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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee


In Attendance

Senator Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Ms Gillian Bird, Acting Departmental Secretary

Mr Chris Moraitis, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Management Division

Ms Ann Thorpe, Chief Finance Officer

Mr Bryce Hutchesson, Assistant Secretary, Executive Planning and Evaluation Branch

Ms Anne Moores, Assistant Secretary, UN Security Council Taskforce

Outcome 1— The advancement of Australia's international strategic, security and economic interests including through bilateral, regional and multilateral engagement on Australian Government foreign and trade policy priorities

Program 1.1 Foreign Affairs and Trade Operations

North Asia:

Mr Peter Rowe, First Assistant Secretary, North Asia Division

Mr Andrea Biggi, Executive Officer, Australia in the Asian Century Secretariat

South-East Asia:

Mr Rod Smith, First Assistant Secretary, South-East Asia Division

Mr Andrea Biggi, Executive Officer, Australia in the Asian Century Secretariat


Mr Graeme Wilson, First Assistant Secretary, Americas and Africa Division


Mr Graeme Wilson, First Assistant Secretary, Americas and Africa Division


Mr Jeremy Newman, First Assistant Secretary, Europe Division

Mr Peter Doyle, Assistant Secretary, EU and Western Europe Branch, Europe Division

Mr Jeff Roach, Assistant Secretary, Southern and Eastern Europe Branch, Europe Division

South and West Asia, Middle East:

Mr Paul Robilliard, First Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia and Middle East Division

Mr Andrea Biggi, Executive Officer, Australia in the Asian Century Secretariat


Ms Jennifer Rawson, First Assistant Secretary, Pacific Division

International organisations and legal issues:

Ms Deborah Stokes, First Assistant Secretary, International Organisations and Legal Division

Mr Richard Rowe, Senior Legal Adviser, International Organisations and Legal Division

Mr Craig Chittick, Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues, International Organisations and Legal Division

Dr Greg French, Assistant Secretary, International Legal Branch

Ms Amanda Gorely, Assistant Secretary, Domestic Legal Branch

National security, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation:

Dr John Kalish, Acting Director-General, Australian Safeguards and Non Proliferation Office

Mr Peter Shannon, Acting First Assistant Secretary, International Security Division

Services to other agencies:

Mr Kevin Nixon, Executive Director, Overseas Property Office and Services

Services to diplomatic/consular representatives:

Mr Justin Brown, First Assistant Secretary, Consular, Public Diplomacy and Parliamentary Affairs Division

Ms Sally Mansfield, Chief of Protocol

Mr Mark Donovan, Protection Privileges and Immunities Section, Protocol Branch

Program 1.2 Payments to International Organisations

Ms Deborah Stokes, First Assistant Secretary, International Organisations and Legal Division

Program 1.3 Public Information Services and Public Diplomacy

Mr Justin Brown, First Assistant Secretary, Consular, Public Diplomacy and Parliamentary Affairs Division

Mr Simon Merrifield, Assistant Secretary, Parliamentary and Media Branch

Outcome 2— The protection and welfare of Australian abroad and access to secure international travel documentation through timely and responsive travel advice and consular and passport services in Australia and overseas

Pro gram 2.1 Consular Services

Mr Justin Brown, First Assistant Secretary, Consular, Public Diplomacy and Parliamentary Affairs Division

Program 2.2 Passport Services

Mr Ross Tysoe, Assistant Secretary, Australian Passports Office

Outcome 3— A secure Australian Government presence overseas through the provision of security services and information and communications technology infrastructure, and the management of the Commonwealth's overseas owned estate

Program 3.1 Foreign Affairs and Trade Operations

Mr Meng Ngai, Acting Chief Information Officer, Information Management and Technology Division

Program 3.2 Overseas Property

Mr Kevin Nixon, Executive Director, Overseas Property Office and Services

Outcome 1— Advance Australia's trade and investment interests through information, advice and services to businesses, industry and governments

Program 1.1 Trade and Investment Development

Mr Peter Grey, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Peter Yuile, Executive Director, Education and Corporate Operations

Mr Tim Beresford, Executive Director, Australian Operations

Mr Laurie Smith, Executive Director, International Operations

Ms Marcia Kimball, Chief Human Resources and Change Management Officer

Mr Ian Chesterfield, Group Manager, Programs, Consular and Business Services

Mr Quentin Stevenson-Perks, Group Manager, International Education

Mr Brendan Jacomb, Group Manager, Legal, Security and Procurement

Mr Rob O'Meara, Chief Finance Officer

Ms Carolyn Lloyd, Group Manager, Governance Analysis and Planning

Mr Michael Vickers, National Manager, Policy and Scheme Development

Austra lian Trade Commission

Outcome 1— Advance Australia's trade and investment interests through information, advice and services to businesses, industry and governments

Mr Bruce Gosper, Deputy Secretary

Mr John Larkin, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Trade and Economic Policy Division

Ms Rhonda Piggott, Assistant Secretary, International Economy Branch, Trade and Economic Policy Division

Mr John Fisher, Assistant Secretary, Trade Competitiveness and Advocacy Branch, Trade and Economic Policy Division

Ms Alison Burrows, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Free Trade Agreement Division

Mr Michael Mugliston, Special Negotiator, Free Trade Agreement Division

Ms Frances Lisson, Assistant Secretary, North Asia Goods Branch, Free Trade Agreement Division

Mr Hamish McCormick, First Assistant Secretary, Office of Trade Negotiations

Program 1.1 Trade and Investment Development

Program 1.2 Trade Development Schemes (Export Market Development Grants)

Export Finance and Insurance Corporation

Mr Angus Armour, Chief Executive Officer

Mr John Hopkins, General Counsel

Mr Dougal Crawford, Acting Senior Adviser, Government and Industry Relations

Mr John Pacey, Chief Credit Officer

Mr Jan Parsons, Director, Environmental and Technical Review

Australian Agency for International Development

Mr Peter Baxter, Director General

Outcome 1—To assist developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia’s national interest

Mr James Batley, Deputy Director General

Mr Gary Dunn, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Rob Tranter, First Assistant Director General, Pacific Division

Mr Roderick Brazier, First Assistant Director General, Asia Division

Ms Margaret McKinnon, First Assistant Director General, Africa and Community Partnerships Division

Mr Scott Dawson, First Assistant Director General, South and West Asia Division

Ms Catherine Walker, First Assistant Director General, Humanitarian and Stabilisation Division

Ms Clare Walsh, First Assistant Director General, International Programs and Partnerships Division

Mr James Gilling, First Assistant Director General, Policy and Sector Division

Mr Laurie Dunn, First Assistant Director General, Program Effectiveness and Performance Division

Ms Clare Walsh, First Assistant Director General, International Programs and Partnerships Division

Mr Blair Exell, First Assistant Director General, Corporate Enabling Division

Mr Murray Proctor, First Assistant Director General, Jubilee Trust

Mr Paul Wood, Chief Financial Officer

Ms Lisa Rauter, Assistant Director General, Africa Branch

Ms Michaela Browning, Assistant Director General, Afghanistan and Pakistan Branch

Ms Caitlin Wilson, Assistant Director General, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands Branch

Mr Chris Elstoft, Assistant Director General, Mekong, Philippines, Myanmar and Regional Branch

Mr Sean Batten, Acting Assistant Director General, Climate Change and Environment Branch

Mr Dereck Rooken-Smith, Assistant Director General, Office of Development Effectiveness

Mr Alistair Sherwin, Assistant Director General, Risk Management and Fraud Control Branch

Mr Andrew Cumpston, Assistant Director General, Budget Branch

Outcome 2—Australia’s national interest advanced by implementing a partnership between Australian and Indonesia for reconstruction and development

Mr James Batley, Deputy Director General

Mr Roderick Brazier, First Assistant Director General, Asia Division

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Senator McEwen ): I declare open this meeting of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. I welcome Senator Conroy, representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade; Ms Gillian Bird, acting secretary, and officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The committee would like to thank the outgoing secretary, Mr Dennis Richardson, for his assistance to the committee, especially during estimates. We look forward to seeing Mr Richardson in his new role as Secretary of the Department of Defence at the committee's estimates hearing in February.

Today the committee will examine the supplementary budget estimates for the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio. Friday, 7 December 2012 has been set as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. Senators should provide written questions on notice to the secretariat by close of business on Friday, 26 October 2012. Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance in this regard, 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 and which I now incorporate into Hansard. There are copies available.

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)

Minister, do you or an officer wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Conroy: Only to say that I am thinking of Minister Carr in New York!

CHAIR: Ms Bird, would you like to make an opening statement?

Ms Bird : No, thank you.

CHAIR: We will get started with questions. Senator Eggleston is going to start.

Senator EGGLESTON: Ms Bird, we welcome you here today. I understand you have got a very long career history in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, so I am sure that you will be able to help us with all the issues we raise. I would like to begin by asking about the United Nations Security Council bid. How long have the department and the mission in New York been running this campaign for?

Ms Bird : The campaign has been running for a number of years. We announced the bid in March 2008. So we have been running the campaign since March 2008.

Senator EGGLESTON: How many officers have been involved in the running of that campaign both here in Canberra and in New York and elsewhere?

Ms Bird : We have a Security Council campaign task force set up in the department. The staffing for that is 10 people, a couple of whom are working part time. That has varied a little bit over the years. Ten has been the maximum and, as I said, two of those work part time. Our post in New York has obviously been actively engaged. We have sent a couple of additional staff to New York to help for that purpose. Our posts around the world have been engaged in that campaign as well.

Senator EGGLESTON: Have we had any particular focus in our activities in relation to this bid in terms of the countries we have been approaching?

Ms Bird : There are 193 members of the UN. We have been campaigning and trying to get the votes of as many of those 193 countries as we can.

Senator EGGLESTON: Obviously, but are there particular areas of the world that we have put an extra effort into?

Ms Bird : We have been active across our whole international network. Each vote is of equal value and we have been keen to garner as many of those votes as we can.

Senator KROGER: With any campaign, one undertakes it presumably in the most effective and strategic way possible. Clearly we are not going to get the vote of Finland or Luxembourg, for instance. I think that Senator Eggleston was interested in what the strategic approach has been and what nations have been targeted where there was considered to be an opportunity to secure their vote.

Ms Bird : As I said, we have approached this as a global campaign. We really want to win as many votes as we can, so we have focused our campaign on all regions of the world. We have been active pretty much everywhere.

Senator KROGER: So you are saying that there was not a strategic approach taken towards those nations where we had a better opportunity of securing their votes that are not seen to be aligned or supporting a particular bid? So it has not been a strategic approach?

Senator Conroy: I do not think you should try to put words into the officer's mouth quite like that. You might like to rephrase that question fractionally rather than asking, 'Have we or haven't we had a strategic approach?'

Senator KROGER: I think Ms Bird understands the nature of the question without you trying to assist her.

Senator Conroy: I think you are trying to put words in the officer's mouth. I know that is not your intention, so I am hoping that you can fractionally rephrase your question.

Ms Bird : I can certainly clarify. Yes, we have had a strategy, but our strategy has involved trying to win as many votes as we can.

Senator EGGLESTON: Naturally. We have a quote here from Bob Carr when talking to Barrie Cassidy on 23 September 2012 where he said:

I visited parts of the world that I wouldn't have gone to in the normal course of events because I've wanted to carry this campaign forward.

Can you give us some indication of the kinds of countries he has visited. Specifically, have they been Third World countries, small island states, African states, South American states or the Group of 77 states?

Ms Bird : Sure. As the minister indicated, he has done a fair amount of travel as foreign minister. That is normal. In determining the priorities for his travel, one of the factors has been the Security Council campaign. Again, that is to be expected. He has done some 10 trips while he has been foreign minister. That has covered some 26 countries.

Senator EGGLESTON: His specific comment, though, was:

I visited parts of the world that I wouldn't have gone to in the normal course of events because I've wanted to carry this campaign forward.

He is referring to the United Nations campaign. So which parts of the world was he paying attention to that he would not normally in the course of his duties?

Ms Bird : He has gone to a wide range of countries. As I said, there have been some 26. I can go through those for you.

Senator EGGLESTON: If you would like to, that would help us.

Ms Bird : I will go through them; they are not in alphabetical order: Mongolia, Switzerland, Egypt, Solomon Islands, Israel, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, France, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Amman, Myanmar, Japan, China, Fiji, Malta, Belgium, United Kingdom, United States, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore.

Senator EGGLESTON: I suppose we could say that he was definitely in the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, parts of Asia and the countries that we do not often visit, like Myanmar, which of course has another dimension to it. So it has been a broad-based campaign that you have run in any case.

Ms Bird : That is right.

Senator EGGLESTON: Were there additional costs to the department because of his increased activities, that you can quantify?

Ms Bird : A fair portion of those costs to the department have been staff costs. We talked about the team we have here in Canberra, plus a couple of additional staff in New York, A-based ones, and there were some other activities with travels and travel activities and additional costs that have been part of the campaign.

Senator EGGLESTON: Is it possible for you to quantify those additional costs for the benefit of the committee? You do not have to do it now; you can do it on notice.

Ms Bird : I can take it on notice.

Senator EGGLESTON: We would like to know the costs to the department of each of the trips to these usually not visited places—also the cost of running the secretariat in the mission to the United Nations. Are there specific countries that the department has advised the minister to visit in the course of this campaign?

Ms Bird : We provide advice to the minister on his travel. That advice is based on a number of factors—obviously key regional partners, meetings he needs to go to. One of the factors, as I said, has been the Security Council campaign, so that has been a factor in our advice.

Senator EGGLESTON: What do we see as the real value of a seat on the Security Council? Does it have a specific return, or is it just a general status symbol?

Ms Bird : We think it is very important. The Security Council is the body charged with international peace and security—it is the only body that has the power to take binding action in response to threats to international peace and security. It has an agenda that very directly engages Australia's interests. Afghanistan is perhaps one of the more obvious examples where our interests are directly engaged, but it covers a wide range of different situations. It is an important body on which we think, should we be successful, we should be able to play a constructive role in Australia's national interests.

Senator EGGLESTON: Have we targeted aid programs to particular parts of the world and specific countries partly because they might be important to us in this Security Council bid?

Ms Bird : No, our aid program is a separate matter and the minister has already addressed this issue.

Senator EGGLESTON: So you can reassure us that we have not gone out of our way to smooth the path for some of these countries to vote for us?

Ms Bird : The minister has addressed this issue, hand on heart.

Senator EGGLESTON: I guess the question is whether his fingers were crossed. But thank you very much.

Senator KROGER: You said you could provide on notice the costs of travel those countries that we would not normally have visited but we have because of our campaign for the Security Council bid. How can you take that on notice given the answers you gave to me earlier on?

Ms Bird : Maybe I should clarify my remarks. We provide advice to the minister on where to travel. One of the factors in that was the Security Council, but it was just one of the factors. There are a range of factors that determine where a minister might go. Certainly, yes, one of the factors has been the Security Council bid. That is natural.

Senator KROGER: So with the advice you have given to the numerous foreign ministers in relation to it since the bid was announced in March 2008, have you given advice for the foreign minister of the day to visit certain countries that would not normally be considered to have a priority in terms of the way in which we spread ourselves around the globe?

Ms Bird : We are a country which has global interests.

Senator KROGER: We are.

Ms Bird : So there are a range of factors that would determine visits. All I can say is that any visit the minister has done has had a range of purposes. The Security Council has been one element but with each country with which we have engaged we obviously have a range of interests to pursue.

Senator KROGER: With any of those countries has the strategy been, has the primary focus of the visit been the United Nations Security Council bid?

Ms Bird : As I have said, Senator, it has been a factor. I do not think I can say anything more than it has been a factor.

Senator KROGER: So you cannot assist us in giving us advice as to whether any nation, any country has been visited primarily because of the United Nations Security Council bid?

Ms Bird : As I said, with each of those visits there has been a range of purposes. In pretty much each of them it would have been a factor. That is the situation, Senator.

Senator KROGER: Do have costs of the recent reception in New York which the Prime Minister hosted?

Ms Bird : I am not sure that I do have that, but I can take it on notice.

Senator Conroy: I am sure it is about the same as all the ones John Howard hosted when he was there, adjusted for inflation. It is pretty sad to see you trolling around like this trying to discredit the campaign, which is exactly what you are doing and you know it, talking down the country as usual.

Senator KROGER: Minister, it is great to have you here when we have our foreign minister—

Senator Conroy: It is great to be here with you.

Senator KROGER: wining and dining in New York.

Senator Conroy: Wining and dining in New York, just like you wine and dine when you go overseas.

Senator KROGER: But I have to say if the purpose today is just to provide interference, then everybody who is here to provide answers will think that you are wasting everybody's time.

Senator Conroy: Just like you wine and dine when you are on overseas delegations, as you should.

Senator KROGER: Running interference—

Senator STERLE: You are scraping the bottom of the barrel now, Senator.

Senator KROGER: We know you are pretty good at it, but get back to communications and working that, if your broadband network is working in here, Minister.

Senator Conroy: It is working fine. Would you like me to read you out another convert who says he was a sceptic but now thinks it is fantastic? I could do that for you, but I would be diverging the committee and I am sure that she would be very unhappy.

Senator KROGER: I suggest you get back to whatever you are doing there, reading your emails or whatever you are spending your time doing.

CHAIR: Senator Kroger, do you have a question?

Senator KROGER: You have taken on notice the recent reception hosted in New York because it is important, notwithstanding what the minister here is saying, given that clearly the focus is on the UN Security Council bid. Could you also provide details of hospitality that may have been provided by the embassy in the last three months in the lead-up to tomorrow's decision? Do you have those details with you?

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

Senator KROGER: Are you confident that we are going to win the bid tomorrow?

Ms Bird : The vote is very soon. We will know the result in the next while so I am not going to speculate.

Senator KROGER: Say you are not running your own sweep in the office?

Ms Bird : No we are not.

Senator KROGER: You do not have any odds which you might give us?

Ms Bird : I understand there are odds out there but we are not running as sweep.

Senator KROGER: What influence do temporary members have on the Security Council?

Ms Bird : Temporary members d o have an important role on the Security Council. Obviously the five permanent members have a particular status, particularly with a veto power, but for any resolution to pass the Security Council, it requires nine of the 15 members to support it. So permanent members cannot carry things by themselves.

The Security Council these days also has quite a wide range of supporting committees—sanctions committees and the like. They are typically chaired by non-permanent members; that is another very important role that non-permanent members play. The Security Council is a very active body these days and non-permanent members have a critical role.

Senator KROGER: Who are the current temporary members on the council?

Ms Bird : There are, as you said, 10 at the moment on the council. I should add that five of those will be coming up for election on the same day as ours. The current 10 are Azerbaijan, Colombia, Germany, Guatemala, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa and Togo. Of those 10, the five who will remain on the council—as I said, only five of those 10 seats are up today—are Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo. It is the other five seats that are going to be voted on today.

Senator KROGER: And their term expires—

Ms Bird : The following year.

Senator KROGER: At a past estimates we actually explored why the government was pursuing a seat this time around and whether, strategically, it would have been a more considered position to actually campaign for a later bid, given that we came into the campaign down the track compared to particularly Finland and Luxembourg. So I will not explore that any further other than to ask: if we are unsuccessful tomorrow, have there been considerations or discussions about where we take it from here?

Ms Bird : At the moment we are very much focused on winning. Anything after this vote would be a matter for a future government.

Senator KROGER: Have costings been done as to what it will cost the government and, in particular, the department, to support a seat?

Ms Bird : We are still working through the resource implications of a possible term. If we are successful, that will obviously be a matter for decisions to be made after the election.

Senator KROGER: But has there been any consideration about the costs? I would have thought it pretty extraordinary if we had not looked at the resource implications and whether they can be supported or not.

Ms Bird : We have certainly been doing some prudent contingency planning, but this is not something on which we have gone to government. That is something we will do should we be successful.

Senator KROGER: Has the department in recent times put in a request to the government to increase the resources for the campaign for the current bid for tomorrow's election?

Ms Bird : No.

Senator KROGER: The article in the Sydney Morning Herald that suggested that you had put in a confidential submission requesting an increase in resource with some extra 20-odd people involved in the campaign—you are saying that that is incorrect?

Ms Bird : That is incorrect.

Senator KROGER: So no such request has been put to the minister to increase resource or to actually bring in staff from other jurisdictions, if you like, to support the bid?

Ms Bird : We have not put a budget bid to government. We will do so should we be successful.

Senator KROGER: And you have not sought any extra resources in actually campaigning for the current bid?

Ms Bird : No, we have had an allocated fund for the campaign and that is what we have been operating within.

Senator KROGER: I will leave that there for the moment.

Senator EGGLESTON: You must have made some plans for estimates as to likely requirements for additional staff et cetera.

Ms Bird : Yes, we are working through all of that.

Senator EGGLESTON: So are you able to give us an indication of what you anticipate might be required if we are successful tomorrow?

Ms Bird : Yes. As I said, we have been working that through—that is, departmental calculations. We would have to go to our minister on that, and our minister would have to take a decision on what he would then take forward to government. It is really too early to talk about what the resource implications are going to be, should we be successful.

Senator EGGLESTON: We have been on the Security Council previously, so we must have a fairly good idea of what additional staffing and requirements would be needed.

Ms Bird : Sure. It is an interesting point. The last time we were on the council goes back quite a while. It was 1986 and, to be honest, the role of the council has changed considerably since then. It meets far more frequently and it has, as I think I mentioned earlier, a whole substructure of committees and the like. So it would be very hard to draw a comparison between what we did back in 1986 and what we might have to do should we be successful in getting a seat.

Senator EGGLESTON: I find it hard to believe that, with your ambassador and other staff there, you do not have a pretty good idea of what the requirements would be.

Senator Conroy: We can't help your state of disbelief!

Senator EGGLESTON: That is all right, Senator—

Senator Conroy: The officer will not be able to help you with your state of disbelief. Would you like to ask a question?

Senator EGGLESTON: I did actually suggest earlier that they must have a good idea, in the department, of what the additional requirements would be. I am simply, in another way, repeating that point. It is a little bit hard to believe that you do not have a specific plan.

Ms Bird : We have done work on that; don't get me wrong. We certainly have. I am just saying it is really too early to advise what the outcome of all of that is going to be.

Senator KROGER: Senator Eggleston made a good point, in that we have held a seat before. Was there a discrete unit set up in DFAT to support the seat?

Ms Bird : Back in 1986? I really cannot remember.

Senator Conroy: I think that is a reflection on all of our ages! That is very unkind of you, Senator Kroger! Where were you in 1986?

Ms Bird : I hate to admit it but I was in the department!

Senator KROGER: You do not want to know, Minister!

Senator Conroy: That is probably true.

Ms Bird : I was actually in the department then, but I cannot remember.

Senator KROGER: Okay. So it would be reasonable to—

Ms Bird : I imagine there would have been but I just cannot remember.

Senator KROGER: Yes, it would be reasonable to assume you would have to set up what I called a discrete unit—a special area.

Ms Bird : Yes, that is reasonable. Yes, indeed.

Senator KROGER: Thanks.

CHAIR: Is that all on this issue?

Senator EGGLESTON: I think that probably is all, on the United Nations issue. I will await with great interest what happens this time tomorrow in New York.

Ms Bird : Yes. We will know tomorrow morning.

Senator EGGLESTON: I have a question on a different area of your department, and that is: what is the number of senior executive service public servants employed in the department over the last four years?

Mr Moraitis : Senator, as of the end of June this year, we had 210 SES officers in the department.

Senator EGGLESTON: Are they all absolutely required or is there a plan to reduce the number of SES staff within the department?

Ms Bird : We obviously keep our staffing constantly under review. We do not have any particular plans to reduce our SES staffing at this stage.

Senator EGGLESTON: Is it possible for you to give us a list of SES staff within the department?

Mr Moraitis : Yes.

Senator EGGLESTON: If you can do that, I would be grateful. I suppose it all relates to budgeting and how you feel about your capacity to effectively carry out the requirements of the department. Do you feel constrained by your budget? We will be going to a question later on about sharing facilities—there is a proposal that the British, Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians share facilities around the world. Is that a reflection of the fact that our department of foreign affairs is underfunded and cannot afford to put in additional consular and other posts in places where Australia really ought to be represented?

Ms Bird : No. We have shared on occasion with Canada and New Zealand in various places where it makes sense. That has been a longstanding thing. So, no, I would not link those two together.

Senator EGGLESTON: What are the factors that make it make sense? What does that mean? I would presume that Canada has somewhat different interests to us, as do New Zealand to some extent, except that they are much closer to us.

Ms Bird : It has only happened in a couple of instances. It has tended to be where one or the other has had a larger presence and the other country has decided that it wants to be there but that it does not need such a large presence, and it has been able to piggyback. But it is only, as I said, in a couple of instances.

Senator EGGLESTON: The government has announced a cut to Australian Public Service spending of some $550 million over the forward estimates on top of the four per cent efficiency dividend that has already been imposed. According to the government, these savings will be achieved from eliminating wasteful spending and inefficiencies. How much of the $550 million in savings is expected to come from your department?

Ms Bird : That has not yet been announced by the government. We are anticipating that that will come down in the near future, but that allocation has not yet been announced.

Senator EGGLESTON: What areas of wasteful spending do you see that the department might target for savings?

Ms Bird : I am not sure I would call it necessarily wasteful spending. The sorts of things we have been looking at—and Dennis Richardson went through this at the last estimates—and some of the things that we have been doing to meet our savings targets have included reducing the travel budgets for our work units. We have changed the class of travel for SES travel within Australia in a number of instances. We have looked at converting ICT contractors to full-time APS positions, and we have also passed on the efficiency dividend to the various work units. They are the kinds of things that we have been doing.

Senator EGGLESTON: How many staff do you now have travelling in lower classes on aeroplanes—presumably you mean economy as against business?

Ms Bird : Yes. We changed the standard of travel between Sydney and Canberra and Sydney and Melbourne for SES staff. That had previously been business class. It is now economy, and it is a particular type of economy which guarantees the best possible savings.

Senator EGGLESTON: You talked about not having external consultants in ICT. Are there other areas where you have cut reliance on external consultants?

Ms Bird : Sorry, it is not consultants; I may have misspoken. Contractors are what I was talking about. We had and we still do have some ICT contractors, but we have converted a number of those contractors, where it has made sense to do so, into full-time APS employees, and that has realised savings.

Senator EGGLESTON: What about advertising? Have you made cuts there?

Ms Thorpe : One of the policies that is coming out of whole of government is that there is going to be a reduction in advertising for staff positions in newspapers, and we are going to be advertising online. That will generate some savings.

Senator EGGLESTON: Do you think that will be as efficient?

Ms Thorpe : It seems to be the new trend. Most people now seem to go online anyway—the next generation and all that. They seem to prefer to go online rather than go to newspapers for job vacancies anyway, so it is just really accepting what is already a practice anyway.

Senator FAWCETT: With your moving contractors to full-time APS staff—and I am happy for you to take this on notice—could you detail for the committee how you have approached the issue of the task-specific competence of the people? Have the APS people you have brought on board had both the qualifications and the range of experience? Over a longitudinal view of the value to ICT, can you assure the committee that you are getting the same work value out of the people and that we are not going to find in five years time that we need a remediation program, as has been the case in some other departments, because the short-term savings have actually led to long-term cost?

Ms Bird : We can get you something more detailed, but we have been very careful in the way we have gone about this. That is why we certainly have not converted all of the contractor positions. We are very careful about which ones we do, and we have kept what we think is the right mix, but we have done it very carefully and strategically.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.

Senator EGGLESTON: The government did announce this $550 million cut to Public Service spending over the next four years, and we have heard you say that you have had some staffing cuts. Are there other areas of wasteful spending and inefficiency which the department will be targeting for savings?

Ms Bird : As I said, I would not call it wasteful spending, but we are always looking for efficiencies and ways of doing things smarter where we can. It is pretty much the sorts of measures that I gave to you earlier. They have been the key elements that we have been looking at, but, as I said, we always look at the way we operate and where we might be able to find efficiencies and savings.

Senator EGGLESTON: If you cannot find the required efficiencies and savings, given that you have previously stated that there is no more fat left in your budget, will further cuts to staffing levels be required?

Ms Bird : As Dennis Richardson said at the last estimates, our target is a reduction in staffing of between 100 and 150. That remains the case. That will be done, I should stress, by natural attrition.

Senator EGGLESTON: What bothers me, of course, is that here we are with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is very important to our relations with other countries around the world and to our economy through the department of trade, and here we are cutting back. It is hard to see it as in our national interest that a department as important as yours is being cut back by this government.

Ms Bird : There are budget pressures across the Public Service. We are not unique in having to find ways of doing things more efficiently and find savings.

Senator EGGLESTON: As I said, your department is very important to the Australian economy, and it seems to be a little short-sighted to be cutting you back. Tell me, does the department have any non-core business units?

Ms Bird : I think all of our business would be core business.

Senator Conroy: What are you defining as 'non-core'? I am interested to assist the officers to answer your question.

Senator EGGLESTON: I am sure you are, Senator, but I would rather the departmental officers answered the questions, because you are not the minister for this department.

Senator Conroy: I am just hoping to clarify what you said.

Ms Bird : We regard everything we do as core business.

Senator EGGLESTON: That is the answer then: everything is core business. If everything is core business, I will not pursue that any further. One other area which I would like to pursue, however, is the electricity costs of the department. I am told that in the May estimates the department's electricity costs were estimated to increase by $341,000 per annum as a result of the carbon tax. That was an answer given in estimates. It was in answer to question on notice No. 68. I would like to ask you a few questions about that. Has the government compensated DFAT for the carbon tax, or is the department expected to absorb this increased expense within its own existing budget and resources?

Ms Bird : I need to get some advice on that. Can I take that on notice?

Senator EGGLESTON: Of course, and you might also like to take on notice how you will manage to come up with that amount of money. Will you cut any programs, or will you reduce consular assistance, for example? Are there likely to be any offsets in your department's activities?

Ms Bird : I would need to take this on notice. We are not planning any further cuts beyond the ones that I have mentioned to you, but let me get the details on that and get back to you.

Senator EGGLESTON: According to the 2012-13 budget papers, funding for consular assistance declined by approximately $3 million. You might like to tell us whether some of these savings were likely to have been spent paying for the carbon tax liability of the department.

Ms Thorpe : On the figures that you see in the budget papers: where you see the comparatives move around, you will find that most of that has been driven just by foreign exchange parameters. They are not real, because it is all in nominal terms. We have not reduced our spending on consular.

Senator EGGLESTON: That is a very interesting point. Do you think that, if the department did not have the carbon tax liability that it does, there would in fact be additional funds available for the department to carry out its activities in consular work or increased diplomatic representation?

Ms Thorpe : I do not believe that the amount we are talking about would be—we have a budget of around $900 million. We will obviously need to come back to you on the carbon tax implications, but I cannot imagine that it is going to be something that is so material that it is going to impact our various key activities.

Senator EGGLESTON: The only other area that I think we need to have some more information about is that at the May estimates the department confirmed that it would need to downsize by between 100 and 150 personnel and said that these cuts would take place mainly in Canberra and would be done through both natural attrition and voluntary redundancies.

Ms Bird : Correct.

Senator EGGLESTON: How are you going with these reductions in staff?

Ms Bird : We are on track on that. We had 31 voluntary redundancies last financial year that were taken up. Another 15 have been approved so far for this financial year. If you look at staff movements and natural attrition, we are about halfway to the target of 100, or a little bit over halfway.

Senator EGGLESTON: What level of staff are we talking about?

Ms Bird : It has been a range of different levels.

Senator EGGLESTON: Have there been more in some levels than others though?

Ms Bird : I do not think so. It has been a range. We can get that for you, but it has been at different levels.

Senator EGGLESTON: If you would—

Senator KROGER: Ms Bird, could you just take on notice a breakdown of the different levels where you have had redundancies and so on.

Ms Bird : Yes.

Senator EGGLESTON: We would appreciate it if you could do that. Has there been any discussion about forced redundancies?

Ms Bird : No.

Senator EGGLESTON: Is that something you would rule out as a future option if this government imposes further cuts on you?

Ms Bird : We are not looking at forced redundancies, and we have also protected, as you mentioned, the overseas network. We have made no reductions overseas—A-based.

Senator EGGLESTON: According to an answer provided by DFAT during the May estimates, the average A-based staff level devoted to outcome 1 is forecast to decline by 51.99 persons, which is very interesting as a concept. One wonders where the other 0.1 is. This includes foreign affairs and trade operations and public diplomacy. What sections within the department are these declines likely to occur in?

Ms Bird : My understanding is that outcome 1 is very broad. It pretty much encompasses most of what we do, so it would be across the broad scope of our activities.

Ms Thorpe : And a lot of it reflects movements—like we get funding for certain measures, and they come to an end. Most of the measures that we get funding for come in under outcome 1, so you would find that some of that movement would be caused because some things that we had funding for in past years have now come to an end, and that is why we would have changed the staffing structure.

Senator EGGLESTON: I see. The average A-based staff level devoted to outcome 2.1, consular assistance, is forecast to decline by 16.06—again, a rather interesting figure if you are the 0.06 of a person. In what countries is that decline in A-based staff expected to occur?

Ms Bird : We have not made and we are not planning to make any cuts to our A-based staff overseas. We have actually increased the number in recent years.

Senator EGGLESTON: What do A-based staff do overseas?

Ms Bird : A-based staff overseas cover the full gamut of the department's activities. We have policy staff; we have consular staff; we have staff with particular responsibility for trade matters; we have support staff; and there are some staff dealing with public diplomacy matters—so pretty much the gamut of department activities.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you.

Senator KROGER: Ms Bird, I just want to follow up on staffing allocations and so on. Sitting here, I am reminded of former Senator Trood, who used to—

Senator Conroy: I bumped into him in Vienna.

Senator KROGER: I beg your pardon?

Senator Conroy: I was walking along in the street in Vienna and I bumped into former Senator Trood, who was there advocating on behalf of our UN bid. It was one of those eerie moments.

Senator KROGER: It is an eerie moment that you even had your head up from looking at the pavement!

Senator Conroy: I was walking the streets, and there was Senator Trood walking the streets equally.

Senator KROGER: As I was about to say: Senator Trood used to question at the level of our staffing allocations in relation to overseas missions and the number of missions that we have and so on. Given that even countries such as, I think, New Zealand have a higher presence in terms of their missions overseas—the number of missions that they have and the countries that they have them in and staffing and so on—

Ms Bird : I would be—

Senator KROGER: You are looking at me puzzled as if you do not believe that that is the case.

Ms Bird : I am sure that New Zealand would not have a larger—

Senator KROGER: Okay; but it would be fair to say that there is not a lot of fat in the system in terms of our numbers in missions overseas and our footprint overseas. You are looking at efficiency savings and you have to downsize, but you mentioned that your efficiency savings were not going to draw down from overseas missions. Are you looking at re-leveraging where our numbers are a little bit so that we can increase our footprint on the international stage?

Ms Bird : We have been very focused on our overseas network. It is obviously a unique part of what we can contribute. We were very pleased that in the last budget we got an additional $53 million over five years to open two new posts: Chengdu, in China, and an embassy in Dakar, in Senegal. That will increase our diplomatic presence overseas—we will go from 95 posts to 97—and will mean that we will be in 78 countries as opposed to the current 77. If you look back over the last few years, you will see that six new posts have been opened or announced. That is a good thing.

Senator KROGER: It is a good thing, and, given the increased number of Australians travelling and the pressure that that in itself brings on the need for consular services, there certainly will be a trend that way. Are there other areas that we are looking at for increasing our representation? What are the next countries that you are pitching for where we could be represented with a post?

Ms Bird : We always keep that under review. We were delighted that in the last budget we got two new posts. They were two posts that we were very keen to open, and that will enhance our network. You are right to focus on the consular aspect—it is one of the drivers, though not the only one. Being able to increase our presence in areas where we might otherwise be a bit thinner and/or where there are a lot of Australians travelling either for leisure or for business is obviously a big plus.

Senator KROGER: Ms Thorpe, what have our legal costs been since 1 July and then in the financial year before that, if you have it?

Ms Thorpe : Our senior legal adviser might be able to help you.

Mr R Rowe : The department's total expenditure for the year 2011-12 on legal services was $12,820,000. I should immediately say that that figure comprises $3,111,013 for external expenditure through our legal service providers in Australia as well as the costs of legal services that posts might incur through seeking legal advice in their particular jurisdiction.

There was also $9,707,000 on internal expenditure. The reason that that figure might seem large is that, following a change in methodology by the Office of Legal Services Coordination, in putting together our total costs we now have to cost the work units in the department of everyone involved in providing legal services. That is how the figure of $12 million was arrived at.

Senator KROGER: Can you help my understanding of the breakdown of the $9 million and the $3 million. What do you classify as services provided by others, external services?

Mr R Rowe : It is when we go to, for example, our panel of legal service providers to seek legal advice or assistance in relation to a particular legal matter.

Senator KROGER: External law firms?

Mr R Rowe : External law firms. We have a panel comprising five providers and of course they charge for their services. So that figure of $3 million includes $2 million being the charges from Australian panel firms and $1 million that has been paid to overseas firms.

Senator KROGER: I understand there are some employees in our embassy in France who are suing for unfair dismissal. Is that right? Or is it for other matters—unpaid pension benefits? Are you aware of that?

Mr R Rowe : I am aware of it, but I am not aware of all the details of that matter.

Senator KROGER: How many former employees would be engaged in unfair dismissal suits?

Mr R Rowe : I do not have that figure.

Ms Bird : Maybe we can take that on notice.

Mr R Rowe : We can take that on notice.

Ms Bird : There are a number of cases on foot.

Mr R Rowe : Are you referring to the one in France, or across the board?

Senator KROGER: Across the board, both in Australia and overseas.

Mr R Rowe : We will take it on notice.

Senator KROGER: Okay. In relation to that $9 million, you were talking about all the units engaged in a particular matter costing it out so it comes into the budget. Would that include things like drawing up employment contracts? Is that a legal matter or is that just an administrative matter?

Mr R Rowe : No. The $9 million comprises the salary costs—the cost to the department of the employees who are working on legal related matters within DFAT.

Senator KROGER: Could you give me some examples of other legal matters, without in any way impacting on the confidentiality of those matters? What sorts of legal matters are you referring to? Clearly unfair dismissal is one, but what other sorts of legal matters would the department be involved in?

Mr R Rowe : Do you mean internally?

Senator KROGER: Yes.

Mr R Rowe : We have a legal area in the International Organisations and Legal Division that, for example, has two branches. One is the international legal branch and the other is the domestic legal branch. We also have in the department the trade law branch, which is a discrete and separate area that deals with trade law matters. There is a vast array of matters that come—

Senator KROGER: Sure, and treaty related matters and so on.

Mr R Rowe : Treaty matters are part of our international legal branch. We have a lot of international legal matters. Of course, we have a lot of domestic legal matters that relate to issues that I would say are of an in-house counsel nature.

Senator KROGER: How many lawyers does DFAT employ?

Mr R Rowe : In our area we have nearly 50 in the international organisations and legal branch. I do not have the figure in total for the trade law branch, but we could take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: Thank you very much. I understand we have made the appointment of the ambassador in London.

Senator Conroy: Oh dear. Did you miss out again? Jealousy is not a good basis on which to ask a line of questions.

Senator KROGER: There is this noise, this distraction in the background.

CHAIR: Just ignore it.

Senator KROGER: When was that appointment made?

Ms Bird : Mike Rann's appointment was announced on 23 August.

Senator KROGER: Has he commenced?

Ms Bird : He is due to start with the department on 31 October and he will commence at post on 3 December.

Senator KROGER: Has he had a briefings to date on that appointment?

Ms Bird : We have had a number of discussions with him. He spoke to the former secretary and to Chris Moraitis. He has had a number of discussions. He will start with us formally on 31 October when he will do the usual pre-posting consultations, preparations and the like.

Senator KROGER: Are you aware of the commentary he was running on the politics of South Australia after public advice about his appointment?

Ms Bird : No, I am not personally aware of that. But, if you say so, he may well have done.

Senator KROGER: He was actually commenting on the launch of Lindsay Tanner's book. I will give it a plug. I will not bore the committee with his comments, but he was making comments on leadership and party partisan politics. Firstly, was there a discussion had with him that he should not undertake such partisan activities since he has been appointed for a diplomatic post?

Ms Bird : As I said, he has not actually started with us yet. He will at the end of October. Once he transitions in to the Public Service and onto our books, he will be bound by all the usual codes of conduct and other APS matters. As I said, that has not happened yet.

Senator KROGER: So it is acceptable for someone who has been appointed to a diplomatic post to be politically partisan in the commentary they indulge in?

Ms Bird : As I said, I have not seen the comments you are referring to. All I can say is that general practice is that, once he joins the department, he will be bound by the normal APS code of conduct and those kinds of things.

Senator KROGER: When somebody is offered a post and they may not take up the position for some months, there is no discussions had or advice given in relation to the way in which they may conduct themselves and the comments they make which could reflect on Australia and the country they are being posted to? There is no such discussion about the way in which they conduct themselves prior to them formally taking up the appointment?

Ms Bird : As I said, I know there have been a number of discussions with Mr Rann. I have not been part of those. When he joins the department, there will be a whole slew of preparations, courses and the like.

Senator KROGER: What is the normal process when an appointment is made?

Ms Bird : The normal process, once an appointment is made, is we work out the date on which that person will transfer into the department. It is normal for a head of mission before they take up an assignment if they come from outside the department to transfer into the department so they can undertake the range of pre-posting training and courses that we offer to heads of mission. That is valuable. We do that for our own people, but it is particularly valuable for non-departmental people who are taking up a head-of-mission assignment. That is the normal practice.

Senator KROGER: If you were aware—and I guess I am telling you now that this happened—of an incident where an appointee was reflecting on politics in Australia or on the economic, political or cultural climate of any other nation, would that be sufficient to bring to their attention a code of conduct that applies before they formally took up the position?

Ms Bird : The code of conduct applies when someone becomes a public servant.

Senator EGGLESTON: There must be some sort of understanding, surely, that once their appointment has been announced, they no longer make partisan comments?

Ms Bird : I have not seen these comments. They are not comments I am aware of or which have been drawn to my attention. I do not want to comment on something I am not—

Senator EGGLESTON: I think the last political appointee to London was Richard Alston and I do not recall him making any such political comments in the period before he took up his job.

Senator Conroy: He regularly discussed politics—very political—in Melbourne.

Senator EGGLESTON: Not unlike the internal battles within some parties, but nevertheless not party political as such. And I would have thought that was a—

Ms Bird : I am not aware of there being any concern, Senator Kroger. You have raised this issue, but I am not aware of any concern.

Senator Conroy: Are you raising a concern?

Senator KROGER: I am happy to show Ms Bird later on. My questions are not in relation to the former Premier of South Australia. I think we have a very serious issue here if people who are appointed to posts are not obligated to adhere to a code of conduct—which, as you have said, applies once you have become a public servant. There seems to be a very real issue here if someone can receive and accept a posting but remain essentially a free agent for two, three or four months to say whatever they like—which may have serious implications for the post they are going to. If there is no control over what is said between the time they accept the posting and the time they actually become a public servant, it is a real issue.

Ms Bird : I am not aware of there having been any concerns in this case or in previous ones. Obviously, common sense and judgement is applied all around.

Senator KROGER: One would have hoped so.

Ms Bird : I am just setting out the practice. You asked me what the practice was and I was just setting out how it worked and when the code of conduct applied. But, obviously, common sense and judgement are important throughout.

Senator KROGER: So there is no manual of diplomatic etiquette which is provided to people before they are formally bound by the code of conduct?

Ms Bird : We have various discussions with incoming heads of mission and then, when they join, there is a whole suite of training.

Senator KROGER: Mr Moriatis, you are nodding your head as if to say, 'Yes, that is absolutely right.' Are you aware if there have been any discussions with former Premier Rann about the injudicious comments he made after he had accepted an appointment as high commissioner?

Ms Bird : I cannot accept the premise of your question that that has been the case. I have set out for you what the common practice is.

Senator KROGER: My staff, who are very able, are listening to this, I am sure. I will ask them to download and print off a transcript so you can have a look at it a bit later on this morning. Then you can tell me whether you think the comments are appropriate or not for someone who has accepted the position of high commissioner in London.

Senator Conroy: Are you familiar with someone called Amanda Vanstone?

Senator DI NATALE: Si, Senor.

Senator Conroy: She was an ambassador and yet—

Senator KROGER: She is a private citizen, Minister.

Senator Conroy: I am just reading her column. She keeps writing about politics.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister. Senator Kroger, have you finished on this issue? There are other senators here who want to ask portfolio overview questions about other things.

Senator KROGER: I am very happy to pass the baton.

Senator FAWCETT: I refer to 3.2.4 in your portfolio budget statement, discussing sale of property, plant and equipment. It is a small amount—only $3 million.

Are these sales and purchases of property and equipment predominantly overseas or here in Australia? Are you envisaging more sales, and is the acquisition figure of nearly $260 million predominantly for new missions overseas? Is it a one-off acquisition capital cost; does it reflect running costs of property? Can you break that down for me a bit.

Mr Nixon : The sale of property reflects properties overseas that are excess to requirements.

Senator FAWCETT: How do you evaluate 'excess to requirements', and do we have more that perhaps have not yet been evaluated?

Mr Nixon : Access to requirements is where there is no longer a continuing need for occupation. For instance, in some situations residential property may no longer be required because of changes at the post, or alternatively the market has matured and there is availability of rental properties that would be perhaps more suitable than continuing to own property.

Senator FAWCETT: Can you break down the acquisition figure of $260 million?

Mr Nixon : The major acquisitions that have occurred in recent years relate to land acquisition in Jakarta and the proposed acquisition of land in Bangkok for the construction of a new embassy; there is an approved acquisition of land in Tehran that is still to be completed. They are the major components of that.

Senator FAWCETT: So that is a one-off capital cost for land, and then on top of that there would be building costs and running costs, et cetera.

Mr Nixon : That is correct.

Senator FAWCETT: Do you have any figures for what you are expecting in the forward estimates for those costs?

Mr Nixon : I think the construction costs have been identified in the forward estimates associated with the new embassy in Jakarta and also for the new embassy in Bangkok.

Senator FAWCETT: Can you give me those figures? I am happy to take it on notice, but if you could outline both building costs and running costs over the forward estimates for those identified acquisitions that would be good. In 3.2.3, under own source revenue, there is reference to the sale of goods and services. I understand services are probably passport fees and things like that, but can you explain the sale of goods a little more for me?

Ms Thorpe : The sale of passports is administered revenue, not departmental, so it does not go through the department's books. Most of the revenue that we earn is where we provide services under service level agreements to other agencies at post. You will find that is the bulk of the amount that we cost recover. We also cost recover for the use of our IT, the international communications network that we run. All other agencies who access that do pay a fee. You would probably find that also included would be the rent that agencies are paying tenants to our owned estate.

Senator FAWCETT: I notice that even under contracts let by AusAID—which I recognise is not DFAT specifically—they talk about contracts to other government departments for the provision of services such as legal advice. How much effort in terms of number of people or percentage of time is dedicated to these intra-agency agreements and cost recovery activities?

Ms Thorpe : We could probably give you advice on notice of the sorts of fees we charge. They are based on staff time. Most of them are driven by staff hours or staff time or staff that are dedicated to the task. It is a genuine cost recovery. We are not funded for supporting them, we are only funded for supporting ourselves, so it is a genuine cost recovery.

Senator FAWCETT: The reason I bring it up is from a whole of government perspective. When I look at, for example, not-for-profits and the issues they consistently raised about the burden of reporting and time spent and how they are spending Commonwealth money, they report that it can be 20 or 30 per cent of their effort. I am interested to know whether there is a similar inefficiency across the whole of government caused by the transactions of each part of government charging each other and invoicing each other. If you could give me some indication of the level of resources committed not so much to doing the work—I understand that is part of their job— but to administering the charge to and from other government departments, that would be useful.

Ms Thorpe : I will take it on notice and see what we can do to help you.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.

Senator RHIANNON: How do you respond to the criticism that Australian dollars have been allocated to possibly win votes in the ballot for a seat on the Security Council, considering aid to Latin America has gone from no aid allocated to that region to $168 million since Australia's Security Council bid was announced and this happened at a time when the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness raised serious questions about the merit of Australia's aid to Latin America and the review panel recommended a phasing out of programs in the region, and over the past six years Australia's aid to Africa has more than doubled?

Ms Bird : Senator, we canvassed this a little before you came in. We reject the allegation that aid has been used for that purpose. You will be able to explore this more fully of course with AusAID later on but the increase in our aid budget predated the Security Council campaign. It is directed towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals and meeting the needs of developing countries in that respect. Again, you will be able to get more detail on that front from AusAID later today.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you expand on Latin America? Latin America is the standout here where you have actually gone against what was recommended and the financial contribution has increased from nothing to well over $150 million.

Ms Bird : Sure. Again, I do encourage you to take this up later on with AusAID but the development needs in that part of the world, in the Caribbean, are important. They are ones where we have particular expertise which we can offer in a range of areas such as disaster, agriculture, public sector management. So it is very much targeted to the development needs of those countries, but again I do think it would be better to get more on that from AusAID later on.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions in the portfolio overview?

Senator KROGER: I would like to ask about the appointment of Philip Green, who I understand is our next High Commissioner in Singapore. Is that right?

Ms Bird : Yes, he is. I just wanted to make sure it had been announced and it has.

Senator KROGER: That could have been a problem because, if it had not been announced, I just did it.

Senator FAULKNER: It was announced a considerable time ago, possibly even months ago.

Ms Bird : I think you are quite right, Senator. That could be why it had slipped my mind.

Senator FAULKNER: I am not sure there is an exclusive there.

Senator KROGER: I was not suggesting there was an exclusive; I was trying to look very apologetic if I had said something that had not been announced. It is reasonable to ask then: when is he expected to take up an appointment?

Ms Bird : It is imminent.

Mr Moraitis : Next month some time.

Senator KROGER: Our current High Commissioner is still in Singapore?

Mr Moraitis : Yes, he is. They are departing next week, at the end of October. There is usually a period between heads of mission when we have a charge for a couple of weeks. I do not know the precise timing from Mr Green, but probably sometime in November.

Senator KROGER: Do you normally have transition of three or four weeks, something like that?

Mr Moraitis : Three or four weeks, sometimes longer, depending on other matters and depending on a bunch of issues.


CHAIR: We now move to outcome 1, program 1.1, Foreign Affairs and Trade Operations. We will commence with North Asia. Senator Eggleston has questions about China and Senator Hanson-Young has questions about Tibet.

Senator EGGLESTON: There have been quite a lot of media reports about Australia wishing to set up annual leadership meetings between Australia and China. This was proposed, I understand, by Senator Carr. He said that he had sent the then head of his department, Dennis Richardson, to Beijing in September to propose the new arrangements, which would include an annual leaders summit. Has China responded to the proposal as yet?

Mr P Rowe : The subject is still under discussion with the Chinese side, so no final agreement has been arrived at.

Senator EGGLESTON: Can you give some idea of the objects of this proposal? What is the department hoping to achieve by setting up these annual leadership meetings?

Mr P Rowe : It is actually just to put a firmer framework around really what is almost de facto practice at the moment. Leaders on both sides would probably see each other every year, either through a visit one way or the other or in third countries, at multilateral meetings. Given the complexity and the breadth of the relationship now, we have a strong feeling that we ought just to formalise these things a little bit more.

Senator FAULKNER: But you are looking at a more formal bilateral relationship, or you are looking at a bilateral forum—maybe that is the best way of describing it—at either ministerial or officer level or both. Isn't that what is being envisaged?

Mr P Rowe : At both levels. I would rather not go into too much of the detail, because that is still part of the discussion.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but we are looking at a more formal bilateral forum.

Mr P Rowe : We are looking at formalising—

Senator FAULKNER: More structured. But you talked about multilateral—

Mr P Rowe : I was saying that, at the moment, our leaders meet every year, either in a bilateral visit one way or the other or they see each other for bilateral meetings in third countries, at multilateral meetings. But it is just the convenience of doing it in that place.

Senator FAULKNER: But this is quite commonplace in the area that you have got responsibility for.

Mr P Rowe : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: You might just say which countries in Asia, for example, we have this sort of relationship with.

Mr P Rowe : We have annual meetings with the Japanese leaders, for instance, with Korean leaders—

Ms Bird : Indonesia is another instance.

Senator EGGLESTON: That is true. There was an article in the Australian, written by Greg Sheridan, which said that the government's proposal is for an annual summit between the Prime Minister and the President of China and that these summits could take place on several bilateral visits or in the context of larger, multilateral meetings such as APEC, the G20 and the East Asia Summit, and that a third leg of the new arrangements would be an annual economic meeting jointly chaired by the Australian Treasurer and a senior Chinese economics minister, which would also involve a business forum bringing together leading corporate figures from both countries. I gather you are not prepared to make any comment about what you propose, though, from what you have just said.

Mr P Rowe : Given that we are still discussing this with the Chinese side I would rather not pronounce on the final result. It has to be something that both sides are comfortable with.

Senator EGGLESTON: We do have these sorts of meetings with Japan and, you said, with Indonesia. For example, do the Indonesian meetings involve the President and the Prime Minister, the Australia Indonesia Business Council? Are they fairly broad? They might well be a model for what is proposed here.

Mr P Rowe : I am not intimately familiar with the Indonesian set-up. Certainly I think they do have meetings every year at summit level, and we would like to see—

Ms Bird : I can answer that. There are annual summit level meetings with Indonesia and we have two plus two in that case. It varies from relationship to relationship. We have different structures and different models. It really depends on what works for both countries. In Indonesia that is the model.

Senator FAULKNER: Some involving leaders, some involving ministers, some involving officials, some involving those from outside the Commonwealth.

Ms Bird : Absolutely. They vary. Singapore has one—which we had just the other day—which is I think fairly unique because we have foreign, trade and defence in that instance. With PNG we have quite a broad-ranging number of ministers on each side. So it really varies from relationship to relationship.

Senator EGGLESTON: Is the department happy with the comments the minister has made about these proposals?

Senator FAULKNER: Oh, come on!

Ms Bird : Very happy. We are very happy with our minister's comments always.

Senator EGGLESTON: But isn't it the department's position not to comment on negotiations?

Ms Bird : Our minister's comments are always ones that we fully support.

Senator EGGLESTON: Very good.

Senator FAULKNER: That's a relief!

Ms Bird : I'm not sure he was waiting for the endorsement, but just in case!

Senator EGGLESTON: Just interested to see what was happening there.

Senator FAULKNER: I do not think you are going to establish what is happening by asking if the department is happy with what the minister said.

Senator EGGLESTON: Another article in the Melbourne Age on 8 May by Daniel Flitton and Tim Lester states:

THE Labor leadership feud stalled for more than a year the creation of an annual summit to strengthen Australia's brittle relationship with China.

Broad agreement was struck during Prime Minister Julia Gillard's visit to China in April 2011 that would see key ministers from both countries, including the leaders, meet each year to manage ties between Canberra and Beijing.

But progress on the talks was stymied - not because of Chinese concern over Australia's close alliance with the United States but because Ms Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan could not agree on a format.

Is that an accurate depiction of what was—

Senator Conroy: I could not possibly ask an officer to comment on a newspaper article on the rumblings, allegedly, of the ALP's leadership. Perhaps you would like to frame the question slightly differently.

Senator EGGLESTON: These sorts of articles are not usually ill-informed; they are often quite well-informed—

Senator Conroy: I have often found them ill-informed. I am shocked but pleased at your naivety.

Senator EGGLESTON: No, I am not being naive. Has this proposal been delayed? Could it have been enacted earlier? That is my question.

Ms Bird : We have been pursuing this proposal for some time and those discussions continue.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you very much.

Senator FAULKNER: It could have been progressed since the establishment of diplomatic relations, I suppose.

Senator EGGLESTON: That was a very long time ago.

Senator FAULKNER: It was. You can go back to the early 1970s. It is one of those questions that does not really need an answer from officials.

Senator EGGLESTON: I would like to ask a couple of general questions about our relationship with China. I went to the News Limited Wall Street Journal seminar on China held recently in Sydney. It was stated there by Kerry Stokes that Chinese students were increasingly electing not to come to Australia for education but were going to the USA and other countries because Australian tertiary education fees were so much higher than in other countries, the US in particular. Do you feel that this is a matter that should concern the Australian government and the department? Education is a great bridge builder and here we are apparently putting ourselves at a disadvantage with Europe and North America in terms of attractiveness to Chinese students.

Mr P Rowe : The observation seems to me to be a bit vague, but China is either our first or our second largest source of overseas students at some 150,000 a year. I do not think we are losing out, in terms of numbers, to the United States, the UK or anywhere else. Certainly, I think for all overseas students the strong Australian dollar poses challenges, but that is not limited to China.

Senator EGGLESTON: That was not the gist of what Kerry Stokes was saying. He thought that in fact Australian universities were now charging very high fees, and that was putting us at a disadvantage.

Senator Conroy: Perhaps you would like to put that question to Australian universities.

Senator EGGLESTON: Well, it is a foreign affairs issue, Minister. I know you are not focused on foreign affairs. In due course, they might be able to be distance-educated via the NBN or something like that.

Senator Conroy: That is true, particularly residents in Western Australia—

Senator EGGLESTON: Absolutely.

Senator Conroy: or in Perth, even, which as you well know has no decent broadband network.

Senator EGGLESTON: No, but we do have a number of universities, Curtin in particular, which rely heavily on foreign students.

Ms Bird : As Mr Rowe said, the numbers for China are high and seem strong.

Senator EGGLESTON: How does it compare, though? Are the numbers actually dropping or not? That is really what I am interested in.

Mr P Rowe : I have no sense that the numbers are dropping, Senator.

Senator EGGLESTON: The other comment Mr Stokes made at that seminar—which I would like some response on, if that is possible; Senator Carr was there, of course—was that, whereas Australia was highly regarded by Chinese people a decade ago, their good perceptions of Australia have declined significantly. Do you wish to make any comments on that?

Senator Conroy: You cannot invite officers to give commentary on clips from the newspaper. Do you have a question?

Senator EGGLESTON: No, no. This was at a seminar, where a very prominent Australian businessman, who is largely based in China—

Senator FAULKNER: It cannot be likely that he expected you to answer!

Senator Conroy: No. To be fair, I am just trying to save time, Senator Faulkner!

Senator EGGLESTON: I invite the department, then, to make a comment about that if they care to. Are Mr Stokes's observations a reliable indication of the status in which—

Senator Conroy: Oh, my goodness!

Senator EGGLESTON: Australia is held?

Ms Bird : What I can say is that we have very good relations with China. We are well regarded and we have strong bilateral relations.

Mr P Rowe : If tourist numbers and, again, student numbers are any indication, I think Australia enjoys a very positive reputation not only in China but amongst all countries in Asia, quite frankly, especially North Asia—Korea and Japan. Their impression, if you ask them for it, is that Australia is a clean, safe country to send their children, their students, to.

Senator EGGLESTON: I understand that, but Mr Stokes's point was not that we did not have those attractive features but that, relatively speaking, the Chinese were electing to go elsewhere because their perception of Australia as a friendly environment has dropped.

Mr P Rowe : Again, I do not think the numbers suggest that. The visitor numbers and the student numbers do not support that conclusion.

Senator KROGER: Do you have an indication of the percentage increase in student numbers from China over the last two to three years?

Mr P Rowe : No, I do not—not offhand, Senator.

Senator KROGER: That might help Senator Eggleston if you can give us an indication of whether there has been an increase—how it has tracked over the last two or three years.

Ms Bird : We can take that on notice.

Mr P Rowe : Yes. We can do that.

Senator EGGLESTON: Mr Stokes is a unique person—

Senator Conroy: An eminent Australian.

Senator EGGLESTON: because of his involvement in China, and his views are not to be dismissed, I would have thought.

Senator Conroy: He is an eminent Australian. Thank you for your opinion on Mr Stokes's opinion! Do you have any questions for the officers?

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you so much, Senator! It is very kind of you to be so understanding of my appreciation of his worth!

CHAIR: Thank you. We are all very kind to each other! I am very kind and I am going to say we are now going to a tea-break. We will resume proceedings at 10.45, when Senator Hanson-Young also has questions on China.

Proceedings suspended from 10:29 to 10:45

CHAIR: Ms Bird, you have an answer to a question?

Ms Bird : Yes. I can complete the answer on the question to do with electricity costs. I just wanted to confirm that the increase in electricity costs of the department is estimated at $341,000 per annum. We will manage that as part of our normal budgetary processes. There is no intention for a sum that size to make any reductions along the lines that were canvassed this morning. That is a normal part of a $943 million budget. I just wanted to close that one off.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I want to follow up on some questions I put to Minister Carr at the last estimates session. Hopefully Ms Bird or Senator Lundy will be able to respond. They follow questions that I gave on notice to Minister Carr in the Senate on 19 March about Tibet. The minister advised the parliament on that day that the Australian ambassador and deputy head of mission would be making a request for a visit to various areas in Tibet. That was then followed up in my questions to Minister Carr and Mr Richardson in May estimates. Can I have a clarification as to precisely when the ambassador to China made the request to the Chinese government and what request has been made by the department?

Ms Bird : I will ask Peter Rowe, the head of the North Asia Division, to give detail. I know we have been following this up.

Mr P Rowe : We made a request on 29 March, 22 June and also 10 October.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What has the response been?

Mr P Rowe : So far, the response has not been positive.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So the 10 October request was in relation to the fact that there had been a rejection of the requests on both 29 March and 22 June?

Mr P Rowe : That is right, yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Were there any reasons given why an Australian ambassador and deputy head of mission would not be able to visit—

Mr P Rowe : Not really. It tends to be an answer like, 'It's not convenient at this time.'

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When would you expect a response to the request of 10 October?

Mr P Rowe : I would not expect an early response. The request is designed to give quite a lead time. That request is for a visit for next year, so we would not expect an early response to that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you aware that the US ambassador, Gary Locke, was able to visit Ngaba in Sichuan Province in September?

Mr P Rowe : I was not specifically aware of that, no.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you surprised that that visit was able to go ahead?

Mr P Rowe : No. There does not seem to be a recognisable pattern to why things are agreed to and why things are rejected.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You would assume it is being made for different reasons, then—one request being approved for the US ambassador and another being rejected for the Australian?

Mr P Rowe : I cannot really analyse what reason there is for accepting on this occasion and rejecting on another.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: To clarify: you were not aware that the US ambassador was able to access those areas?

Mr P Rowe : I just was not aware that he had visited. That's all. We may well have known that, but personally I did not.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you have any updated information—back in May we did speak about this—in relation to the self-immolations which have unfortunately been occurring throughout the Tibetan region? Does the department have any more up-to-date figures in relation to those?

Mr P Rowe : The most up-to-date figure we have is about 53.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you had any representations from Australian Tibetan community members in relation to these incidents?

Mr P Rowe : Yes, we have. People in the department are in regular contact with the Tibetan organisations here and they discuss that subject on a regular basis.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What is the department's up-to-date information about the high military presence, arbitrary arrests and international media blackout in the Tibetan region?

Mr P Rowe : I do not have specific information about that. I could probably be able to supply you with something on notice, but, again, it is very difficult to get anything definite or conclusive about that situation.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If you could take that on notice, Mr Rowe, I would appreciate it. Obviously there has been some external media reporting of those incidents and activities. It obviously makes it very difficult, if there is an internal media blackout, to know exactly what is going on. In the requests you are putting to the Chinese government in order to conduct this fact-finding mission, as Minister Carr put it, what are the reasons you are outlining to the Chinese government for going?

Mr P Rowe : It is the normal role of an ambassador to familiarise himself or herself with the country in which they are accredited. So a request to go to Tibet is in the same vein. It is desired by the ambassador to acquaint herself firsthand with that particular area of the country.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In the rejections we have had to the requests so far, has there been any reason given—aside from 'it is inconvenient at that time'?

Mr P Rowe : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In the responses you have had, am I right to take from your earlier answer that they have been inconsistent?

Mr P Rowe : Not the responses to us. Whether they say yes or no to various countries has been inconsistent.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Looking forward, is the department aware of the Dalai Lama's visit to Australia in June next year?

Mr P Rowe : I am not aware of that. But the Dalai Lama visits regularly, so it is not surprising.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You do not know whether the department has had any formal—

Mr P Rowe : I am sure we have not—nothing formal.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could you take it on notice to find out whether there has been any formal notification or request for discussions while the Dalai Lama is in Australia at that time?

Mr P Rowe : Yes.

Senator FAWCETT: There is a comment in your portfolio budget statement, in the overview, about intensifying engagement with China coinciding with the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Can you just talk to me about the scope of what is envisaged there and whether that is a one-off for the anniversary year or whether it is an increased level of activity that you anticipate continuing into the future?

Mr P Rowe : Some of it is the result of its being the 40th anniversary—things like cultural activities, various university exchanges and forums and things like that; the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is touring, and I think we have a Peking opera troupe visiting Australia. Those sorts of things do not happen every year, and they are understandably timed to the 40th anniversary.

Senator FAWCETT: I accept all the one-offs, and they are great. But has it given rise to an increase in the level of commitment to the relationship that will be an ongoing cost and therefore, hopefully, benefit to the nation?

Mr P Rowe : We have been intensifying our relationship with China over the past few years. As the economic relationship has increased, we have wanted to see all the other aspects of the relationship keep pace. In that sense it is intensifying, and our intention is that it will continue at a higher level into the future. This has involved—as we were discussing before—things such as putting more structure around leadership engagement. We now have the CEO roundtable, for instance, which coincides with leaders' visits one way or the other. We have a services sector promotion forum, which is designed to increase services trade with China. You will be aware of the visit that Dr Emerson and Mr Marles led to a second-tier cities in China last year. That was designed to showcase what Australians could do for China's emerging middle class and for the renovation of these cities, most of which had been held back or were in considerable need of urban renovation. This is a field in which Australia has value to add.

The fact that we are opening a consulate general in Chengdu, for instance, is a response to the increased trade and numbers of people going through China. It is also an example where we are seeking to intensify for the future and for the long-term.

Senator FAWCETT: I am happy for you to take this on notice. In the portfolio budget statement, just one expo—South Korea—totalled some $7.9 million in costs. Could you let the committee know what the cost will be of these additional activities with China, both one-offs and those that you envisage will continue?

Mr P Rowe : Yes, we can strive to do that.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you. On a broader front with China: there has been a deal of concern about its intensified activity in the South China Sea and in the Spratly Islands and about some of those regional issues, particularly when coupled with their quadrupling of their defence expenditure. That has been fairly broadly reported. What actions has DFAT been taking to engage with China and the light of some of those tensions?

Mr P Rowe : It is an issue that comes up every time leaders and senior officials meet. We have called not only on China but also on all sides to lower tensions and to ensure that the matter of disputed territory is resolved peaceably and according to the international law—in particular, the law of the sea convention.

Senator Carr, you will also be aware, had talked about various creative ways that countries might look at working through the problem in the region, including second track dialogue and the way we have handled the Antarctic, and also the border delineation with Indonesia.

Senator FAWCETT: The second question on a broader front concerns Antarctica. China, along with a number of other nations, points towards 2048 as a time when the whole issue of sovereignty and claims and the use of Antarctica might change. They are currently expanding their activities, quite significantly, in the Antarctic, also having small things but potentially significant things where they establish a base sign saying 'Welcome to China' inside Australia's claims at this stage. What level of engagement is DFAT having with China over Antarctica, both in terms of current activities but particularly looking towards the future and preserving the non-exploitation of the Antarctic for resources?

Mr P Rowe : The Antarctic is not my area of expertise.

Mr R Rowe : China is a party to the Antarctic Treaty and is actively engaged through the Antarctic Treaty system in Antarctica, and we of course interact with China both at the annual meeting of Antarctic Treaty parties and also through our Australian Antarctic Division bilaterally in relation to scientific and environmental aspects. China is certainly actively engaged on the continent and has a program of scientific research within which it cooperates with all the other Antarctic Treaty parties, consistent with the Antarctic Treaty. We have a strong bilateral relationship with China in the context of the Antarctic Treaty system, like the relationship we have with all the other treaty parties that are active in relation to Antarctica.

In relation to the mineral ban which is enshrined in the Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, that protocol provides for an indefinite ban. Certainly there is provision in that protocol for a review conference to be held in 2048 if it is the wish of any parties to seek a review. The provisions in the protocol in relation to any amendment to the protocol, including for example amendment to the prohibition on mining, are very stringent and, frankly, Australia would have, in light of its special relationship with Antarctica, the opportunity to withhold agreement on such an amendment if one was proposed.

Senator FAWCETT: I agree, the Antarctic Treaty has been a great success since the 1950s but, at the same time, our special relationship is attracting investment by the Australian government of only $41 million over the next two years, compared to some other players such as Russia who are investing over $2 billion in the next decade, and China is similarly a large player. Countries like the US, Russia and China have all said that they do not recognise the sovereignty claims, and 2048 is being seen as a threshold point. The Russians, in particular, are already starting to do some mineral exploration there despite the treaty. It is a significant issue for Australia and so I guess what I am asking is not are we comfortable with the current treaty but what are we doing specifically to try to shape expectations for the environment approaching 2048.

Mr R Rowe : The Antarctic Treaty system, which consists of the Antarctic Treaty and the Madrid protocol and some other instruments, is a very strong framework within which all parties cooperate. Australia primarily works in that context. I would certainly say that we are not complacent in any way in our approach to Antarctica, although I would emphasise that that framework I referred to ensures that cooperation is paramount. I would note that any decisions need to be taken generally by consensus.

I am not aware, for example, of evidence to indicate that the Russians are engaged in mineral exploitation or research—certainly not exploitation. China has, to my knowledge, not in any way indicated that that is a policy objective. I would point out that all parties to the treaty, ourselves in particular, along with others, are very alert and very conscious of any moves that might be made by anyone to act inconsistently with the provisions of the treaty and the protocol. There is vigilance that we bring to bear, and we will continue to do so.

I will just reiterate that I think, frankly, while there is provision in the Madrid protocol for an amendment which could be seen as paving the way for resource exploitation in the future, that would be an issue which would be very hotly debated within the context of the Antarctic Treaty system. As I say, there are measures in place; it is not a straightforward process at all.

Senator FAWCETT: Chinese officials are quoted in a number of papers saying that they are looking to increase their leadership in the Antarctic administration and determine 'the potential of resources and how to use those resources'. I would be interested in you taking on notice to tell us of any specific work that DFAT intends to do to look at shaping what is quite a strategic area of interest for Australia.

Ms Bird : We will take that on notice. As Richard Rowe has said, we have been very actively involved in this very important priority. We are actively engaged. You are right; it is very important. We are very actively engaged.

Senator ABETZ: Last time around, I had some brief questions in relation to South Korea and the fallout, if any, of the cancellation of the self-propelled howitzer program. We were given some assurances then. I note that in the Australian Financial Review and in estimates yesterday there seemed to be some general unhappiness, not surprisingly, from South Korean industry in relation to the cancellation of the self-propelled howitzer program. Is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade aware of, first of all, the cancellation of the program and, second of all, the impact that may have had on South Korean business?

Mr P Rowe : Yes, we are aware of the cancellation.

Senator ABETZ: Are you aware of any diplomatic fallout as a result of that? I ask that on the basis of my understanding, minimal as it may be, that the defence sector in South Korea is essentially a command industry sector—namely, the industry and government are inextricably interwoven—and so when you touch industry you in fact touch the government in the defence context. Therefore, it would not be surprising, if the defence industry in South Korea are upset at the way they have been treated, that the government also would feel similarly upset and, as a result, there would be diplomatic consequences for Australia. Are you able to give us an insight?

Mr P Rowe : From our point of view, there has been no diplomatic fallout as a result of it. The foreign minister visited in August after that decision had been made and it was not an issue. I think, had it been a serious diplomatic issue, he would not have made the visit.

As for our relations on the defence front, they could not be stronger. We have recently participated in a PSI exercise on the Korean Peninsula which went very well and which was an indication of the strength of those defence relations. So although there was understandable disappointment in Korea that we did not go ahead with the Howitzer, it has had no lasting impact on relations.

Senator ABETZ: If an opposition person such as me gets feedback, I find it surprising that the government and the department have not had any indications and expressions of concern from South Korea as to what was not only a cancellation of a program; the South Korean industry was led five years down the path of preparing and then, at the very last minute, the plug was pulled on the program, as we heard from Defence yesterday, for lesser quality material. So it seems to be a loser all around. But that is a Defence issue—I appreciate that—not a Foreign Affairs issue. It surprises me that you give such an upbeat assessment when opposition members are being told about the consequences in South Korea and you are saying it is all good.

Mr P Rowe : The relationship with Korea is very broad and very deep and much bigger than the issue of one particular defence purchase.

Senator ABETZ: But a very major one, would you agree? It was going to be a major one and it was also seen, as it was put to me, if you will bear with me, that this project was seen as 'an iconic start to a higher level of defence industry cooperation between our two countries'. That is as it was put to me. It was not just any little contract. This was a fairly significant project.

Mr P Rowe : As I said, it did not feature in the visit of the foreign minister to Australia.

Senator ABETZ: Would the cultural context of their code of honour be such that they would not necessarily raise it during an official visit?

Mr P Rowe : Not specifically Korea but many of the countries of North Asia would raise it if it were an issue.

Senator ABETZ: We have done a similar thing to South Korea, for those with an elephantine memory, in 1997 with a defence contract in very similar circumstances. So we can no longer just say this was a one-off situation. They are now looking back and saying, 'We were led down the garden path in 1997, with the plug pulled at the last minute on a major contract. Here we are in 2012 and exactly the same thing has happened again.' What is it about the Australian-South Korean defence contracting relationship that leads to these results? Foreign Affairs is not aware of any of this?

Ms Bird : As Peter Rowe has said, we have extremely broad-ranging relations with South Korea across the board, including in the defence sphere. This does not seem to be an issue that has been raised with us as a matter of concern.

Senator ABETZ: So it has not been raised at all?

Ms Bird : I cannot add to what Peter Rowe has said, which is that we have a broad-ranging relationship and it is good across the board.

Senator ABETZ: That is a very broad general answer: 'good across the board'. We might all have good relationships across the board with individuals but there are certain areas where our relationship ain't too flash and I want to put to you that, in this particular area, given that Australia has form, courtesy of our 1997 debacle and now the 2012 debacle, in this area, the relationship with South Korea has suffered. There is no evidence as to that?

Mr P Rowe : All I can say, again, is that it has not affected the broader relationship. There was disappointment at the time, but it is not a feature of the interaction between leaders.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but the interaction between leaders would be such that they might not necessarily drill down to individual defence contracts. But, at a lower level—between foreign ministers, between defence ministers, between bureaucrats, between those we are contracting—there is no doubt, surely, that the relationship has been soured and soured in a big way.

Ms Bird : No.

Mr P Rowe : Certainly not in a big way. As I said, the foreign minister visited him and it was not a feature of the exchanges.

Senator ABETZ: Okay, not in a big way—except what is the definition of big? You did indicate that disappointment has been acknowledged or registered?

Mr P Rowe : At the time, yes. But that is normal.

Senator ABETZ: How was that disappointment communicated?

Mr P Rowe : I would have to go back to the record, but they were obviously unhappy that we were not going ahead.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but it was not only that it was not going ahead; it was that they had been led down the path for five years and then had the contractual arrangements or the parameters altered to such an extent that they could no longer continue.

Ms Bird : I think, as you said at the beginning, that the matter of the contract and the defence issues are a matter for Defence. We are not accepting the premise of the question. Any country which does not get a contract would be disappointed by that. As Peter Rowe has said, to suggest from that that it is going to have an impact on a very strong overall bilateral relationship is a leap we are not making.

Senator ABETZ: I know you do not want to make it. But, when the opposition are being given information, it becomes obvious that we might have an issue—especially with a government that is so closely interrelated with the defence industry. It is not just a country which is disappointed that one of its companies has missed out on a contract; this is a company which is inextricably interlinked with the government of South Korea. And we have had a situation where the parameters of the contract were changed five years after they started going down the track.

Mr P Rowe : But the Koreans would set that disappointment against the other things we do together, in particular in the defence area. The very strong support we give Korea in dealing with the security problem they have with North Korea, the very strong support we gave them at the sinking of the Cheonan, the fact that we volunteered an officer to be in the investigation team which looked at that episode, the fact we participate in exercises with them, the fact we are on the Military Armistice Commission—all of these things put that particular contract in its setting and in perspective.

Senator ABETZ: How was the disappointment, which you acknowledge, communicated? You are going to take that on notice?

Mr P Rowe : I can say that, at the time we told them it was not going to go ahead, it was a natural reaction by them to say, 'We are very disappointed.'

Senator ABETZ: How was that communicated?

Mr P Rowe : I think you would have to ask the defence department. It was their—

Senator ABETZ: Was it communicated to your department of foreign affairs in any way shape or form by South Korea? Given your hesitation, I suggest you take it on notice.

Mr P Rowe : Yes, I will, because it was some time ago now. Certainly there would have been discussions with our embassy in Seoul and the ambassador could well have said something to me at some point.

Senator ABETZ: I understand that. Please take on notice the question of how that disappointment was registered and to what extent. Did you then, having received that notification of disappointment, pass that on to Defence?

Mr P Rowe : We certainly would have discussed it with Defence.

Senator ABETZ: That is the general issue, but did you pass the disappointment which was registered with you to the defence department?

Mr P Rowe : If it was expressed to our embassy in Seoul, the defence attache would have been involved in the conversation. A cable, a report, would have been written about such an exchange, and that would have gone to the Department of Defence along with lots of other agencies.

Senator ABETZ: There were a few ifs in there. Can you confirm that that chain actually did occur—take that on notice and let us know that that actually did take place.

Ms Bird : We can take some of the detail on notice, but, as Peter Rowe has said, anything that is raised with the embassy in Seoul would be passed back in cabled reporting. But any further detail we will take on notice.

Senator ABETZ: We are told from time to time at estimates that something is the normal course of action, and then we find out later that in fact for whatever reason the normal course of action was not followed. That is why I have asked that it be taken on notice, and we can have it for absolute certainty and not on supposition. Thanks a lot.

Ms Bird : There is no suggestion that that was the case, but certainly we will do that.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions in program 1.1, North Asia?

Senator KROGER: At the beginning, when we were discussing the Security Council bid, you mentioned Mongolia. This might be your area, Mr Rowe.

Mr P Rowe : Yes, it is.

Senator KROGER: I understand that Mongolia currently has the biggest mining development project in its history underway. I am just interested to know, Mr Rowe, whether we share our expertise in that regard. Have we had any involvement in it, facilitating the intel on mining technology and so on? Has Australia—in particular, Western Australia—had any involvement?

Mr P Rowe : Certainly we have. As you know, Rio is a major investor in the Oyu Tolgoi mine there.

Senator KROGER: I was not prepared to try and get my tongue around the name of it!

Mr P Rowe : Well, mine is a more or less correct pronunciation, less correct than more! Rio is heavily involved in that, but there have been a great deal of mining services. I think there are something like 45 Australian companies up there, many of them in mining services, working on the project and working on things to do with it. Our aid program has also been aimed in part at the mining area. We have done funding for analysis of the environmental impacts of mining through the UNDP and for the development of guidelines designed to mitigate social impacts in mining areas. We did that through the World Bank. And we have done start-up and capacity building of mining sector policy through the World Bank.

Senator KROGER: Do we have any Mongolian-speaking DFAT employees?

Mr P Rowe : I do not think so, no. None that I am aware of.

Mr Moraitis : No-one has declared that they speak Mongolian.

Ms Bird : Not yet.

Senator KROGER: What is DFAT's level of engagement? You mentioned that there are 45 Australian mining companies that are involved in the project. What is the level of engagement of DFAT in this?

Ms Bird : Peter Rowe will provide a more detailed answer, but one thing might be worth highlighting. You mentioned the minister's recent visit. One of the things he did when he was there was to formally open Austrade's recently established consulate-general in Ulaanbaatar, so that is something we have done on the ground there to increase our interaction. It is something the minister did when he was there.

Senator KROGER: I would have thought that we would have had an increased demand on consular services just to facilitate that involvement.

Ms Bird : That is one thing the Austrade presence will assist with, so we are really pleased that that consulate-general has been opened.

Senator KROGER: I might direct further questions to Austrade.


CHAIR: As there are no further questions about North Asia, we will move on to South-East Asia.

Senator DI NATALE: I have a few questions about the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties Report 84, which was tabled on 6 December 2006, based on the Agreement Between the Republic of Indonesia and Australia on the Framework for Security Cooperation—that is, the Lombok treaty. I want to ask a few questions about the review of the treaty. In particular, JSCOT's Report 84 outlines two very specific recommendations about human rights. Recommendation 1 reads:

The Committee recommends that the Australia Government continue to address widely expressed concerns about human rights in Indonesia with the Indonesian Government and in appropriate international fora.

The Indonesian army and police have recently been implicated in serious human rights abuses in Papua, most recently in the burning of a village near the remote town of Wamena and in the death of the independence activist Mako Tabuni. I want to know whether both of these issues have been raised with the Indonesian government.

Mr R Smith : In short, yes. We have discussed with the Indonesian government our concerns about that outbreak of violence, the series of violent incidents that took place in the Papua provinces at that time. We have underlined a point that we make often in our discussions with the Indonesian government on human rights matters, and that is our expectation that allegations of violations of human rights be properly investigated and perpetrators dealt with according to the law. That is a position that is very well understood by the Indonesian government and indeed is one that, in terms of the intentions of the Indonesian government, has been echoed by the President himself, who has said it is the government's position to properly investigate and deal with, according to the law, perpetrators of human rights violations.

Senator DI NATALE: I will get onto the specifics of that in a moment. The first recommendation also talks about raising those concerns 'in appropriate international fora'. Have we done that?

Mr R Smith : We certainly engage in international fora on questions of human rights in Indonesia in general terms, particularly in the UN Human Rights Council, where we join with others in what is a very constructive discussion about challenges on human rights, and through that process we make our views known through a statement to that council.

Senator DI NATALE: Have we specifically addressed the issue of West Papua in those fora?

Mr R Smith : I would have to check when the last hearing on Indonesia took place in the Human Rights Council. The council works on the basis that individual countries come up for consideration in the council, as I am sure you are aware, and whether or not Indonesia has been considered since those events in West Papua I would have to check.

Senator DI NATALE: You mentioned earlier that you regularly raise these concerns with the Indonesian government. What does 'regularly' mean?

Mr R Smith : As you know, Senator, we have a very deep and substantial relationship with Indonesia. We deal closely with them on a whole range of issues, and human rights are a very integral part of the dialogue that we have with them.

Senator DI NATALE: Would you say that you have noted any improvements in Indonesia's human rights record as a result of that dialogue, specifically on West Papua?

Mr R Smith : I think it is very hard to attribute improvements or changes in a human rights environment to any particular thing. It is obviously a complex issue, particularly the situation of Papua. There are a number of factors at play. We are concerned about the situation there, as indeed the Indonesian government is, and we do raise that with them.

Senator DI NATALE: Recommendation 2 of the JSCOT report, titled 'Cooperation provisions of the Agreement', recommends:

… that the Australian Government increase transparency in defence cooperation agreements to provide assurance that Australian resources do not directly or indirectly support human rights abuses in Indonesia.

Does the department agree that transparency in defence cooperation agreements of this nature is an important principle?

Mr R Smith : I think that is a question best addressed to the Department of Defence.

Senator DI NATALE: This was a recommendation from a treaty, an agreement between Australia and the Republic of Indonesia. The recommendation specifically talks about transparency in our defence cooperation. Given that the treaty lies within DFAT's purview, I would have thought it was something that DFAT would take into consideration.

Ms Bird : There would have been a government response, no doubt, to that recommendation. I just do not have that at hand. I would like to refresh myself on that.

Senator DI NATALE: There was bipartisan agreement on the committee.

Ms Bird : That is right. I do remember the Lombok treaty, I remember it was recommended and I remember the recommendations. I am sure there was a response to those recommendations and we could refresh ourselves on those if you do not have it to hand.

Senator DI NATALE: The questions that I want to ask you relate very much to that recommendation and whether any specific provisions were included as part of the recently signed defence cooperation agreement with Indonesia.

Ms Bird : You would need to get the details from Defence.

Senator DI NATALE: Further questions on the cooperation agreement, I expect you will indicate, will need to be dealt with by Defence—

Ms Bird : Yes.

Senator DI NATALE: so I will not pursue that line of questioning. A submission to the JSCOT inquiry by Professor Clinton Fernandes said that a number of senior members of the Indonesian security forces were identified as having received military training in Australia and then went on to be implicated in a range of very serious human rights abuses. I am happy to discuss with you a number of those but, for example, we have people like Major-General Sutiyoso, who is involved in operations in East Timor. He was deputy commander of Kopassus. He was implicated in the attack on pro-democracy activists in in Jakarta. He issued shoot-on-sight orders.

We have Major-General Toisutta, again involved as deputy commander in East Timor. He was promoted and given the job of military commander in West Papua. We have General Ryakudu, who was again implicated in the death of the Papuan leader Theys Eluay, who was basically strangled by Indonesian soldiers. The general went on to say that he believed that the soldiers were heroes because they killed the rebel leader. So a number of these people have been implicated. The question is: do we keep a database of all the members of the Indonesian security forces that we train in Australia?

Ms Bird : Again, matters to do with the training of security forces would really need to go to the Department of Defence.

Senator DI NATALE: Let me ask you: was DFAT actually involved in the negotiations at all leading up to the signing of the agreement?

Ms Bird : Absolutely. We were very closely involved in the negotiation of the Lombok treaty, as we were in the JSCOT hearings on that treaty.

Senator DI NATALE: I am talking specifically about the new defence cooperation agreement.

Ms Bird : Sorry. Questions on that really should go to Defence. It would have had—

Senator DI NATALE: No, the question is: was DFAT involved in establishing that new agreement in any way?

Mr R Smith : The negotiations were principally defence-to-defence negotiations. Certainly the embassy in Jakarta was involved in the broad framing of the arrangement, and it is an arrangement, not an agreement.

Senator DI NATALE: Yes, I noted that. Can you tell me the difference?

Mr R Smith : The lawyers may want to correct me, but an agreement would be a treaty level agreement and an arrangement is a less than treaty level arrangement.

Senator DI NATALE: What does that mean in practical terms? Is one enforceable and the other is not? What does it actually mean?

Ms Bird : It has a few implications. We can get our legal advisers to go through that, but there is a difference between a treaty level and a non-treaty level in terms of a range of things, such as their binding nature. It sometimes goes to dispute resolution. There are a number of things but yes, that is the essential thing.

Senator DI NATALE: If you can provide us with some information on that, that might be helpful.

Ms Bird : Sure.

Senator DI NATALE: Let us come to the issue of Minister Carr who, upon the shooting death of Mako Tabuni, the Papuan independence leader, called for an inquiry into that death and yet when the defence cooperation arrangement was announced at a joint press conference with the Indonesian defence minister, Dr Purnomo Yusgiantoro, when defence minister Smith was asked about the incident he said that human rights violations were discussed only in passing and that he had no concerns in terms of that agreement. So Minister Carr on one hand has said that he was concerned enough about the allegations to call for an open inquiry, and yet we have Minister Smith who has no concerns about Indonesia's human rights record when it comes to signing this new arrangement. What is the department's position as to whether Mr Tabuni's death should be the subject of an open inquiry?

Ms Bird : I think you might be verballing the ministers. There is no inconsistency in the government's approach to this.

Senator DI NATALE: I am not verballing; I will happily provide you with quotes.

Ms Bird : I will ask my colleague to answer your specific question.

Mr R Smith : As I said at the beginning, for a long time it has been a consistent position of successive governments that when there are allegations of violations of human rights they should be investigated. That is a view that I think is accepted by the Indonesian government, and that is reflected in comments that the President himself has made. When these events took place, we encouraged the Indonesian government to conduct a proper investigation into the circumstances of the death of Mako Tabuni. We did that first on 22 June, we did it subsequently on 25 June, and there have been some further discussions about the process since then. It has been a consistent view we have had that incidents of this kind should be properly investigated.

Senator DI NATALE: I understand that the Indonesian defence Minister said that the killing of Mr Tabuni was legal and required no investigation, so I am a little confused about the status of the investigation.

Mr R Smith : We understand that Indonesian police are investigating the death of Mako Tabuni, and we will continue to consult with Indonesian authorities on that process.

Senator DI NATALE: So the defence minister said that it was legal and required no investigation—are we to assume that those comments are not correct and that there is an investigation?

Mr R Smith : I am not aware of the comments by the Indonesian defence minister and it would be quite inappropriate of me to comment on that.

Senator DI NATALE: My point is that we can be reassured that the Indonesian police are currently investigating the death of Mako Tabuni?

Mr R Smith : The advice we have from the Indonesian government is that there is a police investigation into Mako Tabuni's death.

Senator DI NATALE: Have any reports on the progress of the investigation been provided to DFAT?

Mr R Smith : We do not have any details on where they are in that investigation.

Senator DI NATALE: Will you be given details as progress is made through the investigation.

Mr R Smith : We will continue to discuss that with the Indonesian government.

Senator DI NATALE: Is it a concern for the department, given the burning of the village, the death of Mr Tabuni, the implication of the Indonesian security forces?

Mr R Smith : Yes, it is. As I said earlier, it is a concern for the Indonesian government as well. They would very much like to see, as would we, a more stable and secure and peaceful environment in the Papuan provinces and they would like to see, as would we, development and prosperity come to the provinces. There are difficult tensions, many of them deep-seated, within the communities there, and these are not easy issues to deal with. We certainly hope that they do not flare up in the ways they did in late May and June with these sorts of violent incidents, but clearly the Indonesian government is very committed to doing what it can to restore greater stability to the provinces and to bring economic development. We are very supportive of those efforts—we support them in many ways, including through the Australian aid program.

Senator DI NATALE: As I said, I think there might be differences of opinion about the view of the Indonesian government, particularly when their defence minister states that he believes it is legal and does not require investigation. I am still a little concerned about that, but I am reassured that the department is pursuing that actively with the Indonesian authorities. Has the department received any communication outlining further allegations of intimidation of activists in West Papua, most recently from the Australia West Papua Association, who wrote to Minister Carr?

Mr R Smith : I would have to check.

Senator DI NATALE: So what would be the normal process where an allegation is made of human rights abuses in West Papua? How would the department normally follow that up, given we might have, for example, eyewitness accounts that have been relayed through the Australia West Papua Association to the minister? I suppose what I am asking is: is there some sort of process that DFAT undertakes to investigate the veracity of such claims? Do you normally make contact with the people who have made the allegation? What is the normal process for following that up?

Mr R Smith : I think an important point to understand, first of all, Senator, is that we do not investigate. We do not have a capacity to investigate and we do not have the authority to investigate developments in Papua. When incidents and allegations of human rights violations are brought to our attention, we refer them to our embassy in Jakarta. The embassy will take up those issues in the course of its ongoing dialogue with Indonesian authorities. We also stay in contact with other groups that monitor, as we do, these developments. The International Crisis Group is one, and there are a number of other non-government organisations that look at these issues. The ICG, I am sure you are aware, put out a report recently on those events in Papua. So we stay in contact with the ICG and other groups so that we have the best possible understanding of those events.

Senator DI NATALE: Okay. My final few questions are about the third recommendation in the review of the Lombok treaty by JSCOT, which said:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government encourage the Indonesian Government to allow greater access for the media and human rights monitors in Papua.

I point to the fact that, in May this year, the UNHCR issued a 30-point recommendation in relation to Indonesia and that, essentially, all of those recommendations were rejected outright by the Indonesian government—in particular, that it allow foreign journalists free access to West Papua and United Nations special rapporteurs entry into West Papua. What steps would the department undertake to implement that third recommendation of the JSCOT report?

Mr R Smith : Broadly, this is something we do on an ongoing basis. We have for many years encouraged the Indonesian government to allow freer access to Papua both for the media and for human rights monitors, and indeed for NGOs, who are doing some very valuable work there. That process of encouragement is one that we consistently engage in.

Senator DI NATALE: Do you see that access for journalists and human rights monitors as a necessary precondition for improving the protection and promotion of human rights in West Papua?

Mr R Smith : I am not sure I would characterise it as a precondition, but it is something that we think is important and valuable.

Senator DI NATALE: I am aware that I am being hurried by the chair, so I will put my remaining questions on notice. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thanks. Senator Milne, on the Philippines?

Senator MILNE: I wanted to ask some questions with regard to the association between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Tenix Defence, and, in particular, about the 2000-01 contract for the supply of 16 search-and-rescue vessels to the Philippines.

Could you give me a brief description of the working relationship between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—trade officials in the department, diplomatic staff et cetera—and Tenix defence in the period that that relationship operated, presumably between 1997 and 2008?

Ms Bird : I might make some general comments and see if Rod Smith wants to add anything. We provided normal assistance, as we would to companies in their activities overseas. I am not aware of any particular issues around that. But, yes, we provided normal assistance.

Senator MILNE: I am afraid I find that an extraordinary statement given that there has been the release of a considerable amount of documents saying that the ambassador, for example, was told in 2005 that at the time the deal was done, the ambassador met the transport secretary in the Philippines and was told that the original purchase order for the vessels had been placed without the approval of a budget by congress in the Philippines and that there had been extensive negotiations and collaboration between Tenix defence and the Australian DFAT officials in the Philippines or here in Canberra as well. Is that not the case?

Ms Bird : No, we would normally make regular contacts in terms of progress of tenders and supply contracts. There is nothing unusual in that, Senator.

Senator MILNE: How many of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representatives attended meetings with Tenix executives and Philippines government representatives regarding that bid to supply the search and rescue vessels to the coastguard between, say, 1996 and 2004?

Ms Bird : I can take on notice what we might be able to provide. There would have been a number of such meetings.

Senator MILNE: Yes, if you would, and if you would tell me how many of those meetings occurred, where they occurred and who attended them.

Ms Bird : I will take on notice what we can do, yes.

Senator MILNE: Thank you. In 1998 DFAT issued a report stating that corruption occurs within the Estrada administration, principally to obtain major government contracts. How did the department apply its own advice when it was negotiating for the Philippines navy to relinquish control of the coastguard to the department of transport so that it could subsidise the purchase of Tenix made ships?

Ms Bird : We would have adhered to our guidelines in all respects.

Senator MILNE: Can you explain to me how you did that, because under Australian law, aid money is not allowed to be used for military purposes, yet the grant still went ahead despite that funding not being available for defence equipment or defence related projects.

Ms Bird : I am confident that all activities around this were done in accordance with our legal and other requirements, but I would have to take anything more detailed than that on notice. I am very confident that our activities were in accordance with our legal and other obligations.

Senator MILNE: What I am asking you specifically in relation to that is: knowing full well that money could not be paid for something that was under a defence arrangement, did the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade lobby the Philippine government to switch those search and rescue vessels away from the defence department in the Philippines so that the contract could proceed?

Ms Bird : I am confident that all we did on this was in accordance with our obligations. Anything more detailed, unless someone else has information, I would have to take on notice.

Senator MILNE: I would particularly ask: did you or anyone in the department have any meetings with the Philippines government in order to change that contract out of the oversight of Defence so that the aid money could be spent? Secondly, why did the grant still go ahead when it did not in fact change? Could you tell me whether the department can guarantee that no bribes or facilitation payments were made by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or by Tenix defence to Filipino politicians or political parties in relation to this deal?

Ms Bird : The whole issue of Tenix's dealings is currently under investigation by the AFP. It would obviously not be appropriate to comment on that. I can assure you that the behaviour of DFAT officials at all times was in accordance with their obligations and guidelines, but the Tenix matter itself is under investigation by the AFP.

Mr R Smith : Can I just clarify. You referred to the use of aid funds in support of this contract. I do not believe there were ever any aid funds used in support of this contract. EFIC did play a role, but that is not part of the aid budget. In terms of the support that EFIC provided through its insurance arrangements, I think they are questions best addressed to EFIC.

Ms Bird : That is absolutely correct. You are right. There was an EFIC involvement, which would be a matter for EFIC, but nothing to do with our aid budget.

Senator MILNE: The figure I have in front of me is $21 million coming from an Australian aid grant, $109 million as part of the guarantee from the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation and it says that it was a four-way deal between the Philippine finance department, Tenix, the Australian government and ANZ. Could you take it on notice as to whether $21 million was paid by AusAID, because that is the information that I have.

I was asking a question about bribes or facilitation fees paid. You are confident the department did not pay them, but was the department aware that Tenix was operating overseas bank accounts in order to facilitate the going ahead of this deal, and were you aware that Tenix was paying, or offering to pay, the travel of senior Philippine officials at the time the deal was being negotiated?

Ms Bird : All I can say is: this is a matter under investigation by the AFP, we are cooperating fully with that investigation and we have provided whatever information we might have. But this is a live, ongoing investigation. If I could again reiterate, I am very confident about the behaviour of the DFAT officials involved.

Senator MILNE: Can you indicate to me and/or take on notice whether all the payments under the 1998 DIFF grant were issued directly to Tenix Defence or made through the Philippine government? I assume you would not have that in front of you, but I would like you to take that on notice, and any itemised account of those payments as well. Following the 2005 discovery by Philippine senator Franklin Drilon that the 2000 contracts had never been approved by the congress, as required by the law, did any DFAT officials meet with the Philippine government ministers or officials to discuss the suspension of the loan repayments? If so, where and when?

Mr R Smith : I could not tell you precisely where particular meetings or discussions took place. I think as a general comment what I can say is that the embassy would have been working to encourage the Philippine government to follow up on its contractual obligations under its contract with Tenix, to make the payments that were owed.

Senator MILNE: You say there were contractual obligations, but the problem is that the contracts were never approved by the congress in the Philippines, and we were told that. The Australian ambassador was told in April 2005 that the contracts had never been approved by congress.

Mr R Smith : Budget appropriations in the Philippines, as in many other countries, are complex. Money can be moved around the budget, and I do not think that that point would necessarily particularly be a red flag. Budget appropriations can be found in different ways and money can be moved around.

Senator MILNE: Money can indeed be moved around, and that is the point here. Isn't it the case that the Philippine government suspended the repayments when it was brought to their attention that there had never been official approval of this contract?

Mr R Smith : I could not answer that question specifically. I think the concern that the embassy would have had at the time was that an Australian company was owed money by the Philippine government under a contract that it had with it, and what we would have done was to encourage the government to fulfil its obligations under that contract.

Senator MILNE: The question is: was the contract with the government or was it with an official of the government? What meetings were held by the Australian Embassy and/or ambassador, after that information was provided in April 2005, to lobby for the lifting of the suspension and the recommencement of the repayments? Please take that on notice as well. How many times did the Australian embassy staff in Manila meet with Romela Bengzon, the Philippines based director of Tenix's Philippines subsidiary—and who from the embassy staff met with Ms Bengzon?

Ms Bird : We will have to take those details on notice.

Senator MILNE: I also want to know the purpose of those meetings. Are you confident that there was no bribery and corruption associated with the Tenix defence contract for the supply of these 16 search-and-rescue vessels?

Ms Bird : As I said, there is an ongoing AFP investigation into the Tenix contract.

Senator MILNE: You cannot give me a guarantee that there was no bribery and corruption associated with it?

Ms Bird : As I said, there is an ongoing AFP investigation.

Senator XENOPHON: I have some questions in relation to the Balibo Five. In 1999, Tom Sherman QC provided a report to the Australian government in relation to the Balibo Five. He concluded that the Balibo Five were killed in crossfire at Balibo. Those findings were accepted by Mr Downer as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Since that time, in 2007, we have had the findings of the New South Wales coroner. He came to a completely different conclusion—that the Balibo Five were not killed in crossfire but were killed as a result of a deliberate act by Indonesian special forces. What is the position? Does the Australian government accept the conclusions of the 2007 New South Wales coroner's report or does it accept the position of Tom Sherman QC—which was accepted by then Minister Downer?

Ms Bird : The coroner's conclusions are a matter for the coroner. As you said, the government conducted its own investigation, which was the Sherman one you have referred to.

Senator XENOPHON: Mr Downer, as foreign minister, accepted the findings of the 1999 Sherman investigation. But, since that time, there has been a coronial inquest. I have the report of the New South Wales coroner in front of me. It is 132 pages and it goes into some considerable detail about the evidence that was called. It is a very comprehensive and considered document, I think. Did the government consider the 2007 findings of the New South Wales coroner's inquest into the death of the Balibo Five—given that it had more recent and very detailed information?

Ms Bird : It was certainly a very thorough report and, yes, the government would have looked at that very closely when it came out.

Senator XENOPHON: You have referred to it as a thorough report. With this thorough report—these findings by the coroner based on interviews with people who witnessed the killing of the Balibo Five—did the department go through a process of advising the Australian government that, in light of the coroner's findings, it should reconsider its position in relation to the death of the Balibo five?

Ms Bird : The government would have considered the coroner's report—absolutely. The report would have been considered.

Senator XENOPHON: You are saying that the report has been considered by the position of the Australian government is that the Balibo five were killed in crossfire in accordance with the report of Tom Sherman QC.

Ms Bird : I am not saying that; I am saying that there are various reports around—there is the coroner's report, there is the Sherman report. I would not seek to characterise our position.

Senator XENOPHON: The position of the department and the Australian government has been characterised in the context of the Sherman report, has it not?

Ms Bird : At the time, yes. That was a government report of the time.

Senator XENOPHON: Sure.

Mr R Smith : It might be worth recalling that the AFP currently has this issue under investigation.

Senator XENOPHON: Yes and I tried to get some answers from the AFP and from the Attorney-General's office as to what is happening with that in terms of mutual cooperation between the Australian and Indonesian governments to terms of the AFP investigation. I do not know whether there is anything the department can tell me about that.

Ms Bird : No. It is an ongoing investigation.

Senator XENOPHON: But you cannot tell me whether there has been any request for corporation of the Indonesian government in relation to the AFP investigation.

Ms Bird : That would be a matter for the AFP.

Senator XENOPHON: No, the AFP told me it was a matter for the government, for the Attorney-General's office.

Ms Bird : That it is a matter for the Attorney-General's office.

Senator XENOPHON: The Attorney-General's office told me that they could not comment on it.

Ms Bird : It is a matter for the Attorney-General's office. This mutual assistance requests are for the Attorney-General's office.

Senator Conroy: We can take it on notice to see whether there is anything further the minister would like to add.

Senator XENOPHON: Sure, but they asked in relation to mutual assistance requests whether Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a role in advising the Attorney-General's office in respect of such mutual assistance requests?

Ms Bird : Mutual assistance matters are for the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator XENOPHON: I know that, but does your department have a role?

Ms Bird : I am not aware of us getting involved. Let me take on notice whether there is anything we can add.

Senator XENOPHON: As a general principle?

Ms Bird : As a general principle, no. They are matters for the Attorney-General's Department, but let me take on notice whether there is anything more to add.

Senator XENOPHON: If it is a mutual assistance request—leaving aside this particular matter—the Attorney-General's Department would not seek advice from DFAT?

Ms Bird : Not that I am aware, but let me take that on notice.

Senator XENOPHON: Even though it relates to issues of mutual assistance between sovereign nations?

Ms Bird : Yes. There would be a role for our embassies in conveying the requests. We would be a channel, a conduit for those sorts of requests but beyond that I am not aware. I will take that on notice.

Senator XENOPHON: So the department would not to give advice as to perhaps the sensitivities of a particular matter in the context of the mutual assistance request?

Ms Bird : As I said, these are legal matters. They would be ones for the Attorney-General's Department. As I said, our embassies would get involved in conveying sometimes those requests, but if there is anything more I will take that on notice to get back to you.

Senator XENOPHON: To conclude on this particular aspect of it, in so far as the mutual assistance request is concerned, does the department consider it has a role or an obligation to advise of the sensitivities of a particular matter in the context of the mutual assistance request?

Ms Bird : These are legal matters. They are for the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator XENOPHON: You mentioned the Sherman report and the coroner's findings into the death of the Balibo five. Are there any other reports I should be aware of in relation to this matter? Were you referring to any additional reports?

Ms Bird : No, not that I am aware of.

Senator XENOPHON: So that means that the two reports that the Australian government and the department

can consider are the Sherman report and the coroner's findings into the death of the Balibo five?

Ms Bird : They are certainly two reports which we are aware of, yes.

Senator XENOPHON: Right, but there are not any other reports you are aware of that would be of assistance in determining the Australian government's position?

Ms Bird : Not that I am personally aware of, no.

Senator XENOPHON: Is it fair to say, then, that the official position of the Australian government and of the department is that the Balibo five were killed in crossfire based on the Sherman report?

Ms Bird : As has been explained, the AFP is still investigating the coroner's report. That is an ongoing matter. There is really not much more I can add on that.

Senator Conroy: We will take on notice the question you are asking. You asked specifically what the government's policy was. I am happy to take that on notice to see whether Senator Bob Carr would like to add anything further in answer to your question. You keep asking about government policy and that is a matter for the ministers rather than for the officials.

Senator XENOPHON: I appreciate very much the reason why the minister cannot be here—because of the Security Council vote. So there is no criticism that the minister is not here.

Senator Conroy: That is why I am taking it on notice. I doubt I can add anything of any value for you.

Senator XENOPHON: Can we at least go to the issue of process, finally, in relation to this. Perhaps you could take on notice, Ms Bird, what consideration was done as a result of the coroner's findings in November 2007 on the death of the Balibo Five? In other words, what protocols and processes were followed to consider that in the context of whether any advice was given? You do not have to give necessarily the content of the advice but let us know whether advice was given to the Australian government in relation to the coroner's findings and whether there was a need to reconsider the government's position in respect of it.

Ms Bird : Let me take that on notice.

Senator XENOPHON: I cannot take it any further then.

Senator KROGER: I just want to come to a report that was covered in the Australian in relation to the schoolies period and in particular those who travel to Bali and the number who required consular support. I am seeking an update on the demands on DFAT in relation to increased consular support required for schoolies week—what that has amounted to, how many cases, what extent and so on.

Mr Brown : Schoolies week started last week. Our standard practice is to issue a travel advisory which we circulate quite broadly in the community. It is targeted at people going overseas to Bali and elsewhere during this period. That was issued last week, if my memory serves me correctly. As the process is still ongoing, we do not yet have any figures on what the likely case load will be over that period but, based on previous schoolies periods, I can imagine it will be quite a significant peak in Bali and other areas where school leavers congregate.

Senator KROGER: In previous times we have talked about the development of the Smartraveller website. Raised last time was the introduction of the use of social media. I am hoping that is one of those avenues you are using to target this particular audience. Would I be correct in that comment?

Mr Brown : You would be. As you know, we have had two waves of advertising under the Smartraveller program, and we are planning a third wave commencing in the middle of next month. That will involve the standard advertising particularly on television but also in print and for those of non-English-speaking backgrounds and so on. We are also going to be doing two innovative things to target exactly the kind of issue that you refer to. The first is that we are developing an iPhone app which will assist particularly with the younger generation to tap into our travel advisory interactively and in a mobile way. Secondly, we will be launching a Facebook site around the same time—again, with the intention of targeting schoolies and other young people who are travelling.

Senator KROGER: Just in reference to schoolies week last year, do you have any idea of how many of the Australian citizens in that age demographic required consular support?

Mr Brown : I am happy to take it on notice. We gather our consular data on the basis of the nature of the cases rather than the demographic.

Senator KROGER: I understand, but it would be interesting because there is a particular issue here which is discrete to this group and so it would be good to hear the way in which you deal with the particular concerns and issues that arise through schoolies week. For that period, what number of Australians required consular support who were not necessarily charged but detained for various offences or behavioural issues?

Mr Brown : Just to clarify: you are asking specifically about the schoolies week last year?

Senator Conroy: This year, I think.

Senator KROGER: I am asking, because we do not have records yet for this year, what the situation was last year.

Mr Brown : The only data I have to hand is for the entire financial year last year, but I am happy to take on notice the question of trends over the schoolies period and get back to you.

Senator KROGER: That would be great. In this article from the Australian they list that there were 41 cases of Australians under 25 years receiving consular assistance in Bali, including 14 arrests and seven hospitalisations. Please confirm specifically for the schoolies week. I guess you that would have to extend that for a couple weeks after that time, given that schools finish up at different times.

Have you put together a budget in relation to the increased advertising and development of the social media sites that you are planning for this year's schoolies week?

Mr Brown : The numbers I can give you are for the broader Smartraveller information campaigns. That embraces the schoolies week; we do not have a specific appropriation or a specific set of funds which we dedicate to schoolies week. The primary purpose of our schoolies week advertising is to alert young travellers to the kinds of issues that have historically arisen and to some of the precautions that they might take and to the consular services that we can offer. At the last estimates we advised that the department received $13.6 million over a four-year period for the Smartraveller campaign. I have just explained that the third phase of that will be launched next month.

Senator KROGER: Are you able to give an indication of how many registered on the Smartraveller website last year during this period? Do you have a projection that you try to reach in terms of increasing the use of the Smartraveller website?

Mr Brown : As a general rule, we are trying to maximise the number of registrations to the extent possible. Let me tell you the numbers that I do have. Since the launch of the Smartraveller campaign, the number of subscribers to the travel advice has increased by 29 per cent—it is now at about 90,500 as of 1 September. So far this year, to 1 September, our Smartraveller site has received 30 million page view requests—that is, about 150,000 a week—and that is compared with about 36 million in 2011. The number of daily registrations by Australians of their travel plans has also increased significantly. Over the June 2012 holiday period, there were 110,000—almost 111,000—registrations, and that compared with 63,000 in the same period last year. So overall I think the trend we are seeing is very positive.

Senator KROGER: Is there analysis of the usage of it done on a demographic basis?

Mr Brown : No.

Senator KROGER: Is it possible to do that?

Mr Brown : It might be, but it would have resource implications.

Senator KROGER: One would think that that would be a good way to determine the effectiveness of the site, particularly if you are targeting a demographic—for instance, schoolies week—with Smartraveller. We discussed in previous estimates the increase in demand for consular support for those travelling to Laos, for instance. It would be good if you could come back to me and indicate whether it is possible to do a breakdown analysis of that in relation to schoolies week.

Mr Brown : I will look into that. Overall we talk to our consular clients, so in our embassies on the ground we seek feedback on how useful the advice has been. We also keep in close contact with the travel industry. We have travel agents who are telling us what is useful, and some demographic information flows from that. As I explained, the new Smartraveller initiatives, particularly the iPhone app and the Facebook page, are designed specifically to improve the traction that our advice receives from that demographic.

Senator KROGER: That is all good. I think it is fantastic.

Senator FAWCETT: I will ask the same question to Mr Smith that I asked previously about North Asia. Could you detail for me any specific interaction you have had with the Philippines or Vietnam pertaining to the tensions around the South China Sea?

Mr R Smith : The answer is very similar. We have regular dialogue with our partners in South-East Asia on these issues. They come up in discussions we have, in ministerial exchanges and in senior officials exchanges. The position that we articulate is as Mr Rowe mentioned earlier.

Senator FAWCETT: With Burma, we obviously welcome the developments there in terms of their opening up of the country to democratic processes. I note that we have had a couple of delegations here in the parliament, one of which I met with recently. But we still hear a lot of concerns about political prisoners and also restrictions on the movement of aid workers in Burma. What representations is DFAT making with the government in Burma on those issues—or Myanmar, I should say?

Mr R Smith : We have regular dialogue with the government. The pace of that dialogue, in a sense, has picked up in recent times with the delegations that we are seeing going in both directions. Certainly in terms of the work that the Australian embassy in Yangon does with the government there, human rights and the problems of ethnic conflicts in various parts of Myanmar are very much a feature of those discussions. They are not easy issues. Communal tensions and ethnic tensions run very deep, and we are seeing that particularly in Rakhine state, where in the last few months there have been some very serious instances of sectarian violence. We urge the government to do what it can to settle those situations to ensure that there is proper protection provided for communities and that their human rights are supported.

In relation to the access of aid workers, there is still in Myanmar a serious problem of internally displaced people. I think the situation has probably improved a little since the ceasefire that has been concluded between the government and 11 of the 12 main ethnic groups. But there are still substantial numbers of internally displaced people in areas around the country, many of which are very difficult to get to. We are doing what we can to provide support to those groups and we continue to urge the government to allow access for aid workers.

Senator FAWCETT: In terms of those sorts of issues—political prisoners and the access and freedom of movement of aid workers—are they just an agenda item on your meeting with various leaders or do you have a particular strategy, goals and targets or even aspirations that you work to try and achieve and, if needs be, change how you work and the intensity of your work? Or is it just part of your regular interaction?

Mr R Smith : Sorry, I did not answer your question on political prisoners earlier. The Australian government has for a long time been urging the Myanmar government to release all political prisoners. We have seen a lot of progress on that front since the Myanmar government came into power in 2011. There have been very substantial numbers of political prisoners released, including another group of around 80 political prisoners as recently as September this year.

It is very hard for us to know precisely how many political prisoners are still detained. We think the figure is somewhere around 250 to 280 but again there is no real precision about that number.

This is an issue clearly that was a subject of discussion between Senator Carr and the Myanmar government when Senator Carr visited Myanmar in June. He made the point, as many others have made and we have made consistently, that we look to Myanmar to release all remaining political prisoners. We have a good relationship with the government. We have been very encouraged by the changes that we have seen over the last 12 months. We have been very encouraged by the level of commitment that the government, led by President Thein Sein, has shown to address many of the challenges that Myanmar faces. They are very substantial challenges and they will not be easy to address, but we have been encouraged by the commitment that they are showing.

I think one of the things that has become more of a feature of our dialogue with Myanmar now is that we are looking at ways in which we can assist them to address some of those very substantial challenges, including in relation to the conduct of elections, including in relation to governance arrangements, including in relation to supporting education, health and some of the other things that we are doing through the Australian aid program.

CHAIR: We will move on to the Americas. Are there any questions on this area?

Senator FAWCETT: You would have heard the discussion earlier about China and the Antarctic, and America is another significant player in this place. I noticed in the late eighties they developed a whole framework looking at the mineral exploitation of the Antarctic region, and that is often quoted by people in anticipation of 2048, with the current requirement for unanimity of members of the ATS before any changes can be made. I am wondering what specific work DFAT is doing in a strategic sense, not the science sense, to look at shaping countries' expectations around the Antarctic into the future.

Mr R Rowe : I am aware of the United States exercise that you referred to and activities in that regard. Those have been encompassed and superseded by what I referred to in answer to an earlier question, the Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The previous proposal for developing a convention covering mineral resources in Antarctica was superseded by the Madrid protocol, and of course Australia was one of the leading proponents of that protocol, which now has very strong endorsement and support including by the United States. Looking ahead, with this Madrid protocol which, as we discussed earlier, prohibits any mineral resource-related activities in Antarctica, we are now actively engaged, along with France and Spain, in making representations to those Antarctic treaty parties that fall into what is called the non-consultative group to encourage them to become parties to that protocol. The United States, of course, is a very strong supporter of the Madrid protocol and we are consulting closely and engaging closely with them as we carry forward this new initiative which was endorsed two years ago. So the United States' very clear position is one of strong support for the Madrid protocol on environmental protection and all its provisions, which, as I say, cover resource exploitation.

Senator FAWCETT: I note also that the United States have insisted that the Madrid protocol be renewable 'to avoid foreclosing the options for future generations'. That places them in line with Russia and China in terms of seeing the Antarctic as a resource that potentially can be exploited, which means it moves from being a science issue—which is how Australia has approached it—to a strategic issue. So my question again is: what are we doing to shape the strategic view and balance out those competing interests to be consistent with Australia's strategic view of the Antarctic, as opposed to just the scientific view that we have tended to have?

Mr R Rowe : On the strategic level, it relates very much to what I was saying earlier—that we work within the Antarctic Treaty System, a critical part of which is that Madrid protocol. The United States and the other states we referred to earlier are also part of that system and very strong supporters of the principles and the objectives that are enshrined in those legally binding instruments. In terms of moving forward, our very clear policy is to continue, along with all the other parties to those instruments, to ensure that they remain very firmly in force and very firmly adhered to. I think that, frankly, is the best way of advancing and securing our strategic interests in relation to Antarctica and to ensure that other parties continue to maintain their support as well for those two instruments in particular.

Senator FAWCETT: Okay. Mr Wilson, in this Americas group we have Canada, the US and South America, and I understand very clearly our strategic interests there from the perspective of security, South America's developing mining sector et cetera and other trade. But there is also the Caribbean—the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and others. Could you outline very briefly for the committee what our strategic interests are with the Caribbean?

Mr Wilson : Yes, we do have strong interests with the Caribbean. We obviously have connections through the Commonwealth with many of those countries. We have connections in multilateral organisations as well, often pursuing the same goals in terms of sustainable development and a range of other issues. We have connections through CARICOM, which is the main regional body looking at economic and social integration, and we have an agreement with CARICOM. We also have an aid program with the Caribbean, which is, I think, $60 million over four years, and we have important bilateral relations within the Caribbean. Obviously, we have very strong people-to-people connections as well. We have the cricket connection. We also have a number of trade issues. While the trade volume is not large, we are looking at developing those sorts of connections and also investment in some cases—in Trinidad and Tobago, for example.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thanks very much. There being no further questions in the Americas area, we will break now for lunch, resuming at 1.30 pm with Africa.

Proceedings suspended from 12:29 to 13:31

CHAIR: The committee will resume proceedings. We are still in outcome 1, program 1.1, and we are into Africa.

Senator KROGER: I want to turn to Mali, in particular since the military coup there in March this year. Do we have any Australian citizens on the ground in Mali?

Mr Wilson : I would have to take that on notice. I do not think we would have very many, but it is possible that there may be.

Ms Bird : We might have a few who have registered. We can check that for you.

Senator KROGER: What is the department's advice on the current status in Mali?

Mr Brown : Senator, your first question was: how many Australian nationals are in Mali?

Senator KROGER: Yes.

Mr Brown : We do not have an exact number, but there are fewer than 10, and those that are there are in a mining development in the country. We have endeavoured to make contact with all of them, given the recent disturbances, and our travel advisory reflects the very difficult nature of travel in parts of the country, particularly in the north.

Senator KROGER: So they clearly are choosing to stay for business reasons?

Mr Brown : Correct.

Senator KROGER: Mr Wilson, can you provide us with a bit of an update on the situation as you see it on the ground there?

Mr Wilson : I might just take that one on notice as well. I have only recently started in this division. I am happy to provide some more information there.

Senator KROGER: That is fine. Turning to Somalia, I am interested to know to what extent the department is involved in the antipiracy activities that we are engaged with.

Ms Bird : There have been various international conferences and regional conferences, and we have been involved in those. I am not sure. I think my colleague Peter Shannon would have the detail on that.

Mr Shannon : Yes, we have been active, principally through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and their counterpiracy program. Senator Carr I think announced some months ago a $2 million allocation of funds to support that activity. It is in the form of advisers who support the rule-of-law work of the counterpiracy program.

Senator KROGER: Where are they based?

Mr Shannon : We have had people coming in and out, operating out of Nairobi, over a period of time. We have a gentleman who has worked in Mauritius—an AFP officer. Quite an array of specialist advice has been given. We have a prisons adviser who has supported the work that UNODC is doing in constructing prisons for pirates in Somaliland and Puntland.

Senator KROGER: Is that $2 million in addition to money which is already budgeted to supporting antipiracy measures? I put that quite loosely.

Mr Shannon : I do not think we have any specially allocated money. There are programs, of course. The ADF maintains a warship—a frigate—and personnel. That is funded through the defence budget. One of their tasks is supporting the combined maritime task force work. But specially allocated money? No. Over and above the $2 million, DFAT does a little bit of work in terms of conferences. For example, we supported a conference in Perth in July which brought together people from the Indian Ocean region—experts—plus people from South-East Asia and people from the Gulf of Guinea states to share experiences and learn lessons in how the different regions have approached the piracy problem.

Senator KROGER: Is this the African conference?

Mr Shannon : No, it was separate from that. The outcomes of our Perth meeting were replayed, as it were, in New York on 10 October—very successfully, I think—to the permanent representatives there and to the specialist think-tankers and others. It demonstrated that lessons can be learned—for example, from the way the South-East Asian region dealt with the severe problem of piracy and maritime robbery in the nineties. They had quite some success. The Gulf of Guinea West African countries are now facing a set of circumstances not dissimilar to what the South-East Asians faced. The piracy and robbery is occurring closer inshore, as opposed to the piracy in the Indian Ocean region, which is way out to sea.

Senator KROGER: This is a very simplistic question for a very complex subject. In your view, is the situation eroding? Is it getting worse? Or do you think it is very much the same as it was, say, 12 or 18 months ago?

Mr Shannon : In fact, I think the situation is improving slightly. Certainly it has improved in South-East Asia. There continue to be incidents, of course. In the Indian Ocean region, which is where the international community has focused most of its attention and concern, the number of interceptions by ships is decreasing, the number of successful boardings is decreasing, the number of actual hijackings and hostage takings is decreasing and the ransom sums being asked for are, possibly, increasing—which is, I think, an indication of the desperation of the pirates. There are a number of reasons for all that—improved patrolling by the combined maritime task force, better management practices on board ships, private security guards on board ships and, I think, some success on land in Somalia itself, particularly with AMISOM pushing al-Shabaab and the militias northwards and disrupting the piracy networks. But it can change. The Gulf of Guinea, I think, has the potential to get worse.

Senator KROGER: Has the number of ships being intercepted by pirates reduced?

Mr Shannon : Yes, it is decreasing.

Senator KROGER: I realise I am crossing departments here a little bit in terms of responsibilities, but do you have the figures for that?

Mr Shannon : I do not have them in my notes but I would be happy to take them on notice and give you a snapshot of trends.

Senator KROGER: That would be very helpful; thank you.

Senator RHIANNON: An Australian listed mining company, Mineral Commodities Limited, MRC, is attempting to develop a mineral sands project in South Africa. Considering that a local community member working to expose human rights abuse by MRC lodged complaints with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Securities Exchange with respect to inaccurate and misleading statements by MRC, what involvement or association has DFAT had with this project?

Mr Wilson : I am not aware of any DFAT involvement in the project, but I can follow it up for you in terms of any contact that has been made.

Senator RHIANNON: Is there anybody here who would have some information? Considering it has been quite controversial in Africa, I thought somebody coming to these estimates would have had some information about it.

Ms Bird : We will have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering the international reputation of Australian mining companies can be damaged by the lack of public accountability and poor practice by junior mining companies—I have given one example, but there are a number of smaller mining companies operating in Africa—what measures does DFAT take to ensure such companies comply with international human rights and public accountability standards?

Mr Wilson : The Australian government does seek to ensure compliance of Australian mining companies with human rights standards when operating in Africa. The Australian government has an ongoing commitment to universal human rights and to instituting practical measures to encourage more responsible business practices. We cosponsor the UN guiding principles on the advancement of the business and human rights agenda and we engage actively in discussions on these matters. The Australian government does expect mining companies operating in Africa to abide by local laws and to conduct themselves in accordance with internationally recognised standards for corporate social responsibility such as the UN guiding principles, the UN Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the OECD risk awareness tool for multinational enterprises in weak governance zones. These expectations are conveyed through regular industry outreach in Australia, including seminars targeted at the mining industry to highlight Australian laws applying to Australian companies trading internationally. We also encourage companies to adopt best practice principles, including, as I mentioned, the OECD guidelines. There are also ad hoc offshore outreach activities on expectations and obligations of Australian companies.

Senator RHIANNON: You mentioned offshore at the end then. I am assuming you mean by that that you would be undertaking similar activities in Africa, where there are now a number of Australian mining companies operating. Is that what you meant by offshore?

Mr Wilson : There are regular discussions held with mining companies operating in individual countries. They would be provided with advice on the importance of adhering to local laws and Australian laws that may be applied extraterritorially.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you run us through what has actually happened with regard to that. You have mentioned that you have these outreach programs to address the expectations that the Australian government has with regard to local laws and the OECD and UN guiding principles. When have these events been held, what is their nature in Africa and who has attended?

Mr Wilson : I would have to get back to you with the details.

Ms Bird : As Graeme Wilson said, there have been a range of activities. We are quite actively engaged in this area. We could take on notice those precise details.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for taking it on notice. If that could include the events, where they have been held and who has attended, I would appreciate it. Does DFAT scrutinise mining companies operating in Africa to ensure that they have not breached Australian Securities Exchange and Australian Securities and Investments Commission guidelines?

Ms Bird : No. That is not our role.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering relations with Africa are now becoming increasingly important for Australia and there is growing controversy around how mining companies are operating in Africa, could you outline what steps Australia is taking not only to inform those companies about how they should operate—and I understand that is what you have taken on notice—but to check up when there are problems so you can determine what Australia's response should be. Surely there must come some point when briefings are prepared for ambassadors, high commissioners, foreign ministers, about these problems that are occurring in Africa with Australian owned mining countries.

Ms Bird : As Graeme Wilson set out, we have a very comprehensive series of activities in this area. Australian companies by and large enjoy a good reputation. We certainly work with them to ensure that that continues to be the case, and we will keep doing so.

Senator RHIANNON: The way that answer was given, though, gave the clear impression that it is about providing information for how companies should operate, not addressing problems that are arising when mining companies abuse human rights, damage the environment, do not abide by local laws—and you have said there is an expectation that they will. After the fact, how are you dealing with these problems?

Ms Bird : Issues to do with local laws in the countries in which they operate and whether there are breaches are really ones for the countries in which they operate. As I said, we work very closely with Australian mining. They have a good reputation, and that is a good thing for Australia. We certainly work closely with them.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you seeing examples where smaller mining companies are breaking the law and not abiding by international guidelines and there is a potential for it damaging Australia's reputation and the standing of larger mining companies that attempt to abide by laws?

Ms Bird : As I said, by and large Australian mining companies overseas have a very good reputation, and that is important.

Senator RHIANNON: I would like to take up the issue of the Direct Aid Program. Are all grants under the Direct Aid Program counted as ODA?

Ms Bird : Yes. The Direct Aid Program grants are part of Australia's aid program. Yes, they are ODA.

Senator RHIANNON: Is that administered through AusAID or through DFAT?

Ms Thorpe : In the day-to-day management of the DAP we have a role, but the funding is with AusAID. The funding stays with AusAID and they manage the funding. It is not in our budget.

Senator RHIANNON: So they manage the funding, but it sounds like, if you are doing the day-to-day work, you make the decisions on where the grants apply to.

Ms Thorpe : We work with AusAID on that. The higher level stuff is worked through with AusAID, and the day-to-day management is then done—

Ms Bird : It is our posts. It is basically devolved to posts.

Ms Thorpe : It is devolved to posts, but the higher level is done with AusAID.

Mr Wilson : It is actually administered by DFAT but it is funded by AusAID. The administration of the DAP is done on the ground, as was mentioned, by posts. There is a committee that is established, and usually the head of mission heads that.

Senator RHIANNON: It sounds like DFAT is driving it, making the important decisions, and AusAID hands over the cheques and is not so involved. Is that a fair summary?

Ms Bird : It is designed to give our posts fairly small sums of money that they can fund local worthwhile projects with. The AusAID development program tends to be on a much larger scale. What this does is allow posts to have a fairly small amount of money so that they can then fund some really worthwhile local projects which might not otherwise get aid funding. That is the purpose and that is how it works.

Senator RHIANNON: Who made the decision to extend DAP to the Australia-Africa Mining Industry Group? Was that a DFAT decision?

Mr Wilson : It is not a question of extending DAP to it; as was mentioned, we have DAP projects in Africa. There are applications that are made, and they are assessed on a competitive basis. It is possible for NGOs as well as industry and individuals to work with us. The program, as was mentioned, focuses on supporting small-scale development projects and activities that involve the beneficiaries in the identification, design and management of the projects. At times the DAP money—and there is a maximum of $30,000 per project—has been used to contribute to a larger development project and has been combined with other sources of money, including from other donors or from private companies or entities. That is particularly the case for projects which may be beyond the ordinary scope of the DAP budget.

In such instances, the DAP guidelines continue to govern the project and the beneficiary remains the local community or the organisation. At the end of the project, all recipients are required to complete acquittal reports, and that includes evidence of expenditure, receipts, written reports on tangible outcomes. There have been several DAP projects in Africa that have involved DAP money alongside funding from Australian companies, but that has enabled us to have a bigger impact on the community than would otherwise have been the case. That has been useful in terms of some local community projects.

Senator RHIANNON: Discussion papers released by AusAID this year on partnerships state that AusAID will not subsidise corporate social responsibility programs of miners or other work that would have occurred without AusAID support. I understand that 10 grants have been made available to members of the Australia- Africa Mining Industry Group, and that those grants are supporting corporate social responsibility initiatives. That effectively amounts to subsidisation because it is seen that CSR—corporate social responsibility—initiatives are the responsibility of the company, that that is not a role for aid money. We are talking about aid money, which the public expect is for the welfare of people, going to a mining company for their own corporate social responsibility. Why are these grants being used to subsidise programs that actually contradict AusAID's own guidelines?

Ms Bird : As my colleague mentioned, all of the DAP programs do have to be consistent with the ODA guidelines. AusAID guidelines have to be ODA eligible. You might want to explore some of this a bit later on with our AusAID colleagues, but certainly we administer the DAP programs within the overall aid framework. It just allows us to target, as I said, smaller scale projects which AusAID might not otherwise be able to do.

Senator RHIANNON: I would ask you to come back to the question I asked. I take your point about having to be ODA eligible, but then AusAID does expand on what is required. I have read out the very clear guidelines from AusAID: AusAID will not subsidise corporate social responsibility programs of miners. That is directly from AusAID, and you just explained that this money is also AusAID money, so do we not have a problem that aid money, public money, is being used by mining companies for corporate social responsibility that they are supposed to do themselves?

Mr Wilson : There is no money paid to companies. The focus is on the small-scale project, and perhaps you would have seen some of the types of projects—there is a development of a school for deaf students; the provision of fresh water and solar panels in local communities. The government is providing a contribution to that—as I said, a maximum of $30,000—and then companies in the relevant cases, where applications have been considered and approved, provide a contribution as well. We are not providing money directly to companies.

Senator RHIANNON: No, I take your point on that, and I think you have actually helped identify the problem that I think we have here in how DFAT is operating. I will add to the example you have given. Ghana, from what I understand, received a $2,500 package of support for community development projects in two mining areas in Ghana and Burkina Faso—and that comes from the Australian High Commission in Ghana. But again I go back to the point that is clearly set out by AusAID: not to be providing that type of assistance for corporate social responsibility programs of miners or other work that would have occurred without AusAID support. It should not be subsidised by AusAID. So we have a problem.

Ms Bird : No, with respect, I do not think we do. We are funding worthwhile small projects. AusAID are aware of this. They do not see any inconsistency or problems with their guidelines. We do not see any problems or inconsistency with their guidelines. We are funding small-scale, worthwhile, local projects with, as I said, full visibility. AusAID are aware of it. There does not seem to be any inconsistency there.

Senator RHIANNON: So you do not think the mining company should have done that because it is in an area where they are causing dislocation?

Ms Bird : Mining companies can do what they wish, and we encourage mining companies to act responsibly, but, to be clear here, this DAP money is funding specific local worthwhile projects which are within all of the various guidelines and frameworks for the AusAID program.

Senator RHIANNON: I would like to ask about Paladin Energy Ltd. Have they received funds through DAP?

Mr Wilson : Once again, the companies do not receive funds. They were involved in a project in Malawi. This was the one I mentioned about the development of the school for deaf students. That has been the example there.

I will just add, on the point of decisions about DAP money, that they are made independently of any considerations about these corporate social responsibility activities. They are made subject to DAP guidelines and assessed on the merits of the project.

In response to that question: yes, Paladin was involved in Malawi in the development of a school for deaf students.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you say that Paladin was involved in that school?

Mr Wilson : In the DAP project?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Wilson : Yes. It made a contribution to the DAP project, as the government made a contribution to the DAP project.

Senator RHIANNON: We do need to explore this more, because it is relevant here to ask what due diligence was done in deciding whether to give this grant to Paladin, considering—

Ms Bird : Senator, sorry, if I could just stop you there: with respect, the money is not going to Paladin; it is going to a project to which Paladin itself is making a contribution. I think that is important.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I will ask it again. What due diligence was done in deciding whether to go into partnership with Paladin in giving money to a project that they were also giving money to, considering that Paladin have been implicated in serious labour and environmental abuses in Africa and are currently the subject of allegations of corruption in Malawi? In doing a school with a company, there is a partnership that obviously has to occur there.

Ms Bird : They have contributed money to a worthwhile project. We have contributed money to a worthwhile project. If there are allegations about their behaviour in that country, it is for that country to investigate any potential breaches. I am not aware of whether there are any at all, but, as I said, that is a matter for the country concerned. But it is a worthwhile project to which we were contributing.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware of these allegations about Paladin and their operations in Malawi?

Mr Wilson : Not specifically. In fact, my understanding was that Paladin enjoyed quite a good reputation in Malawi. It is certainly making a strong contribution to the economy there through its project.

Obviously, in terms of the DAP, the project, as was mentioned, is assessed carefully on its merits. They have a committee that goes through these very rigorous guidelines, which are publicly available, and it is all designed for the small-scale community project and the recipients of that. Generally, they have been very successful, and those who have received them have been very grateful. The sorts of acquittals that we have received have generally been very good.

Ms Bird : And I think it is worth noting that obviously this is done with full transparency, clearly.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice whether any briefings have been provided to DFAT about the issues surrounding the operations of Paladin in Malawi, please.

Ms Bird : Sure.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Was a DAP grant of $2,000 provided for community development projects in two mining areas in Ghana and Burkina Faso?

Ms Bird : I have no doubt we have had some DAP projects there. I am not sure if my colleague has the details.

Mr Wilson : Yes, there was a project in Burkina Faso involving a company, Middle Island Resources. And the second one, Senator?

Senator RHIANNON: It was Ghana and Burkina Faso.

Mr Wilson : On the other one: in Ghana, yes, there was one involving Endeavour Mining. That was a school, water, sanitation and hygiene campaign in the western region. In Burkina Faso it was in partnership with an NGO: the offer of sustainable access to water and to improve agricultural productivity and food security of 14,000 community members, and the focus was on a market garden infrastructure.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you inform the committee of the role that DFAT played in the creation of AAMIG, the Australia-Africa Mining Industry Group? Does a working group between AAMIG, DFAT and AusAID still exist?

Mr Wilson : No, the government, or DFAT, played no role in the formation of AAMIG. It was formed completely independently of government, though we welcomed its establishment back in 2009 because it does provide a valuable forum for liaison between industry and government related to mining issues in Africa. Indeed, one of the recommendations of the June 2011 Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade report on Australia's relationships with the countries of Africa was to encourage greater consultation between the department and Australian resource companies. But there has not been a working group established—

Senator RHIANNON: There is no working group between AAMIG, DFAT and AusAID?

Mr Wilson : No.

Senator RHIANNON: I have to finish up, so could I just put some questions on notice, please. Have there ever been terms of reference for the working group?

Mr Wilson : No.

Senator RHIANNON: So it never existed?

Mr Wilson : No, there is no formal working group. There are the occasional or periodic discussions that are held between representatives from DFAT, AusAID, Austrade and AAMIG—for example, most recently, at the Africa Down Under conference that was held in Perth—but they are of an informal nature. There is no formal working group.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that. Could you take on notice when those informal meetings have occurred, where they occurred and who attended. Was support of any kind, monetary or in-kind, provided to the AAMIG by DFAT, AusAID or any other government body in the creation of AAMIG? I will leave it at that for now.


CHAIR: As there are no further questions for Africa, we will move on to Europe. Are there any questions here?

Senator KROGER: Yes. I want to explore whether there has been a change to the diplomatic sharing arrangements with the United Kingdom, or whether we are exploring that, and where that is at.

Mr Newman : The idea of sharing has been raised in broad terms with the department, but it has not yet gone to the stage of any specific negotiation or agreement.

Senator KROGER: What is the framework under which we would pursue sharing arrangements? Is it in relation to postings or intelligence, which I presume we share anyway? What would be the nature of those sharing arrangements?

Mr Newman : I think the British interest is related to missions sharing property in areas where we do not have strong representation.

Senator KROGER: So have we put together a framework as to what we are actually proposing?

Mr Newman : No.

Senator KROGER: Is it something we have initiated or is it something the Brits—

Mr Newman : No, it is something that the British side have initiated, and we have not yet explored it to the extent that we could give you any concrete examples.

Ms Bird : It is still fairly early stages, Senator.

Senator KROGER: Okay. So it is something that the United Kingdom has initiated; it has not come from our end?

Mr Newman : That is correct.

Senator KROGER: Are there any plans to hold meetings specifically to discuss this?

Mr Newman : It would not come under my division. It comes under our Overseas Property Office, so I might ask them.

Mr Moraitis : I can answer that question, Senator. I think there has been a videoconference involving our property officers in the last month or so. It was an initial discussion, just to talk in broad parameters. As Mr Newman said, it has not progressed beyond that, with no specificity of any use to this committee.

Senator KROGER: So it was more of a scoping conversation—

Mr Moraitis : Correct.

Senator KROGER: than anything else?

Mr Moraitis : That is right. And, as Mr Newman said, it was initiated by the British FCO. We understand they have been talking to other countries as well—for example, Canada.

Senator KROGER: Is it something we are sympathetic to? Have you given encouragement to having further discussions on it?

Mr Moraitis : Certainly, in principle, we are ready to discuss it with the British in general terms. I think we will just explore further what parameters and guidelines we use to make decisions. But nothing has jumped out straightaway, as it were.

Ms Bird : We are happy to explore it and see what comes up.

Mr Moraitis : I am not sure when the next planned hook-up is—but the head of property is here.

Senator KROGER: Mr Nixon.

Mr Nixon : There is a proposal to continue discussions but, as you said, there is nothing definitive at this stage.

Senator KROGER: Just so I understand: the United Kingdom is scoping nations where we have posts or they have posts and the other does not, with the idea of possibly having some sort of shared arrangement. Is that correct?

Mr Nixon : That is the proposal that the UK have put forward for consideration. But there has been no agreement. It is still a very preliminary discussion at this stage. It may be that in fact there is more opportunity for the sharing of resources in the delivery of property services, as opposed to physical properties themselves.

Senator KROGER: Okay. Thank you.

CHAIR: Any further questions in Europe?

Senator EGGLESTON: Yes. I have a question about that. What would that involve? I think there are other countries also who are a bit interested in sharing facilities, from what I have read, such as New Zealand and Canada. Would that mean you would have a Commonwealth countries embassy? Is that the concept?

Ms Bird : That is not something that is being looked at, no. As I have mentioned, the British are exploring with a couple of countries, including us, whether there might be some scope for sharing—

Senator KROGER: Leasing out the back room, by the sounds of it!

Ms Bird : And we have on occasion, on a bilateral basis, done something similar with each of Canada and New Zealand.

Senator EGGLESTON: But each would have their own interests.

Ms Bird : Yes, of course. That is right.


CHAIR: We will move on to South and West Asia and the Middle East. I understand Senator Eggleston has questions about India.

Senator EGGLESTON: Yes, I do have just a couple of questions about India. This committee has been doing an inquiry into the Indian Ocean Rim and the implications for Australia's foreign affairs, defence and trade policies. In the evidence we heard in Perth, India was seen as a major country with which Australia could possibly become quite heavily and productively involved. But it was said that the Indians were not particularly interested in Australia—they have their own international affairs agenda—and that we had to find a reason for them to be interested in Australia in a serious way. I was wondering whether this proposal to sell uranium to India might be the kind of hook that leads to a deeper engagement with them. I would like your comments on that.

Ms Bird : I think that you will have seen, Senator, that the Prime Minister has just paid a very successful visit to India. That has been a important visit for us. It is a very important relationship. It continues to grow and diversify. It is a relationship we are very committed to. So the visit was very successful, and that was an important milestone for us.

CHAIR: Yes, it does seem to have been very successful. India is listed generally with China as one of the superpowers of the future. It has a large population and a large GNP. Are we making special efforts to develop political and diplomatic and trade relationships with India?

Ms Bird : We are certainly actively working on the relationship. It is one of those countries—and we talked a little bit earlier about this—in which we are expanding our overseas network. India has been a beneficiary of that. We have opened two new consulates, Chennai and Mumbai, there in recent years, and that has expanded our footprint and ability to engage. We are working at it actively across the board.

CHAIR: What about Indian students coming to Australia? I believe that there are a lot coming. A couple of years ago, we had those incidents in Melbourne which seem to have set things back a bit. Is the situation improving? Are more students coming?

Ms Bird : I think that the situation now with Indian students is good, but my colleague might want to add something to that.

Mr Robilliard : As Ms Bird said, I think that both we and the Indian government are pleased at the way that the issues with Indian students have been dealt with. It was acknowledged in the joint statement issued by the two prime ministers at the conclusion of Prime Minister Gillard's visit that this issue had been worked on very hard by governments in both countries. We are very satisfied with the progress and very much welcome the continued and very strong interest in studying in Australia from India.

CHAIR: I believe that the Western Australian government has trade offices in India. I know you are not Trade, but do we have Austrade offices in any locations or in any number at all in India?

Ms Bird : Yes, there are Austrade offices there.

Mr Robilliard : Yes, Austrade has a very strong presence in India. India is now our fourth largest export market, and certainly a strong element of the Prime Minister's recent visit to India was very much focused on acknowledging the extent to which the economic and commercial relationship has developed in recent years and getting a strong commitment on both sides to promoting and further developing that economic and commercial relationship. Indeed, there was a strong focus on taking forward the negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership and also a new element in the relationship which has been developed over the last couple of years—the CEO forum, which Lindsay Fox is the head of from the Australian side. That has been very positive element in the development of the relationship. Austrade do have a very strong presence in a number of centres in India, yes.

CHAIR: Is there any particular financial benefit for individual Australian states expected from this—such as the example of South Australia or Western Australia?

Mr Robilliard : I cannot get into that level of detail. You might like to pursue that later in the day with representatives from Austrade in terms of specific issues. Obviously a strategic interest is developing a relationship with India which is productive for Australian business, no matter where it is located.

CHAIR: Have there been discussions about the so-called safeguard treaty?

Mr Robilliard : As was acknowledged in the joint statement which was released by the prime ministers at the conclusion of Ms Gillard's visit, in paragraph 15 of the joint statement the Prime Minister has announced that India and Australia would commence negotiations on a bilateral civil-nuclear cooperation agreement which, for Australia, is a prerequisite for uranium sales to other countries.

CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any other general comments that you would care to make about the potential of our relationship with India?

Ms Bird : I underline that we think it is an extremely important relationship, that we are committed to working hard, that we are delighted with the growth in the relationship and with the Prime Minister's visit and that we hope and expect to see it go from success to success.

Mr Robilliard : To add to that, I draw to the attention of senators the joint statement which the Prime Minister has issued. I mentioned one paragraph. There are, in fact, 40 paragraphs. I will not go through all the detail. But it does reflect a real broadening of the relationship across a large number of areas. I think it is an acknowledgement of the importance of the bilateral relationship—a very strong acknowledgement of that importance.

CHAIR: That concludes questions on India. We will move now to questions on Sri Lanka.

Senator RHIANNON: What measures are in place for DFAT to monitor and secure the safety of Tamils and Sinhalese who are deported back to Sri Lanka?

Mr Robilliard : As a general point, when people who have departed Sri Lanka illegally—including via people-smuggling ventures—return to Sri Lanka, they are interviewed by the Sri Lankan authorities at the airport on their return. Where it is a non-voluntary return, an officer from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is present at that interview. Where it is a voluntary return, a member of the International Organisation for Migration, or IOM, is present. Where the person who has voluntarily returned had arrived in Australia as an irregular maritime arrival, IOM then provides those people with its normal assistance. I note that the AFP were asked questions on issues relevant to this at estimates on Tuesday. As was said there by the AFP, where any allegations of abuse are raised by a returnee, obviously our high commission would follow that up with the Sri Lankan authorities.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware whether there was a representative of the Australian government present when Dayan Anthony was deported from Australia to Sri Lanka and was held for 16 hours while interrogated by the Sri Lankan government officials?

Mr Robilliard : I do not have the details of that particular case. As I noted, if the person had been deported—in other words, they would have been, in those circumstances, an involuntary return—normal practice would have been for a DIAC officer to have been present. But I do not have the details of the individual case. I will take it on notice and get you a response.

Senator RHIANNON: Is Australia involved in any projects promoting human rights in Sri Lanka?

Mr Robilliard : Australia has a robust dialogue with Sri Lanka on human rights issues. We have canvassed these issues in previous estimates and we have noted the various representations we have made to the Sri Lankan authorities, as well as the representations we have made through multilateral institutions. In terms of specific projects on the promotion of human rights, I will take that on notice and get you a response.

Senator RHIANNON: Was DFAT aware, when the decision was made to appoint him, that the Sri Lankan high commissioner, Admiral Samarasinghe, was potentially implicated in war crimes which took place at the end of the civil war?

Mr Robilliard : I think these matters have been canvassed quite extensively at previous estimates. I recall you engaging with then Secretary Richardson on these matters in October last year. As the then secretary said, DFAT examined very thoroughly the record in relation to the nominee and concluded that agreement could be given.

Senator RHIANNON: It has been reported that the previous foreign minister had asked Sri Lanka to respond to the United Nations about war crimes which took place at the end of the civil war in 2009. Has the department taken steps to satisfy itself that the high commissioner had no role in the shelling of Tamil soldiers and civilians in the declared safety zone or in the prevention of the Red Cross accessing the injured. I appreciate the answer to the previous question, so I just want to take you to those two points—about the Red Cross activities and the shelling of Tamil soldiers and civilians. Were those aspects examined?

Mr Robilliard : I really have not got anything to add to my previous answer. As I said, the record was examined and a decision was taken.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you outline how closely DFAT works with the Sri Lankan government? What is the nature of the association in Sri Lanka between your representatives and representatives of the Sri Lankan government?

Mr Robilliard : It is the normal sort of relationship which the government of Australia has with foreign governments. It is across a range of areas. Our high commission in Sri Lanka is involved in the normal range of activities.

Senator RHIANNON: Given there are a few asylum seekers who have opted to return to Sri Lanka rather than stay in indefinite detention and also some who have had their humanitarian visa applications denied, what measures are in place for DFAT to monitor and secure the safety of those returning to their homeland?

Mr Robilliard : It is not our position to monitor or ensure the safety of people who are returned, whether it be to Sri Lanka or anywhere else, but, as I said earlier, if there are allegations of abuse, then those allegations would be pursued by the high commission with the Sri Lankan authorities.

Senator RHIANNON: Is DFAT aware of the recent phenomenon of political dissidents, and successful Tamil businessmen, being abducted in white vans?

Mr Robilliard : I am not aware of a phenomenon involving white vans, no.

Senator RHIANNON: This has been widely reported in Sri Lanka and it has been taken up in a number of areas. Could you take it on notice to ascertain if there have been any briefings supplied at any level within DFAT about this phenomenon of people being abducted off the streets in Sri Lanka?

Mr Robilliard : Yes.

Senator KROGER: Just on that, have you received any communications, written or otherwise, from Australian citizens who may originally be from that part of Sri Lanka in relation to any concerns about family or friends that may be caught up in continuing destabilising scenarios on the ground there?

Mr Robilliard : That is a very broad and general question. I would really want to take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: Let me narrow it down a little bit. Have you received communications, letters or otherwise, from the Tamil community seeking the support and assistance of DFAT and of the Australian government for immediate family in the area?

Mr Robilliard : I am not aware personally of such communications, but let me check on it and we will get back to you.

Senator RHIANNON: Is DFAT working with any NGOs that are endeavouring to highlight human rights abuses or highlighting the need for human rights to be respected in Sri Lanka?

Mr Robilliard : I am not aware of any specific cases, but let me take it on notice and I will get back to you.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions on Sri Lanka? I know Senator Milne has some questions and I think she is on her way. In the interim, are there any other questions on South and West Asia and the Middle East?

Senator FAWCETT: Let me take you to table 1.2 in the budget statement. There is a figure of some $33 million for security at the Baghdad embassy. I have seen some other reports talking of figures over a couple of years of some $72 million, I think, for civilian security arrangements at the Baghdad embassy. I realise in the past there has been a lot of insecurity there, but that appears to be a very large amount of money. Could you talk to us about that?

Mr Robilliard : I think that I will have to call on my colleague from Corporate Management Division to respond on that.

Mr Moraitis : For the two-year period, the amount is about $52 million over two years for DFAT in Baghdad security. That is an appropriate amount to cover the security risk needs that we have for that post.

Senator FAWCETT: Would you say that the security in Kabul is more tenuous than it is in Baghdad?

Mr Moraitis : They are different forms of risk. I have been to both places to examine them from that perspective. We expend a lot of money in both posts on security for specific reasons, each country having different security risks. Obviously, Iraq is going through a different phase. We have looked at that risk and applied resources accordingly. In Kabul the types of risks are different, and we apply risk mitigation to that risk as well.

Senator FAWCETT: I notice that the funding over two years in Afghanistan is $95.7 million. That is not a significant amount more than what is being spent. That money is actually supposed to be to support the whole-of-government, civilian and diplomatic engagement with Afghanistan. If the security, albeit different, is somewhat on a par, does that mean that the vast majority of DFAT money that is being spent in Afghanistan is actually for security of DFAT staff?

Mr Moraitis : I do not have the global figure for the costs in Kabul, but security certainly makes up a big part of that. We as DFAT are responsible for security of our embassies and civilians. We undertake that responsibility as the leading agency, as it were, over the Prime Minister's directives.

Ms Bird : As you would expect, Senator, it is an issue that we take very seriously, and we put a lot of effort into it, for obvious reasons.

Senator FAWCETT: Indeed; and this committee is quite seized on an inquiry that we are doing currently looking at the role of Australia's aid in Afghanistan post-2014. Do you see that DFAT's role in providing security for civilians from a whole-of-government perspective in Afghanistan is going to increase post-2014?

Mr Moraitis : We are keeping an eye on that. We have obviously the transitioned, and the way that the transition will head was away from places like Uruzgan and more to Kabul—and Mr Robilliard can confirm that. When that happens, we will calibrate our security arrangements accordingly. That is the logical thing to do—we keep that under review constantly.

Senator FAWCETT: Given the fairly significant costs and the fact that the drawdown in 2014 has been well flagged for some time now, is their provision in your forward estimates for that ramp-up in security costs?

Mr Moraitis : Our security is for the two years. I think we would have to go back for another—

Ms Thorpe : We would have to go back to government again. Because of the uncertainty associated with the costs, government prefers that we come back in short chunks rather than try to do it ongoing. Obviously, it is a moving feast.

Senator FAWCETT: But it would be fair to assume that, in the out-years of the forward estimates, it would be at least equivalent, if not greater?

Mr Moraitis : Yes.

Ms Thorpe : That is right.

Senator KROGER: It is actually the ADF who provide security to assist the deployment of aid on the ground, so they are securing—

Mr Moraitis : No, Defence provide security in Uruzgan province for civilians. The transition out off Tarin Kowt and Uruzgan will be separate. In Kabul we have private security companies that provide security for all Australian government agencies from our embassy there.

Senator KROGER: But once we have withdrawn, and if we are still providing aid there, the security arrangements for those responsible for the deployment of aid comes under the umbrella of DFAT in terms of supporting that security?

Mr Moraitis : Correct; and that is without prejudice to what ultimately happens in terms of where people are deployed post-2014. I will not go there until—

Mr Robilliard : These are matters that are still being worked through in terms of how those processes are going to be implemented post-2013.

Senator FAWCETT: I am intrigued by the comment that you only have funding identified for two years. What is the purpose of the MYEFO?

Ms Thorpe : MYEFO is just to look in-year at any changes. We get our funding for security for Afghanistan—for Kabul—on a no win, no loss basis as well, because of the uncertainty. It has been changing. If you looked at the amount of money that we have been receiving over the years, you would see that it has varied—particularly if you look at our actual spending against the funding. The environment keeps changing, and, as Mr Moraitis said, we have to keep monitoring.

Senator FAWCETT: Sure; but, as you have just indicated to me, you have a very well founded assumption that the amount will be at least equivalent, if not greater, over the forward estimates. Why is that not identified as an estimate—which it is—that can be varied annually or in the MYEFO as those updates come through?

Senator CONROY: I think the officer has explained that it is under constant review. That is about all the officer could probably add.

Ms Bird : It is for good reasons that it is done on that basis.

Mr Moraitis : We get funding for a two-year period.

Ms Thorpe : You were concerned before about the overhead. If we had to go back to government every six months, that is actually a huge workload.

Senator FAWCETT: My concern is actually the opposite—it is about forecasting the liability for government into the out years. If we have a reasonable expectation that there will be an expense, it should be in the forward estimates as an estimate.

Senator Conroy: That is a matter for you to take up with the Department of Finance and Deregulation rather than with the officers at the table.

Senator FAWCETT: I will move now to Iran. Australia has been steadily ramping up sanctions on Iran—arms, financial and travel embargoes on both individuals and entities. More recently, as recently as August this year, we have established embargoes on oil, gas, petroleum, precious metals, diamonds and currency. Please explain why that is important and what you are hoping to achieve.

Mr Robilliard : Australia, together with many countries, is very deeply concerned about Iran's nuclear program and, in particular, Iran's noncompliance with a series of United Nations Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency resolutions and decisions. As you will be aware, there is a process of discussion between Iran and what is known as the P5+1—that is, the permanent five members of the Security Council together with Germany—to see if there is a way forward for Iran to persuade and convince the international community of its intentions with regard to its nuclear program. It is regrettable that that is not yet the case. As a result of the failure of Iran to comply with a range of resolutions, a range of sanctions, as you have identified, have been imposed on Iran. It is essentially an effort to demonstrate to Iran the cost of its noncompliance with the resolutions of the Security Council and the decisions of the IAEA.

Senator FAWCETT: That cost has been well articulated by the EU and the US in terms of isolating the Iranian regime. I see you nodding your head there. Given the importance of that and the importance of that message of isolation, did the department provide any advice to the government that it was unwise to send two delegates as observers to the non-aligned nations meeting in Iran recently?

Mr Robilliard : I think it is standard practice that we do not go into the detail of any advice we may have provided to ministers on any matter. The fact is that it has been a regular practice for the Australian government to attend meetings of the non-aligned movement as an observer.

Senator Conroy: How long have we been doing that?

Mr Robilliard : Certainly several years.

Ms Bird : A long time.

Mr Robilliard : Many years in fact.

Ms Bird : I am betraying my age. I can remember going to a NAM summit.

Senator Conroy: Which year did you go?

Ms Bird : I went with then Minister Evans in the early nineties.

Senator Conroy: You were a teenager.

Senator FAWCETT: When you are quite finished, Minister.

Senator Conroy: That continued right through the Howard government era—you sent representatives?

Senator FAWCETT: When you are quite finished, Minister, we have also regularly traded with countries like Iran and we have ceased to do that because of the importance of isolation. Why, then, do we continue with one practice when it has been deemed important to isolate them through many other practices.

Ms Bird : It is important to draw a distinction, I think, between attendance at the NAM summit and bilateral engagement. We went to the NAM summit. This was not a bilateral visit to Iran. As the minister has said, we regularly go to NAM summits and NAM ministerial meetings. We have done that for a long time. I went to a NAM ministerial meeting in Tehran back in 2008. It is regular. We go to these NAM meetings. The purpose is not bilateral visits to the countries they are in; it is because of the NAM meeting.

Senator FAWCETT: Indeed, but the reporting—

Senator Conroy: And there is more than one country at these conferences.

Ms Bird : Yes. They are actually the largest gathering of countries outside the UN General Assembly. There are 120 countries in the NAM.

Senator Conroy: So we probably talk to more than one country.

Ms Bird : We talk to a lot of countries.

Senator FAWCETT: Minister, I am sure you are not naive enough to not understand the nature of the media that Iran has been putting out about having nations attend their country and the fact that those nations are seen as supporting—this is Iran's view—their position—

Senator Conroy: You believe all of their propaganda?

Senator FAWCETT: No, I do not. But you are not naive enough to realise that it does not have an impact.

Senator Conroy: I did not realise you were.

Senator FAWCETT: We will leave it there, thanks, Chair.

Senator KROGER: Can I just follow up on the same matter. Can the department confirm whether the US, Canada, New Zealand or any member state of the European Union attended that meeting?

Ms Bird : We can certainly take that on notice. There would have been a number of countries along the lines that you mentioned. I do not have the details.

Mr Robilliard : My recollection is that the New Zealanders had some presence. I think a number of Europeans would have been there.

Ms Bird : The Europeans would have been there. We just do not have the detail, but we can take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: Do you take those considerations into account when providing advice on whether such meetings are to be attended or not?

Ms Bird : As I said, we routinely and regularly attend NAM summits and ministerials.

Senator KROGER: I actually was asking whether you take that kind of information into account when determining whether or not you would attend such a meeting.

Senator Conroy: I am sure we take a broad range of information into account.

Senator KROGER: Would you take into account the Iranian President's declaration on 10 August when he claimed that Israel's existence was an insult to all humanity? Would that be taken into account?

Senator Conroy: As you know, the government has a very strong view on this, and that is a disgraceful position to advocate.

Senator KROGER: It certainly was.

Senator Conroy: And the government absolutely repudiates it.

Mr Robilliard : If I could just add to that, on 18 September Senator Carr said in question time:

Australia condemns the hateful comments made by the Iranian regime against Israel and the Jewish people.

Senator KROGER: So would you take into account the US State Department's reaction and its concerns about the conference being held in Iran in the context of its defiance of the UN Security Council resolutions regarding its nuclear weapons ambitions? Would you take that into account?

Ms Bird : Our position on the UN Security Council resolutions is very clear. We strongly support them. We fully implement them.

Senator KROGER: Would you understand that there are many observers who would consider that we delivered to Iran a propaganda victory by virtue of the very fact that we attended that conference?

Ms Bird : We do not accept that. Our views on Iran are well known. They are in no way affected by our attendance at that meeting.

Senator KROGER: Are you aware of the fact that, that interpretation of our involvement and attendance notwithstanding, the US, Canada, New Zealand and all the members of the European Union did not attend?

Ms Bird : With respect, I do not think that is correct. I expect—and in fact I am pretty sure—a number of those countries did attend, but we will get you the details on who did.

Senator KROGER: I have no doubt you are going to assure me that our attendance had absolutely nothing to do with our bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Senator Conroy: It did not influence the Howard government's decision to send people along.

Senator KROGER: I am asking Ms Bird whether it had any bearing on our decision this time.

Ms Bird : As I said, we routinely and regularly attend these meetings. Certainly, because this meeting was one of the many that took place in the lead-up to our vote, it would be one of the issues we would have raised on the margins with a number of countries.

Senator KROGER: I hear you, but I also know, and I am sure the minister understands as well, that it is not unusual—it happens occasionally, as it did with Fiji—for us to change our position at various times in the political cycles of various countries and nations. So I would hope that the department's advice to the minister of the day would not be based on whether they have attended every other meeting but it would take into account the political climate at that time.

Senator Conroy: As I think the officers have indicated, we take into account a whole range of issues and considerations. But I do not think the Iranian government is under any misapprehension about the view of the Australian government towards their outrageous statements.

Senator KROGER: Chair, I have no more questions on Iran.

CHAIR: Any further questions in the area of South and West Asia and the Middle East?

Senator EGGLESTON: I have some questions on Syria.

CHAIR: Yes. It is not on our list, but we'll chuck Syria in there.

Senator EGGLESTON: I just wondered what Australia's view of the situation in Syria is. At least partially, seems based on an underlying religious conflict; would that be a fair assessment?

Mr Robilliard : Senator, I would be very cautious about trying ascribe the conflict in Syria to any particular thing, whether you want to characterise it as religious, ethnic or any of those sorts of terms. It is a very complicate it and complex situation on the ground. I think the best way to characterise the situation in Syria is that it is a very grim and a very difficult situation.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you. People do seem to see broader religious conflict in the Middle East as a possible outcome of this, though. Would you agree with that or not?

Mr Robilliard : I think there are legitimate concerns that the situation in Syria could potentially exacerbate other tensions, and those concerns are certainly, as I say, quite legitimate. But it is very complex situation on the ground, and I do not think it is necessarily helpful to try and characterise it in one way or the other. I think our interest is in trying to do what we can (1) to minimise the tragic humanitarian situation that is occurring and (2) to support all those international and regional efforts seeking a resolution of the conflict on the ground.

Senator EGGLESTON: What is the role of the Russians in this? They seem to be supporting the Syrian regime.

Mr Robilliard : Senator, as I am sure you are aware, I think it is fair to say the broader international community has been frustrated by the position adopted by Russia in particular in the UN Security Council, where Russia has opposed steps within the Security Council to take action in regard to the situation in Syria. The Russians have adopted a particular position which I am sure they can explain, but it has been a source of frustration for the broader international community.

Senator EGGLESTON: What Australian interests or assets are there in Syria which may be under threat?

Mr Robilliard : We do not have extensive interests or assets, as you characterised them, there. We closed our embassy in Damascus, I think, in about 1999 or sometime around then. I think we have something approximating 100 Australian citizens, dual nationals, registered as being in Syria. As far as I am aware, there is very little, if any, Australian economic or commercial involvement on the ground in Syria. That said, we clearly have a humanitarian crisis which is impacting not just Syria but also its neighbouring states, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. Australia has responded quite significantly to that humanitarian crisis, to the extent, I think, of approximately $24 million in humanitarian assistance, which puts us amongst the top three or four countries in responding.

Senator EGGLESTON: What other countries are giving that kind of support—the ones ahead of us, if you like?

Mr Robilliard : I think you would probably find the United States and a number of the Europeans—France, the UK, Germany. And the countries of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are also clearly involved in all of this. But we are talking about approximately 10 per cent of the Syrian population being displaced or being refugees. It is a very significant impact. As a former ambassador and someone who has spent a lot of time in Damascus over the years I think it is very tragic.

Senator EGGLESTON: On Monday 8 October Kerry O'Brien interviewed Foreign Minister Carr on ABC Four Corners about the situation in Syria and how it could be resolved. The foreign minister said:

But perhaps, this sounds brutal and callous, perhaps an assassination combined with a major defection taking a large part of its military, is what is required to get, one, a ceasefire, and, two, political negotiations.

I wonder, Minister, whether you would like to comment on that. Do you think the assassination of presumably the president is something we should be supporting?

Senator Conroy: I am happy to take that on notice and see whether there is any information that Minister Carr's office would like to add to that. Hopefully they are listening now and if there is anything they would like me to add in the near future they can let me know.

Senator KROGER: You are an experienced politician, Minister—is it usual for a foreign affairs minister to suggest a resolution by assassination?

Senator Conroy: I do not believe everything that is read out to me by Senator Eggleston. He is an excellent, upstanding senator who I have known a long time, as you have, but it is possible Senator Eggleston has been misled by what he is quoting.

Senator EGGLESTON: I have read the transcript of the Four Corners program.

Mr Robilliard : Senator, I draw your attention to remarks that Senator Carr made I think the day after, on 9 October, certainly in a couple of radio interviews. He was asked a question about how change might come about in Syria—how might you see a change in attitude on the part of the regime. He made it very clear that one possible way in which change might occur, what some people like to call a game changer, could be something such as an assassination. That is very different from advocating an assassination—it is simply noting that a significant change in circumstances could change the nature of the situation on the ground.

Senator KROGER: It would hardly be in the code of conduct manual, one would have thought.

Senator EGGLESTON: That is true. What in the department's opinion would be the best means of restoring democracy in Syria?

Ms Bird : We would all like to see democracy—we would like to see a peaceful resolution of the situation in Syria, obviously. That is the international community's wish. How that is achieved is another matter, but we would all like to see transition in Syria.

Senator EGGLESTON: I suppose it is difficult to make any other comment. Are there forces within the area, in countries like Turkey and Egypt, that might facilitate change?

Mr Robilliard : President Morsi of Egypt has himself announced a quadripartite initiative involving Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. That is one initiative that Egypt has put forward. There are other initiatives that have been put forward by the Arab League. The secretary-general and Arab League special envoy Mr Brahimi has been very actively pursuing discussions both in Syria and with the countries around Syria. As you may be aware from press reports overnight, he has put forward a proposal for a possible ceasefire to coincide with the eid ul adha Muslim holiday later this month. So there is a significant regional international effort under way, and there has been for some time, to bring about a peaceful transition. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that we are dealing with a very difficult and very complex situation, and to this point in time at least it has not been proven possible to resolve it.

Senator EGGLESTON: One of the problems about resolving it, of course, is the Russian veto in the Security Council. Would this be an issue which Australia might be likely to pursue within the context of the Security Council, if we are elected to it?

Ms Bird : We would certainly like to see the Security Council effectively address Syria. That is something that we would definitely want to see, so it will be certainly one of those issues that we would be taking up.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you.

Senator KROGER: I have a couple of follow-up questions to Mr Robilliard. Firstly, on the follow-up comments he made in relation to the statement he made earlier that Senator Eggleston read out, I just want clarification. Did the Minister for Foreign Affairs actually retract his statement?

Mr Robilliard : I do not think the Foreign Minister considered it necessary to retract the statement. I think he was concerned that it had been misunderstood, misinterpreted, either wilfully or otherwise.

Senator Conroy: Wilfully, I think, is the word you are looking for, but I will add some information from the minister's office. They inform me that he was speculating on the possible endgame scenarios in Syria, reflecting on previous Arab Spring uprisings in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. So you can get the egg beater out and whip it up as much as you want, Senator Kroger, but he was not advocating anything.

Senator KROGER: He may not have been advocating, but I have to say that, as Australia's first diplomat, it would be great for him to set an example even to all incoming high commissioners, let alone everybody else in the diplomatic corps. It would be great to have a Foreign Minister who actually exercised some diplomacy rather than beating up a storm himself. But I will turn back to Syria for a moment. How many Australians citizens are actually in Syria?

Mr Robilliard : As I say, the figure of about 100 occurs to me. It is something in that order.

Senator KROGER: Are you aware of any of those involved in the ongoing civil war?

Mr Robilliard : I think I can respond in these terms: clearly, the situation is getting a lot of attention amongst community groups here in Australia. Senator Carr and some of his ministerial colleagues have met with some of these community groups and community leaders, and they have very carefully explained the legal situation in terms of people who might look to return or go to Syria in this time of conflict.

Senator KROGER: So you are aware of dual citizens who may be there and potentially, possibly, engaged?

Mr Robilliard : As I said, it has been made very clear to communities here in Australia what the legal position is.

Senator KROGER: Has any appropriate agency been notified by your department of concerns? You do not have to give me details, but have you advised, for instance, the AFP of any concerns that you might have in relation to any Australian or dual citizens that are currently in Syria?

Mr Robilliard : As I mentioned, Senator Carr has been involved with ministerial colleagues on this matter. My recollection is that it involved Mr Bowen and I think also perhaps Mr Clare, but I will just check. I note that this is not just a portfolio issue. Yes, it was Ministers Clare, Bowen and Burke, with Senator Carr, who met with Syrian and Lebanese community leaders on 13 September to discuss ways of delivering these particular messages—the messages relating to Australian law in terms of conflict overseas—to the community here in Australia.

Senator KROGER: That really was not my question. My question was more whether in fact there were agencies directly looking at the possibility of individuals being involved in the conflict.

Mr Robilliard : I think you would have to direct those questions to the particular agencies that you might have in mind.

Senator KROGER: No worries. Thank you. I have a quick question in relation to a report of suspicious powder that was commented on in Pakistan. I think it was in our embassy there. Do we have any further information on this?

Ms Bird : There was nothing to it.

Mr Moraitis : On 16 May our post in Islamabad received a malicious and threatening letter containing an unknown powder substance. We responded promptly, and it was handled in accordance with our procedures. Nothing came of it, as far as we know.

Senator KROGER: Did we ascertain whether it was talcum powder or something as—

Mr Moraitis : To be confirmed.

Senator KROGER: So we have not ascertained what the powder was, whether it was harmful or not?

Mr Moraitis : No. But I was comforted by the fact that our procedures worked perfectly.

Senator KROGER: We have not tightened any security or procedures in relation to dealing with such incidents? There has not been a need?

Mr Moraitis : We are always doing that. We are obviously keeping an eye on any incident anywhere. Our processes in Islamabad worked well, so we obviously feel comforted by that. Our security people looked at the situation there. There is a post security officer who reviewed the procedures and said it is all working well.

Senator KROGER: All mail is scanned when it goes to—

Mr Moraitis : Yes.


CHAIR: I remind senators that at 4.30 we move on to the trade portfolio, and we still have quite a few areas to cover with the department, so you might want to consider that when you are framing your questions. Are there any questions on the Pacific?

Senator KROGER: Generally, was DFAT involved in the ban on journalists who tried to visit Manus Island?

Ms Bird : No.

Senator KROGER: It did not in any way—

Ms Bird : No. It did not.

Senator KROGER: I realise it was a DIAC issue, because of the visas, but it did not come across your desk?

Ms Bird : We were not involved in the decision, no.

Senator KROGER: Were any representations made to PNG in relation to the banning of visas? I know that it was overturned, but did the department make any representations or have any meetings in relation to that?

Ms Bird : Not that I am aware of. As you said, it was overturned. There was a period where the PNG government took that decision, and then that was reversed. That is good. There is now no such ban.

Senator KROGER: So it was really an issue that DIAC were involved—

Ms Bird : No, it was a PNG government decision. It was not to do with the Australian government.

Senator KROGER: I understand that it was a PNG government decision. That is why I was wondering whether it was DFAT who engaged—whether anyone engaged—on behalf of the journalists on the fact that they were being blocked from—

Ms Bird : As I said, it was a PNG government decision which was—I cannot recall how long—lifted shortly after that. We obviously think it is useful and important to have that sort of access.

Senator EGGLESTON: Manus Island, however, is actually a territory of New Guinea, isn't it? Is New Guinea a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees?

Ms Bird : Yes, it is.

Senator EGGLESTON: I had thought that it was not. Thank you.


CHAIR: We will move on from the Pacific to international organisations and legal issues. Senator Rhiannon, you have questions about Voluntary Principles, I understand.

Senator RHIANNON: Has DFAT made a final consideration of whether to join the Voluntary Principles?

Mr Fisher : DFAT does not actually make the decision. It would be up to the government to make the decision.

Senator RHIANNON: Who in government—the minister?

Mr Fisher : It might be the Minister for Foreign Affairs that makes the decision.

Senator RHIANNON: You would obviously be giving advice. What is the time line of when you would be supplying your next round of advice to the minister, please?

Mr Fisher : We do not have a time line, but we are close to finalising advice to the minister. We have consulted with NGOs, with companies and most recently with other departments, and within our own department and with the people that run the Voluntary Principles initiative, so we are close to being in a position to ask the minister for his decision.

Senator RHIANNON: You are close to—

Mr Fisher : We are close.

Senator RHIANNON: 'Close' means this month?

Mr Fisher : I would not put a time frame on it.

Senator RHIANNON: Leaving aside when he will make his decision, can you inform the committee of when you will be handing your advice to the minister?

Mr Fisher : Again, I would not put a time frame, but we are towards the end of the process.

Senator RHIANNON: In response to a question I previously asked about this—this was in May, in responses to questions on notice—you talked about final consideration of whether to join the Voluntary Principles et cetera, and then you stated 'which are scheduled to be concluded shortly'. So we had 'shortly' in May, and now we are in October. I would have thought that 'shortly' would be between May and October. Can you provide the committee with some more information about this?

Mr Fisher : I can say that we have done some additional things since we met here in May. As I have just said, we have been doing some internal consultation and some consultation in particular with the members of the Voluntary Principles initiative. We have undertaken some consultations internally between agencies, within DFAT itself and with the initiative, to do things like look at the cost of joining, the modalities for joining, how the cost might or might not be shared across agencies—those sorts of issues.

Senator RHIANNON: Do we take from that that it is more the mechanical issues that you are yet to work out and that there is agreement in principle that we should join?

Mr Fisher : We still have to provide advice to our minister, and that decision has not been taken yet.

Senator RHIANNON: When you talk about 'internal consultation', you are talking about with other departments?

Mr Fisher : Both with other departments and internally within DFAT.

Senator RHIANNON: Have you considered that some may conclude from the slow progress that DFAT is making on the Voluntary Principles that the Australian government is quick to promote mining overseas but takes a very long time to conclude voluntary guidelines on security and human rights?

Mr Fisher : No, I would not draw that conclusion.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering that the Australian government has been promoting mining interests in countries of Africa, what level of priority has this been given within DFAT?

Mr Fisher : It is a priority—there are clearly many priorities within DFAT, including corporate social responsibility and the sorts of issues that the voluntary principles advocate. It is a priority.

Senator RHIANNON: It is a priority?

Mr Fisher : It is a priority—one of many.

Senator KROGER: I refer to Australia's commitment of $150,000 towards the construction of a memorial at the United Nations Plaza in New York to the transatlantic slave trade. Is that a commitment that the department recommended?

Ms Bird : Yes, that was a departmental contribution to that memorial.

Senator KROGER: So the department recommended that we contribute to that?

Ms Bird : Yes.

Senator KROGER: What were the reasons for that recommendation?

Ms Bird : The project you refer to is a project to build a permanent memorial in remembrance of victims of slavery in the transatlantic slave trade. It is an important project; it is one the UN General Assembly has backed in a resolution. It is really designed to highlight the importance of this issue of slavery and human trafficking more generally. That was the genesis of the project and it has been open to contributions.

Senator KROGER: Have any other countries in the Asia-Pacific region who did not have anything to do with the transatlantic slave trade contributed to this statue?

Ms Bird : Yes, it is my understanding that some 50 countries across a range of different geographic groupings have contributed. I know India is quite a big contributor, so there is at least one but there may be more.

Senator KROGER: I am trying to get my head around why we would have supported something in New York relating to activity that did not affect our region when you have referred to numerous budget cuts. We have talked about the strain on consular services and so on, so I am trying to understand why priority was given to this memorial.

Ms Bird : It is a sum of money that we felt we could make available for this project. It is an important project; we do obviously, as a country, understand—

Senator KROGER: It is a lot of money.

Ms Bird : It is $150,000 when we have a $943 million budget this year. It is an important memorial and something that has been supported by the UN.

CHAIR: I refer to the upcoming UN first committee vote on depleted uranium weapons, which will be similar to resolution 65/55—effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium, which occurred in December 2010. I understand Australia abstained from the vote on that resolution, and a similar resolution is soon to be put at the UN.

Mr Shannon : Voting has not begun. It is due to commence on 30 October. As I understand it, final positions have not been settled.

CHAIR: I presume they will be before 30 October. Are there any further questions on international organisations and legal issues? No.


CHAIR: We will move on to national security, nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

Senator LUDLAM: Good afternoon, gentlemen. I was expecting to see Dr Floyd here. Is he on urgent business somewhere?

Ms Bird : He is overseas at a conference. I am not sure which one, but he is on official business. Dr Kalish is the acting DG of ASNO.

Senator LUDLAM: Great. Can you tell us officially, from the point of view of ASNO, what the status is of the bilateral safeguards agreement with India?

Dr Kalish : The recent meeting between the Prime Minister—

Senator LUDLAM: Yes. That triggers a long foreshadowed process.

Dr Kalish : Negotiation has not commenced on that treaty.

Senator LUDLAM: Well, it has been announced to the entire planet that there will be an agreement. So ASNO has not yet begun work on any such agreement?

Dr Kalish : I believe what was announced was that negotiations would commence on an agreement.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you just sketch for us the process by which those negotiations will be conducted?

Mr Shannon : Perhaps I can help you here. Ministers have not yet considered a mandate for the negotiations—that is to say, the riding instructions. The agreement has been reached to start the negotiations, which was last night, our time. Advice is being assembled for ministers to consider the mandate. Then, I expect, we would talk to India about a start date, I would think sometime early in 2013. Then the process would start. We are realistic about this. We think it will take some time, maybe a year or two. We do not have a feel for it yet

Senator LUDLAM: It sounds like a big announcement has been made but actually there is nothing at all in terms of how these negotiations will progress or, from an Australian side, who the lead organisation will be, who our negotiators will be.

Mr Shannon : No. Those things have not yet been finally decided. There has been a lot of discussion, of course, among interested agencies and people within the department. One important personality who will have a view on this will be our incoming secretary, our current high commissioner in India, Peter Varghese, so I suspect we would wait until he arrives to at least conclude a departmental position.

Senator LUDLAM: It does not sound like there is going to be a great deal more movement, though. You said, I think, early 2013 this would actually get—

Mr Shannon : I think so, yes—sometime then. Sometime in the first quarter, I guess, we would have our first meeting.

Senator LUDLAM: Has the agency done any assessment at all in relation to recent demonstrations and fatalities at the Kudankulam reactor plant in Tamil Nadu. Do you have any visibility of that at all?

Mr Shannon : Yes, I have some briefing about that. There have been several demonstrations, I think—one at the Kudankulam power plant in Tamil Nadu. Is that the one you are referring to?

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, it is. There have been two fatalities there in recent months.

Mr Shannon : A protesting fisherman was shot dead by police after the police checkpoint was set on fire. On 22 September 3,000 fishermen and activists in 500 small boats protested outside the port, fuelled by concerns about safety and livelihood if a Fukushima disaster were to occur. My briefing also says that in August 2012 the Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions made a statement along the lines that the power plant meets IAEA sector requirements; the reactors are generation III+ reactors and have advanced safety features; and the safety of the reactors has been reviewed by the Russian regulatory authorities and the AERB. Further, a post-Fukushima safety review of the plant has been carried out by the task force of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and the expert committee of the AERB, which have found that the plant is safe from extreme natural events. The facts have been explained to the representatives of the protesting people by the expert group consulted by the central government.

Senator LUDLAM: Did you say that the IAEA has declared these plants compliant?

Mr Shannon : No, I did not refer to the IAEA. This is an Indian assertion that the plant meets IAEA safety requirements.

Senator LUDLAM: They are saying that. Are you aware of the recent report by their Auditor-General that absolutely slams the industry?

Mr Shannon : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: ASNO is in charge of making sure that material is not diverted illegally to weapons programs and so on. You do not have a formal safety role. I appreciate that you have at least brought that information to the table. Will the safety of those plants in the Indian regulatory system, leaving the safeguards issue aside for a moment, play any part in the decision making around safeguards for a sales agreement?

Mr Shannon : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: It will?

Mr Shannon : Yes. We would certainly take this into account. We would expect India to follow international best practice with regard to safety and we would expect our negotiators to address nuclear safety, along with other matters.

Senator LUDLAM: Does that mean if you are not convinced—as the Indian Auditor-General certainly isn't—that those plants are being run to anything like world's best practice, a sales agreement would not occur? Obviously you are able to give it regard, and I am pleased to hear that because I was not certain if that was true. What happens if you are not happy with safety standards?

Ms Bird : These are all issues which will be worked through during the negotiating process. All of these issues will be worked through.

Senator LUDLAM: I understand that. Thanks for your help.

Mr Shannon : There are some positives in the report. The fact that the Auditor's report is out there now is a good thing, I think.

Senator LUDLAM: Certainly.

Mr Shannon : The IAEA are sending a team this month to look at the safety aspects of the new plant builds and then it is likely that a peer review team, led by the agency, would come out, I believe in the near future, to look at the regulatory framework. So all this is being exposed now I think in a very helpful way.

Senator LUDLAM: There will be no shortage of information; that is good. But what I am trying to get clear on is, presumably, if you were not able to conclude to your satisfaction—this is coming to the security issues—that Australian obligated uranium was not going to be transferred into weapons programs, you would not conclude an agreement. That is the purpose of this assessment, right?

Mr Shannon : We cannot speculate. We have clear objectives and we have domestic policy objects, domestic policy requirements and what not, but I cannot speculate on how the movement of the negotiations might proceed or the time frame that is involved.

Senator LUDLAM: Please explain our objectives then. Are your objectives to conclude a sales agreement or are your objectives to make absolutely certain that Australian uranium is not diverted into weapons programs?

Mr Shannon : Both. One is related to the other. If we have a sales agreement, part and parcel of that will be that there is no diversion.

Senator LUDLAM: We will just come back to the safety side. What if you are not convinced, ultimately, as the Indian AG is not, that these plants are safe?

Mr Shannon : Ministers will make a decision based on what our nuclear policy objectives are, what has been the outcome of the agreement.

Ms Bird : Senator, I think we are getting ahead of ourselves here. It is hypothetical; we have not even begun the negotiations yet. We will have a negotiating mandate that the government will approve. We will start the negotiations. The safeguard agreements are complex. They are very important. We take them seriously. We will work all of this through during the course of the negotiations. But, as I said, we have a few hypotheticals on hypotheticals here.

Senator LUDLAM: Not really. Has any consideration been given to, or have you got a file open on, a response to Pakistan's flagged intention to seek to purchase Australian uranium should sales to India be advanced? That is something which is obviously not hypothetical now, given the PM's announcement overnight. Have we had any approaches from the government of Pakistan?

Mr Shannon : I am not aware of that. I think Pakistan understands it would have to secure an exemption at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Senator LUDLAM: That was not a problem in the case of India, but you are quite correct. Please take on notice—I am not expecting you to have this at the table with you now—whether any form of negotiations or preliminary discussions have commenced with the government of Pakistan.

Mr Shannon : I am pretty confident that is not the case.

Ms Bird : The answer is no.

Mr Robilliard : The possibility of uranium sales to Pakistan is not under consideration.

Senator LUDLAM: It is not? Okay, good. Every now and again you get something black and white out of these sessions. It is much appreciated. What agency assessments have been made of India's nuclear weapons program and aspirations?

Mr Shannon : Which agency are you talking about?

Senator LUDLAM: I am asking for your evaluation of India's nuclear weapons program and aspirations.

Dr Kalish : We know that India has nuclear weapons and we know that they plan to maintain them and that they will not sign the NPT and renounce their nuclear weapons arsenal.

Senator LUDLAM: If I have senior Indian officials—in fact, the former head of one of their key regulators—saying it is important to lock in overseas sources of uranium so they can quarantine domestic supplies for nuclear weapons, for an arms race with Pakistan, can you explain to me—because I really cannot understand—how you are going to be able to prevent that kind of behaviour with any form of safeguards agreement?

Dr Kalish : We know that they have adequate indigenous resources of uranium to fulfil the needs of their weapons program and that they have already signed contracts with other overseas suppliers of uranium.

Senator LUDLAM: So we are more than happy for Australian uranium—as long as we can be sure that our material is not being diverted off into weapons—to free up domestic supplies for a nuclear arms race on the subcontinent?

Mr Shannon : No, we take strong objection to the possession of nuclear weapons by India.

Senator LUDLAM: In what forums have we expressed that objection?

Mr Shannon : Regularly at the International Atomic Energy Agency and at—

Senator LUDLAM: Did the Prime Minister raise that on her recent visit, do you think?

Mr Shannon : I do not know.

Senator LUDLAM: So we have strong objections, but—can anyone else help me out? Did the Prime Minister raise the issue of nuclear weapons abolition on the subcontinent with the Indian government?

Ms Bird : I am not privy to the Prime Minister's discussions. Our views on nuclear weapons generally are very well known.

Senator LUDLAM: The bilateral agreements we have signed up to so far have all been lodged with the IAEA. What relationship do you expect the IAEA to have as this agreement progresses between Australia and India? Will it have any formal role at all?

Dr Kalish : One of the conditions of the agreement is that IAEA safeguards are applied to Australian nuclear material.

Senator LUDLAM: In the same way we just take the Indian government's word for it on safety, or will the IAEA actually be at the table?

Dr Kalish : The IAEA has a bilateral agreement with India—it is called INFCIRC/754—and that allows the IAEA to inspect Indian nuclear facilities.

Senator LUDLAM: Only those facilities the Indians have conceded they will allow inspections in. They have kept most of their weapons program beyond the remit of the IAEA.

Dr Kalish : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: How confident are you that we will actually have any idea at all about what happens to Australian uranium under those rather awkward circumstances?

Dr Kalish : I do not believe these circumstances are awkward if our material is only used in those facilities which are safeguarded by the IAEA.

Senator LUDLAM: I could have chosen other words. Thanks for your help.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Shannon, you have undoubtedly heard the discussions I have had with Mr Rowe previously about the Antarctic system of treaties. The Antarctic Division belongs to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, but obviously we need a whole-of-government approach if we are going to look at the long-term implications from a foreign affairs and national security perspective.

The fact that Mr Rowe has been the person coming forward indicates to me that DFAT is predominantly treating this as an international organisation and the relationship between DFAT and the Antarctic Treaty System has been on that basis. Has your division—perhaps Mr Kelly or somebody looking at strategic issues—provided any input into the future national security or strategic implications of developments in the Antarctic region?

Ms Bird : I can answer that. We certainly as a department look at those issues. You are right: the main carriage is with our International Organisations and Legal Division, but I can assure you they can and do consult across the department as well as with other departments. We are very conscious of the issues you have been raising. They are important ones and, as a department, yes, we do address those dimensions—very much so.

Senator FAWCETT: Do you make recommendations to other agencies within government in terms of things like surveillance systems, whether they be satellites or unmanned aerial vehicles, so that Australia can participate not only in the inspection program as part of the treaty system but also, for its own broader national security interests, be aware of what is occurring?

Ms Bird : You are talking about the inspection system in Antarctica still? Is that the question?

Senator FAWCETT: In Antarctica. When the whole of government is saying, 'What are our requirements for remote sensing and surveillance systems?' do you actually identify the Antarctic as a requirement?

Ms Bird : I would have to take that specific question on notice. All I can answer in your general question is that we do look at the Antarctic. Those strategic dimensions you raised are ones that are very much foremost in our minds.

Senator FAWCETT: Is DFAT aware that the Russian Arctic association website at the moment is saying that next week in Moscow the plan for 2020 and beyond in the Antarctic is being put forward? They are saying that this is a critical foreign and domestic policy document aimed at actively maintaining Russia's position under the Antarctic Treaty. They say:

Commercial activity is not possible right now, but in the future ice can be used a source of fresh water and some other resources can be used for economic gain …

…   …   …

Russia has very serious interests there - geopolitical, scientific and economic. We are a leading world power with global interests and we cannot confine ourselves to the Moscow principality …

Ms Bird : Is this Antarctica or the Arctic?

Senator FAWCETT: It is the Arctic website but it is dealing with the Antarctic and their government instruction, which tends to take 10-year blocks. Their most recent, which is to be discussed next week, is looking at 2020 and beyond, very clearly based on their discussions in the 2010 to 2020 paper, where it highlights the implications of Antarctic resources for Russia's future energy and economic security.

Ms Bird : I am sure my colleague Richard Rowe can answer this. It sounds like a similar question to ones we have already canvassed a couple of times through this estimates. Our views on the Antarctic Treaty, the Madrid protocol, and its usefulness, are clear. We will continue to take that forward. Richard, is there anything more you want to add?

Mr R Rowe : Senator, I have not seen that specific report you are referring to, but I would just reiterate that all treaty parties, including the Russian Federation, are bound by the provisions of relevant international instruments relating to Antarctica, which prohibit any mineral related exploitation.

Senator FAWCETT: Only until they expire. All parties have recognised in their public statements that they are bound until that date, but beyond that date at least three major parties—Russia, China and the US—are openly talking about the strategic import of the economic resource that is there, which has a strategic impact for Australia. So my question is not about how well we are administering the current arrangement—I accept we are doing that very well; my question is to Mr Shannon: how well is the department looking forward and saying, 'Are we viewing this through the correct prism?' That is the heart of my question.

Ms Bird : I have answered that. We are assessing this in its multidimensional capacity. We are aware of those issues. I think Richard Rowe has answered very clearly that we continue to adhere to and defend those principles.

Proceedings suspended from 15:29 to 15:46

CHAIR: We move to program 1.2, payments to international organisations.

Senator FAWCETT: What was the budget allocation this year for payments to international organisations?

Ms Thorpe : If you look at page 27 of the portfolio budget statements under program 1.2, payments to international organisations for 2012-13 are expected to be $240 million.

Senator FAWCETT: I have the figure of $240 million, but is that the sum of our commitment to international organisations? For example, if we pay, say, $1 million to an organisation but we also have three staff there, then essentially our commitment to that organisation is all the on-costs for those staff—their salaries, overseas allowances et cetera. So in terms of Australia's commitment to overseas organisations, can you detail for me how much we pay of that $240 million to each organisation and how many staff are associated with those organisations. I am happy for you to take that on notice.

Ms Thorpe : The $240 million that you see there is actually the cost of membership; it does not reflect our staff costs. We do not have dedicated staff per organisation. As you know, activity-based costings can be very variable in terms of the assumptions.

Senator FAWCETT: For some organisations I assume you do have staff permanently there?

Ms Bird : Not in the organisation. We have staff in our missions who are accredited to those organisations. The figure that is in the budget book relates to our membership dues.

Senator FAWCETT: I recognise that.

Mr Moraitis : We might have officers on secondment with international organisations, but the general rule is the organisation itself pays for their salaries and the staff are off-line, nonsalaried. I cannot recall any officials we have in IOs which we pay for.

Senator FAWCETT: Looking over the forward estimates, I am trying to understand what is the cost to the Australian taxpayer of our relationship with international organisations. I accept $240 million is our membership fee; I would like to know what additional costs are associated. I accept for some there is no additional cost, but for some there will be. Can you break that down for me. I happy to take it on notice.

Ms Bird : We will look at that.


CHAIR: We now turn to program 1.3, public information services and public diplomacy.

Senator EGGLESTON: Has a freeze been placed on the awarding of grants from any of the department's foundations, councils or institutes?

Ms Bird : As mentioned, there is a government-wide decision relating to grants. The department only has one grants program—the International Relations Grants Program—and that amounts to $4.5 million a year. At the time of that government decision we had already committed $3.7 million of the grants program. In accordance with the government decision we have not made any grants since that freeze was announced.

Senator EGGLESTON: What does that program do?

Ms Bird : The grant program is largely expended by our foundations, councils and institutes, as you mentioned. There are various foundations—the Australia-Malaysia Institute, the Australia-Thailand Institute—a range of those, and we also have a cultural council. But, as I said, $3.7 million of the $4.5 million had been committed. The remaining $800,000 is subject to that decision.

Senator EGGLESTON: Are there any others that you would like to mention or is that the one and only?

Ms Bird : That is it.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you very much.

Senator FAWCETT: Can I put one supplementary question on notice for 1.2. As you mentioned, some organisations will be a member of diplomatic posts, so you can just pop next door and that is not an issue. I assume, for a number of them, there will be people from the department who will travel from Australia to meetings.

Ms Bird : Correct.

Senator FAWCETT: So if you could also identify how many people travel for each organisation. Just looking at it as a cost-benefit for the taxpayer, it is useful to understand how much our association with each organisation actually costs.

Ms Bird : We will look at what we can pull together in a sensible way. We know what you are getting at.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator Fawcett. Senator Eggleston has a question on notice on program 1.3, Public information services and public diplomacy.

Senator EGGLESTON: Yes, it is a very small issue about diplomatic staff tweeting. I will put my question on notice.

Ms Bird : That is fine, thanks Senator.


CHAIR: We will go to program 2.1, Consular services. Senator Kroger?

Senator KROGER: I am interested, firstly, to ascertain what representations have been made since the last estimates on behalf of Messrs Matthew Joyce and Marcus Lee, who are detained in the UAE.

Ms Bird : We have continued to provide extensive consular support, but my colleague Justin Brown could give you the details.

Mr Brown : There have been a number of representations made since our last estimates. Let me give you a quick list. On 13 June, Senator Carr raised this matter with his counterpart from the UAE. On 15 June, the Prime Minister wrote to the Ruler of Dubai on the matter. On 11 July, Senator Carr wrote to the Ruler of Dubai, drawing his attention to a document provided to Mr Lee by Sunland. On 31 July, Senator Carr raised the issue again, and then the matter was also raised on 13 September by our ambassador in the UAE with the Director-General of the Ruler's Court.

Senator KROGER: Thank you. Has there been any indication that the letter that the Prime Minister directed to the Ruler on 15 June was actually received by the Ruler and has there been any formal acknowledgement of receipt of that and any acknowledgement of the content of that?

Mr Brown : As far as I am aware, there has been nothing to suggest the letter has not been received, but we have not received a formal response to that letter.

Senator KROGER: My question is a more proactive one: have we received anything to indicate that the letter has been received by the intended recipient?

Mr Brown : There is an awareness in the UAE government of our concern with this case and the Australian government's views on this case. To the extent that there is clearly an understanding of and a sensitivity to our concerns, I think you could conclude from that that the letters and the representations that we have made have registered in their system.

Senator KROGER: I will follow up on what you have just said, but that actually was not my question. My question was in relation to whether we had had a formal acknowledgement of receipt by the ruler of that letter.

Mr Brown : We have received no reply from the ruler to that letter.

Senator KROGER: Has there been any formal acknowledgement of Minister Carr's letter that he sent on 17 July? Was that when he sent it?

Mr Brown : It was on 11 July. That letter was submitted in evidence in the Dubai criminal court by Mr Lee's lawyers.

Senator KROGER: What was the nature of that letter then, if it was admitted into evidence?

Mr Brown : It was a letter that drew attention to the document provided to Mr Lee by Sunland in which Sunland wrote to Mr Lee stating it had no claim against him in either the Australian or Dubai proceedings.

Senator KROGER: And that was admitted into evidence—

Mr Brown : Mr Lee's lawyers submitted that letter in evidence to the Dubai criminal court.

Senator KROGER: There was a third time, I think you said, that there were communications. Was that on 13 September?

Mr Brown : Our ambassador in the UAE met with the Director-General of the Ruler's Court in September. At that time, he handed across a summary of the case. It was a history of the case. As I think you know, a new trial was initiated in September. The purpose of that meeting was to ensure the history of the case and the Australian government's position was well known and clear to the relevant officials.

Senator KROGER: You are no doubt aware that the Victorian Supreme Court has brought down findings in relation to a matter brought by Sunland. Has the judgement and findings that Justice Croft brought down from those court proceedings being passed on to the authorities in Dubai, because that does not seem to be included in your summary of communications and handing-over of documents?

Mr Brown : I can advise that Mr Joyce's lawyer has raised these developments in court in Dubai. Secondly, the government, including Senator Carr, have drawn the Victorian court's findings to the attention of the UAE authorities on several occasions. The decision to award costs against Sunland has also been brought to the attention of the relevant Dubai officials by our ambassador.

Senator KROGER: You mentioned that the Australian government's views were well known in Dubai. Can I ask you what those views are?

Mr Brown : The Australian government is essentially concerned that the court process has been protracted, and we believe that there needs to be early action to bring this matter to a conclusion.

Senator KROGER: That being the case, have there been communications of that nature? I presume that is what you are referring to by the 13 September meeting with our ambassador.

Mr Brown : That is correct.

Senator KROGER: I presume that necessary support is being provided to the family; is that correct?

Mr Brown : That is correct. We are providing extensive consular support to Mr Joyce and Mr Lee. That has been the case since they were first charged in 2009 and that is continuing.

Senator KROGER: On another matter, do you have there an indication of how many Australians have been detained in Dubai? I presume you do it according to financial years, so for the years 2010-11 2011-12 and for 2012-13 to date.

Mr Brown : The number of Australians detained in Dubai. In the United Arab Emirates, as of 30 June this year, there have been 15 arrests and two prisoners—two in detention.

Senator KROGER: And for the previous 12-month period?

Mr Brown : I will have to take that on notice. That is the only data I have available at the moment.

Ms Bird : We can get that for you, Senator.

Senator KROGER: Okay. I am very mindful of not in any way identifying individuals because it is a very tricky judicial system, not to put too fine a point on it, but have those who are in detention been charged with anything yet?

Mr Brown : I cannot give you that information right now. I just do not have it to hand, and there may be privacy issues around those cases, so I would have to take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: I am happy for you to take it on notice, but surely you would be able to advise whether or not they had been charged with anything, because they would require consular services.

Mr Brown : As I said, there are two prisoner cases in the United Arab Emirates, in the UAE, so I assume they have in fact been charged and detained. But I do not have the details of those particular cases.

Senator KROGER: Okay. Of the total 15 arrests, can you give any indication of why they were arrested?

Mr Brown : I do not have a breakdown specifically in relation to the UAE of what those arrests covered, but I am happy to provide that information.

Senator KROGER: Could you provide it, please—and also a breakdown for the previous 12 months, as I said. That would be very helpful.

Mr Brown : Sure.

Senator KROGER: I turn to the support that was provided to the Australian aid worker who was detained—I do not think 'arrested' is the right word—recently in Libya and was released. Can you just take me through what happened there in terms of the process and how DFAT worked and supported her, including the minister's involvement?

Mr Brown : I assume you are referring to Alexandra Bean—that case?

Senator KROGER: Yes.

Mr Brown : Yes. When Ms Bean was first refused exit from Libya, she was in contact with our consular official in Cairo at that time—

Senator KROGER: Sorry. Could you just repeat what you just said; I missed it.

Ms Bird : Senator, the minister actually put out a press release on our assistance in this case which detailed the various steps we took after she was prevented from departing Libya. Of course, subsequently that was resolved. But there is a press release which goes through the various steps which we would be happy to provide.

Senator KROGER: I have seen the press release and I am also aware of the statements she made before the minister put out that press release.

Mr Brown : There was some contact with Ms Bean before she was denied exit, but at the time she was denied exit she was in touch with our relevant consular official in Cairo, which has responsibility for Libya. As you know, we do not have a diplomatic presence in Libya. As the minister said in his subsequent media release, within 48 hours that consular official and some others were on the ground in Tripoli to assist with subsequent discussions with the Libyan authorities, and Ms Bean subsequently had her passport returned and was allowed to leave the country. That is obviously a concertinaed version of events, but that is in a nutshell what happened.

Senator KROGER: Did Ms Bean actually explicitly state that she did not require consular service or support?

Mr Brown : In the early stages of the case it was very unclear as to what the nature of the problem was. As she reported to us, she had been presented with a document in Arabic. She did not speak Arabic. She was uncertain about the ramifications of signing the document. At that time, after our consular officer in Cairo had been in touch with her, we did ask whether she was okay and whether she needed any consular assistance at that point. She said she was fine. I should say here too that, unlike Melinda Taylor, she was not being detained. She was free to leave the official government premises, and so to that extent it was quite a different case to the earlier Melinda Taylor ICC case.

Senator KROGER: The department did not advise the minister that she was seeking support? There seems to be some confusion in the narrative which I think the foreign minister sought to address in that press release, but there also seems to be a conflict in the narrative both from what is being reported that Ms Bean has said and certainly from the press release that the minister released. Was she seeking support or not? If she was not seeking support, then why did we stay in touch with her? I do not understand. One would presume there was something that triggered the minister getting someone on the plane to go to her aid, even though it was after the event.

Mr Brown : She clearly wanted consular advice, and that is the reason why there was contact between her and the consular officer in Cairo. What I am referring to is the fact that we asked her about her welfare at that stage: did she have any concerns? Were there any particular kinds of assistance she would want at that time in relation to her welfare? She indicated that she did not have any concerns for her welfare, and therefore there were no particular welfare concerns.

But from the fact that we maintained regular phone contact with her for the period of the case, at the early stages of the case, it is clear that there was a consular issue and we provided consular assistance in the way that we do to all citizens in that particular situation. So I do not see any discrepancy in the different accounts of what occurred. Ms Bean was perhaps not fully aware of some of the activities that were undertaken on her behalf during the period she was denied exit.

Senator KROGER: Clearly it was then determined that she did need direct consular support.

Mr Brown : Once it became clear that the nature of the problem was not simply a misunderstanding about the translation of an Arabic document, that there was in fact a serious issue underlying that, then yes, we naturally enough did several things, all of which have been detailed in the minister's media release. But the main ones were we put a consular officer on the ground immediately, we sought the urgent assistance of the UK embassy in Tripoli, we made urgent representations to the Libyan ambassador here, we made contact with the IOM, her employer, and we did a number of other things.

Senator KROGER: This may be a question for Ms Bird. Does the department advise the minister when there needs to be a higher level of government intervention or involvement in an instance where an Australian is either detained or imprisoned overseas? Does the department provide that advice to the minister before the minister takes any personal action?

Ms Bird : We certainly provide advice to the minister. Obviously the minister is in charge of his own actions, but, yes, we provide constant and regular advice on consular matters to the minister. That is the sort of thing which is detailed in the advice.

Senator KROGER: I understand that. For instance, in the case of Melinda Taylor, which the government sought to get involved in—and I am delighted that she was released—was it upon advice from the department that the government got involved in that particular case and clearly successfully expedited her release?

Ms Bird : Certainly we gave advice to the minister on the Melinda Taylor case, as we have done on other high-profile consular cases. That is a regular part of what we do.

Senator KROGER: So the department is giving advice to the government on whether cases should be expedited at a government-to-government level?

Ms Bird : Expedited is perhaps the wrong word. We make representations at a range of levels on different consular cases. Sometimes we do them through our post, sometimes the minister gets involved and, on some occasions, the Prime Minister has got involved. That has to be calibrated and it depends on the circumstances of each case. We look at that very carefully and we try to make sure we have the most effective mix of representations to ensure the best possible outcome on the various consular cases we are handling.

Senator KROGER: I am trying to ascertain to what extent subjectivity is coming into this. I instantly recall the young man who was detained in prison in Bali. Once again, I am delighted that that situation was expedited so that he was released very quickly. But there seems to be a degree of subjectivity here.

Ms Bird : We take each and every consular case—even the ones which are not in the media and are not high profile—very seriously. We have a cadre of officers who deal with each and every case. As I said, in some it is fruitful to elevate it to ministerial or even prime ministerial level; it is not in others. We are really focused on getting the right outcome. Both the Alexandra Bean case and the Melinda Taylor case were eventually resolved, but it really is a case of having the right mix for each case. But we have objective consular officers handling the many cases we have on our books.

Senator KROGER: Would it be reasonable to suggest that the demand on consular support is increasing? We touched on this earlier.

Ms Bird : We have a pretty heavy consular load. It is a really important role for the department.

Senator KROGER: Are there more Australians seeking consular support because they are getting into circumstances which require consular support overseas?

Ms Bird : We certainly have more Australians travelling overseas. It flows from that that we have more consular cases. I know we have a lot of complex cases, but the stats are probably something Justin might be able to help with.

Senator KROGER: I am happy to put that on notice.

Mr Brown : I can take that now. The number of cases does fluctuate from year to year. The overall trend is up. In 2011-12, the number of live consular cases we dealt with was 14,574. The number of active cases at any given time is about 1,400 and that is up from 1,000 in 2005.

Ms Bird : One thing which obviously affects those figures is if we have a major consular disaster overseas. Then there is a spike in the figures. As Justin said, it fluctuates.

Senator KROGER: As you were assisting in Egypt, for example, in getting Pippi—

Ms Bird : We had a few in a row.

Senator KROGER: Chair, I am going to leave my questions on consular support there.


CHAIR: Are there any questions on program 2.2, Passport Services? No. We will move to outcome 3, program 3.1, Foreign Affairs and Trade Operations. Are there any questions? No. In that case, we will move to program 3.2, Overseas Property.

Senator KROGER: I want to ask about the ambassador's residence in Rome, in Parioli. Could you give me an update as to when it was last painted, refurbished, recarpeted?

Ms Bird : If we do not have that information, we can take that on notice.

Mr Nixon : I do not have the exact details of when it was last painted, but there is a program of works that is designed to maintain the property in good condition over a period of time.

Senator KROGER: Are you aware if it was repainted and recarpeted before the new ambassador arrived in Rome?

Mr Nixon : I would have to take that on notice, but the works programs are not designed in response to individual appointments; they are designed as a result of an asset management program. So therefore who is occupying the residence is not the key determinant of what works are done; they are done in a structured manner that, as I said, preserves the asset over a period of time.

Senator KROGER: Could you also take on notice the cost of those works? I understand that, when David Ritchie accepted the appointment, the residence was repainted before his arrival. But I also understand that he does not occupy that residence. Is that correct? You surely know where he is actually staying.

Mr Nixon : He is currently not residing at that owned residence. That is a temporary arrangement. That results from fairly substantial works that will be required to effectively shore up the district or the ground upon which that residence is located.

Senator KROGER: What are the problems there?

Mr Nixon : The problems there have been at a municipal level. There has been potential slippage of the land.

Senator KROGER: Is that slippage of the land something that is affecting all the embassies nearby? Has there been a mass exodus of all the embassies in the region in relation to that slippage?

Mr Nixon : I am not aware that there has been a mass exodus. Our decision was taken relative to our own property.

Ms Bird : It is a residence, not the embassy, Senator Kroger. We will take on notice the details, but it is not the embassy; it is the residence.

Senator KROGER: On what basis have you determined that other quarters should be rented?

Mr Nixon : There was some independent engineering advice that suggested that the property was at risk of slippage.

Senator KROGER: What danger was that presenting? In my house I have got cracks that I could just about drive a truck through, but that does not mean that I am getting out of there and renting a place in town very quickly—and we are talking about Rome here, so on what basis was it determined that it was an unsafe residence to occupy?

Ms Bird : We do not move heads of mission lightly—it is a major undertaking. There was an independent assessment done, which showed slippage and problems that were of a structural nature that required remedial action, and in those circumstances we obviously need to have the ambassador lodge somewhere else in the interim. A property search is done, and that would have been done in this case. We can get you more details if you like, but that would be the general schema.

Senator KROGER: When did the ambassador move out of the residence?

Mr Nixon : I do not have the exact date but I can certainly get that. It was in recent months.

Senator KROGER: A good indication would be when the lease started on another property for him to live in. When was a lease signed for a second property for him to live in?

Mr Nixon : Again I would have to take that on notice and come back to you with the exact lease commencement date.

Senator KROGER: Can you give us the details of the lease and for what period the lease has been signed up for. What district is it in?

Mr Nixon : It is, as I understand it, referred to as Nomentana—Via diSant' Angelo in Pescheria 34/b is the address.

Senator KROGER: Is that a residence that is suitable for entertaining?

Mr Nixon : I understand it is a residence that is suitable for the ambassador to reside in and fulfil his needs.

Ms Bird : As I said, it happens rarely—we do not like to have to move heads of mission from their residences. It is not done lightly as it is a very inconvenient and difficult process. We would search for appropriate properties, ones where the ambassador could do whatever appropriate representation was needed. I do not know the details of this particular case but that is the sort of approach which would have been followed.

Senator KROGER: Clearly, Mr Nixon, you do not know much about this. I am astounded by that—if you are the one responsible for overseas property, I am surprised if we have a residence, and a very valuable piece of real estate I would imagine in Rome, and you are not able to provide me with many details. Can you provide me with the cost of the rental property—what it is costing us on a monthly basis—how long the lease has been signed for, what the status is of the works that are required and what the cost of those works are, and I presume there will be a program for doing those works on the property.

Ms Bird : We will do that. In defence of Mr Nixon, he has only very recently taken up the position. Obviously we like to come prepared to answer all your questions, but we will get what we can to you as soon as we can.

Senator KROGER: If you are lucky, Mr Nixon, they might fly you to Rome to have a look at it.

Mr Nixon : Perhaps I can answer some of the questions you have asked—I have found some information. My understanding is that the lease of the temporary premises commenced on 1 June this year, and it is for a three-year period. The current rent is approximately 23,750 euros per month.

Senator KROGER: I presume that compares to other properties in the area. What size property is it?

Ms Bird : We will get you all the details. As I said, in these cases a search is done, various different properties are identified and a decision is made on which is the most appropriate. We do it in the most cost-effective manner we can but obviously we still have to have somewhere that is appropriate for the head of mission to do their representational work. We do look at all that on these rare occasions this has to be done.

Senator KROGER: Mr Nixon, I will put on notice as well not only when the last painting and recarpeting and so on was done before the ambassador took up the appointment but also if there have been any structural works in the last few years.

Mr Nixon : Sure.

CHAIR: We are finished examination of the foreign affairs portfolio. I thank officers of the department for their assistance, and Ms Bird in particular for filling in.