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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
22/05/2017
Estimates
PARLIAMENT
Department of the Senate

Department of the Senate

[09:03]

CHAIR: I welcome the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon. Stephen Parry; the Clerk of the Senate, Mr Richard Pye; and officers of the Department of the Senate. I thank the department for providing updated information on the Senate Occasional Lecture Series program and the Senate committee activity report, which have been circulated to the committee. Senator Parry, do you wish to make an opening statement?

The President: No, thank you.

CHAIR: Mr Pye, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Pye : Very briefly, Chair. In one of the answers to questions from the last round of estimates, I reported on Maureen Weeks's appointment as Deputy Clerk of the Senate and that a recruitment process was underway to find a successor to her as Clerk Assistant Procedure. Following a merit selection process, Ms Jackie Morris, our Senior Clerk of Committees has been promoted to Clerk Assistant Procedure.

CHAIR: Congratulations.

Senator WONG: Congratulations, and I am pleased that the position has been filled. Obviously we have already congratulated Ms Weeks as well. President, can I start with what has been reported in relation to the proposed recovery of salary from the two former Senators, Day and Culleton. Can you tell me what the status is from the Senate's perspective, and then I have a few questions on that.

The President: This is a matter purely for the Department of the Senate, so I am going to handover to the Clerk to respond to that.

Mr Pye : What you have seen reported in the press recently is correct. The Department of Finance and the Department of the Senate have written to former senators Culleton and Day indicating that each of them have under the Remuneration Tribunal Act and various other acts a debt to the Commonwealth and are seeking information from them as to their financial status and information including as to whether they might seek from the Special Minister of State a waiver of that debt.

Senator WONG: President, when you say it is a matter for the Department of the Senate, are you suggesting there is no engagement from you in those matters, and if so, why?

The President: The Clerk gave me some good advice about this when the matter first arose in relation to my involvement in what I should or should not do and what I can and cannot do. I will invite the Clerk to indicate the technical reasons as to why it is a matter for the department and for the Clerk and not for me.

Mr Pye : I am happy to do that. The Department of the Senate administers appropriations that belong to the Public Service Commission and the Department of Finance when it is paying salaries and paying various allowances to senators. I am not able to be directed by the President in relation to the payment of salaries. The debts themselves have technically become debts to the Commonwealth by the operation of section 16 A of the Remuneration Tribunal Act, which includes a provision stating that the accountable authority of the entity that made the payments is the authority that is responsible for pursuing them. So for payments of salary and some other allowances I am that accountable authority, and for other payments and allowances it is the Special Minister of State from the Finance portfolio.

Senator WONG: The President has authority over a whole range of matters associated with the department. Obviously you cannot say 'Pay George Brandis twice what Penny Wong gets' or something like that! There are obviously policy decisions inherent in pursuit, how it is pursued et cetera. So you made a decision not to engage with that at all.

The President: Originally, I thought I would have been engaged and I was actually surprised when the Clerk outlined, as he has just done, in matters concerning the payment of allowances to senators, it is not—

Senator WONG: Allowances in this case being salaries.

The President: Yes. And I think that is quite fit and proper as I am also the recipient of an allowance from the Department of the Senate. It should not be a matter for me to make those decisions and, as the Clerk has said, I cannot direct the Clerk in regard to those matters.

Senator WONG: But this is not in relation to the payment of allowances; this is about the pursuit of a debt. It is a different thing. Mr Pye, where do you say this prohibition against the President having an engagement on these issues is?

Mr Pye : I do not know that I would say it is a prohibition. I just do not see where the connection would be. It seems to me that if the President cannot direct me in relation to the payment of salaries and the payment of these particular allowances in the first place—

Senator WONG: That is set out where?

Mr Pye : That is as a result of me administering the appropriations under the Remuneration Tribunal Act which belong to other people. The way in which I administer them is set out in those—

Senator WONG: Sure, but that is a different thing, isn't it? That is a positive legal requirement on you to pay according to law, and of course the President cannot, in respect of any direction to anybody, give a direction that is contrary to law.

Mr Pye : But equally the requirement to pursue the debt is set out in the law.

Senator WONG: Sure. One could argue the Special Minister of State, except for the discretionary element of the matter, which will be, I am sure, discussed later this week, is in an analogous position. Of course no minister can or should ever direct anybody to do anything contrary to law. You are required to do something in accordance with the law, but why does it follow from that that the President has no engagement with the decisions about how that is to be proceeded with, or advised about how that is to be proceeded with?

Mr Pye : I am just not sure that, in relation to the limited role that I actually have, the limited discretion that I actually have, which I will be happy to explain, the President would have a role. I am required, under section 16A of the Remuneration Tribunal Act, to consider how to pursue the debt and to pursue the debt. The rules under the PGPA Act tell me that, as the accountable authority, I have to consider matters as to, for instance, whether it is economical or uneconomical to pursue a debt, but I do not have a broader discretion in relation to the debt itself. The debt exists under the act.

Senator WONG: I think that is self-evident.

Mr Pye : Only the SMOS has those broader discretions that you refer to.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Mr Pye : The only question that applies to my decisions here is under PGPA Rule section 11, specifically whether it is uneconomical to pursue a debt. For instance—

Senator WONG: Yes, I understand. We are going to ask you questions about that. I am going to ask you questions about the economic or otherwise issues, but just so we are clear: the decision to issue the letters was yours?

Mr Pye : Yes.

Senator WONG: Did you advise the President?

Mr Pye : I did advise his office that I was sending the letters, yes.

Senator WONG: Okay. You have given him advice that says basically this is within your remit—

Mr Pye : That is right.

Senator WONG: and that you will keep him advised?

Mr Pye : Generally advised.

Senator WONG: But you would agree, would you not, that there is no specific prohibition about him engaging, other than the general notion, which is self-evident, that no-one can tell you to do something that is not consistent with the law?

Mr Pye : I would agree with that.

Senator WONG: Okay. Can we go to the principle, which is in the PGPA Act, which is of reasonably longstanding, which is whether or not it is economic. Regardless of what we consider about the conduct of these men, these former senators, certainly the public reporting suggests that if both are not formally bankrupt then certainly questions publicly have been raised about their finances.

Mr Pye : That is right, Senator.

Senator WONG: At which point you make a decision under—is it section 11 of the act, or rule—

Mr Pye : It is rule 11.

Senator WONG: In other words, it is spending a lot of taxpayers' money going after people who are going to neither be able to pay the debt back nor be able to pay the Commonwealth's costs, potentially.

Mr Pye : That is right. It seems uneconomical in the broad sense to be pursuing money that the Commonwealth is never going to see, for instance.

Senator WONG: Or spend more money to pursue it!

Mr Pye : Indeed. The first step that the department has taken—and I understand it is the same step that the Department of Finance has taken—is to write to both former senators and ask them to specify their financial circumstances. An understanding of their financial circumstances would be the first step for me in determining whether or not, in my view, it is economical to pursue the debt.

Senator WONG: Will there be means to ensure any assertions by them about their financial status are verified?

Mr Pye : It would certainly be our intention to make sure that we have got evidence that satisfies me.

Senator WONG: Particularly in relation to Senator Day, it appears to be quite a complex set of financial relationships in terms of his business and other means. I do not want to go into that, but in making your decision under rule 11 about whether or not to proceed will there be some assurance that if they say they cannot pay then that will be verifiable?

Mr Pye : That is right. We have not merely asked for their indication of their financial position; we have asked for evidence of their financial position as well. Obviously there are opportunities, if either gentleman is formally bankrupt, to interrogate the relevant databases.

Senator WONG: You wrote the letter?

Mr Pye : That is right.

Senator WONG: What other discussions have there been between the Department of the Senate and the Department of Finance in relation to this matter?

Mr Pye : We showed each other the drafts of our letters over the last couple of weeks. We talked about the timing of sending out letters so that they would go out at approximately the same time—which was 12 May. We have also seen some legal advice that the Department of Finance got about the fact that a debt had arisen and about the elements that might make up that pursuable debt.

Senator WONG: I think you have said this, but you are responsible for payments of what would colloquially be known as salary?

Mr Pye : That is right.

Senator WONG: That is all?

Mr Pye : Salary and office allowances—electorate allowances. That is all.

Senator WONG: The rest is all Department of Finance? Are you able to tell us what the quantum of money being sought from Mr Day is?

Mr Pye : I would rather not—you can probably derive it from what we pay them—simply because that is a detail contained in correspondence between me and each of the former senators.

Senator WONG: This is where I could give you some of your own advice about what can and cannot be answered. But I am not going to press it. Can you tell me about the period of time over which the debt is calculated? From when?

Mr Pye : In relation to Senator Day, it is from the date of the High Court ruling.

Senator WONG: That was earlier this year?

Mr Pye : It was February last year. For former Senator Culleton, it is from the first payment to him—so 2 July, effectively.

Senator WONG: It was ab initio—as soon as he started—for former Senator Culleton, and for Mr Day it was from February?

Mr Pye : Yes, from 26 February.

Senator WONG: That was the date of the initial finding?

Mr Pye : The court found him ineligible on 25 February, so it was from the next day.

Senator WONG: Mr President, have you discussed this matter with Senator Ryan?

The President: Yes, I have.

Senator WONG: Are you able to outline the broad nature of those discussions?

The President: Very briefly: we were on the telephone hook-up with the Clerk and representatives of Finance—me and my chief of staff. We just discussed the broad parameters of the issue in line with what the Clerk indicated: timing of the letters and so on.

Senator WONG: What was the relevance of the timing?

The President: Just making us all aware of when the letters were going to go out—because, as you would be aware, things become public very quickly once such letters are sent.

Senator WONG: Have you discussed with Senator Ryan issues going to his discretion to waive these debts?

The President: No, I have not.

Senator McALLISTER: I wanted to ask about enterprise bargaining. We have discussed it at the last couple of estimates sessions. The last time we talked there had been a ballot and the outcome of the ballot was not in favour of the proposed agreement. Subsequent to that you have, I believe, sought feedback from staff and have provided feedback about that feedback on the intranet. In that, you indicated that staff had provided feedback about communication, pay and allowances and about the perceived impact on some staff compared to others. You have also indicated that there were some alternatives to certain proposals and some compromises suggested. Can you outline what specific issues in relation to communication, pay and allowances people were concerned about?

Mr Pye : In relation to communications, Senator—and I think we touched on this a little at the last estimates round—people felt that the managers in the department should probably have got out there and sold the bargain that was being put forward a little differently, and that there was a bit too much reliance on emails and technical summaries of what had gone on in each bargaining meeting, rather than managers going out and really trumpeting the offer that was being put forward—

Senator McALLISTER: Can I just clarify that: is that a widespread view amongst staff that managers should have done more to sell?

Mr Pye : I do not know that it was widespread, but it certainly was one of the pieces of feedback that came back to us from the feedback process, Senator.

Senator McALLISTER: From one person?

Mr Pye : From a number of people, but I do not know that I would necessarily say it was widespread. A handful of people mentioned it. I do have a view that you have to bargain around the bargaining table, and it can be difficult to have meetings that are outside of that formal bargaining stance. I am also not sure that it is my role as Clerk of the Senate to be necessarily trumpeting the government's bargaining policy, for instance. The policy is the framework that we had to operate within, and I think that we have attempted to change the way that we have communicated in relation to it to the extent that we can, but I really think that people need to come to the bargaining table in order to effectively follow the requirements of the framework.

Senator McALLISTER: Do you have concerns about the framework?

Mr Pye : I do not have concerns about it, Senator, but it is the framework that we are required to operate within. The Senate department has always followed the bargaining framework that has been in place since the beginning of enterprise bargaining in its various forms over the last 20 years, and it is the framework that we work within. But we know that there is some antipathy towards elements of it out there, so we do not see that we should be trying to own the government's bargaining framework.

CHAIR: I am sure the Clerk does not need any assistance in this area, but asking about concerns about government policy sounds pretty close to asking for an opinion about government policy, so please tread carefully, Senator McAllister.

Senator WONG: What are the implications of the government's bargaining framework for you as an administrator of the Senate?

Mr Pye : The two main implications, Senator, are obviously there is a cap on the salary increases that can be offered, and we cannot bargain outside of that cap; and, secondly, there is obviously a process for approval of the agreements, which we have to work within as well, which requires us to interact with the Public Service Commissioner, rather than, for instance, the Parliamentary Service Commissioner as a different body, in order to progress those things.

Senator McALLISTER: The other two matters where feedback was provided was around pay. Am I to understand from your comments that that is about the quantum of pay provided under the framework, or are there other issues?

Mr Pye : The main feedback was in relation to: if we are making an offer of two per cent per annum—which was the offer that was made to staff in the last round—but, at the same time, there is some impact on some allowances for some staff, then that obviously reduces the six per cent to a degree, and that was seen to be unacceptable to some staff.

Senator McALLISTER: What are the specific allowances in question?

Mr Pye : The main ones, I think, were in relation to certain allowances not kicking in until after staff had worked longer hours than they currently do. Currently, overtime, committee allowance and things like that cut in after 7½ hours of regular time. We were seeking to extend that to nine hours in general cases, and that obviously had some resistance. There is a footwear allowance that is paid to some of our staff which we were seeking to wind back. We were also seeking to wind back meal allowances, to bring them back to standards that exist elsewhere in the building.

CHAIR: Who is paid the footwear allowance?

Mr Pye : Our chamber attendants.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr Pye : They are the main ones.

Senator McALLISTER: Have you received direction from the Public Service Commissioner about each of those allowances?

Mr Pye : No, not specifically.

Senator McALLISTER: Have you sought direction or input from them about those allowances and the approach you might take to them in bargaining?

Mr Pye : No, I do not believe we have.

Senator McALLISTER: So they were decisions taken within—

Mr Pye : We, obviously, had to find offsetting savings in relation to the offer that we were making and they were an element of that.

Senator McALLISTER: So they are a consequence of the two per cent funding envelope that has been provided for pay increases?

Mr Pye : They are a consequence of finding offsets to fund that two per cent offer, yes.

Senator McALLISTER: The intranet mentions that there is concern about the perceived impact on some staff compared to others.

Mr Pye : Not all staff receive those allowances, obviously. People who do receive allowances that were being wound back obviously would be impacted differently to people who do not receive the particular allowance.

Senator McALLISTER: On the intranet it says, 'Some alternatives and compromises to certain proposals were suggested.'

Mr Pye : Some of the feedback that we received was in relation to finding different ways to address some of those savings in allowances. For instance, we received feedback about winding back from the nine-hour period that I mentioned before to eight hours and that sort of thing. I should say, though, that we had a bargaining meeting on Friday last week, at which we indicated that we are not going to be pursuing a range of those options that I mentioned. The extension to the span of hours before allowances kick in has been removed from the offer that we will make. We are looking at changes in relation to both meal allowances and the footwear allowance to wind back the impact of those things as well.

Senator McALLISTER: Is that the only bargaining meeting that has been held?

Mr Pye : That is the first bargaining meeting that we have had. I think the initial vote was taken immediately before our last estimates round. I invited feedback from staff through the following three weeks, which took us to the end of the last sitting period. I had a whole-of-department meeting, on around 10 April, at which we discussed the feedback and since then we have been putting together a revised offer.

Senator McALLISTER: Was that revised offer provided at the bargaining meeting?

Mr Pye : Not the offer itself, but the position that we are taking in relation to the various matters that have been proposed and whether we are pursuing them or not are matters that were put to the bargaining meeting on Friday.

Senator McALLISTER: Is there a timetable that has been established? Was that canvassed at the bargaining meeting?

Mr Pye : It was canvassed at the meeting. We would very much like to have a vote in the June sittings, if that is possible. It is very hard to predict, though, whether we will be able to get the Public Service Commission's approval of the revised offer before then.

Senator McALLISTER: Could you step us through the timetable? If your end date is June and it is now coming to the end of May—

Mr Pye : Indeed. The reason we nominated June is that, in order for the largest proportion of our staff to actually take part in the vote, we need to hold the vote during a sitting week. Essentially, we have sessional staff and casual staff and, if they are not actually working during the period of the vote, we cannot accept their vote. Obviously, the June settings loom large for that, otherwise it will be put off to the August sittings. It is difficult because we would have to have another bargaining meeting, really, this week to put the offer to staff before sending it to the commission. How about I get Ms Callinan, Usher of the Black Rod, who is a management bargaining representative, to fill in the details of the time frame?

Ms Callinan : We did advise bargaining representatives at the last meeting what our revised offer was going to be and the changes to our proposal. The next step is to incorporate all of those changes into the text of the agreement. That is already in train; we are doing that. Once those changes have been incorporated, we need to take that document back to the commission and get the commission's approval for that. We are hoping, I think, to get that document finalised for me to review this week, with a view to getting it to the commission as soon as possible. It is a bit hard for us to know exactly how much time it would take for the commission to turn it around, but because they have already seen a draft of that—they saw it before the last ballot—we are hopeful that what they will be looking at are the changes that we made subsequently. Some of those changes were to just put back in terms and conditions that we had taken out from our current EA for the purpose of the version that we put to the last ballot. They would have already been familiar with some of those terms. It is a bit hard for us to know exactly how long that process would take, but as soon as we get that approval from the commission, then we will be able to go to the ballot.

Senator McALLISTER: There is a step in there where you present it at a bargaining meeting—

Ms Callinan : Yes, I am sorry. Excuse me, I forgot that. Yes, that is right. Once we get the approval on the draft from the commission, we need to have one more bargaining meeting so that the bargaining representatives have the opportunity to see all of the changes and all the wording of that, and for us to go through those and give them the opportunity to ask any questions or present any views.

Senator McALLISTER: Not much of what you have described sounds like bargaining, in that you said that at the first meeting that was held just recently, you informed staff representatives of what was in and what was out in terms of matters that they seek to pursue. The next meeting, you say, will be an opportunity for them to ask questions or provide feedback. Is it not the point of enterprise bargaining to allow a dialogue—

Ms Callinan : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: about trade-offs and to bargain?

Ms Callinan : Absolutely—so in the meeting on Friday, we certainly did provide an opportunity for people to talk to those amendments that we were proposing. Some views were shared in relation to many of them. Because what we did at that bargaining meeting was to compromise quite significantly on a number of the proposals that we received feedback on, my take from that bargaining meeting was that, by and large, the compromises were well received. For the ones where people still had some residual comments, they were certainly free to make those comments and some of those views were shared. We certainly did include dialogue in that meeting and we will continue to have more dialogue once they see the precise wording of all those changes at the next meeting.

Senator McALLISTER: And that will be after the Public Service Commissioner has reviewed it?

Ms Callinan : Yes, that is right.

Senator WONG: I am not sure if Senator Hinch or Senator Bernardi have questions. Ms Crowther, on the PBS, I am pretty sure I understand what is happening, but it might be useful just to make sure that it is clarified. Page 3 refers to increasing the annual appropriation from $22.9 million to $23.4 million, leaving aside capital. Correct? Then you say, actually, we had a one-off supplementation last year of $3 million and this year it is $3.7 million. Obviously, if you just added $3.7 million to the previous year, it would be $23.6 million. Can you tell us is moving to create the net figure?

Ms Crowther : The $3 million was basically from the base—it was the original base plus $3 million. The $3.7 million is similar. Our base was reducing down to about $20 million, so the $3.7 million is on top of that, from a base.

Senator WONG: That is not in the table, so why don't you tell us the component parts that get us to $23.4 million? The base was what?

Ms Crowther : The original base for 2017-18—

Senator WONG: .. No, no. I am trying to break down the 2016-17 figure and the 2017-18 figure, which explains, and then adding the 3 and the 3.7. So let's start at 2016-17, where you have told us that departmental appropriation is 22.9. Can you break that down into the base plus the supplementation of 3.

Ms Crowther : Sure. The base for 2016-17 was—

Senator WONG: 19.9.

Ms Crowther : Yes, 19.857.

Senator WONG: Okay, 19.857, and then you get the 3, one-off?

Ms Crowther : We did get the 3, one-off.

Senator WONG: Okay, and then in 2017-18, what is the new base?

Ms Crowther : The new base for 2017-18, because that was a one-off supplementation—

Senator WONG: Yes, I understand.

Ms Crowther : The base was down to 20.015.

Senator WONG: 20.015 million—so that reflects indexation less, plus the application of the efficiency dividend—

Ms Crowther : Correct.

Senator WONG: which this government has increased—is it 2.5 still? What is the—

Ms Crowther : For this year—

Senator WONG: Between 2016-17 and 201718.

Ms Crowther : It is 2.5 for 2017-18.

Senator WONG: So what was the total of the ED on the actual appropriation less setting aside the supplementation?

Ms Crowther : For 2017-18, the ED was 303. That was the additional—

Senator WONG: No, I want the—

Ms Crowther : One per cent was built in, and that was—

Senator WONG: Sorry: I thought what we usually did is you index your base and then you apply the ED—correct?

Ms Crowther : Correct.

Senator WONG: I just want that calculation in nominal figures, please.

Ms Crowther : It is 303.

Senator WONG: No. That is not right; that must be the additional ED. It does not include the base ED. I want the total nominal effect of the ED. Do you want me to come back to you?

Ms Crowther : That is fine.

Senator WONG: I do not mind waiting. We can go to someone else, if you want.

Ms Crowther : The total nominal effect is 469.

Senator WONG: That is 469,000—okay. Then we get a supplementation on top of the 20, which is the 3.7—

Ms Crowther : Correct.

Senator WONG: but not on the base. So, in effect, it is about 3.3. How does that compare to the House supplementary departmental funding?

Ms Crowther : I only have what is in the budget measures.

Senator WONG: I understand, Mr President, that the House has received 12.4 over four years. So we got 3.7 and they have got 12.4. Can you explain why the government has made that decision?

The President: No, I cannot.

Senator WONG: With all due respect—and I am sure the House people watching are going to say, 'We work harder'—in terms of the committee workload, the hours of parliamentary sittings and the number of staff and the number of crossbenchers—

Mr Pye : Because our new funding is ongoing, the effect on our budget in the budget year and the out years is 15.1.

Senator WONG: I am sorry; that is not right. I have just gone through the figures with Ms Crowther. That is why I did the baseline first. Base on the departmental appropriation is—

Mr Pye : Sorry, I did not mean to cut you off: on page 137 of budget paper 2, it has the additional funding for each of the parliamentary departments. I will just quote it here—

Senator WONG: Sorry, what are you reading—BP2?

Mr Pye : Budget Measures Budget Paper No. 2 2017-18. On page 137, there is a table showing the effect of additional funding for the Senate and the House of Representatives over the budget year and the out years. It says:

The Government will provide $15.0 million to the Department of the Senate and $12.4 million to the Department of the House of Representatives over four years from 2017-18 to strengthen the capacity of the departments to provide assistance to Senators and Parliamentarians—

which is an interesting phrase.

Senator WONG: That is a gripe of mine. Why do people call parliament the House of Representatives?

Mr Pye : Why do people do that, Senator?

CHAIR: I do not think we are going to resolve that today, unfortunately.

Senator WONG: Anyway. Page 7 of the Department of the House of Representatives budget statement in the penultimate paragraph on that page says:

The Department has received supplementary departmental funding of $12.4m over four years, commencing in 2017-18. The first element of the additional funding ($5.8m over four years)—

and it just goes through the components. So we have got the one-off supplementation for one year—

Mr Pye : Ours is ongoing, Senator. Ours is 3.7—

Senator WONG: Ongoing.

Mr Pye : Ongoing.

Senator WONG: They get 12.4 over four—

Mr Pye : Ours is a shade over 15, over four years.

Senator WONG: So when it says one-off supplementation—

Mr Pye : The one-off supplementation is what we are operating under this year—

Senator WONG: No; when it is says one-off supplementation, that is not right. It is actually an ongoing supplementation over the forwards. Is that the agreement? Ms Crowther, is that what you understand?

Ms Crowther : The department received one-off supplementation in 2016-17 of three million; however, in the line above—sorry, it is, from 2017-18, departmental appropriations, 3.7 ongoing.

Senator WONG: Right. At that figure.

Ms Crowther : Yes.

Senator WONG: But not as part of the base.

Ms Crowther : No; it does form part of the new base now.

Senator WONG: So it will be 3.7 indexed. Is that correct?

Ms Crowther : Correct. So whatever economic parameters—

Mr Pye : It is 3.7 indexed. But when the appropriations and staffing committee approved the bid going forward for this money, the committee had supported a proposal that increased over time to add up to 16.9 million over the four years, to really take into account the inevitable impact of the efficiency dividend. But the money given was the 3.75 that we asked for this year, but ongoing.

Senator WONG: Ongoing and indexed.

Mr Pye : But indexed.

Senator WONG: Yes?

Ms Crowther : Yes.

Senator HINCH: I apologise if I am going over some areas that Senator Wong covered earlier. I want to go back to the Culleton and Day matters. I just want to get it clear in my own head: in the case of Senator Day, it was from the day of the lease of the Commonwealth, and in the case of Senator Culleton, it was the day when the High Court acting as the Court of Disputed Returns brought down its decision. Is that correct?

Mr Pye : For Senator Day, it is the date identified by the court as the date when he began to be in receipt of an indirect pecuniary interest, which was in February last year. For Senator Culleton, it is from the date of his election.

Senator HINCH: July 2, then.

Mr Pye : July 2.

Senator HINCH: In the negotiations to try and get this money back, do you differentiate between the so-called senators and their staff? Are these separate issues, or is it all a package?

Mr Pye : I am not responsible for any payments in relation to staff. Staff payments are a matter for the Department of Finance—and we did go over some of this territory earlier. What I am responsible for is the payment of salaries to senators, but only senators, and the payment of the electorate allowance to senators. In relation to staff, that is a matter for the finance department.

CHAIR: Senator Hinch, just for your benefit, we will come to that part on Thursday—so if you want to ask questions then, you are very welcome to—but please continue in the meantime.

Senator HINCH: Senator Parry, I think you as President told the Senate when these issues were raised that votes cast by Senator Day and Senator Culleton would stand.

The President: Correct.

Senator HINCH: So would that not mean that the people who were on their staff at the time—contributing toward their votes—should still be paid? They were working at the time.

The President: That is a matter for the Department of Finance.

Senator HINCH: That will be the Department of Finance—and that is coming up on Thursday, Chair, is that correct?

CHAIR: Yes, that is right.

Senator McALLISTER: Mr President, I want to ask about some of your official travel. I note that you travelled to the UK from 1 to 7 April, and then again to the UK, Belgium, France and Singapore from 22 to 30 April, and you tabled reports in relation to that in the Senate. Could you briefly outline the purpose of each of those trips?

The President: Certainly. The first trip was primarily to visit the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association headquarters and entities involved with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. You may or may not be aware—it is outlined in the reports; I will not go into detail unless you wish me to—but the Commonwealth of Australia withdrew from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association after many, many years of warning the association that we were not happy with the governance, we were not happy with the transparency, we were not happy with the financial accountability.

Circumstances have changed significantly. I have been lobbied by, I think, every state parliament, the High Commissioner to London and others, and certainly high commissioners to this country about Australia, being a founding member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, rejoining. The decision to withdraw was quite a significant and serious one, so, for us to satisfy ourselves, the Speaker and I determined that I would travel to London to investigate and see firsthand whether the improvements that were purported to us had been made. The CPA was exceptionally forthcoming with all of that information. We interviewed all of the CPA staff; we spoke to the new secretary-general. We also visited the independent auditor, an independent authority who looks after the CPA; the CPA's solicitors; and the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. That was the primary purpose. Supplementing that, I also visited—I will not have the correct title—the equivalent of our Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, because they have paved the way, I suppose. I had an exceptionally detailed briefing with the equivalent there. I also looked at parliamentary security, which is, of course, a focal point of our parliament at this point in time.

Senator McALLISTER: What is the next step in relation to the membership of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association? Is there a next step?

The President: I have since had further discussions. The Speaker and I will convene in June, I think, a meeting of interested parliamentarians from this parliament. We need to ascertain whether there is a wish for the Commonwealth of Australia to rejoin, or apply to rejoin, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. If there is a willingness and an acceptance by this parliament that we should do that, then we will put in place the arrangements to rejoin.

Senator McALLISTER: Will you be making a recommendation at that meeting?

The President: I will be reporting to that meeting on all of the findings and all of the meetings I have had, not just in the United Kingdom but also here in Australia with different presiding officers.

Senator McALLISTER: And will that be drawn together in a recommendation about what you consider—

The President: I do not want to pre-empt any meeting, but I am satisfied now that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has changed its direction dramatically and I will be putting that to the meeting. It, ultimately, will be up to senators and members to decide, no doubt based upon information that is provided to them, whether we rejoin or not rejoin or make that application.

Senator McALLISTER: And the second trip to the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Singapore?

The President: I was originally asked to go to Belgium to represent Australia at all of the Anzac Day ceremonies on the Western Front. Usually the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, the President and the Speaker attend the more prominent recognition of Anzac Day ceremonies and commemorations around the world and in Australia. I accepted that invitation to attend, but I accepted on the basis that I was originally going to Turkey for a MIKTA—Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey, Australia—conference. It is a parliamentary conference that has been established for the last three years. On the Wednesday prior to travel, MIKTA was cancelled—I had a lot of advice from a variety of agencies that I should not be travelling to that part of the world at that particular time as well—but I was still going to go to Belgium. So rather than just go to Belgium for the one day, I facilitated going to London again not only to follow up on two matters of the CPA, but also to visit the House of Commons and the House of Lords—it is a customary thing for presiding officers to do, and parliamentarians for that matter—which were not in session the previous time, as well as undertake some matters in relation to counterterrorism and parliamentary security. Again, it is all detailed in the report. I can go into more detail, but I think you have the report in front of you.

Senator McALLISTER: I understand that that second trip was time bound and associated with Anzac Day commemorations. The first trip in relation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association seems not to have been constrained in that way. Was there any reason that the two trips could not have been combined?

The President: I did not intend on going the second time. When I went the first time I had no idea I would be going back to London.

Senator McALLISTER: Nonetheless, as all Australians know, the big thing is the flight from here to the northern hemisphere.

The President: Correct.

Senator McALLISTER: It is not really the internal travel within Europe that causes the expenditure of either time or money. Was there a reason why those two trips to the northern hemisphere could not have been combined into one?

The President: Yes, because I did not know I was going—I had no idea I would be going back to London. I was going to Belgium. I was asked to go to Belgium on Anzac Day after my first trip had been planned and, I think, even executed. So Belgium was not a long process for me to go.

Senator McALLISTER: I see. When were you invited to go to Belgium?

The President: I will take advice, but I am sure it was either after I had returned or occurred during my travel to London on the first occasion. Senator, can I assure you—have you travelled to London?—it would be my wish to do it once, not twice. If I could have done that in one trip that would have been the best thing I could have done.

Senator BERNARDI: Mr President, it is my understanding that your predecessors had a fixed number of trips annually. It did not matter where the trips were or anything. Is that true?

The President: That is good. They had five annual overseas trips.

Senator BERNARDI: So in your instance, you have had two trips in this one. Do the same rules still apply to you?

The President: No, the rules are different. And, yes, you are correct: I have had two this financial year.

Senator BERNARDI: So what are the rules now?

The President: The rules are there is a capped budget—there was an unlimited budget, and there is now a capped budget—and I can travel within that capped budget.

Senator BERNARDI: So previously you could have five trips but there was an unlimited budget for it?

The President: Correct; there was no cap.

Senator BERNARDI: Maybe not by the President of the Senate, but I recall there were some very expensive trips taken by one of the previous speakers. Is that under the same rules?

The President: Travel is expensive, and it was under those previous rules. That is right.

Senator BERNARDI: Whereas now you have a capped budget, so it does not matter whether you take one trip or 10 trips—

The President: Or 100, that is right. Which is far more flexible and far more workable.

Senator BERNARDI: But it is also, one would presume, better value for taxpayers' money in that you cannot spend more than your budget.

The President: Correct. And the capped budget is lower than some of the amounts that had been spent in the past.

Senator BERNARDI: Sorry, it is lower?

The President: The capped amount is a lower amount than some of the expenditure in the past. It will be a saving to the taxpayer presumably.

Senator BERNARDI: The obvious question is how much is the budget. I am not going to ask it; I am sure the Labor Party will.

The President: I am quite happy to indicate it. It is $250,000 per annum, but that covers absolutely everything. Any spouse or staff travel is included in that figure.

Senator BERNARDI: And how does that compare with predecessors? I am not asking you to make a judgement, I am just asking for a—

The President: At times it has been a lot more expensive than that, the actual cost of travel.

Senator BERNARDI: Righto; thanks.

Senator McALLISTER: Following on from Senator Bernardi's questions, what are the approval arrangements for expenditure within that budget? Does that lie with you alone?

The President: It lies with me, but, as normal practice, I would always consult with the department of foreign affairs and sometimes the Australian Federal Police, just depending on the nature of the travel and where I am going. Quite often requests come from government, particularly the department of foreign affairs, where it would be useful to have the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives travel. Some countries particularly require a presiding officer to lead delegations. So while I have freedom of choice, sometimes the choice is thrust upon me—such as going to Belgium.

Senator McALLISTER: I want to ask some specifics about this trip to Belgium. You have indicated that you think—your recollection is—that this request did not come until after you had commenced your travel or perhaps completed it. Can I ask—

The President: Or the travel arrangements had been locked in. For Belgium I had to go on Anzac Day. You cannot choose the day. Obviously Anzac Day was the fixed day. My travel was going to revolve around Turkey and Belgium. Turkey was cancelled on the Wednesday prior to the Saturday travel. Rather than just fly to Belgium for a day—as you indicated, the expensive part is getting to Belgium and that was through London in any event—I filled up the day in London, and also on the way back through Singapore, with the counterterrorism and policing arrangements there. It is all detailed in the report.

Senator McALLISTER: I wonder if you could provide us with the communication requesting your presence in Belgium? I assume that came from the Prime Minister or from the Minister for Foreign Affairs?

The President: I think it came through the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Mr Tehan. I will just clarify: the request for me to attend Belgium came when I was in London on the first trip.

Senator McALLISTER: It was a request from the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, and it came in the form of a letter?

The President: There would have been email communication. I can remember seeing emails about that. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs coordinates all the arrangements for who attends which Anzac Day services.

Senator McALLISTER: Would it be possible for those communications to be provided to the committee?

The President: I will have a look and I will get back to you if we can do so.

Senator McALLISTER: In relation to the conference which was to take place in Turkey, when was your participation in that confirmed?

The President: Immediately following Anzac Day. I was leaving Belgium the following morning—26 April—and going straight to Turkey.

Senator McALLISTER: But when were the arrangements for your participation in that conference initiated?

The President: It would have been months before that. It is an annual conference. We hosted it in Hobart last year. It was held in Seoul the year before that. This year it is Turkey.

Senator McALLISTER: So some months ago—by the sounds of it, at the very beginning of 2017—you came to an arrangement to travel to Turkey around Anzac Day?

The President: No, we were waiting. We knew we were going to Turkey at some point. The final dates did not come in until very late. There were some changes to dates. I cannot recall when the dates were confirmed, but it would have been maybe a month prior to travel. I will confirm for you when we knew the final dates.

Senator McALLISTER: I am trying to reconcile this with your earlier evidence, which was that it was not possible to coordinate this particular trip to Turkey and Belgium—this travel associated with Anzac Day commemorations—and the travel to the United Kingdom to investigate the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It seems that there are these two proximate travel requirements—

The President: The two dates are driven by two independent things. First, Anzac Day is a set date, and I have indicated how I was invited to attend those Anzac Day commemorations. I will add, incidentally, that if I had not flown from Australia to Belgium, someone else would have flown from Australia to Belgium. So there is no additional cost to the Commonwealth. Second, the MIKTA conference is determined by another party—the Turkish government or the Turkish parliament.

Senator McALLISTER: But this was resolved some months prior to your travel.

The President: Yes, but irrespective of when I travelled, they are two independent things. I travelled to London prior to going to the MIKTA conference. I was never going back to London and I was never going to Belgium; I was only going to Turkey. The London issue had to coincide with meetings of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association executive, and we were given some dates when the secretary-general would be available. I had to consider those issues as well. As far as Belgium is concerned, I was in London when I was invited to go to Belgium. I could have said no, which was tempting to do in many respects, but, again as I have said, a minister would have been invited to attend if I had not been able to attend. So there is no net issue; the only issue is the wear and tear on me travelling to London twice—and, as I said earlier, if I could have travelled once, I would have travelled once. Travelling twice is not the most pleasant thing to do in the space of two weeks.

Senator McALLISTER: I am just struck by the fact that planning for the trip to Turkey commenced, perhaps, in January or February 2017. Presumably, your plans with Mr Smith to travel to the United Kingdom would have been initiated around the same time, notwithstanding the intervention in relation to Belgium and the entirely proper requirement that a representative of the Australian government was available for those commemorations. I struggle to understand why these two requirements—to go to the United Kingdom to investigate the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and to travel to Turkey for Anzac Day commemorations—were not combined.

The President: I was not going to Turkey for Anzac Day commemorations.

Senator McALLISTER: For the conference.

The President: Yes, for the conference. Well, it just did not work that way. I think I have explained it the best I can.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you.

CHAIR: To clarify, following on from Senator Bernardi's questions, how does your expenditure on international travel compare to your predecessor's expenditure on international travel?

The President: It is a lot lower.

CHAIR: Could you put some flesh around that with some numbers?

The President: For the entire year of 2016 I did not travel at all. We cannot find any Presiding Officer that has never travelled in a calendar year, so that would be quite a significant reduction. I will take it on notice. I am very happy to provide that.

CHAIR: That would be good.

Senator HINCH: Mr Pye, leaving the staff out of the Culleton-Day scenario, the Senate is trying to recover money from Mr Day from February 2016 and from Mr Culleton from July 2016. Presumably that is their salary and their electoral allowance.

Mr Pye : That is right.

Senator HINCH: And a car allowance?

Mr Pye : We are not responsible for a car allowance, and I do not believe either of them had a car allowance. There is nothing that we are responsible for there.

Senator HINCH: So just salary and electoral allowance?

Mr Pye : That is right. They are the elements of payments that we made to the former senators, which, under the terms of the relevant act, I am responsible for pursuing. They are turned automatically, if you like, into a debt to the Commonwealth by the operation of the Remuneration Tribunal Act, and, as the accountable authority for the Senate, having paid those amounts to the former senators, it is my responsibility to pursue the debt.

Senator HINCH: How much is that?

Mr Pye : I have said to the committee earlier that, although you can calculate the debt, the precise figure is a figure that I have put into correspondence to each of those former senators, and I do not intend to reveal the contents of that correspondence any more specifically.

Senator HINCH: But isn't a senator's salary public knowledge and isn't their electoral allowance public knowledge?

Mr Pye : They are. The amounts that you have probably seen in the press are in the ballpark of the numbers that would have been in our correspondence. I just do not reveal the contents of correspondence to senators or to former senators, but, of course, it is always open to senators and former senators to reveal that themselves.

Senator HINCH: If I went and got a calculator now, I could work it out to the dollar.

Mr Pye : I have a calculator here at the table, so we could do it as well.

Senator WONG: I assume it is the net figure.

Mr Pye : I am not trying to be cute, but, I am sorry. I would not ordinarily reveal the details of this sort of correspondence.

Senator WONG: Senator Hinch, can I just ask one question on that?

Senator HINCH: Yes.

Senator WONG: I assume it is the net figure.

Mr Pye : That is right.

Senator HINCH: Without giving away all the contents of those confidential letters to Mr Culleton and Mr Day, it has been reported that you put some sort of measure or semi-solution to them; it is not just a demand for the money back. Is that correct?

Mr Pye : I suppose that is a fair way to characterise it, Senator. My responsibility is to pursue the particular debts that I have mentioned. I also have, under the PGPA Rule, the responsibility of considering whether it is economical or not to pursue the debt. For instance, if somebody is shown to be bankrupt, it can easily be assumed that it would be uneconomical to pursue a debt to spend Commonwealth money to pursue money that is never going to be paid back. The Special Minister of State has the ability, and, again, under the PGPA Act, to consider any application from people to waive a debt to the Commonwealth. That is not a discretion that I have. As I say, I can consider whether it is economical to pursue a debt or not, but the question of whether the debt should stand is a question for the SMOS.

Senator HINCH: In your correspondence with them, do you refer to the fact that, in contemplating being bankrupt, they may be responsible for their staff's money as well or is that a totally separate issue?

Mr Pye : Again, Senator, I am not responsible for any costs relating to their staff.

Senator HINCH: So that did not come up?

Mr Pye : That would be a matter completely for the finance department.

Senator HINCH: Down the track there will be a decision made and if, say, these men become bankrupt, you may abandon the idea and that it would be throwing good money after bad?

Mr Pye : As far as my role is concerned, I would have to consider whether it is economical to pursue the debt. You would have to think that it would not be economical in those circumstances. But my decision does not extinguish the debt; the debt would still remain, technically, on the books for as long as it remains a debt, and the question, I suppose, would crop up year on year as to whether it is suddenly now economical to pursue it or not. The only way the debt can be extinguished is by action to waive the debt or by the debt being paid.

Senator HINCH: And it becomes Senator Ryan's decision as to whether or not it is pursued?

Mr Pye : That is right, Senator.

Senator HINCH: I have a final question. Mr President, I am not sure whether it was Senator Ryan or you who commented when all this blew up. Could you tell me: what is the precedent for this situation—for repaying debts like this?

The President: I did make a statement, I think, in the Senate. The debts have generally been waived.

Senator HINCH: That is what I thought. Thank you. I have no more questions.

Senator BERNARDI: I just want to confirm. Mr Pye, it is your decision about whether to pursue the debt or not. Is that correct?

Mr Pye : It is my decision whether to pursue that element of the debt that the Senate department is responsible for, having been the authority that made those certain payments.

Senator BERNARDI: But it is the Special Minister of State's decision whether to waive the debt or not?

Mr Pye : Indeed.

Senator BERNARDI: I am of the understanding that both men have been declared bankrupt.

Mr Pye : That is my understanding as well, Senator.

Senator BERNARDI: I like your idea about whether it be economic to pursue debts, because we have had circumstances—not in your department but in other departments—where investigations, say, into pool tables, $2,000 sales, have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to pursue and, in the end, whether justice is done or not, it is a very expensive form of justice. If these men have declared bankrupt, you have zero chance of getting any money back from them.

Mr Pye : And that is why the first element of the letters that we have sent—and this has been reported broadly in the press—is to seek from them any evidence of financial circumstances that I could take into account in making the decision I am required to make.

Senator BERNARDI: Mr Pye, I do note that you have referred to both gentlemen as former senators. In the case of one senator who has been elected more than once, or validly elected once, I can understand that, but, in the case of the other senator who was deemed not to have been formally elected, can they really claim to be a former senator?

Mr Pye : They can claim to be a former senator, but not so much a current senator.

Senator BERNARDI: That is another line of questioning altogether!

Mr Pye : The High Court considered that question in Vardon and O'Loghlin, a case in 1907, and I think they came up with a phrase that was something like 'a senator without title'. As Senator Hinch alluded to earlier, the votes of both former Senator Day and former Senator Culleton whilst they were in the Senate are valid votes. The contributions they made to proceedings in parliament are covered by privilege. For numerous purposes each of them was a senator at the time that they took part in proceedings of the Senate and its committees, and I do not think there is much to be gained by deciding that it is improper to refer to former Senator Culleton by that phrase.

Senator BERNARDI: No. I was not suggesting it was improper, but there is a consistency here. If you refer to them as former senators then they are entitled to be paid as former senators.

Mr Pye : I think that there is a question around equity there, but it is a question that is not there for me. Certainly in the past, as again I think Senator Hinch asked, action has been taken by governments to make reparation. Debts were probably not waived—that is probably the wrong term for the particular times—but appropriations were made to cover the debt so that they did not need to be repaid.

Senator BERNARDI: In commercial parlance, it would seem to be a sunk cost. You have got very little chance of getting it back.

Mr Pye : Very little chance of getting money back would certainly be a factor I would take into account in considering whether or not it is economical to pursue.

Senator BERNARDI: Thanks.

Senator WONG: Mr President, we have asked questions previously about your staffing and in particular your appointment of the former Tasmanian MP Mr Hutchinson, who was unsuccessful at the last election and who you appointed into your office. I understand from the media that he has now been given another government job, which is Administrator of Norfolk Island. Is that right?

The President: That is correct.

Senator WONG: When did that start?

The President: I believe it was 1 April.

Senator WONG: So when did he resign?

The President: Probably the day before.

Senator WONG: Seamlessly from one to the other.

The President: Just a moment; I will check that. I do have the information here in anticipation. He resigned formally on 24 March, and I believe he took up his job on 1 April.

Senator WONG: So 24 March was the effective date.

The President: Correct.

Senator WONG: And it was 1 April?

The President: I think 1 April was his appointment, but that should be easily researched. From my perspective, he finished with me on 24 March.

Senator WONG: So just one week between the two jobs. Are you intending on employing any other former Liberal MPs in your office?

The President: I am not intending at this point in time to appoint any former Liberal MPs, no.

Senator WONG: In terms of your office profile, I think we have confirmed previously that under the previous government there were five staff for the President of the Senate. Sometime between February 2013 and February 2016 that was increased to six, and then in October of that year it was increased to seven, including an increase at the senior level. What is your current staffing allocation?

The President: My current staffing allocation is now back to six. The adviser position occupied by Mr Hutchinson, whom I then replaced with another member, concluded last week.

Senator WONG: Right. So the adviser position for Mr Hutchinson has been retained?

The President: It was retained—

Senator WONG: So that would leave you with one senior adviser, one—

The President: No. Let me explain. It was retained post 24 March until last week. Now that adviser position I no longer have the need for.

Senator WONG: So you have got two adviser positions now? You have one senior adviser and three advisers, of which Mr Hutchinson was one?

The President: Correct.

Senator WONG: And you had one assistant adviser and two EAs.

The President: Correct.

Senator WONG: And now you have one senior adviser and two advisers.

The President: Correct.

Senator WONG: You created a position for him and then, when he left, you removed it?

The President: No. I did not create a position for him. That is the first point.

Senator WONG: You said you created it because you had so much work.

The President: Yes.

Senator WONG: What has happened? Do you not have as much work?

The President: That is exactly right. If you will allow me to explain: the security task force has caused an enormous amount of work in developing the deliverables, which are now being rolled out. The security task force is about to be wound up. In fact, in our last meeting we agreed that we would wind up the security task force. I asked the Prime Minister's office for an additional adviser for that per period. It was always going to be a temporary position, which I have previously explained. Mr Hutchinson knew, when he took on the job, that it would be a temporary position, as did his replacement. The position is no longer required now the security task force has been wound up. I advised the Prime Minister's office that I would have no need for that position post-budget week, and the Prime Minister has agreed and taken the position back, which is not surprising.

Senator WONG: My recollection—and I will refer back to the Hansard transcript, if I can find it, and certainly from the questions on notice—is that was not basis on which you said Mr Eric Hutchinson was employed. You talked at length, in fact we had a long conversation, about the reasonableness of employing an ex-MP to do what you described as representational work. You described how he represented you in Tasmania. You described the fact that he represented you at a variety of functions and events et cetera, including during the Tasmanian bushfires. You talked about the fact that he was an ideal person for that representational function. I am assuming there are no fewer functions you are invited to as Senate President and Liberal senator for Tasmania?

The President: Correct.

Senator WONG: Was this job just a stop-gap to cover him over until he found another job?

The President: No. It was not that at all. I needed an additional position. My chief of staff and one of my advisers were largely detained on matters in relation to the security works of Parliament House. The entire budget went into the hundreds of millions of dollars—as you are aware—for the security works. The workload got to an unprecedented level, and I had no assistance whatsoever back in Tasmania because my staff were engaged more fully in Canberra. In fact, I was attending Canberra nearly every non-sitting week as well. I needed that additional assistance. That additional assistance to help me was in the form of Eric Hutchinson, which I described in detail last meeting. If I did not have Eric, if Eric was not the available at that time, it would have been someone else who would have done that work. Indeed, the person who filled the position after Eric left was the very person I had in mind if Eric had not accepted the job in the first place.

Senator WONG: What was that? I could not hear.

The President: The person to fill the position after Mr Hutchinson left was the very person I would have actually earmarked for that role in the first place, if Eric had not accepted.

Senator WONG: Earmarked for what role? The security role?

The President: No, the role Mr Hutchinson performed in Tasmania.

Senator WONG: What do you say his role was?

The President: Largely representational for me, both here and at home, but certainly more in Tasmania.

Senator WONG: Let me get your argument. Your argument is that you were too busy on security staff so you needed to employ this—

The President: And my staff.

Senator WONG: You and all your other staff—all six of them—were too busy on other matters, including security works, so you had to employ an ex-Liberal MP for a period which just happened to coincide with the period between the loss of the election and his appointment to another government role.

The President: That also happen to coincide with the heavy workload. It was not just the security task force—that was a critical aspect, and that was what was tying a lot of my time up—but, if you recall, we also had the loss of a DPS secretary, the appointment of a new secretary, the reviews into the Department of Parliamentary Services from the Australian National Audit Office, the Baxter review and other matters. There was a lot going on in the Presiding Officers' spheres. I think a lot of people would tell you we have probably had the most unprecedented workload of Presiding Officers for a very long time, if not all time. I was asking for additional staff for a period of time.

Senator WONG: Was the position that he filled, as a government adviser, at the top of the band?

The President: I would have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Surely someone knows. This is the third time I have asked questions on this.

The President: I will take it on notice, and I will also take on notice whether it is appropriate for me to disclose the remuneration.

Senator WONG: Forget about him. Just tell me, of the one adviser position that was abolished, was that a government adviser? Because of government and opposition, I assume your people—

The President: No, they are not called government advisers. They are called—

Senator WONG: It is a classification level.

The President: Yes, it is the adviser level.

Senator WONG: But there are different adviser levels for government and opposition.

The President: There is a salary band within the adviser level. It was not government adviser or opposition adviser. There is another classification for—

Senator WONG: Can I have what his classification and band level was—the position that has been abolished?

The President: We were certainly advised that it would equate to a government adviser and opposition adviser.

Senator WONG: So he has not been replaced?

The President: I have just been advised that it is called a 'non-government adviser', and he was not at the top of the band.

Senator WONG: I take you to question on notice 103 from Senator Farrell from the additional estimates round.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, we have a break scheduled in 10 minutes.

Senator WONG: I will try and finish before then.

CHAIR: And are there any other opposition questions for the Department of the Senate?

Senator WONG: I am not sure.

The President: Yes, I have that in front of me, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: You were asked by Senator Farrell:

Please provide a breakdown of the events Mr Hutchinson has attended as the President's representative, including the location of the events.

You declined to do so. Can you tell me why?

The President: I did not decline to do so, but I probably did not answer it in the way that you wanted it answered.

Senator WONG: 'He has represented me at a variety of functions and meetings.' I think that is declining to provide a breakdown.

The President: What question number is that? Is that No. 3?

Senator WONG: It is question No. 103.

The President: No. 3?

Senator WONG: I will come to question 3 shortly. It is question 2 of question No. 103:

Please provide a breakdown of the events Mr Hutchinson has attended as the President's representative, including the location of the events.

Your answer is:

Mr Hutchinson has represented me at a variety of functions, events and meetings, including funerals and special events—

and then you list one event.

The President: Yes.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me why you were not prepared to give more information?

The President: That is as full an answer as I wish to provide. It is akin to a backdoor way of asking for the diary of myself and Mr Hutchinson.

Senator WONG: No, it is not. You asked for a very highly paid, non-electorate, additional staff member—two above what the previous government provided to the President—on the basis that you had so much work. I think it is not unreasonable to say, 'What is he attending?'

The President: Well, that is my answer.

Senator WONG: Did he attend Liberal Party functions?

The President: He may well have done, but it would not have been at my request.

Senator WONG: It would not have been your request?

The President: No, but he may well have done.

Senator WONG: You told us that the adviser allocated to your presidential role was to undertake representative duties in Tasmania. I asked you this question in October last year:

I am interested in your point about representation in Tasmania. You are using an adviser allocated to your presidential role to undertake representative duties in Tasmania?

You answered:

In relation to my role as President of the Senate.

I said:

Only in relation to your role as President?

Your answer:

Generally, yes.

Then, when you were asked by Senator Farrell to follow that up—the third question of question 103:

Please provide a breakdown of the events the President has attended in Tasmania in his capacity as President of the Senate, as distinct from his role as a senator for Tasmania—

you said it was hard to distinguish between the two.

The President: It is a more fulsome answer that that, but yes—

Senator WONG: Sorry; I am happy to read it out, but I think the gravamen of the answer is clear.

The President: I think the response to the question needs to be read out.

Senator WONG: Okay:

As, President I regularly attend events when in my home State. Some of the events attended also overlap as being a Senator for Tasmania. It is hard to distinguish from an invitation that is addressed to the President of the Senate, as to whether it is as President or indeed as a Senator for Tasmania.

Do you want me to keep reading?

The President: Yes, because I think it is quite important.

Senator WONG: These are all on the website. It is not like people cannot see them.

The President: Let me finish. Some clear distinctions are obvious when the invitations or requests are presented, particularly if the invitation requests a topic such as 'The role of the President of the Senate', 'The Senate and how it works', 'The current make-up and administration of the Senate' or similar. And some requests are very clear, when it is stated, 'In your capacity as President of the Senate.' So there are some times when I know exactly what the invitation means, and there are many times I do not.

Senator WONG: But you employed Mr Hutchinson, at a very high salary, on the basis that he was representing you as the President. But you would agree—and I actually agree with you—that he is doing electorate work as well.

The President: I do not agree that he is doing electorate work as well.

Senator WONG: But that is what your answer says.

The President: If it particularly said that he was attending something in my capacity as a senator for Tasmania and definitely not as the President, then that would not be something he would be representing me at.

Senator WONG: That is not what your answer says, Mr President.

The President: Well, my answer says, 'It's hard to distinguish.'

Senator WONG: And your answer—

The President: That is what my answer says: 'It's hard to distinguish.' That is very clear.

Senator WONG: Then provide an answer to subsection (2). If that is your evidence, why won't you be providing an answer?

The President: I am not giving any more detail under subsection (2) in that answer.

Senator WONG: So you can employ a Liberal mate, at a high salary, but not tell anybody what he actually does. That is what you are telling the Senate.

The President: No. I am not telling the Senate that at all.

Senator WONG: How did he come to be employed in your office? Did you approach him, did he approach you or was it via a third party?

The President: I approached him.

Senator WONG: At whose request?

The President: Me—my request.

Senator WONG: Is it the case that other defeated Liberal members of parliament Mr Nikolic and Mr Whiteley have both received government jobs?

The President: That is a matter for other ministers or others to answer. It is not a matter for me to answer.

Senator WONG: You are not aware of that?

The President: I am aware, as you are, Senator, of what I read in the paper.

Senator WONG: So all defeated Tasmanian Liberals get a job. Is that how it works?

CHAIR: There are other avenues to pursue this question, Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: Well, I am asking him. He is the senior Tasmanian.

CHAIR: more appropriate avenues.

The President: I am aware, as you are, Senator Wong, of what I read about others being employed in different positions.

Senator WONG: Okay. We will follow that up. So you are not employing any others? There are none left, are there?

The President: I am not employing any other—

Senator WONG: No more defeated Liberal Tasmanian MPs to look after now.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions? I said I would come to Senator Rhiannon after the break, but will it fit in before the break? We have got four minutes.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to go to the register of interests. Is there a reason for using scanned PDFs as opposed to a digitalised form or something similar—something that could be searched easily?

Mr Pye : The Senate in 2011 agreed to the particular form for the register at the moment. There has been some work done in the background to bring the register into a more useful form, but, at this point in time, that work is incomplete. I should add: it would have to be a matter for the Committee of Senators' Interests then to agree to move to a different form of recording that information.

Senator RHIANNON: That was going to be my next question. If I understand correctly, for there to be any change from the current PDFs, a recommendation needs to come from that committee.

Mr Pye : That is right.

Senator RHIANNON: I will go back and ask you to elaborate on your earlier answer. You said there has been some work.

Mr Pye : That is right.

Senator RHIANNON: What does that mean?

Mr Pye : There has been some work done, but, at the moment, there is not a technological solution that fits onto the computer infrastructure of the parliament. We have been talking to the Department of Parliamentary Services about how we might address that.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say there is not a technological solution, do you mean it is not possible for them to host a searchable database?

Mr Pye : No. That is not what we are trying to achieve. I think that what we ultimately want to achieve is a system whereby senators can enter their interests information directly to a data source and have it all flow straight from there, rather than, for instance, having senators continue to put in their forms in a scanned or a written form and then have somebody here interpret them. We much prefer the idea that we could actually have a seamless system that allows senators to enter their information from their devices and have it automatically flow through. That is what we are looking to build, and we would hope to have that in a form for the Committee of Senators' Interests to look at this year so that, by the beginning of the next parliament, we could have something in place.

Senator RHIANNON: So, this year? There is about seven months to go. Will it be soon? Will it be late?

Mr Pye : I would say 'late', because it is an IT project.

Senator RHIANNON: Point taken. You talked about a seamless system. Does your definition of seamless also allow it to be readily searchable by the public?

Mr Pye : That would certainly be my preference, but that would be a decision for the committee and ultimately the Senate to make, as to the form that it finally approves.

Senator RHIANNON: This is about how the system works, not about the searchable aspects of it: if a member does not provide details, what happens if they do not actually fill in their form?

Mr Pye : If a senator does not fill in their form then it is a matter for other senators or the committee to pursue.

Senator RHIANNON: So it is purely up to that committee to pursue?

Mr Pye : Or other senators or the press. I think that quite an eye is run over the filling-in of these forms at the moment by the press environment.

Senator RHIANNON: Haven't there been cases where some people have not filled it out fully, or not regularly, and nothing has happened?

Mr Pye : I do not know that there have been cases of people not filling them out regularly. There have been issues with particular senators from time to time, and they do tend to get picked up in the press. It is not the role of the Senate department or the registrar to oversee the quality or the level of detail that is put in there.

Senator RHIANNON: Or the timeliness?

Mr Pye : Or the timeliness, other than to publish—as we do—the forms that come in within one business day of the form's arriving.

Senator RHIANNON: In terms of process, it is really up to the committee if they chose to follow up something that might have been reported in the paper or they heard or they wanted to be checked?

Mr Pye : It is a matter for the committee. It is a matter for individual senators. It is a matter that is regularly taken up in the press.

Senator RHIANNON: Although you would not really call that part of the process of parliament, would you?

Mr Pye : Well, actually, I would. The whole purpose of the Register of Senators' Interests is to instil a degree of transparency. The whole point of the transparency, I suppose, is so people are aware of senators' interests and can make their own judgements on how well those interests are represented.

Proceedings suspended from 10:32 to 10:43

CHAIR: The committee will now resume.

Senator KITCHING: I am going to refer particularly to question on notice 11 from the 2016-17 estimates, which included information on the testing of six different brands of paper. Firstly, can you confirm that the assessment was completed on 31 March 2017?

Ms Callinan : The assessment that was attached was in response to the question that was asked at that time at the hearing and was the assessment that related to the October-November assessment.

Senator KITCHING: Was it completed on 31 March this year?

Ms Callinan : We have done another assessment since then. The information that was attached to that question 11 was the assessment that related to the October-November assessment.

Senator KITCHING: So there has been an additional assessment that was completed on 31 March?

Ms Callinan : That is right.

Senator KITCHING: When did that assessment begin?

Ms Callinan : I would have to check exactly how long it took but it happened within the month of March.

Senator KITCHING: Within the month of March. Was that in light of the new procurement rules that came into effect on 1 March?

Ms Callinan : No, it was not. That was just our next regular scheduled assessment.

Senator KITCHING: But the assessors were aware of the new procurement rules?

Ms Callinan : Yes, we were aware that there were some changes to the procurement rules.

Senator KITCHING: Who developed the criteria? How were they developed?

Ms Callinan : The criteria were developed within my office—within the Senators' Services section of the Black Rod's office.

Senator KITCHING: Were the criteria the same for the period October to November 2016 as for the March 2017?

Ms Callinan : I have just had a quick look at it and I think that by and large it would have been the same—that is right.

Senator KITCHING: I notice on that that you have provided a column for price per ream, value for money, value for money ranking. Could you explain how the value for money score is calculated, given that it is different to the ranking out of five that is used for the other criteria?

Ms Callinan : The final ranking in the right-hand column that is headed 'Value for Money Ranking', that is the overall ranking of our assessment. Under the procurement rules we are required to achieve value for money and so that column represents the rankings for the entire assessment. It takes into account all the elements of that assessment from its performance—environmental credentials, for example—and the price per ream as well.

Senator KITCHING: I want to come back to the criterion around environmental assessment. What formula is used?

Ms Callinan : It is just an assessment out of a certain number. The value for money ranking is a ranking of all those papers that were assessed and so that is ranked from one to six. In terms of the formula—sorry what—

Senator KITCHING: I have one to five as the ranking—one being unacceptable and five being excellent.

Ms Callinan : Okay. Are you looking in the red text down below?

Senator KITCHING: I do not have any colour; it is simply black and white.

Ms Callinan : The ranking where we have one to five, where five is excellent and one is unacceptable, that applies to the ranking we have given for the performance of environmental credentials and government policy. It is just a ranking—an assessment of one to five as to how each of those papers go against each criterion. For example, if you take the first column on your left, which is 'Texture', all those papers were assessed and put through some performance testing and they were all ranked three, which is satisfactory for texture.

Senator KITCHING: Are they weighted? Do you weight different criteria—some things as more important than others?

Ms Callinan : That is not quite the level of detail I am familiar with, and so I am happy to take that on notice. I do not think we do weighting, but I will take it on notice.

Senator KITCHING: That would be good. The other question is that it is not just based on the price per ream?

Ms Callinan : No, it is not.

Senator KITCHING: You will come back on the weighting. In the table it is clear that the Austrian-made Impact paper and the Australian-made Reflex paper were equally ranked on performance. The Impact paper was subject to a comment. I will read it out because it has a typo: 'In smaller printers if paper is inserted the incorrectly way to that is outlined in the packaging then curling can be an issue.' Why did the Impact paper not receive a lower rating than three for curling on this basis? Why was it satisfactory?

Ms Callinan : Let me go back to the curling—yes, that was ranked three compared to, say, the next one underneath that was ranked four. So it was ranked satisfactory. I think it is just a reference to the fact that we do go into quite a level of detail, as you can see, for our performance assessment. We put these different types of paper through their paces well to ensure we get the best paper for our office use. The comments reflect it themselves: you really have to be inserting it the wrong way for that problem to realise. So I do not think we considered that to be significant enough to reduce it from the three to the two.

Senator KITCHING: Going back to the tables that I have, QON 11 was relevant to the October 2016 assessment, but the answer to QON 5 clearly refers to the March 2017 assessment as having been completed. Was there a reason the March table was not provided, and can it be provided?

Ms Callinan : It certainly can be provided. The reason for it not being provided was that the request for the criteria and the results just attached to that October-November assessment and that information was not specifically asked for in relation to the most recent one. But I am happy to provide it.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. When did you provide the answer to question 11?

Ms Callinan : It should say at the top of the question—no, it does not. I would have to check the detail as to when we submitted that one.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. If both tables could be provided, that would be helpful.

Ms Callinan : I might have that detail with me.

Mr Pye : We can certainly provide both tables.

Senator KITCHING: I guess the point is, Ms Callinan, that you might have the table but we do not, so if it could be provided that would be useful.

Ms Callinan : Sure.

Senator KITCHING: With the weighting of the criteria, other than the value for money criterion, are they evenly weighted?

Ms Callinan : As I said before, I do not think we put different weighting on different aspects of the assessment, but I will check that on notice, as I mentioned.

Senator KITCHING: Based on the table I am looking at, it would appear that the definitive factor that separated the Impact paper from the Reflex paper was value for money. Is that correct?

Ms Callinan : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Is the testing undertaken solely by departmental officers or are senators' officers involved? Is there a feedback mechanism?

Ms Callinan : The testing itself is undertaken by our departmental officers. I believe that we may have or do run them through the printers that are used by senators. I would have to check that detail.

Senator KITCHING: If you could.

Ms Callinan : To my knowledge, we have not received feedback about the quality of paper. I can check that as well.

Senator KITCHING: This matrix includes a column to assess government policy compliance, and the potential suppliers were ranked 'satisfactory' when it comes to complying with government policy. Is that correct?

Ms Callinan : Yes, that is right.

Senator KITCHING: How did you assess compliance with government policy?

Ms Callinan : Compliance with government policy is a requirement under the procurement rules. There are a small number of procurement connected policies which we refer to; one of those is the Indigenous procurement policy, for example. Other than that, we do not really have the resources to ensure a review against all government policies. As you could imagine, that would be quite a substantial undertaking. We have, for example, considered the work of the Anti-Dumping Commission since that was brought to our attention through this estimates process, and that is incorporated in that government policy compliance column. One other thing we do in relation to policy compliance is that we rely on the fact that we get our paper through the whole-of-government procurement panel. That panel is managed, I understand, by the Department of Finance, and we would assume that the Department of Finance would undertake their own checks before placing various items on that panel arrangement.

Senator KITCHING: Other than the factors that you have listed in that response, were there any other specific factors you considered?

Ms Callinan : Just the factors set out here in the criteria.

Senator KITCHING: You have indicated that the October-November 2016 assessment and the one that was done in March 2017 were essentially based on the same criteria.

Ms Callinan : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Obviously I have not looked at the March 2017 one. And you are aware that the new government procurement rules came into effect on 1 March. When you were conducting the March assessment, did you take into account the new Commonwealth Procurement Rules?

Ms Callinan : Yes, we did. My understanding of the main changes in relation to those rules is that they updated certain aspects of the relevant division, division 2. One of them was to include value for money and benefits to the Australian economy, which requires procurements above $4 million to 'consider the economic benefit of the procurement to the Australian economy', for example.

Senator KITCHING: Did you just say that you purchase under the whole of government?

Ms Callinan : Yes, that is right.

Senator KITCHING: Paper usage. I am aware from the Joint Select Committee on Government Procurement that you have some evidence in relation to the fact that the use of paper has obviously diminished as people become more technologically able. It is $4 million but there are other criteria listed in the new procurement rules. For example, let us take the 'benefit to the Australian economy' criterion. How did Impact win that, given that Reflex is Australian and Impact is from Austria? Was consideration given to the new procurement rules around that point?

Ms Callinan : In reference to the figure that I quoted before, as I understand it that requirement relates to procurements over $4 million. When our department procures paper we procure a relatively small amount of paper and it would be under $100,000. It might be something like $60,000 a year, for example. That is just a rough estimate.

Senator KITCHING: But isn't the whole of government procurement for paper about $7 million? I think it is about that.

Ms Callinan : It could well be. It would be a matter for Finance as to how they might take into account that change in the procurement rules when it does whatever it actually does in relation to that panel.

Senator KITCHING: Do you feed into that process, even though you are only a small component of that?

Ms Callinan : We do not feed into the front end process. We just feed into the back end, which is the result of that process. We access the panel, just like other government agencies, when we purchase stationery items, including paper.

Senator KITCHING: Did you seek any advice from Finance to ensure compliance with the new rules?

Ms Callinan : No, we did not.

Senator KITCHING: Why not?

Ms Callinan : The obligation is on us as an agency to ensure that our own practices comply with our obligations, including with the Commonwealth Procurement Rules. We do our due diligence to ensure that we feel that we are complying, rather than seeking some sort of approval or endorsement from the Department of Finance. If we did have a concern and we wanted to get some clarity on a certain matter we could certainly contact a department to seek some guidance and get some clarity, but it is not a formal process of getting endorsement.

Senator KITCHING: You would not feel the need to get some guidance on considering the economic benefit of procurement to the Australian economy?

Ms Callinan : No, not insofar as I understand what that requirement is. It relates to procurements over a certain dollar value, which we are nowhere near.

Senator KITCHING: Are you aware of the country of origin of copy paper purchased by the House of Representatives?

Ms Callinan : I might be. I cannot be definite, I am afraid, Senator. I would rather not—

Senator KITCHING: It is Staples, which is 100 per cent Australian made recycled carbon-neutral paper.

Ms Callinan : That could well be the case.

Senator KITCHING: Have you had any discussions with your colleagues in the Department of the House of Representatives about the criteria they use to assess value for money in their paper procurement practices?

Ms Callinan : No, I have not had any specific conversation with them about the criteria or the processes that they apply. That is a matter purely for them.

Senator SMITH: I notice that House of Representatives members in parliament are having their offices refurbished. Is that your understanding as well?

Ms Callinan : Yes, Senator.

Senator SMITH: What plans are there to have senators' offices refurbished on the Senate side?

Ms Callinan : We have a furniture refurbishment project underway within our department. That project is refurnishing staff furniture within the Department of the Senate and also senators' staff furniture.

Senator SMITH: Has that begun yet?

Ms Callinan : Yes. It is a project that has a time frame of two to two and a half years. As you can imagine, it takes a while to refurbish individual suites. We need to fit it in around sitting times, for example, so that we do not disrupt the work of the senators.

Senator SMITH: So the actual physical refurbishment of individual offices has begun, or the plan has begun?

Ms Callinan : The actual physical refurbishment has begun. We have done a number of departmental suites, and we have also done one of the Senate office holder suites, and we are about to commence another—

Senator SMITH: Senate office holder, as opposed to senator?

Ms Callinan : One office holder suite has been done, and we are about to commence senators' suites in July.

Senator SMITH: Does that plan run parallel to the House of Representatives plan, or is it completely separate and independent of it?

Ms Callinan : It is completely separate. We are a separate department, as you know, so we run all of our programs separately. The Department of the House of Representatives are well ahead of us in their furniture replacement project. We are sort of running simultaneously at the moment, but we are not really in step with them. They are way ahead of us.

Senator SMITH: In the most recent annual report, the previous Clerk made the comment:

Most mature democracies recognise the value of a legislature that can deliver policy-saving compromise through careful inquiry and judicious amending of legislation, and fund it accordingly, respecting the separation of powers that underlies such systems.

She also quoted in her opening remarks comments from a previous annual report where she talked about concerns around the department's budget:

If the department's budget is inadequate to support the level of activity that the Senate determines, then the Senate risks being constrained in being able to carry out its constitutional functions …

This was an outcome that she regarded as 'unacceptable'. Where are we up to with efforts to establish for the Senate its own funding mechanism, independent of executive government? This has been a topic that has been raised at these estimates previously.

The President: You have hit on a subject that is very core to my heart. We have approached the budget process by seeking to have our budget as we wish it to be for the annual operation of the Senate; however, the Department of Finance, or the finance minister, still to this point has not agreed to that, and we still put in normal policy proposals for the budget. We will keep pursuing this. I have the support of the Appropriations, Staffing and Security Committee for this. We should be independent. There are lots of models that I have looked at and I have proffered in private discussions with the Minister for Finance. They will be ongoing. I think there could be a way of securing an annual appropriation for the Department of the Senate which would reflect its independence by having a built-in, if you like, consumer price index increase set from a base that is validly established. That is probably the most simple way of doing this. But it is ongoing, and it is something that I will not back down from. I do not know whether the Clerk has any additional comments about that.

Mr Pye : I would add that we are in support of the position the former Clerk put, and the position that the President puts, that there is a good case that can be made for more independent funding of the parliamentary departments. I would have to say, though, that over the past couple of years the government has been quite responsive to the requests the Senate has particularly put forward for funding. This has allowed the Senate department this year to realign its resourcing at a level that really meets the level of demand for services as we are experiencing it. If we find, over the course of the next 12 months, and the 12 months after, that the level of demand, for instance, continues to increase, then we will again be proposing that the President put to the Appropriations, Staffing and Security Committee, and to the finance minister, a request for additional funds.

The President: I might add, Senator Smith, that I do not attend the economic review committee. I politely refuse to attend.

Senator SMITH: The Expenditure Review Committee of cabinet, you mean?

The President: Correct. I instead have a discussion with the finance minister directly, which is far more appropriate than being subjected to the executive government scrutiny.

Senator SMITH: In regard to the issue, it would be fair to characterise it as: there is an agreed principle that the Senate's funding should be secured in a more independent way than is currently the case. That is a principle. That is a policy that the Senate holds.

The President: Correct.

Senator SMITH: Have formal propositions been put to government about how that could work?

The President: Not the definitive model, but formal proposition in the sense that we apply for the annual appropriation as a form of applying for moneys that we believe the Senate needs to run or to operate. In my view, we should not be subjected to the efficiency dividend. We should not be treated like every other executive department. We are not executive departments, however we cannot tax—

Senator SMITH: The former Clerk described it as a blunt instrument.

The President: That is probably a good description. We are pursuing it and we are not resting. We will keep pursing it.

Senator SMITH: What do the various models look like that could be established to give the Senate an independent funding source?

The President: I outlined that we still have to go to the government for the appropriation because we have no way of raising our own revenue, of course. It would be on the basis that you establish—and this is the preferred option that I have—what it costs to run the Senate. You then have a built-in factor for CPI for ongoing years. The ACT parliament have a good model where there is an annual appropriation that has been established. It is increased with CPI, I believe, and then the Treasurer has to come to the floor of the chamber and explain why the appropriation should not proceed as has been requested by the parliament. That is putting the reverse onus onto the Treasurer to explain why rather than the Department of the Senate to explain why it needs the moneys.

I have also looked at models in other countries. The Canadian model is an interesting one where any moneys not spent by the department are actually returned to consolidated revenue. But a percentage is retained by the parliamentary department, which incentivises the parliamentary department to spend wisely and also gives assurance to the government of the day that money is not going to just be spent to the maximum amount and some could be returned.

Senator SMITH: Incentivises particularly in the uptake of technology that might make senators do their tasks more efficiently and for the Department of the Senate to do them at a cheaper costs—which brings me to my second point. What efforts are underway and is it the responsibility of the Department of the Senate to better facilitate access for senators to telepresence technology to reduce their travel, particularly if they are travelling from faraway states like Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory? We see it rolled out in ministerial arrangements. Whose responsibility is that? Is it a Department of the Senate responsibility?

Mr Pye : That is primarily a responsibility for the Department of Parliamentary Services, but the Senate department and the House of Representatives department are both represented on the working groups that are looking at that area. There are two committee rooms that have been set up for—

Senator SMITH: What are the two working groups?

Mr Pye : The Parliamentary ICT Advisory Board is the main forum considering telepresence and videoconferencing matters at the moment. That comprises six members and senators, the secretary of DPS, the chief information officer and representatives of the Senate and the House of Representatives. There is an administrative subgroup of that which is parliamentary staff, without the parliamentarians on that. We have a pilot program up in relation to better videoconferencing for committee rooms. We have two committee rooms now that are set up for bespoke videoconferencing. The other arm of the program, as I understand it, is to improve videoconferencing from your suites and your devices—your computers. Improving the Skype-like capability that all of you should have to both Skype into formal committee meetings and contact your electorate offices and things like that as well. DPS would have the details of those things, but we are very supportive of the aims.

Senator SMITH: Who drives the better technology take-up, particularly with regard to this telepresence activity? Is it up to the committee that comprises members and senators, or is it up to the committee that comprises parliamentary staff?

Mr Pye : It is up to both. The committee comprising parliamentary staff are really trying to implement the priorities that PICTAB identifies. There is a strategic plan for ICT for the parliament that runs from 2013 to 2018, and it identifies videoconferencing and so forth as part of the suite of developments that DPS is pursuing.

Senator SMITH: And that strategic plan is publicly available?

Mr Pye : It is.

Senator SMITH: Just referring to the two committee rooms that have telepresence access, how is priority determined in terms of which members or senators, or which committees, will have access to them?

Mr Pye : I would have to take that on notice. It is maybe not something that is in my—in relation to Senate committees it would be, but I am not aware of the detail of that and I would have to take that on notice, which I am happy to do.

Senator SMITH: Perhaps you could also take on notice and let me know how frequently Senate committees have accessed telepresence opportunity in those two committee rooms.

Mr Pye : I am happy to do so.

Senator SMITH: In the recent month we had, unfortunately, some speculation—fortunately found to be untrue—about the potential passing of Prince Philip. I am just wondering what protocols the Senate will observe should Prince Philip pass away. What is the custom and tradition?

Mr Pye : The Senate would no doubt wish to pass an address to Her Majesty expressing condolence. There are precedents for that—for instance, with the death of the Queen Mother as the most recent example. There would also be a condolence book for signature and there would be flags at half-mast, in accordance generally with the government protocols in this area. There is nothing specific, I guess, for the Senate in relation to that matter.

Senator SMITH: So the Senate would follow the protocols established by the government?

Mr Pye : That is right.

Senator SMITH: Are those protocols prearranged?

Mr Pye : They are certainly standard, so we would consult with PM&C over that.

Senator SMITH: Thank you, Chair.

Senator BERNARDI: Ms Callinan, just a question in respect of some questions from Senator Smith about the refurbishment or replacement of furniture in senators' suites. Does that include those very dangerous chairs that are falling to bits and the corners grab people's hands?

Ms Callinan : Are you talking about what we would call the tub chairs?

Senator BERNARDI: Yes, the tub chairs. After 20 or 30 years, the joins are somewhat dangerous.

Ms Callinan : Yes. The specific project I was talking about with Senator Smith does not include those tub chairs. However, there is a separate project underway to refurbish those tub chairs, so they are slowly being refurbished.

Senator BERNARDI: How do we participate in that refurbishment?

Mr Pye : I think you have mentioned chairs in this room before, with some success.

Senator BERNARDI: I have. They are still falling to bits.

Ms Callinan : You are asking me how you would participate in that?

Senator BERNARDI: Yes. How do you participate in the refurbishment of the chairs?

Ms Callinan : I think I would have to just get some advice about exactly where that project is up to and how it is being sequenced. If you have a particular issue with a particular chair, or number of chairs, Senator, my office can be in touch with you about that.

Senator BERNARDI: It is a legacy of when Senator Parry had my suite, I think.

The President: We could provide you with welding gloves as an interim measure!

Senator BERNARDI: Some glue might help, actually.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions for the Department of the Senate? As there are not, I thank the Department of the Senate.