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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Independent National Security Legislation Monitor

Independent National Security Legislation Monitor


CHAIR: I welcome the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon. George Brandis, representing the Prime Minister, and Dr James Renwick SC, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. Attorney-General, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Brandis: No, thank you.

CHAIR: Dr Renwick, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Dr Renwick : Yes, just a brief one. I thank the committee very much for accommodating my travel arrangements. This is my second appearance before the committee. You may recall that I appeared on my first day in office last time. Can I give you a quick update. This will take a couple of minutes. As far as resources go, I inherited a principal adviser and an executive officer, and next week I will interview a potential deputy principal adviser. They comprise the indispensable permanent staff of my office, and I continue to receive proper support and sufficient resources from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which fully respects my independence. As I indicated to this committee last time, for reasons of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, I have engaged through the Office of the Australian Government Solicitor counsel assisting at their normal Commonwealth rates of payment, and the team is operating well.

My focus has necessarily been upon the three reports I am required to submit to the Prime Minister by 7 September this year. They concern, if I can describe them this way, the stop, search and seize powers in the Crimes Act; the declared areas provisions in the Criminal Code relating to foreign fighters; and divisions 104 and 105 of the Criminal Code, dealing with control orders and preventative detention orders, including the inter-operability of the control order regime and the high-risk terrorist offenders act 2016. To that end, since being appointed in February, I have held confidential hearings and public hearings. The public hearings were held at the ANU last Friday. I have received both oral and written submissions from government agencies and departments and interested persons such as the Law Council of Australia. Those submissions, and in due course the transcript, will be posted on my official website.

My task now, with appropriate assistance from the team, is to write and deliver those reports by the required date. Once that has happened, I am required to deliver my annual report, and at that time I will give consideration to what I should look at next—and I should say that I have not yet come to any final views about what recommendations and findings I will make in the three reports.

Finally, a critical part of the monitor's role is meeting with interested persons and bodies and receiving appropriate briefings, information and evidence, both specific to the current reports I am writing and also more generally. I have been briefed by, for example, ASIO, the AFP and the Attorney-General's Department. I have met with commissioners or deputy commissioners from various state police forces. I have met with the Hon. Margaret Stone, the IGIS; and the CDPP, the Human Rights Commissioner and the privacy commissioner. I have made contact with my United Kingdom counterpart, Max Hill QC. As part of public engagement, I gave a lecture to law students at the ANU on 12 May, along with representatives of the PJCIS and the IGIS. And, as far as this parliament goes, I am pleased to say I have now met with both the chair and deputy chair of the PJCIS; I have met with Senator Wong; and immediately after this appearance I will meet with the Hon. Mark Dreyfus QC. Now I am happy to answer any questions, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Senator McAllister?

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you very much. Welcome back, Dr Renwick.

Dr Renwick : Thank you.

Senator McALLISTER: The last time you appeared before us, Senator Brandis advised the committee that your appointment was technically an acting one, pending your security clearances.

Dr Renwick : That is right.

Senator McALLISTER: Have those clearances now been obtained?

Dr Renwick : Not quite. They are well advanced, I believe. I have filled in every form; I have attended the relevant interviews; and I anticipate something soon, but that is up to others, I am afraid.

Senator McALLISTER: So you have no sense of when it is likely to be finalised?

Dr Renwick : 'Soon' is what I have been told.

Senator McALLISTER: Does not having a security clearance impede the performance of your duties?

Dr Renwick : No, it has not done that at all, I am pleased to say.

Senator McALLISTER: Is there any aspect of your duties, as you understand them, that would be impeded—even if they are not things you have been required to attend to up to this point in time—by not having a security clearance?

Dr Renwick : Well, when I say, 'I don't have a security clearance,' I have the second highest security clearance, and I have had one of those for 20 years, so the agencies have had no difficulty providing me with anything I have asked for, but it is a requirement of this position. In the letter I received from the Prime Minister, it said I am required to have the highest level—

Senator McALLISTER: The PV?

Dr Renwick : the PV; that is right—and that is why I have applied for it. That is in the hands of others, but I have done all that has been asked of me in that regard.

Senator McALLISTER: Can I ask you about the budget. Are there any specific budget measures that affect your office?

Dr Renwick : At that point, I am going to hand over to Ms Bryant, because I am not an FMA agency. I will pass to Ms Bryant.

Ms Bryant : The INSLM office budget was set some time ago with the Hon. Roger Gyles, when we increased his budget, and that is the four full-time staff that Dr Renwick is referring to. That budget is ongoing. It has not been affected. In fact, we have been able work with Dr Renwick about using some of the budget for counsel assisting with the AGS contracts. So it is quite flexible and available for us to use how he sees fit. We are looking at getting another permanent employee, as Dr Renwick mentioned. Again, we can make the budget work for Dr Renwick. If there was any sense that he needed more support, then the department could look at that as well.

Senator McALLISTER: You indicated that the budget is established in terms of positions. I think you said that it is full-time positions, which includes Dr Renwick's position. Is it expressed as a dollar figure?

Ms Bryant : It is, yes—I do not have the exact figure with me, but I could provide that.

Senator WONG: Could you get it, please? It is a pretty reasonable question.

Ms Bryant : You are right.

Senator WONG: I am sorry to jump in. We want the actual dollar figure, because it is obviously an internal PM&C budgeting process. There is no PBS for this entity, which is an important oversight entity.

Ms Bryant : I can certainly get that.

Senator WONG: What we also want to understand is both the historic proportion of the PM&C appropriation that is allocated to the office, and also over the forwards.

Ms Bryant : Certainly; I can get you—

Senator WONG: How long will that take?

Ms Bryant : I can get you, quite quickly, the current budget and next year's budget. It is about the $800,000 mark. In terms of the history, I might need to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Okay; $800,000 for four staff?

Ms Bryant : That is correct.

Senator WONG: We will probably need to understand how you get to that.

Ms Bryant : I can break that down as well for you.

Senator McALLISTER: Incidentally, in that breakdown, Dr Renwick indicated that, from time to time, he draws on resources elsewhere in PM&C. When that occurs, is that charged in any way across to the budget, or is this an informal arrangement?

Ms Bryant : Dr Renwick draws more on resources from the Australian Government Solicitor through a contract that we have. We are able to manage that within the current budget. When there was a period of time after Roger Gyles finished, we did not actually have permanent staff in place while we waited for Dr Renwick to come on board and to give him some flexibility in choosing his own team. That has allowed us to bring, quite quickly, some contractors on board through the AGS contract. As I said, it is a flexible arrangement as to how Dr Renwick would like to use it.

Senator McALLISTER: Am I correct in understanding that, in this financial year, that has at least been partly enabled by a period when positions went unfilled and the budget has been redirected towards the AGS under those circumstances? It is your intention, as I understand it, to permanently fill each of the four positions.

Dr Renwick : Not quite, no—as I said, I have an executive officer, principal adviser and I will shortly have a deputy principal adviser. They are my three permanent staff.

Senator McALLISTER: And then there is yourself.

Dr Renwick : And then there is myself. I think I am entitled to an extra two staff. I may be wrong about that, but I thought I was. It is that allocation of money that I have decided to use for counsel assisting, because I think it gives, for a part-time office, more flexibility. When I am in the middle, as I am at the minute, of an intense period of writing, I have these very capable people who can be charged at normal Commonwealth rates to do the work. But then, of course, when I deliver my report on 8 September, they will not be on the payroll any more. For me, I think that is a more flexible way to proceed.

Senator McALLISTER: Ms Bryant, you commenced by saying that the budget was based on four full-time staff. In fact, it is calculated in relation to six full-time staff, but Dr Renwick has elected to fill only four of those positions and use the use the balance for the Australian Government Solicitor. Is that correct?

Ms Bryant : I would have to check, but my understanding is that it is for four full-time staff and Dr Renwick's costs are on top of that. The budget for the financial year of 2016-17 was $841,000.

Senator McALLISTER: $841,000?

Ms Bryant : It was $841,000. I will check this very quickly for you—I am hoping my team is checking it now for me—that that is the same for the 2017-18 financial year as well. But I will check, as well, the number of staff.

Senator McALLISTER: Is it possible to also see that broken down over the forward estimates?

Ms Bryant : Yes, definitely. We can break it down by employees and suppliers. But I will say that, if there is any period of time that Dr Renwick feels that he needs more resources, there is an ability within the internal budget process that we do within PM&C to review that based on Dr Renwick's needs. He would come into those midyear and at other points in time where we can review budget allocations within the department.

Senator McALLISTER: Did the office make a submission to the budget process for any new policy proposals or any other submission?

Ms Bryant : No.

Senator McALLISTER: Are there any processes in place to monitor efficiency of expenditure within the office?

Ms Bryant : I would say that it is quite early days. As Dr Renwick has outlined, once he came on board, we have really needed to surge our capacity in his team. Certainly Dr Renwick and I, and his principal adviser and I, will have regular conversations on how we might balance the additional cost of a contractor through the AGS system versus, of course, a full-time staff member, which can be cheaper, but really it is about getting the best people on board for what Dr Renwick needs. As he was explaining, quite often it is about having that ability to surge the resources in his team when he needs them, and potentially that will be a more effective way of using the budget. I would say that we will get a better idea of these things over the coming months in terms of the best way that the budget can be used, but we are very flexible and open to however we might use it to support Dr Renwick.

Senator McALLISTER: You indicated earlier that this surge requirement so far has been met by engaging staff and the Australian Government Solicitor on a contract basis and you have not called upon other internal resources within PM&C. Am I correct in that understanding?

Ms Bryant : Yes, absolutely. I would say that we would not necessarily have the skills in PM&C to fulfil those tasks.

Senator McALLISTER: Can I ask you about the other matter you raised in your opening statement—the statutory deadline review process?

Dr Renwick : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Have submissions now closed for those inquiries?

Dr Renwick : Yes, technically that is true. There are a couple of people who have indicated that their submissions are on the way, but, as I said, we had the public hearings. That is certainly a closed process. It was last Friday. All of that is on our website, or will be shortly.

Senator McALLISTER: How many submissions were received across the three areas of review?

Dr Renwick : I think we got 12 submissions in the end, including from bodies such as the Human Rights Commission and the Law Council of Australia. We had a helpful submission from a group of academics and the like. Obviously we have received official submissions from ASIO, the AFP, the Attorney-General's Department and the like. Last Friday we had addresses by almost all of those bodies. I have a confidential session where I ask the agencies detailed questions, and then I have a public session a couple of weeks after where they are able to take my questions on board and answer them in an unclassified environment.

Senator McALLISTER: Do you plan any further public or private hearings?

Dr Renwick : In relation to these three statutory deadlines, no. That is largely because the statute tells me that I have to report by 7 September.

Senator McALLISTER: Just remind me—and I am sorry not to know this—when you finalise your report, is that delivered to the minister or tabled in the parliament?

Dr Renwick : Yes, that goes to the Prime Minister, and then the Prime Minister is obliged to table it within two weeks. I think that is how it works.

Senator McALLISTER: You indicated that you will use your annual report to lay out a program of work

Dr Renwick : Yes, that is what my predecessors have done, but I really do not have a view yet. That is just because I am so focused on these three reports and what might come then.

Senator McALLISTER: Has the government provided any direction to you about specific tasks it would like to see incorporated in your future work plan?

Dr Renwick : When you say 'direction', the Prime Minister can direct me, of course, under section 7 of my act. Indeed, I can write to the Prime Minister and suggest a direction, but I have not got any such directions. If I do not get such a direction, there are then half a dozen statutes, and I can, on my own motion, review any one of them. So, in the absence of a prime ministerial reference, I will go ahead and choose one or more of those statutes and start work.

Senator McALLISTER: Separate to a formal reference, have you received any indication from the government about priorities for your work?

Dr Renwick : Not really, no.

Senator McALLISTER: Since your appointment, what meetings have you had with government ministers?

Dr Renwick : As I said in my opening, I have met with the Attorney on a couple of occasions, I met with the Minister for Justice this morning, I have met with Senator Wong and I am about to meet with Mr Dreyfus. The PJCIS is an important committee for me. I have met with both the chair and the deputy chair. Those, I think, have been my only ministerial meetings at this stage.

Senator McALLISTER: Is it your intention to establish any regular ministerial meetings, or do you anticipate simply setting them up as required?

Dr Renwick : I am not sure, to be honest. Let me give some thought to that.

CHAIR: I was going to give some Senator Xenophon some questions, but he is not here.

Senator WONG: I think he has had to leave.

CHAIR: Thank you for your evidence. You are free to go now, although I am sure you will get some questions from Senator Xenophon on notice.