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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General


Senator Abetz: Can we be given an indication from opposition senators and government senators as to how long they anticipate questioning will take—or are we following the program?

Senator WONG: Senator Smith has lengthy questions on public documents. We can continue to do that, I suppose, all night.

CHAIR: They are very interesting questions that Senator Smith has. Minister, we are trying to make up some time. The scheduled allocation for this was 45 minutes. I would like to conclude it within the next 45 minutes if it is at all possible.

Senator Abetz: So until 5.30.

Senator WONG: Can I be clear also, I personally do not have any questions for the Australia Day Council.

CHAIR: No, that has been called by Senator Xenophon, and there have been some other changes we have had indicated. We would like to conclude this by 5.30, Minister, or earlier if possible.

Senator WONG: It depends how many questions from Senator Smith we have.

CHAIR: Welcome. Do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Fraser : Yes, thank you. Senators will be aware that, since the committee last met, on the 28 March 2014 General Peter Cosgrove was sworn in as Australia's 26th Governor-General. The office has overseen the transition between governors-general and everything has gone very smoothly. The Governor-General has now completed his first eight weeks in office, attending 78 events, including the Anzac Day services and a series of functions in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Wandong, Horsham, Bowral, Townsville, Innisfail, Yungaburra, Cairns and Mossman Gorge. The Governor-General has hosted 11 functions, including a reception in honour of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, delivered 22 speeches, received 24 callers, invested 89 recipients of Australian honours at two ceremonies at Government House, accepted patronage of 102 community organisations and presided over three meetings of the Federal Executive Council. I look forward to answering the committee's questions.

Senator SMITH: Would you outline to us any changes that the new Governor-General may have made to Government House or arrangements at Government House.

Mr Fraser : There have been no changes per se.

Senator SMITH: Can you advise us on the current status of the former official secretary, Mr Brady—has he officially left now?

Mr Fraser : I am formerly the acting official secretary. Mr Brady separates from the office next week. He is currently undertaking consultations and trainings for his posting to Paris.

Senator SMITH: What is the process for the appointment of a new official secretary?

Mr Fraser : That process is being managed by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. There is a selection process currently underway.

Senator SMITH: Can you provide us an overview of what farewell functions might have been held for the previous Governor-General and hosted by the previous Governor-General, as opposed to those that might have been held for her but hosted by a community organisation et cetera?

Mr Fraser : In the final months of Quentin Bryce's term in office, she had a number of farewell functions in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. Those functions come off the back of a very active period of community engagement over five years—over 4,000 community events, and the Governor-General hosted 1,794 guests at those farewell events. Of course, it is more than just a farewell event; it is an opportunity to acknowledge and recognise the work of those organisations, and also to close the circle on what has been a very close relationship with the former Governor-General. Would you like a particular—

Senator SMITH: I noticed on the website that some events are identified and guest lists are published. Other events are identified, or may not be identified, and guest lists are not published. I am curious to know what the policy is in regard to identifying farewell functions and publishing lists of guests?

Mr Fraser : My colleague has just reminded me that in terms of guest lists we provide those for functions such as lunches and dinners but not for stand-up receptions. So there were a number of community events that fell into the latter category, for which no guest list has been published. But I can take you through those events if you wish.

Senator SMITH: Certainly.

Mr Fraser : On 11 February 2014 there was a farewell event at Admiralty House for 93 community representatives. Perhaps I should characterise this. There were a series of events in Sydney, a series of events in Canberra and a couple of events in Melbourne, being the major centres. On 13 February there was a dinner at Admiralty House for 114 guests, on this occasion, community representatives. On 16 February 2014 there was a morning tea at Admiralty House for 298 guests—representatives of community organisations and patronage organisations. On 23 February there was a lunch at Government House in Canberra for ACT based patronage organisations, community representatives, federal institutions and agency representatives. There were 105 guests at that event. On 24 February there was an afternoon tea at Government House for 249 guests—again, ACT based patronage organisations and community representatives. On 25 February 2014 there was a morning tea at Government House, with 267 guests—on this occasion defence, service and veterans organisations. On the same day, 25 February 2014, there was a reception at Government House for 57 guests, being Commonwealth department and agency heads. On 1 March 2014 there was a dinner reception in Melbourne for 144 guests, being Victoria based community representatives.

Senator SMITH: That was at a restaurant?

Mr Fraser : Yes.

Senator SMITH: Do you have the name of the restaurant?

Mr Fraser : It was the Persimmon Restaurant, at the National Gallery of Victoria. Government House has no assets in Melbourne to host such a function.

On 2 March 2014 there was a morning tea at Melbourne Town Hall attended by 292 guests, being Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania based patronages and community representatives. On 6 March 2014 there was a dinner reception at Government House for 105 guests from the Canberra diplomatic corps. On 17 March there was a small reception at Government House for 20 persons from the Australian Federal Police and the Close Personal Protection and Protective Services teams.

Senator SMITH: Going back to the issue of the policy around publishing the names of guests at events, step me through that policy.

Mr Fraser : We list the names of guests who are attending official lunch functions and dinner functions, but not standing receptions, where we have a large guest list. It is simply an administrative matter of efficiency.

Senator SMITH: I could not find anywhere the published list of guests attending the Melbourne dinner on 1 March, where there were 144 guests.

Mr Fraser : That was a stand-up dinner.

Senator SMITH: A stand-up event.

Mr Fraser : It was.

Senator SMITH: With a buffet?

Mr Fraser : I think a walking dinner, so to speak.

Senator SMITH: How do these farewell events compare with the departure of the Governor-General previous to Dame Quentin Bryce?

Mr Fraser : I have no visibility of those functions, not having been at Government House at that time. However, this term of office of Governor-General Quentin Bryce was path-breaking in many ways—her reach and engagement with the community was unsurpassed. The community was very keen to see her off. I think these functions are an appropriate representation of those communities wanting to farewell the Governor-General.

Senator SMITH: You have talked about communities in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. What effort was made to extend invitations to community representatives from other states.

Mr Fraser : As I mentioned in relation to the function at Melbourne Town Hall, that also included representatives from South Australia and Tasmania based patronages and community organisations. The Governor-General also met with various organisations as she travelled around the country in those final few months, but there were no formal farewell events as such, other than the 11 I have outlined today.

Senator SMITH: Were community representatives from Northern Territory and Western Australia invited and unable to attend or were there no invitations extended to Western Australians and the Northern Territory?

Mr Fraser : I would have to check on that. The Governor-General has contacts across the country and I think the invitation list would have touched on every state and territory in Australia, if not for these functions, in the period leading up to her departure from office.

My colleague has just reminded me of an event hosted by the Governor of Western Australia, in the Governor-General's honour, a few months before her departure from office, where she was able to connect with a large group of people from Western Australia.

Senator SMITH: And she was present?

Mr Fraser : She was present.

Senator SMITH: We hear extensive commentary and remarks about the travel of the previous Governor-General around the country. I have a series of questions about the number of regional tours, school visits et cetera, but I will put those on notice and you might be able to handle them easily. Without wanting to be too intrusive you might be able to share with the committee Dame Quentin Bryce's response when the Prime Minister advised her that she would be granted a damehood?

Mr Fraser : I was not privy to any conversations with the Governor-General about that matter.

Senator SMITH: She did not share her happiness, excitement or disappointment with you?

Mr Fraser : Not with me.

Senator SMITH: Could you step me through the protocol around the use of the honorific 'the Honourable'. What is the protocol around that? And how recently has it been used by Governors-General?

Mr Fraser : The title 'the Honourable' has been introduced with respect to Governors-General, both serving and previous Governors-General. That was a decision by the government of the day, in consultation with Her Majesty the Queen, to grant such a title.

Senator SMITH: When was that introduced?

Mr Fraser : I would have to check the details of it, but my recollection is that it was around 12 months ago.

Senator SMITH: So the previous Governor-General, Dame Quentin Bryce, as the first person to be able to use the honorific 'the Honourable'?

Mr Fraser : Yes, that was on 8 May 2013.

Senator SMITH: That was when it was approved by the Queen or communicated. How does it work?

Mr Fraser : That was the date that the decision was gazetted in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. My understanding of the rationale for that title is to correct an anomaly, bringing into line titles for executive councillors from the Federal Executive Council, who automatically assume the title 'the Honourable' on appointment. Many of the more recent governors-general have, of course, come to office already holding the title through their previous roles, including the Hon. Bill Hayden and the Hon. Sir William Deane. Prime Minister Gillard informed the Governor-General that Her Majesty had been pleased to agree to her recommendation at the time. From that point forth, each incumbent Governor-General would also assume the title 'the Honourable' on taking office as Governor-General, consistent with the practice for executive councillors, with whom the Governor-General regularly interacts.

Senator SMITH: What decision was taken on the use of the title 'Honourable' after a Governor-General had ceased being in the office of Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : The title was granted for life.

Senator SMITH: In the decision of 8 May 2013, it was agreed that the title 'the Honourable' would be granted for life?

Mr Fraser : If I could read to you from the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette dated 8 May 2013. It says:

Governors-General will now be styled 'Her/His Excellency the Honourable' while in office and 'the Honourable' in retirement.

This entitlement applies retrospectively, as well as to the current and future holders of the office.

Senator FAULKNER: In your opening statement, you described our Governor-General as General Cosgrove, not General Sir Peter Cosgrove. That might be the nomenclature that the Governor-General is referred to by the official secretary, but I was just interested in that.

Mr Fraser : I was referring to the then title of the Governor-General. Before his swearing in, he was General Peter Cosgrove.

Senator FAULKNER: When was the actual title 'Sir Peter' conferred?

Mr Fraser : At the point of his swearing in.

Senator FAULKNER: I was going to say that I knew it was contemporaneous.

Mr Fraser : That is right. There is a degree of automaticity involved in the title for the incumbent Governor-General of the day, who automatically becomes—

Senator FAULKNER: So, if it was a minute later, you would have made a slightly different opening statement.

Mr Fraser : Indeed.

Senator LUNDY: There has been some spending on refurbishments at Government House recently, hasn't there?

Mr Fraser : Yes, there has.

Senator LUNDY: Since the new Governor-General came in?

Mr Fraser : No, there has been no new work since the new Governor-General has taken up his appointment.

Senator LUNDY: Would you describe to me what work has been undertaken since the new Governor-General took up his appointment.

Mr Fraser : Perhaps I should put this in its proper context. The office has what is called a Vice-Regal Heritage Property Master Plan—that is a 10-year property program. That program was funded in the 2005-06 federal budget, and that program is still ongoing and underway at the moment. The office has, of course, responsibility for administering that program and the stewardship of both Admiralty House and Government House and the associated buildings and grounds. Under the terms of the EPBC Act, we have various obligations to adhere to. Prior to this 10-year program being in place, there was a time when the houses fell into a state of disrepair and dilapidation. This 10-year program is designed to address that.

This year, we have a very active program of works, at both Government House and Admiralty House, to address urgent and essential issues around the degradation of those properties so that they are appropriately maintained not only as working houses but as heritage properties for the future benefit of all Australians.

Senator LUNDY: So the amount being expended at the moment was contained in previous budget documents?

Mr Fraser : That is right, and carried forward. There has been no change to those funding arrangements.

Senator LUNDY: What do you mean by 'carried forward'?

Mr Fraser : It is a 10-year program, and the funding has been provided in the 2005-06 budget. That funding is either spent each year or rolls forward as part of a funding request. For example, the final year of the program in the 2014-15 year has around $1.7 million worth of funding, and that funding will be carried forward from previous years' allocations.

Senator LUNDY: How much funding is being expended in the current financial year?

Mr Fraser : This year's program, taking in works at Admiralty House and Government House, is approximately $3.8 million.

Senator WONG: Sorry, can you say that again?

Mr Fraser : The funding, as part of the 10-year heritage management program, in line with the heritage management plans, this year is approximately $3.8 million across both properties.

Senator WONG: For 2013-14?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: And what does it look like in the out years?

Mr Fraser : Next year, 2014-15, is the final year of funding and then we will be reviewing, in the course of the next 12 months, what sort of future funding arrangement might be put in place.

Senator FAULKNER: It is a 10-year program?

Mr Fraser : That is correct. It is probably worth making the point that no Governor-General has any role in relation to the program; it is a program that is managed by the management committee of the office. The works conducted this year have largely been completed prior to the commencement of Governor-General Cosgrove, with respect to Government House, and there are works ongoing at Admiralty House at present.

Senator WONG: If you look at AusTender data, I calculate about $3.9 million in terms of contracted expenditure for the two premises between the election and 4 April 2014.

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: So the end of the age of entitlement only goes so far, does it?

Mr Fraser : This is funding that was provided in 2005-06 for the stated objective of maintaining these heritage properties for the future benefit of all Australians, and the office has the responsibility to do just that; they are working houses, after all. As you would be aware, Admiralty House dates to 1845. Houses of this nature are expensive to maintain. There are important workplace health and safety issues and serious issues of degradation—water damage, damp ingress, asbestos, termite infestation and the like—and those are the issues we are addressing.

Senator WONG: I am simply making the point that Australians are being asked to accept a lot of cuts, and $3.9 million in contracted expenditure in seven months is a substantial amount of money.

Mr Fraser : I certainly accept that. But what I can say is that the management committee of the office of course looks closely at each and every proposal, and the only works that proceed are urgent and essential works. Over the term of the 10-year program, the office has cancelled or postponed in excess of $8 million of works for just the reasons you are enumerating. The issue here is structural; they are serious issues that need to be rectified and cannot be postponed if the houses are to stay in active use.

Senator WONG: How much more is going to be contracted this financial year?

Mr Fraser : I am not anticipating any further contracted works. The contracts that are in place cover the remaining works this financial year. I would be happy to show you some of the photographs I have brought along today to demonstrate the degradation of the buildings.

Senator WONG: I am happy to move on to the next topic.

CHAIR: Are you able to table the photographs for us?

Senator WONG: Chair, we have a number of questions. Senator Smith had a lengthy period. I have a number of questions and so does Senator Lundy. What I am flagging is that what you requested of us in terms of trying to get a whole range of things done by a certain time is unlikely to occur.

CHAIR: Mr Fraser has offered to show us some photographs. I have merely said that, if he can table them for us, they will be well received. Mr Fraser, are you able to table those photographs?

Mr Fraser : I would be happy to table those photographs as they do illustrate the significance of the damage and the work that is being undertaken. Thank you. Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Was the Governor-General consulted on the reintroduction of knights and dames to the order of Australia?

Mr Fraser : Governor-General Cosgrove?

Senator WONG: He is the Governor-General.

Mr Fraser : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: Are you able to tell us why the Council for the Order of Australia is entrusted with considering nominations in all classes except this class?

Mr Fraser : That is a matter of policy for the government. The government has envisaged a process that involves the chair of the Council for the Order of Australia.

Senator WONG: Is there any role for the Governor-General in the appointment of knights and dames?

Mr Fraser : The Governor-General in fact makes the appointments.

Senator WONG: Sorry, the selection.

Mr Fraser : That is a matter for the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: My question was: is there any role for the Governor-General in the choice of who is going to be a knight and who is going to be a dame?

Mr Fraser : The constitution of the Order of Australia—that gives effect to these changes that the Prime Minister has announced—indicates that the Prime Minister will make the recommendation to Her Majesty the Queen and it is the Governor-General who would ultimately make the appointment, on Her Majesty's approval.

Senator WONG: We are going around in circles. I get that he appoints. Is there any role envisaged in terms of selecting who gets to be a knight and a dame?

Mr Fraser : No. As I have indicated, it is a matter for the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Thank you; I just wanted to know. Mr Brady is not here. His term does not end until next week. Is that right?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: So why isn't he here?

Mr Fraser : He is currently undertaking consultations and training on pre-posting. So he is formally out of the role—

Senator WONG: He is not formally out the role if his term does not end until next week.

Mr Fraser : I am acting official secretary. He is offline, and unattached from his role, but he is still engaged at the office. The Governor-General is very keen to continue to have Mr Brady's advice and guidance for as long as possible prior to his departure for posting.

Senator WONG: Is he still being paid as secretary?

Mr Fraser : He is still being paid.

Senator WONG: And you are being paid as acting secretary?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: How long has this dual appointment process been in place?

Mr Fraser : it is for the next 10 days or so; it commences today and it finishes next Wednesday.

Senator WONG: Convenient.

Mr Fraser : I think it is worth making the point that Mr Brady has appeared before Senate estimates on 17 occasions and has been always a very willing participant. He cannot be here today because he has very busy commitments. He has to leave the office at some point, and that point has come.

Senator WONG: He has not left the office. I would not be critical if he had actually left the office, but he has not; his term ends next week, and we have got an interesting—

Mr Fraser : What he is trying to do—

Senator WONG: I have not finished. We have got an interesting dual arrangement for a period of time.

Mr Fraser : Not really; it is quite a normal arrangement. When the official secretary is away or absent from the office for any length of time it is quite normal to appoint an acting official secretary. In relation to this period of time, Mr Brady, by rights, should have gone back to Foreign Affairs and Trade many weeks ago and focused exclusively on his posting arrangements. But at the request of the Governor-General he has stayed around to provide support and advice for as long as possible.

Senator WONG: So the Governor-General requested this arrangement?

Mr Fraser : Absolutely.

Senator WONG: I will come back to that. I want to confirm a couple of issues about the handbook and the process for the Federal Executive Council. It is the case, isn't it, that the items to be considered at an ExCo meeting must be submitted to the secretary at least two days before the meeting?

Mr Fraser : They are processes managed by the secretariat, which is in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; they are not administered by our office.

Senator WONG: They are submitted to the secretariat by the Governor-General at least two days before the meeting. You are not aware?

Mr Fraser : No, Senator. Papers are submitted to the secretariat in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as part of the consideration process, and that material is of course forwarded to Government House prior to an Executive Council meeting taking place.

Senator WONG: And when do you usually get those papers prior to an ExCo meeting?

Mr Fraser : Generally a few days before.

Senator WONG: And it is unusual for them to be received, for example, the day before or on the day?

Mr Fraser : From time to time there can be late items that are accepted the day before the meeting.

Senator WONG: Can you provide details of ExCo meetings—what dates they are held and so forth? Is there someone here who can provide me with that?

Mr Fraser : I would be happy to provide the historic dates to you on notice.

Senator WONG: I am interested in an ExCo meeting on 18 September. Do have details of that?

Mr Fraser : I believe there was an ExCo meeting on 18 September.

Senator WONG: Do you recall approximately what time it was held?

Mr Fraser : They are generally held in the morning, but I could ask a colleague to consult our historic program.

Senator WONG: Do you know what time Mr Abbott was sworn in as Prime Minister on that day?

Mr Fraser : Again, I could give you the details of that.

Senator WONG: Presumably the ExCo meeting was held after the swearing-in of the Prime Minister. Correct?

Mr Fraser : I do not want to mislead the committee; so I will get the proper sequencing of events that day.

Senator WONG: As a matter of logic, you are not going to have the previous ExCo meet because that would be the former government. The former government, until the swearing-in, were members of the Executive Council. Correct?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Therefore, if an Executive Council meeting was held the day the Prime Minister was sworn in, one would assume it was after the swearing-in. Correct?

Mr Fraser : What I would prefer to do is get the correct facts for you, and I will give those to you very shortly—the sequencing of all the events on that particular day.

Senator WONG: What does 'very shortly' mean?

Mr Fraser : My colleague is currently seeking that.

Senator WONG: Excellent. While he is ascertaining that, I can flick to a different topic. Can you tell me also at what time the papers for that meeting were received by Government House?

Mr Fraser : My colleague has advised me that the Prime Minister was sworn in at 10.30 am. The ExCo meeting followed immediately thereafter, and the papers for that meeting were received that morning.

Senator WONG: These were papers which dealt with the termination of departmental secretaries, weren't they?

Mr Fraser : I am not at liberty to discuss—

Senator WONG: That is on the public record actually.

Mr Fraser : I am not at liberty to discuss the agenda items but, from the questions on notice, I understand that to be the case.

Senator WONG: It is not consistent with the Federal Executive Council Handbook, which requires that papers be delivered at least two days before the meeting, for those papers to be received the morning of the ExCo meeting, is it?

Mr Fraser : Sometimes papers are late for various important reasons. In consultation with the Governor-General, he agrees to accept those late papers.

Senator WONG: Or she.

Mr Fraser : Or she.

Senator WONG: If the papers were received that morning, were the papers in fact received before Mr Abbott was Prime Minister?

Mr Fraser : I am not sure what time they were received that morning—the papers themselves. I know they were received that morning.

Senator WONG: This is how I understand your evidence and the evidence of your colleague behind you: the papers were received, Mr Abbott was sworn in and immediately there was an ExCo meeting.

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Therefore, the ExCo papers were received before Mr Abbott became Prime Minister.

Mr Fraser : That may well be the case, but the papers were received that morning. There is probably no benefit in me speculating, not having been at that meeting.

Senator WONG: Can someone tell me whether the papers were received before or—

Mr Fraser : I think it is best that that question—

Senator WONG: I am asking the question.

CHAIR: And you have asked your question.

Senator WONG: I have not asked it, because he has interrupted. Were the papers for the ExCo meeting on 18 September received by Government House before, or after, the Prime Minister was sworn in?

Mr Fraser : I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: You are not able to tell me?

Mr Fraser : I am not able to tell you.

Senator WONG: Have you asked your colleague?

Mr Fraser : No, I have not.

Senator WONG: You do not want to tell me?

Mr Fraser : My colleague is not privy to the paperwork process for the Federal Executive Council.

Senator WONG: Is that the case. Perhaps we could have him to the table to check.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, Mr Fraser has taken it on notice; he has given you his answer.

Senator WONG: There is no minister at the table, for obvious reasons. Why are you taking it on notice?

Mr Fraser : I would be very happy to take it on notice so that I can check the sequencing of the paperwork that day. I know that the papers were received that day because I have that information from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. They may be able to better inform you about when those papers were passed across when they come before you tomorrow.

Senator WONG: Who would know, from your end, when those papers were received?

Mr Fraser : I would have to check with administrative staff in the department who would have received the papers.

Senator WONG: But someone in Government House receives the papers—you go to an ExCo and you have got all the folders with all the things to sign et cetera—so what is the process of being them received?

Mr Fraser : Those papers are brought out to Government House by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, so they would know when they were delivered.

Senator WONG: Presumably you would know too. Are you telling me no-one actually notes when—

Mr Fraser : I certainly do not myself know. That is why I am seeking to find out.

Senator WONG: I am asking about the process. This is the Federal Executive Council. Presumably someone at Government House keeps some record of when papers are received. Is that not the case?

Mr Fraser : No, that is not the case.

Senator WONG: You do not keep any record?

Mr Fraser : What happens is that the material is brought out to Government House and handed over. But no formal record is taken of that exchange of papers.

Senator WONG: I think your colleague wishes to confer with you.

Mr Fraser : No, I have nothing further.

Senator WONG: What are you taking on notice, then?

Mr Fraser : To find out at what time the papers were received at Government House on the morning of the 18th.

Senator WONG: I understand your evidence stands. The Prime Minister is sworn in and then there is an immediate Executive Council. That is the first Executive Council of the new government.

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: I would like to clarify this. Is it your evidence to this committee that the office of the Governor-General does not record details of the receipt of Executive Council papers?

Mr Fraser : There is no formal process in place for recording the handover of those papers. What happens is that they come out in a folder, one marked for the Governor-General and one for the official secretary. They are handed over, generally directly to the official secretary or myself. Those matters are then passed on to the Governor-General for his review, in this case—her review, historically—and then taken to the meeting.

Senator WONG: When you say there is no formal process, is there an informal process?

Mr Fraser : There is no register to log documentation.

Senator WONG: Is there any notation at all?

Mr Fraser : There would be an exchange of phone calls: 'Are you available this morning if I can come out and deliver this? Would it be convenient?' Those sorts of things would take place. There would be records of the person from PM&C, the courier, bringing them through the front gate, but no formal record of such.

Senator WONG: Is there any informal record at your end?

Mr Fraser : Only those that I have just talked about: phone calls—

Senator WONG: None of them were at your end, actually, I think. I do not think any of them were at your end, other than phone calls. You do not record anywhere—a diary entry saying 'Executive Council meeting papers received,' or some checklist or something?

Mr Fraser : I have certainly not recorded such in my time at Government House.

Senator WONG: What does 'recorded such' mean?

Mr Fraser : I have not recorded—made any diary entry or any other notation to reflect that I have received the Executive Council papers myself.

Senator DASTYARI: Is what you are saying, then, that the process to receive a parcel through Australia Post is a more extensive process than the process of receiving documents to get signed off by the Executive Council? You are telling me that the documents get dropped off but that nothing gets signed, nothing gets recorded, nothing gets tagged—it is just dropped off to whomever is in the building at the time?

Mr Fraser : No, they are hand-delivered from the Executive Council. These are of course sensitive documents. They are from the secretariat—

Senator DASTYARI: You do not sign for receipt of the—

Mr Fraser : There is no receipt.

Senator WONG: It is not FedEx.

Senator DASTYARI: No, FedEx has a process.

CHAIR: Has the procedure, Mr Fraser, changed?

Mr Fraser : Not to my knowledge. There has been no change in the procedure.

CHAIR: It is consistent with previous practice?

Mr Fraser : For the entire time I have been at Government House—for 5½ years.

Senator WONG: Who were the members of Executive Council at the meeting on the 18th?

Mr Fraser : I would have to check that.

Senator WONG: Obviously the Prime Minister was one.

Mr Fraser : I will check who else was at the meeting.

Senator DASTYARI: They were all present. They had just been sworn in. Did you not say it was immediately after their swearing-in?

Mr Fraser : Yes, so the Executive Council meeting would have had two executive councillors present at the meeting, one being the Prime Minister. I will seek advice on who the other was. I was not present at that meeting myself, so I cannot immediately recall. I do not wish to misinform the committee.

Senator WONG: I am going to move off this, which I am sure you will be very pleased about, Mr Fraser. I turn now to the honours system. Please remind me what the process is for the Council for the Order of Australia receiving nominations and making recommendations for honours and awards? This is obviously not knights and dames, because that is the gift of the Prime Minister.

Mr Fraser : In the broad, I can outline the procedure. If you need more information, I can ask my colleague the director of the Honours and Awards branch to the table. The process is that nominations are received from members of the public. They can be self-nominations or nominations for anyone else. They are received in the office and they are researched. Various fact checking is done and that and other information is prepared to be put before the council in a form that the council has requested. The council then sits, generally twice a year, and considers those nominations and the information put forward by the secretariat before making a recommendation to the Governor-General on the appointments or awards.

Senator WONG: One of the issues which, as you know, has been raised by a number of people is the number of women to receive an award. I assume you have done some gender analysis for this year's awards and over previous years. Is that right, Mr Fraser? Have you looked, for example, at how many women and how many men there have been at different levels of the awards?

Mr Fraser : Yes, we keep a full statistical record. That is published in our annual report, including a breakdown by gender.

Senator WONG: Does it disaggregate in relation to—I am not sure what the correct phrases—seniority?

Mr Fraser : By level of award?

Senator WONG: That is a nice, value-neutral term. One of the suggestions that has been made in some commentary is that you see a much greater gender disparity in the more senior awards. Does your annual report disaggregate the data?

Mr Fraser : The key issue—and this is an important one and one that the council of course acknowledges—is that the council would certainly like to see more women nominated for awards. In fact the fewer awards for women in the honours list is due to the fact that there are fewer nominations received for women. Approximately one-third of awards are made to women and this has been steadily increasing over the last 10 years or so. Nominations for women are statistically more successful than those for men. The success rate for women in the period 2012-13 was 71.9 per cent of nominations were successful, as opposed to men, for whom only 63 per cent were successful.

Senator WONG: Mr Fraser, I wonder if, on notice—I know you have said that it is in your annual report—you can collate that and give us over the gender ratio of awards over the last few years, including by level of award?

Mr Fraser : Certainly, I would be happy to.

Senator WONG: You have just explained the ab initio problem, which is nomination. What steps is the council taking to ensure a higher number of women nominate?

Mr Fraser : The promotion of the award system—and this is essentially a matter of promotion and education within the community—sits with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. They have responsibility for both honours policy and for the promotion of the Australian honours system. The council, whilst of course wishing there were greater numbers of deserving women nominated for awards, can do little more than their own personal advocacy on this issue.

Senator WONG: That is, not much is able to be done. Is that what the evidence is?

Mr Fraser : Yes, in terms of the council, given its current remit. It really falls to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the government to fund a larger promotional or education campaign if that is what is sought.

Senator WONG: I turn now to ex officio members of the council. The council has an ex officio member from government and has had for some time. Is that right?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Is that role traditionally an active role?

Mr Fraser : It is indeed an active role.

Senator WONG: Does that role include the capacity to change or influence recommendations?

Mr Fraser : Each member of the council is of course able to express their views and opinions at a council meeting, and, in fact, that is sought. In relation to your point on ex-officio members, the person occupying the position of vice president of the executive council has either attended in person or been represented by a deputy, usually a minister or parliamentary secretary with responsibility for honours policy, at all but three of the last 13 meetings of the council.

Senator WONG: I think Senator Brandis is the ex-officio member. Is that right?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Since the election, how many meetings has Senator Brandis attended?

Mr Fraser : One meeting.

Senator WONG: Only one since the election?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Who else has attended in his stead?

Mr Fraser : Josh Frydenberg.

Senator WONG: How many meetings has he attended?

Mr Fraser : It was the same meeting but it was split over two days. Senator Brandis attended the first day, and the honourable Josh Frydenberg attended the second part of the meeting.

Senator WONG: How many meetings have there been?

Mr Fraser : Generally, we have two meetings a year.

Senator WONG: So there has only been one?

Mr Fraser : There has only been one meeting.

Senator WONG: In terms of what you said, you believe it is entirely appropriate for an ex officio member to express a view that may influence or change recommendations. Is that right?

Mr Fraser : Absolutely. I might quote the chair of the council, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who, in response to some press reporting about the council, said:

Like all council members, ex-officio members are entitled to put forward their views and it is important all members participate in the deliberations.

Senator WONG: There was some reporting in relation to the Solomon Islands and the Governor-General's role in relation to relief shipments and a suggestion that there was a failure to consult government ministers. Are you aware of that?

Mr Fraser : Yes, I am.

Senator WONG: I thought it would be appropriate to give you the opportunity to perhaps clarify what communications, if any, the Governor-General had with the Solomon Islands.

Mr Fraser : Thank you; I do appreciate the opportunity because this article was plainly wrong and had no foundation. As the office made clear to the journalist, Mr Ian McPhedran, in response to questions on this matter, the Governor-General's only response and only involvement in relation to this was to send a letter of condolence to his Solomon Islands counterpart. He had no contact with anyone in the Australian government or any other person regarding the disaster whatsoever.

Senator WONG: Can you explain to me, if that was the case, why it was reported that the office refused to answer a specific question about contact between the Governor-General and government agencies or ministers.

Mr Fraser : That is what was reported. In fact, the office did answer the questions put by the journalist, and I can quote the answer.

Senator WONG: Prior to the publication on the 12th?

Mr Fraser : That is correct. If you wish, I could read the questions from the journalist and the response from this office on 10 April, which was two days prior.

Senator WONG: Are they lengthy? I am happy for you table them.

Mr Fraser : No, not very lengthy.

Senator WONG: Okay; that is fine.

Mr Fraser : The questions were: Did the Governor-General organise any aid or other arrangements et cetera? Did he have discussions with his Solomon Islands counterpart? Did he contact any government agency about possible assistance? Did the Governor-General receive any advice et cetera? I am happy to table that to give the full set of questions.

The answer provided on 10 April was: 'Thank you for your inquiry. On 4 April 2014 His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) sent a letter of condolence to His Excellency Sir Frank Kabui, Governor-General of the Solomon Islands, following the loss of life and destruction caused by recent flooding. Letters of condolence to counterpart governors-general or equivalent following natural disasters are standard practice. Australia's relief and humanitarian response to the flooding is a matter for the Australian government, and all related questions should be directed to the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.'

In response to a follow-up question—

Senator WONG: Can I just stop you there. This is why I thought it would be better to table it, because I have a couple more questions. I am happy for you to table it. Is there a lengthy Q&A?

Mr Fraser : No, it is just demonstrating my point that there has been no involvement by the Governor-General, and the journalist was made aware of such.

Senator WONG: Are you intending to table that?

Mr Fraser : I am happy to table that.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me what the process will be for the appointment of Mr Brady's successor?

Mr Fraser : As I indicated at the outset of my evidence today, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is coordinating a selection process for the position of official secretary. That process, I understand, is currently underway, and the department would be best placed to respond to any questions you have about it.

Senator WONG: To your knowledge is there any involvement from the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Fraser : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: Presumably there is involvement with the Governor-General; it is his official secretary.

Mr Fraser : I would certainly expect so. A merit-based selection process is being run by Prime Minister and Cabinet, and, of course, the Governor-General would no doubt be consulted about the recommendations of that selection process.

Senator WONG: Has he been consulted as yet?

Mr Fraser : The process is still underway, and I think the department can explain to you any formal involvement they have had.

Senator WONG: To your knowledge has there been consultation?

Mr Fraser : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: Who would usually do the consulting?

Mr Fraser : I expect that would be the chair of the committee, Dr Watt.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Senator McKENZIE: In terms of Senator Wong's claims about the office of the Governor-General doing its bit around the budget issues, is the office subject to the efficiency dividend and has there been any change to that post the coalition's budget?

Mr Fraser : No, there has been no change, and, yes, the office is fully subject to the efficiency dividend and other specific savings measures announced by the government and the previous government.

Senator McKENZIE: What does that total in terms of your budget?

Mr Fraser : The total savings measures, including efficiency dividends, over the period of the forward estimates are $1.48 million.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.

CHAIR: I thank the officers of the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General for their attendance today.

Mr Fraser : I might take the opportunity to answer the senator's question.

CHAIR: Which senator?

Mr Fraser : Senator Wong's question in relation to the ministers attending the executive council held on 18 September. The ministers were the Prime Minister and Mr Truss as the Deputy Prime Minister.