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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
17/10/2016
Estimates
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General

[20:50]

CHAIR: Welcome. Mr Fraser, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Fraser : Yes, please—a brief statement. Thank you, Chair. The Governor-General has now passed the notional midpoint of his term in office. As at the end of September 2016 Their Excellencies have spent approximately one-third of their time in rural, regional or remote Australia, including visiting 108 different locations on 240 separate visits. They have participated in 1,859 official engagements and have now welcomed over 100,000 guests to both properties.

I also wish to provide advice to the committee with regard to the Senate order for the production of documents related to unanswered questions on notice. Seventy-nine written questions on notice were received after the last hearing in February 2016, six were taken on notice during the hearing and responses to all 85 questions were sent to the Senate committee by the nominated due date. Senators might be interested to know that contained in these 85 questions were 552 subquestions. Of these subquestions, 50 were questions about a minister which were unable to be answered as the office does not have a relevant minister. A further 156 subquestions asked of the office were also not relevant to my agency. Thank you. I look forward to answering the committee's questions.

CHAIR: Thank you. Those statistics are very impressive; thank you for sharing them. Senator McAllister.

Senator McALLISTER: Mr Fraser, is it correct that the order in which the cabinet and other ministers and parliamentary secretaries are sworn into their offices by the Governor-General is the order of precedence?

Mr Fraser : It is a matter for the government to determine the order of precedence. It is not necessarily the order of swearing in.

Senator McALLISTER: Do you maintain a copy of the order of precedence for use at state functions and that sort of thing?

Mr Fraser : No, the office does not have access to such a document.

Senator McALLISTER: I will move on then. I thought you would, actually. When the Governor-General requires expert legal opinion, does he seek that from the Solicitor-General?

Mr Fraser : This is a rather involved sort of process, but the Governor-General certainly has access to the Solicitor-General should he be seeking independent legal advice. He may also seek that from any other source that he deems appropriate.

Senator McALLISTER: Was the office consulted on the change to the legal services direction that requires all approaches to the Solicitor-General for advice to be made through the Attorney-General?

Mr Fraser : The office was not involved in that process.

Senator McALLISTER: When did you first find out about that direction?

Mr Fraser : On 5 May, when the matter was raised in parliament.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay. Did it raise any concerns for you or the Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : It was a matter of professional interest for me. Obviously it is something that affects the office. There was media commentary that then followed, and I have been following those matters with some interest.

Senator McALLISTER: Does it raise any concerns?

Mr Fraser : That is not any language that I would use. The important element for the Governor-General and for my office is to ensure that the Governor-General is able to seek independent legal advice should he require that, and those arrangements are still in place.

Senator McALLISTER: Do you consider that the directive applies to the Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : The directive applies to the Solicitor-General in the provision of advice to all comers.

Senator McALLISTER: So it does apply to the Governor-General and to your office.

Mr Fraser : I do believe it does. My understanding of the arrangements is essentially no change to previous arrangements where the Governor-General equally had access to the Solicitor-General with the full knowledge and transparency of the Governor-General of the day.

Senator McALLISTER: On 21 March this year the Prime Minister advised that he had asked the Governor-General to prorogue the parliament. Did the Governor-General seek advice from the Solicitor-General on the legal validity of proroguing the parliament?

Mr Fraser : No, the Governor-General did not seek any alternative advice. He was satisfied with the advice that was provided to him by the Prime Minister which also attached advice from the Attorney-General.

Senator McALLISTER: There is an article in The Financial Review on 11 July this year which said that 'Mr Turnbull cannot swear in his government until next week because Governor-General Peter Cosgrove is in France for Bastille Day celebrations.' Is that correct? Was that the case?

Mr Fraser : The Governor-General did in fact travel to France in July this year for the important Bastille Day commemorations, which were commemorating 100 years since Australians—so many—lost their lives on the Western Front. The Governor-General undertook that travel at the request of the Prime Minister and on the understanding that the government was not in a position to swear in its new ministry until at least the beginning of the week of 18 July. Correspondence to that effect has been published on the Governor-General's website.

Senator WONG: Correspondence to which effect?

Mr Fraser : From the Governor-General to the Prime Minister that indicates that, and both the statements of the Prime Minister and the Governor-General which appeared on our respective websites go to that fact.

Senator McALLISTER: I am curious about this. I can see that it was an important event and important that we had representation at that event. I appreciate that the Governor-General was asked to attend by the Prime Minister. I have not seen the correspondence on the website, but that is the implication of your answer. Are there any alternative arrangements that could have been put in place for the swearing in had it been required to occur while the Governor-General was out of the country?

Mr Fraser : Yes, absolutely there are such arrangements in place. When the Governor-General travels overseas, an administrator of the government of the Commonwealth of Australia is appointed, as occurred on this occasion. If I may, I might just draw your attention—

Senator WONG: Who was that?

Mr Fraser : Sorry?

Senator WONG: Who was it?

Mr Fraser : On this occasion it was the Governor of Queensland, Paul de Jersey. I will just draw your attention to the very brief statement that was published on the Governor-General's website on 11 July that indicates:

Following formal advice from the Prime Minister that the Coalition is in a position to form Government and that a swearing-in would take place not before Monday 18 July 2016, the Governor-General has agreed to the Prime Minister's request that he travel to France this week to represent Australia at the important commemorations on Bastille Day to honour the service and sacrifice of Australian soldiers on the Western Front 100 years ago. The Governor-General will leave Australia this evening and will return on Saturday 16 July 2016.

Senator McALLISTER: The date of that statement—

Mr Fraser : Was 11 July.

Senator McALLISTER: That was on the 11th. And the request from the Prime Minister that was referred to in the statement?

Mr Fraser : That came on 8 July.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay. You almost certainly were not watching—

Senator WONG: Sorry; did I hear that the request from the PM was on 8 July?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Bastille Day is, what, the 14th?

Mr Fraser : Yes, that is correct.

Senator WONG: So the actual commemoration was on the day?

Mr Fraser : The commemoration was on the 14th. That is correct.

Senator WONG: The event, I should say—the event that the Governor-General attended.

Mr Fraser : Yes, that is right.

Senator McALLISTER: You probably did not hear the evidence earlier today if you did not listen to all of the hearing, but the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet confirmed today that they retain a copy of the coalition agreement. Did the Governor-General seek a copy of that agreement before inviting the Prime Minister to form a government?

Mr Fraser : I have answered a similar question to this previously.

Senator WONG: Not from her.

Mr Fraser : No, indeed not. I am very happy to go to that. The Governor-General received a letter from Barnaby Joyce, the leader of the Nationals. That letter is dated 17 July. It was given to the Governor-General on 19 July by the Prime Minister when he called on him in order to seek the Governor-General's agreement to revoke appointments and swear in a new ministry. That letter, which has also been placed on our website—and I have it here in front of me—is rather straightforward and it confirms that Mr Turnbull has the support of the Nationals in the formation of a coalition government under his leadership in the 45th Parliament.

Senator WONG: What are you reading from?

Mr Fraser : The letter itself.

Senator WONG: Can we have a copy of that, please?

Mr Fraser : I would be very happy to table that. It is also on our website.

Senator SMITH: [Inaudible]

Mr Fraser : Thank you, Senator Smith. We do seek to be absolutely transparent wherever possible, so that the Australian people can see the basis on which the Governor-General is acting in his constitutional roles.

Senator McALLISTER: I understand that he received this letter, which is presently being tabled. Did the Governor-General seek a copy of the coalition agreement?

Mr Fraser : No.

Senator McALLISTER: Has he ever been provided with one?

Mr Fraser : No.

Senator McALLISTER: I understand that the Governor-General attended the Paralympic Games in Rio. Is that correct?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator McALLISTER: Did he also attend the Olympic Games?

Mr Fraser : Yes, he did.

Senator McALLISTER: Was he accompanied by Lady Cosgrove on that trip?

Mr Fraser : Yes, he was; on both occasions.

Senator McALLISTER: Did anyone else accompany the Governor-General on that trip?

Mr Fraser : Which particular trip—the Paralympics or the Olympics?

Senator McALLISTER: He journeyed twice?

Mr Fraser : He did.

Senator McALLISTER: For each of them, in fact.

Mr Fraser : The visit to the Olympic Games—of course, the Governor-General is the Patron of the Australian Olympic Committee and he visited Rio in support of our games. He attended the opening ceremony as well as the first day of competition. That was part of a broader visit to Latin America—the first ever by an Australian Governor-General. He made four state visits: to Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. He undertook 83 official engagements on that trip. It was, in fact, the most expansive trip ever undertaken by a Governor-General and was a resounding success. On that trip, the Governor-General was accompanied by myself, the deputy official secretary as well as two other staff of my office.

Senator McALLISTER: A total of four staff?

Mr Fraser : Four staff from my office, plus there was the usual ADF and AFP support staff.

Senator McALLISTER: How many days were you on ground if you exclude the flights—the days themselves?

Mr Fraser : The days themselves—I would have to ask my colleague who could count that for me. It was a 14-day program with 83 official engagements.

Senator McALLISTER: Fourteen days plus travel?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator McALLISTER: And when he returned for the Paralympics?

Mr Fraser : It was a much shorter visit. The Governor-General was in the air for about 60 hours in order to get to Rio and was on the ground for around 50 hours. The deputy official secretary was the only staff member who accompanied on that occasion.

Senator McALLISTER: And Lady Cosgrove?

Mr Fraser : Correct. That was the only staff member from my office.

Senator McALLISTER: There was an article published on 20 September in The Australian by Rosie Lewis in relation to—

Senator WONG: Are you going on to a different topic?

Senator McALLISTER: I am. Do you have a follow-on question?

Senator WONG: Yes. Mr Fraser, I think you were asked about the coalition agreement and you said the Governor-General had never received it. Had he ever sighted it?

Mr Fraser : No.

Senator WONG: What about you?

Mr Fraser : No.

Senator WONG: So it is not a document anyone in the office has seen?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: You answered some questions about precedence and you also referenced the letters, of which this one is one, and there is a letter from Mr Turnbull to the Governor-General of 18 July 2016. It is advising a number of changes to the ministry and so forth.

Mr Fraser : That is correct. That letter is annotated by the Governor-General—

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Fraser : on 19 July.

Senator WONG: What is the order here, of attachment A?

Mr Fraser : I am sorry—the order of?

Senator WONG: Attachment A: all cabinet ministers and then outer ministers—

Mr Fraser : Yes.

Senator WONG: This is the order of precedence?

Mr Fraser : It is what it purports to be. So that is a list that was presented to the Governor-General. He acted on those recommendations to make the following revocations and appointments, as outlined.

Senator WONG: I just asked you if it was the order of precedence.

Mr Fraser : And I do not know whether it is the order of precedence or not.

Senator WONG: Which is the order they were sworn in? Is this the order they were sworn in?

Mr Fraser : Yes, this is the order in which they were sworn, but I do not know whether that is the strict order of precedence adopted by the government in this parliament.

Senator WONG: That is probably a better question. So this is the order in which they were sworn?

Mr Fraser : Indeed it was.

Senator WONG: Isn't it usually the case that you are sworn in order of precedence?

Mr Fraser : I do not know whether that is usually the case.

Senator WONG: Really?

Mr Fraser : Yes.

Senator WONG: That is your evidence?

Mr Fraser : Well, I am not aware of any issue that you might be seeking to raise—

Senator WONG: No, I am just asking a straight formality question. I do not know why it is such a state secret. There is an order of precedence. I do not know why everybody wants to hide it.

Mr Fraser : We have seen what was released to the media, and that was the Turnbull ministry. It is a one-page document. I am not aware, within the government, how ministers' seniority or priority is accorded. I do know the order in which they were sworn, and often that is based on—

Senator WONG: Precedence?

Mr Fraser : precedence—

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Mr Fraser : and people are seated often in that order, and often photographed in that order too.

Senator WONG: Correct—and your seating generally around the cabinet table reflects that, too. So we can at least agree that attachment A sets out the order in which ministers were sworn?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

CHAIR: Senator McAllister, I would just note that we are about five minutes away from our next break.

Senator WONG: We are doing very well.

CHAIR: We are doing okay. I am a bit concerned that some of the later agencies, though, we may not get to.

Senator McKENZIE: Mr Fraser, you mentioned that you had a series of questions on notice put to your office.

Mr Fraser : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Can you quickly run through those stats again for me?

Mr Fraser : Certainly. There were a total of 85 questions that were taken—

Senator McKENZIE: The subquestions that were under that?

Mr Fraser : That is right. So there were 552 subquestions. Of those subquestions, 50 were questions about a minister, which the office was unable to answer. A further 156 subquestions asked of the office were also not relevant to our agency.

Senator McKENZIE: Which senator submitted those questions?

Mr Fraser : There were a whole range of questions asked from various senators. I do not recall particularly who directed the bulk of those.

Senator McKENZIE: They clearly do not actually realise that, as a representative of the Queen, the Governor-General does not have a minister.

Mr Fraser : That is abundantly clear.

Senator McKENZIE: Well, it is to some senators, clearly, Mr Fraser, but not to the ones who continue to waste your time submitting useless questions on notice.

Senator WONG: Was that a declaration?

Senator McKENZIE: No, it was just an observation.

Senator McALLISTER: Can I just come back to an answer you provided earlier, Mr Fraser. I asked you whether the Governor-General had sought Solicitor-General's advice around the prorogation of parliament. You said no, because—and correct me if I have this wrong—the request was accompanied by legal advice provided by the Prime Minister.

Mr Fraser : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Did you make inquiries as to the source of that advice?

Mr Fraser : The advice was on its face. The evidence was available there to the Governor-General. All of that supplementary information was in a letter from the Attorney-General. Ultimately it is a matter for the Governor-General about whether he is satisfied that what he is being asked to do is constitutional. On this occasion, under section 5 of the Constitution, the Governor-General was satisfied that everything was in order. He had available quite an extensive amount of information furnished to him by the Prime Minister. He has annotated that information and made that publicly available.

Senator McALLISTER: So he did not ask the Prime Minister. In the back and forth about this, he made no inquiries of the Prime Minister as to the source of that advice?

Mr Fraser : The advice came from the Attorney-General.

Senator WONG: Can we be clear about this: does that mean the Attorney-General referenced advice provided by counsel, or does that mean the Attorney-General himself gave advice?

Mr Fraser : It is the latter: the Attorney-General himself gave advice.

Senator WONG: He relied on himself?

Mr Fraser : He did, and he signed the letter.

Senator WONG: This is the bloke some silk described as a plodder. Sorry.

Mr Fraser : The letter is annotated by the Governor-General '21 March 2016 at 9.15 am', and it provides practice and precedents of the recall of parliament, I think, on around 26 previous occasions and furnishes other relevant information which was of assistance to the Governor-General in satisfying himself of the constitutionality of what he was being asked to do.

Senator McALLISTER: I do not have that documentation in front of me.

Mr Fraser : Can I table that.

Senator WONG: That would be great.

Senator McALLISTER: I think that would be really helpful.

Senator WONG: I might have been out of the room. Did the Governor-General consider obtaining Solicitor-General's advice on prorogation?

Mr Fraser : It is open to the Governor-General to seek advice from any source he should wish if he thinks that is appropriate and necessary in satisfying himself of such matters. On this occasion, he sought no such advice from the Solicitor-General.

CHAIR: Just to clarify, Mr Fraser, this letter and all the attached documents are already public?

Mr Fraser : They are.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator WONG: Was the issue of whether or not the Governor-General would seek advice—hang on, I will rephrase that. Was the consideration of the prorogation—I think in answer to my colleague—done with the Attorney in attendance?

Mr Fraser : I am sorry, Senator?

Senator WONG: The consideration of the prorogation.

Mr Fraser : No, it was not.

Senator WONG: Or the Prime Minister?

Mr Fraser : The Prime Minister came and called on the Governor-General.

Senator WONG: But not the Attorney?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: And the advice from the Attorney-General was by way of writing?

Mr Fraser : Yes, it was.

Senator WONG: Was that released publicly?

Mr Fraser : Yes.

Senator WONG: Is that what you have just provided?

Mr Fraser : Yes, it is.

Senator WONG: Okay, so maybe I will wait for that. At any point, did the Governor-General have a discussion with the Attorney about the possibility of seeking additional advice?

Mr Fraser : No.

Senator WONG: That you are aware of?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator McALLISTER: You were very explicit that the Governor-General did not seek advice from the Solicitor-General. Did he seek advice externally to the government?

Mr Fraser : No, he did not.

Senator McALLISTER: I will just wait for the documentation.

Senator SMITH: I think the authority that is vested in the Governor-General is made very clear at item No. 3 under the heading 'The practice and precedents of recall of parliament following prorogation', where it says House of Representatives Practice states:

While … the Constitution gives the Governor-General authority to prorogue the Parliament, the decision to prorogue follows the advice of the Government of the day.

So, I think the authority for the Governor-General to act is very clear. But further, do you agree or disagree that the authority that rests with the Governor-General or the freedom that rests with the Governor-General to seek advice or not seek advice is amply demonstrated when the former Governor-General willingly, and of her own decision, sought some advice from the Solicitor-General about the perceived conflict of interest between herself and the government because of the relationship between Mr Shorten and her daughter that demonstrated the freedom that the Governor-General has to exercise or request advice?

Senator WONG: I am impressed with how much you are working hard to bring up the past.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, please allow Mr Fraser to answer that question.

Senator WONG: Are you going to allow that question to stand? It is a question of opinion. He should not be asked it. It is ridiculous.

CHAIR: Well, I will give him an opportunity to take that route, if he would like.

Mr Fraser : The point I would make is that it is widely accepted that the Governor-General may seek advice from whomever he wishes to inform himself—

CHAIR: 'May', not 'shall'.

Mr Fraser : Indeed. And the Solicitor-General of course, as the second most senior legal officer in the country—

Senator WONG: And certainly the better.

Mr Fraser : is one such source of advice to whom the Governor-General could turn and has turned in the past and may in the future should the circumstances arise.

Proceedings suspended from 21 : 16 to 21 : 30

CHAIR: We will resume. I welcome back the Governor-General's office.

Senator WONG: I want to go back to the basics of the Governor-General's decision to prorogue the parliament—and thank you for providing the letter from the Attorney-General. In the circumstances where it is obviously a political decision as to when the government is seeking to have an election, you would agree that the timing of the election is a political decision?

Mr Fraser : Yes, I presume so.

Senator WONG: And the Governor-General, being confronted by a decision which is political as to timing, did he not turn his mind to the fact that the supposed legal adviser telling him he had the power was a politician with a vested interest?

Mr Fraser : The Governor-General acts on the advice of the Prime Minister. That is the only advice that he has acted upon in this regard. He was furnished with advice by the Prime Minister from the Attorney which he was very happy to be appraised of. In this instance, the matter, as it was presented, whilst unusual in more recent Australian history, has occurred on numerous occasions before, which have been documented in the advice that was provided to the Governor-General. Ultimately, it is a matter of constitutionality—

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Fraser : And in line with the principle of responsible government, the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and it is the Prime Minister who is accountable to the parliament.

CHAIR: I should have advised earlier that we now will not be requiring the ANAO or the Australia Day Council, but all other agencies will be required.

Senator WONG: I have a few issues. You yourself said, it is in recent history reasonably unusual to prorogue the parliament in the way that was undertaken—correct?

Mr Fraser : It has not happened in recent times.

Senator WONG: Correct. And I think that the list of occasions on which it has occurred was attached to the correspondence.

Mr Fraser : Indeed.

Senator WONG: You also said correctly that the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Prime Minister of the government of the day, but I think you also referenced the fact that this has to be an exercise of the Governor-General's constitutional powers—correct?

Mr Fraser : Correct.

Senator WONG: I am intrigued as to why the Governor-General did not turn his mind to confirming the constitutionality of what he was being asked to do, when the only legal advice before him was from a person who clearly had a political vested interest in the outcome. I would have thought there would have been an abundance of caution or, frankly, a sensible thing to do to make sure he got someone else to give him advice. Did that not occur to him?

Mr Fraser : I will not speak of the Governor-General's behalf. All I can say is that he was satisfied with the advice provided to him. But if it is of assistance to the committee, it might be worth me mentioning that if there is a matter of some controversy or where there is a matter upon which the Governor-General may be seeking to exercise his independent discretion—as we would refer to, the reserve powers—the Governor-General may well seek such an independent decision on those sorts of occasions. On this occasion, it was a straightforward matter of advice and constitutionality, although somewhat unusual in recent times. That was evident to the Governor-General and he did not seek any additional advice.

Senator SMITH: If I understand you correctly, are you saying that the principle, or the issue, of prorogation is well established in the Constitution? And if I understand the correspondence correctly, it is well established by decisions of the High Court? So it is not a contestable, or contested, issue?

Mr Fraser : The Governor-General was satisfied with the advice that was provided to him, that he was acting in accordance with the Constitution as he was required to do.

Senator SMITH: And not just advice—it was demonstrated, because there are quotations from the High Court decision?

Senator WONG: It is advice! That is still advice—you would agree that it is still advice?

Mr Fraser : It is still advice—

Senator WONG: Yes. It may well be found that there are the very powerful quotes that my friend is referring to—that is fair enough—

Senator SMITH: The High Court is correct—

CHAIR: Well-founded advice!

Senator WONG: Whatever! On how many occasions in the last parliament did the Governor-General seek the Solicitor-General's advice? I have not asked what it was about—we can have that discussion later!

Mr Fraser : That is fine. I am aware of three occasions in recent history. I do not know and I do not have the information at hand specifically about the last parliament, but I am aware of instances in 2010, 2012 and 2013 where such advice was sought from the Solicitor-General.

Senator WONG: At the Governor-General's request?

Mr Fraser : Yes, the Governor-General sought that advice.

Senator WONG: So there were three occasions?

Mr Fraser : On three occasions.

Senator WONG: And are you able or willing to tell us in relation to what matters?

Mr Fraser : Two of those matters have been published on our website, so I would be very happy to go to those. The first, in 2010, related to the Governor-General seeking advice in terms of the Labor government which was coming into power, and Mr Shorten being a member of that government as her son-in-law—

Senator WONG: Yes, that was referenced earlier.

Mr Fraser : whether there was any perception or possibility of any impediment to the proper discharge of her functions arising.

The second instance, in 2013, related to Mr Rudd resuming the position of Prime Minister and whether or not the Governor-General ought to be satisfied that he had the confidence of the House, or whether that could simply be tested on the floor of the House.

The third matter I referred to is one that relates to the management of papers relating to the former Governor-General, Sir John Kerr.

Senator WONG: And is the third public?

Mr Fraser : No.

Senator WONG: Management of papers of Sir John Kerr?

Mr Fraser : Yes.

Senator WONG: And that was sought by this Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : No, it was sought by his predecessor.

Senator WONG: His predecessor. So has this Governor-General ever sought advice from the Solicitor-General?

Mr Fraser : No, he has not to date.

Senator WONG: Happy just to take Senator Brandis's advice?

Mr Fraser : The Governor-General, again, acted on the advice of the Prime Minister in relation to the prorogation of parliament, which I understand is the matter you are referring to.

Senator WONG: No—generally. He is happy to take Senator Brandis's—

Mr Fraser : The Governor-General and I have had numerous discussions, and he would have no hesitation in approaching the Solicitor-General, should he be seeking an independent view—or other eminent counsel, should he so choose.

Senator WONG: Would he want to get the Attorney-General's tick-off for that?

Mr Fraser : The practice that has developed in modern times—in recent times, post 1975, certainly—is that any such approach is with the full knowledge and transparency of the government, and I expect that would continue.

Senator WONG: 'Full knowledge'. But the okay? The approval? The permission?

Mr Fraser : I am not sure of the mechanics of that process. I understand—

Senator WONG: Would you expect that the Governor-General would have to ask the permission of the Attorney-General to get advice from the Solicitor-General?

Mr Fraser : I am not sure that that is what is proposed. I understand that the Legal Services Direction indicates that the Attorney would need to refer any such matter to the Solicitor-General, and that is in fact what has occurred on other occasions.

Senator WONG: Thank you for getting into the defence—you are very well schooled in the defence of the government on this—

Mr Fraser : Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: but that is not the question I asked you. Would you think it appropriate that the Governor-General have to seek the permission of the Attorney-General to get the Solicitor-General's opinion?

Mr Fraser : It is not for me to provide opinions.

Senator WONG: Seriously? You are not going to defend the office and say, 'Of course he shouldn't'?

Mr Fraser : The Governor-General—

Senator WONG: That is what you should do.

Mr Fraser : Well, what I have said previously in my evidence this evening is the important point that the Governor-General ought to have access to the Solicitor-General for independent advice, and I believe—

Senator WONG: Without fetter?

Mr Fraser : he does so.

Senator WONG: Without fetter? You would agree with that? Without restriction?

Mr Fraser : I am not aware of any restrictions or any impediments.

Senator WONG: Thank you for defending Senator Brandis and the government. I am asking you, as head of the office: do you not believe that the Governor-General ought to have access to the Solicitor-General without any fetter, without any barrier being imposed by the elected government?

Mr Fraser : They are not matters for me to express a view on.

Senator WONG: Goodness me, you will not even defend that. That is pretty interesting.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, the official secretary is not a political combatant to the—

Senator WONG: Yes, well he is playing a pretty political role tonight actually.

CHAIR: Save it for Senator Brandis when he gets back.

Senator WONG: No, I just think usually somebody in that position would defend the office a little more than he just did but he read the talking points.

CHAIR: Any further questions to the official secretary?

Senator WONG: No, I do not have anything more.

Senator McALLISTER: I have one last question but I need to find it. Mr Fraser, your 2014-15 report was transmitted to the Prime Minister on 15 October 2015. I am just wondering when the 2016-17 annual report is to be tabled?

Mr Fraser : It has been submitted through the appropriate channels for the Prime Minister's approval. I expect it to go to the printer, hopefully, later this week and to be tabled before the end of the month.

Senator McALLISTER: Tabled before the end of the month?

Mr Fraser : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay. I have no further questions.

CHAIR: If there are no further questions for the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, I thank the witnesses. I now call the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.