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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Department of the Senate

Department of the Senate


CHAIR: I welcome the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon. John Hogg, the Clerk of the Senate, Dr Rosemary Laing, and officers of the Department of the Senate. I thank the department again for providing the committee with updated information on Senate committee activity. Mr President, do you wish to make an opening statement?

The President: I have no opening statement.

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

Dr Laing : Good morning, Chair and Senators. I have a very brief opening statement to put on the record my earlier advice to senators that the former Usher of the Black Rod, Bronwyn Notzon, has taken up the role of Serjeant-at-Arms in the other place, with effect from last Monday. So on my left I have a well-known Usher of the Black Rod, Brien Hallett, who is filling in that position on a temporary basis until our new Black Rod starts towards the end of June. Our new Black Rod is Ms Rachel Callinan, who is currently Usher of the Black Rod in the New South Wales Legislative Council. She will commence in late June.

CHAIR: I invite questions from senators.

Senator WONG: I have a few brief questions, Dr Laing or Mr President, firstly about the Department of Parliamentary Services security screening trial and changed arrangements. Was the Department of the Senate consulted in the introduction of those?

Dr Laing : The Usher of the Black Rod is a member of the Security Management Board, which is established under the Parliamentary Service Act. As a member of the board, the Usher is consulted on security matters, including the screening trials.

Senator WONG: So that would have been Ms Notzon?

Dr Laing : Yes.

Senator WONG: When was that brought to your attention?

Dr Laing : It is an issue that has been raised as a possibility for quite some time. I would not be able to pinpoint exactly when it was first raised.

Senator WONG: Has the Department of the Senate expressed a view previously in the context of these consultations?

Dr Laing : I think that we have kept an open mind about streamlining of entry through the Senate entrance. It is, as you know, a very busy entrance because it is used by the press as well as by senators and parliamentary officers. So I think that we have been very happy to listen to and participate in discussions on all attempts to streamline entry to the building while maintaining appropriate security.

Senator WONG: What is the name of the committee that the Usher of the Black Rod is a part of?

Dr Laing : It is called the Security Management Board. It consists of the secretary DPS as chair, the Usher and the Serjeant, and it is a statutory committee.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Were the Security Management Board provided with any security threat assessment when considering this trial?

Dr Laing : I could not provide that level of detail.

Mr Hallett : Further to what Dr Laing has just said, obviously that was in the time of my predecessor, but I have checked the file. There were a number of discussions at the Security Management Board. I would have to take on notice whether a particular assessment was made, or Ms Mills might be able to help you later in the morning. But certainly there was paperwork, so to speak, that went to the President just before Christmas.

Senator WONG: But did anyone do a proper threat assessment prior to these new arrangements being put in place?

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

Dr Laing : If I could add—I imagine the answer is yes and that Ms Mills will be able to clarify that a little later this morning.

Senator WONG: But you are not aware of that?

Dr Laing : I am not personally aware, but I would not be personally aware of the detail of the security management operations.

Senator WONG: Mr President, Ms Mills has told people via circular that the presiding officers had agreed to this trial. Was a threat assessment made available to you?

The President: Yes, we had a full briefing on a couple of occasions.

Senator WONG: Was there a security threat assessment—that is, an assessment of what the risks are and how this arrangement mitigates and manages those risks. Was that kind of analysis placed before the presiding officers?

The President: In my assessment, yes.

Senator WONG: Who did the assessment?

The President: I cannot recall who did the assessment. We would get a resume of the assessment. We would be told the nature of the assessment and we would ask questions on the assessment itself.

Senator WONG: I think someone is trying to get your attention, Mr President.

The President: I have been advised that it was the board who received the assessment. We would have received an analysis of the assessment and I am told that it was last year.

Senator WONG: I will need to speak to Ms Mills about the details. Is that right?

The President: Ms Mills will have those details.

Senator WONG: You will be aware that there is a quite a lot of concern about the trial, Mr President?

The President: I understand there is concern, but we thought it was appropriate to do it. It is a trial.

Senator WONG: Why is it appropriate?

The President: It is appropriate, at this stage, to do the trial—to see the effects of the trial, make an analysis of the trial and see if it should continue.

Senator WONG: When this trial was put to the presiding officers, what was the primary reason, the primary rationale, for trying to change the arrangements?

The President: One of the reasons—not the only reason—was a concern in relation to the budget of the Department of Parliamentary Services. At this stage, this has not taken, as I understand it, any officers away from their duties. They are being otherwise occupied in their duties around this place.

Senator WONG: But your understanding, Mr President—to recap your answer—is that one of the primary drivers was the budgetary position of DPS?

The President: It was not the only driver. I would not say it was the primary driver. It was one of the drivers. It was a concern to us, as you would be aware. The Department of Parliamentary Services budget has been in a parlous state for quite some time. When you were the finance minister, we wrote to you on several occasions expressing our concerns in that area, I think. But it is not the only concern, let me assure you.

Senator WONG: It is the concern you referenced.

The President: It is a concern. We are also concerned about increasing the scope of surveillance within the building itself—having more officers freed up to do security duties within the building itself.

Senator HEFFERNAN: I want to ask some questions relating to the Department of Finance and the difficulty that DPS finds itself in with regard to the cutback in security—regarding the attitude of Finance to the department.

The President: Could we save these questions until the Department of Parliamentary Services arrives?

Senator HEFFERNAN: I have a couple of questions for you specifically, Mr President.

CHAIR: We are specifically talking about the security issues in Parliament House.

Senator WONG: I have other questions under this outcome. I was just leaving the topic to others.

CHAIR: Does anyone have specific security related questions that are relevant to this line of questioning?

Senator FAULKNER: Yes.

CHAIR: Senator Faulkner, please wait. I will let Senator Heffernan proceed.

Senator HEFFERNAN: This building, symbolically, would be a high-profile terrorist target—like the White House in the United States. If I wanted to cause a mischief at the present time, there are first response AFP around the perimeter and high-security at the door. Most of the demonstrations and the mischief occur outside the building. Under the present arrangements, where certain levels of people with passes who allegedly have been security checked can proceed through without being screened, are you confident that that system will secure the building?

The President: Based on the advice to us, we believe that that will secure the building at this stage. If there is evidence to the contrary, then there is the capacity, at a moment's notice, to revoke—

Senator HEFFERNAN: It can be revoked at a moment's notice?

The President: Any time.

Senator HEFFERNAN: I will be calling on you to do that today—later in the day. The proposition is that if you have a pass of a certain level, you do not get screened.

The President: That is correct. Effectively, people who have undergone police checks through the Commonwealth do not get screened.

Senator HEFFERNAN: In the paper yesterday I read about 300 people—many of them prominent citizens, politicians et cetera—who had frequented two brothels in Sydney. Some of those people might not like you, me or Senator Faulkner to know they had been to the brothel. They would be subject, possibly, to entrapment if we did know. I think the ICAC proceedings in New South Wales are demonstrating entrapment. I want to go to entrapment of the witnesses who have the security passes. Do you think that is possible? When people have a secret it is never the secret that gets them into trouble. It is keeping the secret that gets them into trouble. Do you think, in this case, that is possible in this building?

The President: I cannot rule anything in or out, as you would know, Senator Heffernan. But I would trust that, with the level of security checks that apply to people in this place, we would not see that happen.

Senator HEFFERNAN: But do you recognise the issue of entrapment?

The President: Yes, but that can happen anywhere in life.

Senator HEFFERNAN: So there is nothing to prevent that in this process. This security arrangement, as I understand it—from the Secretary—has come about.

The President: The Secretary of DPS is not here yet.

Senator HEFFERNAN: You are aware of it. I am asking you. My understanding is—and you would have the same understanding—

CHAIR: Senator Heffernan, I am loath to interrupt, but it is appropriate for you to ask these questions of the department—DPS.

Senator HEFFERNAN: I will just be a second. Mr President, the secretary and you have told me that this is to save $400,000.

The President: It is not only to save the money but also to redeploy the assets elsewhere within the building.

Senator HEFFERNAN: Is the advice you have been given that the security people at the AFP and ASIO are happy with this?

The President: I would rather wait until the Secretary of DPS has arrived.

Senator HEFFERNAN: Let me assure you: I have been talking to all of those people and they are not happy.

The President: That is your opinion.

Senator HEFFERNAN: No, that is their opinion.

CHAIR: This is more appropriately dealt with when the department arrives after lunch. Senator Hogg, there are two things you mentioned in your statement. You said, firstly, that those who had undergone a police check were no longer required to be screened.

The President: And Commonwealth pass holders.

CHAIR: That includes staff members. Is it true that all members of staff receive police checks prior to employment?

The President: As far as I understand it.

CHAIR: It is at the option of the employing senator or member, isn't it?

The President: I know that the staff who have worked for me have all been subject to police checks.

Dr Laing : May I add that it is a routine procedure upon recruitment of staff in the Department of the Senate.

Senator WONG: But not ministerial staff.

CHAIR: Electorate office staff?

Dr Laing : No, Department of the Senate staff. Staff that I employ. Part of the recruitment process involves a routine police check. That is for Department of the Senate staff who are employed by the Clerk of the Senate.

The President: And I can say that all my staff have been subject to police checks. If you are saying that there are some exceptions to that, I will find that out through the Secretary of DPS.

CHAIR: The other point I want to ask about is that you said this was a trial, Senator Hogg.

The President: It is a trial.

CHAIR: The problem I have with having a trial is that it will be a smashing success until it is not. Then you realise that the trial has failed. No-one wants to see that eventuality. How do you determine it is a success unless there is a security incident?

The President: I think that is right. But even with the security we have in place, it is a success until it fails. What no-one wants is that security to fail.

Senator HEFFERNAN: It has failed today. Can I clarify one point? Yes or no, is it possible to have entrapment of people?

The President: That is part and parcel of life anywhere. I cannot say that it is peculiar to parliamentary people or to anyone else.

Senator HEFFERNAN: I have here documents that fell off the back of a truck some time ago. They include a separate report of the Wood royal commission and a whole series of other documents which name a whole lot of people who, if their names were made public, would be seriously entrapped. I will deal with that later in the day.

Senator FAULKNER: My first questions go to the Black Rod. Welcome back, albeit temporarily, Mr Hallett, to that position. I wanted to ask about the CCTV code of practice. I appreciate—and this is relevant to some of the questions that have just been asked—there is a primary role in this matter for the Department of Parliamentary Services. But I want to ask about the role of the Department of the Senate and the Black Rod—and what your understanding is. The Black Rod sits on the Security Management Board representing the Department of the Senate. That is true, isn't it?

Mr Hallett : That is correct—as the nominee of the President.

Senator FAULKNER: And the President was explaining some of the role in relation to another matter just a few minutes ago—the role of the Security Management Board. The Security Management Board has the recommendatory responsibility in relation to the CCTV code of practice, does it not? I appreciate that this is, perhaps, not core business for the Department of the Senate, but, as a member of the board, can you confirm that?

Mr Hallett : That is correct. There is an operating code of practice, or an operating procedure. The current one that I have was developed in June 2011. It was due for review in May 2014, so it is due for review now. It was authorised by the former Secretary of DPS, Mr Thompson, in his capacity of chair of the Security Management Board.

Senator FAULKNER: I have a copy of that—not from the Parliament House website, I might say. No doubt DPS listens to these estimates and they might indicate why that is not on the website. But it is able to be googled and found. That public version confirms, by the way, those dates of 23 June 2011 as the development date and, as you indicated, that it is up for review this month. What I am interested to understand is that this code of practice—not on the Parliament House website—is called the public version. As a member of the Security Management Board, can you confirm whether it is your understanding there is both a public version and a private version, effectively—that is my terminology, it may not be the accurate terminology—a non-public version of the code?

Mr Hallett : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: Does the Department of the Senate hold—what is it?

Mr Hallett : It is 'security-in-confidence'.

Senator FAULKNER: Let us use the correct terminology. Does the Department of the Senate hold a security-in-confidence version of the code?

Mr Hallett : Yes, it does. Perhaps I can help by saying that there are a number of operating policies to do with the security and safety of this building. I have a copy in my capacity as Black Rod. It is kept in a locked cabinet in the Black Rod's office, and this security-in-confidence version is one of those series of operating codes.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but there is only one code, I assume—you tell me. Is there only one code that applies to CCTV?

Mr Hallett : That is correct. There is, if you like, the unexpurgated code, the complete code, that is a security-in-confidence document that is held in my office, the Black Rod's office. My understanding is there is a public version that sets out, for building occupants, what the key principles and expectations are relating to the use of the CCTV system. There are, as we know, issues of privacy to be balanced against issues of security, and everyone has the right to know whether they are being photographed and so on.

Senator FAULKNER: So you would know if the code had changed.

Mr Hallett : I expect I would. I expect I would have been advised, or my predecessor would have been advised, through our participation on the Security Management Board.

Senator FAULKNER: To the knowledge of the Department of the Senate, has either the private security-in-confidence or public versions of this code been changed since the 23 June 2011, to your knowledge? I appreciate that I will need to ask DPS this.

Mr Hallett : Not to my knowledge. The fact that it says that the document is due for review this month would seem to indicate to me that it is a current document.

Senator FAULKNER: I have the public version which goes to part 5, the 'statement of purpose', and it outlines those purposes, subparagraphs (a) to (j). Are you able to say whether there are any additional purposes in the security-in-confidence code?

Mr Hallett : No, there are not.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you. Part 6 of that code is 'key principles', subparagraphs (a) to (k). Are you able to say, in the security-in-confidence version of this code, whether there are any additional key principles?

Mr Hallett : There are no additional principles to my knowledge.

Senator FAULKNER: Not surprising. In relation to the security-in-confidence version of the code and the public code, those two parts of the code are effectively identical—the statement of purpose and the key principles?

Mr Hallett : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: Mr President, you would be aware that in terms of the statement of purposes, in paragraph 5 subparagraphs (a) to (j) outline the purposes, but paragraph 5 says: 'The CCTV systems intended to provide surveillance'—this is the cover or beginning to the par—'to areas around parliamentary precincts as established by the Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988', which, of course, you have the key authority and responsibility with. 'Subject to this code of practice, the CCTV system is only to be used for the following purposes'. It outlines them—5(j): 'For any other purpose approved in writing by the presiding officers'. I just want to understand, Mr President, whether you have approved in writing any other purpose for the use of CCTV footage in this building?

The President : In what period, Senator Faulkner?

Senator FAULKNER: Since the establishment of the code, which was 23 June 2011?

The President : Not to my knowledge, but I am prepared—

Senator FAULKNER: If you had approved it, you would surely know.

The President : Yes, I know. I am just being cautious. The answer is no, but I want to make doubly sure and I will check.

Senator FAULKNER: The answer is no—that is fine. That is helpful. From the Senate President's perspective, the purposes are those that are contained in paragraph 5 of the CCTV code?

The President : Yes, as far as I am concerned.

Senator FAULKNER: Because you have not approved any other purpose in writing?

The President : No.

Senator FAULKNER: I ask you or the Senate Clerk—I am not concerned with who might answer this; this is, in a sense, hypothetical—if the President were required to approve such a purpose, and I realise you have not, would this be something that you would ordinarily seek advice about from the Department of the Senate, the Senate Clerk, or is it something for the Senate President, who has responsibilities, obviously, as a Presiding Officer with DPS, to deal with basically directly with DPS? How does it work?

The President : My view would be that it would come from the Security Management Board.

Senator FAULKNER: But I am asking whether it is direct or whether you seek advice from the Secretary of DPS of the Clerk of the Senate, or is that relationship with the Security Management Board effectively a direct relationship with the Presiding Officers? I just want to understand how it works.

The President : It is a direct relationship.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that. What is your understanding, Mr President, in relation to your role as a Presiding Officer in relation to the use of parliament's close circuit TV security system?

The President : I understand that myself and the other Presiding Officer oversee the use of that CCTV.

Senator FAULKNER: What does 'oversee' mean? Do you get reports on the use of this CCTV footage?

The President : They would come through in regular Security Management Board reports, but I cannot say that they necessarily stand out in my mind as part of that reporting system.

Mr Hallett : Perhaps I can help the committee, through the chair. Under the code, the Presiding Officers have to approve release of footage, particularly where there are photographs of members of the public or if, for example, there is a criminal investigation or there is litigation. An example that occurred in the last 18 months is that a member of the public slipped and hurt themselves in the Marble Foyer. There was an insurance claim. The Presiding Officers were approached by the insurance company, by Comcover, for the release of the footage to assist with the settlement of that claim.

Senator FAULKNER: So, if an incident like that occurred, a report on an incident like that might come across the Presiding Officers' desks because of the use of CCTV footage?

The President : And that would be the only time.

Senator FAULKNER: Under what paragraph of the purposes would that occur?

The President : I do not have the code in front of me.

Senator FAULKNER: I am asking the Black Rod who is dealing with this on a—

Mr Hallett : Paragraph 5(i) says 'identify and investigate incidents or accidents that could result in a compensation or insurance claim against the Commonwealth'.

Senator FAULKNER: When I read that, it seems to me to fit perfectly within the purposes of the code. You are using an example that, if you like, fits the statement of purpose paragraph 5(i).

Mr Hallett : Correct.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that. Thank you, Mr President. You would appreciate, Black Rod—because at that stage you were in that position—that I canvassed some questions as a result of an article that appeared in The Age. You may or may not recall this, but I asked you questions back in the February 2012 estimates round, where you talked about the strict rules and the use of closed circuit television. Do you recall that?

Mr Hallett : I do. You asked if I had seen the article and, from memory, the response from both me and Dr Laing was that we were not aware of the article, but I did say that there were procedures in place. I think, from memory, another senator followed up with some supplementary questions as to whether I would be aware if the rules were being followed or not. I think, from memory, the answer was that I would not.

Senator FAULKNER: Can I ask you, Clerk, a question. I do not know how you will answer this question. It appears that you probably can only answer it if the answer is in the negative, because I appreciate the confidentiality of your advice. In asking my question, I absolve you from any advice you have provided to me, which I am happy for you to make public. I appreciate you cannot make advices to others public if you have provided them, but I make clear and public that I absolve you from any responsibility in that regard in relation to me. So I want to ask this question; I am not sure how you might answer it. As Senate Clerk, has any advice been sought from you in relation to parliamentary privilege aspects of the use of CCTV footage? In absolving you, please feel free to indicate in my case if that is the situation.

Dr Laing : Yes, I have provided advice about the parliamentary privilege implications of the use of CCTV footage in Parliament House.

Senator FAULKNER: This is the difficult question. Are you able to say whether you have provided advice to senators?

Dr Laing : Yes, I have.

Senator FAULKNER: As I said, I have absolved you in relation to this. Can you confirm that you have provided advice to me?

Dr Laing : Yes, I can.

Senator FAULKNER: Are you able to say whether you have provided advice to the Department of Parliamentary Services or any other advice on this matter? This is how parliamentary privilege might apply to the use of CCTV footage.

Dr Laing : No, not to my knowledge. The policy has been in effect for some years; it goes back before the current version. But I am not aware of any advice on this matter. It is a very significant matter in terms of implications for parliamentary privilege.

Senator FAULKNER: You bet.

Dr Laing : I think, had there been advice, it would be in Odgers.

Senator WONG: Sorry, it would have been?

Dr Laing : It would have been cited in Odgers—or the principles behind the advice would have been in Odgers' Australian Senate Practice.

Senator FAULKNER: You have confirmed that no other parliamentary department—the only relevant one here being DPS—has sought administrative advice in this regard.

Dr Laing : Not to my knowledge, no.

Senator FAULKNER: In relation to those matters, Chair, I think I can progress most of them in questioning to the Department of Parliamentary Services. I hope you might allow me a little flexibility if there is a need to go to the Senate President. I will ask—and this may be too difficult a question in that it might require the Clerk to take it on notice or to answer it in written form, because of the complexities—is the Clerk able to summarise, as it affects senators, any implications of the use of CCTV footage? If that is too difficult to do—and I would totally accept if that were the case—then I will pursue it in written form. I am more than happy for you to make that judgement, Clerk, because I know that matters of parliamentary privilege are never simple or able to be dealt with quickly at a committee like this. I would be more than happy if you prefer to take that on notice.

Dr Laing : I am happy to take a stab at giving a general answer. The particular issues of parliamentary privilege that might arise depend on the circumstances in any case. As a general matter—and I believe I mentioned this the last time this subject came up a couple of years ago—there are, in relation to CCTV footage, obviously very serious privacy concerns. But there is also the question in Parliament House of the freedom of senators and members to go about their business without improper interference. Any act or conduct, be it actions, words or what have you, is capable of being dealt with as a contempt if it constitutes an improper interference with the free performance of a member or senator's duties. That is the threshold test for contempt in the Parliamentary Privileges Act, in section 4. So it really depends on the circumstances of the case—what kinds of conduct may well be seen as possibly interfering with that freedom of senators and members to go about their functions.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you, Clerk. Can you confirm that you have advised me in relation to the parliamentary privilege aspects of hypothetical situations that might apply?

Dr Laing : I have.

Senator FAULKNER: I indicate to the President that I might follow some of these matters up when we deal with the Department of Parliamentary Services. I thank the Clerk and the Black Rod.

Senator SMITH: My questions go to the arrival on 1 July of the new senators and what preparations are being undertaken to give them the necessary induction courses and what that might involve. I am correct in saying that we are expecting six new senators after 1 July?

Dr Laing : I have 12 on my list.

Senator SMITH: Excellent. Perhaps you might like to tell us who the 12 senators-elect are?

Dr Laing : There are three from the Palmer United Party, one from the Motoring Enthusiasts Party, one Family First senator and one Liberal Democrat senator—who does that leave? I can give you a list in writing. I do not think I can rely on my memory.

Senator SMITH: Can you share with us what induction programs will be in place or have been initiated already?

Dr Laing : Yes. The induction for new senators starts after the election. At the time of the opening of parliament, we usually do a pre-orientation session for senators-elect. They are invited to attend the opening of parliament and then they stay on the next day for a day of pre-induction sessions. We have covered some general matters about procedure and the rationale for the Senate. We have covered some logistical things, like setting up an office and where to go to for support.

Once senators' terms begin, we always have a more formal induction session, spreading over two or three days. This year, because 1 July—the beginning of the term—is on a Tuesday and the Senate sits the following Monday, we have taken the decision to split the induction program into two sessions. The first session will be held on the Thursday and Friday of that first week in July, so I think that is 3 and 4 July, and it will consist of training in the things that are absolutely necessary to be across in order to participate in a first sitting in the following fortnight.

On other matters—particularly participation in committees, which is by no means a lesser priority objective—logistically we have taken the view that we cannot do a full induction program before 7 July, so we will do part of it on 3 and 4 July and the second part before we sit again in August. Each time we run these things, there are different challenges. It might be a challenge of timing, as in this case. But we attempt to tailor the program to fit the circumstances and the needs of senators. I can go back to your earlier question and tell you—

Senator KROGER: There is a new ALP senator from WA?

Dr Laing: I will go through the list.

Senator Faulkner interjecting

Senator Wong interjecting

Dr Laing: She did not have the call, Senator, to be dramatic!

CHAIR: Interjections are disorderly, aren't they, Senator Hogg?

The President: That is very good, Senator Bernardi!

Dr Laing: We have, as I mentioned, three Palmer United Party senators, a Motoring Enthusiast Party senator, a Family First senator, a Liberal Democratic Party senator and an Australian Greens senator. We have—

Senator KROGER: Two from WA?

Dr Laing: Yes, I am getting to those. We have two new ALP senators and three new Liberal Party or LNP senators.

Senator SMITH: Thanks very much.

Senator FAULKNER: So there has been a lot of [inaudible] the induction—because I missed out.

Dr Laing: Senator, seriously, there is a role in the induction program for more experienced senators.

Senator FAULKNER: I feel inducted—

CHAIR: Very polite.

Senator SMITH: If I could continue my questioning. I just want to go to this issue: you talked about priority issues that were necessary for senators to understand and then other matters. Could you just elaborate on what those priority issues are?

Dr Laing : We see the priority issues as being those subjects that you would need to get on top of in the first two weeks of sitting. It is from the very basics, like being sworn in, electing a president, basic rules of debate and the legislative process. Because we have two sitting weeks, it is likely that there will be some legislation to deal with. Operating in the chamber will be the first priority.

Senator SMITH: You mentioned earlier that the program is tailored to suit unique circumstances. Can you identify how this induction program might be different from previous induction programs, given your earlier comment about programs being tailored?

Dr Laing : One respect in which this program will be different is that, because of the large number of crossbench senators, there will be account taken of those crossbenchers in the program. For example, in previous programs we have had sessions with the major party whips, where we send groups off to spend time with their whips. This time, as well as doing that, we will have a group of crossbench senators that we will need to talk to separately about, 'What is whipping? What does whipping do for you?'

Senator SMITH: So to speak.

Dr Laing : It will involve things about how the program is put together, the role of whips in marshalling people for the chamber, the role of the Selection of Bills Committee and things like that.

Senator SMITH: So are you envisaging 12 separate programs or will the new senators be broken up into their party groupings and given induction programs?

Dr Laing : No, the group will be 12 as a whole. I should add that we also issue invitations to any newer casual vacancy senators who have not had the opportunity to participate in one of these—

Senator SMITH: I might have received an invitation along those lines. So you were saying—

Dr Laing : Could I just finish my previous answer?

Senator SMITH: Please, Dr Laing.

Dr Laing : So it would only be in respect of a very limited part of the program that there would be any splitting up. And I do not think we have the resources to do it on an individual party basis. I think if we have the participation of our major party whips we would send the major party senators off to talk to their whips and we would speak to the remaining senators about whipping.

Senator SMITH: And is it the role of the induction program to assist minor parties and Independent senators with skills to improve their effectiveness in the Senate?

Dr Laing : Insofar as the induction program always contains information about the procedures of the Senate and the importance of becoming familiar with the procedures of the Senate, because they are the tools to being effective in the chamber. If you can master the procedures of the Senate, then you are equipped to use the Senate and all of the opportunities it offers to give effect to the kinds of issues that you were elected to pursue.

Senator SMITH: Are you able to quantify the cost of, this particular induction program?

Dr Laing : No, not at the moment. The major cost will be in staff time. There will be some modest catering costs. From a broader perspective, these are not Department of the Senate costs, but there are obviously travelling and subsistence costs of senators travelling to the program.

Senator FAULKNER: Wouldn't the costs largely be absorbed?

Dr Laing : Yes, because it is staff. We are trying to offer what expertise we have to assist new senators find their feet.

Senator SMITH: If we just turn then to the assistance that has been provided to those senators who are departing the Senate, as at 30 June, are there any sorts of exceptional arrangements being put in place to assist them?

Dr Laing : I would not call them exceptional arrangements, but we have certainly been in touch with the departing senators. We have provided information about things that apply to departing senators. We did hold a drop-in briefing in budget week for departing senators where we had officers from our Black Rod's office in the corporate and senators' services areas who were available for a couple of hours to answer questions that departing senators had. Several departing senators did make use of that opportunity to come and talk to people.

Senator SMITH: Thanks very much. Chair, my final question goes to the President. Senator Hogg, are you having a portrait done and, if so, what are the arrangements in regard to that that you might be able to share with us?

The President: The portrait is done.

Senator SMITH: It is completed, is it?

The President: It is completed and it will be hung on 13 August, which is not a sitting week.

Senator SMITH: And who is the artist?

The President: Michael Zavros.

Senator RHIANNON: President, have you held any fundraisers in your rooms?

The President: No.

Senator RHIANNON: No fundraisers for the Labor Party?

The President: No, no.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I also want to ask questions about private interest disclosure of a ministerial staffer to a minister in the Senate. I am not sure if I can ask it here, but I will try. Will I proceed? Or do I ask it somewhere else?

Dr Laing : I can tell you that the rules for disclosure for ministerial staff are not something that the Department of the Senate oversees. It would be a matter for the executive government and my suggestion would be the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Or the Department of Finance.

Senator WONG: Can I just go back to the—is it called the Security Management Board?

Mr Hallett : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Mr Hallett, I know that you are new to this, but I assume that there are documents provided, minutes—

Senator FAULKNER: He is not new to it at all.

Senator WONG: He is new to this job.

Dr Laing : He has only been away from it for eight months!

Senator WONG: Of course.

Mr Hallet : But I am happy to help you.

Senator WONG: You are acting?

Dr Laing : No, he is not; he is in it.

Senator WONG: Just on the minutes, you said that someone might have been able to help us, but the board, I assume, is provided with documents, minutes, briefings and so forth?

Mr Hallett : That is correct.

Senator WONG: On notice, are you able to provide me with any document that references the security trial, which is provided to the board?

Mr Hallett : In relation to the screening issues that you are talking about?

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Hallett : Yes, I will check the file and take that on notice.

Senator WONG: I will ask the same question of DPS, but I am interested in what the Senate got?

Mr Hallett : Certainly. As I said earlier, I did review the file when I came to this job last week and certainly there were papers on the file related to this.

Senator WONG: Just in terms of financing—Dr Laing, I am happy to address questions to your CFO if you would prefer.

Dr Laing : We will see how I go, Senator.

Senator WONG: Just in terms of a backdropper, I know that the Senate has had to deal with a range of other government departments with efficiency dividends over a period of time.

Dr Laing : That is right.

Senator WONG: It is the case, isn't it, that the previous government exempted the Senate from a set of targeted saves—that is, non-ED saves?

Dr Laing : That is right.

Senator WONG: Some additional NPPs were funded and, if you compare the 2012-13 budget with the 2013-14 budget, there was a slight increase from 21.1 to 21.9?

Dr Laing : That is right.

Senator WONG: The total appropriation now for 2014-15 is 20.6. So that is obviously a significant reduction even from 2012-13 in proportionate terms?

Dr Laing : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can you talk to the committee about the effect of that and perhaps you could traverse the staff, services, as well as dollars, and the impact on senators?

Dr Laing : If I could first indicate to the committee that the reduction from this year's to next financial year's budget is not entirely attributable to the effect of the efficiency dividend. It reflects a transfer in appropriation from the Senate department to the Department of Parliamentary Services to cover the transfer of the ICT function. That transfer took place during the current year but it is only now that the appropriation is being transferred.

Senator WONG: How much was that?

Dr Laing : That is $1 million for the 2014-15—

Senator WONG: Is this the volume-sourcing arrangement?

Dr Laing : No, it is entirely different from the volume-sourcing arrangement.

Senator WONG: The decrease in the appropriation for 2014-15 is a result of two significant factors: the first million is the transfer of the ICT and the second is the increased ED from 1.25 to 2.5.

Dr Laing : That is right. The significant figures, I guess, in relation to the efficiency dividend are on pages 13 and 14 of our portfolio budget statements, which show the efficiency dividend in two blocks.

Senator WONG: Which page?

Dr Laing : Page 13 shows the extra 0.25 per cent and the table at the top of page 14 shows the additional 1.25 per cent.

Senator WONG: Okay.

Dr Laing : So over the forward years, the impact of the efficiency dividend compounds—and I went over this territory in the last estimates hearings, before we knew about the extra 0.25 per cent efficiency dividend, when I was talking about an ultimate impact on staffing numbers in 2016-17 of about 25 staff. That is a very significant number of staff for the operations of the Department of the Senate. For example, it is the entire Clerk's and Table Office's staff combined.

Senator WONG: It is the equivalent of a 25-person staff reduction by 2015-16, which is the equivalent of the entire Clerk's and Table Office's staff?

Dr Laing : Yes, or half of the Procedure Office or almost half of the Committee Office. So it is very significant.

Senator WONG: The context of this is also the largest number of crossbenchers ever; is that correct?

Dr Laing : That is true.

Senator WONG: In your assessment, does that in fact place more of a workload on Senate staff?

Dr Laing : Absolutely, yes. Over the coming few months, we will certainly be looking at the impact of that workload and exploring the possibility of things like new policy proposals to address additional work that flows from that change.

Senator WONG: In the absence of those, can you provide us with your assessment of what the current appropriation will mean for the capacity of senators to undertake their roles?

Dr Laing : If I could start by saying that the bulk of our appropriation goes to staffing costs. Our assets are our people. Without people, we cannot provide the same level of advisory and support services that we are providing at the moment. Even now, senators will notice that there have been subtle reductions in services available because of budget cuts over the past few years.

I think it is a very significant point to make that you cannot let the national parliament dwindle into insignificance by starving it of funding. It is simply unsustainable and an impossible situation. The parliament is an arm of government established under the Constitution, along with the executive government and the judiciary. For any of those arms of government to be, effectively, crippled through starvation of funds is unacceptable. There is a matter of deep principle involved here. As Clerk of the Senate, I will be bringing that to the attention of anyone who will listen as often as I can.

Senator WONG: Is it your assessment that this reduction of appropriation could impinge upon the Senate and senators' capacity to scrutinise legislation and to perform the traditional role of the Senate?

Dr Laing : Yes, it certainly could. It is not through the provision of advice to individual senators necessarily; it is through the core operations of the department and the committee system. We have numerous committees that scrutinise legislation both from a policy point of view and from a technical legislative point of view, including the human rights committee and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. If we cannot staff those committees adequately enough to provide the support and to bring attention to the issues in legislation that senators need to be aware of, in accordance with the terms of reference of those committees, then neither the committees nor the senators are doing their job. That would be a tragedy.

Senator WONG: So there is less scrutiny?

Dr Laing : Less scrutiny, less effectiveness, and it may suit governments to have a less effective Senate, but—I am sorry—while we have the system of electing the Senate that we have now, the fact of life is that few governments enjoy a majority in the Senate at any time and the non-government majority in the Senate is a fact of life that needs to be lived with. It is a set of conditions that over many decades has prevailed in the Senate and has encouraged the development of numerous accountability mechanisms, such as the committee system itself, not to mention all the other techniques that senators are able to use to hold governments of all complexions to account. It is a basic part of the Senate's role as a house of review and as a check on government.

Senator WONG: Thank you, Dr Laing. In terms of the ICT transfer, are there still ICT functions being undertaken by the Senate, notwithstanding the transfer?

Dr Laing : There are some major long-term projects that have been in development for several years, for example the TOPS system in the Table Office, which we are still giving a level of ICT support to.

Senator SMITH: Before I come to the issue of the deeper principle that you referred to, Clerk, am I correct in my understanding that the reduction in funding for the Department of the Senate has three elements? The first is the transfer of the ICT function?

Dr Laing : Correct.

Senator SMITH: Which is about $1 million. Page 15 of the PBS. The second is, I think, $300,000 as a result of the efficiency dividend.

Dr Laing : That is right.

Senator SMITH: And the efficiency dividend is a temporary efficiency dividend in place until returning to 1 per cent. Am I correct in my understanding?

Dr Laing : That is correct.

Senator WONG: You are talking about the additional ED.

Senator SMITH: Yes, there is an additional efficiency dividend for three years and then it returns to 1 per cent. I am quoting here from—

Dr Laing : That is correct. And this temporary efficiency dividend is the second three-year temporary efficiency dividend that we have seen.

Senator SMITH: That is right. When were the efficiency dividends introduced?

Dr Laing : They were introduced many, many years ago, probably in the very late eighties/early nineties; they were introduced at the rate of 1 per cent. So it is only in the last few years that we have seen additional temporary efficiency dividends, because we have been living with a 1 per cent or 1.25 per cent dividend for years.

Senator SMITH: I have the exact details of those temporary efficiency dividends here somewhere, but I will not bore my colleagues with that just for the moment. Moving to the PBS statement, page 17, if I understand this table correctly, this table demonstrates where those savings are being achieved across the Department of the Senate. If my calculations are correct, we are seeing an $86,000 reduction in the Clerk's office, an approximately $108,000 reduction in the Table Office, a $242,000 reduction in the Procedure Office, a $320,000 reduction in the committee office and a reduction of $174,000 in the Black Rod's Office. Is my maths correct?

Dr Laing : I am sure that your maths is correct, but can I point out what this table actually is? The first column is our estimated actual expenses for this financial year compared with our estimated expenses for next financial year. To put that in context, our expenses do not necessarily equate to our appropriation. Our 2013-14 expenses need to be seen in the framework of the fact that this current financial year was an election year and therefore we did not spend as much as we would have spent in a normal year that our normal appropriation covers. So it is not reductions in funding; it is simply that we have not spent as much this year because it was an election year. In fact, we will have a surplus this year because of that. We will not be in the red this year.

Senator SMITH: My questioning was really in regard to what is happening in each of those subsets of the Department of the Senate that leads to those variations?

Dr Laing : I think the answer is that the left-hand column indicates election year spending and the right-hand column indicates normal year spending, taking into account our new budget for the next financial year. But I think the significant point is that this is not apples and apples; this is an election year versus normal year.

Senator SMITH: Meaning that an election year has less demands on the Senate, because—

Dr Laing : Yes, because the Senate did not sit from June last year until 12 November, so that is a long time without sittings of the Senate, it is a long time without a hyper level of committee activity, and those reductions in activity correspond to that estimated expenses column.

Senator SMITH: Moving to the deeper principle, what alternative ideas are there about how to fund parliamentary functions like the Department of the Senate? What work has been done to prosecute those with various governments?

Dr Laing : There are a range of models that are available, and this has been the subject of discussions in these forums over many years. One of the first important developments was the movement of parliamentary appropriations into a separate appropriation bill. Before 1982, all parliamentary appropriations were included in the bill for the ordinary annual services of the government, and senators at the time pointed out, 'This is not the government; this is the parliament and they are not ordinary annual services of the government.' In 1981, the Senate set up a select committee into parliament's appropriations and staffing. It was a result of recommendations of the committee, and acceptance by the government of those recommendations, that the appropriations were moved into a separate bill. So there is a nominal independence there with the separate appropriation bill.

The other major recommendation of the committee was to establish a Senate appropriations and staffing committee—in fact, it was for both houses to have a committee of that kind. That committee has become, with the President as its chair, the key structural mechanism for negotiating with government about the Senate budget. In the back of the standing orders, you will see a collection of resolutions which set out how that committee operates and how it negotiates with finance ministers. That kind of framework does give a certain independence to the Department of the Senate in formulating its budget, but it is independence in name only because, once you get government-wide initiatives, then who cares if the parliament is a separate independent arm of government?—everybody is getting a cut; here it is. The most recent efficiency dividend, the extra 0.25 per cent, did not come from notification from the finance minister to the President; it came in an estimates memorandum circulated at officer level.

To me, that is wrong. It is offensive to the separation of powers and I hope that enough senators will be exercised about this issue for us to look at ways of strengthening the position of the parliamentary service in securing an adequate budget.

Senator SMITH: How do we do that? Is there a dedicated quantum figure? How do you ensure that the Department of the Senate, in our case, is appropriately resourced but that the financial discipline that is being expected of everyone else across government and the financial discipline that is expected by taxpayers is actually shared by senators and by the Department of the Senate? How do you ensure that there is a rigorous financial model to ensure that there are not excesses being enjoyed by senators and the Department of the Senate?

Dr Laing : The excesses enjoyed by senators, whatever they may be, are not part of the Department of the Senate's budget in most respects. In fact, the Department of the Senate's budget has not significantly increased over decades. If we were able to maintain the same level of real funding, we would be able to continue to provide a professional service that is not excessive by any means. But the thing that is killing us are the constant escalating efficiency dividend cuts. If we were left alone with the level of budget that we have had for decades, we would be fine.

Senator SMITH: So the move to the one per cent efficiency dividend after, I think, three years of this additional efficiency dividend is slight relief?

Dr Laing : I hope I live to see it realised.

Senator SMITH: Thank you.

Senator KROGER: I want to change the subject slightly and ask some questions about the new software system that creates the Red. Would you run through with me the thinking behind, firstly, why there was a need to pursue a different system.

Dr Laing : The main need was the fact that the old system was getting old and obsolete, and there was nobody around to support it anymore. It was a system that had been in operation for many years, and because of its approaching obsolescence there was a need to update the systems that underlie the production not just of the Red but of all of our business documents that the Table Office, in particular, produces. I mentioned something called TOPS—the Table Office Production System. That was designed as a successor to what preceded it, which was called DPS—the Document Production System. TOPS is a system that is premised on developments in IT support and capacity, and I am looking forward to the day when it works.

Senator KROGER: Is this a new software system that is designed by external consultants?

Dr Laing : It is not necessarily only a new software system; it is a new way of approaching our business. Let me give you an example. We produce many business documents and many of them have the same information. In the old days we would have had different people inputting the same information. One of the ideas behind TOPS is that information is entered once—and you decide who is the most appropriate person to do that—and it is therefore accessible for all the other uses you need. So an entry in the Red is also the basis of an entry in the Journals. It may be the basis of an entry in the Notice Paper, and you do not have repetition and duplication of effort. That is the basic idea behind it.

Senator KROGER: Who has developed that system?

Dr Laing : It has been developed by the Senate department, in conjunction with the House of Representatives because both chambers have compatible and common support arrangements, with support from DPS project management and the engagement of external contractors.

Senator KROGER: Speaking on the Senate side, we do not have the need for a daily Red, so I cannot speak at the moment. During budget week when the system was changed over, clearly there were errors.

Dr Laing : There were not errors; there were malfunctions.

Senator KROGER: What is the difference?

Dr Laing : An error has some element of intention. An error is a mistake.

Senator KROGER: There are many that would suggest otherwise.

Dr Laing : I think you could describe it as teething issues. For the budget week we had the contractors on site working with the procedural people who were putting the information in, and there was a problem that occurred with the Red and the Journals. It was a technical issue. Something disappeared and took with it a whole lot of other widgets and stuff, and that caused problems. So that had to be rebuilt.

Senator KROGER: So there was a transitional week, which was the week before the budget.

Dr Laing : That was our first transitional week, yes. It is not perfect yet, is it.

Senator KROGER: No, it certainly is not. What remedial measures have been taken to improve the system by our first Senate sitting week in June?

Dr Laing : We are continuing to work through the issues that arose during budget week and working with the contractors to find fixes to these issues.

Senator KROGER: I will look forward to seeing how that works in a couple of weeks time. If I could just turn to the matter of scrutiny, which was raised by Senator Wong. A critical part of that is the committee work. Do you have the figures there for the number of inquiries that have been held to date this year, given the timing of the election and the small number of sitting weeks and then committees? The number of committee inquiries this year is probably more relevant.

Dr Laing : Yes. As usual, we provide figures on this to the committee in advance. I think it might have been as a result of a suggestion that you made some years ago that we give you comparable periods between the last three parliaments. For the current parliament, 80 matters have been referred to committees. That compares with, in the same period for the previous two parliaments, 61 in the last parliament and 54 in the parliament before. There is certainly a big burst.

Senator KROGER: A significant increase. I am not going to go through the budget issues—I have had the benefit of being a part of committees that have discussed this at length so I appreciate the constraints of the Department of the Senate. When you factor in projections in terms of your budget, how do you deal with that? Do you work on the basis of this year's 80 and the implications of the costings of that for committees? Do you do a median? How do you work that out?

Dr Laing : The level of staffing in the committee office is, within one or two people, exactly what it was 25 years ago.

Senator KROGER: So they are doing it tough?

Dr Laing : No, we work in a different way. We work in a way that is more conducive to the shorter, sharper inquiry. But 25 years ago that same number of people supporting committees were working in the main on long-term inquiries with generous reporting dates. We had things like three weeks factored in to get the report printed. Can you imagine that? These days, some inquiries will have been held and completed within three weeks. The landscape has changed dramatically in terms of the number of inquiries, the way inquiries are approached and certainly the use of more template reports to record the inquiries.

Obviously this system is not infinitely expandable and the one thing that does not expand is that 25 years ago there were 76 senators and in 2014 there are 76 senators, with a similar number in the ministry, which you can take out. You are relying on the remaining senators to fill positions on committees and do the committee work. That is the limit on the capacity of the committee system. You can throw as much money at it as you like but really a true committee system is a committee system where senators are engaged in inquiries, able to participate properly and give their attention to inquiries. If senators are not in a position to do that then there are too many inquiries. They come from decisions of the Senate.

Senator KROGER: As the government whip I am very engaged with this and I know the strained capacity of government senators to be physically in attendance let alone to direct their intellectual endeavours to those committees. It is a real issue. I did think it was important because the suggestion that there was a reduction in the Senate's capacity to scrutinise all matters, which was perhaps suggested before, is not the case on the basis of that number of inquiries.

Senator WONG: That is just not—

Senator KROGER: In terms of committees—

Senator WONG: It was the Clerk's evidence and what you have just said is frankly a non-sequitur from the evidence that was just given, but let us argue that another time.

Senator KROGER: I have two other quick matters. Given the volume of outgoing senators and incoming senators, does that mean that the Senate services and associated people are working that weekend to get officers up and running and to get to the transition of 1 July?

Mr Hallett : Not at the moment, Senator. We have a plan, and some senators may be aware. We are starting to approach senators about the changeover of suites. We offer all senators the chance to change at the changeover. Obviously, we have a duty to look after our staff as an employer. At the moment I do not expect people to be working weekends. It might be that on the weekend before 1 July we have to do some overtime. We have not explored that at this stage. I should put on the record that, as far as the changeover of suites goes, while we are now approaching senators so that I can put a recommendation to the President, I do not expect that the full changeover will be completed until the end of July and possibly into early August. We have discussed this with this committee in the past as well. We need to do it in an orderly way so that a departing senator can move out. We then move someone in. It is a bit of a chess game, as we have explored at this committee before.

Senator KROGER: So you are not anticipating that all incoming senators will be able to go into the office that they will continue to be in as of, effectively, when the Clerk said that the induction was—that was the Tuesday or Wednesday in July, or was it Thursday and Friday—

Dr Laing : Thursday and Friday. We hope that all senators will have an office, but you are quite correct in thinking that it may not be their permanent office, as was the case the last time the Senate changed over.

Senator McKENZIE: Returning to the Senate Occasional Lecture Series, which I know we traversed at last estimates, could you outline very briefly the process for selecting the guest speakers?

Dr Laing : I outlined that at the last estimates hearing, Senator, and I indicated the approach we took, which was to take note of anything interesting that occurred. We might go to a conference or something like that and there may be a speaker there who is engaging and is speaking on a topic. We make a mental note or a file note of that. We approach each year on the basis of looking at the things that are happening during that year and if there are any particular anniversaries that we want to celebrate. For example, this year, I bet you did not know that it is the centenary of the first double dissolution election, so we will be having a professor of constitutional law giving us a lecture later in the year on the development of section 57 of the Constitution, which is a unique constitutional mechanism.

Senator McKENZIE: When you say 'we', I am just trying to clarify it.

Dr Laing : The department.

Senator McKENZIE: Is there a role for the President or staffing in appropriation to have feedback within that decision-making process?

Dr Laing : The decisions are made at departmental level, but of course anybody is welcome to make suggestions at any time and we will put a file note in and see if we can get appropriate people. It is an iterative process.

Senator McKENZIE: Could you outline the program of lectures for the remainder of 2014 on notice?

Dr Laing : We provided that on notice at the last round of estimates.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.

CHAIR: That concludes questioning for the Department of the Senate.

Proceedings suspended from 10:29 to 10:44