnbull. It is a copy of his dining preferences—

Ms Kelly : I do not have copies of the Department of Defence's disclosure logs.

Senator McALLISTER: Would it help if we tabled it, or is that—

Senator Brandis: Isn't that a matter for the Department of Defence?

Senator WONG: No, we are going to question as to what consultation there was.

Senator McALLISTER: It is a result of an FOI process and I am interested in the consultation process. You have indicated in an answer provided today to one of the questions on notice, that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet provided administrative support in relation to this FOI.

Senator WONG: Admin response.

Senator McALLISTER: The question on notice—

Senator WONG: Was 206, I think.

Senator McALLISTER: It is 206.

Mr Arnaudo : I have responsibility for FOI administrative support with in the department.

Senator McALLISTER: Thanks, Mr Arnaudo. The answer that was provided to us today indicates that the Department of Defence sought PM&C's assistance in consulting with the Prime Minister and Mrs Turnbull in relation to the FOI around their catering preferences—that is correct?

Mr Arnaudo : That is correct, yes.

Senator McALLISTER: And you were responsible for executing that request?

Mr Arnaudo : Staff from my branch were, yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Very good. There was a conversation then, I gather, with Mr Turnbull about the request?

Mr Arnaudo : No—we referred the consultation request to the Prime Minister's office, as we do with other requests that we get of that nature.

Senator McALLISTER: Right. And so that was a written referral?

Mr Arnaudo : We may have used email—that is something that we do use, yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Did you have a discussion with the Prime Minister's office about the request?

Mr Arnaudo : I think we did obtain views that were communicated back to the Department of Defence, which was the final decision maker in relation to the request.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay. And I assume, given the outcome, that Mr Turnbull did object to the release of information about his dietary preferences?

Mr Arnaudo : I cannot remember the nature of the exact—this was some time ago. I think it was in December last year, maybe? I am not exactly sure, but I can double check and see. But the normal course of events would be that we would communicate the views back to the decision-making department, and in this case it was the Department of Defence.

Senator McALLISTER: I had observed that what was released has all the detail about the Prime Minister's preferences for manuals, breakfasts, light refreshment, drinks, dislikes and allergies redacted.

Mr Arnaudo : That would be a matter for the Department of Defence. They were the ultimate decision maker in relation to that request. It was a request to the Department of Defence.

Senator WONG: Does it reflect the Prime Minister's views?

Mr Arnaudo : My understanding is that we communicated the views of the Prime Minister's office back to the Department of Defence and it was ultimately a matter for the Department of Defence to make the decision.

Senator WONG: How did you communicate them and by whom?

Mr Arnaudo : It was probably by email, Senator.

Senator WONG: By whom?

Mr Arnaudo : By the department on behalf of—

Senator WONG: I know. Who? Was it you or one of your staff who emailed?

Mr Arnaudo : It would probably have been a member of my staff. This was in December last year.

Senator WONG: I would like a copy of the email, please.

Mr Arnaudo : I do not have it with me, Senator. I would have to take it on notice.

Senator WONG: What did it say—that he does not want his dining preferences released?

Mr Arnaudo : No. I think that the final decision made by the Department of Defence was on the grounds of privacy and personal safety—those sorts of issues.

Senator WONG: Personal safety?

Mr Arnaudo : Sorry, I cannot recall.

Senator WONG: You like strawberries and not raspberries—personal safety?

Senator Brandis: Senator—

Senator WONG: Sorry, I will stop.

Senator Brandis: Do we really have to detain the parliament for 15 minutes to discuss the Prime Minister's dietary preferences?

Senator McALLISTER: I am curious about it because Mr Turnbull's predecessors, including Mr Abbott and indeed Mr Rudd, were happy to make all of their preferences available so we could see that they have a range of peculiar food likes and dislikes, just like the rest of us. I wonder why it is that Mr Turnbull will not release his dining preferences.

Senator Brandis: I am glad you included Mr Rudd in that list of former prime ministers, Senator.

Senator McALLISTER: I included Mr Rudd.

Senator Brandis: Mr Rudd?

Senator McALLISTER: Yes, he released them.

Senator Brandis: Shall we go there, Senator—Mr Rudd's behaviour towards VIP staff?

Senator McALLISTER: I am asking why it is that Mr Turnbull objects to releasing his dining preferences when he is on the VIP.

Mr Arnaudo : All the department did was communicate those views back to the Department of Defence. That was the decision made in relation to that request.

Senator McALLISTER: And privacy was the key?

Mr Arnaudo : My understanding is that that was the key. I do not have the communication in front of me. This was sometime in November or December 2015.

Senator McALLISTER: Does this Prime Minister have different privacy requirements to previous prime ministers like Mr Abbott or Mr Rudd?

Senator McKENZIE: There is a West Wing episode where the President disclosed his dislike for a certain vegetable and it caused quite a ruckus within the agricultural regions—

CHAIR: Let us just stick to the questions.

Senator Brandis: This is is an orgy of triviality, an orgy of culinary triviality.

Senator McALLISTER: I am simply asking—

Senator Brandis: This is the Australian parliament. You have wasted 20 minutes talking about the Prime Minister's dietary preferences. Honestly and truly—

Senator WONG: Why is he so worried about it? That is all.

Senator Brandis: It may be that what he likes to eat is nobody's business but his own.

Senator McKENZIE: Would there be a security risk if certain allergies that the Prime Minister might have were disclosed, in terms of international travel and attending outside the VIP?

Mr Arnaudo : I am not in that area. I am not responsible for those sorts of issues. I only provide administrative support to the Prime Minister's office in relation to FOI requests that are made to the Prime Minister's office, and in this instance a request was made to another department.

Senator McKENZIE: Mr McKinnon, maybe you could assist. Would it perhaps be a security risk if the PM had allergies and they were disclosed publicly, given the amount of international travel he does?

Mr McKinnon : That is a really close personal protection issue. I am sorry; I just do not know. Logically it is not inconceivable, but that is not my area of expertise, Senator.

Senator WONG: Can I turn to the Prime Minister's decision to allocate extra staff to, I think, both Senate and House crossbenchers, as has certainly been reported. I will ask questions about the actual staffing allocation in Finance—or someone else will, because I will not be there—but obviously it is a Prime Minister's decision to allocate. I want to ask some questions about that. It might have to be to Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: You have not found out enough about the Prime Minister's culinary preferences?

Senator WONG: I am asking about staffing allocation.

Senator Brandis: Could we spend another 20 minutes in pursuing that issue?

Senator WONG: You are the only one talking about it.

Senator Brandis: Senator Wong, I am just astonished that you would waste the time of this Senate committee.

CHAIR: Senator Brandis, let us move on to the next topic.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly, was the department asked to provide advice in relation to additional staff allocation to the crossbench, or did they?

Ms Kelly : I might get Mr Rush to assist me.

Mr Rush : The department assisted with drafting of correspondence on staffing allocations for crossbench members and senators.

Senator WONG: But that was—correct me if I am wrong—post the decision being made. Is that right?

Mr Rush : The department did not provide policy advice about the specific allocation of numbers and levels of staff. We provided some background information on the process, and we have provided draft correspondence. Most of the detail of that correspondence was drafted based on advice provided to us by the Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: Okay, so can I just get the sequence of events. The PM's office says to you, 'We're looking to give the crossbench more staff.' You send them advice which includes some draft correspondence and some background on staffing allocation. Is that right?

Mr Rush : That is pretty much the fact.

Senator WONG: And that was prior to the decision being formally made?

Mr Rush : I believe so.

Senator WONG: Is there any precedent for Independent crossbenchers to be provided with three additional personal staff?

Mr Rush : Yes.

Senator WONG: Three?

Mr Rush : The allocation of personal staff, as you know, is a matter for the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Mr Rush : In the case of crossbench senators, the three personal staff allocated to crossbench senators are a continuation of the personal staff that was allocated in the previous parliament. In the case of crossbench members of the House of Representatives, the crossbench members received three personal staff in the 43rd Parliament.

Senator WONG: I did not realise that. Were three additional staff provided to the whole of the Senate crossbench in the 44th Parliament?

Mr Rush : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Per senator?

Mr Rush : Per senator, yes.

Senator WONG: Okay. The convention which exists, which is that the opposition of the day has a proportion of what the government allocates—I think it is 21 per cent—does not include these staff. There is no reference to these staff.

Mr Rush : No, the formula that is applied for the opposition staffing is 21 per cent of the government allocation.

Senator WONG: Are you aware of whether the request from the Prime Minister's office for advice was as a result of representations from members of the crossbench?

Mr Rush : I do not believe it was. The Prime Minister advised crossbench parliamentarians of their personal staff allocation by letter as the election results became clear.

Can I just make a correction in terms of the crossbench senators. Prime Minister Turnbull increased their allocation from two to three personal staff during the period of the 44th Parliament, and then it was continued from three to three for the 45th.

Senator WONG: Do you know what precipitated the increase from two to three?

Mr Rush : No, I do not.

Senator WONG: I turn now to a bunch of questions on the Secretary-General of the UN. I just want to get some process clarified. First, just a process question: can you tell me on how many occasions the issue of the next Secretary-General of the UN was discussed at cabinet or cabinet committees?

Senator Brandis: We do not discuss what happens in cabinet.

Senator WONG: Not the content, but if something has gone to cabinet on three occasions those questions have routinely been asked and answered.

Senator Brandis: Not if they reveal what was discussed at cabinet.

Senator WONG: I have not asked what was discussed. The issue of the Secretary—

Senator Brandis: You asked whether something was discussed.

Senator WONG: It has been routinely asked and answered in these Senate committees whether something has been to cabinet and, if so, on how many occasions. That is all I want to know. I am not going to ask who said what in relation to Mr Rudd. I just want to know on how many occasions it has been before cabinet.

Senator Brandis: I will take that on notice for the purpose of considering my position in relation to the assertion you have just made. In any event, I will take it on notice.

Senator WONG: So you do not want to answer now?

Senator Brandis: That is why I am taking it on notice. It is so that I can reflect upon your question.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly, can you tell me on how many occasions advice has been provided to the Prime Minister in relation to the UN Secretary-General selection?

Ms Kelly : It would be a matter for Mr McKinnon.

Mr McKinnon : I can say that the department did receive a copy of Mr Rudd's letter of 4 April regarding a nomination for UN Secretary-General, and we briefed the Prime Minister's office of 12 April on handling of the letter. Under caretaker conventions the brief was returned for possible consideration post the election. That is my only knowledge of it.

Senator WONG: Was the department ever part of preparing a cabinet submission on this matter?

Mr McKinnon : I think that goes to what the Attorney-General was talking about, re cabinet consideration.

Senator WONG: Are you taking it on notice?

Mr McKinnon : Yes.

Senator WONG: Just so we are clear, I am asking on how many occasions the issue of the UN S-G selection and/or the potential candidacy of Mr Rudd has been discussed at cabinet or relevant cabinet committees? I am asking if PM&C has prepared any advice of Prime Minister on this, and your answer is that it was only on one occasion, to your knowledge?

Mr McKinnon : I think it was only one occasion.

Senator WONG: Which was after the letter of 4 April?

Mr McKinnon : That is right.

Senator WONG: And the Attorney is taking on notice PM&C advice on cabinet submissions on this matter. Mr Turnbull said in parliament in May that he would consider supporting the nomination of an Australian candidate: 'In the event of this matter becoming a live one, certainly the cabinet will consider it and give it due attention.' Can someone tell me what 'live one' means in these circumstances?

Senator Brandis: Can you repeat the question.

Senator WONG: On 2 May 2016, Mr Turnbull was asked about supporting the nomination of an Australian candidate for the UN Secretary-General and the response was: 'In the event of this matter becoming a live one, certainly the cabinet will consider it and give it due attention.' I am asking what he meant by 'live'.

Senator Brandis: I think the Prime Minister was just using a vernacular phrase.

Senator WONG: We have just had evidence from Mr McKinnon that the letter of 4 April—I do not know when you received it but you prepared advice on 12 April—

Senator Brandis: My recollection, by the way, is that Mr Rudd throughout maintained that he was not a candidate.

Senator WONG: That was not actually my question.

Senator Brandis: No, but you asked about what the Prime Minister meant or should be taken to have meant when he said that, if the issue becomes a 'live one', that it may be considered, or words to that effect. Mr Rudd's position throughout was that he was not a candidate. In view of the events that have been disclosed, in particular by Samantha Maiden, one might wonder about the truthfulness of that statement by Mr Rudd, but in any event at all relevant times Mr Rudd was not, according to his own declaration, a candidate for this office.

Senator WONG: Can I get back to my question now?

Senator Brandis: Your question is that of what the Prime Minister meant by whether the issue was a live one. It cannot be a live one in the sense of something presently before government if Mr Rudd was not a candidate, and he said he was not.

Senator WONG: At the time, the Prime Minister said that Mr Rudd had written to the Prime Minister asking for the government's nomination, and PM&C had already advised about that. That is the evidence Mr McKinnon has given—

Senator Brandis: Was this at the time that Mr Rudd was publicly saying that he was not a candidate?

Senator WONG: May I finish?

Senator Brandis: I am just asking for clarification.

Senator WONG: I allowed to finish the question, or are you just going to allow him to talk over me?

Senator Brandis: Was this at the time that Mr Rudd was publicly saying he was not a candidate?

Senator WONG: Where you just going to allow him to talk over me?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, come to the question.

Senator WONG: I have tried to ask it a couple of times. At the time the Prime Minister said that when this was a live one the cabinet would consider it, the Prime Minister had already received Mr Rudd's letter and had already received advice from PM&C. Is that correct?

Mr McKinnon : The department had received a copy. I assume that meant it had been received in the Prime Minister's office, of course, and we had sent a brief to the Prime Minister's office on 12 April re the handling of that letter.

Senator WONG: I do not understand how it is not before government, it is not live, if there is a letter to the Prime Minister and advice from the department indicating the contents of the letter.

Senator Brandis: You may not understand, but you have quoted a vernacular phrase that could mean any one of a number of things.

Senator WONG: How did you receive a copy of the letter, Mr McKinnon—PM&C—the 4 April letter?

Mr McKinnon : I assume it was through the normal—

Senator WONG: How did the department receive a copy of the letter?

Mr McKinnon : I assume it was through the normal document handling system. That is to say, it was scanned onto a computer and then down to us.

Senator WONG: Did the department also receive a copy of the letter from Mr Rudd to Turnbull on 1 May?

Mr McKinnon : I would have to take that on notice. I do not think so, but I would like to be sure.

Senator WONG: It refers to a range of discussions by text and by phone over six months on the matter of Mr Rudd's candidacy for the position of UN S-G. This is with Mr Turnbull. Was the department aware of any of these discussions in the six months between approximately late 2015 and April 2016?

Mr McKinnon : I would like to take that on notice, because there was a range of media reporting and I am not sure of my chronology as to when that reporting was against what we had at what time.

Senator WONG: Okay. You are entitled to take it on notice, but can I ask the question this way and see if it assists. Apart from the letter of 4 April that you have already given evidence about, did the department have any knowledge of other communications between Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull about this matter?

Mr McKinnon : I am confident that I did not. I would like to check within my group. Had we received something I expect I would have been made aware of it. So, I think the answer is no, but I would like to confirm that.

Senator WONG: Is Prime Minister and Cabinet aware of any message from the Prime Minister to Mr Rudd stating that he and Ms Bishop were at one in supporting Mr Rudd's candidacy?

Mr McKinnon : I would like to take that on notice as well.

Senator WONG: You might have to take this on notice too. The former Prime Minister wrote to Prime Minister Key in late 2014 saying that Australia would support Mrs Clark's candidacy for the UN S-G. Did PM&C draft that letter or was that drafted in the office?

Mr McKinnon : I would like to take that on notice as well.

Senator WONG: Could you also advise if the department is aware as to whether or not Mr Abbott consulted Ms Bishop before writing the letter?

Mr McKinnon : I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: I assume you can also take on notice whether or not this letter was in response to a request from the New Zealand Prime Minister?

Mr McKinnon : Yes, I will take that on notice too. I can already confirm that the second letter you referred to was not received by PM&C.

Senator WONG: The first of May 2016?

Mr McKinnon : Yes. And we in our international area had no awareness of any contact between PMO and Mr Rudd.

Senator WONG: Sorry?

Mr McKinnon : We are not aware of any contact between the PM or the PMO and Mr Rudd.

Senator WONG: It has been reported that the foreign minister had discussions with Mr Rudd following the 2013 election, where she encouraged him to speak to other countries about his candidacy. Did PM&C have any knowledge of that?

Mr McKinnon : I would like to take that on notice as well. It was not something I had any knowledge of at all. I do not think that is the case, but I would like to confirm it.

Senator WONG: Sure. It has also been reported—and I think both Mr Turnbull and Mr Rudd have confirmed this—that this matter was discussed in a meeting on 11 November 2015 between Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull. Was anybody from PM&C present in that meeting?

Mr McKinnon : I do not think so, and I think you can tell from the sequence of my answers that we did not have much involvement in this whole process. But I can confirm another part that we did not have any active role in, and that is that PM&C did not draft the letter from Mr Abbott.

Senator WONG: The letter to Prime Minister Key?

Mr McKinnon : That is right. And we do not have a copy of that either.

Senator WONG: Okay. Can I go back to 11 November. Was anyone from PM&C present?

Mr McKinnon : I do not think that anyone was. I will have to confirm it.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly?

Ms Kelly : I do not have any knowledge of this matter.

Senator WONG: No worries. Did PM&C ever provide the Prime Minister with advice about which governments should be lobbied to support an Australian for the position of Secretary-General?

Mr McKinnon : No, we were not.

Senator WONG: You were not asked for anything on that?

Mr McKinnon : No.

Senator WONG: Were there any consultations between PM&C and DFAT about discussions about the position of Secretary-General?

Mr McKinnon : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: It has also been reported that Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull discussed the matter again in December 2015 at Mr Turnbull's Sydney office. Was anyone from PM&C present in that meeting?

Mr McKinnon : No-one was.

Senator WONG: No-one was present or no-one from the department was present?

Mr McKinnon : No-one from the department was present.

Senator WONG: It has been reported that the chief of staff took notes at that meeting.

Mr McKinnon : I cannot comment on those reports.

Senator WONG: Has anyone from PM&C seen copies of those notes?

Mr McKinnon : I have never seen any copies of them and the relevant area sits under my control, so I assume that I would have, had they come to us.

Senator WONG: So no copies of notes from that meeting have been provided as far as you are aware?

Mr McKinnon : That is right.

Senator WONG: Is Mr Clarke still be Prime Minister's chief of staff?

Mr McKinnon : Yes.

Senator WONG: I am asking for a copy of those notes.

Mr McKinnon : You are asking us to ask—

Senator WONG: I have to ask the minister, I think. I assume he will have to take that on notice.

Senator Brandis: You referred to unidentified media reports.

Senator WONG: In relation to a meeting—

Senator Brandis: If there was a meeting?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Senator Brandis: And those who were present at the meeting were as you say, and if notes were taken then those notes would not be producible to the parliament. But I will take the question on notice to give you a full statement of the government's response to that question, having interrogated its premises.

Mr McKinnon : I think we did provide a flat briefing on UN Secretary-General—

Senator WONG: As to opposed to a not-flat briefing! What is a flat briefing?

Mr McKinnon : Just a factual one about the election process. It did not refer to people, but just how it works.

Senator WONG: When did you do that?

Senator McKENZIE: Did it refer to the characteristics of people?

Mr McKinnon : It not refer to people at all, characteristics or otherwise.

Senator McKENZIE: Suitable characteristics?

Mr McKinnon : It was only about the process itself.

Senator WONG: When was that?

Mr McKinnon : We will get the dates for you.

Senator SMITH: Was the department required to provide any sort of character assessments of Mr Rudd. I recall Wayne Swan saying that Kevin Rudd was not suited to lead a team, was unfocused, jumps from issue to issue, handing down dictates to people. I am just wondering if this is the same Kevin Rudd we are talking about.

Mr McKinnon : As I said, we did not provide any comments on any candidates.

Senator SMITH: If you were asked to provide a character assessment, would that be how you might have characterised Mr Rudd?

Mr McKinnon : I cannot answer that—

Senator SMITH: You would leave it to Wayne Swan, a former Treasurer, to characterised Mr Rudd in that way?

Senator WONG: How can he be asked that question?

CHAIR: He is entitled not to answer.

Senator SMITH: I will not ask any more.

Senator McKENZIE: I think the officer has responded appropriately.

Senator WONG: You would be really annoyed if I asked that question. I think if I asked a question like that I would be told off quick smart—an opinion about someone else—

CHAIR: He chose not to respond, as is his right.

Senator WONG: As is appropriate. So you are going to check—

Mr McKinnon : We are going to check the dates of the briefing about the electoral process. As I said, it is only about the process.

Senator WONG: Yes, I just want to get the dates.

Mr McKinnon : We will get that for you.

Senator WONG: Are you able to get that shortly?

Mr McKinnon : Yes. I expected it any moment.

Senator WONG: I am happy for Senator McAllister to ask other questions.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator McAllister.

Senator McALLISTER: I was hoping to ask about the cities aspect of the portfolio. Is there someone—

Unidentified speaker: Dr Kennedy.

Senator McALLISTER: Good. Hello, Dr Kennedy.

Dr Kennedy : Hello.

Senator McALLISTER: During the election campaign, the Turnbull government announced three City Deals in Townsville, Western Sydney and Launceston, and I just wanted to ask you some questions about that. How would you describe a city deal? What is it?

Dr Kennedy : City Deals are an opportunity for—in Australia's case—three levels of government to collaborate: local, level state and Commonwealth. They are typically constructed around areas where those levels of government can provide reform or promote, particularly, the jobs and growth opportunities in those cities. The model that is being developed, and is currently being developed in Australia, draws very much on the international practice. So city deals have been a feature of some countries, in particular the United Kingdom, where they have been used to reform, in some cases, local governance and planning reform. They have been used for incentives to, say, improve training processes. They might be structured around a key piece of infrastructure that is being provided to a city. I could go on. But the way we began the conversation in those three City Deals and then thinking further down the case is to be holding conversations with the local government and the state government, and then looking at, in the first instance, six areas where we might collaborate across those three levels of government to do reform. I could run through those six areas if you like.

Senator McALLISTER: I think if you listed them that would be helpful.

Dr Kennedy : Okay.

Senator McALLISTER: Fairly quickly.

Dr Kennedy : Yes. Some of this is up on our website. They would be areas of infrastructure and transport; governance; city planning and regulation; housing, housing supply and affordability; jobs and skills; innovation and digital opportunities; and liveability and sustainability. So, in the three City Deals—we have begun working with the relevant state governments and local governments—we are working to fill out a set of actions under those six areas that would comprise the city deal.

Senator McALLISTER: I know that the UK City Deals had a funding mechanism built into them. It was originally about sharing uplift.

Dr Kennedy : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: And I understand it has been modified to look something more like 'pay by results'.

Dr Kennedy : That is correct.

Senator McALLISTER: What is the funding mechanism that will underpin Australian City Deals?

Dr Kennedy : At this stage, the Commonwealth government has not outlined a similar pay-by-results or a pay-back mechanism—and you are correct in both cases; that is how the UK City Deals process has developed. The first three City Deals are in areas where the Commonwealth has already made substantial commitments to infrastructure—in the case of Townsville, a sports stadium and also a railway development; in the case of Launceston, relocation of the Burnie, University of Tasmania campus; and in the case of Western Sydney, the development of the Western Sydney Airport and, potentially, surrounding infrastructure.

So, as we get into this policy, there are already substantial infrastructure commitments underway. We are having conversations within government and across those other areas of government about how to incentivise behaviour, such as pay-back type mechanisms, but the Commonwealth has made no announcement of a fund or such at this stage. I should also say that these first three City Deals are very much in that mode of 'try, test and learn'. In other words, we want to pilot and get the structure right for subsequent city deal arrangements. Before leaping into other broader financial incentives, we want to undertake genuine consultation to get the design right.

Lastly, in the case of the UK City Deals, that was not a program that came quickly and appeared a year later. They had been working on those types of issues for many years, and we are trying to undertake the same sort of sober consultative process in this case.

Senator McALLISTER: I am a little bit surprised about the funding mechanisms, simply because a key feature, I think, of the UK arrangements was having the local authorities have some skin in the game, and of course a grant to build a piece of infrastructure does not really mirror that strategy.

Dr Kennedy : In the case of the Townsville city deal, for example, when the government was announcing its commitment to the stadium and the railway contribution, it was noted, particularly in the context of the stadium, that this would be part of the city deal making process. You are correct: it was not in any sense suggesting the money was conditional in the way you described a moment ago, but it was making it clear that it wanted to see these processes work together. The consultation processes with the Townsville council and the Queensland government have, I have to say, been going very well to date. That is the city deal we see as having the best prospects of being the first to be completed.

Senator McCARTHY: When was contact first made with Townsville City Council about the city deal?

Dr Kennedy : Shortly after the government was re-elected there was a meeting that the Prime Minister and the assistant minister attended in Townsville, with the mayor. But I will take on notice the precise date. We had begun talking to our colleagues in the state government before that meeting. But it was, essentially, after the government had been returned.

Senator McCARTHY: The deal was announced on 13 June 2016 by Angus Taylor and Ewen Jones, but at that stage no-one had talked to Townsville City Council about a city deal?

Dr Kennedy : I cannot comment on what the minister or advisers did through that period—I can take that on notice. But of course it was not appropriate for us, through that period, to be pursuing a policy that was being announced in the course of an election.

Senator McCARTHY: Your sense is that, by the time the meeting took place in the weeks after the election, someone had been in contact with Townsville. Had someone been in contact with the Queensland government?

Dr Kennedy : I will have to take that on notice. I am just not sure—

Senator McCARTHY: Please take on notice when contact was first made with Townsville City Council in relation to the city deal and when contact was first made with the Queensland government.

Dr Kennedy : For the Queensland government, this policy was announced prior to the election period, so there had been contact. I will take it on notice to give you the precise details—not on those particular deals you are referring to but on the cities policy more broadly.

Senator McCARTHY: Given where we are now, what are the responsibilities of the Townsville City Council in the process of developing this city deal?

Dr Kennedy : As I identified earlier, it is a three-way collaboration, so we would expect, once that city deal comes about, there to be three signatures on it: the Townsville City Council, the Queensland government and the Commonwealth government.

Senator McCARTHY: Have they accepted any responsibilities as you have progressed this city deal—either in terms of the progression of the arrangements or elements that will be included in it finally?

Dr Kennedy : We have had very constructive meetings with Townsville and, I have to say, the Queensland government. We have weekly meetings with them. One of my colleagues has spent more than a week up there meeting with their economic development area. I was on a panel last week with an official of the Queensland government and the head of economic development from the Townsville City Council—we spoke about the deal. As I said earlier, the collaboration and conversation have been very good to date.

Senator McCARTHY: Does that mean you think it is on track for completion within six months of the election?

Dr Kennedy : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: Similarly, when was contact first made with the Launceston council in regard to the city deal?

Dr Kennedy : To get you the precise date, I would have to take that on notice. We reached out to the relevant state and local governments in the period after the government was returned. But I will provide you with those dates and contacts for all three City Deals.

Senator McALLISTER: In relation to Launceston, I would be interested in first contact with the University of Tasmania and first contact with the Tasmanian state government. Given that the purpose of a city deal is to encourage growth across an economic region, were the West Tamar, Meander Valley and other surrounding councils contacted about the city deal?

Dr Kennedy : I will take that on notice. I myself have not met with those councils. I have met, with the minister, with the Launceston council. I am aware that there are potentially six other councils in the surrounding area that may be interested in how this city deal process works—which is, I have to draw out, quite different from the Townsville case, where there is a single council that we are dealing with. It will also be the case in the Western Sydney city deal process that we are likely to be dealing with multiple councils. Perhaps we could indicate when we made contact and to which councils we have spoken, if that helps.

Senator McALLISTER: That would help. What is the time line for completion of the Launceston city deal?

Dr Kennedy : I will defer to my colleague, Mrs Wiley-Smith. I do not know off the top of my head.

Mrs Wiley-Smith : We expect that the city deal for Launceston will be signed and agreed early in 2017.

Senator McALLISTER: In the first quarter?

Mrs Wiley-Smith : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Just for clarity, can I confirm that you will undertake to get back to us on which councils have been contacted about the Western Sydney city deal, who made that contact and when that first occurred?

Dr Kennedy : I will. I also point out that some of the contact with councils has been made through the state governments, so I will attempt to capture that—not always directly by the Commonwealth. We have tried to work constructively through the state governments. So I will attempt to answer that question more broadly if you like, too, by asking my state colleagues to talk about what contacts they have made as well.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay. When was the New South Wales government first contacted?

Dr Kennedy : The precise date I will take on notice as well, but we have been working with the New South Wales government, again, in that period since the government has been re-elected.

Senator McALLISTER: Is there anything else on your plate, to use a colloquialism, in the cities unit, other than these three City Deals?

Dr Kennedy : Yes. We are also developing the Smart Cities and Suburbs program—I am going to hand over to Mrs Wiley-Smith to outline that—which is a $50 million program. We also have responsibility for working with other parts of government that are developing—for example, the infrastructure financing unit that the government announced as part of the cities plan and was also referred to through the election period. In addition to that—the assistant minister spoke about this late last week—we are asked to develop a consultation with the community on what the subsequent rollout of City Deals would look like. We deliver these first three, but how, for example, would we sequence who goes next in a City Deals process: regional cities, capital cities—how would that engagement take place? I will hand over to Mrs Wiley-Smith on the Smart Cities and Suburbs program.

Senator McALLISTER: No, that is quite adequate—thank you, though. Back to Western Sydney, on 16 September the assistant minister said that formal discussions will commence in coming weeks on a Western Sydney city deal. Can you update us on what progress has been made since that release was issued on 16 September?

Dr Kennedy : Last week I and a number of colleagues from the Commonwealth met with state colleagues to work through how we would run the officials process, if you like, that would work with the City Deals, and also to talk about the most constructive way to engage with local councils. We have also been working with—

Senator McALLISTER: Have local councils been engaged? Sorry to interrupt you, but it is directly related to that. Are the local councils engaged yet?

Dr Kennedy : To date there has been very little engagement by Prime Minister and Cabinet with local councils in the Western Sydney case, because we have been settling the approach with the New South Wales government in the first instance.

Senator McALLISTER: When you say 'very little', do you mean none?

Dr Kennedy : I mean none. The assistant minister may have been engaging with local councils. Other bodies in the New South Wales system have also been, if you like, talking through our conversations with them—local councils. There are a number of processes going on in Sydney at the moment. The Greater Sydney Commission, for example, is undertaking its own consultation processes. I am aware that there has been discussion, if you like, with them about these processes around City Deals.

To make it clear why we are trying to settle this approach in the first instance with the state government, because we expect this program to see multiple City Deals over time we are settling memorandums of understanding with the state in the first instance, where we outline the principles in the areas that we take action—the things I spoke about earlier—before we tend to go too much further. In the case of Tasmania, that memorandum of understanding has been signed between the Commonwealth and the Tasmanian state government. In the case of Queensland, it has not yet been signed, and nor has it with New South Wales.

CHAIR: I just note that we are breaking for afternoon tea in five minutes. Do you have a few more, Senator McAllister?

Senator McALLISTER: I do.

CHAIR: I know that Senator Smith has a quick question. Do you want to continue on this after the break or—

Senator McALLISTER: That is fine.

Senator SMITH: I am fine with it.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay, I can finish off by 3.45.

CHAIR: In that case, continue.

Senator McALLISTER: Dr Kennedy, so far, particularly in the New South Wales case, we have had no engagement directly with the local government areas that are involved.

Dr Kennedy : I am talking about the department in this case—

Senator McALLISTER: The department has had no engagement.

Dr Kennedy : It has been dealing with the state government in the first instance.

Senator McALLISTER: Who is the driving force in developing the City Deals?

Dr Kennedy : Are you talking about departmental officials? Assistant Minister Taylor leads this within the Prime Minister's portfolio. Within the Prime Minister's department, Mrs Wylie-Smith is head of the Cities Division, which drives that work.

Senator McALLISTER: In the UK case, these were very much a bottom-up process, with the initiatives being developed by the local authorities. I am just curious as to, if the UK process is the model, why it is that the local authorities have had so little involvement at this point in the process, some months after the deals were announced.

Dr Kennedy : Do you mean particularly in the Western Sydney case?

Senator McALLISTER: I do.

Dr Kennedy : It is a good point. The issues that have driven the developments in the UK, with a different structure in terms of levels of government, have been somewhat different here. But, for the reasons you are outlining, and the importance of effective consultation at the local government level and effective collaboration, it is why, in that Western Sydney case, before we rush and move too quickly on anything consultation with local government will be extensive—I expect, and as it has been in the Townsville case, which is where it has been most expensive. Where it is only developing in Launceston, we have more work to do in the case of Launceston.

To go back to that earlier point about memorandums of understanding, we feel we have to get that relationship with the states right in the first instance, because it is a repeat exercise with the states; it is not a one-off.

Senator McALLISTER: I am going to place a number of questions on notice which go to the administrative arrangements. I just want to ask a final question about the Western Sydney deal. What is the time line for concluding that deal?

Mrs Wiley-Smith : We are looking at agreeing it in the second half of 2017. That enables us to line up with the local planning processes, including the district planning process.

Senator McALLISTER: I apologise for asking if I am asking a second time. Did you tell me when you intended to conclude the Launceston City Deal?

Dr Kennedy : The first quarter of next year.

Senator McALLISTER: And Townsville? Six months within the election?

Dr Kennedy : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay. That is all from me, Chair, thank you.

CHAIR: It being almost 3.45, we will break for 15 minutes and return—

Ms Kelly : Before we do that, could I just correct one issue from my exchange with Senator Wong in relation to the letter that you referred to as the 'coalition letter'. It is a letter from Mr Truss to Mr Turnbull, not the other way around. We were just concerned that I might have misled you that it was Mr Turnbull to Mr Truss; it is Mr Truss to Mr Turnbull.

Senator WONG: Is that how it is described in your questions on notice answers?

Ms Kelly : If you want to refer to a specific question, I can look at that. I just did not want to leave the committee—

Senator WONG: I see—'between', I think you say.

Ms Kelly : Yes. Chair, could I also beg your indulgence. The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor is scheduled for 4.15. Regardless of whether the department is concluded by then, I beg your indulgence to put the monitor on, as he does have a personal requirement to return to Sydney this evening.

CHAIR: Yes, I understand. We will be proceeding to him at 4.15 and, if necessary, we can revisit any other issues left over.

Mr McKinnon : Chair, one more thing. [Inaudible] but I have some answers to some of Senator Wong's questions that she asked for as soon as possible.

CHAIR: Let's begin that straight after the break, if you are happy with that, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: That would be great.

CHAIR: Thank you. We will return at 4 pm.

Proceedings suspended from 15:45 to 16 : 03

CHAIR: Mr McKinnon, you were going to assist Senator Wong with some questions.

Mr McKinnon : Senator Wong, the answers relate first of all to that series of questions you asked about our involvement with Mr Rudd and the UN Secretary-General process. I can confirm that the one brief that the department set up on 12 April was one that I referred to as a fairly flat brief, which just gave details of the UN Secretary-General electoral process. Subsequent to that time we had no further involvement. We were not aware of any communications between the PM and Mr Rudd until they appeared in the media. That was the limit of our involvement in that issue.

In the second one, you asked about the refuellers—the VIP fleet. At that time I think the nature of your question was the department's involvement in it, and I had indicated to you that it was some time ago. I now know that it was back as early as about January or February. We were involved in discussions with Defence in a fairly standard way where we discussed what the operational requirements were, and these ran to things like a range that would get you to west coast USA ports, major European ports, communications capability, configuration and fit-out and all that sort of stuff.

Senator WONG: So, it does go to fit-out?

Mr McKinnon : In broad terms. It was thought that the VIPs were too small and there was a need on occasion to have a larger party there—for example, conceivably press or something like that. In other words, they were no longer suitable, for many reasons.

Senator WONG: You were expressing, in those discussions, whose preferences?

Mr McKinnon : We were expressing a broad-analysis preference about what a prime minister of a country like Australia would want.

Senator WONG: Had there been discussions with Mr Turnbull about this?

Mr McKinnon : I am not aware that there had been discussions with Turnbull individually—

Senator WONG: or his office?

Mr McKinnon : but there had been discussions over a series of prime ministers about the inadequacy of the exiting VIP fleet.

Senator WONG: Or his office?

Mr McKinnon : I would have to go and check whether we had discussions in particular with his office.

Senator WONG: What are the configuration and fit-out requirements? I think you have said (1) that you want a press pack to be able to travel with you.

Mr McKinnon : That is right. It was effectively much more useful space, and the things that were being discussed were whether there would be provision for a sort of private office within that—a standard sort of thing for a VIP plane, a government plane.

Senator WONG: Where are these listed?

Mr McKinnon : They are not. As I said, we were in discussions. If you are asking about the listing, probably because it is a capability issue, it is actually being run by Defence.

Senator WONG: I am not asking about capability; I am asking about configuration and fit-out. That is not capability.

Mr McKinnon : No, but my point is that because the overall thing is a capability—

Senator WONG: I get that. I am actually asking, though: you have indicated that you have had discussions where views were expressed about the configuration and fit-out of the new VIP aircraft—correct?—and you have told me two things: that there was a view expressed, and I am assuming by PM&C, that it would be a sufficiently large plane to have a press pack on it and, second, that there would be a private office. And I am asking what else was expressed as a preference in terms of fit-out.

Mr McKinnon : We did not extend any preferences. It was more Defence and PM&C sitting around talking about what plane would be most useful—what are the shortcomings now and how would we rectify those; what features would you need? And after that of course there would have been further consultation, but that was the limit of our consultation. We briefed the Prime Minister around that time. It was a long time ago. At the same time, the Leader of the Opposition was briefed—Mr Shorten. And subsequent to that time we have had, at my level, practically no involvement in it. The Prime Minister has not asked for further briefing or expressed any interest at all in the plane. But I believe we have seen it go past in the normal flow of defence capability being progressed.

Senator WONG: So, where is it at?

Mr McKinnon : I think the publicity we have seen over the past few days relates to the fact that Defence is now moving towards a contract phase, so they would now have much more detail, which you could talk to Defence about.

Senator WONG: If I wanted to seek documents that describe internal fit-out and facilities—what sorts of things were required—do you have anything that you could provide?

Mr McKinnon : We actually have nothing of that nature.

Senator WONG: No illustrations or schematics relating to internal fit-out?

Mr McKinnon : At the point that we were talking about it, there were not even any illustrations available, to my memory—it now being something like nine months ago. And, it not having arisen again, I am not certain that my memory is complete. But we were not talking about the exact configuration; it was more, 'You need office space, you need more seats that people can use.' It was that sort of discussion.

CHAIR: Just a related question: is the Leader of the Opposition briefed in any way on this matter?

Mr McKinnon : The Leader of the Opposition was briefed about where the project was up to and whether a decision would be made, at pretty much the same time as the Prime Minister was briefed. I think it was he who directed that the Leader of the Opposition be briefed.

Senator WONG: Sorry: was there anything more on that? You were going through your response, and I interrupted you at configuration and fit-out.

Mr McKinnon : No, that was really it. I was just trying to explain what our involvement was. It was early, and then when the decision was made subsequently, to our knowledge, the project has been within all parameters and so not one that we would, from outside Defence, be worried about. And I believe that the recent publicity relates to the fact that they are moving towards the contract phase. They would then have much more information.

Senator WONG: So, are you saying to me that there is no documentation in PM&C, whether it is communications to or from Defence or with the PMO, which outlines the fit-out, facilities, configuration preferences or requirements or proposals?

Mr McKinnon : Presumably, before that issue went to cabinet, detail would have been provided in the cabinet submission. I do not recall whether it is in that cabinet submission. Whether I was there or not, I cannot remember.

Senator WONG: When was the cabinet submission?

Mr McKinnon : I do not remember the exact date, but I think it was subsequent to our involvement in the discussions with Defence, which I think was over some short period in February.

Senator WONG: So, this matter went to cabinet some time in February. Is that right?

Mr McKinnon : Or after that.

Senator WONG: Or thereafter. February this year?

Mr McKinnon : Yes.

Senator WONG: Was there anything more?

Mr McKinnon : I had nothing else.

Senator WONG: I had a question I asked you about WhatsApp, from memory. I thought you were coming back on that—whether or not any advice had been given by ASD to PMO or PM&C.

Mr McKinnon : I might let my colleague Alastair MacGibbon answer that one.

Mr MacGibbon : The Australian Signals Directorate has advised that encrypted over the top applications such as WhatsApp provide users with significant amounts of privacy—

Senator WONG: No, that was not my question. I asked whether or not advice had been given to PMO and PM&C—

Mr MacGibbon : Yes, I got advice from ASD.

Senator WONG: When did you do that?

Mr MacGibbon : I had some advice yesterday, and I have sought further advice from them after your series of questions.

Senator WONG: Sorry—it is less about what their advice is than when the advice was provided. So, are you telling me that the advice you have sought has only been subsequent to the media and my questions to you? Is that right?

Mr MacGibbon : No. Well, you asked two things. I had a conversation with ASD over the weekend about WhatsApp and other over the top applications. And after your line of questioning this morning I undertook to go and seek further information from ASD, and I have had the conversation, and I have some information for you.

Senator WONG: I was actually trying to get process questions.

Mr MacGibbon : Sure.

Senator WONG: So, I think my question was: have you, PM&C, gone to ASD to get advice in relation to utilisation of WhatsApp?—and also whether ASD had provide PMO with advice.

Mr MacGibbon : I can talk about my conversations with ASD, and I can say that they have told us that encrypted over the top applications add privacy. I can say that they have no concerns that those applications are used—

Senator WONG: Well, no, you cannot—

Mr MacGibbon : for unclassified communications.

Senator WONG: I do find it a little irritating that you are happy to read this out now, but when I asked questions previously you told me to go and speak to ASD.

Mr MacGibbon : I am trying to answer your question.

Senator WONG: I asked you a process question. I asked you when you went. I think you have now told me that you only spoke to them as a result of me asking questions in this estimates committee and also over the weekend, subsequent to the first article being written by Fairfax—correct?—on WhatsApp.

Mr MacGibbon : I have had lots of conversations about apps over years. In relation to specifically WhatsApp and the question you have asked me, I can say that I had some discussions over the weekend and I had a further discussion after your line of questioning.

Senator WONG: Right. And prior to that, had you sought advice in relation to the use of WhatsApp by ministers?

Mr MacGibbon : Not specifically in relation to WhatsApp.

Senator WONG: Thank you. And the other part of my question—and you may not be able to answer this—was whether or not you were aware as to whether or not PMO, or any other cabinet minister's office, had sought any advice in relation to the utilisation of WhatsApp.

Mr MacGibbon : PMO are now aware of the same information that I am, and I think there has been some correspondence from Mr McKinnon to the Prime Minister that you have already seen. One of the lines of questioning that you asked was in relation to sensitive—

Senator WONG: No, hang on: it would be useful if we could be reasonably precise.

Mr MacGibbon : I am trying, Senator.

Senator WONG: If you cannot—and you may not be able to tell me—I did not ask about Mr McKinnon's letter, and I did not ask about general advice about apps; I asked whether, to your knowledge, PMO had sought or been provided with advice by ASD in relation to the use of WhatsApp.

Mr MacGibbon : I can only tell you the conversations I have had with ASD. I have given this advice to the PMO.

Senator WONG: When? I am not asking about content at this stage. I am sure we can get to that, and I am sure he wants to, but actually I was asking about process, and timing.

Mr MacGibbon : I had a conversation with the PMO—this morning, after your line of questioning—and with ASD.

Senator WONG: Was that the first?

Mr MacGibbon : I have had conversations about apps with—

Senator WONG: Please stop saying that, because I am not asking about that. I am asking specifically about WhatsApp.

Mr MacGibbon : About WhatsApp? I had a conversation—

Senator WONG: Yes. Let's go over and over it. You said you had a conversation this morning, after my line of questioning. Prior to that conversation, have you had any conversations with PMO about the utilisation of WhatsApp as a communicating platform for cabinet ministers and for chiefs of staff of cabinet ministers?

Mr MacGibbon : Specifically about WhatsApp? Not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Mr MacGibbon : The Australian Signals Directorate has advised that encrypted over-the-top applications such as WhatsApp provide users with significant amounts of privacy. The Australian Signals Directorate has no concerns with such applications being used for unclassified communications. The Australian Signals Directorate has confirmed that its Information Security Manual controls are not required for such communications. The Information Security Manual published by the Australian Signals Directorate is designed as a tool to assist Australian government agencies to risk-manage the protection of their information and systems, and represents best practice in mitigating or minimising the threat to Australian government systems. The Australian Signals Directorate has confirmed that classified information must be handled in accordance with Information Security Manual controls but that it does not apply to unclassified communications. Where appropriate, this means that classified information must be stored and communicated using Australian Signals Directorate-approved devices and systems.

A question was also asked this morning about sensitive type communications. The ISM refers to sensitive communications, but, when you look at the protective security policy framework published by the Attorney-General's Department, sensitive has a very narrow definition. That is in two points: one, where the secrecy provisions of enactments may apply; and two, where the disclosure of which may be limited or prohibited under legislation. So it is a very narrow definition of sensitive that requires classified systems to be used.

Senator McKENZIE: Is the use of WhatsApp any different to communicating over a phone call or by text?

Mr MacGibbon : For unclassified or personally sensitive matters, absolutely not.

Senator WONG: Have you or ASD looked at what has been communicated to determine whether or not any of the ISM or other protocols have been breached?

Mr MacGibbon : For unclassified matters, there is no need for the ISM to come into play. The ISM is constantly under review.

Senator WONG: Have you confirmed that there is nothing that is classified or sensitive which has been communicated by these means?

Mr MacGibbon : No, I have not.

Senator McKENZIE: But ASD approval is not required.

Mr MacGibbon : No—if the matters are not classified then it is not required.

Senator WONG: We are proceeding on the basis that you are assuming that nothing classified or sensitive is being communicated.

Mr MacGibbon : That is correct.