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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
18/11/2013
Estimates
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

[14:13]

CHAIR: I welcome the Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon. Eric Abetz, representing the Prime Minister, and officers of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. We will be commencing with outcome 1, followed by the listed agencies. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance, the secretariat has copies of the rules. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a)      notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b)      reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c)      orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1)      If:

      (a)   a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

      (b)   an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2)      If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3)      If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4)      A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5)      If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6)      A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7)      A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (I) or (4).

(8)      If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)

The committee has set 17 January 2014 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Abetz: I do not, thanks.

CHAIR: Ms Cross, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Ms Cross : Yes, thank you. I would like to make a short opening statement, and we are just organising for copies of the statement to be provided to members of the committee. The statement is to advise the committee of who is attendance from the department and the recent machinery of government changes.

The members of the department's executive in attendance for this session to answer your questions are Mr Richard Sadleir, representing Dr Margot McCarthy, the Associate Secretary, National Security and International Policy, as she is on official overseas travel; Ms Elizabeth Kelly, Deputy Secretary, Governance; Dr Heather Smith, Deputy Secretary, G20; and Mr David Hazlehurst, Acting Deputy Secretary, Economic and Strategy. Other senior officers will be available to assist the committee as required. Ms Liza Carroll, head of Indigenous Affairs and Mr Richard Eccles, Deputy Secretary, Indigenous Affairs will attend with senior members of the Indigenous Affairs group on Friday. I am proposing that Mr Sadleir, Ms Kelly, Dr Smith and I be excused once the committee commences questions on Indigenous Affairs on Friday.

The machinery of government changes, the changes to the administrative arrangements order made on 18 September 2013 and 3 October 2013, have resulted in the following changes to the PM&C portfolio. Responsibility for the not-for-profit sector, volunteering and philanthropy has transferred to the Department of Social Services. The Mental Health Commission is now part of the Health portfolio. Responsibility for Indigenous affairs has transferred to PM&C from the following departments: DSS; the Attorney-General's Department; the Department of the Environment; Department of Education; Department of Employment; Department of Communications; Department of Industry; the former Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport; and the former Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. In addition, responsibility for the Office for Women has transferred to PM&C and responsibility for deregulation has transferred to PM&C from the Department of Finance. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Cross. We will take some questions. Senator Dastyari.

Senator DASTYARI: I begin by noting this is my first session. I may be a bit less experienced than some of our colleagues here, so I ask for a little bit of indulgence from the committee. You may be able to run through this with me to begin with. The election was held on 7 September, and there was an 11-day period between the election being held and when the election result came in, and from when the ministry was sworn in. What was the role of the department during that period?

Ms Kelly : The government remains in caretaker, so the department's role remains a responsibility under the caretaker arrangements.

Senator DASTYARI: At that point you are under the caretaker arrangements. Obviously the situation does change a bit. While you are still technically in caretaker mode, you do start liaising with the incoming government—is that how it works?

Ms Kelly : That is correct, but in accordance with the caretaker arrangements.

Senator DASTYARI: Can you elaborate on that a little bit? What do you mean by that, Ms Kelly? Post election, how many meetings were being held between the government and the department?

Ms Kelly : The caretaker arrangements continue to apply. You obviously take account of the election result in terms of meetings with an incoming government, but in terms of the limitations on government under the caretaker arrangements, they continue to apply.

Senator DASTYARI: Take a few steps back. When was the first briefing with the incoming government held?

Senator Abetz: The opposition got briefings and I in fact got briefings in my portfolio area during the caretaker arrangement, before the election. So there were briefings in relation to a whole host of issues before the election, and then, of course, as Ms Kelly has just indicated, after the election. You do take into account, I understand, that there potentially will be a change of government pursuant to the election.

Senator DASTYARI: I understand all that. I assume the nature of the incoming briefing that you would give the incoming government—so was it the Sunday or the Monday? When was the first post-election sit down with the incoming Prime Minister with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Ms Cross : As is the normal practice, the briefing was held the day after the election result was known, so it was the Sunday.

Senator DASTYARI: Okay. And, in that kind of period, what is the role of the department when it comes to the heads of other departments? Is there a formal role? Sorry, I am new to all of this. Is there a bit of a formal role there for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet department head in terms of the other department heads as well?

Ms Cross : I think it would be fair to say that the head of PM&C keeps them informed of arrangements for briefing ministers, and normally that would not occur until ministers have been announced and sworn in. So it is just making sure that departments, while they have incoming-government briefs ready, act in accordance with the Prime Minister having announced who the ministry will be—that sort of thing.

Senator DASTYARI: With the three department heads that were terminated—I do not know if the right word is 'terminated'; that is my understanding of the language—what is the role of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on that front?

Ms Kelly : Under section 59 of the Public Service Act, departmental secretaries are terminated by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister; and the act requires that, before making a recommendation to the Governor-General, the Prime Minister must receive a report from the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet—

Senator DASTYARI: Yes, that's what I thought.

Ms Kelly : about the proposed termination, and those provisions were complied with.

Senator DASTYARI: So you are telling me that, with the three department heads that were terminated, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet produced a report for the Governor-General outlining the reasons why they should be terminated? Is that what goes into that report?

Ms Kelly : The provisions of the act requiring a report were complied with.

Senator DASTYARI: Sure. I know you said that, but what does that mean? Do you have a copy of the report?

Ms Kelly : No, Senator.

Ms Cross : We do not normally disclose the nature of that sort of advice. But Ms Kelly has confirmed that the provisions of the act were followed.

Senator DASTYARI: Why don't we?

Ms Cross : A longstanding protocol about not revealing that type of report or advice.

Senator Abetz: Ask Senator Faulkner!

Senator FAULKNER: Well, unfortunately, Senator Abetz, you are on that side of the table and I am on this one. So, while he might ask me, as you would appreciate you are in the happy position of having to answer!

Senator DASTYARI: Sorry, I am new to all this. I apologise, because I am not aware of some of these protocols. I do not quite understand the—what's it called, Senator Bernardi, a public immunity—

CHAIR: Interest.

Senator DASTYARI: I am not quite sure why we cannot have a copy of that. If you are telling me that, for three heads of departments, a report was produced by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, effectively, I assume, arguing that these people were unfit to be running departments—I do not know what the content is—why couldn't that be available to the committee?

Senator Abetz: What we can do is, I think, take this on notice for you and outline the protocol and some of the reasoning and rationale behind what has been a longstanding practice. Without saying that this applied to any of those involved, for the privacy of the people concerned and their future job prospects et cetera, this would not necessarily want to be trawled through in a public arena such as this. So just be mindful of those sorts of sensitivities as well. Having said that, I did not see the reports and therefore I am unable to say whether those reports contained anything of that nature. I trust they did not. But just be careful of what you ask for. So, if we take this on notice, hopefully we will be able to deal with it in a sensitive manner.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that, Minister. Can we just take one step back. Can I just ask about the arithmetic here: were there three reports or were there four reports? I appreciate that Mr Parkinson, as the secretary of Treasury, is in a different position to the other three secretaries. But just so we can be precise, would you, Ms Cross or Ms Kelly, be able to confirm that for us? Because the evidence that has been provided here is that there were three reports. I would just be interested to have that confirmed, as a starting point.

Ms Kelly : The appointments of three secretaries were terminated by written instrument under section 59, and the provisions of that section were complied with.

Senator WONG: Meaning there were three reports.

Senator FAULKNER: Well, that may mean there are three reports, but I am asking—

Senator WONG: It was a question.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes. But I am asking whether, in relation to Mr Parkinson's situation, there may have also been a report.

Senator Abetz: I think we have got to be careful because now we are traversing, potentially, advice to government—

Senator FAULKNER: No, Minister, to be clear: I understand the point that you and the officials have made. I am not going to the nature of the advice. I am just trying to get the process clear here.

Ms Cross : Senator, I do not actually know the answer to your question, so could I take that on notice?

Senator FAULKNER: Fair enough.

Senator WONG: Did you want to add something, Ms Kelly?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: You looked like you were about to burst forth with information!

Senator DASTYARI: I guess that, reading section 59—and I have got a copy of it here—it effectively says that, for a secretary to be terminated, there is a series of events that have to take place; and you are right, so there must be a recommendation of the Governor-General that the appointment of the secretary of a department other than the Prime Minister's department be terminated; the Prime Minister must have received a report on the proposed termination from the secretary of the Prime Minister's department, if there was advice that that was complied with, and that would also mean that that report was prepared in consultation—which is the next step—with the Public Service Commissioner. So, were there conversations between the Public Service Commissioner and the head of the Department of the Prime Minister who prepared that report?

Ms Kelly : Senator, I cannot add anything to my previous answer that the statute was complied with in relation to the terminations.

Senator DASTYARI: I am not asking for anything specific. Minister Abetz made the point that, obviously, we do not want to hurt the job prospects of people who have been terminated, and I understand that. But the simple question of whether or not the Public Service Commissioner was in contact with—effectively, you are telling me the answer is yes, then, aren't you, if that is what the statute says, and you are saying that the statute was complied with?

Ms Kelly : Yes, and I am saying the statute was complied with.

Senator DASTYARI: Okay. Why couldn't we just say that?

Senator WONG: Sorry, can I just be clear; to follow up on Senator Dastyari's question, your evidence, Ms Kelly, is that in relation to the three secretaries whose appointments were terminated, the section was complied with. Do I understand that to mean that the Prime Minister received a report about each of those vacancies from the commissioner?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Senator DASTYARI: Following on from that again, for my understanding of the procedure: did the Prime Minister request those reports, or were those reports offered?

Ms Kelly : Senator, again, the statute was complied with. They were provided in accordance with the statute.

Senator DASTYARI: Sure. Nobody here is implying or suggestion in any way, shape or form that the statute was not complied with. I am not saying that there was a breach of the act here. That is not my suggestion. There are many ways you can comply with this act, and my question is: was this complied with because the Prime Minister asked the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for a report to be produced about three departmental secretaries who were later terminated?

Senator Abetz: All right. We will have to take that on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: Okay. So I might rephrase that; I will be even more specific if you are taking it on notice. Did the Prime Minister have a conversation with the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet requesting that reports be produced terminating these three departmental heads? If the Prime Minister did not, were the reports offered up by Mr Ian Watt, the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet? And if it was neither of those, who had the conversation with Mr Ian Watt requesting that these reports be produced?

Senator Abetz: All right. That is in the Hansard now. We will take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: Just so that we are clear, neither Ms Cross or Ms Kelly, or you, Minister, can say where the initiative came from. Surely it was the Prime Minister's initiative. I don't think to say that is a particularly controversial thing, given—and I understand section 58 of the act has been mentioned, sure, but as a starting point—

Senator Abetz: I do not know.

Senator WONG: And neither do the officers?

Senator Abetz: That is why I need to take it on notice, and I am advised by both Ms Kelly and Ms Cross that they do not know either.

Senator DASTYARI: Would Ms Kelly and Ms Cross know, then, when the report on these three department heads was being produced, to terminate them, whether or not the incoming ministers of those departments were spoken to about it or advised that this was what was happening?

Senator Abetz: At that stage, there were no ministers sworn in, as I understand it.

Senator WONG: There's an interesting point on that, though. Under section 58(4)—there is a slightly different point, actually, which I might come back to, but maybe you can help me while Senator Dastyari is looking for his question—the person who is preparing the report must consult with the person who is expected to be the agency minister at the time the appointment was made.

Senator Abetz: Sorry, Senator Wong; can you repeat that?

Senator FAULKNER: The critical thing that Senator Wong is saying is that the verb is 'must'—must. It is obligatory. Section 58(4)—I do not have it in front of me, but it includes the word 'must'—

Senator WONG: I apologise; that is actually for appointment, not termination. You must have received a report, though, from the secretary of the Prime Minister's department. That is the critical point.

Senator DASTYARI: On that point, the appointment of new secretaries, there were three new secretaries that were appointed, and they were appointed, I understand, on 18 September. But the bit I do not quite understand is this: the public announcement that these three secretaries were being terminated was done at the same time as the announcement of the incoming secretaries; is that correct?

Ms Cross : I think they were at roughly the same time. I am not sure whether they were in the exact same press release.

Senator WONG: So who is the person at PM&C who can assist us in these, Ms Cross?

Ms Cross : Ms Leon is one of the new secretary appointments.

Senator WONG: Where is she?

Senator Abetz: She is now the secretary of my Department of Employment.

Senator WONG: So you have no-one who was involved in this at the time who can assist us? If we are asking questions about things that none of you were involved in, that obviously makes it a little hard for the committee and for you.

Ms Cross : That is right, and we are happy to take on notice the points which we cannot—

Senator WONG: Well, we are not happy for the entire estimates hearing being taken on notice, as you would expect!

Ms Cross : No, and I would never do that, Senator.

Senator Abetz: Coming back, if I may, to Senator Dastyari's question, I can confirm, for what it's worth, albeit in another portfolio area, that I was in fact consulted about Ms Leon's appointment as Secretary to the Department of Employment before that was announced, and I had already been sworn in as minister at that time.

Senator FAULKNER: Let us not mix up appointments and terminations. From the point of view of a termination, is it true that under section 59(1) of the Public Service Act you actually have to have a formal, written communication from the Prime Minister? That was my understanding. Does it apply in all circumstances? Did it apply in this circumstance?

Ms Kelly : Senator, I do not have section 59 in front of me—

Senator DASTYARI: I've got a copy of section 59.

Ms Kelly : But, if that is what is required, I am informed that that was what occurred.

Senator WONG: But you cannot tell us how.

Ms Kelly : No, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: I have just got it now. Section 59(1) says the Prime Minister may, by notice in writing, terminate the appointment of a secretary at any time. I suppose all I am asking is: if that is obligatory, one assumes that there is some form of written record. There are no tricks in this; it is just the way it works, isn't it?

Ms Kelly : Yes, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes. But you cannot say whether it was done. Even though that is the way it works, as you have said, we cannot actually say it did work that way. That is why I am a little perplexed, you see.

Senator Abetz: Well, Ms Kelly has given advice that it was done as per the statute; and therefore, if that is what the statute requires, she has every confidence that that is what occurred.

Senator WONG: Isn't there a slight problem in saying, 'I can't tell you what actually happened but I can give evidence that the statute was complied with.'?

Ms Cross : I think the question that we took on notice was whether it was initiated by the Prime Minister or by the Secretary of PM&C. I think that was the intent of the question that we took on notice. What we are confirming is that it took place according to the provisions in the act. What we are not able to answer at this stage is the exact detail of how that was initiated. But the act was followed.

Senator FAULKNER: Hearing that, could you perhaps take on notice for us when the formal written communication from the Prime Minister was dated and when it was received in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I am not expecting you to know precisely what happened and I'm not going to ask what happened in the Prime Minister's office.

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Perhaps, I could ask you, Minister, if you would take on notice whether that communication or three communications could be tabled at the committee.

Senator Abetz: All right, I will take that on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: I am trying to get my head around the process here. Putting aside the questions about the content, we cannot answer the question of who initiated it, but we know that a report was produced and that the production of the report complied with the requirements of the act. That is the bit you have been very clear about and no-one is disputing that.

Senator Abetz: It is on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, according to 59(1) of the legislation:

The Governor-General may, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and by notice in writing, terminate the appointment of a Secretary.

Senator DASTYARI: So we are now saying that it was the Prime Minister who asked for a report to be produced?

Senator Abetz: No. All I am telling is what the legislation actually says, that it is open to the Prime Minister to ask the Governor-General to terminate the appointment of a secretary under 59(1).

Senator DASTYARI: But to do that there has to be a report produced.

Senator Abetz: Before recommending, yes. But you are asking on whose initiative. The legislation seems clear.

Senator DASTYARI: You are effectively saying that it is the Prime Minister's initiative, then.

Senator Abetz: At the end of the day, ministers make the decisions, as I understand the system. We are given advice, and sometimes that advice may be followed or not followed.

Senator FAULKNER: And the report has to be received from the Australian Public Service Commissioner—I am going from memory here, but you can check whether that is right or wrong.

Senator Abetz: Be prepared—just consultation. It does not say how that has to occur.

Senator FAULKNER: Really?

Senator Abetz: Be prepared after consultation—the report 'be prepared after consultation'; it is 59(4)(a).

Senator FAULKNER: I can ask the Australian Public Service Commissioner later today. Let me ask the process question—not of the content of the consultation, but the nature—if either Ms Cross or Ms Kelly are not able to say—you are nodding, so I assume you are not able to say. What was the nature of the consultation as opposed to the content of the Australian Public Service Commissioner's consultation. In other words, how was the consultation conducted?

Ms Kelly : I do not know the answer to that question.

Senator FAULKNER: Would you take that on notice?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator DASTYARI: We all agree that the report was produced. Who produces the report?

Senator Abetz: It is from the secretary—

Senator DASTYARI: I know, but who in the department produces the report?

Senator Abetz: At the end of the day, by the looks of it, the report is from the secretary of the Prime Minister's department. It stands to reason that the chances are he was not sitting at the keyboard, but nevertheless it is his report.

Senator DASTYARI: To get my head around how the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet works, something of that magnitude, a report to sack—or terminate; the appropriate word—three Public Service heads does not just magically appear. Was their consultation within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet? Were there people in this room who were involved in preparing that?

Senator Abetz: That starts traversing advice to government. It stands to reason that people other than the secretary were involved. But the secretary himself may have sat at the keyboard if it was a written report.

Senator WONG: Minister, he has not asked about the advice. It is normal estimates practice for process questions to be asked, so I do not think a suggestion that finding out who else was involved in the preparation of a document traverses advice to government and therefore should not be answered can stand, notwithstanding the fact that advice to government itself has not been a proposition of the Senate the Senate has accepted. But leaving that argument to one side—and I appreciate that I probably used that a couple of times when I was sitting in that chair as well—he is not asking about the content of the advice at this point. He is asking about the process of preparation and who was involved. It is a legitimate question.

Senator Abetz: So who was involved and—

Senator WONG: It was a legitimate question.

Senator Abetz: Do you want their names? At the end of the day, it is the secretary who carries it forward. How many people and who did what, how, where and when at the end of the day is the secretary's decision. I am not sure that any government, of whatever persuasion, would seek to go through all that minutiae unless there is a specific point that you want to get to as to a particular person having a—

Senator WONG: Does the report identify an officer other than the secretary?

Ms Cross : I think we would have to take that on notice as well.

Senator Abetz: The officials tell me they have not seen the report. As a result, it is difficult for them—

Ms Cross : As a general statement, though, issues of this nature are held fairly tightly ahead of an announcement. So there may well have been no other name on the brief. We would have to check.

Senator DASTYARI: We are not talking about a lengthy report here. We are talking about what, I imagine, at most would not be going over a couple of pages. The report could not be that far away. It is something that surely somebody here would have access to very quickly. I understand that you may not, for other reasons, want to have a discussion about the details of the report. But some of these questions about this report, I think, could very reasonably be answered if you were able to see the report. Are you telling me that no-one here has actually seen the report?

Ms Cross : We were not specifically involved at the time, so that is correct. But we have said we will take that on notice for you.

Senator DASTYARI: My question—and Senator Bernardi may be in a better position to ask about this than I am—is: is that something that somebody here could get a hold of now? I just do not understand. We are talking about a two- or maybe three-page report that goes to the effect of sacking three very senior public servants and terminating the head of the department. We can have a debate about whether or not you feel it is appropriate or not to release the report. I cannot see why it would not be released, but that is a separate matter. But you are telling us you cannot answer any questions about the report because you have not seen the report. So my question is: why can't we get a copy of the report here for you now?

Ms Cross : We will take that on notice for you.

Senator Abetz: As I understand it—and somebody else can correct me if I am wrong—this procedure is the one that has been around now for some time. Is that correct?

Senator FAULKNER: No. There have been quite recent amendments to the act, Minister. Fundamentally it has not changed, but there have been what I would describe as minor amendments to the act. I think the officials would confirm that. Is that a fair summation of it?

Senator Abetz: It has been known that previous governments in coming to power have also relieved secretaries of their duties.

Senator FAULKNER: That is true—most notably Mr Howard when he came to power in 1996. You would appreciate that when Mr Rudd was successful and a change of government occurred after the 2007 election the provisions of the act were not used and there were no terminations of agency heads.

Senator Abetz: But there were a decent number of resignations.

Senator DASTYARI: Minister, my understanding of part of the reason why there were the amendments in 2013 was to actually address the concern. You talked about 1996. As I understand, the complications—

Senator Abetz: Senator Faulkner spoke of 1996.

Senator DASTYARI: Okay.

Senator FAULKNER: Eloquently.

Senator DASTYARI: If I want to draw the committee's thoughts back to 1996, it actually resulted in a situation where, as I understand it, the government was successfully sued by one of the former heads of the department who had been terminated and the process had not been followed. That is a separate matter. If you cannot answer my questions about the report, about who produced the report, about what consultation happened in producing the report, I assume you also cannot answer questions about whether or not there was disagreement between the Public Service Commissioner and the department on the report and the consultation process?

Ms Cross : We have confirmed that it was produced by the secretary of the department and we have confirmed that, as per the legislation, there was consultation with the Public Service Commissioner, but we do not reveal the content of the report or the advice to the Prime Minister.

Senator DASTYARI: Was there any calculation done in—

Senator WONG: Just on this, 59(4)(b) contemplates the possibility of disagreement and, if that occurs, that has to be explained under the statute, the substance of the disagreement. Was 59(4)(b) relevant to any of the reports?

Ms Kelly : Again, I have not seen the report so I cannot answer that question, but we can take it on notice.

Senator WONG: This is mandatory. So 59(4) is couched in the 'must', so I am asking whether or not, as a result of the application of that section, there was in the reports an explanation of the substance of the disagreement. Thank you.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Related to much of what has been covered here and taken on notice, Ms Kelly, you have been fairly confident in your assurance that these terminations were conducted in accordance with the provisions of the act and you have referred to receiving advice to such effect. Can I ask whom that advice came from?

Ms Kelly : The statement was based upon the steps that were taken in the process—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But you are not able to advise us of what those steps were? So I am asking: who provided you with the advice that you are confident about when you cannot outline for us what those steps were? For instance, Senator Wong's question just now about 59(4)(b).

Ms Kelly : I think Ms Cross—

Senator Abetz: The official has indicated to us that her advice has been that everything was done as per the requirements of the legislation.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I understand that, Senator Abetz. My question was: from whom?

Senator Abetz: You are now drilling into it step by step, and those aspects, as I understand it, we have been taking on notice when and as the officials cannot provide the answers to those more detailed questions.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I understand that, Senator Abetz, but my question—and if it needs to go on notice as well, then it will need to go on notice—to Ms Kelly: from whom was she advised that these terminations were conducted in accordance with the provisions of the act?

Senator Abetz: I do not think we want to start having Ms Kelly saying that it was Joe Bloggs from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet who told her. I think we should just accept at face value that that is what Ms Kelly was advised and that is what she has imparted to this committee. Now, in relation to the detail, we have taken that on notice and if, as result of that, it comes to pass that that which Ms Kelly had been advised may not be as accurate as hoped for, then the record can be corrected. But to try to finger certain individuals—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am not trying to finger certain individuals, Senator Abetz.

Senator Abetz: You asked: 'Who provided the advice to Ms Kelly?'

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Which is quite a reasonable question.

Senator Abetz: That will then indicate that it was, let's say, Joe Bloggs who provided that advice. I am not sure how that furthers the examination of the issues here. We should be protecting individuals in the Public Service from that sort of questioning.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Senator Abetz, I am not seeking to finger certain individuals; I am asking quite a reasonable question. Ms Kelly is appearing before the estimates committee saying she has been advised that the terminations were conducted in accordance with the provisions of the act. It is not an unreasonable question. Without fingering any particular individual, what was the character of that advice? Was it from a senior PM&C officer, or is it some loose assurance that we, as the committee, should not be confident of?

Senator Abetz: That is different. If you are asking whether the receptionist or office junior provided that advice—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am asking: what is the status of that advice?

Senator Abetz: to Ms Kelly, I dare say the answer is no. If you are asking whether the advice was provided to her by an officer in whom she has some degree of confidence, I dare say the answer would be yes. But to actually name or identify by position the person who provided that advice I do not think is helpful for anybody.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Then perhaps Ms Kelly might like to describe the status of the advice she received, without fingering an individual.

Ms Kelly : I have every confidence that the advice provided to me was authoritative and can be relied upon.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Well, we will see, once we see the further levels of information yet to be provided that you were not assured of at the time.

CHAIR: I just have a few questions for you before we continue. Is the department responsible for the accommodation arrangements of the Prime Minister?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

CHAIR: So what arrangements were put in place when the Lodge was effectively out of commission and subject to refurbishment?

Ms Kelly : As you are aware, the Lodge refurbishment process has commenced and the vacant possession of the Lodge was required from 23 September. It is going to take upwards of about eight months to complete, and for that purpose alternative accommodation, comparable to the standard of accommodation provided in the Lodge, was sought by the department. The department has been aware of the Lodge project for some time. In fact, the project has been delayed a number of times, as senators would recall. When the Department of Finance indicated that they were moving towards a commencement date of September, which was in the middle of this year in about the June-July period, the department engaged an independent residential broker to source an appropriate property. A number of available Commonwealth housing options, such as Defence properties, were examined. No suitable accommodation could be located. So we engaged an independent residential broker to find an appropriate property on the private rental market. A property was located and a lease was signed for that property.

CHAIR: When was the lease signed for that property? What was the date?

Ms Kelly : The lease was signed on 31 August, to commence on 2 September.

CHAIR: That was in the caretaker period—am I correct?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

CHAIR: Was consultation undertaken with either Mr Rudd or Mr Abbott as to the lease of that property?

Ms Kelly : The department did endeavour to contact Mr Rudd's office—the Prime Minister' office—and ask whether or not the Prime Minister wished to inspect the property. That was, of course, during the election campaign, and Mr Rudd was unable to inspect the property. The department also contacted the then Leader of the Opposition's office and offered him the opportunity to inspect the property, and he was also, due to his other commitments, unable to inspect the property.

CHAIR: Unsurprisingly, I would suggest, Ms Kelly! Nonetheless, were neither of the potential residents able to inspect the property?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

CHAIR: But the department went ahead with the lease of the property?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

CHAIR: How long is the lease for?

Ms Kelly : It is a 12-month lease.

CHAIR: What is the monthly—or weekly, or annual, whatever you like—rent for that property?

Senator Abetz: I don't think you want to know the annual figure!

CHAIR: I might already!

Ms Kelly : The rent is $3,000 per week which, when calculated per calendar month, is $13,035.71.

CHAIR: So $3,000 a week for a property that how many people are living in?

Ms Kelly : The property is vacant.

CHAIR: And it has been vacant since 2 September?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

CHAIR: Is there any prospect of it being occupied between now and the conclusion of the lease?

Ms Kelly : The department learned shortly after the election that the Prime Minister did not wish to take up the property. Since that time we have been in negotiations with the owner and the landlord and the property agent for the property, trying to make arrangements to find an alternative tenant so that we could terminate the lease. We are still in those negotiations and so I am conscious that we are in negotiations with the landlord at the moment.

CHAIR: I understand that the department tried to find appropriate accommodations for whomever the Prime Minister was going to be. It does strike me as a little odd that in the midst of an election campaign the department seeks to contact the two candidates for prime ministerial office and expects an inspection and a result according to what you suggested. I am happy to be corrected on this, but they were given two or three days to inspect a property before a lease was signed. It seems entirely unreasonable.

Ms Kelly : I have the dates now for when those contacts were made. On 5 August former Prime Minister Rudd announced the election date of 7 September. It was on 9 August that the department contacted Prime Minister Rudd's office, extending an invitation to view the property. It was a week later that that office advised that they were not able to inspect the property. It was sometime in the period 16 to 19 August that the offer was then made to the office of the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, for him and Mrs Abbott to view the property. We were advised at that time that they did not have time available to view the property. That was a short period before the lease was signed, on 31 August.

CHAIR: It was, and it is slightly longer than a couple of days—it amounts to two weeks or so, but it still does not surprise me that they did not have time to inspect the property. But what was the urgency of signing a lease before the election had even been concluded?

Ms Kelly : The department's objective at all times was to find a property comparable to the accommodation provided in the Lodge for the Prime Minister.

Senator Abetz: But without possums!

CHAIR: I would suggest that the standard of accommodation, in keeping with the style and standard of the Lodge, opens up a whole world of possibilities in Canberra—not all of them costing $3,000 a week. It strikes me as perhaps well-intentioned but very presumptuous. I am not sure taxpayers will enjoy the fact that they have $156,000 worth of lease payments to pay for an empty building.

Senator DASTYARI: Going back to what we were talking about earlier, I assume calculations were done on what the costs of terminating department secretaries were. Is there a calculation on the cost of the three terminations?

Ms Kelly : I cannot answer that question but, again, we can take that on notice.

Ms Cross : That is one we do not know the answer to, so we will check it for you.

Senator DASTYARI: So on notice you can get back to us on what were the total financial costs including salary payments, superannuation, leave entitlements et cetera associated with the termination of the three departmental secretaries. There would be some figure floating around to that effect?

Ms Cross : What we said was that we do not know if there is that figure, but we will take that on notice for you.

Senator DASTYARI: But you would have to pay it out, so there would have to be a figure, wouldn't there?

Ms Cross : You would imagine so.

Senator DASTYARI: And that figure can be made available to us. How long will it take?

Senator Abetz: I am thinking out aloud as to whether that is something we would seek to disclose on the public record. Allow us to take that on notice. On the face of it, everybody knows what secretaries get paid, and some of us ministers get quite upset about what they get paid in comparison. That aside, I wonder whether there are potentially some privacy issues. But allow us to take it on notice. I would have thought that, overall, chances are that it should be allowed, but I stand to be corrected.

Senator DASTYARI: I guess the question, just to be specific, is: when you terminate a secretary, are they being paid out the remainder of their contract—once we see the figure, that will be clear—or are they just given a redundancy? How does it structurally work on that level? The supplementary question, if there is one, is: once a secretary has been terminated, is that deemed a redundancy? In the case of one of the departmental secretaries, it involved the merging of two departments, if I am correct, and that is to do with the secretary of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and I think there was a bit of a restructure as well. Once the secretary gets terminated, do they get paid out? How does it all work?

Ms Cross : We will check for you. I think there may be some information on the public record about what happens with secretaries' remuneration, and it relates to the length of time remaining under their contract. We will check that for you.

Senator WONG: Just in case this was not covered in questions on notice before, can you come back with an answer to the question as to whether or not a report under section 59 was ever prepared in relation to Dr Parkinson? If so, was it ever provided to the Prime Minister? I am not asking about the content.

Ms Cross : We will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Thank you. There may be no—

Senator Abetz: We will take that on notice, but the specific wording talks about termination of appointment.

Senator WONG: Correct, and it may be that no report was prepared, but if there was—

Senator Abetz: I do not think we want to trawl through the public domain as to who had a report prepared on them, potentially, which was or was not followed through. We will take it on notice and consider our position.

Senator WONG: Yes, take it on notice, and if the issue is that you want to have it in camera or confidentially, you can always request that, Minister. I was going to move to a different topic, if that is all right, Chair.

CHAIR: Have we exhausted this topic? Thank you. Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: As a follow-up to Senator Bernardi's question in relation to the lease, can you tell me which officer authorised the signing of the lease on behalf of the department?

Ms Kelly : Ms Leon.

Senator WONG: The then first assistant secretary was not—

Ms Kelly : Ms Leon signed the lease.

Senator WONG: Was the FAS the person who negotiated this?

Ms Kelly : I do not know the details of that. Again, it was while Ms Leon was in this role, and I know that Ms Leon signed the lease.

Senator WONG: Does the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet draft the administrative arrangement orders?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me how many administrative arrangements orders have in fact been issued since the election of the new government?

Ms Kelly : We think that the answer is two, but we will confirm that, and if there is any change to that we will advise you.

Senator WONG: We have not had three sets of amendments? I cannot recall.

Ms Cross : I think there were the initial AAOs at the time the ministry was announced and then, early in October, there were a small number of matters that were tidied up. I am not aware of any since then, but we will check that for you.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me what was tidied up in early October?

Ms Cross : Again from memory—

Senator WONG: These are fairly important documents or legislative instruments, so, if we could find who knows, I would like to go through what changes have been made to the AAOs, rather than just doing—

Ms Cross : In the second change?

Senator WONG: Correct. What was tidied up?

Ms Cross : We will get the detail for you, but it was some wording around tourism and research functions, as I recall, and there may have been a third matter, but we will find that out for you and get back to you.

Senator WONG: We will be here for a while, so maybe you could let me know when it is available. So you want me to come back to AAOs? I can do that. Is that what you prefer?

Ms Cross : Yes, we can get that information for you quite quickly.

Senator FAULKNER: I was going to ask some questions, Ms Cross, on AAOs. Is this the right place to do that, or later on?

Ms Cross : Yes, we will attempt to answer it now.

Ms Kelly : Senator, I can assist now with the changes that were made on 3 October—

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Ms Kelly : I apologise, Senator Faulkner—if that is convenient. An amendment to the 18 September AAO was made on 3 October, and this amendment clarified the portfolio responsibilities for a number of matters. They were, firstly, that the Attorney-General's Department had responsibility for matters and legislation relating to native title. This had been listed with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in the 18 September AAO and was returned to the Attorney-General's Department. The second matter was that the Department of Education has responsibility for matters relating to coordination of university research policy, research infrastructure, research grants and fellowships and the Australian Research Council. This had been listed with the Department of Industry on 18 September, and it was moved to the Department of Education. The third matter was that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had responsibility for tourism policy, international and domestic. Domestic tourism was listed with the Department of Industry in the 18 September AAO, and it was moved to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator WONG: Were there any changes in relation to science?

Ms Cross : No, that stayed as with the AAOs on 18 September.

Senator WONG: Native title was with PM&C. Obviously your preference was not to maintain it, so it has gone back to A-G's—correct?

Senator Abetz: That is a bit of a loaded question. The government decided. It was not for these officials to determine whether they wanted or did not want native title within Prime Minister and Cabinet. It was determined that it would be best handled by the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator WONG: Sure. Thank you for raising that. Was it the intention prior to the election that the coalition would transfer all of native title, including the tribunal, to Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Ms Cross : I think the government's policy prior to the election was that Indigenous policy and programs would be transferred to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but that was never defined program by program, so the machinery-of-government changes were the opportunity to go through the different portfolios and formalise what did and did not move into PM&C.

Senator WONG: But, when you say they were clarified, what was returned? Tell me what precisely was returned to Attorney-General's. What functions were returned?

Ms Kelly : I understand that native title had been with the Attorney-General's Department prior to 18 September. It was moved as part of the Indigenous affairs MOG—

Senator WONG: I know.

Ms Kelly : and then it was returned to the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator WONG: Correct. So it was with the Attorney-General's Department and it went to PM&C. There was an inquiry on whether or not the coalition's policy prior to the election actually contemplated that. Now it is back with the Attorney-General's Department. I am trying to find in the current AAOs precisely what was the subject of the flip over and then flip back.

Ms Cross : As I said, prior to the election the coalition commitment was an Indigenous policy and program, but there was no greater degree of specificity than that.

Senator Abetz: You could actually say 'programmatic specificity' here!

Ms Cross : As is quite normal with the machinery of government and AAOs changes, this was one of a few small tidy-ups, which is what normally happens.

Senator WONG: I will ask the question again. I have a copy of the 18 September amendment and the one from 3 October. The Native Title Act, the Aboriginal land rights act and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act legislation was moved back because you did not want to handle that, presumably. At what point did it become clear that having the Prime Minister handle the Native Title Act was not contemplated by coalition policy?

Senator Abetz: Undoubtedly sometime between 18 September and 3 October.

Senator WONG: How did PM&C become aware that there was an intention to move it back?

Ms Cross : Following the announcement of the ministry, there was then a process to work through exactly which programs and policies were covered. In the process of doing that, we tidied up the AAOs to move that back to the Attorney-General's Department. We have the Indigenous affairs hearings on Friday if you want further details on that.

Senator WONG: No, I am interested at the moment in the AAOs, but thank you. On the department of education, you said that you essentially added research policy in relation to universities, creation and development of research infrastructure and research grants and fellowships, all of which are really university or similar type bodies. But that originally had been moved to the department of industry.

Ms Cross : There have been a number of changes over the past several years. First of all, the research function had moved, and then later on the higher education function had moved. The intention was to move them both back. But, again, that was missed in the original AAOs. That was simply tidying them up to reflect that intention.

Senator WONG: Migrant adult education was moved back from employment. Was that to immigration or education?

Ms Cross : It has moved to the industry department so that the English language program for AMEP and the language literacy and numeracy program which is run for job seekers are now managed in the same portfolio.

Senator WONG: As you said, tourism, which seemed to wander around a bit, is now all in Foreign Affairs and Trade, whereas previously between 18 September and the change you had a split between domestic and international.

Ms Cross : That is correct.

Senator WONG: At whose request was the original split?

Ms Cross : I would have to check that for you. I think it was part of the incoming government briefing process when the machinery of government was discussed.

Senator WONG: What was the last thing you just said?

Ms Cross : You asked when the decision was made on tourism. I said that I think that was part of the discussions on machinery of government.

Senator WONG: The government has indicated its cabinet committee structure. How many cabinet committees are there? Are you responsible for this?

Ms Kelly : That is my responsibility.

Senator WONG: It was a 'vous' not a 'tu'. It is a problem, isn't it? Do you want me to say 'youse'? Five committees—is that right?

Ms Kelly : I believe that is correct. I will have that confirmed, but I believe that is correct.

Senator WONG: Who is responsible for the cabinet committees?

Ms Kelly : I am responsible for the cabinet committees. I just did not have that number, but, as I go through them in my head, I believe that is the correct number.

Senator WONG: So we have ERC and a revenue review committee, which has Mr Abbott, Mr Hockey, Mr Truss and Senator Cormann on it, but not Senator Sinodinos. Is that because he is—

Ms Kelly : Sorry, Senator, you were asking for the membership of the revenue review—

Senator WONG: It is on the website. So it is Mr Abbott, Mr Hockey, Mr Truss and Senator Cormann. A lot of taxation measures are handled by the Assistant Treasurer. He is not a member of this committee? ERC previously had outer ministers as well; in your government as well, Senator.

Senator Abetz: We can take that on notice, if you like.

Senator WONG: 'The governance committee'. That is an interesting title. It says:

The Governance Committee (GC) provides advice and oversight of governance and integrity issues, which include, but are not limited to, the Statement of Ministerial Standards and issues arising from the Lobbyist Code.

It is chaired by Mr Abbott and the two members are Mr Truss and Mr Brandis. Presumably they will not discuss bookshelves!

Senator Abetz: That is not a question.

Senator WONG: Has the governance committee met?

Ms Spence : We do not talk about the details of the number of meetings that have been held.

Senator WONG: I am not sure that is correct.

Ms Spence : Other than the overarching numbers that are provided in the annual report.

Senator WONG: I do not think that is right. I think Senate committees can request. We cannot ask what was discussed—sometimes we can—but it is perfectly appropriate to ask when a meeting occurred. I think you will find that has been asked and answered. Has the governance committee met to date?

Ms Spence : I have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: On what basis?

Ms Spence : I do not have the information with me at the moment, I am sorry.

Senator WONG: Someone from PM&C attends the meetings, do they not? They take notes at the meeting.

Ms Spence : They take notes—yes.

Senator WONG: Has the governance committee met?

Ms Spence : I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: On what basis?

Ms Spence : Because I do not have the information in front of me.

Senator WONG: Does someone have the information? If there is going to be a claim, there is a process to go through. It is a very simple question about whether the committee has met or not.

Ms Spence : We will find that information and get back to you, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: Can I point out to you, Minister, that historically, regardless of the political nature of the government of the day, cabinet processes, including issues such as committee meeting times and the like, have been regularly canvassed at committees and answers have been provided. It is accepted that the content of discussions and the like of cabinet-in-confidence—I do not make a major point of that, but, given Ms Spence's earlier comment, I think it warrants that minor clarification.

Ms Cross : We are happy to take that on notice. I think our recollection is that we give statistics in total for cabinet and its committees but that we do not normally break it down by committee. But we will check that for you.

Senator FAULKNER: I am not aware of that. I strongly defended matters that are cabinet-in-confidence not being canvassed at the committee. I think I have a pretty good record in that regard. Processes around cabinet meetings or cabinet committees is a different thing. I think process questions as opposed to content, if you like, are very different. I think you will find that if you go and have a good long look at—

Ms Cross : We will check what has happened in the past.

Senator FAULKNER: the practice of this committee.

Senator WONG: I think you will find that the Senate has expressed a view on this too. So I propose that, if you can get that advice and return it to the committee, I can come back to this line of questioning. Do any of the Prime Minister's staff attend any cabinet committee meetings?

Ms Spence : The Acting Cabinet Secretary attends cabinet meetings.

Senator WONG: Cabinet committee meetings, I asked about.

Ms Spence : And cabinet committee meetings.

Senator WONG: Do any other members of the Prime Minister's staff attend cabinet committee meetings?

Ms Spence : The normal arrangements apply around staff attending committee meetings, yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Senator Wong, can I pick up one point that Ms Spence raised on that?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, are you happy for Senator Collins to have the call?

Senator WONG: I will not be long on this point.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: It is just that she mentioned that the Acting Cabinet Secretary, so I wondered—

Ms Spence : The Acting Cabinet Secretary is a member of the Prime Minister's office staff.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I will come back to that later.

CHAIR: Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Does a member of the Prime Minister's staff attend the Governance Committee?

Ms Spence : The Acting Cabinet Secretary would attend the Governance Committee, as with arrangements with the other committee meetings.

Senator WONG: Does any other member of the Prime Minister's staff attend the Governance Committee?

Ms Spence : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: I think the one exception is the NSC. So I will not press that in terms of whether or not they have met.

Senator FAULKNER: Can I ask, on AAOs, please, whether it is true that, in legislation administered by the minister of the Department of Finance portfolio, supply acts have disappeared—which might be just because this is a modernisation. But can someone confirm that for me, please?

Ms Kelly : I was not aware of that, Senator. We will seek to confirm it.

Senator FAULKNER: Well, it is certainly not there. You might establish that for me, and I would just like to ask one or two questions about why that might be the case, given there is a little history in this, as everyone would appreciate. ComLaw has historical AAOs on its website, and, basically, historically—from recent times going right back—Finance has always had supply acts on its list. So I would like just to ask what the status is and why. There appear to be a range of 2013 acts. Let me go back a step. There was an article in the 'Strewth!' column in The Australian that said the Australian Education Act was not in the administrative arrangements orders. You may have seen that; I do not know. Did you see that at all?

Ms Kelly : Yes, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: Okay.

Senator Abetz: You disappoint me. You read 'Strewth!'!

Senator FAULKNER: No, I read the Senate clips.

Senator Abetz: No, not you—the departmental officials. You reading 'Strewth!' does not surprise, Senator Faulkner.

Senator FAULKNER: I just read—

Senator Abetz: That the departmental officials do read 'Strewth!', that disappoints.

Senator FAULKNER: Well, that may be. You can express your disappointment to the officials if you wish. But one tries to keep informed of these things. I do not necessarily—

Senator Abetz: Through the most robust of sources.

Senator FAULKNER: if I read something in The Australian newspaper, take it as gospel truth. So, you are aware that it was there; there is a reason for that, is there?

Ms Kelly : I am sorry?

Senator FAULKNER: There is a reason that the Australian Education Act 2013 is not in the AAOs.

Ms Kelly : Yes, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: Can you let us know what that is?

Ms Kelly : The AAOs that were put out on 18 September were made to reflect the new ministerial arrangements that were announced on that day. There is another, more extensive, process of consolidation of the AAOs that is ongoing at the moment. The Department of Education of course is preparing to administer the legislation as it commences on 1 January 2014, but it was overlooked because it was an act that had been passed in the last part of 2013 and not yet commenced. It will be picked up in the consolidation exercise prior to its commencement.

Senator FAULKNER: So currently it is nowhere in the AAOs, the Australian Education Act?

Ms Kelly : That is correct. But the fact that it is not in the AAOs does not affect preparations for the commencement of legislation on 1 January. The administration of the act is not prevented by that.

Senator FAULKNER: There are some other missing acts, too, aren't there?

Ms Cross : We do not normally update the AAOs as the legislation changes. We have a big process, as Ms Kelly—

Senator FAULKNER: No, but you normally get it right from the start?

Ms Cross : When we do machinery-of-government changes we do not, at the same time, update all of the legislation. So the machinery-of-government changes take the existing AAOs and amend them. There is a separate process where we tidy up references to acts to reflect any that have been introduced or repealed. That is normally a two-stage, separate process.

Senator FAULKNER: So are you saying that this was not an error?

Ms Cross : We did not go through the AAOs and get rid of any legislation that had been repealed or add new legislation at the time that we did the machinery-of-government changes.

Senator FAULKNER: So let me ask you: was it a blunder?

Ms Cross : No, because we would not normally have—

Senator FAULKNER: Oh, well, I am so pleased! It was just missing!

Senator WONG: I apologise—and you may want the opportunity, I appreciate, to consult with each other—but I do not understand Ms Kelly's answer and Ms Cross's answer together on that point. I thought you said it was an oversight. I am giving you the opportunity, perhaps on the break, to have a chat, and you can clarify what happened.

Ms Kelly : I do not think there is an inconsistency in the positions. Acts passed in the latter part of 2013 were not included in the AAOs. They were not sought to be included in the AAOs.

Senator FAULKNER: That is what I was going to ask, because there are a number of other acts, aren't there, in this situation? There may be more, but I think I have identified the Maritime Powers Act, DisabilityCare Australia Fund Act—would that be right?

Ms Kelly : We are currently going through a process, as part of the consolidation, of identifying those. So that process is ongoing. I am not aware of whether those two acts have been identified in that process, but that process is occurring at the moment.

Senator FAULKNER: Perhaps you could take on notice, then, what the status is of these acts. They are all 2013 acts, which perhaps goes to assisting in explaining the situation. Could you take on notice the status of: the Maritime Powers Act, DisabilityCare Australia Fund Act, Foreign Affairs Portfolio Miscellaneous Measures Act, Not-For-Profit Sector Freedom to Advocate Act, Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Act, Australian Jobs Act, Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better) Act, Australia Council Act, the Court Security Act and the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

It is obviously quite possible—and I did not have time to check this—that some of those acts have not been proclaimed. I assume that that would affect the possibility of them appearing in the Administrative Arrangements Order? I do not know. You can confirm that for me.

Ms Kelly : I will confirm that.

Senator FAULKNER: Do we know?

Ms Kelly : My understanding is that not being included in the Administrative Arrangements Order does not affect their administration.

Senator FAULKNER: No, I am not asking that. As to the reason that they are not there—some of these acts may not have been proclaimed; I do not know if they have been proclaimed. I am being as open with you as I can.

Ms Cross : I think the reason they are not there is that we have not done the annual process of updating the AAOs to get rid of any legislation that has been repealed or add any new legislation. We do not normally do that at the same time as machinery of government. We normally do that through a separate process.

Senator FAULKNER: That seems odd to me, I have to say, but fair enough. I do not know whether, as I say, they have been proclaimed, and obviously some of them may not have commenced either. The commencement dates may be relevant here. I am not aware of it. But I would appreciate your feedback on that if you could provide it. I suppose I am a little surprised to hear that. With the machinery-of-government changes, there seemed to me to be a logicality that the AAOs would be updated at that point. It does not seem illogical that that would happen, does it—but it has not.

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: So if you could just check the status—and you might check, on notice, if there are any other acts that have missed the boat. But I am very interested to come back, if I can, on the issue of supply acts having disappeared from legislation administered by the minister in the Department of Finance, because that possibly has some other implications, given the nature of parliamentary practice, chamber standing orders and the like. So I will treat that one as a separate issue—if you can, please. You can take that on notice for me and come back?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator MOORE: You have mentioned a number of times that you are in the midst of doing a review on all of these things to pull it together. Did you mention when that review is due?

Ms Kelly : I understand that the updated consolidation of the AAOs will be done before the end of this calendar year.

Senator MOORE: Thank you.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Can I just go back to the cabinet committee issues and the Cabinet Secretary, please. I have seen reports that the Cabinet Secretary, who is Dr Watt—about a bureaucrat named Jamie Fox. Can you clarify for me who the Acting Cabinet Secretary is and the nature of their role?

Ms Spence : The Acting Cabinet Secretary is Jamie Fox, and he is a member of the Prime Minister's staff.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So he does not remain a bureaucrat?

Ms Spence : That is correct.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Has Mr Fox moved from being a bureaucrat to being on the Prime Minister's staff?

Ms Kelly : Mr Fox is on secondment to the Department of Finance under the MOP(S) Act.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So he has gone from being under the Public Service Act to being under the MOP(S) Act?

Ms Kelly : On secondment.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: How long is that secondment for?

Ms Kelly : I do not think that it has a specific end date. I am not aware of the specific end date of it, but it is only an acting appointment.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Perhaps you could take that on notice. Could you describe for me the nature of that acting appointment? Why is it acting?

Ms Kelly : I understand that there has been no permanent appointment made to the Cabinet Secretary role.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You are looking at Senator Abetz to confirm that. Is that—

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Does the government envisage a process to permanently fill that role?

Senator Abetz: The government does intend to permanently fill that role.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: What would the process to do that be?

Senator Abetz: I dare say the answer to that is 'the normal process', but how those positions are filled I do not know.

Ms Kelly : It is a matter for the Prime Minister. We are not aware of a particular process to be followed.

Senator Abetz: If it is up to the Prime Minister, it will be the most robust of processes, I am sure.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So far the Prime Minister, it seems, has appointed an acting cabinet secretary. Do we know how long it is envisaged that they will be acting for?

Senator Abetz: Until such time as a permanent appointment is made. It stands to reason, I suppose, that a new incoming government would avail itself of an acting person in that position until such time as a permanent person can be found.

Senator FAULKNER: When a parliamentary staffer, as you have explained to us, is acting in that position, are there any particular obligations, given cabinet confidentiality and the like, that are required of such a staffer? I do not know Mr Fox's background at all. I am not suggesting anything. I just want to know what the situation is, given that this has previously been done, as you know, by members of the executive and the like. I am just interested to know whether there are any particular obligations placed on a MoPS staffer in this circumstance?

Senator Abetz: As I understand it, Mr Fox does come from PM&C and so he is on secondment to the Prime Minister's office to fulfil this role.

Senator FAULKNER: I see. I was not aware of that. Thank you for explaining that. Does that mean that he has, for example, a particular security—

Senator Abetz: Clearance et cetera?

Senator FAULKNER: clearance required for a non-member of the executive. I thought it would be, but I just wanted to double-check that.

Ms Kelly : Mr Fox is a First Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, so he would have the necessary clearances for that role, which would take him into the Acting Cabinet Secretary role.

Senator FAULKNER: As I say, I do not know the individual involved. Are you saying to us that what has happened here is that Mr Fox, the Acting Cabinet Secretary, is seconded from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Prime Minister's staff as, effectively, some form of temporary arrangement until a more permanent arrangement is put in place? Have I got that right?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator FAULKNER: And the timing is something that you are not able to—

Senator Abetz: Cannot assist on that, as to the timing.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Can you take it on notice?

Senator Abetz: Yes, of course.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I assume from the earlier conversation that you would need to take on notice how long this acting arrangement is envisaged to last?

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am also interested in what staffing arrangements—

Senator FAULKNER: Sorry, just before you move off that—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, I am still on the same subject.

Senator FAULKNER: Sorry, I thought you had moved on.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: What staffing arrangements support Mr Fox in his Cabinet Secretary role as distinct from the Cabinet Implementation Unit?

Ms Spence : There is a departmental officer who supports Mr Fox as a cabinet liaison officer, located within the office, but she is still a member of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, similar to the departmental liaison officer arrangements.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: This is distinct from the Cabinet Implementation Unit?

Ms Spence : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So there is one extra staff person. Are they also MoPS or are they still under the Public Service Act

Ms Spence : No, they are under the Public Service act.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Akin to how a DLO would be engaged? Okay. Are there special security arrangements in place for that person as well?

Ms Spence : She would have the appropriate security classification clearances to access cabinet documents.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I would also ask Minister Abetz if he could take on notice what selection process is being envisaged to permanently fill this role, given that the Prime Minister chose to establish it as an acting role.

Senator FAULKNER: I think I understand the process that relates to Mr Fox. Thank you for providing that. You said that his role in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was first assistant secretary.

Ms Kelly : Yes, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: What branch is that?

Ms Kelly : Of the Ministerial Support Division.

Senator FAULKNER: Not the cabinet secretariat?

Ms Kelly : No, it is not within the division. That division covers a range of areas—our ceremonial and hospitality area chiefly—and all of our correspondence and meeting the needs of the Prime Minister, his official residences—all of those matters.

Senator FAULKNER: Sure. In terms of the cabinet secretariat, I just thought there might be less of a learning curve for someone of similar status, in terms of a Public Service position—that this might be less of a learning curve. As I say, I do not know Mr Fox. I am not suggesting he is not eminently qualified, but why, I suppose, someone from that part of the department as opposed to the cabinet secretariat—

Ms Kelly : I cannot comment on that. Mr Fox is a very experienced public servant with a great deal of familiarity about cabinet processes, as most senior PM&C staff are.

Senator FAULKNER: The only reason I ask is that it is just interesting because of course the cabinet secretariat are dealing with this as their primary function. You cannot help with that?

Ms Kelly : No, Senator.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You mentioned that Mr Fox was particularly experienced. He had experience as an adviser to Prime Minister Howard in his previous bureaucrat roles, did he not?

Ms Kelly : I believe that is correct.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Can you tell me how Mr Fox was selected for this role?

Senator Abetz: We will take that on notice, but I think I have got a fair idea.

Senator FAULKNER: If you have got a fair idea, couldn't you share it?

Senator Abetz: No. Ministers do not have hunches.

Senator FAULKNER: We would not ask you to share it if you had an unfair idea, but given that you have got a fair idea or no idea—

Senator Abetz: We will take that on notice. I will surprise myself as to whether I am right or wrong.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Can you also outline for us the nature of Mr Fox's role as he is placed within the Prime Minister's office? Is it solely as Cabinet Secretary, or are there other functions that he performs?

Senator Abetz: I would have thought that would keep him pretty busy. We can find out for you on notice. I do not think he makes the coffee.

Ms Kelly : We are not aware that he performs any other functions, but we can take it on notice and confirm that.

Senator WONG: You have taken on notice the selection process. Is that right?

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator WONG: I did not catch whether Senator Collins asked whether there was an advertisement process.

Senator Abetz: I do not know whether that has occurred or not.

Ms Kelly : In relation to the acting appointment?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Ms Kelly : I am not aware of a process. Again, I can confirm that.

Senator WONG: So there was no—

Senator Abetz: Usually for acting positions it is because there has been a change of circumstance and you need to appoint somebody pretty quickly. So you usually do not advertise for acting positions. I have already had that in my department where people have resigned or left and you appoint an acting person whilst you go through the selection process.

Senator FAULKNER: What is not clear because of Mr Fox's current situation, which is that he is seconded from PM&C to MoP staff—he is a member of Mr Abbott's staff. Fair enough: that is clear and easily understood. What is not clear is whether the plan—and you might be able to assist in this—is to have a public servant act as Cabinet Secretary or be the Cabinet Secretary or a MoP staffer be the Cabinet Secretary. Can you assist us with that?

Senator WONG: Or a member of the executive.

Senator FAULKNER: I assumed that a member of the executive is ruled out—or a member of the executive. Correct. I assume if it is a member of the executive that they would have been appointed.

Senator Abetz: Yes. Allow me to take that on notice. I understand differing governments have had differing arrangements in relation to Cabinet Secretary. I will take that on notice. As you know, nobody from the executive has been sworn in.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes. I had assumed that, but you can correct me. I asked you whether it was likely to be a MoP staffer or a public servant, effectively. Are you able to confirm it will not be a member of the executive, or are you unable to confirm that either?

Senator Abetz: A member of the executive, as in a senator or member?

Senator FAULKNER: A member of the executive council.

Senator Abetz: Look, you never know what might happen in the future. But as far as I know that is not the intention.

Senator FAULKNER: Okay. My question on notice is, I think, clear. If you are able to provide an answer, I would appreciate it.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I believe you will need to take this on notice on the basis of the earlier discussion that you had with Senator Wong. Could you take on notice for the committee, please, to update the table on page 43 of the PM&C annual report, where you outlined the number of meetings held of cabinet, the National Security Committee and other cabinet committees. Now, I am assuming the 2012-13 figures are for that financial year, so that would essentially be to the end of the previous government. Could I ask you to update that up to this point in time, please.

Senator WONG: To assist the witnesses, if I could just give some notice of one thing, which is the total number of PM&C staff seconded to the Prime Minister's office and which of those are employed under the MOP(S) Act. Thank you. It might save some time.

CHAIR: The committee will now suspend.

Proceedings suspended from 15 : 45 to 16 : 01

CHAIR: We will recommence proceedings. Do you have a question, Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: I gave notice of a question, as opposed to putting a question on notice.

Ms Cross : Is this the number of staff in the PMO? We are just getting that information for you. We are still checking that.

Senator WONG: Do you want me to go on?

Ms Cross : It will be another couple of minutes, so either we can wait or you can go on.

Senator WONG: There is an organisational chart in your annual report. On notice, could you provide an updated one that goes down to the next level? It goes down to FAS and assistant secretary level. Can we get one which includes branch heads as well, please?

Ms Cross : Assistant secretaries are branch heads.

Senator WONG: No, you have not got all the branch heads. It stops at FAS for most, I think except for one.

Ms Cross : We can provide an organisational chart that goes to branch manager level.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I would appreciate that. Were all of the changes to the AAOs driven by MoG changes? This is as between the 18th and the 13th, is it?

Ms Cross : Yes. We spent about 24 hours moving things around in MoG to reflect the changes to the government. Then other changes, as I said, are done in a separate process.

Senator WONG: Sorry, was that an answer to my question?

Ms Cross : Yes. I was saying only things that were in those changes were MoG changes.

Senator WONG: So they were all driven by MoG changes?

Ms Cross : Yes. We are still waiting for the response on the PM&C staff in the PMO.

Ms Kelly : I can assist.

Senator WONG: Excellent.

Ms Kelly : Before I do that, can I just clarify evidence that I gave prior to the break, which was my misunderstanding. Mr Fox is actually still a PM&C employee. He is not yet under the MOP(S) Act. He is in the PMO as part of a longstanding practice for the department to provide staff to fill vacant MOP(S) Act positions for periods of up to 12 weeks.

Senator WONG: We do not dispute that. It was just that it was asserted that he was a MOP(S) staffer, which is unusual.

Ms Kelly : That was my error. I just wanted to correct that. The MOP(S) staff are currently in the PMO. They are currently PM&C employees and they will be offered MOP(S) contracts. We have three staff up there under those arrangements.

Senator WONG: Of which Mr Fox is one.

Ms Kelly : That is in addition to Mr Fox.

Senator WONG: So it is three in addition to Mr Fox?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: So there are four public servant employees, who are employed under the Public Service Act—

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: currently on secondment to the Prime Minister's Office who will be offered MOP(S) staff positions at some point?

Ms Kelly : Certainly those three employees other than Mr Fox are in the process of being offered MOP(S) contracts.

Senator WONG: Is Mr Fox also in the process of being offered that contract?

Ms Kelly : Mr Fox is there under the 12-week arrangement. That is the current arrangement. There is no arrangement beyond that point at the moment.

Senator WONG: Perhaps on notice you could give us—although we will probably get this from Finance—the full complement of staff for the Prime Minister's Office.

Ms Cross : Chair, can I seek permission to table the organisational charts for Senator Wong that she has requested?

Senator WONG: If it is just the one in the—

Ms Cross : No, this is the updated one.

Senator WONG: Okay. That was quick.

CHAIR: I do not believe there is any objection from the committee, so please table that.

Senator WONG: Since we are on staff, can we go to the process of staffing across government? Is there a staffing committee?

Ms Cross : Sorry, Senator—a staffing committee for what purpose?

Senator WONG: I would like to talk to you about the process of appointment of ministerial staff.

Ms Cross : Ministerial staff?

Senator WONG: Correct. Sorry, I thought I flagged that upfront. Is there a staffing committee? It has been reported that there is a staffing committee, which is not unusual, which is managing or helping to oversight—is that the appropriate phrase?—the appointment of ministerial staff.

Senator Abetz: At the end of the day, all these appointments are matters for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister avails himself of all forms of advice in relation to staff appointments. At the end of the day, they are the Prime Minister's decision.

Senator WONG: I do not think anything I said suggested that was not the case. I am just asking about the process. Is there a staffing committee in place? It has been reported in the press.

Senator Abetz: Yes, and Prime Minister and Cabinet has no involvement—

Senator WONG: Thank you. That was my next question. So we do not need to be worried about it. So there is a staffing committee and Prime Minister and Cabinet has no involvement in it; is that right?

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator WONG: When you see 'no involvement' I assume that means you do not attend meetings; correct? No member of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet attend such meetings?

Senator Abetz: If there were such a committee, they do not attend.

Senator WONG: Minister, you are not suggesting it is not a committee? It has been widely reported, including by your own colleagues. So do any members of the Prime Minister's department attend the meetings of the staffing committee?

Senator Abetz: That assumes that there is such a creature and—

Senator WONG: If they don't, they can say no, Minister. It is perfectly simple.

Senator Abetz: They are not involved in the appointment of the ministerial staff.

Senator WONG: That was not my question.

Senator Abetz: It has just been pointed out, which is a fair clarification, that, whilst PM&C has no involvement—no, look, we will leave it at that, because otherwise—

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister's has, and I will come to those questions shortly, Minister. I just want to establish first—and it may be the case there is none—what, if any, involvement Prime Minister and Cabinet have; and I am just going to go through that. So, you are aware of the existence of the committee, presumably?

Ms Cross : Senator, I assume we have read the same press reports as you—

Senator WONG: There you go!

Ms Cross : But I can confirm that PM&C has not attended any meetings—

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Ms Cross : of any groups of people to discuss ministerial staffing arrangement, that I am aware of—and I do not believe we have.

Senator WONG: Okay. And you will take on notice to check that.

Ms Cross : Yes, Senator.

Senator WONG: And you will clarify that, if that is not the case. But I accept that that is your answer. Has PM&C provided any support to—what did you want to call it? 'Meetings of people to discuss ministerial staffing matters'? No, not even 'meetings'—'groups of people'.

Ms Cross : I am not aware of any support being provided by PM&C.

Senator WONG: Any documentation regarding—

Ms Cross : No, Senator.

Senator WONG: Does PM&C have any involvement in collating CVs or applications for ministerial staff jobs?

Ms Cross : No, Senator.

Senator WONG: Sorry?

Ms Cross : Not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: Okay. So, Minister, is that all done in the Prime Minister's office?

Senator Abetz: Staffing appointments for ministerial—

Senator WONG: No, sorry: before we get to that point there is a whole process of application, provision of CVs—I can wait till you log on, if you want.

Senator Abetz: No, we had a technical issue before, which I hope is now resolved—but keep on.

Senator WONG: I think I have just clarified with Ms Cross that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have no role in, I suppose, any administrative function to support ministerial staffing arrangements—they do not collect CVs, applications or so forth. I think that was the evidence, Ms Cross—yes?

Ms Cross : That is what I said, Senator.

Senator WONG: So, Minister, I am asking: are those administrative functions performed by the Prime Minister's office?

Senator Abetz: I'm sorry, I was just looking at the recent emails. Can you please repeat that?

Senator WONG: On the collation of applications and CVs for ministerial staffing arrangements, we have established that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet do not undertake any of that. So I was asking you, as the minister representing, are those administrative processes undertaken in the Prime Minister's office?

Senator Abetz: I have just been told that a big state secret can be revealed: that there is such a thing as a government staff committee and PM&C has no involvement in it.

Senator WONG: I think we had got there, but thank you very much! So I can stop calling it—what did you say?

Senator Abetz: Now you have official confirmation; you no longer have to rely on 'Strewth'.

Senator WONG: I don't think it was just 'Strewth'. I no longer have to rely on—

Senator Abetz: Or Crikey!

Senator WONG: Thank you for that. I don't think anybody else was maintaining the fiction that there was not. So, Minister, given that, I am just trying to clarify the administrative process, before we get to other issues, of collating CVs, applications et cetera. Where is that done?

Senator Abetz: All in the Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: All in the Prime Minister's office?

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator WONG: For the entire ministry?

Senator Abetz: Yes. And there was a national advertisement placed, I think—I forget exactly when—for all types of positions within the ministry.

Senator WONG: How many positions would that have been?

Senator Abetz: That is a very good question. I don't know how many ministerial positions. But one would imagine they would add up to the hundreds—420, I have just been told.

Senator Abetz: That is a very good question. I do not know how many ministerial positions there are, but one would imagine they would add up to the hundreds—420, I have just been told.

Senator WONG: Is that 420 positions or 420 applications?

Senator Abetz: Positions.

Senator WONG: So presumably the number of applications would be substantially more than that, right?

Senator Abetz: One would assume so, yes.

Senator WONG: And all of these applications are being processed by the Prime Minister's Office?

Senator Abetz: That is right, and I understand the positions are the same number as were previously held in your government.

Senator WONG: I think that is about right. Who is going through the applications?

Senator Abetz: The Prime Minister's Office. I do not think we have to gratuitously refer to individuals who may or may not be tasked with various roles surrounding that.

Senator WONG: There is nothing gratuitous about it. It is pretty important. Those are the people advising the government of the day. Who is on the staffing committee?

Senator Abetz: That is a very good question.

Senator WONG: Maybe not you.

Senator Abetz: No, not me. I have been relieved of that duty, which is very helpful. Let me think. The Special Minister of State and Mr Andrews are as ministerial people, but I am not going to comment on other staff.

Senator WONG: It would be normal, wouldn't it, to have the chief of staff to the Prime Minister, for example?

Senator Abetz: It may or may not be normal, but I am not going to gratuitously trawl people's names through the Hansard in relation to that unless there is a specific relevance.

Senator FAULKNER: I think historically that information has been provided. I would ask you to perhaps reflect on the fact that decisions made by such committees affect the expenditure of government funds.

Senator Abetz: They make no decisions.

Senator FAULKNER: They make recommendations.

Senator Abetz: They do.

Senator FAULKNER: To whom?

Senator Abetz: The Prime Minister.

Senator FAULKNER: I accept that it is a serious committee, and governments of both political persuasions have had such processes. There is nothing wrong with it. I personally think it is not a bad thing that you have a serious assessment of people likely to be ministerial staff in the broad. That is an important principle. Yes, sure, they make recommendations to prime ministers. Prime ministers expect committees like that to do a pretty thorough job. So effectively their decisions are important. I would have thought it was a very straightforward thing to provide the membership of the committee. Historically these things have tended to be comprised of some members of parliament and some senior staffers. That is how they work. The membership of them has always been provided at committees like this. If you are not willing to give—

Senator Abetz: I am not sure that is the case but I will take it on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: If you are not willing to provide the information this afternoon, I really would ask you to go away and consider this and reflect on it. At the end of the day, it is a question on notice, I suppose, for Mr Abbott or his department. But I would strongly encourage that the current government be as transparent as previous governments and provide that information. There are no real secrets in it.

Senator Abetz: You nearly had me until you said 'as previous governments'. But your encouragement to be transparent is appreciated!

Senator FAULKNER: The reason I said that—and I think that is a reasonable thing to me to say to you—is that previously this information has been provided at this committee. Anyway, I ask you to consider that. I think precedent would argue strongly for it being provided again.

Senator WONG: My question is: who are the members of the ministerial staffing committee? Is that the name? Is that what you would like me to call it?

Senator Abetz: That is a very polite name.

Senator WONG: I do not mind what you want me to call it; I just want to know what you want me to call it.

Senator Abetz: The government staffing committee will do fine.

Senator WONG: The government staffing committee—thank you.

Senator FAULKNER: Who acts as its secretary, please?

Senator Abetz: That I do not know.

Senator FAULKNER: Could you take that on notice.

Senator Abetz: Yes, of course. But the chair of it is the Hon. Kevin Andrews MP, and the Special Minister of State sits on it. They are the two parliamentarians, and I will find out for you who the staff are.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I appreciate that. Just so I am clear, perhaps you can explain to me or to the committee what their role is. Is it to make recommendations to the Prime Minister? Do they determine a number of appointments which are then advised directly to relevant ministers without recourse to the Prime Minister? Can you just take me through how that operates.

Senator Abetz: They have a look at the applications and try to match applications with the specific jobs. But, at the end of the day, all they do is recommend; they do not decide.

Senator WONG: To whom do they recommend?

Senator Abetz: To the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: But presumably the Prime Minister does not sign off on every appointment—or does the Prime Minister consider and sign off on every appointment across the 420?

Senator Abetz: It is ultimately the Prime Minister's decision.

Senator WONG: That was not my question.

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice and see whether he does or does not.

Senator WONG: It goes to the answer you gave to an earlier question. It would seem to me logical that you might have some which you would want the Prime Minister's engagement, but there are a lot of things the Prime Minister does. Presumably you would also have appointments that ministers bring to the staffing committee, saying, 'I'd like to appoint X, Y and Z.' This was your experience, I am sure, Minister, and others as well. Ministers say, 'I'd like to appoint X, Y or Z,' and the staffing committee says, 'Yea to X and Y; Z we've got a few issues with; come back and have a chat with us about it,' or something like that, and that would not involve the Prime Minister at all.

Senator Abetz: I am not going to get into the mechanics of it. It is not an official part of government as such; it is not to do with Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator WONG: It is an official part of government, because it deals with recommendations about—

Senator Abetz: It is an informal mechanism whereby the Prime Minister helps inform himself as to who would be appropriate appointments into various ministerial offices.

Senator WONG: Sure, which are positions funded by taxpayers, so there is obviously an interest there. But I am just trying to clarify. It would just seem a very onerous process if the Prime Minister himself were asked to sign off on all 420 appointments. I cannot imagine that happened when you were on the staffing committee, Senator. I doubt that it would have happened in the former government staffing committees that you would get the Prime Minister to agree to every EA appointment across the ministry. So what I am trying to clarify is that you have said the committee recommends to the Prime Minister; that is fair enough. Let us put it this way: are ministers required to go to the committee before appointing staff?

Senator Abetz: As I understand the official position, the ministers do not actually appoint the staff; the Prime Minister appoints ministerial staff.

Senator WONG: Okay. So that would mean that, if a minister had a chief of staff appointment or an executive assistant appointment, all of them would have to be ticked off by the Prime Minister. Is that what your evidence is?

Senator Abetz: Ostensibly, that is the way it works, yes.

Senator WONG: What does 'ostensibly' mean?

Senator Abetz: I dare say you would have access to a dictionary.

Senator FAULKNER: Minister, I might refer you to Prime Minister and Cabinet question PM23, which is an answer to an additional estimates question in 2010-11. The question was asked by Senator Ryan; it was a written question. The topic was 'Government Staffing Committee/Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff'. The questions, which were answered by the due date, were:

1. Who are the members of the Government Staffing Committee?

2. Does it have specific guidelines or remit?

3. Is there a Government Staffing Committee Secretariat?

4. Have any Ministerial Staff or electorate officers been sanctioned under the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff?

5. How many times has the government staffing committee met? If so when did they meet?

Those questions were all answered in full, including the precise dates of the 13 times the government staffing committee met. That is why I said to you before that there is a very strong precedent here about these sorts of process questions being answered. I would respectfully ask you to look at that answer to that written question on notice—

Senator Abetz: We are more than happy to.

Senator FAULKNER: And I would hope that the newly elected government would adhere to the same levels of transparency that we had previously at the committee during the life of the previous administration.

Senator Abetz: It is interesting that that question was clearly taken on notice, by the look of it, and as it was a question on notice that is what I have done.

Senator FAULKNER: No, Minister; I said clearly to you that it was a written question on notice—I acknowledge that; it was a written question on notice—and you are being asked questions from senators across the table. I appreciate that; I just thought it would be helpful for you to understand that background.

Senator Abetz: All background gratefully received.

Senator WONG: To cut to the chase, I will reprise all five questions of that question on notice, which was PM 23 from additional estimates 2010-11. Minister, from your own knowledge is consideration by the staffing committee of ministerial appointments limited to particular levels, seniority of staff, or not? I keep coming back to the executive assistant or office manager positions.

Senator Abetz: As I understand it it is all ministerial staff. If I need to correct that I will come back to you.

Senator WONG: So I think it would be a change—it was only senior staff under the previous arrangement. Are you aware of what the process is if ministers would like to recommend particular senior staff for particular roles? Do they write to the staffing committee; do they write to the Prime Minister?

Senator Abetz: Undoubtedly it would be all of the above, and there are possibly ways of doing it as well that I cannot think of. One would imagine it would be in written form with a recommendation.

Senator WONG: How can it be all of the above? Do they write to the Prime Minister, do they write to the chief of staff, do they write to the committee? What is the process? You appointed staff; how did you do it?

Senator Abetz: At the end of the day it is the Prime Minister's decision and all this committee does is play an advisory role as a result of which, and it stands to reason, some applications will be by way of writing to the committee or there might, for example, be informal discussion with the committee as to whether John Faulkner might be a good appointment to such and such a role and would that be favourably considered, before submitting the name. One imagines—this is why I said 'all of the above'—it is not one straitjacketed approach but various approaches may well be taken.

Senator FAULKNER: We appreciate that, but if that happens there must be a decision maker.

Senator Abetz: Yes, and that is the Prime Minister.

Senator FAULKNER: So he makes all the decisions on all government staff—that is what you are saying.

Senator Abetz: At the end of the day that is where the responsibility ends.

Senator FAULKNER: It is not a question of the end of the day—you are saying that the Prime Minister makes decisions on all government staffing appointments. I find that perplexing. You warned me earlier in the hearings, of course, to be very careful about The Australian newspaper—

Senator Abetz: I am not sure that I did, did I?

Senator FAULKNER: Yes you did—you were surprised that I read a clip—

Senator Abetz: I thought that was the Chair.

Senator FAULKNER: I thought it was you.

CHAIR: It was specifically about 'Strewth'.

Senator Abetz: I did warn you about reading 'Strewth' but, as to reading News Ltd newspapers, that was a refreshing insight into your character to me but I do not think I commented on it.

Senator FAULKNER: I am pleased you had that refreshing insight and I am going to give you another one. I have informed you that I read newspaper clips—not exhaustively but my fair share, as we all do over the years. In the Australian newspaper of 6 November 2013—this may or may not be accurate, but I will just quote it to you:

The fun and games continue in the Coalition's star chamber, which is still knocking back experienced staffers for one reason or another. One who's yet to gain the tick of approval is Eric Abetz's longtime chief of staff Chris Fryar. Fryar has been relegated to "acting COS"—

that is, chief of staff—

after being rejected several times by Tony Nutt and his team of inquisitors.

Is this a reasonable example where the Prime Minister has refused to appoint a chief of staff in your own office? That is what you are saying to us?

Senator Abetz: I would not rely on the whole article too much. The pejorative term of 'star chamber', I think, should indicate—

Senator FAULKNER: You were a fan of the Australian a moment ago.

Senator Abetz: to you the basic tenor of that article, when it starts referring to 'star chamber' et cetera. At the end of the day, my staffing positions—and it is very kind of you to be concerned about the staffing arrangements within my ministerial office—

Senator FAULKNER: Truthfully, I am not. I am just trying to understand the process.

Senator Abetz: It is very touching that you are so concerned, but positions are being filled as we speak.

Senator WONG: So is Mr Fryar acting chief of staff or chief of staff?

Senator Abetz: He is neither.

Senator WONG: Was he your acting chief of staff?

Senator Abetz: He was indeed my acting chief of staff.

Senator WONG: Until when?

Senator Abetz: Until relatively recently and he is now a senior adviser in my office.

Senator WONG: Do you have a chief of staff?

Senator Abetz: I do indeed.

Senator FAULKNER: How many ministerial staff are there, again?

Senator Abetz: Four hundred and twenty.

Senator FAULKNER: And you are saying to us that the Prime Minister makes the decision of the appointment of each and every one of those 420?

Senator Abetz: At the end of the day, he takes responsibility for all of them.

Senator FAULKNER: He takes responsibility. Fair enough. I just want to know who the decision-maker is.

Senator Abetz: It is the Prime Minister.

Senator FAULKNER: The Prime Minister is the decision-maker. So he makes the decision on each and every one of those?

Senator WONG: So if we asked the Prime Minister why Mr Fryar was not appointed, he would be able to tell us?

Senator Abetz: He would advise that, in all the circumstances, the arrangements in various offices are determined in a manner that is believed to best serve the government and the people of Australia.

Senator WONG: If the process you are suggesting is the government's process, it would not be possible, would it, for the Prime Minister of the day to read the applications, CVs et cetera of candidates for 420 positions. Unless you stop doing—

Senator Abetz: Nobody has ever suggested that he has or does.

Senator WONG: Let's work at it this way. You have been through this process.

Senator Abetz: He acts on advice, and I have indicated that to you before—

Senator WONG: The advice of the Government Staffing Committee?

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator WONG: Is that advice provided in writing?

Senator Abetz: To whom?

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister. You said he is the decision-maker and he acts on advice. Is the advice provided to the Prime Minister in writing?

Senator Abetz: I would have to take that on notice. I am not sure on that detail.

Senator WONG: Sure. Perhaps we can go from the knowledge of your own process. In order to fill staff, did you write to the Prime Minister or did you write to the Government Staffing Committee recommending the appointment of a particular person or persons in your office? Is that the way the process is initiated?

Senator Abetz: That is a good question. From recollection, I think I wrote to the Government Staffing Committee.

Senator WONG: And who did you write to you on that committee?

Senator Abetz: I would have to remind myself, but it may well have been one of the staff members of that committee or it may have been to the chair of the committee.

Senator WONG: Perhaps you could take that on notice.

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator WONG: And at some point you were advised of a decision in relation to your correspondence?

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator WONG: How were you informed of that?

Senator Abetz: I am just trying to think—in writing, yes, but also, I have been advised, verbally, and then later on it is confirmed in writing.

Senator WONG: Let's do the verbal advice first. Who advised you verbally?

Senator Abetz: I do not want to go into the details, because it varies because there are different people on the committee that have differing roles. I have had discussions with a number of the people on the committee.

Senator WONG: Who are the number of people?

Senator Abetz: I am not going to go through the detail of how the staff in my office were appointed—

Senator WONG: No, I am not asking about particular staff members, Senator Abetz. I am asking about a process to appoint people to taxpayer funded positions. You have said you write to the staffing committee; you will take on notice who you wrote to. You then said you had been advised about decisions, both verbally and in writing. So first, verbally. I am asking you: who advised you verbally?

Senator Abetz: A number of people.

Senator WONG: Who are they? There cannot have been a hundred. Surely you remember.

Senator Abetz: The committee has a number of members on it and the committee, from time to time, delegates different people to talk with different ministers.

Senator WONG: To give the good or the bad news.

Senator Abetz: Or to ask further questions or to consider further options or to consider further elements, and that is an appropriate way. It is an iterative process, if I can use that terminology.

Senator WONG: I am asking you who spoke to you. It is something within your knowledge.

Senator Abetz: I am not going to go through all the names with you.

Senator WONG: On what basis, Minister?

Senator Abetz: I am not sure that it necessarily assists this process for you to know with whom I may or may not have had private conversations.

Senator WONG: It is not a private conversation, Minister.

Senator Abetz: No, it is. It is the ultimate decision—and I have told you that the ultimate decision was made by the Prime Minister. I am not going to take you through the iterative process: I spoke to A about this person and what scale might be an appropriate scale et cetera, et cetera.

Senator WONG: Can we stop there. I want to place clearly on record that I am not asking questions about pay rates at this point. I am not asking questions about individuals. I am simply asking who.

Senator Abetz: I am sorry—all of that is part of the iterative process. So when you ask the question as to with whom did you speak about these matters, then that is what, if you do not want to know about the people, if you do not want to know about the salary band or position they were put on, I can tell you that I was officially informed in writing in correspondence as to each position and the band and position.

Senator WONG: Let's just recap here, because there are a lot of words. It is a very simple set of questions about the appointment to taxpayer funded positions and the appointment process under this government. You have given evidence that you write to the staffing committee requesting certain appointments, and you are informed of decisions in various ways—you said verbally and in writing. I am simply asking: who informed you verbally about your request from the staffing committee?

Senator Abetz: But that goes right into the question of the discussions—

Senator WONG: Which part of that—

Senator Abetz: The verbal aspects—

Senator WONG: I am not asking about the content of the discussion. You yourself proferred the evidence, after questioning—you write in and you get an answer back, or you get communication back, and you said some of it verbal, some of it written. We will come to written shortly. I am simply asking: from whom was the communication verbally?

Senator Abetz: From a number of people.

Senator WONG: Who?

Senator Abetz: No, I am not going to trawl through their names.

Senator WONG: Why is it a state secret; why is it that people advising ministers of the Crown or people telling ministers of the Crown who they can or cannot appoint cannot be identified?

Senator Abetz: Because that suggests that all they are doing is ringing me about the actual person to be appointed. They may well be asking about or confirming certain other advice. And, as I indicated earlier, it is an iterative process, as one would expect it to be. At the end of the day, the taxpayers are entitled to know who is appointed and at what level and band, and all that is publicly made available. And they are also entitled to know who made the decision, and I am telling you it was the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, it is a very simple question, and I am not seeking to get disclosed the contents of what you describe as private conversations. These are perfectly legitimate questions about the process of appointing people to ministerial offices. These are very important appointments, and I am simply asking: to whom are you referring when you say 'various people communicated with me after my requests about staffing'? I can tell you now, I will not even ask a question about what; I will not even go into it. I cannot speak for Senator Dastyari or Senator Faulkner, but I will not even go into the content of those discussions. I just want to know who. It is pretty simple.

Senator Abetz: Well, all you need to know is that at the end of the day it was decided by the Prime Minister as to who would be appointed to my ministerial staff and to the staff of my ministerial colleagues.

Senator WONG: 'All I need to know'?

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator WONG: That is the standard of transparency under this government, is it? 'All you need to know'? 'All you need to know', says the minister. 'Sorry, taxpayers. We have ministerial staff that you pay for, but all you need to know is this.' Well, Senator—

Senator Abetz: No, this is gratuitous trawling for names.

Senator WONG: Well, you just used a very unfortunate turn of phrase. You might like to withdraw it and do something else; I don't know.

Senator Abetz: Sorry—

Senator WONG: So, you are refusing to tell the Senate estimates committee—

CHAIR: Order! Perhaps we could have just one person at a time. Senator Wong, I think it is appropriate to allow the minister to respond to what you just said.

Senator Abetz: I am not sure what term I used that may have occasioned offence or concern—

Senator WONG: 'All you need to know', you said.

Senator Abetz: And I think from a transparency point of view the people of Australia are entitled to know who has been appointed and who made the decision and the remuneration. Now, whether questions were raised about the appropriateness of a particular band that was suggested et cetera, at the end of the day it is the actual decision that is of interest, and that is what we are more than willing to lay open before this committee. But as for how one arrives at those decisions, there are a lot of privacy and other considerations that I am not prepared to compromise.

Senator WONG: Can I ask who wrote to you, then? You said 'verbally or in writing'. Who wrote to you?

Senator Abetz: I think—and I will stand corrected—all of the correspondence was signed off by the chief of staff to the Prime Minister, but if that is incorrect I will come back to you.

Senator WONG: So all correspondence to you about staffing was signed off by the chief of staff?

Senator Abetz: That is to the best of my recollection, but I am happy to come back to the committee if that is not correct.

Senator WONG: I have a bit more on this. I will go to Senator Siewert in a second, but I have just one question. Are there people on the committee who are not members of parliament or staffers?

Senator Abetz: Not that I can think of, but I will take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to follow up on some areas—and I realise that this no longer belongs here—and an overarching question around social inclusion and not-for-profit reform. In terms of the social inclusion board, as I understand it the responsibilities for the issues they looked at have gone to the Department of Social Services. Is that correct?

Ms Cross : Yes, generally, that is correct. So, responsibility for not-for-profit volunteering and philanthropy has transferred to the Department of Social Services. They are the ones that appeared in the administrative arrangements order.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I am trying to find out what is happening with the things in the gaps between those. Social inclusion is not just about that, and with not-for-profit reform—and I do want to ask you a couple of questions about not-for-profit reform—there are other issues. Who picks those up now?

Ms Cross : The arrangements under the previous government for social inclusion were that there was a Social Inclusion Board. They were supported within PM&C with a Social Inclusion Unit. That board, and the support for that board, was discontinued. In general terms, a lot of the work on social inclusion was carried out by other departments on issues like homelessness. The coordination of that has ceased but the work on homelessness and those sorts of issues continues.

Senator SIEWERT: That is what I wanted to know. So that has ceased. That work was happening before, and we all know that a lot of problems happen when things are occurring in isolation and people are not dealing with the complexity of the issue because it had been compartmentalised. So what I understand, from what you just said, is that no-one is doing that anymore.

Ms Cross : No, there are still a lot of things that happen across government for very disadvantaged people. There are still a number of place based trials which have continued and which are coordinated across government. So that work continues, but the Social Inclusion Board and the particular work supporting it has ceased in PM&C.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, are you talking about the place based—

Ms Cross : I think there were a number of trials that, as I recall—

Senator SIEWERT: We are talking about the place based trials now.

Ms Cross : I will get Helen McDevitt to answer the question in detail about how they are managed now.

Ms McDevitt : The place based trials were always the responsibility of the Department of Human Services and the relevant minister, and there was engagement from a number of other agencies that would now be the Department of Social Services that would actually have the other main policy responsibility.

Senator SIEWERT: So they will have the main policy responsibility for the place based trials. When you are talking about the areas of very high disadvantage, and addressing issues associated with the areas of high disadvantage, are the only things that are happening now the place based trials?

Ms Cross : No, Senator, there are a range of government responses that will continue. So, in some very disadvantaged areas, there will still be local efforts around jobs, where they look at the long-term unemployed; there are family based centres that the Department of Social Services run, which again take a whole-of-government approach to families and young children. All of that work continues.

Senator SIEWERT: But who oversees that? Who is looking at that? From a whole-of-government perspective, where does the responsibility sit?

Ms McDevitt : The majority of the responsibility would now sit in the Department of Social Services. They have had a number of policy and program areas brought together. So income support policies and payments, as well as ageing and disability, settlement services and multiculturalism, have come together in that department. So a lot of programs that sat across different departments prior to the change of government now sit with the Department of Social Services. And the Department of Human Services, through its national network of offices, are still closely involved in delivery—

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, as I said, they are delivery; they are not policy.

Ms McDevitt : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Thank you. If we are talking about issues of poverty specifically, do they also have the responsibility for addressing the issues around poverty?

Ms Cross : Not specifically, Senator.

Senator SIEWERT: Is there anybody now looking at those issues?

Ms Cross : Different departments, from time to time, have looked at that, in any case. It is an issue in terms of measurement. You could check with Treasury, but I suspect from time to time they look at that as an issue of measurement. I know that the Department of Education, when Employment was in there, looked at issues of how you would measure poverty. And of course, when reports are put out, all governments would look at those aspects of reports pertinent to their portfolio.

Senator SIEWERT: So there is nobody with direct responsibility for poverty, however?

Ms Cross : No, Senator.

Senator SIEWERT: I realise some of the money that was allocated to the Social Inclusion Board has been spent. Did the remaining money get transferred to DSS, or has that just gone back to the budget?

Ms Cross : Funding for the functions I mentioned earlier—not-for-profit volunteering and philanthropy and for the staff working on that—was transferred to the Department of Social Services.

Senator SIEWERT: So for those three sections it has gone over but the rest of it has gone back into—

Ms Cross : The rest of it has been redirected within our portfolio for other priorities.

Senator SIEWERT: How much for those three areas was transferred?

Ms McDevitt : In terms of the resources transferred to the Department of Social Services, there were six staff and there was $2.873 million of administered funding.

Senator SIEWERT: And the remaining resources were reallocated?

Ms Cross : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: How much is that?

Ms Cross : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could, that would be great. Specifically with the not-for-profit reform that has gone, has it all now gone over as it was previously, or has it been modified? Has that process that was ongoing before gone over—

Ms Cross : The Not-For-Profit Sector Reform Council and the coordination function within PM&C is no longer being continued. Some functions were already the responsibility of the Treasury; others are now the responsibility of the Department of Social Services.

Senator SIEWERT: So the coordination has not gone across, but have some of those functions beyond the coordination that were being undertaken gone across—like the national compact for example?

Ms Cross : Insofar as they are relevant to the government's priorities, those resources and functions have been transferred.

Senator SIEWERT: I will follow that up specifically on Wednesday or Thursday, whichever day it is. What happens to the national compact? Does it still exist?

Ms Cross : You would need to check that with Social Services as they are now responsible for that, and that would be a decision for the incoming minister.

Senator SIEWERT: Just so I am clear—that has been transferred, so there has not been a decision to not proceed with the compact as yet? That has gone over to DSS. Is that correct?

Ms McDevitt : The government has not made any decisions either way, so the responsibilities for the not-for-profit sector transferred to the Department of Social Services. You would have to take it up with that department and the relevant minister.

Senator SIEWERT: Does the transfer of responsibility to DSS include all the not-for-profit reform? In speaking of not-for-profits, we are not just talking about those that interact on social services and advocacy or provide community services. Has the whole lot of the not-for-profit reform gone over, or are you now only looking at that reform of those community services that naturally would be part of DSS, in terms of that relationship?

Ms Cross : Even when the function was in PM&C, a number of departments were involved in supporting not-for-profit reform because a lot of departments contract or work with not-for-profit organisations. That all continues. What has ceased in PM&C is the Not-For-Profit Sector Reform Council and that coordination function being carried out by PM&C. Should the Department of Social Services, which is now responsible for the not-for-profit sector, want to coordinate more broadly, that would be a question you would refer to them, as they are now responsible for that.

Senator SIEWERT: But the work that the Not-For-Profit Sector Reform Council and the unit within PM&C were undertaking affected all not-for-profits. I understand what you are saying about various agencies also having their own not-for-profits that they coordinate with, but those decisions that compact those sorts of things also related to all not-for-profits. I am talking about advocacy groups, environment groups, sporting groups et cetera.

Ms McDevitt : The responsibility that was in Prime Minister and Cabinet was an advising and a coordinating role, so the broad responsibility for the sector has shifted to the Department of Social Services.

Senator SIEWERT: So is it your understanding that that function is still to be carried out?

Ms Cross : That is a decision for their minister in view of the government's priorities. They will look at all of the functions that were transferred and make decisions in accordance with the new government's priorities.

Senator SIEWERT: So I should follow that up with DSS.

Senator MOORE: The only formal link with the not-for-profit sector and your department, PM&C, is now with anything that is in the Indigenous space. Is that right? There was a lot of focus on PM&C talking with the not-for-profit sector across a whole range of areas. I have been listening carefully to your answers, and it seems that, issue by issue, you have said that it is now in DSS. That is fine; it is for their area. I am wondering about the relationship between the formal central agency and the not-for-profit sector.

Ms Cross : The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet supports the Prime Minister across a range of policy areas. If an issue about the not-for-profit sector came up, we would provide advice on that in the same way as we would on schools, the economy or any range of policy matters if it was important to provide that advice to the Prime Minister. So we will retain that responsibility—

Senator MOORE: Yes, in advice provision.

Ms Cross : but that is not the line delivery responsibility we used to have.

Senator MOORE: Or formal consultative processes.

Ms Cross : That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: Previously, there was a role played by PM&C in some of the coordination of the allocations that were made for the pay equity cases. Does that go over to DSS as well?

Mr Hazlehurst : Are you referring to the SACS award cases?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Hazlehurst : No, in fact, that part of PM&C's responsibilities remains the same, because PM&C has two parts—one part that shadows the now Employment portfolio, where those matters still reside, and the other part that deals with Commonwealth-state relations as it relates to the agreements with the states around supplementation that was flowing under agreements with the states.

Senator SIEWERT: Should I go to the various agencies—like I used to—to ask questions about the take-up and all that sort of stuff?

Mr Hazlehurst : The specific questions about take-up on specific programs? Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: But you are still responsible for that coordination?

Mr Hazlehurst : Many of those matters are now resolved, but, to the extent that there is, particularly, continued engagement with the states, we would still be involved in that.

Senator SIEWERT: Does the commitment to the rollout of those payments remain the same?

Mr Hazlehurst : Yes, that is correct. I am not sure that all of the states have yet signed the partnership agreements that were provided to them, but those commitments still stand. Mr Sloan might be able to provide some additional information.

Mr Sloan : Six of the eight states have accepted that agreement.

Senator SIEWERT: Instead of asking who is in, I will ask who is out.

Mr Sloan : Queensland and Western Australia have yet to agree.

Senator SIEWERT: WA hasn't?

Mr Sloan : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that for the specific Commonwealth-state part of it?

Mr Sloan : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Right, I will take that expression off my face. WA still have not reached that agreement.

Mr Sloan : They have not agreed to the NP offered to them, that is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I just want to be crystal clear: barring the two sign-ups of the states, all the commitments that were made in terms of meeting the top-up will continue; there will be no claw-back. I am trying to get really crystal clear here.

Mr Sloan : The offers for the Fair Work Australia ruling, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

Senator MOORE: Is your department still following up the outstanding states?

Mr Sloan : We are still working with the states and we are still talking to them to try and get a resolution, correct.

Senator MOORE: And is there any time frame on that? When the agreement was first determined, there were dates in terms of the future. As we stand today, what is the expectation?

Mr Sloan : To my knowledge there is no time frame on those.

Senator MOORE: Okay.

CHAIR: Thank you. I am going to go to Senator McLucas.

Senator McLUCAS: Thank you, Chair. I have a question about the National Mental Health Commission, which I thought might flow from previous discussion. I understand that the commission was located in Prime Minister and Cabinet and that there has been a decision made to move that now to the Department of Health. Is that correct?

Ms Cross : Yes, that is correct.

Senator McLUCAS: Can you explain to the committee what the previous staffing in Prime Minister and Cabinet was to be able to support the operations of the commission?

Ms Cross : The staff of the National Mental Health Commission were employed in the National Mental Health Commission, and those staff have moved across to the Health portfolio. Within PM&C, as with any other area of government policy, we have some people in the health branch that would provide advice to the Prime Minister if necessary on mental health issues or the National Mental Health Commission, and that has not changed with the move of the commission.

Senator McLUCAS: Sorry, Ms Cross, I missed the last sentence.

Ms Cross : I was just saying that we still have staff in our normal staffing; that has not changed, because the commission still exists—mental health is still an important policy issue—so we still have staff that advise on that if necessary.

Senator McLUCAS: But their work will change.

Ms Cross : Well, our staff provide advice to the Prime Minister. Where the Mental Health Commission is situated does not really change.

Senator McLUCAS: So PM&C did not provide any secretariat-type support to the commission previously?

Ms Cross : No. In the initial set-up, we had a larger role until the commission was set up, but not on an ongoing basis.

Senator McLUCAS: Was the funding for the operation of the commission previously in PM&C's budget or was it in Health?

Ms McDevitt : It was previously part of the PM&C portfolio budget, but the budget was allocated to the commission itself, and it was up to the commission itself, pretty much, how they allocated their budget. So we did not have a day-to-day role in setting their budget.

Senator McLUCAS: And is it expected that that funding method will now move to Health?

Ms Cross : Yes. As far as I am aware it will be the same arrangement.

Senator McLUCAS: And how much was that, under the last allocation?

Ms Cross : We might have to take that on notice. We might be able to get it quickly, but I do not know that we have it at hand.

Senator McLUCAS: Thank you. What are the transition arrangements?

Ms Cross : The Mental Health Commission as a unit now reports to the Minister for Health—or the Assistant Minister for Health, whoever has taken on responsibility in that portfolio for the agency. So, because they were not part of the department, there was no real need for transition; it is just that they now report separately. Part of the transition was to communicate that to the commission, and they communicated that to stakeholders.

Senator McLUCAS: And previously the commission reported to the Prime Minister. Is that right?

Ms Cross : Yes, that was the reporting arrangement—through a minister assisting the Prime Minister on mental health, but in the PM&C portfolio.

Senator McLUCAS: Of course; that is right. It is important that mental health is not a health issue alone; we all know that. So what arrangements are being put in place so that the breadth of issues that affect people who have mental illness are going to be able to be included by the moving of the commission from Prime Minister and Cabinet, where there is clearly access to a whole range of areas other than health alone? Let me ask the question in another way.

Ms Cross : I think one of the most important parts of mental health is that it is not just the Commonwealth government; it is an issue for Commonwealth and state governments. So, as necessary, the Mental Health Commission will continue to report to COAG. COAG, as you know, is managed by PM&C, so we will still have a role through COAG in seeing what is happening in mental health, and they put out an annual report card to COAG. Within the Department of Health, the government has initiated some reviews of mental health programs across the Commonwealth. Of course, as it is something that is important to the Prime Minister, we will be involved in that and provide advice on that as that proceeds.

Senator McLUCAS: I think I am talking more about operational matters. By locating the commission in Prime Minister and Cabinet, certainly it is much easier to have access to a range of other departments in the Commonwealth alone. I take your point about the states and territories, but let us talk just about the Commonwealth. Surely it was much easier to connect up with the other policy areas by being located in Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Ms Cross : I do not dispute the feeling that, if something is in PM&C, you have easier access, but there are a number of other policy areas, such as homelessness and disability, where the same would apply. So not everything is located in PM&C all the time. At the moment that is a decision that has been taken. The Health portfolio will still be able to raise things at a whole-of-government level and have access to mechanisms like interdepartmental committees which PM&C would support them on and participate in. There are a number of areas of government where you have to work across portfolios, and there are ways of managing that.

Senator McLUCAS: Who made the decision for the commission to move to Health?

Ms Cross : It was a machinery of government change. Those decisions are all made by the Prime Minister.

Senator McLUCAS: Do you know what consultations the Prime Minister undertook prior to making that decision?

Ms Cross : No, I do not.

Senator McLUCAS: Would you know if he had?

Ms Cross : Only in the general sense that I know that in the lead-up to the election they had a number of policy commitments about mental health and would have had discussions around them, but not beyond that. Sorry.

Senator McLUCAS: But you are not aware of any consultation that he undertook on coming to government in making that decision?

Ms Cross : I am not.

Senator McLUCAS: It follows the same line of questioning from Senator Siewert: there will not be any people whose area of policy responsibility will be specifically around mental health in Prime Minister and Cabinet. It will be more of the generic nature of social policy advice.

Ms McDevitt : We have an area in my division in PM&C that looks after a number of areas of health, including mental health. We do not have a dedicated staff person, but there is certainly a team that looks at mental health as well as other health matters, and we engage with the Department of Health, the area that has responsibility for mental health. Senator, I do have some of those figures for you for the National Mental—

Senator Abetz: Just before you do that, Ms McDevitt, may I inquire, Senator McLucas, how long you think you will be on this bracket. Cabinet is beckoning, and I understand that at about 5.30 we are going to move to questions to the Office for Women. I am just wondering if we could continue with the mental health stream of questions now, and then move on to the Office for Women, if that were to suit the committee.

CHAIR: Senator Abetz, we did discuss earlier the arrangements for today, and the intention is to stick with the program—except there have been some requests for flexibility. I will look to Senator Wong, because it may be that we will continue with this thread until the dinner break or thereabouts.

Senator Abetz: You know me: I am all in favour of flexible workplace arrangements!

Senator WONG: I am going to use that! As I understand it, the program is a guide and obviously, historically, there has been flexibility. But I am very conscious of the minister's need to attend cabinet—

Senator Abetz: And that is why I am flagging it.

Senator WONG: So I understand Senator McLucas had—

Senator Abetz: To find out whether there is a government staff committee or not.

Senator WONG: I am sorry?

Senator Abetz: To find out whether there is a government staff committee or not.

CHAIR: Anyway, let's not get into a debate. Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Well, if you could come back armed with that advice, that would be fantastic!

CHAIR: Senator Wong, now is your moment.

Senator WONG: I understand that Senator McLucas has five minutes more questioning on this. Senator Moore will handle questions in relation to the women's portfolio, from the opposition's perspective. I cannot speak for the Greens et cetera. We have more for PM&C, the department.

Senator Abetz: Of course!

CHAIR: The dinner break is scheduled for 6.30. And at the moment, after Senator McLucas, Senator Dastyari has indicated he has some questions.

Senator WONG: So we go back to PM&C and then we can start the Office for Women at quarter to?

CHAIR: At quarter to six?

Senator FAULKNER: That will take us to the dinner break, and then after the dinner break go back—

CHAIR: Do you have questions for the COAG Reform Council?

Senator WONG: I have more questions for the department.

CHAIR: The purpose being: do we want to call the COAG Reform Council back after the dinner break, given that they are scheduled to appear beforehand?

Senator WONG: I would probably prefer to come back to the department first.

Senator FAULKNER: Chair, I wondered if any of the other offices, like IGIS—

CHAIR: Senator Faulkner, I know you are trying to help. What we will do is continue in this vein of questioning and then, if you can indicate to me privately or to Senator Lundy which agencies you may not require after dinner, we can facilitate that.

Senator FAULKNER: If there are any, we will do that. But, at this stage, Chair, as I understand it—

CHAIR: At a quarter to six we are going to the Office for Women.

Senator FAULKNER: At quarter to six we will go to Senator Moore and others, and then—

CHAIR: We may come back to PM&C after that.

Senator FAULKNER: At 7.30?

Senator WONG: After the break?

CHAIR: Yes.

Senator Abetz: After the break. All right. Senator Dastyari, are your questions related to PM&C?

Senator DASTYARI: They are related to the minister, but I just need one or two very small clarifications.

Senator Abetz: Can we do that after the dinner break, if that is okay—

CHAIR: We can do that after Senator McLucas.

Senator Abetz: because if it is part of the more controversial areas that we were—

Senator FAULKNER: Well, I want to ask something that you might consider controversial. I don't; I think it's just a—

Senator WONG: Especially if we don't say 'Her Majesty'. Apparently, that's controversial!

Senator FAULKNER: Should I, usefully, do that now, before you go, Senator Abetz, or what?

CHAIR: No, I think we should conclude Senator McLucas's line of questioning—five more minutes—and then you can work out amongst yourselves what questions you want to ask. Senator McLucas.

Senator FAULKNER: If Senator Cash is going to be at the table, it will be fine. They are mainly process questions.

CHAIR: Senator McLucas.

Senator McLUCAS: I just want to ask some questions about the Prime Minister's Council on Homelessness and how PM&C related with the Prime Minister's council previously, please. The council was—

Ms Cross : The secretariat for the council was run out of the then FaHCSIA department, now the Department of Social Services. At least for some meetings, PM&C attended, and the council reported to the Prime Minister; and we provided advice on those reports and supported the Prime Minister.

Senator McLUCAS: Did you provide coordination from PM&C along the same vein? The principles that sit behind mental health also sit around homelessness. Did Prime Minister and Cabinet staff provide coordination to the Prime Minister's Council on Homelessness?

Ms Yeend : The coordination arrangements for the Prime Minister's Council on Homelessness were provided by the former Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Senator McLUCAS: Then they would request you to coordinate to seek input from other departments, or they did it themselves?

Ms Yeend : All of the arrangements for the meetings, including the secretariat services, were done by that department. I think it was the practice of the former first assistant secretary of the Office of Work and Family to sit as an observer at that meeting.

Senator McLUCAS: At all meetings?

Ms Yeend : I am not aware. Some meetings; I am not able to say whether it was all meetings.

Senator McLUCAS: And the value of having that officer sitting at the meeting was what?

Ms Cross : As well as being in charge of the Office of Work and Family, which was responsible for homelessness, he also had the social inclusion branch in his division, so from a number of perspectives it was useful to have firsthand knowledge in terms of what was happening in terms of homelessness.

Senator McLUCAS: Which members of the executive attended those meetings, either in part or in full?

Ms Cross : The most senior representative from PM&C was the first assistant secretary, Office of Work and Family.

Senator McLUCAS: And, as you said, the reports went to the Prime Minister?

Ms Cross : From the council, yes, that is correct.

Senator McLUCAS: And that then allowed for actions to flow across the whole of government?

Ms Cross : And the council from time to time invited people from other portfolios to attend meetings because, as you know, homelessness touches on a number of portfolios.

Senator McLUCAS: It has been put to me that having it reporting to the Prime Minister ensured that we did get senior people from those other departments attending, but that would be a judgement and I am not asking you to answer that question. So who was the decision maker on abolishing the Prime Minister's Council on Homelessness?

Ms Cross : I think the decision was announced by the Prime Minister.

Senator McLUCAS: Is there a formal decision maker? Is there someone who signed a brief to say that it will be abolished?

Ms Cross : There was a decision to abolish it and I think that was taken by the Prime Minister.

Senator McLUCAS: If that is not correct, you can come back to the committee.

Ms Cross : It may have been the cabinet. It may have been the Prime Minister, but he is the chair of cabinet.

Senator McLUCAS: I will ask the rest of those questions to the new DSS, so that concludes my questions there.

CHAIR: After the discussions, for the benefit of those who are listening, we will move on to the Office for Women at 5.30, as per the schedule, and then we will deal with COAG at six, as per the schedule, and the office of the Prime Minister and cabinet will be required after the dinner break. Senator Faulkner, we now have 10 minutes until we resume that schedule. Would you like to resume your line of questioning?

Senator FAULKNER: There is one thing that I wanted to check. Again this comes from a media clip, so it may or may not be accurate. Maybe the officers are best placed to do this, but there was an SMH story entitled 'Mystery Queen portrait hung in Tony Abbott's HQ'. By the way, Tony Abbott's HQ is in fact the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but that was not in the headline of the SMH. I would like someone to confirm this. I will quote the story and you can tell me if it is accurate or not:

Workers at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were surprised to find a portrait of Queen Elizabeth hanging in the staff briefing room when they filed in on Wednesday for Mr Abbott's first meet and greet with his new department.

I just wondered whether it was accurate that a portrait appeared in the staff briefing room.

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Can you tell me why?

Ms Kelly : The department has two portraits of the Queen. One is hung in the executive area of PM&C and a second is hanging in a common area for all staff—the amenities area.

Senator FAULKNER: So PM&C has two portraits of the Queen, that is fine; you have told us where they are hanging at the moment; that is fine. I was perplexed about whether it had changed, first of all, after Mr Abbott was sworn in as Prime Minister—and it has, you have told us that; there was only one hanging before that and now there are two.

Ms Kelly : In fact both have been hung since the swearing-in of Mr Abbott as Prime Minister.

Senator FAULKNER: Where were they before—in storage or somewhere?

Ms Kelly : The department has a stock of prints of portraits of the Queen because of the role the department plays in the constituents request program. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is responsible for determining which portraits are the particular official portraits of her Majesty the Queen for different occasions, and in that capacity we had a number of prints in the department already.

Senator FAULKNER: Members of parliament have those available under the constituents request program.

Ms Kelly : I certainly know they are available to a member of parliament.

Senator FAULKNER: I was just interested in the decision making process. It is not the biggest issue in the world, but two portraits appear after Mr Abbott is sworn in as Prime Minister, is that correct?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: I assume they are still there?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: And the two places are the executive area and?

Ms Kelly : And the amenities area.

Senator FAULKNER: And the amenities area is where Mr Abbott properly went down and met staff of PM&C after he was sworn in, I gather?

Ms Kelly : There was an occasion when he came and met staff and spoke to staff.

Senator FAULKNER: Was that the first time he had been to the amenities room?

Ms Kelly : To my knowledge.

Senator FAULKNER: I wondered why the change—whether someone decided this would be a good idea at the time or someone thought they might be able to curry favour with the Prime Minister. What was the reason? In other words, why change? If there was no portrait there previously, why do we have one now?

Ms Kelly : The portraits were put up at the request of the secretary.

Senator FAULKNER: So Dr Watt made that decision?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Was that as a result of his interior decorating nous, or what would you say? I know Dr Watt very well and he has many fine qualities, and I am sure interior decoration is one of them, but are you able to assist us beyond the fact that the secretary made the decision?

Ms Kelly : No, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: You can't?

Ms Kelly : No; it was the secretary's initiative.

CHAIR: Her Majesty has never received so much attention, I suspect.

Senator WONG: We can ask whether there was any communication between the Prime Minister's office and Dr Watt regarding this issue.

Senator FAULKNER: Certainly we can ask that, and you might care to take that on notice if you wish. The point of this article was that people down at PM&C were asked about it, and the article said:

Responding to a series of follow-up questions, the department's spinners said they did not want to talk about it any more.

'We responded saying no, as the Prime Minister has not ordered the installation of portraits of the Queen at the Department's building,' the PM&C statement said.

'We have no further comment on the subject.'

Are you able to say beyond the fact that it was the secretary's decision—that is fair enough; the secretary runs the department—what any decision making process was, or did it just seem like a good idea at the time?

Ms Kelly : All I can say is that the secretary, at an all-staff briefing, indicated that it was his decision and it was not at the request of the Prime Minister.

Senator FAULKNER: Was that subsequent? Was it an issue raised by people who were perplexed or concerned?

Ms Kelly : The secretary actually offered that at an all-staff briefing.

Senator FAULKNER: Okay.

Senator WONG: Was that before or after the newspaper report?

Ms Kelly : I could not be sure.

Senator FAULKNER: Anyway, I think it is good that Mr Abbott had a meet and greet in his department, and I will leave others to make an assessment about whether it would make much difference to Mr Abbott whether there was a portrait of Her Majesty on the wall or not. Anyway, you can assure us that it was a departmental decision.

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you.

Senator WONG: On the question I asked, have you taken that on notice or is it answered by your hearsay evidence, as it were, of what Dr Watt said to the staff.

Ms Kelly : I think it is answered by that.

Senator WONG: If there is any change to that, you will come back to us?

Ms Kelly : Yes, of course.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Senator SMITH: Going to the accuracy of the article, I am just wondering: was the article accurate when it said that workers were surprised to see a portrait of the Queen in the Prime Minister's HQ?

Senator WONG: I am not sure she can answer that.

Ms Kelly : I am not quite sure who the workers referred to are, nor whether I have spoken to them, nor whether they would have expressed their surprise to me.

Senator SMITH: I am just wondering. Obviously the article would have been noticed and talked about by people. 'Surprise' is quite an emotional term. I am just wondering whether or not it was an accurate one.

CHAIR: It could be joyous.

Ms Kelly : I could not comment on that. Nobody expressed surprise to me. I could not comment on it any further.

Senator SMITH: I am a bit surprised by the article and why workers would be surprised, because I assume that in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet staff have a high level of understanding of how our government works and how the government is structured, so it would not have come as a surprise to them that the head of state of their country was in fact the Queen and that the Prime Minister's headquarters might desire to have a portrait of the head of state in the building. I am just wondering if you can share with us when it was taken down.

Ms Kelly : I am sorry; I do not have that information. I could take that on notice and see whether or not we can find that within the department.

Senator SMITH: Please. Just to be clear, the portrait that we are talking about is one of the portraits that are issued as part of the constituent portrait program; it is not a unique portrait.

Ms Kelly : No, it is a print of the Queen wearing the Australian decorations.

Senator SMITH: I know the one. Thanks very much.

Senator FAULKNER: You could have had flags under the constituent access program too.

CHAIR: There is no end to patriotism, is there?

Senator FAULKNER: A range of flags—no end. You could have a CD of the Australian national anthem, and so it goes on.

Senator SMITH: I think there are a lot of Australian symbols under the constituent program.

Senator FAULKNER: So I was wondering whether there would be any staff revolution because there had not been a portrait of the Queen.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, do you have something further?

Senator WONG: Yes, I am trying to get to it if we have done with Senator Smith saying how wonderful Her Majesty is.

Senator SMITH: I regularly say how wonderful Her Majesty the Queen is.

Senator WONG: I am a republican; I think that is well known.

Senator SMITH: This is just the latest of many occasions. Can we just go back to—

Senator FAULKNER: I regularly say it too.

CHAIR: Order! Let Senator Wong ask her question.

Senator DASTYARI: Senator Smith is just upset because he has the best portrait of the Queen.

CHAIR: We have one more minute before we move on to the Office for Women. Would you like to ask your minute-long question, Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly or Ms Cross, did you hear the evidence of the Department of Parliamentary Services regarding another portrait of the Queen being hung in the Prime Minister's office?

Ms Kelly : I heard only a short segment of that. I did hear that the issue was raised.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Just to recap, as I understand the evidence the Prime Minister's office wanted a particular portrait of the Queen and this was sourced from the National Museum. I just wondered if you could tell me if Prime Minister and Cabinet or anyone from the department had any involvement in the negotiations to obtain this particular portrait.

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator WONG: There were no staff involved in this at all?

Ms Kelly : No.

Senator FAULKNER: You only had to take it out of a cupboard down there, didn't you, really? It is fine; you have hundreds of them.

Senator WONG: That is a different portrait. This is the Dargie, or whatever it is!

Senator FAULKNER: You were given that Dargie, but you went back to PM&C, didn't you?

CHAIR: I am not sure we are advancing this—

Senator WONG: No, it was Prime Minister's office to Parliamentary Services and to the Museum, with no involvement from PM&C. That is what your evidence is.

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

CHAIR: We will now move on to the Office for Women.

[17:25]

CHAIR: I welcome the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash. Minister, do you have an opening statement?

Senator Cash: I do not.

CHAIR: I will then look to Senator Moore.

Senator MOORE: Minister, congratulations on your appointment.

Senator Cash: Thank you very much. And to you as well.

Senator MOORE: Really this evening I just want to get some basic information about exactly where is what and who is who. And then we would very much like a briefing. And it is a normal practice of certainly my previous departments that we ask at these things for a briefing in terms of exactly how it works later. I will just put that on record. My understanding and the buzz around the place is that the Office of Women has now moved to PM&C, and that was certainly in the coalition's election documents.

Senator Cash: That is correct.

Senator MOORE: But what exactly is in PM&C? The website still talks about FaHCSIA. It has the top saying 'Social Services'. I understand it is very new, but it is just a bit confusing. So, Ms Steele—I know you are still there, because you are at the table!—perhaps you can tell us. The last time we met, we had questions being placed to the Office of Women at that stage in the FaHCSIA area, and we had the Office of Women and the Workplace Gender Equality people all at the same table. Between then and now, what has changed? I would like to know who is where, and I would also like to know your current staffing.

Ms Steele : Thank you for the question, Senator—quite a few questions, actually!

Senator MOORE: There is an overarching one there.

Ms Steele : What has changed since the Office for Women was in FaHCSIA is that the branch that was the Office for Women has transferred to PM&C. The branch that dealt with violence against women—I think it is called the Family Safety Branch—has remained—

Senator MOORE: The Women's Safety and Family Violence Branch?

Ms Steele : Yes, that is not what it was previously called. The branch has remained in what is now DSS and has responsibility for those programs under the national plan.

Senator MOORE: And we will ask at DSS about exactly what programs they have maintained, but the document that we had at the last estimates—it was a coloured document, and I am waving it around, although I do not have a copy—was the document we had in those days. The pink bit has gone to PM&C; is that right?

Ms Steele : I do not know what your document says, but—

Senator MOORE: This is a document we had which had the structure of the department as it was in FaHCSIA. So, basically, if I run through these, can you confirm or deny that they have come with you to PM&C? Is that the easiest way to do it?

Ms Steele : Well, it might be. What is the heading on the pink column?

Senator MOORE: Office for Women—it is a catchy title!—Women's Branch, Branch Manager, Mairi Steele. International engagement and human rights?

Ms Steele : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Women and work?

Ms Steele : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Women's engagement and gender analysis?

Ms Steele : Yes.

Senator MOORE: So, those programs have moved?

Ms Steele : That is correct.

Senator MOORE: So, is there anything else that has moved?

Ms Steele : No. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency is now the responsibility of the Department of Employment.

Senator MOORE: So, the staffing that has come across?

Ms Steele : It is 21 in total.

Senator MOORE: Is that the same number as were in that branch?

Ms Steele : That is correct. Staff follow function.

Senator MOORE: One of the questions I have generally—and I will put this on notice—is about everything when we talk about moving: in your case, has that meant a physical move? Or are you still operating out of other buildings? When you say you have moved to PM&C, have 21 people picked up their computers and moved?

Ms Steele : Yes, correct.

Senator MOORE: So where are you now, physically?

Ms Steele : We are at 1 National Circuit.

Ms McDevitt : The Office for Women is located in PM&C's main office, which is 1 National Circuit in Barton, just down the road—in fact, on the same floor as Social Policy Division.

Senator MOORE: Can you give us any idea what the cost of that move was?

Ms Cross : We can take that on notice, but because it is quite a small team it would have been pretty low-cost.

Senator MOORE: That is fine, but I would just like to know what the cost of it was. So, the questions I have would be then about those three areas. Anything to do with domestic violence and safety, that goes to DSS, which was actually most of the grants from your area, was it not?

Ms Steele : That is correct. Also, trafficking support for Trafficked People Program has remained in DSS.

Senator MOORE: Can you explain to me—good luck!—why trafficking, which seems to me to be an international issue, is not in the international engagement in human rights area? Why would the issues around trafficking be in DSS and not—

Ms Steele : It is not the sort of policy carriage of trafficking that sits there; it is a funded program.

Senator Cash: I will just give you the rationale. Basically, in relation to the whole-of-government approach that this government wanted to take in relation to women, we picked out what is effectively the policy arm of the Office for Women and hence the headings that you have called out are effectively the policy arm. That transferred over to PM&C, and the services arm—effectively the women's safety branch and the trafficking, as it deals with services—had a relationship already with what is now the Department of Social Services and was better placed in that particular department.

Senator MOORE: Certainly I do pick up the issue, because it is interesting hearing from each area why some things are now getting the coordination role in PM&C and why some things do not need the coordination role in PM&C. But putting that to one side, it would seem to me that one of the big issues that we have talked about forever is linking policy to implementation. So, at least in your area, up until now, the policy and the implementation parts were very close together. Now the policy area is going to be in PM&C, but the implementation and linking with other agencies is going to be back in DSS. I know it is very early, but in terms of communication protocols between your branch and Ms—

Ms Steele : Ms Bedford. Perhaps I could just correct you a little bit. The policy around violence against women has remained in DSS, along with the programs.

Senator MOORE: So, taking Senator Cash's area, that bit of policy has stayed in DSS.

Senator Cash: Insofar as it was in the national action plan to reduce violence against women and children, that has wholly stayed with DSS. All other policy parts have come over to PM&C.

Senator MOORE: But in other areas—and help me out with policy on women and work—if the Workplace Gender Equality Agency has gone to DEEWR, or whatever its new name is, then the other things in the women-and-work list here about development of policy—

Ms Cross : I think the sense is that by moving it into PM&C you actually have stronger policy coordination. PM&C works with all departments, and moving it into PM&C gives it particular weight.

Senator MOORE: Unlike the Mental Health Commission.

Ms Cross : The Office for Women will continue to coordinate things on that; when it was in FaHCSIA it would actually be harder to coordinate across whole of government that if the function is in PM&C. And I think it reflects the priority that the government places on issues like the Office for Women, deregulation and Indigenous affairs that those three have been moved into PM&C.

Senator TILLEM: Excuse my relative inexperience. I presume we are talking about the national plan to reduce violence against women in terms of what was just being discussed. Is that correct?

Senator MOORE: That is going to DSS.

Senator TILLEM: And I understand that is a series of three- or four-year action plans, in terms of its implementation. Is that also correct?

Ms Steele : That is correct.

Senator TILLEM: Has there been any consultation or has advice been sought and given in relation to not only the implementation but the budget component of it, in terms of funding these programs?

Ms Cross : We are due next year to look at a new national action plan. At that point in time we will talk to all departments about the action plan, future implementation plans and how they are put in place.

Senator TILLEM: I understand that the current one is due to end this year. Is there a gap in between the current one and the next one starting? Has there been any advice provided in relation to how it will be funded?

Ms Cross : I think the timing for the action plan is that it will run through until early next year. It then stays in place until the new plan is signed off by COAG, and that is a normal process of renewing a plan or coming up with a new plan.

Senator TILLEM: So in terms of the COAG component, when was the most recent meeting across governments, in terms of progressing the plan in the next few stages?

Ms Steele : You would have to ask DSS for the details on this. They have the carriage of both the national plan and developing the second action plan, which is currently underway.

Senator TILLEM: So the leadership for this comes out of not PM&C but the minister who is responsible for DSS?

Ms Cross : Correct.

Senator MOORE: In terms of the area that you still have, Ms Steele, are there any grants that are paid from that area? I have a full list of the grants. They are a lot to do with domestic violence, but there are others about women's leadership and development. Is that yours?

Ms Steele : The women's leadership and development strategy belongs in the Office for Women.

Senator MOORE: In terms of a snapshot at the moment and the grants that you are still maintaining, have any been deferred or frozen—grants that have not been finalised or ended midstream? There were a few of those with the leadership programs, I believe. Are they still secure in terms of their funding?

Ms McDevitt : To be specific, I think that $2.268 million was transferred in the current financial year, along with the transfer of staff from the Office for Women. We are only funding agreements that were already signed and agreed. That funding is committed. There are still some uncommitted funds out of the women's leadership development strategy.

Senator MOORE: I am sorry, I am having great trouble. It is an ongoing issue in this room, I know, but in terms of—

Ms McDevitt : The funds for that program, the women's leadership development strategy, for this financial year have been transferred, along with the Office for Women. Any funding agreements that had already been entered into will be honoured, and there are still some unallocated funds under those administered funds.

Senator MOORE: So in terms of the grants, anything that had been signed is now secure?

Ms McDevitt : That is correct.

Senator MOORE: And allocated. Regarding the unallocated amounts, were they in the situation of being discussed and not finalised, in terms of an agreement? What is the situation with any unallocated funds from that program?

Ms Cross : It varies. For some parts there may have been discussions; others we might be looking at in the New Year.

Senator MOORE: Can we get a list of those? The website does not have it at the moment.

Ms Cross : We can let you know how much of the funds is uncommitted. If it is uncommitted, it is not actually committed to anything.

Senator MOORE: Can we get a list of everything that is committed? I have a full list of all the different things that have currently been funded. For women's leadership and development, can I get a list from the department of everything that is currently allocated?

Ms Steele : Yes, certainly.

Senator MOORE: Good. Then I will match them. I am sure it is the same thing; it is just a double-check. I am not quite sure what the formal statement was. It was the program that the Prime Minister had developed to provide funding to the Pacific regions about women in positions of power. We talked about that briefly with you. I am just double-checking whether that is formally an AusAID program rather than an Office for Women program.

Ms Steele : I am not 100 per cent sure which one you are referring to.

Senator MOORE: Then I think that is my answer, if you do not know the—

Ms Steele : AusAid does have responsibility for considerable funding in the Pacific region on women's leadership and aid support.

Senator MOORE: I know that preparations for next year's CEDAW have commenced in terms of NGOs preparing their memberships for their delegations. Have we now finalised the funding program and the size of the delegation and given that certainty to the groups who are going to go to CEDAW next year?

Ms Steele : Do you mean to attend the Commission on the Status of Women?

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Ms Steele : We have not finalised that yet, Senator.

Senator MOORE: My understanding is that the various secretariats have been in discussion about people who are wishing to be part of the formal delegation plus people who are going to go anyway in their own right for the range of meetings that are going to go on, but the formal delegation from Australia has not been finalised.

Ms Steele : No.

Senator MOORE: Can we get any time frame for that?

Ms Steele : Before March.

Senator MOORE: That is part of my question, Ms Steele, because it is certainly an issue that has been raised before—the timing of when we have that certainty so that people can prepare adequately and do their local consultation. I know it is new as well, but can we get some agreement about when this will be done, Minister?

Senator Cash: Thank you, Senator Moore. Certainly it is an issue that I am currently working through, and I too would hope that these issues are finalised sooner rather than later. I am unable to give you a time frame at this present point in time, but I can assure you it is an issue that I am currently working through.

Senator MOORE: And can we put on notice also that that is something that we would like to get a briefing on, in terms of what our process of preparation is. Another thing that we have been talking about for a long time—Senator Boyce and I have been talking about this—is getting feedback after the event. It is about bringing planning into the process of the fact that these are the priorities, this is who is going and then, after the event, reporting back in some way. We would like to hear from you, Minister, how you think that would best work. We would like some report back to parliament and to other groups about what went on. In completing that cycle there seems to be—

Senator Cash: That would be a piece that is actually missing.

Senator MOORE: That would be useful. Can I get an update on the secretariats? I know they are funded through until—

Senator Cash: Do you mean the alliances?

Senator MOORE: The alliances, yes.

Ms Steele : The alliances have got ongoing funding until 2016.

Senator MOORE: Is there a plan for the next meeting of the alliances in Canberra?

Ms Steele : We are currently discussing work plans and annual forum meetings and the like with the alliances at the moment.

Senator MOORE: And the previous convention was an annual meeting?

Ms Steele : Previously that was correct, but there were other meetings in between.

Senator MOORE: Of course. But having that format of having them together, and again with the access to parliament—that they would be able to meet with people in parliament. When was the last annual meeting? Tell me on notice. Fitting into the schedule for next year, it would seem sensible that it was sometime after the March meeting in the UN, so that we could link in to report back, probably, in terms of funding for this financial year. That would hopefully be how it would work.

In relation to the Indigenous programs we do not have discussions on the leadership programs as much on the Friday. You have just acquired the Friday process in F&PA, but in terms of the specific leadership training for Indigenous people, there were some grants in that area. Also in the ethnic communities there were grants around leadership. Is there still a strategy around the leadership program for Indigenous women?

Ms Steele : I think you may be talking about some programs which sat in the Indigenous area in the old FaHCSIA. I cannot answer as to whether they are still there.

Senator MOORE: So the Office for Women were not involved in those? Because we had quite targeted programs for Indigenous women.

Ms Steele : We were to an extent. And of course the National Women's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Alliance sits with us. But I am not sure what leadership programs have carried on in the Indigenous group.

Senator MOORE: Again, it is very early days, but in relation to the website and getting information and finding out what was going on was difficult in preparation for this hearing. I know that that is because it is very early, but none of the information you have been able to share in terms of the way the structure is going to continue to operate is yet on the website. In fact, one of the websites still has the same personnel as before the election—which is heartening to see, but inaccurate, really. I know it is difficult in the list of priorities.

Ms Steele : It is certainly something that we are occupied with. We are having discussions with the DSS, because most of our content sits on their websites.

Senator MOORE: Very much so. And a lot of the website was related to the violence programs, so it is DSS.

Ms Steele : Yes, so that has to be split.

Senator MOORE: And the clarity, in terms of where it goes—I am not quite sure how that will be done. Who does that? Is it through PM&C? Do you have a central organisation that does the kind of PR, social media and those things? It would not be the Office for Women themselves that would have to do this.

Ms Steele : I think I should probably defer to my colleagues.

Ms McDevitt : Not that I am aware of, Senator.

Senator MOORE: But do you have a group that looks at your websites and at your communications strategy?

Ms McDevitt : Yes. What we would have to do for the Office for Women is work with DSS to redesign their website and then take that material and put it on the PM&C website.

Senator MOORE: With a link of some kind?

Ms McDevitt : Definitely with links.

Senator MOORE: So who is responsible?

Ms McDevitt : We will have to do that, over time. It will be about setting up our own pages on the PM&C website.

Senator MOORE: When you have such clearly shared responsibilities, and also for the first time a disconnect in terms of where the responsibilities lie, is the ownership of who is responsible for the maintenance and the development of a website something that the departments work out themselves?

Ms Cross : I expect there will continue to be two websites. So the DSS website will have some information that links to us and on our website we will have information that links to them.

Senator MOORE: The PM&C website is quite a large one—as indeed is the DSS one. If I google 'Office for Women', as a very basic skilled IT person, do you know what would then come up? Not now, but what would be your hope, if I were out there as a student or someone interested in what the Australian government did for the Office for Women?

Ms Cross : I would hope that you would get information saying it had been transferred to PM&C and that you would get links to the relevant programs, whether they were on the PM&C website or still on the DSS website. But you would certainly hope that, if you googled that, the information would be put up explaining the move to PM&C, what has moved across and what the office is responsible for. You would hope to find that.

Senator MOORE: Yes. And that would need to be there for an extended time, I would think, while people get used to it—that would not be just a small transition model; it would need to be there for a while, and effectively funded for that, I would hope.

Under 'International Engagement in Human Rights'—and just help me if this is still here—it has 'Gender balance on boards, public, community and private, including women on government boards: data collection'. Is that still yours?

Ms Steele : Yes it is, although the data collection has now moved primarily to the Department of Finance. It has been there for some time.

Senator MOORE: Yes. So the data collection is, but is the ownership of the 'gender balance on boards' policy still yours?

Ms Steele : Yes.

Senator MOORE: I have a question related to the centre for domestic violence and the recent, highly publicised process that has come out through the Sex Discrimination office, and the Male Champions process, and the recent media around the Business Council of Australia putting out their information about having more women, both at senior positions and on boards—and specifically mentioning that. What is the role that your office has in working with those other agencies so that there is a coordination of knowledge and data and policy around that?

Ms Steele : Certainly with the likes of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency—there have been longstanding links there. The same goes for links with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Male Champions of Change. Our secretary, Dr Watt, is a male champion of change, so we have a close connection there. With other groups, we discuss as widely as we can and consult as widely as possible.

Senator MOORE: My next question leads directly from that. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the function about the male champions, which was high profile, highly publicised and had two public sector champions amongst a number of high-level private sector champions. One of course was your secretary and one was the Public Service Commissioner. Within the department—

Ms Cross : I think there may have been more than two.

Senator MOORE: On the speaking panel? They had a specific speaking panel for promotion and they picked those two to do it. Within PM&C, how do the processes work between the secretary being a public champion—and, I believe, a long-term champion; it is not just a recent thing—and the role of the Office for Women? You have this high-profile champion there at the head of the department and now you are part of the department. Is there any role for the Office of Women in being involved in the ongoing communications strategy or support network within PM&C on the issues of getting more women into leadership positions and developing policies which respond to the various obstacles which people put up?

Ms Cross : As you point out, Dr Watt has been a male champion of change since before the Office for Women came into the department. A lot of the broad awareness work he does is external to PM&C, but he also pursues initiatives internal to PM&C, such as setting up a women's network. In doing that work, he has always had support from within the department as needed. Now that the Office for Women is in the department, we will also draw on that as appropriate. He will continue in that role and hopefully with the Office for Women very close, we can support him even more.

Senator MOORE: Does the department have any publications or policies that we can see which support the championing of women into different positions? We had some data at the lunch about what various organisations were doing, but there was nothing specific in the document I received which said, 'This is what PM&C has done'. It would be useful if we could see—on notice—what the specific processes are in PM&C. That would be great.

Ms Cross : I am happy to do that.

Senator MOORE: I want to know about advisory groups. You know that there have been general questions about advisory groups and engagement with the community. Are there any advisory groups within the Office for Women—not the alliances? Are there any other advisory groups linking into community organisations that the Office for Women work with? I can put that on notice.

Ms Steele : I will take it on notice.

Senator MOORE: I could not think of any, but I just wanted to make sure.

Ms Cross : There will be a ministerial advisory group established on deregulation. It is not established yet, but that will look at that across government.

Senator MOORE: The last question is about one of the issues I raise all the time—gag clauses. It is an issue which comes up in my own state with the state government. There is a lot of discussion and engagement. Are there any gag clauses in the work of PM&C with the Office for Women? Are there situations where organisations which receive support—that would be through the alliances—are limited in what they can do or say as a result of their work with the department?

Ms Steele : Not that I am aware of. We work closely with the alliances, for example, on the priorities that they have, so it is a consultative process, but there is no formal gag clause, I think.

Senator MOORE: I am not asking it only of you.

Ms Steele : Okay, I am clear.

Senator MOORE: You are here now, so I am asking it now. I am just aware that, in some elements in the domestic violence area where people are involved in developing policy, there are limitations to what people can do when they are on those advisory groups—what consultation they can take back to their communities. I will be asking DSS about that. But, in terms of the work you do, there is no expectation that they will not be able to talk with their communities.

Ms Steele : No.

Senator MOORE: Thank you. There will be questions on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you, officers of the Office for Women, for your attendance today.

Senator MOORE: Before you escape, I have just been reminded about the women in the Public Service project, which is one of the ones that I will ask now. I was going to put it on notice, but I will ask about it. Do you still have the project on women in the Public Service?

Senator WONG: It was just a reminder. You would know this. It was funded in the budget.

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Senator WONG: I understand from some of the media that Senator Cash will be announcing it in New York next year.

Senator Cash: In relation to the women in the Public Service project itself and the funding for it, it is part of the current processes that the government is going through.

Senator WONG: Which process is that?

Senator Cash: The budget process, because my understanding was that it was a decision that was taken but was not announced prior to the election.

Senator WONG: Correct, but there was money in the budget for it.

Senator Cash: Correct. However, at this present point in time—

Senator WONG: You get to announce it, Senator Cash. You get to be the hero. So what does 'the current process' mean? It is in a potential savings process—is that what that answer means?

Ms Cross : There is a process looking at all of those commitments as part of the budget, so it will be part of that process.

Senator WONG: What are 'those commitments'?

Ms Cross : Things which were not in the original budget documents but were announced as part of the economic statement.

Senator WONG: So anything that the former government funded in the economic statement is being reconsidered?

Ms Cross : No, there is a budget process and—

Senator WONG: It is the subject of reconsideration.

Ms Cross : It is the subject of a budget process, yes.

Senator WONG: I hope you fight for that, Senator Cash. She nodded.

Senator Cash: I acknowledged you.

Ms Cross : Chair, can I confirm that there are no more questions for the Office for Women and they can leave for the evening?

CHAIR: Not just yet. You cannot confirm that, because I think Senator Tillem might have a question.

Senator TILLEM: Maybe on notice—just on the government appointments since the government has been sworn in and whether there have been any women appointed to government boards since the new government has taken office.

Ms Cross : We would have to take that on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator O'Neill—welcome to your first estimates—has a question.

Senator O'NEILL : Following up on Senator Moore's question about the funding of the project in the Pacific region, my understanding is that in 2012 there was a $320 million commitment towards a 10-year initiative to work in this area, which has the lowest proportional representation of women parliamentarians. So could we have some clarification, perhaps on notice, of that $320 million commitment and its status?

Ms Steele : That is a matter for DFAT—Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator O'NEILL : Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. I think that concludes the questioning, so I will say thank you to the officers of the Office for Women for your attendance today. We look forward to seeing you at future estimates.

[18:04]

CHAIR: I welcome Mr Frost, deputy head of the COAG Reform Council's secretariat. Mr Frost, do you have an open statement that you wish to make?

Mr Frost : I do not have an opening statement.

CHAIR: I will turn to questions. I go to Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Just remind me: where are you based, Mr Frost?

Mr Frost : We are based in Sydney.

Senator WONG: Are you part of PM&C or separate? What is the role in relation to the CRC?

Mr Frost : We are part of the department for administrative purposes. They manage our finance and—

Senator WONG: Back office functions essentially.

Mr Frost : Yes. But, on our substantive role, we report directly to the council.

Senator WONG: They are not on your organisational chart.

Ms Cross : I do not think they see themselves as part of the department.

Senator WONG: No—I was just wondering how the back office and some of the work was organised. Generally at these estimates do you not have any members of the council appear? Is it always you?

Mr Frost : We have not in the past had members of the council appear. We have appeared very infrequently, in fact. But it has always been that members of the secretariat have appeared.

Senator WONG: To date, how many of the Seamless National Economy reforms have been completed or are on track to be completed?

Mr Frost : I believe that at the moment it is 26 of the 47.

Senator WONG: That is both dereg and competition policy?

Mr Frost : Yes, that is the combined reforms. So 26 reforms were complete or on track, 15 reforms were overdue and eight reforms were at risk of not being achieved.

Senator WONG: So there has been no update since the last report? I can get that off the website.

Mr Frost : Yes, we are in the process of preparing the next report, which will be our final report under the agreement.

Senator WONG: What can you tell me about progress subsequent to the last report?

Mr Frost : Our chairman recently announced some updated figures, though they are not at this stage complete, through the consultation process with governments. The updated figures provide that 29 reforms are complete or on track.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I apologise. I was just distracted for a minute. Could you start that answer again?

Mr Frost : Yes. Our chairman, in releasing our report on the COAG reform agenda last week or the week before announced some updated figures that are tentative figures because we have not yet completed consultation with governments on the actual findings. Those figures that he announced were that, of 49 reforms, 29 are complete or on track; 13 are partially complete; and four reforms are not complete. I should have said that is of 46 reforms, not 49.

Senator WONG: So 46, and the numbers are—

Mr Frost : Twenty-nine that are complete or on track; 13 are partially complete or off-track; and four are not complete.

Senator WONG: Are the four that are not complete equivalent to the eight at risk of not be achieved in the previous report, or are we changing definitions here?

Mr Frost : Regarding the four that are not complete, they are not complete at the end of the agreement.

Senator WONG: Will not be complete—

Mr Frost : Yes, so they are not complete at the end of the—

Senator WONG: What are the four—occ health and safety?

Mr Frost : One of them is the national licensing system. I do not know the remainder off the top of my head, but it is not occupational health and safety.

Senator WONG: What was the problem with the national licensing system?

Mr Frost : It has not proceeded.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that. Which jurisdictions were—

Ms Cross : The final decision is being taken at the end of the year.

Senator WONG: I know that.

Ms Cross : They were due to come back at the end of the year. It is still under discussion.

Senator WONG: We can do it that way if you want, Ms Cross. What is the current position of the various jurisdictions in relation to that reform?

Ms Cross : There will be a COAG senior officials meeting this Friday and we will get clarity at that point.

Senator WONG: Thank you. We are asking questions today and perhaps you could tell me—you probably do know, actually, because everybody talks before: what is the current position of Western Australia, Victoria et cetera? I wonder if you could just tell me that.

Ms Cross : To be fair, Senator, I think we should wait until Friday. Positions do change.

Senator WONG: What is the previously articulated position of those states, Ms Cross? Let us not do this dance—I am not trying to make a political point.

Ms Cross : I have been to meetings where positions have changed—that is often the purpose of the discussion on the day—and there are a number of jurisdictions that are still considering whether an alternative approach like automatic mutual recognition might be appropriate rather than national occupational licensing, but there is to be a discussion this week and I do not think any firm decisions have been taken. A number of the jurisdictions are yet to go to cabinet.

Senator WONG: Let us talk about what has been expressed to date. Which jurisdictions, if any, have expressed agreement to the reform to date, with all the caveats you have just given that they may change their position and some have not gone to cabinet, et cetera?

Ms Cross : The commonwealth continues to support national occupational licensing at this point. South Australia, with some minor amendments, has indicated it would support national occupational licensing. Some of the other states on different occupations have sought to consider whether automatic mutual recognition might be an alternative approach. They have not said they are not supporting licensing; they have just asked whether that would be an alternative.

Senator WONG: So the only two at this point are the commonwealth and South Australia?

Ms Cross : There are a couple of jurisdictions where we do not have final positions, so I would not say it is that clear cut at this point.

Senator WONG: What else is in the four?

Mr Frost : I should point out that we report only on progress up until 30 September so there are others in the four, including regulation making and review, which is a separate reform.

Senator WONG: I did not understand that answer.

Mr Frost : Regulation making and review—it is a separate reform stream.

Senator WONG: I am aware of that but is that one of the four you have just given?

Mr Frost : That is one of the four.

Senator WONG: So what occurred there?

Mr Frost : That remains in the same position as it was when we last reported, which was that the council has assessed the milestones but does not believe that the milestones will complete the stated intent of the reform output, which is to enhance regulation making and review processes.

Senator WONG: As at the last report, who was compliant from the council's perspective? Who had reached the milestones and who had not?

Mr Frost : All governments had reached the milestones with the exception of the ACT, which had not completed fully one of its milestones. All governments had reached the milestones but the council's finding was that the milestones would not achieve the stated output.

CHAIR: We thank officers of the COAG Reform Council for attending. We will continue with questioning of PM&C until the dinner break. Senator Abetz is in a cabinet meeting and will not be here until after the dinner break.

Senator DASTYARI: The minister may not be aware of where the discussion had gotten to but there was fairly detailed discussion about the process around the government staffing committee—it took us a while to establish that it actually existed. Ms Kelly outlined that there was 420 MoPS staff, which was a similar number that was there in the last government.

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator DASTYARI: I assume this will be a question on notice—I am not expecting you to have the number on you right now: would we be able to get a headline figure for what the remuneration of 420 staff comes to?

Senator WONG: We can get that from Finance.

Ms Kelly : The staff are paid by the Department of Finance, so that would be better addressed to the Department of Finance.

Senator DASTYARI: Not a problem. What I was not clear about was the government staffing committee. The minister spoke about the role that they had, with particular reference to ministerial staff. But are they actually playing a role with electorate staff as well? Are they making recommendations in relation to electorate staff or just in relation to ministerial staff?

Senator Cash: My understanding is that the government staff committee has been established to make recommendations to the Prime Minister about the appointment of government staff by ministers.

Senator WONG: So minister's electorate staff as well?

Senator Cash: My understanding is it is in relation to ministerial staff only; however, I am happy to take that question on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: If you can, Minister. It is just that there were a couple of media reports to the effect—and they could clearly be wrong—that the government staffing committee is also ticking off on all electorate office staff as well.

Senator Cash: I apologise, Senator Dastyari: could you repeat the question?

Senator DASTYARI: There was a media report—I can pull it up if you like—on 5 October stating that the government staffing committee was actually looking at not only ministerial staff but also approving all electorate office staff for new MPs.

Senator Cash: I will have to take that question on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: Okay.

CHAIR: If it helps, Senator: I can confirm that no-one has had any involvement in the appointment of my staff in my office.

Senator WONG: That could be a good or a bad thing, Minister!

Senator SMITH: I can add to that that I have had no external influence in relation to my staff either.

CHAIR: So I presume the answer is no.

Senator DASTYARI: We have had a few things to say about the Australiantoday—I guess we have a few things to say about the Herald as well.

Senator WONG: This is actually Fairfax.

CHAIR: Would you like my opinion on Fairfax? I am happy to share that!

Senator WONG: I think we can probably guess it, as a member of the coalition. Maybe, Minister, you could take on notice Senator Dastyari's question—unless you know. But is the staffing committee involved in any appoint of electorate staff, or decisions to appoint electorate staff? In particular, is there any involvement by the staffing committee in decisions to appoint the electorate staff of new members of parliament, which is what is reported publicly?

Senator Cash: I will take those questions on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: The other point to make is in terms of the make-up of the staffing committee. In the previous conversation we had there was a view that we were naming the ministers and the elected officials that were involved in that but not naming non-elected officials. I want to ask a specific question—again, this will have to be taken on notice. Minister Abetz made the point that there was nobody on the committee who was not either an elected member of parliament or a staffer within the government. The media reports refer to the Federal Director of the Liberal Party, Brian Loughnane, being involved in ticking off on all those staffing decisions. That could be either one of two things: the story in the Fairfax paper could just be wrong, or Minister Abetz could have forgotten that Brian Loughnane is not actually a government staffer.

Senator SMITH: Or it could be irrelevant.

Senator WONG: That is not for you to decide.

CHAIR: Sorry, one at a time. I would point out that I think Minister Abetz's evidence was that it was the Prime Minister who made the final determination—

Senator DASTYARI: Yes, fair enough—

CHAIR: I just correct that for the minister's benefit.

Senator DASTYARI: Yes, so the recommendation from the committee.

Senator Cash: My understanding, Senator Dastyari, is that Minister Abetz's evidence to the committee was that it was 'to the best of his recollection' and that, in the event that recollection was not that, he would certainly provide on notice any further answers.

Senator WONG: Well, what do you know, Senator Cash?

Senator Cash: I would have to take that question on notice.

Senator WONG: What do you know, Senator Cash?

Senator Cash: I would have to take that question on notice, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: What do you know?

Senator Cash: I would have to take that question on notice.

Senator WONG: No, sorry, you can't—

Senator Cash: My understanding is that in relation to the staffing committee—

Senator WONG: I haven't actually finished. This is estimates; we are allowed to ask you questions.

Senator Cash: Absolutely.

Senator WONG: If you don't know it, that is fine—I understand. But if you don’t what to tell us, I think we are entitled to know why. Do you know who the members of the staffing committee are?

Senator Cash: My understanding is that Minister Andrews is the head of the government staffing committee. That was also the evidence that I saw Minister Abetz give. But I do not know who the members of the government staffing committee are, no.

Senator WONG: You don't know?

Senator Cash: No.

Senator WONG: That is fine. You see, it was easy, wasn't it? So Senator Dastyari is asking whether or not Mr Loughnane is involved in any of the staffing appointments—as a formal member of the committee or in any capacity.

Senator Cash: I would have to take that question on notice.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator O'NEILL : Have you filled your full complement of staff, Senator Cash?

Senator Cash: As this present point in time, no.

Senator O'NEILL : And the staff that you do currently have have been ticked off by this staffing committee?

Senator Cash: The staff that I currently have have been ticked off at the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

Senator O'NEILL : And you are quite happy for that to occur without you knowing the people who are making that decision—is that correct?

Senator Cash: The recommendation is from the Prime Minister, as has been consistent, my understanding is, with the practice of former governments.

Senator WONG: So how many staff have you got now, that have been the subject of this process—approximately?

Senator Cash: Two.

Senator WONG: Okay. Senator Abetz's evidence was that he was advised of the 'tick-off'—I think you described it as that—by letter from the Prime Minister's chief of staff. Is that how you were advised of the tick-off process?

Senator Cash: Yes, it is.

Senator WONG: Can I ask—I don't want to know their names—to what level these two staff so far who have been the subject of the process were appointed? Are they chief of staff level, senior advisor—

Senator Cash: No.

Senator WONG: Advisor?

Senator Cash: Advisor.

Senator WONG: Okay. Is it your understanding that even EA or admin positions would also go through this process?

Senator Cash: When you say 'EA or admin' are you talking about ministerial staff?

Senator WONG: Yes, sorry. I think 'executive assistant' is a classification that you might use for a high-level administrative staff member. Is it your understanding that the staffing committee consideration is in relation to all 420 positions, including lower levels? Ms Cross, I am not sure why you were talking to her when you told me that PM&C had no involvement.

Senator Cash: My understanding, Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: Do you provide advice in relation to the staffing committee—

CHAIR: Let the minister answer.

Senator Cash: My understanding is that it is—but that is my understanding.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Cash: You are asking for my understanding, and my understanding is that it is.

Senator WONG: All 420. Can I ask how ministers were advised of this process? How did you become aware of the tick-off process et cetera? Were you told verbally, in a ministry meeting, was a letter sent—what was the process by which you were advised about how to go about appointing staff and the staffing committee process?

Senator Cash: To the best of my recollection I was advised verbally.

Senator WONG: By?

Senator Cash: The Prime Minister's chief of staff.

Senator WONG: Thank you. And do you know if that is the process by which—

Senator Cash: I don't, no. That is in relation to myself.

Senator WONG: Sure. And what was the indication about the process?

Senator Cash: That there was a government staffing committee.

Senator WONG: And that you were to write in with who you wanted and they would tick off?

Senator Cash: Consistent, I understand, with former government practices, that I would place my recommendations of staff to the government staffing committee and the Prime Minister would ultimately tick off on them.

Senator WONG: But the Prime Minister did not write to you, did he? His chief of staff did.

Senator Cash: I would not expect the Prime Minister to write to me.

Senator WONG: That is the point. Have you had anybody knocked back?

Senator Cash: No.

Senator WONG: Are you aware of other ministers who have had staffing requests knocked back by the committee?

Senator Cash: No, I am not.

Senator WONG: So you are not aware of Mr Victor Perton, whom Mr Hockey allegedly sought to appoint within his office who was not permitted to by the staffing committee?

Senator Cash: No, I am not.

Senator WONG: You are not aware of Senator Abetz's chief of staff not being ticked off by—

Senator Cash: No, I am not.

Senator WONG: You are not aware of Senator Sinodinos's request for chief of staff not being—

Senator Cash: No, I am not.

Senator WONG: Can you take on notice whether any of those appointments were in fact declined by the staffing committee? I do not need to know all the names. I put one of them on the record because it is already public.

Senator Cash: I can take those questions on notice.

Senator WONG: Can I ask about travel. What is the process whereby ministerial overseas travel is approved?

Ms Kelly : I can answer that question. The process for seeking and gaining overseas travel is that it has to be with the approval of the Prime Minister. It is a process for seeking and gaining the Prime Minister's approval for ministers to travel overseas, and it is similar to that which applied under previous governments.

Senator WONG: And just as a matter of interest: have any of the changes the previous government put in place—the requirement to buy business class for certain trips, the requirements around spousal travel and so forth—changed?

Ms Kelly : There have been recent changes to the guidelines. They are available on the Department of Finance website.

Senator WONG: Were you involved in preparing those?

Ms Kelly : No, I was not.

Senator WONG: Sorry, 'you'/'vous'! Was Prime Minister and Cabinet involved in preparing those?

Ms Kelly : I can describe the nature of the changes, Senator. In October 2013 Prime Minister Abbott revised the guidelines. Ministers and their accompanying staff are now required to travel on a class no higher than business class on flights regardless of the destination. And there were some changes to tighten the rules for accompanying-spouse travel.

Senator WONG: What is the role of Prime Minister and Cabinet in relation to ministers getting approval from the Prime Minister for overseas travel?

Ms Kelly : A minister who proposes to travel overseas must seek the Prime Minister's agreement. That then comes to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who provides advice to the Prime Minister in relation to that request.

Senator WONG: So the process first, though, is an approval request goes from the minister to the Prime Minister's office and then is referred to you for advice?

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Have you had such requests for advice to date?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: How many?

Ms Kelly : The information that I have is the number of overseas visits rather than the number of requests for advice, but it would follow that the two went together.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Ms Kelly : The information that I have is that there have been 25 overseas visits from the period 18 September to 18 November.

Senator WONG: Twenty-five? That is non prime-ministerial, presumably, because he does not have to seek his own approval, right?

Ms Kelly : I have a figure for overseas visits. It does not separate—

Senator WONG: So the 25 might include the PM.

Ms Kelly : It does not separate that out; it is just all overseas visits.

Senator WONG: Are you able to give me numbers for PM versus the rest of the ministry?

Ms Kelly : The number 27, I am informed, includes the Prime Minister's visits.

Senator WONG: So it was 27, not 25?

Senator DASTYARI: No, 27 including the PM—that obviously includes two trips for the Prime Minister. That is what one would deduce.

Senator WONG: So two trips for the PM and 25 for everybody else. Is that right?

Ms Kelly : The figure is apparently 27, and that figure does include the Prime Minister's visits. I do not have, but I can obtain for you shortly, the number of those visits that related to the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Sure, we can do it that way around. Do you want to do that over the break, Ms Kelly? Would that be easier?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, while Ms Kelly is gathering whatever additional information she can, and just before we break, it might be pertinent to ask how long you think you may require the department after the break—just as a courtesy to advise the other agencies.

Senator WONG: It depends how quickly they answer!

Ms Cross : Chair, could we check whether there are some parts of the department you will not be returning to?

Senator WONG: I am not able to do that. What I am trying to do is to work out what the view is about the other agencies who are later. But I cannot speak for the crossbenchers, obviously.

CHAIR: If you could indicate to the secretariat as soon as possible, we will advise the agencies if they are required.

Proceedings suspended from 18:30 to 20:00

Senator WONG: How many discretionary grants does the department manage?

Ms Cross : I think we would have to take that on notice, because we now have the Indigenous functions within the department.

Senator WONG: Okay, take that on notice. But, leaving aside Indigenous, how many others do you have?

Ms Cross : We previously may have had some grants associated with volunteering, but that has moved out of the department, and we may now have some associated with the Office for Women, but again I would have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Could you provide on notice, then, a list of all discretionary grants administered by the department now.

Ms Cross : We can take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Am I to understand from the public statements from the government that all discretionary grants have been paused and any payments out of them must be authorised by the Minister for Finance and/or the Treasurer before payments are made?

Ms Cross : I think there is a process where all of them are being reviewed to ensure they are consistent with government priorities before decisions are taken.

Senator WONG: That is one of those great answers, but I think the public statements went further than that.

Ms Cross : We will check that for you.

Senator WONG: Who in the department would know about the pausing of discretionary grants? I do not mean the policy—I will ask Finance and Treasury that—but insofar as the administration of them in the department has been altered by this policy. Who could tell me about that? There is a man behind you.

Mr Hazlehurst : Apologies, Senator. I missed the actual question.

Senator WONG: I am asking about discretionary grants.

Mr Hazlehurst : I hope I can answer your questions.

Senator WONG: That is a nice hope. Ms Cross has taken on notice a list of discretionary grants in the department, because she obviously cannot recall all of them, but I just want to be clear about your understanding of what has to occur in relation to the administration of them. I understand from the media reports that any discretionary grant is effectively paused and any decision to make such a grant has to be authorised by the finance minister and/or the Treasurer, or presumably their delegates. Have you or someone who works for you been involved in seeking such authorisation?

Mr Hazlehurst : I have. I would just like to confer very briefly with Ms Cross, please

Senator WONG: Yes, sure. While they are doing that, are you able, Ms Cross, to—oh, you are conferring with him. Sorry. I did not realise you were the conferee, or conferrer.

CHAIR: Whilst they are doing it, I will just inform the committee and the agencies and anyone listening that the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Office of National Assessments and the Australian National Audit Office will no longer be required this evening.

Ms Cross : Thank you, Senator.

Senator WONG: Isn't that wonderful?

Senator Abetz: That means that they will not be coming tomorrow either.

CHAIR: They will not be coming tomorrow either, yes.

Ms Cross : Senator, we are just getting some advice on your earlier question if you want to ask another one while we are waiting.

Senator WONG: Okay. Can you take this on notice: I assume you go through the usual process of collating election commitments from the incoming government and holding a list centrally.

Senator Abetz: Ah! I remember pursuing this after the 2007 election.

Senator WONG: Didn't we give it to you?

Senator Abetz: No, you never—

Senator WONG: I thought we did.

Senator Abetz: You never gave it to us. You never gave it to us.

Senator WONG: I think we might have, actually.

Senator Abetz: So before you go on any frolics here, Senator Wong, I would remind you of that.

Senator WONG: We also supported a price on carbon, but I guess you are not going to follow us down that track either!

CHAIR: Only for a little while. You changed your mind a couple of times.

Senator WONG: I don't think I've ever—I think I have been entirely consistent, and you know that, Senator.

CHAIR: You have—not your government, sorry.

Senator Dastyari interjecting

CHAIR: No, I have been entirely—

Senator WONG: He's a climate sceptic; he just can't help himself, you see.

Senator Abetz: It's a South Australian thing.

Senator WONG: He can't help himself. He will start to tell me it's a left-wing conspiracy to take over the world in a minute.

CHAIR: You know it is.

Senator WONG: Forget about all the Nobel laureates who say it is real! Ms Kelly, are you the person responsible, or is someone who works to you responsible, for collating the list?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Could you take on notice the provision of that list? These are public commitments.

Ms Kelly : Yes, Senator.

Senator WONG: I assume you only collate election commitments.

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: So they are not secret commitments; they are ones that have been announced to voters—correct?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Ms Cross, are you still conferring?

Ms Cross : I think we have finished.

Senator WONG: Okay. Let's go back, then.

Mr Hazlehurst : As Ms Cross mentioned, you would be aware of course of the public comments that the Minister for Finance made about the process?

Senator WONG: Or the Treasurer—I cannot recall.

Mr Hazlehurst : And so the finance minister and the Finance department have the lead on the discretionary grants process, and it is just a checking process, as I believe Ms Cross mentioned.

Senator WONG: Yes, sure, and I will ask them. I just want to know whether any of your grants have gone through that process.

Mr Hazlehurst : Okay. And the answer to that question is yes, and the only discretionary grants that we have within the portfolio are within the Indigenous Affairs part of the portfolio and the Office for Women.

Senator WONG: And they have gone through this checking process? I think that is how you described it.

Ms Cross : The ones which were not already committed funds.

Senator WONG: Since this policy of checking or pausing has been put in place, have you sought to release any funds?

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator WONG: In relation to Indigenous programs, was it?

Ms Cross : Yes, and the Office for Women.

Senator WONG: And the Office for Women. How many—do you call them applications? How would you like me to describe them—requests?

Mr Hazlehurst : Grants.

Senator WONG: How many grants have you put into the checking process?

Mr Hazlehurst : I believe I would need to take that on notice, but let me just check.

Senator WONG: Okay.

Mr Hazlehurst : Sorry, Senator, we do not have that information with us this evening.

Senator WONG: Okay. Have any not got through the checking process?

Mr Hazlehurst : No.

Senator WONG: Okay. So if you could just take on notice details of that.

Mr Hazlehurst : Sure.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Where were we? The archiving of the Australia in the Asian century website: can you just tell me who made that decision?

Ms Cross : I will have to check for you.

Ms Kelly : My responsibility extends to the website, Senator, but I will take on notice how that—

Senator WONG: Is there no-one here who can tell us?

Ms Kelly : No, not at the table and not here that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: No, not at the table, but I assume that, among the people in the room next door, there might be somebody who might know about this. I can come back to it if you can just get them here.

Ms Kelly : We will make inquiries.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I will be going, after this, to FOI, so I suppose to Ms Croke, but Senator Faulkner has something first, Chair.

Senator FAULKNER: Can I ask, Minister, just where we are up to in terms of the status of a range of codes of conduct, please.

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: First of all, a ministerial code of conduct: my understanding is there is a plan to have a ministerial code of conduct—

Senator Abetz: That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that. At the moment, is there a ministerial code of conduct? Or is the one that was introduced during the life of the previous government effectively extant? Are you able to assist me with that?

Senator Abetz: I know that a code of ministerial conduct is being finalised in the Prime Minister's office. As to a timeline, I am not 100 per cent sure. As to what code applies in the interim, I will need to take on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that; it would be helpful if that could be provided. What is not clear to me is: in the interregnum what, if any, standards apply?

Senator Abetz: All the standards of decency, conflicts of interest—all those sorts of things, I am sure, apply. But I will—

Senator FAULKNER: But there is no formal guidance, in a sense—or no code of conduct?

Senator Abetz: I can indicate to you that the prime-ministerial expectations have been communicated to ministers and parliamentary secretaries but we hope to have an official, finalised document very shortly.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that. Could you explain the method of communication? Has a letter been sent?

Senator Abetz: I know we have received charter letters. I would have to scratch my memory. I do not have mine with me.

Senator FAULKNER: Yours would relate to you own ministerial portfolio.

Senator Abetz: Yes, but for those governments that actually have charter letters—unlike the previous government—it is not only about your portfolio but also general standards and service to the people of Australia. I remember in a previous charter letter, from Mr Howard, where he indicated his desire that all departments concentrate on Indigenous employment, for example, and that ministers should report to him—I forget how often—on how engaged a particular department was in relation to Indigenous employment. So matters other than specific portfolio matters are canvassed in those letters.

Senator FAULKNER: So is that the method of communication?

Senator Abetz: As one might imagine when you have a full ministry meeting—and I am not going to go into what was said or not said there—certain expectations were raised there as well.

Senator FAULKNER: I suppose what I am trying to clarify is: until the code of conduct is finalised—and you have said it is close to finalisation—you have said ministers have been made clear. That is all fair enough. I was just wondering how this is being achieved.

Senator Abetz: By being advised in general terms and by being advised that there will be a ministerial code of conduct coming out shortly.

Senator FAULKNER: Okay, but it has not been formally communicated in writing to ministers and parliamentary secretaries?

Senator Abetz: No, because it has not been finalised.

Senator FAULKNER: You mentioned charter letters—I might come back to that—and you said you had received your charter letter. Fair enough; that is good. Is it the view of the government that charter letters can be made public?

Senator Abetz: I will have to take that on notice. I am not sure whether they have been in the past or not.

Ms Cross : It is not normal practice to make them public, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: To be fair, Ms Cross, I don't know if there is a 'normal practice' in relation to this. However, if you perhaps could take on notice my request for the provision of charter letters. I can probably only do so at this committee because they are signed by the Prime Minister for all relevant members of the Executive. I am certainly interested in those relevant to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I appreciate that the Prime Minister does not write himself a charter letter. I am well aware of that. However, he does sign the charter letters, doesn't he?

Ms Cross : That is the standard practice. I am not aware of them ever having been released in the past, but we will check.

Senator FAULKNER: If you could take that on notice I would appreciate it.

Ms Cross : We will.

CHAIR: Senator Faulkner, if I may, just on charter letters: I seem to recall some estimates where we asked the ministers in the previous government about charter letters and they had not received them whilst they were sitting at the table giving evidence. So I am wondering whether the procedure has changed. Is the receipt of charter letters more expedient than it has been historically?

Senator Abetz: As I understand it, for whatever reason Mr Rudd did not continue with the long-established practice of charter letters. I recall a funny incident where former minister Senator Nick Sherry believed that he had received a charter letter but in fact he had not, and it must have been his memory going back to the Hawke days when he received a charter letter. But, apart from that as a funny aside, for whatever reason—and some might say it was the dysfunction of the prime-ministerial office at the time, but I will not go there—suffice to say no charter letters were issued by the previous government, whereas the Howard government was meticulous in relation to charter letters. And the new coalition government is following suit.

Senator FAULKNER: But in this case there are charter letters, as you have told us, but there is no ministerial code of conduct yet.

Senator Abetz: There are the standards and the ethics that have been around. But the new code of conduct will be ready very shortly.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but there is no ministerial code of conduct yet. You are saying it is in the process of being completed.

Senator Abetz: Possibly no written code of conduct, but there is an accepted code of conduct in relation to ministerial behaviour and standards that are expected by a Prime Minister and they will be followed. There were such things as expected behaviours of ministers prior to them being formalised in written form.

Senator FAULKNER: I accept your evidence that it is being finalised now; fair enough. Who is finalising it? Is there are role for PM&C in drafting this, Ms Cross or Ms Kelly?

Senator Abetz: I know the Prime Minister's office is involved in it. Whether Prime Minister and Cabinet are involved I am not sure. I can take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: If you could take it on notice and tell me about departmental involvement. You know it, Senator Abetz, and if someone could just share it with—

Senator Abetz: No, I don't.

Ms Cross : I don't, Senator, but we can take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: So we do not know whether PM&C have an involvement in drafting?

Ms Cross : No, I do not.

Senator Abetz: We can take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: I thought you said you did know that, Senator Abetz.

Senator Abetz: No, I said—

Senator FAULKNER: Okay.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly, would that be something that your area would—

Ms Kelly : Yes, Senator: I do believe that PM&C has provided advice in that process.

Senator WONG: When were you asked for advice?

Ms Kelly : I do not have the details of that. I would have to take the details of that on notice.

Senator WONG: And when you say 'advice', was that, 'Here's a draft'—advice as to content or advice as to process?

Senator Abetz: That is now getting very close to the type of advice that is being proffered by Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: I just want to know if PM&C have been asked to help draft. That is all.

Senator Abetz: Yes, and that then immediately indicates whether or not certain advice has been given.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but have PM&C been informed of the standards expected of ministers, as Minister Abetz has outlined to the committee, before we have a formal code of conduct?

Ms Kelly : The formal ministerial code of conduct will be finalised by the Prime Minister. PM&C has provided advice in the process of developing that code.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that. I accept that. Thank you for that. What I was asking was: in the period before that is finalised—I accept it is working towards its conclusion; we have heard that from Senator Abetz, and I accept it—has PM&C been informed of the standards the Prime Minister is expecting of members of the executive, as Senator Abetz has outlined?

Ms Kelly : I would expect that when the standards are finalised that position will be clear.

Senator FAULKNER: Is that a no?

Ms Kelly : I would expect that to be clear from the standards when they are finalised.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but ministers are in office now and advice and guidance have been given to them. That is fine. I just wanted to know if PM&C was aware of the advice and guidance.

Ms Kelly : PM&C has been involved in the development of the standards which are being finalised by the Prime Minister.

Senator FAULKNER: That is, as you would appreciate, with respect, not an answer to the question I have asked. What about the ministerial staff code of conduct? Can someone give me a status report on that, please.

Ms Kelly : The content of the Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff, which sets out the expectations they are expected to meet in the performance of their duties, is the responsibility of the Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson. The statement, I understand, has been issued and placed on the Special Minister of State's website.

Senator FAULKNER: What is that statement entitled?

Ms Kelly : It is entitled 'Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff'.

Senator FAULKNER: Is that in lieu of the ministerial staff code of conduct, or is that the code of conduct?

Ms Kelly : You might have to take that up with the Special Minister of State. 'Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff' is what the document is headed.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, I appreciate there is a Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff, but does PM&C have any involvement in or understanding of a formal ministerial staff code of conduct? You may not, but if I could just be clear on that—

Senator Abetz: The statement of standards is, if I might say so, similar to a code of conduct and I think it is just different terminology but with the same impact. It is on the website for all to see as to the standards that are expected. I am sure that will have a degree of similarity to what were previously called codes of conduct.

Senator FAULKNER: Sure. All I am trying to understand—and you may not know, because technically it may be in Ministerial and Parliamentary Services in the Department of Finance—is whether, as a result of that, there is not going to be a code of conduct in a formal sense for ministerial staff. You may not be able to answer that. I appreciate that.

Senator Abetz: No, what I do not want to have on the record is what you just said—that there will be no code of conduct for ministerial staff—when you know full well, courtesy of the evidence of Ms Kelly, that there is a statement of standards that has been published and is on the website. Sure, it is not called a code of conduct, but I do not want it on the public record unchallenged that there is no code of conduct when there is a statement of standards, which most people would accept is the same by another name.

Senator FAULKNER: I accept there is a statement of standards, and I understand precisely the point about nomenclature, and that is what I am just trying to grapple with. I am just trying to understand that. You might well say to me, Minister—and it is a fair enough point—'This is a matter for the Department of Finance and Ministerial and Parliamentary Services at the end of the day.' But I thought that, if officials at the table from PM&C could assist me in relation to this code of conduct issue in the broad, that would be helpful.

Senator Abetz: Yes, but you had made an assertion or used words to the effect that therefore there is no code of conduct for ministerial staff and, possibly from an overabundance of caution, I wanted the public record to reflect that, whilst there might not be such a thing as a code of conduct for ministerial staff, there was a creature known as the Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, and I accept there is no such thing as a ministerial staff code of conduct, and I accept there is a Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff. I completely accept that, Minister. I am merely trying to establish whether that was at some point going to evolve into a ministerial staff code of conduct or not. Anyway, you may not be able to assist me with that; that is fair enough.

Senator Abetz: It is a statement of standards as opposed to a—

Senator FAULKNER: It is a statement of standards, yes. You have told me there is an intention, clearly, for a ministerial code of conduct. I am assuming you cannot say to me that in a formal sense—

Senator Abetz: It may be called a statement of ministerial standards, but it will be a similar creature.

Senator FAULKNER: Okay. What about a Lobbying Code of Conduct? Can you help me with that one. This, again, may not necessarily be a matter for your department. First of all, either Ms Cross or Ms Kelly could assist me as to whether there is an involvement by PM&C in a Lobbying Code of Conduct.

Senator Abetz: The Secretary of PM&C is involved, because the Secretary of PM&C is the holder of the register of lobbyists. After 20 March next year, he may have to remove certain names.

Senator FAULKNER: Sure. I appreciate that. That is helpful, and I thank you for that, Minister. I was not asking you specifically about the operation of the register of lobbyists. I was merely asking whether there is at the moment a Lobbying Code of Conduct. I did not think there was, but I stand to be corrected. I am merely seeking that information.

Senator Abetz: There is a Lobbying Code of Conduct and register of lobbyists, and changes to the code were made on 20 September this year. That relates to lobbyists holding political party executive positions.

Senator FAULKNER: And that code of conduct is on the PM&C website, is it?

Senator Abetz: That I do not know.

Ms Kelly : I understand that is the case. If it is not, I will correct that.

Senator FAULKNER: As far as the department or the minister is aware, that code is finalised excepting what the minister has said to me—that there may need to be certain lobbyists removed from the register. I heard that; I appreciated that information. But, as far as the code is concerned, that matter has been finalised?

Ms Kelly : The code is in place, along with the changes that were made on 20 September.

Senator FAULKNER: All right. I may not get an answer to this, but I am just interested in the process here: does the new governance committee of cabinet have a role in finalising these sorts of matters? It would seem to me to be front and centre governance committee business, if you like. You may be able to answer that question; you may prefer not to.

Senator Abetz: Yes, it does.

Senator FAULKNER: It does in the sense that—

Senator Abetz: It is involved in issues arising from the lobbyist's code.

Senator FAULKNER: Arising from it? I more meant: when there is a ministerial code of conduct, is that a prime-ministerial decision or would it be—

Senator Abetz: All these things, as you would well know, are usually prime-ministerial decisions.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but it would be something that might have cabinet force, through the governance committee or something like that. I appreciate that the Prime Minister is central to these sorts of decisions. I understand that. I accept that.

Senator WONG: I have just found—what did you call it: the statement of standards? There are a couple of things I want to ask about it. It actually refers to the Government Staffing Committee—with capital letters, so it is a proper noun—so I guess it really does exist. So are we able to take it any further as to who is on it now?

Senator Abetz: Sorry, on the?

Senator WONG: The Government Staffing Committee. It is actually referenced in the Statement of Standards.

Senator Abetz: Yes, and from what I can recollect it is chaired by Minister Andrews and has the Special Minister of State, Senator Ronaldson, on it; and the chief of staff of the Prime Minister's office, the deputy chief of staff of the Prime Minister's office and the chief of staff of the Deputy Prime Minister's office.

Senator WONG: So the COS and DCOS of the PMO and the COS of the DPMO.

Senator DASTYARI: A question that got taken on notice while you were here went to some media reports that the Federal Director of the Liberal Party, Brian Loughnane, was actually on the committee. But you are saying that is not the case?

Senator Abetz: No, he is not a member of the committee.

Senator DASTYARI: Well, we have defamed both the Australian and Fairfax today!

Senator WONG: Has he attended any meetings of the committee?

Senator Abetz: It would stand to reason that a number of people attend the meetings.

Senator WONG: So we have a distinction between people who rock up and members—is that how it works?

Senator Abetz: Of course. And it often happens that you might get advice, or a minister might want to come along to prosecute his or her case, but the actual committee that formally advises the Prime Minister is that handful of people that I mentioned.

Senator FAULKNER: Does the committee have any regular attendees other than the members?

Senator Abetz: I don't know. I will take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you.

Senator WONG: And could you take on notice how many meetings has Mr Nutt attended and how many meetings has Mr Loughnane attended.

Senator Abetz: I will take that on notice but, unless there is some sort of materiality in dragging people's names through the Hansard, I am not sure that serves any useful purpose.

Senator WONG: They are part of the group that is making recommendations to the Prime Minister—

Senator Abetz: No, they are not.

Senator WONG: So they just rock up to hold hands?

Senator Abetz: The five people that I mentioned are the decision-makers.

Senator WONG: So the Federal Director of the Liberal Party just turns up to have a cup of tea?

Senator Abetz: I have taken that on notice.

Senator WONG: Is Mr Nutt currently a MOP(S) staffer or not?

Senator Abetz: I don't know.

Senator FAULKNER: That would be a matter for Finance. I asked this before, and I think you took it on notice, but given you have been able to provide additional information: who is the secretary?

Senator Abetz: I do not know which out of the five is the secretary. Suffice to say I assume it is not Mr Andrews, who is the chair.

Senator FAULKNER: I assume that too. So we are down to four.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me—

Senator Abetz: And, look, there might be a note-taker—I will find out.

Senator WONG: Sorry?

Senator Abetz: There might be someone to take notes—who knows. But I will take it on notice.

Senator WONG: Can we go back to your Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff. Paragraph 21 is essentially a provision that relates to staff, either through social media or means, expressing their own views. There is a reference that 'the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff should be consulted for further guidance'. That is a change from the code under the previous government, I think, isn't it?

Senator Abetz: I do not have the previous code in front of me. I know there was somebody in the former PMO who used to be heavily engaged in social media—he had a Scottish surname, if I recollect—who may have done well to get guidance from a chief of staff. But I will if there is a change.

Senator FAULKNER: Perhaps Mr Abbott might consider putting such a clause in his ministerial code of conduct.

Senator Abetz: I am sure—

Senator FAULKNER: That was rather tongue-in-cheek! From my own experience I am sure the odd Prime Minister—

Senator Abetz: I am sure he will be delighted to get that bit of advice!

Senator FAULKNER: in recent years would probably want to do that.

Senator Abetz: I would have thought the former Prime Minister might have done better if he had taken advice, rather than sending selfies out into the ether, which assisted us greatly.

Senator WONG: Senator Abetz, you are getting tired and you are reverting to type, aren't you. Do you want to try and come back to where you were?

Senator Abetz: I was asked about prime ministers advising ministers and I was going back to the most recent precedent of a Prime Minister—

Senator FAULKNER: Exactly, so—

CHAIR: Let the minister complete his answer, please.

Senator Abetz: with social media.

CHAIR: Have you completed your answer, Minister?

Senator Abetz: I have, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, you indicated you had more questions.

Senator WONG: Yes, I do. I think Senator Faulkner might want to ask another question about paragraph 21, but before we go there can I just draw your attention to placitum 5 in the notes. Do I understand from that that sanctions—that is, punishment or response—under the statement of standards is determined by the chief of staff of the Prime Minister?

Senator Abetz: No. Let's read it so there can be no mistake.

Senator WONG: Yes. After 'consultation with the—

Senator Abetz: 'Any sanctions imposed under this Statement of Standards will be determined, after consultation with the relevant minister, by the Chief of Staff acting on advice from the Special Minister of State and the Government Staffing Committee.'

Senator WONG: Yes, so we have 'advice'. Maybe I misread it, but who actually determines what the sanction is?

Senator Abetz: The sanction would be determined—

Senator WONG: By whom?

Senator Abetz: By 'the Chief of Staff acting on advice from the Special Minister of State and the Government Staffing Committee.'

Senator WONG: Yes, I agree the chief of staff consults. I just wanted to confirm how I read it as the chief of staff determines the sanction for staff members.

Senator Abetz: One would assume that the chief of staff in the Prime Minister's office might be the person who deals with sanctions for other ministerial staff—just as much as the Prime Minister deals with sanctions relating to ministers. I would have thought there is nothing out of the ordinary here at all; it is the normal chain of events.

Senator WONG: Minister, if someone on your staff does not do the right thing, wouldn't you want to make sure you took responsibility for how that was managed?

Senator Abetz: It says, 'will be determined, after consultation with the relevant minister'—

Senator WONG: Yes: 'consultation'.

Senator Abetz: And, as you know, and you have already heard, all these ministerial staff—all 420 of them—are appointed by the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: So the whole paragraph 21 is new—is that right?

Senator Abetz: That may well be the case. I do not have the previous set of standards with me to do a compare-and-contrast, I am sorry.

Senator FAULKNER: It is a new provision in the code; a new clause. That is what it is.

Senator Abetz: If you are saying so, I am more than willing to accept that as being the case. But I am unable to—

Senator WONG: Thank you.

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Faulkner, I know you have further questions. I just indicate that in about 15 minutes some other senators may have some questions as well. We can come back to you, of course, if necessary.

Senator FAULKNER: I will be very brief, with the benefit of that knowledge.

Senator Abetz: There is a note, I have just been advised. Notes from the previous ministerial staff code of conduct had—

Senator WONG: A similar clause?

Senator Abetz: Implementation of this code—that there was a very similar—

Senator WONG: Yes. No, I accept that, Senator.

Senator Abetz: Yes. So it is not all that—

Senator WONG: No. That 21 is new, but there was something similar to note 5, I think.

Senator Abetz: Yes. So that is very similar—and, if I might say, with a chain of events where the top staff member, being the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister, would be responsible for other staff. It make sense, just as much as the Prime Minister is responsible for other ministers.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes. So you are making the point now that the sanctions provision in the previous ministerial code is similar to the new sanctions provision in the guidance that you issued.

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Fair enough.

Senator Abetz: See, any sanctions imposed under this code will be determined after consultation with the relevant minister by the Chief of Staff—

Senator FAULKNER: Yes.

Senator Abetz: to the Prime Minister. So I think there are lots of similarities.

Senator FAULKNER: You are absolutely right—between the previous code and the current statement of standards in relation to sanctions—

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: and many other elements of it too. I wanted to ask one thing, and the chair has asked me to be brief, so I will just be brief on this and see if other senators have issues that they want to raise. I am more interested here in process. There was a dinner that the Prime Minister held and invited a range of media columnists to. It was reported in the paper they were 'conservative columnists'. That is fair enough. What I am interested in is to take a step back and just ask what the practice will be of the new government in relation to—this was a media story; you may or may not have seen it. It was the Prime Minister entertaining at Kirribilli House; prime ministers do that. The practice has been consistently now, for quite a long period of time, for guest lists of attendees at such functions to be published, and I wondered if either you, Minister, or the officials at the table could confirm that that is the intention of the current government in relation to these sorts of functions.

Ms Kelly : The practice is that, where an event is organised by the Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch of PM&C, those guest lists are provided. I have no reason to believe that practice will not be continued. But the function in question, I do not believe, was one of those functions—the function you have referred to.

Senator FAULKNER: Okay. But, for CERHOS-organised functions, that will be the case. And you are making a distinction, which is fair enough, that, for functions personally paid for and resourced by the Prime Minister, that will not be the case.

Ms Kelly : The distinction relates to functions that are arranged by the Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch of PM&C. Those are the functions.

Senator FAULKNER: So it does not come to a resourcing issue? I am not clear on what you are saying. It does not come to a resourcing issue?

Ms Kelly : No, Senator, it comes to whether or not the Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch was involved in organising it.

Senator FAULKNER: And does the same principle apply to menus? Because, previously also, the practice was—and these may be CERHOS-organised functions, or hosted functions, if you like—that the guest list and the menus would be made public. That was just standard practice.

Senator Abetz: For official functions, I will take on notice whether your assertion is in fact correct, because there were certain functions that I understand were held at the Lodge where we did try to find out who attended, and I understand that that was met with a degree of resistance—

CHAIR: Which is exactly where I am trying to agree with you.

Senator Abetz: Allow me to refresh my mind as to whether what you are asserting is in fact correct.

CHAIR: Just on them—

Senator FAULKNER: I am actually not asserting anything; I am merely asking what the practice is going to be.

Senator Abetz: No, you said in effect that as per past practice it was always outlined.

Senator FAULKNER: That has been my understanding, yes.

Senator Abetz: That is not correct in my understanding.

Senator FAULKNER: If I have been incorrect about that, fine. That was my understanding.

CHAIR: Perhaps I could help clear this up. Ms Kelly, have guest lists of private functions held by Ms Gillard, Mr Mathieson, Ms Rein or Mr Rudd been published as a matter of course during their administrations?

Ms Kelly : The only details of functions that have been provided have been of those functions that have been arranged by CERHOS, the Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch of PM&C. They are the only functions for which any details such as guest lists or menus have been released.

CHAIR: So any suggestion that it has been prior practice to publish the guest lists of private functions or invitations extended to friends or individuals, or menus, is not entirely correct.

Ms Kelly : As I said, it is only for CERHOS functions that that material has been released.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that. My question is—

CHAIR: Always helpful.

Senator WONG: At least you agreed they are all your friends. We should put that on the record. At least you put on the record that they are all your friends.

Senator FAULKNER: My question just goes to the process—whether it is planned to continue the previous practice.

Senator Abetz: We will find out what the previous practice actually was, because I do not think what you initially asserted about it reflects what actually occurred. So what we will do is take on notice (1) what the actual previous practice was—

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but—

Senator Abetz: Then, once that is established, we will be able to answer on notice your question as to whether that previous practice will be continued.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that, but I hear from what the officials are saying—I do not know whether 'hosting' is the correct terminology—that, for want of a better use of the English language, the hosting of the function by CERHOS is the critical thing in terms of the publication of the guest list. Correct?

Ms Kelly : I am not sure 'hosting' is the correct way to describe it.

Senator FAULKNER: No, neither am I.

Ms Kelly : Involvement in the arrangements for the function.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, involvement—'organise', perhaps.

Senator Abetz: If it were a state dinner, for example, with a particular visiting prime minister or something of that nature then you could anticipate that that would be an official dinner at which—I understand this occurs—you do get the official invitation list made known. But for other functions I do not believe that that is the case.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but there are obviously prime ministers—and Mr Abbott will not be any different to previous prime ministers—who have functions at official residences with no involvement by CERHOS. That is the case, isn't it?

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator FAULKNER: Let us be honest about this: there is no question that that occurs.

Senator Abetz: And let us be honest about this: the guest lists for those have never been published, to the best of my knowledge, unlike what you were trying to assert and trick us into before, Senator Faulkner.

Senator FAULKNER: I think I have been pretty clear. I was not going to ask but, in relation to the dinner that we are speaking of that occurred some time before 26 October and received quite a considerable amount of publicity, perhaps in the Fairfax papers—

Senator Abetz: From all the ones that were not invited.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, I was going to make the point: perhaps in the Fairfax papers because a number of News Limited journalists were present. This was not a private function by Mr Abbott, then. Just be clear: this is not a private—

Senator Abetz: What do you mean by 'private'? They were there at the invitation of the Prime Minister.

Senator FAULKNER: So the invitation list is determined by the Prime Minister or his office as opposed to CERHOS. That is correct, isn't it, just so we are clear?

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Do guests pay for their own travel to those sorts of dinners?

Senator Abetz: I would have to take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: If you would, I would appreciate it. Are there some CERHOS-organised dinners where guests get supported travel? I am not aware of that, but—

Senator Abetz: One would imagine that, if the Prime Minister were hosting a particular group of people, they might have their travel supported. I do not know, but we can take that on notice. I would assume that there are occasions when travel is supported and other times when travel is not supported.

Senator FAULKNER: Anyway, I appreciate that. Thank you for taking that on notice. If it is possible, you might care to take on notice the purpose, cost, and menu. That may or may not be provided; I do not know, but I will just ask on notice.

Senator Abetz: We will take it all on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you very much.

Ms Cross : Could I provide an answer to another question from Senator Wong, just so we can deal with that tonight.

CHAIR: Yes.

Ms Cross : Senator Wong, you asked about the Asian century white paper website. That was archived by the department as part of the process of closing down the Asian century implementation task force, so, when the task force ended in PM&C, we archived the website in September 2013. The content is still available through the National Library archive website, but it was part of the process of closing down the task force.

Senator WONG: After the election.

Ms Cross : It was the timing for closing down the task force, yes.

Senator WONG: After the election?

Ms Cross : It was 20 September, so yes.

Senator WONG: Was there any involvement or discussion about this with the Prime Minister's office?

Ms Cross : I could not tell you that, but I can check for you.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Senator FAULKNER: It might be helpful to you, Senator Abetz, to point out that on 27 May 2008 I told this estimates committee, sitting in the chair that you are now occupying—

Senator Abetz: Are you still around from that time?

Senator FAULKNER: I was. I said that I thought that a new approach was warranted in relation to official functions, and one of the issues that arises is how one defines an official function or a non-official function, and I think that it is very simply and easily done because, effectively, an official function is one where CERHOS and the Department of the PM&C have an organising role, as opposed to a private dinner et cetera. So I commend that to you, and you might find that in the light of this you have it on board at last

Senator Abetz: And after five years, from 2008 to 2013, what did your government do about that very helpful suggestion? It was filed in a circular container next to one's desk.

Senator FAULKNER: As you look at the answers to those questions, I commend that to you, because I think it was a very sensible comment I made.

Senator Abetz: You do have your lucid moments. I would have to concede that, Senator Faulkner.

Senator FAULKNER: Some say I only have lucid moments.

Senator Abetz: Well, not many people that I talk to, including in your own party—

Senator FAULKNER: But, then again, you do not talk to many people. They are on to you. People tend to run the other way when you are anywhere near.

Senator Abetz: It is a pity the government ran from your suggestion for five years straight, and now you are trying to foist it on us.

Senator WONG: You know, you were behaving for a moment there, Minister, but now the veneer has dropped. The veneer is dropping and he is back to punchy Eric.

CHAIR: I do not know that we need to be pursuing this tit for tat. We are here to resolve some questions.

Senator FAULKNER: Given that other senators have questions, I will not ask anything further.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Faulkner. Thank you, Senator Wong. Other senators do have questions, including me. I address the departmental officers. Earlier we were talking about travel and the need for travel to be approved by the Prime Minister's office. Does that extend to travel for ministers, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs?

Ms Cross : Overseas travel?

CHAIR: Overseas travel.

Ms Cross : Yes, it does.

CHAIR: I just have a couple of questions about a report from July of 2013, in which it said that between July and December of 2012 former Senator Bob Carr hit taxpayers with $721,577 in flights and hotels. Are you able to confirm how many overseas trips Senator Carr actually made in the six months from 1 July 2012 to 1 January 2013?

Ms Kelly : I have the total figures for each year but I do not have them separated according to minister. I can take that on notice.

CHAIR: I would appreciate it if you could provide it, but provide me with the total figures for 2012, firstly.

Ms Kelly : The total figure for 2012 was 190. That was 180 trips by ministers and 10 trips by the Prime Minister.

CHAIR: Please provide on notice how many of those trips were undertaken by Senator Bob Carr.

Ms Kelly : Yes, we can take that on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you. I am also interested in the total cost of (1) travel, (2) accommodation and (3) any other expenses that are detailed for each of these trips—specifically Senator Carr's trips.

Ms Kelly : We can provide that on notice, but I do not have that with me.

CHAIR: I did not think you would. I am also interested in who else accompanied the Minister for Foreign Affairs on these trips and, for each of these people, what the travel, accommodation and other costs were.

Senator Abetz: The cost of the caravan.

CHAIR: That is a great way of putting it.

Senator Abetz: Or the Carr-avan.

CHAIR: No, I think it is Tim Mathieson who has a caravan. This is the entourage which went with Senator Carr.

Ms Kelly : If that extends to departmental staff, that might have to be directed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

CHAIR: I will leave it with you to see what you can ascertain—you can provide me with information you think is relevant. Are you able to provide me with the number of overseas trips Senator Carr made from 1 January 2013 until 7 September of that year?

Senator Abetz: At taxpayers' expense.

Ms Kelly : Again I can only provide you with the total figures for 2013 up to 17 September. I do not have them divided into specific ministers.

CHAIR: Please provide me with the figure you have.

Ms Kelly : The total 2013 figure up to 17 September 2013 is 97, of which 91 trips were trips by ministers and six were trips by the Prime Minister.

Senator SESELJA: What was the total spending on those 97?

Ms Kelly : Again, I do not have the total spend approved, but I can take that on notice.

CHAIR: I would also be interested in the total spend on travel, accommodation and other expenses for Senator Carr's trips in 2013. So I want you to break that down further.

Ms Kelly : Yes, I can do that.

CHAIR: Are you able to tell me—and I presume you will take this on notice—who else accompanied the Minister for Foreign Affairs on each of these trips and, for each of the people, what was the total cost of their travel, accommodation and other expenses. You will take that on notice too?

Ms Kelly : Yes. Those parts of it that relate to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, PM&C cannot answer. But we will answer it to the extent of our knowledge.

Senator SESELJA: What is the process for approving these trips? Were they approved by the Prime Minister's office? Did they come through the Prime Minister's department?

Ms Kelly : The process in place is that twice a year there is an approach by the Prime Minister to ministers seeking their requests for overseas travel. The Prime Minister receives those bids and provides in-principle approval of those bids on a six-monthly basis. In addition to that, there are ad hoc requests which occur on an unexpected basis.

Senator SESELJA: What level of detail is provided to the department or the PMO when a minister requests that kind of travel?

Ms Kelly : There are guidelines and material is provided which meets the requirements of the guidelines. That is certainly the case in relation to the current guidelines. I cannot speak about the previous government as I was not in PM&C at that time, but I can take that on notice and provide that information to you.

Senator SESELJA: While you are doing that, I am also interested—

Senator Abetz: If it was Senator Carr, it was approved, I think.

Senator SESELJA: With Senator Carr, I would be interested, if there is a record, in knowing what kinds of bids were put in, what the process of approving them were and how many of them were approved by the Prime Minister's office.

Ms Kelly : I will take that on notice.

Senator Abetz: I think I recall asking a question about that, and I think only one was ever rejected for Senator Carr, but we will see. That is Senator Bob Carr.

Senator SESELJA: The other thing you might take on notice is: if there was an approved program by ministers, and Minister Carr in particular, was there ever any significant divergence and what is the process when that occurs?

Ms Kelly : I will take that on notice.

Senator SESELJA: Thank you.

Senator Abetz: But might I suggest that you might like to follow that up with Foreign Affairs as well.

CHAIR: May I ask another question in respect of travel. Details emerged earlier this year of the cost of the former Prime Minister's travel to the United Nations summit on climate change in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, which she was reporting as conceding would not 'make some indelible mark on the world's history'. Are you able to confirm that the Australian delegation to the conference consisted of 52 people, including nine staff from the Prime Minister's office, three from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 23 from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and a further 11 bureaucrats from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities?

Ms Cross : I will have to take that on notice.

CHAIR: Are you able to confirm, Ms Cross, that the total cost to taxpayers of travel, accommodation and other expenses for the prime ministerial attendance at the summit, which she conceded would not 'make some indelible mark on the world's history', was close to $900,000?

Senator Abetz: It might not have made an indelible mark on world history, but it clearly did make an indelible mark on our debt.

CHAIR: Indeed, Senator Abetz. Ms Cross, is the figure of $900,000 accurate?

Ms Cross : We would have to check that for you. We will take that on notice.

CHAIR: What sort of justification or process is examined and entered into that results in 52 people at a cost of the best part of $1 million flying to a summit or conference which is not going to make any difference to anything? What sort of process does PM&C undergo to authorise that sort of expenditure?

Ms Cross : We will take that on notice, but there are separate approval processes for ministerial travel and departmental travel, as we have indicated previously, and we will take on notice what the process was at that point in time.

CHAIR: One would hope you learned from your mistakes.

Senator Abetz: It may be that somebody else approved that travel rather than the department.

CHAIR: Let us hope we learn from their mistakes. Let us find out who it was.

Senator WONG: Ministers do not approve the travel of public servants.

CHAIR: Anyway, thank you for taking those questions on notice. Are there any other questions?

Senator WONG: Hang on, I will take that. Minister Abetz—

CHAIR: Were you on that trip?

Senator WONG: No.

CHAIR: You were at Copenhagen; that is right.

Senator Abetz: After the success of Copenhagen, she thought, 'No, it'll never get better than this.'

Senator WONG: Let's see—2009. You are very obsessed. Did you just say that the Prime Minister should be approving the travel of departmental officers?

Senator Abetz: No, I said no such thing.

Senator WONG: I said that I do not think ministers approve the travel of departmental officers; if you are going on a trip, you do not sign off on it. What was your response, Senator? I thought you said the Prime Minister should.

Senator Abetz: I do not think I was responding to you; I was responding to Senator Bernardi about the approvals process.

CHAIR: It was a witty gibe.

Senator Abetz: And, at the end of the day, the Prime Minister can approve these things. I do not think that is a great revelation.

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister can approve which things?

Senator Abetz: Travel—

Senator WONG: Of whom?

Senator Abetz: and the size of the delegation and matters of that nature—the class of the travel et cetera. The current Prime Minister has just indicated that ministers will no longer be travelling first class. Prime ministers do have a call on these matters and make judgement calls, and I assume Ms Gillard made a similar judgement call in relation to the size of the delegation needed. So what I am saying is: do not blame the departmental officials necessarily. But it has been taken on notice, and we will find out who actually approved the size and the full cost of that delegation.

Senator SESELJA: Just a quick follow-up on that: when you do take that on notice, perhaps it might be worth breaking down the mode of travel of the various delegates—how many went on the VIP jet, how many went first class, business class or economy class.

Ms Cross : We will see what information we can get for you, Senator.

Senator SESELJA: Thank you.

Senator SMITH: While we are on the subject of prime ministerial travel and representations, I just want to go to the issue of Australian businessman Mr Matthew Joyce and the convictions that were laid against him in Dubai. From memory, I think that was 10 years imprisonment and $25 million in fines. I want to go to representations that the Prime Minister may have made. Can you confirm for me that the Prime Minister did make representations to the United Arab Emirates in regards to Mr Joyce?

Senator Abetz: That will be International Division.

Ms Wood : Sorry, Senator, would you mind repeating the question? I was just coming from next door.

Senator SMITH: Absolutely. We were discussing prime ministerial travel and the effectiveness of that travel, and I have just come to the issue of Mr Matthew Joyce, who is an Australian businessman who found himself facing 10 years imprisonment by the Dubai authorities and $25 million worth of fines. I am just wondering whether or not the Prime Minister made representations to the United Arab Emirates on Mr Joyce's behalf.

Ms Wood : Yes, he did. As you would be aware, the Prime Minister travelled recently through the UAE and met with a counterpart there, and he raised the case.

Senator SMITH: No, sorry; I am talking about the former Prime Minister, Ms Gillard.

Ms Wood : Yes. Well, with this particular case, as you are aware, it is a long-running case, it is a longstanding case. As is the case with long-running consular cases, various government ministers and officials do raise them in the course of their meetings, and the former Prime Minister certainly did as well.

Senator SMITH: And what was the tone of that discussion? What was the forcefulness of the former Prime Minister's representations on the part of Mr Matthew Boyce, who is an Australian citizen?

Ms Wood : I would prefer not to go into the details of the conversation that the Prime Minister held.

Senator SMITH: Did the department prepare some information for the Prime Minister to guide her discussion with the United Arab Emirates?

Ms Wood : Certainly. It is the practice of the department to provide a briefing for the Prime Minister when the Prime Minister travels, and that would include details about the consular case.

Senator SMITH: Right. And there is nothing more you can share about the representations the Prime Minister might have made?

Ms Wood : Not the specifics, no.

Senator SMITH: Right. TheAustralian newspaper reported on 4 April that the Prime Minister asked her UAE counterpart 'to consider the Victorian Supreme Court verdict' in regards to Mr Matthew Joyce. Was that Australian newspaper story an accurate account of how the Prime Minister might have represented Mr Joyce's situation to the United Arab Emirates?

Senator WONG: Is this the new governmental standard, is it?

Senator SMITH: Sorry?

Senator WONG: This government will be allowing these sorts of questions to be asked and answered about what Mr Abbott said to the Sri Lankans?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, a question has been asked. It is the departmental staff's responsibility to answer.

Ms Wood : Except that we would not go to into details of the conversation that a prime minister has with counterparts.

Senator SMITH: Right.

Ms Wood : The fact the case was raised, I think, is important. It was a prominent case. The Prime Minister raised it. But I do not think that it is helpful for me to go to the details of what the Prime Minister's conversation was.

Senator SMITH: So, when we got to 7 September, how was the matter resolved, or was it still ongoing? How would you categorise the success of the Australian government's representations and the former Prime Minister's discussions up to 7 September?

Ms Wood : Senator, as you would be aware—I am just checking the date, but it was in very recent times; I think it was last week—when the case of both Mr Joyce and Mr Lee went before the appeal court in Dubai, the case against Mr Joyce was dismissed and the appeal which had declared Mr Lee innocent was upheld, and that is the status of the case at the moment. So, on 7 September, the case was still ongoing.

Senator SMITH: Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser reflected on the effectiveness of the government's representations around the time and was commenting, I think, specifically in the article in The Australian on 4 April, and he said that the briefing note that had been prepared for the Prime Minister was weak and without conviction. Has anyone else raised concerns about the effectiveness or forcefulness of the briefing note?

Ms Wood : I do not think it is helpful to go into the details. This is an ongoing case. It had many ups and downs. I think what we should focus is that, on 10 November, the court in Dubai dismissed the case against Mr Joyce and upheld the acquittal of Mr Lee.

Senator SMITH: Thanks very much.

CHAIR: It being 10 past nine—

Senator WONG: I presume that after the break you can tell us whether the Prime Minister raised human rights concerns with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. It is the same tenor of the questions. Is that how it is going to work?

CHAIR: We have five minutes if you want to explore all this, Senator.

Senator Abetz: I think there is a difference.

Senator WONG: Okay—one was Labor and one was the coalition. That is right.

Senator Abetz: No, that something is—

Senator LUNDY: What is the difference?

CHAIR: Just let the minister answer.

Senator Abetz: If you were to listen and inform yourself, you might actually learn something: that there was—

Senator WONG: Not from you.

Senator Abetz: That is the standard of the Labor Party.

Senator WONG: Oh, come on, Eric—can't take a joke. It is 10 past nine.

CHAIR: The minister first, and then Senator Wong.

Senator Abetz: Senator Smith was referring to a public comment from somebody who asserted that he had seen or had some knowledge of the briefing note, so it was not just a fishing expedition as to what was in it and what was said. He specifically raised a specific comment by a person who one assumes—I do not know how—had seen the briefing note. So that is in a completely different category from just trying to find out what may or may not have been in the briefing note when it has been reported in the media that somebody of some degree of substance, like a former Prime Minister, had commented on the briefing note. So I think it does fall in a different category.

Senator WONG: Who did the Prime Minister meet with in Sri Lanka? The President and the PM?

Senator Abetz: Stacks of people, I would assume.

Ms Wood : He did meet with President Rajapaksa.

Senator WONG: Not the Prime Minister as well?

Ms Wood : No.

Senator WONG: Okay. So my question should be: did he raise human rights concerns with the President?

Ms Wood : Is that a question?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Ms Wood : As the Prime Minister said during one of his press conferences, he did talk to the President about the situation in Sri Lanka. He asked the President to provide an update, particularly on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and encouraged the Sri Lankan government to expedite the implementation of the recommendations of that commission.

Senator WONG: Did he also suggest torture was a relative concept?

Ms Wood : No.

Senator WONG: Because it is not, is it?

Ms Wood : As the Prime Minister said in parliament today, torture is never acceptable.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Ms Kelly : Chair, can I just clarify responses to questions by you and Senator Seselja earlier in relation to the approval of overseas travel. Just to make it absolutely clear, the Prime Minister authorises only the travel of ministers and their staff, and that is the procedure that we discussed earlier. All costs associated with the travel of ministers and their staff are published on the Department of Finance website every six months in a report called Parliamentarians' travel paid by the Department of Finance, and all of those details can be accessed on that website. PM&C authorised only the travel of PM&C departmental staff to the event that you referred to, and we can provide on notice the costs of travel of those departmental staff. All other departmental staff that were members of the delegation were approved within their agencies, and requests for further details in relation to that travel should be directed to each of their agencies.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Kelly. We have some accumulating to do, I suspect, to obtain the information we want. But whatever you can provide would be appropriate.

Senator WONG: It is all on the website.

CHAIR: No, we are actually looking for specific breakdowns of some of the costs.

Senator WONG: It is all on the website. One of the transparency measures we put in place was a six-monthly publication on the internet.

CHAIR: I suppose you have 52 people to report.

Senator FAULKNER: The longstanding principle is that the Department of Finance pays for ministerial and ministerial staff travel, and agencies pay for their own officials.

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: And that is a very long standing arrangement.

CHAIR: And yet the issue of cost, of course, is one, but so is the approval process that was put in place, which was discussed earlier—about whether the Prime Minister's office approves these things. That was the essence of the questioning. For example, 52 people flew off to Copenhagen at great expense, and for something which the Prime Minister herself said was not going to change the world. That is the essence of the questioning—the process to develop these approvals. Anyway, I thank you for that. It is now fifteen minutes past—

Senator WONG: Can I just ask one question on travel, before we—

CHAIR: Before we shut down travel? One question, Senator Wong.

Senator FAULKNER: Before we travel on!

Senator WONG: Thank you. The process that we have been discussing that the government has in place, travel being the subject of a prime minister's decision—I can't find it here but I think that there were some public statements about backbenchers being subject to that. I am not sure if Senator Faulkner covered this.

Ms Kelly : The guidelines are expressed to apply to ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

Senator WONG: I know what the guidelines say. I am asking if there has been a practice put in place whereby the Prime Minister's office has to authorise the overseas travel of backbenchers.

Ms Kelly : I am not aware of it in relation to these guidelines.

Senator Abetz: Ask under Special Minister of State—

Senator WONG: It was the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff—that was what was reported.

Senator Abetz: Sorry?

Senator WONG: The report, which I can't find—my staff might hear this and email it to me—was that the Prime Minister's chief of staff had to authorise overseas travel, even by backbenchers.

Ms Kelly : I will make some inquiries during the break and may be able to return to that.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

CHAIR: We will now suspend for 15 minutes.

Ms Cross : Chair, I hate to sound like a broken record, but is it possible to know whether some of the departmental officials have finished being questioned and whether they could leave?

Senator WONG: That requires me to tell you what we are going to ask.

Ms Cross : That is right.

Senator WONG: Yes.

Senator Abetz: Or what you are not going to ask about.

Senator WONG: Well, you asked me about deregulation, and I do have some questions for Deregulation; and I flagged FOI.

Senator FAULKNER: And I have no further questions unless provoked!

CHAIR: By whom?

Senator Abetz: In other words, you will have.

Senator FAULKNER: No, I am rarely provoked, as you can see.

Senator WONG: I do not have any G20 questions.

Ms Cross : So G20 could leave? National Security?

Senator FAULKNER: Chair, have we sorted out the issue of the agencies?

Senator Abetz: They have been dismissed, I think.

Senator FAULKNER: We do not want to hold any agencies that do not need to be held. But that is sorted?

CHAIR: Yes.

Senator WONG: I do not have any G20 policy decision questions and I personally do not have anything in Dr McCarthy's area.

Ms Cross : So, if we were to let the National Security Defence and Intelligence Group staff leave, that would be okay with the committee?

Senator WONG: Yes, but I cannot speak for other senators—certainly not for the crossbenchers.

Senator Abetz: Have any other senators indicated an interest?

CHAIR: No, no other senators have indicated an interest.

Senator Abetz: All right. So they can go.

Ms Cross : And G20 as well.

CHAIR: And G20.

Ms Cross : Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 21 : 19 to 21 : 34

CHAIR: We will continue with questions for Prime Minister and Cabinet. Before I hand to Senator Wong, Senator Seselja has just brought a matter to my attention for confirmation.

Senator SESELJA: In some of that questioning before, I know you took a number of questions on notice. I just wanted to check that you took on notice the question in relation to Senator Carr's overseas visits—were there differences between the programs originally approved by the Prime Minister and the final program as completed?

Ms Cross : Yes, we did.

Senator WONG: There was an article about a month ago saying that the Prime Minister's chief of staff had emailed all coalition MPs, including backbenchers, requesting approval before overseas study trips, sponsored travel and private holidays. I was wondering if you could cast any light on that, Senator.

Senator Abetz: Yes, I can confirm that that is the case.

Senator WONG: Can you explain the ambit of what is required for approvals?

Senator Abetz: Without going into all the detail, I can indicate that there is one statement in it which says that it is the Prime Minister's expectation that no absences of parliament will be sought but that, where leave is unavoidable, approval from the whip is required.

Senator WONG: What are you reading from?

Senator Abetz: From information which has been provided to me. That is, if you like, the context.

Senator WONG: This is your briefing note. It is not a document that is—

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator WONG: I do not want to spend a lot of time on this; I am just trying to get a sense of it. Is this private holidays as well as overseas study trips?

Senator Abetz: Whether it is private or not—I do not know why it is of interest to the Labor Party. Clearly it does not apply to you. It is for internal government consumption.

Senator WONG: Does it apply only to overseas trips or to domestic travel as well? I assume it is overseas only, but the article is not clear.

Senator Abetz: As I understand it, only overseas travel is covered.

Senator WONG: Private or publicly funded?

Senator Abetz: Yes, both.

Senator SMITH: To go backwards very briefly, we were discussing with Senator Faulkner issues around invitation lists for ceremonial events and private events. Can you take on notice a query I have—whether or not the invitation lists and attendee lists for the events hosted by the former Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, with what are called 'mummy bloggers' have been published. If they have not been published, why not and would we be able to see those attendee and invitation lists.

Ms Kelly : May I just clarify the premise of your question? There was no distinction between events organised by the ceremonial and hospitality area of PM&C and private events. It was merely that events organised by the Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch of PM&C are those events for which details are available.

Senator SMITH: That distinction I might have just come to a conclusion on myself in listening to the evidence. Thank you very much for that, Ms Kelly.

Senator WONG: I had questions for Ms Croke in relation to an FOI determination. While we wait for her, can you tell me—perhaps on notice—outside of the caretaker period, what interactions between shadow ministers and departments are permitted?

Ms Cross : Outside of caretaker periods? I believe the normal process is to seek the agreement of the relevant minister if the shadow minister wishes to request a briefing. I think there is an arrangement where you can seek approval to do that.

Senator WONG: That was my understanding. Would it be the case, therefore, that a secretary, who had interactions with the then opposition or with the current opposition, would do so without informing his or her minister outside of the caretaker period?

Ms Cross : We will check for you what the arrangements are. My understanding was that there was a normal process.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I am still waiting for Ms Croke. I did give notice that I would be going to FOI. You will take the ex-caretaker provisions on notice?

Ms Cross : Yes.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, it is worth flagging that we have two more agencies to go.

Senator WONG: I have this, then dereg and then I am done. Ms Croke, you were the decision maker in relation to the incoming government brief, an FOI decision that Mr Bowen lodged?

Ms Croke : I was for a number of decisions, yes.

Senator WONG: I am asking about this one particularly. Were you the decision maker on the last occasion when there was an FOI request in 2010?

Ms Croke : No, I was not.

Senator WONG: I want to talk to you about the process of consideration of this FOI application. When the application first comes in what is the process? Are you allocated to make a decision or are you the person currently who makes all of those FOI decisions?

Ms Croke : The applications within the department or the requests under the FOI Act come into a central area within the department within our legal area. They allocate decision makers based on subject matter and often in consultation with the executive as to who might be the appropriate decision maker.

Senator WONG: Were you allocated that ab initio? Were you the first person it was allocated to or did it shift?

Ms Croke : It was allocated to the position of the First Assistant Secretary of the Ministerial Support Division.

Senator WONG: Which was not you or was you?

Ms Croke : I became the person acting in that role in, I think, late September.

Senator WONG: Who was acting previously?

Ms Croke : Jamie Fox owned the position previously. He does own the position.

Senator WONG: That is his substantive?

Ms Croke : That is his substantive position.

Senator WONG: If I may ask: what is your position when you are not acting FAS?

Ms Croke : I am the assistant secretary within the division, within the ministerial area.

Senator WONG: As part of your process of considering this, what consultations did you engage in?

Ms Croke : I looked at the request, I spoke to our legal area about the issues, I sought views within the department.

Senator WONG: From whom?

Ms Croke : Mainly from the legal area because they were the ones who were advising me about the options around what exemptions were available to me to consider. That is part of their normal course as advisers to all the decision makers within the department. I am not an expert, I am not a lawyer by training, and I rely on advice that is given to me about the exemptions under the act about what recent decisions might have been taken by the Information Commissioner or what recent advice might have been issued by the Information Commissioner.

Senator WONG: Why did you go to the point of exemptions?

Ms Croke : In looking at the case and how to manage a request—we go through a process, obviously, first of identifying what the request is about: is the scope of the request clear; can we identify the documents that fall within the scope of that request; and do we hold the documents?

Senator WONG: I think with any incoming government brief everyone knows you hold it and you prepared it. When you say the legal unit, how high; at what level? Are we talking assistant secretary, FAS or deputy secretary? Ms Kelly, when did you join the department?

Ms Kelly : 19 September.

Senator WONG: Congratulations. Ms Kelly or whoever was in her position previously.

Ms Croke : No, it is generally within the legal area, so it is often up to the assistant secretary but often it is the FOI team within that branch.

Senator WONG: As acting FAS, in the context of this decision, who is your immediate supervisor?

Ms Croke : Ms Kelly.

Senator WONG: Did you have a discussion with Ms Kelly or her predecessor about this application?

Ms Croke : Part of our role in taking decisions under the FOI Act is to make our immediate supervisor aware that we have a request and the likely way in which we will handle that request.

Senator WONG: The likely way in which you handle the request.

Ms Croke : The likely way in which I propose to handle the—

Senator WONG: So you had that discussion with Ms Kelly—or would it have been Ms Leon?

Ms Croke : It was Ms Leon initially—I am just trying to think was she still there; I think she might have just been leaving around that time. It was right at the time of the crossover. I would have to check.

Senator WONG: Ms Kelly, was it with you?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: And did you express a view about how the matter should be handled?

Ms Kelly : No.

Ms Croke : The discussion is very much about how I, as decision maker, am proposing to handle the matter.

Senator WONG: Did either of you have a conversation with Dr Watt what about this matter?

Ms Croke : I prepared a brief for Dr Watt. Again, that is a standard requirement within the department for any FOI matters where a decision maker is taking a decision that is other than utterly routine—for example, if it was about somebody's personal letter to the Prime Minister that I was going to release. I would not brief the secretary for matters that are something—

Senator WONG: When did you prepare that brief to the secretary?

Ms Croke : I would have to check the exact date of that?

Senator WONG: Please do. Thank you—you can take that on notice; that is fine. Ms Kelly, did you have a conversation with Dr Watt about this matter?

Ms Kelly : I believe I did only to inform him of the contents of my conversation with Ms Croke.

Senator WONG: Could you provide me with the dates of those conversations? You keep a diary, I assume.

Ms Kelly : I will endeavour to but I do not know whether I would have that information.

Senator WONG: Do you have notes of that meeting?

Ms Kelly : I cannot answer that, Senator, but I can certainly take it on notice and make that inquiry.

Senator WONG: If you do, can you take on notice also whether you are able to provide them.

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: Were you aware, Ms Croke, of the current Prime Minister's view about the release of incoming government briefs?

Ms Croke : I am aware of that view.

Senator WONG: And when did you become aware of that view?

Ms Croke : I am not sure I could put a precise date on that.

Senator WONG: Before or after you took responsibility for this FOI decision?

Ms Croke : It was probably before I finalised my decision.

Senator WONG: Thank you. What do you understand the view to be?

Ms Croke : I think it would be fair to say that there would be concern about a brief like the incoming government brief being released in entirety.

Senator WONG: When you sent the brief to Dr Watt, did you get a response or was it just signed off?

Ms Croke : It came back to me signed off.

Senator WONG: Annotated?

Ms Croke : I think it was signed off; I would need to check that.

Senator WONG: Did you become aware of the Prime Minister's view through any conversation with Ms Kelly, or Dr Watt, or anybody else, or from the public record?

Ms Croke : It was not a direct conversation.

Senator WONG: You have been very helpful, and I could have an argument about why the decision was made, given some various comments, but I do find it difficult—and probably members of the public and certainly members of the media find it difficult—to understanding how it is, without a change to the FOI laws—and there has been no substantive change; there has been a recommendation from Dr Hawke which has not yet been acted upon—that essentially an identical class of document, which was released under the previous government, is now not released. Are you able to explain to me how that could be the case? Ms Kelly, are you wanting to answer the question?

Ms Kelly : Senator, Ms Croke has made a decision. I am not sure if that is the particular request, but a decision in relation to the incoming government brief is subject to review by the Information Commissioner. That is the process by which those decisions are challenged and that process is currently taking place.

Senator WONG: Is that you telling me not to ask any more questions, Ms Kelly?

Senator Abetz: I think that would be wise.

Senator WONG: I suppose that is fair enough. Does the department not offer any explanation, Ms Kelly, as to how it is that an identical class of document without any change to the substantive law can have such different treatment between one government and another.

Ms Kelly : Each decision is made based upon the particular document before it. A decision has been made in this case.

Senator WONG: You are talking about a class exemption essentially. It is not a particular document.

Ms Kelly : The decision was made in relation to the PM&C incoming government brief that was before the decision maker. Review has now been sought by the Information Commissioner and that is the process under the act by which that decision will be reviewed.

Senator WONG: That is not an answer, Ms Kelly, with respect. You are doing a good job; I am impressed. It is very professional. But it is not an answer to pretend that somehow, magically, there is a difference between one incoming government brief and another that is so substantive that it requires the refusal to release any of it. There may well be different parts which should be redacted, absolutely, I accept that, but it was not a redaction argument. You wanted the whole thing exempted.

Ms Kelly : Senator, I have only read the PM&C incoming government brief and the decision that was made was made in relation to that brief, so I cannot comment on how it might compare to any other incoming government brief, either previously or this time.

Senator WONG: You were not aware that the previous government issued, released, under FOI redacted versions of the incoming government brief?

Ms Kelly : That is not what I said, Senator.

Senator WONG: Sorry, it was a question. Were you aware of that?

Ms Kelly : Yes.

Senator WONG: And it did not concern you that there was a huge change in position?

Ms Kelly : I have not read the particular incoming government brief in relation to which those decisions were made.

Senator WONG: Isn't the answer, Ms Kelly, that the decision was changed because the Prime Minister had a different view?

Ms Kelly : The answer is that the decision was made on the basis of the particular PM&C 2013 incoming government brief that was before the decision maker.

Senator Abetz: That is a reflection on the professionalism of the public servants—

Senator WONG: No, they have been asked to do a job.

Senator Abetz: that are required to be the independent decision maker in relation to these matters.

Senator WONG: Which part of the decision then, Ms Kelly, if that is the basis on which you are going to argue your position, is specific to this RGB as opposed to any other? I have the decision in front of me so perhaps you can point me to a paragraph which is not a class treatment argument but is specific to this RGB.

Ms Kelly : I do not have the decision in front of me.

Senator WONG: It does not support your argument. The decision that was made does not support your argument. It is not a decision around particular issues of this incoming brief. It is essentially an argument about a class exemption.

Ms Kelly : And I would expect those notes to be put before the Information Commissioner who then reviews the decision—

Senator WONG: This is Senate estimates, and I am asking you whether you can explain to the committee how it is that such a different decision was made.

Senator Abetz: These matters surely will be canvassed before the Information Commissioner, and I do not think we should be having a rehearing of the matter now before Senate estimates when there is a due process to go through, which is to appeal the matter to the Information Commissioner.

Senator WONG: I am not proposing to rehear it; I am just asking whether or not Ms Kelly—

Senator Abetz: Yes, you are, because you are asking for—

Senator WONG: No, I am not; I am asking whether Ms Kelly has an explanation which actually accords with the decision that was made. The explanations she has given thus far are heroic but not supported—

Senator Abetz: That is your pejorative.

Senator WONG: Sure, it is; I accept that they are my words, but not supported by the decision that was made so I am asking—

Senator Abetz: That is your assertion and that is fine.

Senator WONG: And what is the department's response?

Senator Abetz: But at the end of the day, this will be all ventilated before the Information Commissioner.

Senator WONG: What is the department's response to what I have just said?

Ms Kelly : I do not have anything to add to what I have said previously, Senator.

Senator WONG: At any point did you or any of your officers discuss this matter with the Prime Minister's office?

Ms Kelly : No. There is a process by which the PMO—

Senator WONG: Advised.

Ms Kelly : is informed before a decision.

Senator Abetz: But that is not a discussion.

Ms Kelly : That is not a discussion.

Senator Abetz: So be careful how you ask your questions.

Senator WONG: Other than the information, you are saying there was no discussion with the Prime Minister's office.

Ms Kelly : That is correct.

Senator WONG: But the office making the decision was aware of the Prime Minister's publicly stated opinion.

Ms Kelly : I think the officers answered those questions.

Senator WONG: And she was very professional in how she dealt with them. I have nothing further on FOI—others might have.

CHAIR: I have a question on the FOI. Mr John McTernan was the subject of an FOI. He used to work in the Prime Minister's office under Ms Gillard. He was out here on a 457 visa, I understand, and it was quoted in the press that the Office of the Information Commissioner told the Weekend Australian that it had formally rejected a request for more time to process the documents for an extension, given that Ms Gillard's office had already been granted two extensions with respect to that. There is an allegation that Ms Gillard was flouting the freedom of information rules in refusing to hand that over. Was there a request for the documents attached to Mr McTernan's extension and appointment?

Ms Kelly : Yes, there was a request. I do not have the exact content but I understand that it related to that area.

CHAIR: I understand that the Weekend Australian in April sought all documents relating to the hire of Mr McTernan in 2011 as I quote 'chief spin doctor' for the Prime Minister—his previous job when he was in Adelaide on a 457 visa was as a thinker in residence, if you can believe that—and other documents sought related to any efforts taken to identify a suitable person in Australia for the role, such as someone involved in government or media relations, advertising and whether any external recruitment agencies were in place—

Senator ABETZ: 1500.

CHAIR: The other thing that is worth noting is that this took place during a period in which members of the Labor Party were screaming about 457 rorting and misuse. Yet when there is a suspected misuse of 457 visas in which there is demonstrable action that could be taken and inquiries undertaken, the freedom of information request is denied, suggesting there was interference from the Prime Minister's office. Why was the freedom of information request denied?

Ms Kelly : The information—

Senator Wong interjecting

CHAIR: I am just asking the question, Senator Wong, thank you.

Senator WONG: That wasn't.

CHAIR: It was a question.

Senator Abetz: That was a very good question. Understandably embarrassing but very good.

Senator WONG: It is the double standards.

CHAIR: We do not need a commentary.

Senator Abetz: He is highlighting the double standard.

Senator WONG: The chair could be a little bit magnanimous here.

CHAIR: I just have a question—

Senator WONG: I do not mind you asking a question. You are entitled to.

Senator Abetz: That is gracious of you. You do not mind us asking a question. I am sure the chair will be delighted.

Senator WONG: Minister, you are minister at the table. I do not mind you asking questions. You are entitled to but don't chip us for making a political statement and then come in doubling words, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you. I do not need any lectures from you.

Senator WONG: How about a bit of evenhandedness!

CHAIR: I am asking a question about Mr McTernan.

Senator WONG: Sure. Ask away. It is the political—

CHAIR: Many of you would celebrate the fact that he has gone, as he was the architect and the spinmeister of the Gillard government. A great success that was! Another 457 visa success! I am simply asking why. There is an allegation in the press that Ms Gillard's office was flouting the freedom of information rules, and I wonder why the freedom of information request was denied.

Ms Kelly : Senator, there was a request from Mr Hedley Thomas seeking access to documents relating to efforts taken to identify and employ a director of communications for the then Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard, that was in relation to the request to the Prime Minister. It was received at the time that Ms Gillard was Prime Minister, and the POM had made no decision prior to the time that Mr Rudd became Prime Minister. Mr Rudd therefore inherited the FOE request to the former Prime Minister and Mr Rudd's office refused the request on the grounds that no documents were held by the Prime Minister. In addition to the request to the POM—

Senator Abetz: So where did the documents go?

Ms Kelly : In addition to the request to the POM, there was a request to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Six documents were identified as relevant to that request and they were not released under a number of exemptions under the act: section 42, section 47 E(c), section 47F, section 33(a)(iii) and section 33B. That primary decision was affirmed on internal review.

Senator FAULKNER: Could you repeat that last part, please.

Ms Kelly : The primary decision of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was affirmed on internal review.

Senator FAULKNER: On internal review?

Ms Kelly : Yes, Senator.

CHAIR: The question which Senator Abets suggested is: where did the documents go in the Prime Minister's office from the transition—the very rapid transition, I understand—from Ms Gillard to Mr Rudd? It was painful but rapid.

Ms Cross : I do not think that is a question we can answer, Senator.

CHAIR: There was no investigation as to what happened to clearly sensitive documents? They have just disappeared during the transition?

Ms Cross : I do not believe they were departmental documents.

CHAIR: I do not have those sections you outlined in front of me. Are you able to enlighten me in a brief manner as to what the vibe of the request and the denial was?

Ms Kelly : I can tell you what those sections relate to, Senator. They were in relation to documents that were the subject of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet request. Section 42 relates to documents that are exempt on the ground of legal professional privilege.

Senator ABETZ: Ms Gillard is strong on that.

Ms Kelly : Section 47E(c) relates to documents that are exempt because they relate to certain operations of agencies; section 47F relates to documents that are exempt on the basis of personal privacy; section 33(a)(iii) relates to documents that are exempt by reason of international relations; and section 33B relates to information received in confidence from a foreign government.

CHAIR: It is information from a foreign government in confidence about Mr McTernan. Gosh! Let me go to another issue involving Ms Gillard, in that it was reported by Mr Hedley Thomas in The Australian that she sought to prevent the release for confidential documents about whether she had breached rules on taxpayer funded parliamentary entitlements with the use of her motor vehicle. It says she was thwarted by the Information Commissioner, but what justification was put forward not to release the documents attached to the allegations of misuse of Ms Gillard's parliamentary motor vehicle?

Senator FAULKNER: Would that be a matter for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?

CHAIR: I would think so.

Senator FAULKNER: Fair enough. I am just advised that it is not a matter for ministerial and parliamentary services in Finance. But if it is a matter for PM&C, that is fine.

CHAIR: Freedom of information.

Senator FAULKNER: No, no.

Ms Kelly : Senator, I do not have any information on that. I can take it on notice but it may well be that the explanation for that is that offered by Senator Faulkner that it is elsewhere.

CHAIR: I am going to have to live with Senator Faulkner's smugness for the next six weeks.

Senator FAULKNER: Not at all. You will have to live with three more questions from me now. Ms Croke, you may be able to help with these. I suspect you will need to take them on notice, but if you can assist that is fine. Could someone provide the committee with the date on which the Prime Minister was informed about the incoming government brief decision?

Ms Croke : I will take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that. You would not necessarily have that at your fingertips. Thank you for that. What you might be able to tell us is the nature of that communication. I assume it was in writing or in a brief, but can you confirm that for the committee?

Ms Croke : It was in an email to the office in the form of an advice of the intended decision.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you very much. Would you be willing to take on notice whether that email may be able to be provided to the committee? I do not expect the minister or you to respond to that directly tonight.

Ms Croke : I can take that.

Senator FAULKNER: Would the minister be willing to take that on notice?

Senator Abetz: Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that. Perhaps not to you, Ms Croke, because Ms Kelly may be able to assist me with my final question. I am checking whether that email was the only, or final, communication about the application and decision. In other words, was it the only communication that existed?

Ms Croke : Sorry, Senator, the only communication to the office?

Senator FAULKNER: The only communication to the PMO on this issue.

Senator Abetz: There was evidence given, was there not, that once such an application is received—

Senator WONG: The evidence was that there is notification of an impending decision. So the question is, and Ms Croke has taken it on notice, when was that and whether she can provide the email. I think that Senator Faulkner is simply asking whether that is the only communication on this issue.

Senator FAULKNER: Correct.

Ms Croke : I will have to check on that. I am not sure but I think there might be a mechanism to advise the office on FOI requests globally.

Senator FAULKNER: If you would not mind checking.

Senator Abetz: That is why I did not want to say that it was the only communication.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that. Ms Croke, if you would not mind checking that and, if there is any other communication or communications, you might provide details to the committee. What you are able to provide in relation to that process is on notice. If possible, of course, I request content as well. I ask you take that on notice.

Ms Croke : I will take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you very much.

Ms Kelly : Chair, can I just clarify in relation to your previous question. I have now been informed that that was an FOI request to the Department of Finance about which the former Prime Minister was consulted.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Kelly.

Senator FAULKNER: As predicted.

Senator SMITH: Chair, in relation to FOI issues. I am happy for you to take this on notice. I am curious to know how many times the former Prime Minister sought to have FOI requests not released and how many times she may have been overruled?

Ms Kelly : Are they decisions by the Prime Minister's office?

Senator SMITH: Yes.

Ms Kelly : I am not quite sure that I understand the question. The decisions overruled on review by the Information Commissioner?

Senator SMITH: That is right, yes.

Ms Kelly : We can certainly take that on notice.

Senator SMITH: Thank you, Ms Kelly.

CHAIR: Are there any more questions on FOI?

Senator WONG: I have dereg requests.

CHAIR: Senator Wong has dereg questions.

Senator WONG: Yes, it is fascinating.

Senator Abetz: Were you minister for finance and dereg?

Senator WONG: I was, and you have got my former officials: Mr Saunders, Mr McNamara and others. I will try to be brief, given the time, and I will not go through all of the questions. I will put them on notice relating to the process of your movement to PM&C. I did have a number of questions about the implementation of the government's policy. So the government's policy document refers to deregulation units being established in every government department. What is the process for implementing that?

Ms Williams : Departments are currently in the process of establishing deregulation units in each portfolio. Those units will be headed up by dedicated a SES officer.

Senator WONG: How big is each unit approximately?

Ms Williams : That would vary between departments.

Senator WONG: Do they report to you—I do not mean in a line of management sense, but do they provide updates to you against certain targets and so forth? Is that envisaged?

Ms Williams : The work of each unit will be oversighted and coordinated by PM&C.

Senator WONG: When you say in the process, has anybody actually been appointed to this unit to your knowledge?

Ms Williams : At this stage each department portfolio has identified an SES officer who is in charge of that function within a department, yes.

Senator WONG: Has anyone else been appointed?

Ms Cross : In some departments there is more than one person in the unit.

Senator WONG: The government's target is a billion dollars a year. What is the process of developing metrics to measure that?

Ms Williams : That is still under consideration by the government at present.

Senator WONG: What does that mean?

Ms Cross : That means the decision has not been taken on the details yet but it will be shortly.

Senator WONG: Is Mr Frydenberg a parl sec?

Senator Abetz: Yes, parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: He is out there saying you are going to save $2.4 million a day—is that right?

Ms Williams : I am not aware of that figure.

Senator WONG: You should know what the parl sec said. Mr McNamara, you are grinning. Did he say $2.4 million a day—was that right?

Mr McNamara : I am not aware of that figure; I am aware of the government's commitment to one billion dollars—

Senator Abetz: But it stands to reason that one billion dollars divided by 365 might add up to the figure that Senator Wong indicated. I suppose it is a mathematical possibility—

Senator WONG: How much have we saved so far?

Senator Abetz: By changing government, do you think?

Senator WONG: Oh dear. You can tell when Senator Abetz gets tired—

Senator Abetz: What do you mean so far?

Senator WONG: He starts to revert to opposition tactics as a minister. Has there been—

Senator Abetz: From commencement date? What is the commencement date? You have asked that question so far. From what date do you talk? From the change of government?

Senator WONG: It is your policy.

Senator Abetz: From the change of government—exactly what I said; thank you very much.

Senator WONG: Have you tracked $2.4 million per day of reduction in red tape at any point since the new government came to power?

Ms Cross : As we have already stated, we are still working through the arrangements for how that is measured, exactly what is included in the measurement and, once a decision has been taken on the detail, then those sorts of arrangements will be clearer.

Senator WONG: So the answer is not yet.

Senator Abetz: It stands to reason that when various measures are taken—

Senator WONG: You are very sensitive about this, Senator Abetz. The officers are doing fine answering the question.

Senator Abetz: If I can continue—

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Abetz: it stands to reason that, with these measures, whilst you can say they equate to a particular figure per day, per week or per month, when certain decisions are taken there will be a greater figure achieved than the normal daily figure; and sometimes there will be a lesser figure achieved on a daily basis. So we would ask you to assess it at the end of the first 12 months to ascertain whether or not the annual target has been achieved.

Senator WONG: So when do you think you will be able to assist us with the metrics around the measurement for confirming the billion dollars?

Ms Williams : As I mentioned, that is still a matter that is under consideration by the government so I could not comment on that at this stage.

Senator WONG: Can I flag with you now that it is probably going to be a question at the next estimates, so consider yourself—

Ms Cross : We would hope to be able to answer that question next estimates.

Senator WONG: I hope so, too. In fact, the policy is for $3 billion over the term, isn't it? It is a billion a year.

Senator Abetz: That is right.

Senator WONG: So presumably your metrics will have to be capable of ongoing measurement over the term. Correct?

Ms Williams : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Are you working on the metrics? Is that being doing in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in this unit?

Ms Williams : PM&C is responsible for that, yes.

Senator WONG: Are you currently working on the metrics or not?

Ms Williams : Yes, we are currently working on that.

Senator WONG: But as yet government has not determined them.

Ms Williams : That is correct.

Senator WONG: The $2.4 million figure is not a figure that you have come up with; it is just the arithmetical outcome that Senator Abetz referred to. Is that right?

Ms Williams : That is not a PM&C figure.

Senator WONG: There are also targets, aren't there, that have to be established for each department? Correct?

Ms Williams : Again, that is a matter that is under consideration by the government.

Senator WONG: That is in the policy.

Senator Abetz: That is right, but what target each department will get is still being determined. I think that is what was—

Ms Williams : That is what I was saying.

Senator WONG: Is it likely to be quantitative and qualitative, or have even those decisions not been—

Ms Williams : Again, those decisions are still under consideration.

Senator WONG: Has the secretary set a specific regulatory performance target for the department yet?

Ms Williams : No, not at this stage.

Senator WONG: So that would await the broader set of decisions you have been describing.

Ms Williams : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Has the government given an indication of whether it intends to maintain a two-stage regulatory impact statement process?

Mr Porter : Yes, there is the two-stage process from the Borthwick-Milliner review and the handbook for July 2013.

Senator WONG: I know; that was us. I am asking: has the new government given any indication as to whether they intend to retain that?

Mr Porter : They will retain that.

Senator WONG: That decision has been made.

Mr Porter : Yes.

Senator WONG: The policy document of the Office of Best Practice Regulation says that a new statutory decision for the executive director of the office will be appointed by cabinet to ensure the OBPR is not subjected to political or bureaucratic pressure. I am quoting; I do not agree with the proposition. Has that occurred? What has happened in relation to that?

Ms Cross : That has not occurred yet.

Senator WONG: So government has not made a decision about that.

Ms Cross : They have not gone ahead with that at this point so that has not occurred.

Senator WONG: Is it that they may or may not, or that they just have not got there?

Ms Cross : They may or may not at a later stage but they have not—

Senator Abetz: It is our policy.

Senator WONG: Maybe it is not.

Senator Abetz: It is our policy

Senator WONG: