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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Future Fund Management Agency

Future Fund Management Agency


CHAIR: I welcome Mr David Neal, managing director of the Future Fund Management Agency. I also welcome officers from the Department of Finance covering program 2.8, Australian government investment funds. Mr Neal, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Neal : I do. In late January, we released our regular update on the performance and positioning of the five funds for which the board is responsible. I would like to provide a short summary of the key points. The object of the Future Fund is to strengthen the Commonwealth's long-term financial position and to make provision for unfunded superannuation liabilities that will become payable during a period when an ageing population will place significant pressure on the Commonwealth's finances. The fund has exceeded its benchmark return over both the short- and long-term time horizons, generating returns of 9.8 per cent, 11.8 per cent and 10 per cent per annum over three-, five- and seven-year periods to 31 December 2016. Over 10 years, the portfolio has achieved a return of 7.8 per cent, well ahead of its benchmark of 6.9 per cent. In the 2016 calendar year, the portfolio generated a return of 7.8 per cent, growing to $127.7 billion. Originally funded with contributions of $60.5 billion, investment returns have added over $67 billion to the value of the fund, more than doubling the value.

Looking to the investment environment, we have seen global equity markets strengthen over recent months. But at the same time uncertainty regarding global monetary policy, trade and a range of other factors remains. We maintain our long-held view that we see a challenging investment environment ahead, with elevated risks and lower prospective returns than in previous years. In light of this, we continue to cautiously and prudently manage the assets of the Future Fund. We are focussed on maintaining our discipline to only take risk where it is adequately rewarded.

At 31 December 2016, the Medical Research Future Fund stood at $4.6 billion. The fund is performing in line with its mandate, and we will continue to diversify the portfolio over time. At the end of December, the Disability Care Australia Fund, Building Australia Fund and Education Investment Fund stood at $6.2 billion, $3.7 billion and $3.7 billion respectively. We continue to invest these funds in accordance with their lower risk mandates.

In summary, the Future Fund board of guardians and management team now invests over $145 billion across five public asset funds for the benefit of future generations of Australians. We focus on applying a prudent and disciplined long-term investment strategy in the pursuit of our objective to strengthen the Commonwealth's long-term financial position. I welcome your questions.

Senator KIM CARR: Could we get a copy of that statement? Is that able to be tabled?

Mr Neal : Sure.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Carr, would you like to begin?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, I would. Thank you very much, Mr Chairman. The Future Fund Management Agency is responsible for the Education Investment Fund. Is that correct?

Mr Neal : That is right.

Senator KIM CARR: What is the current balance of the EIF?

Mr Neal : We tend to release our results in quarters. I just announced the balance, and I gave away my piece of paper. I believe it is $3.7 billion, if I remember correctly. That is the balance at the end of December.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much.

Mr Neal : It will be very little changed.

Senator KIM CARR: Have there been any withdrawals from the fund since MYEFO was announced in December?

Mr Neal : I would have to take that on notice. I am not sure, to be honest. I do not believe so.

Senator KIM CARR: I do not believe there have been either. I just wanted to know.

Mr Neal : I do not have the absolute facts in front of me, I am afraid.

Senator KIM CARR: I am interested to know the last time there was a withdrawal from the fund.

Senator Cormann: We will take that on notice. You understand, of course. You know the intentions of the government when it comes to the Education Investment Fund and the Building Australia Fund. They are reflected in the budget papers. But we will provide on notice the specific date of the last withdrawal.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Mr Neal, if the government wishes to draw down on a fund, how can it do that? What is the process by which that occurs?

Mr Neal : I think that is probably a question for the finance team.

Dr Helgeby : There is a process which involves government decision-making to access the fund. The administrative action is taken through our department and then involves the Future Fund in releasing the funds. I am not aware of any recent accessing of the fund.

Senator KIM CARR: No. There has not been for some years. I am interested to know the process by which—

Dr Helgeby : Decisions to spend money are decisions of the government.

Senator KIM CARR: It is a decision of the government. Are there specific purposes for which the funds can be used? Are they specified in an act of parliament?

Dr Helgeby : Well, the EIF, as it is called, has its own references in legislation—the Nation-building Funds Act 2008.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes. That is right.

Dr Helgeby : I am not aware that those have changed.

Senator KIM CARR: They have not changed, but they are quite specific as to what the fund's money can be used for. Is that correct?

Dr Helgeby : That is my understanding of it, yes.

Senator Cormann: The government has made a policy decision to change that legislation, of course.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

Senator Cormann: Which is in the process of being legislated.

Senator KIM CARR: Well, the government, in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook said that they would continue to progress the closure of the BAF and the EIF fund. I am just wondering how funds can be closed.

Senator Cormann: Well, obviously we will give effect to that measure through legislation. I think if you keep reading the measure you are quoting from, it also says that those funds will be put into the NDIS savings special account in order to ensure—

Senator KIM CARR: And reduce debt. There are two criteria put in the statement. I am not going to that question. I want to know the process by which funds can be withdrawn from the Education Investment Fund.

Senator Cormann: Well, consistent with the requirements in the current legislation, which is why there has not been any withdrawal, we have, of course, indicated that we are seeking to amend that legislation to give effect to the policy decisions of the government which were announced in the half yearly budget update.

Senator KIM CARR: And there cannot be any withdrawal of funds without that legislation. Is that correct?

Senator Cormann: Not for any purpose that would be inconsistent with the way the legislation currently stands.

Senator KIM CARR: I am asking the officers.

Senator Cormann: Well, I am entitled to answer these questions. The government obviously complies with all existing legislation. But we have made certain policy decisions. As is not unusual, in order to give effect to those policy decisions, we will need to amend relevant legislation. Until such time as that happens, of course we will act consistent with the requirements in the current legislation.

Senator KIM CARR: The question I am asking is whether it is possible to withdraw funds without a legislative instrument.

Dr Helgeby : You can withdraw funds from the EIF under the terms of the existing legislation that it exists under. So as the minister said, the government proposes to close the EIF.

Senator KIM CARR: But it cannot do that without a legislative instrument. Is that correct?

Senator Cormann: We have already said that. I have answered that several times along those lines.

Senator KIM CARR: I am asking the question: are there any other means by which funds can be withdrawn outside of the purpose for which the act specifies?

Senator Cormann: If that could be done, then we would have done it to give effect to the policy measure reflected in the mid-year economic fiscal outlook. So the answer is no, it cannot.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you, Minister. I appreciate the answer. Has the Department of Finance ever advised the Commonwealth education department that these funds could be closed without a legislative instrument?

Dr Helgeby : Not to my knowledge.

Ms Powell : We would be talking to the education department. No, I do not believe we have said such a thing.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. And you would have discussed with the education department this initiative that was announced in MYEFO?

Ms Powell : Yes. We have discussed it with them.

Senator KIM CARR: And you have explained to them that the legislation was required?

Ms Powell : I think, yes, they know that the legislation is required.

Senator Cormann: This is obviously a matter very much for government. Let me say that the government is very aware that legislation is required. We are not proposing to do anything until such time as the necessary legislation passes the parliament.

Senator KIM CARR: I appreciate that. The reason I ask the question is because advice has been presented to non-government organisations that this could be done without legislation. You are saying not by you.

Senator Cormann: No.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much. Is it possible to transfer moneys between funds within the Future Fund?

Senator Cormann: No. The funds that are in the respective funds are there for the specific purposes they have been put there. That is obviously governed by the relevant and specific legislation applicable to each fund.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much.

Senator McALLISTER: I want to ask about the investment mandate. We discussed last time that Mr Costello had written to the government regarding whether the target returns should be lowered. Has the government made a decision on that request?

Senator Cormann: As we said last time, these are matters that will appropriately be considered as part of the budget context.

Senator McALLISTER: When the original rate of return was set, what advice was sought?

Senator Cormann: When the original rate of return was set? That was in 2006 or thereabouts. I would have to very much take that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: Have you commissioned any external advice to support the request from Mr Costello on this occasion?

Senator Cormann: We are seeking relevant expert advice relating to aspects of the proposition that has been put to us by the chair of the Future Fund, yes.

Senator McALLISTER: I am not seeking the specifics of that contract. What kind of organisation are you seeking support from?

Senator Cormann: Well, we are seeking actuarial advice, essentially.

Senator McALLISTER: Well, I said I was not seeking. Actually, if you let a contract, are you able to tell us about the contract?

Senator Cormann: I believe that Mercer is the consultant that is providing advice on some actuarial aspects. Of course, beyond that, there is in-house advice that is put together by the Department of Finance and the Treasury in the ordinary course of events to inform the deliberations of cabinet.

Senator McALLISTER: And has the Mercer work been completed?

Ms Powell : No. It is not finished yet.

Senator McALLISTER: When is it due to be finished?

Ms Powell : We are working with them to finalise the draft report over the next little while. Obviously the government will want to consider it in the budget context.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you. I want to ask about the PBO report into different scenarios for drawdown on the Future Fund. Does that representation of the unfunded superannuation liability and the Future Fund assets align with finance's view?

Senator Cormann: Well, the Future Fund has put forward certain scenarios. It is true to say that the government is also considering certain scenarios. But, to that extent, your question actually goes directly to the current deliberations of the government. It is a matter of public record that as of 1 July 2020 the relevant funds in the Future Fund according to the act can start to be withdrawn for the purposes of meeting the unfunded superannuation liability of the Commonwealth. That is a matter of public record. At present, the government is considering various options. We will make decisions in the context of putting together the 2017-18 budget bearing in mind that the 2017-18 budget will be the first time that the 2020-21 financial year will come into the forward estimates. Hence, from 1 July 2020, for the first time it will come into the active forward estimates period.

Senator McALLISTER: At the beginning of that answer, you said that the Future Fund has put forward a number of scenarios and the government is considering a number of scenarios. I think you meant the PBO.

Senator Cormann: The Parliamentary Budget Office.

Senator McALLISTER: You meant the PBO?

Senator Cormann: If I did not say the Parliamentary Budget Office or PBO, then that is what I meant.

Senator McALLISTER: Terrific. Thank you. I am not really asking about which of the scenarios you prefer. I am just asking about the broad dynamic described wherein if the fund were drawn from 2020, there would be a risk that it may be exhausted. I am asking whether you think the modelling aligns with your thinking.

Senator Cormann: Again, it depends on what decisions the government makes. I am not going to speculate on the decision that the government will make, because we are yet to receive key pieces of advice and information to inform our decision making here. Obviously, bear in mind that the act provides that 1 July 2020 is one of the triggers for withdrawals to be made. The more you withdraw, the more quickly funds will be depleted, if that is what you decide to do. The two scenarios under which the withdrawals are envisaged in the act is either if the outstanding unfunded superannuation liability as assessed by an independent actuary is fully met by the funds invested or 1 July 2020, whichever is earlier. Certainly we are not anywhere near meeting the full unfunded liability, so the earlier we now know is 1 July 2020. That means that the government has to make certain decisions. Depending on what the government decides, that will have certain consequences. But you are inviting me to speculate, and I am not in a position to speculate.

Senator McALLISTER: I am not really asking you to speculate. I am just asking whether you think the modelling undertaken by the PBO is correct. That is a question of fact, not a question of policy choice.

Senator Cormann: But it is not a matter for me to provide value judgements on the role of the PBO. The PBO has put forward certain scenarios. The conclusions that are presented based on various scenarios are absolutely appropriate and self-evident in logical conclusions. Whether the numbers in detail are 100 per cent the way we believe they would be, well, that is a different question. But the government, of course, will consider its own advice. It will consider various options. It will make decisions. Whatever decisions we make will be reflected in the budget.

Senator McALLISTER: Are there any shortcomings in the PBO report?

Senator Cormann: The PBO report puts forward certain scenarios that they have chosen. That is their call. It is not for me to second-guess or provide a qualitative assessment of the decisions that they have made. The government is going through its own process to consider certain options and will make relevant decisions through the budget process.

Senator McALLISTER: I am done, Chair.

Senator KITCHING: I want to ask about the Future Fund's office fitout. There was a response to a question on notice that advised that certain amounts had been spent. Are you still at 120 Collins Street?

Mr Neal : We are.

Senator KITCHING: Who was responsible for authorising the fitout?

Mr Neal : Well, it was contained within the board approval. I would have authorised the specific spend.

Senator KITCHING: And what steps did you take to ensure taxpayers' value for money?

Mr Neal : Well, firstly, all of the procurement would have gone through the appropriate processes and our policies. I am not sure what more to say there. Obviously we are—

Senator KITCHING: Did you tender, for example?

Mr Neal : Well, there would have been a whole range of different costs. Some of the things would have been tendered for. Some of them would have come under, I am sure, sort of panel arrangements. But in terms of the specifics of that, I am afraid I am not across exactly that. But obviously there are a lot of different moving parts to a refit. Some of those things would have come under different arrangements, but I am sure all of them would have been compliant with appropriate government procedures.

Senator KITCHING: So did you stay on the floor you were on and then just expand?

Mr Neal : We took an extra half a floor; that is right.

Senator KITCHING: I know that building very well. The agency had previously said that the refit was due to the requirement for additional office space to accommodate an increase in workforce size. How much has the workforce increased by?

Mr Neal : We have gone from 112 at the end of June 2015 to 145 now.

Senator KITCHING: When was it decided that this increase would require the additional office space?

Mr Neal : I think that would have been when we had our business plans discussed with the board. This time last year would have been when the decision was made.

Senator KITCHING: The first quarter of 2016?

Mr Neal : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: In the original question on notice, the photos of the upgraded facilities were requested but they were not provided with a response, and nor was there any mention of them in the response. Was there a reason why the photos were not provided? Can you now provide them?

Mr Neal : I do not know whether there was a reason why the photos were not provided. I would have to look into that. I need to correct the answer I just gave previously. It would have been the year before that.

Senator KITCHING: So the first quarter of 2015?

Mr Neal : Correct.

Senator KITCHING: The $3.3 million included $25,000 for kitchen appliances and supplies. What appliances and supplies does that include? Can a list be provided?

Mr Neal : One of the complexities of the move was that we moved the external meeting room part of our offices from one floor to another so that we could have all the people on one floor. So that meant building a new catering kitchen essentially for the external part of what we do. So a lot of that would be the sort of appliances you would expect in a catering style of kitchen. Beyond that question, I guess I would have to take on notice what the specifics were if you wanted that.

Senator KITCHING: But it is a professional catering kitchen?

Mr Neal : It is a professional catering kitchen. Obviously we are an organisation that is essentially an outsourced business. So we have fairly large accommodation for external meeting rooms because of that. We have a lot of external meeting rooms. Where catering is required, we would try and do that internally, obviously, to reduce the costs.

Senator KITCHING: There was about half a million dollars for furniture. Can you provide a list of that furniture as well?

Mr Neal : I am sure we can.

Senator KITCHING: And the AV and computer equipment came to more than half a million dollars. Are you able to provide an itemised list of that equipment?

Mr Neal : Yes. I am sure we can.

Senator KITCHING: I will move to remuneration. I am looking at the annual report of the Future Fund. I am looking at 2015-16. It provides salary ranges. There are seven people in the top band of seven. They are paid between $380,000 and $700,000. I am including superannuation in that. There is an average bonus of about $346,000. How would you describe the level of detail that the people section of your annual report provides?

Mr Neal : I am not sure whether you are aware that we provided an additional disclosure just yesterday. Obviously recognising the general desire for more disclosure, we were very happy to provide that. So we have provided more information. To answer your specific question, we followed the guidance we were given by the government as to how to disclose information. So if we are asked to do more, we would provide more information.

Senator KITCHING: Have you got a copy of what you released yesterday?

Mr Neal : It is on the website.

Senator KITCHING: How do you split between the investment team and the non-investment team? What I am thinking about is that your band 7 is heavily in the non-investment team. So who is that level?

Mr Neal : The band 7 is our management committee. That comprises myself, the chief investment officer and the chief investment strategist. They would be the two investment professionals. Then we have a chief financial officer, a chief operating officer, chief culture officer and the general counsel.

Senator KITCHING: The 2015-16 report provides some detail of each of the levels, with base salary and performance pay split out. In your 2013-14 report, this was further disaggregated into total salary levels. Why have you moved to the current reporting? In fact, you may have dealt with this in the document you released yesterday. I do not know.

Mr Neal : The approach we have taken has been consistent over the years, which is to disclose all the information in the way that we are asked to disclose it. So the different years just respond to the change in the guidelines as to how this information should be disclosed by entities such as ourselves.

Senator KITCHING: So it was only because the reporting guidelines changed that you changed the reporting? So it was not that you sort of looked back and thought, 'Oh, 2013-14 is not as good as it could be?' It was the guidelines?

Mr Neal : Yes. We have taken the view that the government has put thought into how it would like information disclosed. We have followed those policies throughout. We disclose the information that we are asked to disclose.

Senator KITCHING: In the document you released yesterday, have you disaggregated those salary levels? It does not, for example, give the details of your salary?

Mr Neal : It does.

Senator KITCHING: It does?

Mr Neal : It does. So it breaks down what the accountants call the key management personnel, which is the management committee and the board.

Senator KITCHING: I want to move to tax havens. I notice that in the annual report there were five unconsolidated subsidiaries in the Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. When I was looking through that, I was thinking about—colleagues at the Department of Finance might be aware—what I think government departments call model litigant rules; that is, departments behave in a model way in court proceedings. I am wondering whether you have thought about whether the Future Fund or the investments should flow through tax havens. Do you think that is ideal?

Mr Neal : We have thought about this a lot.

Senator Cormann: Actually there are pages and pages of evidence in Hansard on precisely this discussion. The first thing I should say right upfront is that the Future Fund, as we said back then, is not an income taxpayer. It is owned by the government. It is only owned by the government. Any proposition that might have been outrageously made by anyone in the past that this was designed by the Future Fund to avoid tax is nonsensical. The Future Fund is not liable to pay tax to the government because it is the government's money. As Mr Neal has previously advised the committee, there are very good risk management reasons why you structure and manage relevant investments in a particular way. I am going to let Mr Neal go through the details.

Senator KITCHING: I am aware it is exempt from income tax. So what would be reasons why, in your own words?

Mr Neal : I think there are two parts to this. The first thing to understand is that we absolutely do not support tax havens. The very phrase 'tax haven' is about secrecy and hiding information. So any jurisdiction that we invest through has to comply with the OECD's standards on transparency and sharing of information so tax offices can see what this information is all around the world. So that is the first thing. Tax havens, which are all about hiding information and keeping it secret from tax authorities, we absolutely would not support. The reason why we use nil tax jurisdictions like the Cayman is that they create a neutral tax environment for people to poll capital from around the world. So if groups of investors from different countries all with their own particular different tax circumstances want to poll capital to invest somewhere, they do that through these routes. All they do is pass that through. So if a vehicle invests into a US company, it pays its US tax in the same way that anyone else would. That company pays its US tax.

Senator KITCHING: And hopefully they are in Delaware, with its generous tax scheme.

Mr Neal : The shares are owned through a vehicle in the Cayman which simply passes all that income and profits through and then the end investor pays tax in their own jurisdiction. So if we were a tax paying entity investing through those vehicles, we would pay Australian tax like anyone else. We do not pay tax. So for us it is about the fact that the financial industry globally uses these vehicles to gather capital together from multiple countries.

CHAIR: Senator Kitching, I am just letting you know we have one minute left before we agree to finish up.

Senator KITCHING: I am done, Chair.

CHAIR: Perfect timing. Thank you very much, Future Fund. The committee will now suspend until 7.30 pm. We will resume with Senator Ryan and his parts of the finance outcome. Thank you, Minister.

Proceedings suspended from 17 : 59 to 19 : 30

CHAIR: The committee will now resume. I welcome Senator the Hon. Scott Ryan, Special Minister of State, for examination of relevant program areas within the department and portfolio which fall under his responsibility. We will begin with act of grace payments and waiver of debts under program 2.4, insurance and risk management, followed by government campaign advertising under program 2.5, human services. We will then proceeded to outcome 3, which covers ministerial and parliamentary services. We will conclude this evening with the Australian Electoral Commission. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Ryan: No, I do not.

Senator FARRELL: I have questions regarding campaign advertising. Dr Helgeby, could you provide us with an update on the amount of advertising expenditure for the year to date?

Senator Ryan: Some of those numbers are literally being compiled as we speak and have not been finalised. If you want to shoot me a series of questions I will be able to take them on notice, but I will get back to you sooner rather than later—probably not this evening; I am awaiting some final numbers.

Senator FARRELL: I have just asked a question.

Senator Ryan: I will take that on notice.

Senator FARRELL: Are you able to break the amounts down to those amounts that are in reference to campaign expenditure and non-campaign advertising expenditure?

Senator Ryan: Yes, we will be able to do that. We will take that on notice too.

Senator FARRELL: I am not sure whether I should be asking you these questions, or Dr Helgeby.

Senator Ryan: I will be able to get back to you relatively quickly with these, because there are some that I am expecting information on very shortly, so I am taking them on notice. We are allowed to do that.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, you are allowed to do it, but if the questions I am about to ask you can be answered now, I would prefer that.

Senator Ryan: Yes, I appreciate that. But we will be able to break it up into campaign and non-campaign.

Senator FARRELL: When you say you will get that that information to us quickly, do you have a time frame? Are you talking hours or days?

Senator Ryan: It will not be today.

Senator FARRELL: What are the current advertising campaigns that are underway by the government?

Ms Powell : We have the information on campaigns running in the media both above and below $250,000. We can read those out to you, or we can provide them to you, as we often do to this committee.

Senator FARRELL: I would like you to read them out, and then if you could follow up by providing them to the committee that would be terrific.

Ms Powell : We have 10 campaigns currently running in the media by non-corporate Commonwealth entities above $250,000: Defence Force Recruiting, for the Defence department; the employment department has two campaigns, jobactive and Restart; Foreign Affairs and Trade is running its Smartraveller campaign; the health department has BreastScreen Australia, Health Star Rating, Physical Activity for Young Women and the National Tobacco Campaign; Immigration and Border Protection is running the No Way (Offshore) campaign; and the industry department is running a campaign for

For campaigns below the threshold of $250,000, there are 31. Would you like the name of the campaign or just the agency?

Senator FARRELL: Maybe just the agency, given that there are 31 of them.

Ms Powell : The Australian Communications and Media Authority; the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission; the Australian Financial Security Authority; the Australian Office of Financial Management; the Australian Securities and Investments Commission; the Australian Taxation Office; Education and Training; Employment; Environment and Energy; the Fair Work Ombudsman; Immigration and Border Protection; Industry, Innovation and Science; IP Australia; the National Archives of Australia; Parliamentary Services; Prime Minister and Cabinet; the Royal Australian Mint; and Veterans' Affairs.

Senator FARRELL: You mentioned the Smartraveller campaign. Do you know what is involved in that?

Senator Ryan: Senator Farrell, remember that the way this process works is that, while the departments work with Finance, Finance does not have all the information.

Senator FARRELL: I understand. I just wondered whether Ms Powell happened to know what was involved in that.

Ms Powell : It is a campaign that aims to inform Australians about how to minimise the risks and avoid difficulties while overseas, and draws to their attention the availability of consular assistance and travel advice.

Senator KITCHING: Could I ask, Ms Powell, what the Fair Work Commission is doing.

Ms Powell : They have a campaign that is entitled 'Record my hours app'. While I cannot provide you with any details—although Ms Van Veen may.

Senator KITCHING: That is all right.

Ms Powell : It is under $250,000, so it would probably be something on its website—maybe some brochures, some mailings. But it is promoting an app.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

Senator FARRELL: I would like to ask some questions about the Independent Communications Committee. Could you tell us how they do their review. Is it on a year-to-date basis or a financial-year basis?

Dr Helgeby : The ICC looks at campaign strategies, so it looks at things on a campaign basis. It considers the strategy and the proposed media approach of campaigns that are subject to the guidelines and above the $250,000 threshold as they go through.

Senator FARRELL: So it reviews the ones over $250,000?

Dr Helgeby : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: Since the last estimates—we are talking October, perhaps—can you tell us how many reviews have been conducted.

Dr Helgeby : The answer to that question is really which campaigns have commenced between October and now. I am not sure we would have that with us. We would have to take that one on notice, I think. But that is essentially the question you are asking.

Senator FARRELL: You cannot give me a ballpark figure?

Dr Helgeby : Well, a lot of those ones that Ms Powell read out earlier, as being in market above $250,000, are potentially in that group. I think there were 10 in that group?

Ms Powell : Yes, there were 10.

Senator FARRELL: So all of those above $250,000 have been reviewed?

Ms Powell : That is right. It is part of the process of finalising a campaign. Every campaign goes to the ICC for review.

Senator FARRELL: So of all those campaigns above $250,000 there were no exceptions? All of them were reviewed?

Ms Van Veen : All of those campaigns had positive compliance reports. All of those reports are on the Finance website. After a campaign launches, the ICC review letters are posted on the Finance website, so you can actually see what has been posted. It is done right after a campaign launches.

Senator FARRELL: If I looked it up, what would I see?

Ms Van Veen : You would see the review letter that the chair of the ICC provides to the chief executive of the entity that has sought the advice of the ICC.

Senator FARRELL: Would that be a letter from Mr Williams?

Ms Van Veen : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: Were any of those below $250,000 reviewed?

Dr Helgeby : No. The committee only looks above $250,000, but you still have to comply with the advertising guidelines.

Senator FARRELL: If they do not, who reviews that?

Dr Helgeby : There is a regular process of audit that goes on into advertising activities on an annual basis. Where people do not do that there are mechanisms to pick up that sort of activity.

Senator FARRELL: Like what?

Dr Helgeby : The ANAO runs an annual audit.

Senator FARRELL: They would look at all of the campaigns below $250,000?

Dr Helgeby : They choose what they want to look at, and they are entitled to look at anything.

Senator FARRELL: I have no further questions on that topic.


CHAIR: We will move now to outcome 3, Support for parliamentarians and others as required by the Australian government through the delivery of and advice on entitlements and targeted assistance. Minister, I understand you have a document you might be able to table.

Senator Ryan: Yes, we do, sorry. Thank you for the reminder.

Senator FARRELL: What document is the minister tabling?

CHAIR: The staffing breakdown.

Senator Ryan: These are the standard documents that are tabled at every estimates and everyone can see on the various websites for previous estimates. Copies are now being circulated to you.

CHAIR: Senator Farrell the call is with you when you would like to take it up.

Senator FARRELL: Could I have an opportunity to have a quick look at this?

CHAIR: Of course.

Senator Ryan: I am happy to come back to this particular document later if people have other questions.

Senator FARRELL: I want to ask some questions regarding some comments that former Prime Minister Abbott raised in an interview on 23 February on The Bolt Report, where he referred to the fact that, if he had decided to live in his Forestville house as his Sydney residence, it would have cost an extra million dollars a year in security. Mr Fredericks, can you advise whether or not the Prime Minister was given any advice?

Senator Ryan: Senator Farrell, I have asked similar questions myself in the past. Those questions need to be directed to official establishments in PM&C because not only do they oversee the facilities but they would be the ones that would provide advice to the Prime Minister.

Senator FARRELL: These questions have been asked in PM&C. My understanding is that Finance provides the payment for the security services of prime ministers. Is that correct?

Mr Fredericks : One of the problems is that it is certainly not in this program.

Senator Ryan: I will take that on notice. That is not my genuine understanding of it, and it does not appear to be anyone's understanding here. But if I am incorrect, I will ask officials to chase it up. Your question was: is the payment provided by Finance for—

Senator FARRELL: My question really goes to former Prime Minister Abbott—perhaps future Prime Minister, I'm not sure—who indicated that had he chosen to stay at his private residence in Sydney rather than Kirribilli House because there would have been a cost to the taxpayer of a million dollars. What I am trying to illicit is: was any advice provided to the former Prime Minister by Finance to back up that figure of a million dollars?

Senator Ryan: So, you are now asking, if I might say, Senator Farrell—I want to be precise about this—about advice provided to the former Prime Minister on if or when he raised that issue about living in one place or the other?

Senator FARRELL: Yes.

Senator Ryan: What I am saying here is that the officials are not aware of this being Finance and it is definitely not outcome 3 related. I will take that on notice. If it needs to be referred to another department that that process is in place then that can be done. But this is not a Finance issue, as far any of us are aware.

Senator FARRELL: So this department would have no payment for security services to the prime ministers?

Ms McGregor : We do not pay security bills for former prime ministers.

Senator Ryan: I have just been advised by someone else that the Attorney-General's Department are in charge of physical security. So you might have the opportunity to put those questions on notice there. No-one here is aware of this being Finance. We think it is PM&C.

Senator FARRELL: Does that also mean you have no involvement in the costs associated with Kirribilli House?

Mr Fredericks : No.

Senator FARRELL: Can we also conclude, therefore, that you have no role in any of the costs associated with Point Piper?

Mr Fredericks : No.

Senator FARRELL: So you cannot tell us whether or not there are any ongoing costs associated with the Prime Minister living at Point Piper?

Mr Fredericks : We can't tell you that, Senator.

Senator FARRELL: The current Prime Minister said on the 7.30 report on 1 February that he pays all of his expenses at his private residence at Point Piper. I take it from your previous answers that you have no role in that?

Mr Fredericks : No.

Senator FARRELL: I would like to ask some questions regarding the Conde report.

Senator Ryan: I have my copy here.

Senator FARRELL: Very good. The review into entitlements was originally announced on 2 August 2015 by the then Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, and a final recommendation was provided to the government on 22 February 2016. Can you tell us how many briefings were provided to the various special ministers of state during that period?

Ms McGregor : We will take the specifics on notice. We could get that for you.

Senator Ryan: That is with the proviso, Senator Farrell, that preparation work, drafts and briefings that relate to cabinet processes would not be included in that.

Senator FARRELL: I am aware of that.

Senator Ryan: That might not give a full picture of the work the department has undertaken.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. How many special ministers of state were there during that period?

Senator Ryan: I think your memory is as good as mine. I was sworn in following the election. Prior to that, from December, I think, it was Senator Cormann for both an active period and a sworn period. From September until December—I think; I could be wrong by a couple of weeks—it was Mr Brough.

Senator FARRELL: So there would have been three special ministers or two?

Senator Ryan: I think the report was presented to the government during the period of my immediate predecessor, Senator Cormann.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, but I am asking about briefings between when the original announcement was made by the former Prime Minister and when you got the report.

Senator Ryan: There have been four of us. Your memory is as good as mine, Senator Farrell, in my experience.

Senator FARRELL: You said there were four.

Senator Ryan: Prior to September 2015, it was Senator Ronaldson.

Senator FARRELL: So there was Ronaldson, Cormann and you. Who was the fourth?

Senator Ryan: Mr Brough.

Senator FARRELL: Ah, yes. How easily we forget. I had forgotten him, so my memory is not as good as yours.

Senator Ryan: I doubt that very much.

Senator FARRELL: On this topic, anyway. Are we able to receive copies of those briefings?

Senator Ryan: We do not normally do that.

Senator FARRELL: I am not inquiring whether you normally do it. I am asking, 'Are we able?'

Senator Ryan: I will take that on notice as to past practice and the application of various Senate orders.

Senator FARRELL: Can you tell us why the Prime Minister requested an interim report and recommendations from the committee on 17 October 2015?

Senator Ryan: That is a while ago. People will do what they can do, but that was quite a while ago, and we are examining the budget estimates for the current financial year.

Senator FARRELL: I am asking you the question, Minister. I appreciate it was a while ago. The fact of the matter is that the Conde report is now a topical subject of debate, and we are simply asking some questions about the historical background—

Senator Ryan: Given the time, I think it is fair to say we will take that on notice. It is not something that people preparing for estimates this year have on recall.

Senator FARRELL: No, but given how good your memory is—

Senator Ryan: Ms Huxtable has just arrived. The review was actually run by PM&C, which is a very good point. There are questions to be asked there as well. It was not run by Finance. It occupies a lot of our time, so I sort of forget that.

Ms Huxtable : I missed the start of the question, but we are happy to take it on notice. We could liaise with PM&C and refer to them. I do not think that any of us at the table knows the precise answer to that.

Senator FARRELL: Okay—and I appreciate that you have only just taken over the role.

Ms Huxtable : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: So we have no idea why the Prime Minister requested that interim report?

Senator Ryan: I don't have windows into many souls. I cannot answer as to why he requested it.

Senator FARRELL: But somebody might have mentioned that perhaps he was concerned about the progress of the committee's report and wanted to know what was happening, because it was taking so long.

Mr Fredericks : It is not something we can answer.

Senator FARRELL: Has the Department of Finance provided any advice to the Special Minister of State regarding the progress of the committee's work?

Senator Ryan: Can you be more specific? Are you asking a question about me, because I was not the minister during the committee—

Senator FARRELL: No, I am asking a question to the department. Have they at any time provided advice to any of the special ministers of state dealing with the Conde report, expressing any concern regarding the progress of the committee's work?

Senator Ryan: Again, it is very historical. I will take that on notice—but it does go back a substantial period of time. It is not something that the officials are going to have on the table—honestly, 2015 information for 2017 additional estimates. So we will take it on notice.

Senator FARRELL: I accept that you will take that on notice. If they do not have the information then obviously they cannot provide it today.

Senator McALLISTER: It is a report that was only very recently dealt with, I suppose, from a policy perspective, so we would have expected to be able to have a discussion about—

Senator Ryan: I can have a discussion about what we are doing now, and what I am doing. I was just referring to questions to previous ministers that pre-date the election. I do not think it is fair to think the officials will have numbers of briefings or meetings or advice they provided 18 months ago. I am more than happy to answer questions about the work that is being undertaken, to the extent that I can.

Senator FARRELL: On 22 February 2016, a completed review was handed to the Prime Minister and it was released on 23 March 2016. Can we ask some questions about why there was that period of delay in releasing the final report?

Ms McGregor : Again, I think these are questions for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Finance had no involvement in the report itself, or its kind of release or the timing of its release. Those matters were all dealt with by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator FARRELL: So you cannot tell us whether there were any changes between the original report that was received and the final document?

Ms McGregor : No.

Senator FARRELL: Are you able to tell us how many meetings there were between the minister and Mr Conde?

Ms McGregor : Between the Special Minister of State and Mr Conde?

Senator FARRELL: Yes.

Ms McGregor : We would have to take that on notice.

Senator Ryan: It is not information that the department would necessarily have. I will take that on notice, because you are asking about a colleague who was previously in this role.

Senator FARRELL: I appreciate that. If you are making that inquiry, can you tell us whether there were any briefings prepared by the department for those meetings?

Ms Huxtable : Yes, we can.

Senator FARRELL: Can you provide us with details of those briefings?

Senator Ryan: I will take that on notice, because, again, it is consistent with my previous answer.

Senator FARRELL: When would we expect to get a response to those questions?

Senator Ryan: Within the time lines provided. I am not in the capacity to speak to Senator Cormann tonight, and it might not be something he has instant recall on.

Senator FARRELL: He does have a very good memory, though.

Senator Ryan: He does, as we both do. I have conversations with people and meetings with people for which there are no formal briefs. So I would just like to be precise. Well, I will seek the information, I should say.

Senator FARRELL: I would now like to turn to some questions regarding the Parkinson inquiry. I appreciate that the inquiry was done by the Prime Minister's department. I suppose my first question is: why was the Parkinson inquiry done by the Prime Minister's department and not Ministerial and Parliamentary Services?

Senator Ryan: That is a question that needs to go to Senator Brandis, representing the Prime Minister.

Senator FARRELL: So no discussions took place with Finance as to—

Senator Ryan: With all due respect, Senator Farrell, that is a different question. But why that decision was taken to have that inquiry is a matter for the Prime Minister.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, but, Minister, I am assuming that normally an inquiry like this would have been done by the department. Was there no discussion with the department as to why the Prime Minister's department did the inquiry rather than this department?

Ms Huxtable : That was, really, a decision of the Prime Minister. As far as I am aware, there was no discussion with us in regard to that. That was his decision, and he asked Dr Parkinson to undertake that inquiry.

Senator Ryan: Senator Farrell, it was also—because I understand there were some questions asked yesterday that I caught the tail end of—if my memory serves me, as I was departing for leave that day, it was related to the Statement of ministerial standards, which is a document of the Prime Minister.

Senator FARRELL: So because the inquiry was into ministerial standards, Finance, or this department, did not do the investigation?

Senator Ryan: No. I was of making the observation that my memory—whether that is because, again, that goes to why; and that needs to go to Senator Brandis.

Senator FARRELL: During the course of that investigation, was any advice sought by the Prime Minister's department regarding the member for Farrer in assisting—

Senator Ryan: Yes, there was.

Senator FARRELL: When was that, Mr Fredericks.

Mr Fredericks : We received a request for advice on or around 9 January.

Senator FARRELL: What was the nature of that?

Mr Fredericks : It was a request for Ministerial and Parliamentary Services to provide PM&C with information about the then minister's travel to and from the Gold Coast and within the Gold Coast, paid for by Finance.

Senator FARRELL: Over what period of time?

Mr Fredericks : I do not have that information. I can take that on notice.

Senator FARRELL: Was that the only information requested by the—

Mr Fredericks : No, it was not.

Senator FARRELL: What other information was requested?

Mr Fredericks : There was a second request for information about all charter travel during the then minister's time as a minister to all destinations.

Senator FARRELL: Was that also on 9 January?

Mr Fredericks : That was on or around 11 January.

Senator FARRELL: It is, obviously, a bad time for requests to be made—in the Christmas period. Was there any other information?

Mr Fredericks : I understand that, from time to time, inquiries were made of our people who were experts in the work expenses framework for advice. But I do not have any details of that.

Senator FARRELL: Was that during those three days or after that period?

Mr Fredericks : I would presume it was during those days, but I would like to take that on notice too, please.

Senator FARRELL: Were there any costs incurred in the conduct of the investigation?

Mr Fredericks : There would be no costs. It is the ordinary course of business for the Department of Finance. I could not answer for PM&C.

Senator FARRELL: Are you able to provide us with copies of the information you have provided to the Prime Minister's department?

Mr Fredericks : I think we will need to take that question on notice.

Senator FARRELL: Are you taking on notice the question as to whether you will provide the information?

Senator Ryan: Senator Farrell, can I interpose myself here—and I am again happy to be corrected. I do recall at the time that Mr Parkinson's report was advice to a committee of cabinet. If the advice was provided for that purpose, it would not be appropriate to release it.

Senator FARRELL: I am aware of the rules; I am simply asking the question.

Senator Ryan: I am just saying that that is the proviso and the prism of privilege that—

Senator FARRELL: This is the second or third time you have reminded us of the rules. We are familiar with the rules.

Senator Ryan: I think, to be fair to Mr Fredericks, if—

Senator FARRELL: I have been very fair to Mr Fredericks.

Senator Ryan: I am just trying to be fair that there was no observation that this may involve that rule. I was only highlighting that, if my memory serves correctly, that rule would be engaged here but not with some of the other questions you have asked.

Senator FARRELL: I understand the rules, Minister, and obviously I would not want Mr Fredericks to break any of the rules in providing the information. I am simply asking the question so that I can elicit an answer. If the answer is that you cannot provide it, so be it, but that was not the answer that Mr Fredericks gave. He said he was going to take the question on notice. What I was inquiring was what question he was taking on notice, and I think he answered the question. I take it that the—

Mr Fredericks : I think the minister has answered the question for me. The question I am taking on notice is whether I am in a position to provide this committee with any documentation.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. Well, the minister went a bit further than that, rather implying that—

Mr Fredericks : But he was describing the grounds on which I might advise this committee that I am unable to provide any documentation.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, but, of course, you will examine the issue on its merits, I assume, and if the information does not fit into the category that is expected under from provision then you will provide the information.

Mr Fredericks : It is always worth remembering that it is the minister that will ultimately make that decision on questions on notice.

Senator FARRELL: All right. So you say that there were no costs involved in the investigation?

Mr Fredericks : For the Department of Finance.

Senator FARRELL: For the department, yes. In the process of providing this information to Prime Minister and Cabinet, was there a request for any other information regarding other parliamentarians?

Mr Fredericks : Not that I am aware of.

Senator FARRELL: Did the department receive a copy of the Parkinson report?

Mr Fredericks : I do not believe so. No, we did not.

Senator FARRELL: Did you request a copy?

Mr Fredericks : No, we did not.

Senator FARRELL: Why not?

Mr Fredericks : I do not know. Ultimately it is a matter for the PM.

Senator FARRELL: Were any of the recommendations that the Parkinson committee report handed down given to the department?

Mr Fredericks : I do not believe so.

Senator FARRELL: That is a definite no?

Mr Fredericks : It is a definite no.

Senator FARRELL: In the final decision of the Parkinson investigation into the member for Farrer, were any recommendations made regarding the operations—

Senator Ryan: That goes to the content of a report, which we are not going to answer.

Senator FARRELL: Well, let's say you let me ask my question in its totality and that may be the department's answer.

Senator Ryan: It is my answer.

Senator FARRELL: It is your answer, but—

Senator Ryan: And I am allowed to answer.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, you can say anything you like, Minister. I am not stopping you. But I would appreciate you just listening to my question—

Senator Ryan: Sure.

Senator FARRELL: and that may ultimately be your answer. I will start the question again, if you do not mind. Did the Parkinson investigation into the member for Farrer make any recommendations regarding the Department of Finance itself or the operation of the Ministerial and Parliamentary Services?

Senator Ryan: My answer stands, Senator Farrell.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. Well, perhaps you can answer this question—

Senator Ryan: I will do my best.

Senator FARRELL: Were you briefed by the Department of Finance on the findings of the Parkinson investigation?

Senator Ryan: No.

Senator FARRELL: Either before or after the report—

Senator Ryan: No. I have not seen that report. That may help to clarify it.

Senator FARRELL: Did you ask to see the report?

Senator Ryan: One does not generally ask for things in government processes that one is not in the position to receive.

Senator FARRELL: But this is the area you are responsible for. I thought perhaps you might have—

Senator Ryan: No, but as I said before this was an inquiry—

Senator FARRELL: inquired as to whether or not this—

Senator Ryan: This was not a report into the Department of Finance; it was a report requested by the Prime Minister through a committee of cabinet with respect to the Statement of Ministerial Standards. That is not my portfolio here.

Senator FARRELL: No, but the nature of that inquiry was certainly into areas that come across your desk, and I just thought you may have inquired as to what was in the report. But you are saying that you did not.

Senator Ryan: I do not ask for other reports that I am not entitled to copies of either. I get the paperwork and reports for various committees I am involved in.

Senator FARRELL: But you could have asked for the report, couldn't you?

Senator Ryan: I could do lots of things.

Senator FARRELL: You could have said to the Prime Minister, 'Look, this is my area of responsibility,'—

Senator Ryan: Maybe I adopt a different tone with prime ministers than you do, Senator Farrell. I do not generally barge in and say, 'I reckon I should see a copy of this!'

CHAIR: No need to compare notes here, gentlemen.

Senator Ryan: I was on leave at the time, too. I was not actually—

Senator FARRELL: You must have been taking an interest—

Senator Ryan: Notionally, at least—

Senator FARRELL: You must have been taking an interest.

Senator Ryan: I will say 'notionally'. I was not physically in my home—

Senator FARRELL: But you were taking an interest in the matter, Minister, or you must have been the only person in the country who wasn't.

Senator Ryan: Where I was on leave I did not see many people reading the newspaper. But at the same time, yes, it is fair to say that it did occupy some of my leave.

Senator FARRELL: People get information from lots of different sources these days, not just—

Senator Ryan: Yes, I did take an interest. Obviously, I was—

Senator FARRELL: Yes. But not a sufficient interest to say to the Prime Minister—

Senator Ryan: You may have a different approach. There may be a different approach in the Labor Party, but for the coalition governments I have been a staffer for, or been around or been a member of I generally have not asked for papers for confidential committees that I am not entitled to.

Senator FARRELL: Wouldn't you have expected the Prime Minister to have co-opted you onto that inquiry?

Senator Ryan: I was not here.

Senator FARRELL: There must have been somebody acting—

Senator Ryan: There was.

Senator FARRELL: In fact, I think I recall that it was Minister O'Dwyer?

Senator Ryan: I think she was for part of it. I think there were a couple.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. There was no suggestion that she—

Senator Ryan: I think that I need to restate: this was a matter with respect to the Statement of Ministerial Standards, which is a document of the Prime Minister.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, it is, but it is based on other principles, some of which are certainly in your area of responsibility.

Senator RYAN: I think the Statement of Ministerial Standards is based on broad principles.

Senator FARRELL: In summary, you did not seek to be briefed on it, nor were you offered a briefing by the Prime Minister's department?

Senator Ryan: It was not a report for a body that I was a member of.

Senator FARRELL: I would like to ask some questions regarding the new independent authority—

CHAIR: Before you do, Senator Farrell, I have a question I would like to ask first. I will be quick and then I will pass back to you. Senator Ryan, I have been following with great interest in our home state of Victoria some spending expense scandals, particularly involving the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. I note there are—as we have learnt from that situation—different travelling allowance arrangements between different state parliaments and the federal parliament. I want to ask whether any consideration has been given by the government to a different form of travelling allowance for Canberra other than what is offered now?

Senator Ryan: Thank you, Chair. This idea has popped up on more than one occasion, particularly because people who have either been members of or worked in state parliaments have had different experiences. The issue that has triggered the situation in Victoria is the country members' allowance that allowed, in this case, two suburban people to claim the country living allowance for living outside of their electorate despite theirs being suburban electorates. I was quizzed on this last night on Q&Awhere I omitted to add something at the time, which was that we have the per diem and the per night allowance for simplicity to avoid exactly the sort of complications that have occurred in Victoria—'complications' is one word; 'rort' is another. The point I will make is that—

Senator FARRELL: People in glass houses—

Senator Ryan: I do not think I am going to get particularly newsworthy on this. The point I am trying to make is the point I did not have time to make last night, which is the issue of the per diem allowance and how it is spent by members of parliament. I understand this has been reviewed a number of times and I have looked at it as well. I might say, for reasons of simplicity, the Commonwealth does not look at the ownership of properties. I rent a unit here from a real estate agent. I do not know who the owner is. I think the simplicity of the per diem allowance is far superior without going down the channel of saying who owns it and being concerned about that. There are very strict rules and soon there will be stricter rules around claiming that allowance. That is the point I was trying to make last night but I did not get the time to make it. Occasionally there are complaints about ownership of properties in Canberra and, quite frankly, I do not think that is relevant. The Commonwealth assigns a set amount of money and that money can be used by the senator or member as is appropriate.

CHAIR: To clarify, you mentioned that the rules are to become stricter. Do you want to outline how they will become stricter?

Senator Ryan: In the coming weeks, with the Conde review, we will be bringing forward legislation to implement the legislative changes necessary—that is my objective at the moment. In particular, we have been working on the definition of parliamentary business that the Conde review proposes. I have been consulting around the parliament to make sure the legislation is effective and fair. That is the key to a simpler but clearer and—in my view—stricter definition of what constitutes parliamentary business, particularly for purposes of travel.

CHAIR: I guess it particularly applies to non-Canberra travel?

Senator Ryan: Yes.

CHAIR: It will apply to all travel but it may particularly change behaviour to non-Canberra travel.

Senator Ryan: I think the big change will probably be the monthly disclosure that we announced with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which I know Senator Farrell has some questions about—sunlight is the best disinfectant. To be fair, despite the odd example, I think overwhelmingly senators and members do comply with the rules, and most of us do not relish going to airports more often than we have to.

Senator FARRELL: Minister, on 13 January, the Prime Minister announced that there would be an independent authority. I think it was the same day that Minister Ley resigned. Can you tell us what advice was prepared by the Department of Finance regarding its establishment? Can you assist us with that, Mr Fredericks?

Mr Fredericks : Without going into the detail, of course we provided our best advice on what the various options for the nature of the independent authority could be.

Senator FARRELL: How many options did you provide?

Mr Fredericks : I do not think I can go into that level of granularity. Our advice does not really work like that.

Senator Ryan: I was obviously involved in this process myself too, but it did feed into—

Senator FARRELL: I thought you were on leave, Minister.

Senator Ryan: There are telephones.

Senator FARRELL: Just to be clear on this, was it you or minister O'Dwyer who was dealing with the communications with the department?

Senator Ryan: I cannot speak for another minister, but I did provide input and advice on this. To be fair, this all feeds into cabinet determinations as well.

Senator FARRELL: I am just asking how many options. I am not asking for the details.

Senator Ryan: I am not necessarily saying it happened in this case, but if, for example, on another issue a cabinet paper had options, we are not going to tell you the options or how many there were. What I will say is that the Prime Minister was personally very committed to moving down the path of an independent authority. From my experience I would describe it as his initiative.

Senator FARRELL: Can I conclude from that that none of the options from the department was the option that—

Senator Ryan: No, you cannot conclude that. I am making an observation on the Prime Minister being particularly committed to this proposal as it turned out.

Senator FARRELL: When you say that, was it his initiative before he received—

Senator Ryan: Senator Farrell—

Senator FARRELL: You have raised the issue.

Senator Ryan: I am trying to be as honest and frank with you as possible.

Senator FARRELL: I appreciate your honesty, and now I am asking some questions as a result of your honesty.

Senator Ryan: In that press conference the Prime Minister outlined the broader principles. We progressed that with the legislation that was passed 33 or 34 days later, I think, with your cooperation, I accept.

Senator FARRELL: With the support of the opposition.

Senator Ryan: With your cooperation. It took some other countries more than a year to do what we did in 34 days.

Senator FARRELL: That is an indication of how good the opposition in Australia is, isn't it?

Senator Ryan: If only you would let us pass other bills within 34 days!

Senator FARRELL: If you introduce sensible legislation—

Senator Ryan: On a serious note, the point I was making was—

Senator FARRELL: I am being serious.

Senator Ryan: There was a moment of mirth there. Yes, it was progressed with the support of the opposition, but the observation I also made was that from my personal dealings this was something that the Prime Minister showed substantial initiative with. There were people who were familiar with what had happened overseas.

Senator FARRELL: Having made that observation, the question I have is—you have suggested that there were a number of options that you raised—

Senator Ryan: No, I have not suggested that.

Senator FARRELL: The department just said—

Senator Ryan: I do not think they suggested that at all, to be fair.

Senator FARRELL: I would like to have a look at the transcript, but I am pretty certain that Mr Fredrickson said that the department provided the Prime Minister's department with a number of options. Have I misunderstood you?

Mr Fredericks : To be fair, I think the minister has put this in the proper context. Of course we started to provide advice. Of course, in the nature of this advice we provide options, but it is ready important for me to reassert what the minister said. This process straightaway became subject to cabinet processes with an end destination of cabinet. The Minister is quite right: I am at an absolute limit in terms of what I can describe in terms of advice provided thereafter.

Senator FARRELL: Did I misunderstand you? I thought you said earlier tonight—

Mr Fredericks : I have answered you, Senator. I did say quite properly that the advice we provided included options, as would almost always be the case and would be what a well-functioning part department would do. That advice is now captured by cabinet in confidence, and as the minister points to you and me, I am at the limit of what I can say about that now.

Senator FARRELL: So you cannot tell us whether one of the options was an independent authority?

Mr Fredericks : No, I cannot.

Senator FARRELL: But we know that the Prime Minister was very keen on an independent authority.

Mr Fredericks : I cannot comment on that.

Senator FARRELL: The minister has told us that.

Senator Ryan: I do not think I used that word, but let's not get into—

Senator FARRELL: How many staff will move from the Department of Finance to the new independent authority?

Ms McGregor : Some of those details are still being finalised, but it would be in the order of probably around 50 to 60.

Senator FARRELL: Where are they going to be located?

Ms McGregor : You may be aware that at the moment there will be an interim authority that begins work on 3 April. It is most likely that that interim authority at least will be located in 1 Canberra Avenue in Finance, more for transitional purposes than for anything else. Obviously the IT systems and all those sorts of things will still be being transitioned into the new authority, so it makes practical sense to have it there for the moment.

Senator FARRELL: IT will be a pretty significant part of the new authority, won't it?

Ms McGregor : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: Can you tell us what the classifications are of the people who are doing the transfer?

Ms McGregor : I do not have that detail. I can take it on notice.

Senator FARRELL: The third of April is not very far away. You must have a bit of an idea.

Ms McGregor : We are very well aware of that, but we are very efficient.

Senator FARRELL: I am sure you are. After the new authority, I imagine you will be even more efficient?

Ms McGregor : I could not make a judgement on that.

Senator FARRELL: You have said that they will basically stay where they are for the moment. In the longer term, do you see them shifting out to a separate location?

Ms McGregor : That will be a matter of the CEO, the chair and the board of the new authority to determine.

Senator McKENZIE: Adelaide!

Senator FARRELL: Senator McKenzie, there could be far worse places to move the department to. I know the government has had a an interest in shifting to regional centres—

Senator McKENZIE: You are not saying regional centres are a worse place.

Senator Ryan: The cost of the generator to keep the IT going might be a bit expensive, though!

Senator FARRELL: I would have thought the IT shift would be the cheapest part.

Senator Ryan: I was thinking of the electricity to keep the IT going. It is late, I realise.

Senator FARRELL: I think that is well worn joke. Have there been any staff who have indicated that they do not wish to move to the new authority?

Ms McGregor : I cannot think of any specific instances, but there may be people thinking about whether that is something they are keen to do or not.

Senator FARRELL: I imagine if they do move to Adelaide probably everybody will want to shift to the new authority!

Ms McGregor : Can I say that there has been no decision to move to Adelaide.

Senator FARRELL: Ms McGregor, you are obviously the person most familiar with the shift. Do you expect that Department of Finance resources other than staff will shift to the new agency?

Ms McGregor : This is a normal machinery of government change. We would manage that in the normal way. We are certainly not unfamiliar with separating parts of our functions and sometimes receiving other functions. In fact, I think that in the time that I have been in my position, we have actually done two machinery of government changes, so that is in the last five months. The philosophy is that staff follow function, and then there is a discussion around what other elements of business—the corporate side of things—is appropriate to transfer. We will be working through those details.

Senator FARRELL: Are you able to tell us what additional costs would be associated with the move?

Ms Huxtable : It would be very premature to be able to come to that view. When the new CEO is in place and the board in place, then they will make some decisions about issues like the location, as Ms McGregor has discussed, and we can bed down the arrangements. But the expectation is that this, largely, in terms of our Finance contribution to business, will be the transfer of the appropriate resources to support this function. I would say that you would expect, with the establishment of a new agency, that there will be additional costs. There will be costs associated with the chair and the board, for example. There may be property costs associated with housing the agency in a different place. We, in Finance, are also responsible for Commonwealth property, so we would be certainly looking to assist the agency to find the most appropriate location that can meet their needs—their size, proximity to Parliament House, and the like. We would be looking to make this as streamlined as possible. As I said at the start, this is really core business, frankly—the transfer of functions and the receipt of functions.

Senator FARRELL: I have some more questions, but I think Senator Dastyari might have some questions.

CHAIR: That is very kind; good to see this National-Labor Right cooperation.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Ryan, thank you for tabling these documents earlier. I think that is an important precedent that has been set for, I believe, the past decade or so, and I think that is—

Senator Ryan: It predates my time in parliament.

Senator DASTYARI: It predates both our times in parliament. I believe the term that was used to describe me by Ahmed Fahour was, 'There are johnny come latelies and occasionally there is a Mohammed come lately.' I want to ask—I know that these documents seem to predate the departure of Senator Bernardi from the Liberal Party—

Senator Ryan: Yes; normally, they are—

Senator DASTYARI: which is understandable, because this is a new event.

Senator Ryan: Yes, that is just a normal receipt. Quite right; but they do.

Senator DASTYARI: What I want to understand is, because there have been new arrangements—and I think they are appropriate arrangements, by the way, where crossbench senators are being given extra allocation of staff to deal with the pressures of parliament—what were the arrangements around Senator Bernardi's staff?

Ms McGregor : Do you mean in relation to additional staff—

Senator DASTYARI: My understanding is—correct me if I am wrong—other senators from major political parties are given four full-time staff. Is that correct?

Senator Ryan: You have the entitlement , so you have the office of four staff plus the leave budget, and then, at the will of the Prime Minister, additional personal staff are allocated to crossbench senators and members.

Senator DASTYARI: Yes; and the other senators—as I understand it; this was what was in the media, so correct me if I am wrong here—the One Nation and others are getting seven staff. Is that correct?

Senator Ryan: The crossbench senators, because they do not have party status, get an additional adviser and two assistant advisers.

Senator DASTYARI: So they get the staff allocation of seven. Which is—

Senator Ryan: It is fairer to describe it as everybody gets the four. It is fairer to describe it in this context as an additional three.

Senator DASTYARI: An additional three. And is Senator Bernardi getting the additional three?

Ms McGregor : So that would be a matter for the Prime Minister—

Senator Ryan: I will take that on notice, because I am not aware of any determination being made. But I will see what I can do.

Senator DASTYARI: Okay.

Senator McKENZIE: Is that three per senator, or three for the party?

Senator Ryan: It is per senator.

Senator McKENZIE: Three per senator.

Senator Ryan: As you will see here in the sheet, it is—

Senator McKENZIE: So One Nation—Pauline Hanson's party—has—

Senator DASTYARI: Yes.

Senator Ryan: They get an additional three, because they are—

Senator McKENZIE: 12 additional staffers to work on that party's platform?

Senator DASTYARI: When it comes to Western Australia, it gets a little bit complicated, Senator McKenzie.

Senator Ryan: To be fair, and I am happy to be corrected, but the shortest way to describe it is, if you do not have party status you are treated—effectively for the purposes of this; the allocation of staff—as if you are on your own. So they are not given a collective number; they are given a number of staff to each senator. That is different from, for example, the Australian Greens, where there is an assignment to the party leader, as there is to the Leader of the Opposition. I do not mean to be pedantic, but that does matter in terms of direction of staff, where they work and all those things.

Senator DASTYARI: I understand your answer, Minister, but could I ask Ms Huxtable or Ms McGregor: at this point in time, is it that you are not aware of what the allocation for Senator Bernardi is, or that no allocation decision has been made yet for Senator Bernardi? They are two very different questions with very different answers.

Ms Huxtable : I am not aware of either of those things, of whether a decision has been made or what the allocation may be—

Senator DASTYARI: Surely there is someone here who will know whether a decision has been made yet or not?

Senator Ryan: Again, it requires a communication from the Prime Minister. So what I am saying is: I will take that on notice, because it may be, if they are saying they are not aware, they have not received—

Ms McGregor : We have not received advice—

Senator DASTYARI: Can I just be clear: at this point in time, you are not aware whether or not there has been a decision made by the Prime Minister yet, but, if a decision was made, you would have been notified of that by now?

Senator Ryan: If it was made.

Ms McGregor : If a decision is made in relation to staffing—

Ms Huxtable : A decision may have been made which has not yet been communicated to us.

Ms McGregor : then advice is normally provided to us.

Senator DASTYARI: At this point in time, Senator Bernardi has an eligibility for four staff?

Senator Ryan: He is a member of parliament, so he has the added arrangement, but the department is not aware and I am not aware; I will take on notice whether or not he has been allocated any additional staff.

Ms McGregor : Additional persons.

Senator Ryan: For the department's purposes, he has not, because he has not until he has.

Senator DASTYARI: I guess you will take this on notice, but obviously there is a precedent that gets set by this. At this point in time, we have not had a situation yet, that I am aware of, where you have had a senator defect from a major political party or a party with major party status and then had to recalculate what would happen in that event. I understand there have been senators who have been elected from a minor party status who have been given a certain allocation, and I guess, Minister, you are well aware that this will obviously be setting the precedent for how these things will be dealt with in the future.

Senator Ryan: Might I say that I think there have been precedents set. I have made some preliminary inquiries, and I believe that there have been examples in the past. Was it Senator Shayne Murphy from Tasmania who left the Labor Party?

Senator DASTYARI: Yes, it was. And Senator Mal Colston.

Senator Ryan: And Senator Mal Colston. They are just two off the top of my head.

Senator DASTYARI: Rats!

Senator Ryan: And I do not have it on me, but I will get for you, because I have looked it up previously as best I could, whether there was similar treatment for them as there was for other crossbench senators. So I think there are already precedents in place.

Senator DASTYARI: Minister, it sounds like you have put your mind to this question already.

Senator Ryan: I just cannot recall it off the top of my head, but yes.

Senator DASTYARI: But you have already put your mind to the question of how the staffing allocation for someone who leaves a major political party is dealt with?

Senator Ryan: Yes, I have, because the way I try to deal with all staffing related issues is: the first thing I seek to find out is past practice, because so many of these things are customary practice. I have just been reminded that when the member for Fisher, Peter Slipper, resigned as Speaker, he had left the Liberal Party, and he was provided with additional staff, and Senator Murphy, the one that I just mentioned, was provided with additional staff. I think the staff allocation was lower at that point for a member of the crossbench, but I can get you this on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: Can you explain to me again—and my apologies here because I am not aware of the process: is the additional staff allocation, insofar as it is arranged, an individual decision of the Prime Minister of the day? So it is not a cabinet decision; it is an individual decision?

Ms McGregor : No, the authority lies with the Prime Minister to allocate personal staff.

Senator DASTYARI: Is that via a written directive? Explain the process to me. How is it done?

Senator Ryan: I think it is normally by letter, isn't it?

Ms McGregor : Normally, by letter or—

Senator Ryan: It is normally applied consistently. I have never come across an example where it has been applied inconsistently. There has been, for example, under the Gillard government a different standard applied to the House. There were more crossbenchers in the House than in the Senate, but there was no differentiation between crossbenchers. As far as I am aware, I have never discovered an example where there was a differentiation like that, but I remember that at the start of this role I was cc'd into a number of letters that applied the number of staff for crossbenchers.

Senator DASTYARI: Is that normally through PM&C, and does the Prime Minister write a letter? As I understand it, at the start of this parliament—again I do not think that this was in improper; I think it was actually quite appropriate—because of the nature of the crossbench and the sheer size of it and, perhaps it is fair to say, lessons learnt from the previous parliament regarding the enormity of legislation that the crossbenchers need to be across, a decision was made that three extra staff would be applied. My understanding of the last parliament—and Ms Huxtable may correct me on this—was that two additional staff were provided. Is that correct?

Ms McGregor : We can take that on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: You can take that on notice. And this year the decision was made that three would be given, and again I think that is not inappropriate.

Ms McGregor : All that information will be in the public domain, because it is all in these tables from previous estimates as well.

Senator Ryan: Jump on the website.

Senator DASTYARI: The only reason that I am asking these questions is that these tables do not seem to address the issue relating to Senator Bernardi, which is understandable because of the date.

Ms McGregor : It is because of the date.

Senator DASTYARI: They are a snapshot of a point in time. But I will move on, because I am conscious of time. Minister Ryan and Ms Huxtable, what you are telling me is that at this point in time you are not aware of any decision being made by the Prime Minister as to what the allocation to Senator Bernardi will be. That being said, Minister Ryan has outlined that his understanding of previous past practice is that it is 'one size fits all' and those who have defected from major parties have previously been treated the same as those who started the parliament as a crossbencher.

Senator Ryan: Yes, but I am not sure of the process adopted to achieve that outcome.

Senator McALLISTER: Is this something initiated by the Prime Minister? I assume not. Does the person in question—

Senator Ryan: I do not know, and that is what I was saying: I do not know how the outcome was achieved. For example, I received the correspondence regarding it at the start of parliament—the staff for crossbenchers—but I am not familiar with the process prior to that.

Ms McGregor : I think I can probably help a little bit. I think it can happen in a variety of ways. I know in some cases Independent senators or members may write to the Prime Minister to request additional staff, and in other cases a broader decision may be taken on the number of staff that will be provided.

Senator DASTYARI: Again my apologies, because I know you are perhaps are not the right people to ask. There was probably a chance to ask PM&C this earlier today and we did not, so my apologies. Are you aware of a request from Senator Bernardi for additional staff?

Ms McGregor : We would not have any visibility of that.

Senator DASTYARI: Fair enough. That would be a question for PM&C. I understand. The information that that would be in process is something that has only been relayed to us—

Senator Ryan: We receive the end result. As Finance we do not necessarily see everything in the lead-up.

Senator DASTYARI: Minister Ryan, what you are telling me—and I will leave it at this—is that it comes down to you receiving a request by letter—presumably, and you will take this on notice—from the Prime Minister regarding additional staff for Senator Bernardi.

Senator Ryan: He does not request so much as inform me of an allocation.

Senator DASTYARI: I was being polite.

Senator Ryan: Okay. That is the form of the letter and it is basically given to me so the department has a record.

Senator DASTYARI: And is that from the Prime Minister or from the secretariat at PM&C?

Senator Ryan: From the Prime Minister. These are prime ministerial powers under the MOP(S) Act

Senator KITCHING: Are any senators or members receiving a security detail? I am thinking: is Senator Hanson, for example? I know that in the past she has.

Senator Ryan: I might say, Senator Kitching, that it is something that we generally do not talk about publicly.

Senator KITCHING: I understand.

Senator FARRELL: I have some questions regarding the appointment of Mr Philip Ruddock to the position of Special Envoy for Human Rights. He, as I understand it, due to his length of service in the parliament, was a member of the 1948 parliamentary pension scheme. Under sections 111 to 113 of the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme there is a set of guidelines regarding former members benefiting from the Crown. The section outlines the requirement for former members' pensions to be reduced commensurate with their current remuneration. You are nodding, Minister, so I assume you are familiar with that provision.

Senator Ryan: One of the ironies of this role is that I was made, I think, one of the trustees of that scheme.

Senator FARRELL: Well, there we go. Does this apply?

Senator Ryan: I will let the experts answer.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, and obviously we have got some experts here.

Ms Powell : Sorry; what was the question?

Ms Huxtable : I think they missed the question as they were walking in.

Ms Powell : Sorry, Senator. I was in the other room.

Senator Ryan: We do not often get questions on this.

Senator FARRELL: No. Well, there are not that many people, presumably, who are still under the 1948 pension scheme. Ms Powell, I was asking some questions regarding Philip Ruddock's appointment as Special Envoy for Human Rights. He has got an entitlement under an old pension scheme. There are some provisions for reducing the payment of those pensions if you are receiving other government remuneration. My question is: does that apply, or has that applied, to Mr Ruddock in his new role?

Ms Powell : Yes, Mr Ruddock does occupy what is called 'an office of profit', and one of the consequences of that is that his parliamentary pension is reduced for the time that he is in that position receiving payment.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. And can you tell us by how much that has been reduced?

Ms Powell : I can tell you what the rules are. Parliamentary pensions are reduced when any former parliamentarian under that pension scheme receives any remuneration above $1,208.22 per fortnight, and it is reduced by 50c in every dollar for amounts over $1,208, up to a maximum of a reduction of 50 per cent of their pension.

Senator FARRELL: Right. Do you know how much that results in?

Ms Powell : I do not have details of Mr Ruddock's pension.

Senator FARRELL: So the pension then gets reduced for the period he occupies this position—

Ms Powell : That is correct.

Senator FARRELL: and he receives his remuneration in accordance with whatever is the relevant—

Ms Powell : Whatever his employment arrangements are.

Senator FARRELL: Yes. Did the department provide any advice to Mr Ruddock in advance of his accepting this position or after he had accepted it?

Ms Powell : The department has been in contact with Mr Ruddock a number of times. I do not know the exact details but I know that he has called on a number of occasions.

Senator FARRELL: He has called the department?

Ms Powell : As do many parliamentarians to discuss payment of their pensions. In particular because he was leaving parliament, he would have to talk to officers of the department to set up the payment arrangements, so there was nothing unusual about that.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, but did he receive any advice in respect of this particular arrangement that I am referring to now?

Ms Powell : I am sorry; I do not know.

Senator FARRELL: You do not know. Are you able to find out for us?

Ms Powell : Yes, I will take that on notice.

Senator Ryan: When you have finished that line of questioning, can I provide an update to an answer I have just received some more advice on?

CHAIR: Yes, you may, Senator Ryan.

Senator Ryan: My office has advised me that late today—I have not got to this part of my in-tray yet—I received a letter from the Prime Minister providing Senator Bernardi with the same staff as other Senate crossbenchers.

Senator DASTYARI: So that is two or three staff?

Senator Ryan: One adviser, two assistant advisers.

Senator DASTYARI: Okay. Well, that answers that question.

Senator Ryan: I have a whole list of examples that I can read out.

Senator DASTYARI: No. We understand. Minister Ryan, if you could take this on notice—if you don't mind, Chair—

CHAIR: Please.

Senator DASTYARI: as this follows on from the statement. With the information you have provided us—and I accept this—it appears the precedent has been and continues to be that all crossbenchers are treated the same, regardless of how they came to be a crossbencher. Can you take that on notice to confirm that, but that seems to be the case.

Senator Ryan: What I am happy to try and do is provide examples of where it has happened. I honestly cannot confirm a negative. I cannot prove that it has never happened but I can provide you with a whole bunch of examples where it has happened this way. They do reflect both major parties and minor parties—Meg Lees, Shayne Murphy, Peter Slipper. I think there might be one example where it did not happen, but I will get you a comprehensive list. When I checked it, I do recall there being quite a lot.

Senator DASTYARI: Minister, we are very happy for when it occurs that a conservative quits a major political party and not when a Labor senator does.

Senator Ryan: Just senators?

Senator DASTYARI: Or MPs.

Senator Ryan: My apologies for providing incorrect advice.

Senator FARRELL: I was just wondering whether there might be more.

Senator DASTYARI: There may be on their side of politics. You get three more staff, Minister.

Senator McALLISTER: These are perverse incentives.

Senator Ryan: A moral hazard in the Senate.

Senator FARRELL: Or lower house.

Senator DASTYARI: Or just a hazard.

Senator FARRELL: Does that rule also apply to members of the lower house?

Senator Ryan: The numbers of course change by parliament and by chamber, but the examples I was provided with were consistent: you were treated as were other people in your chamber in that parliament.

Senator FARRELL: I want to ask some questions regarding the employment of former Minister Wyatt Roy with the innovation company called Afiniti. Is the minister aware of that appointment?

Senator Ryan: I saw something on Twitter.

CHAIR: That sounds reliable.

Senator Ryan: I wonder if Wyatt shaved.

Senator FARRELL: I beg your pardon?

Senator Ryan: I wonder if he shaved. He had a beard for a while.

Senator FARRELL: I have a photograph of him and he seems to be well shaven at the moment. Can the minister indicate whether or not the appointment of Wyatt Roy to that company is in breach of the ministerial code of conduct, which requires ministers not to deal with companies for at least a period of 18 months?

Senator Ryan: I can't, Senator Farrell, because that is appropriately a matter for PM&C. The statement of ministerial standards is their document.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. Have you been asked to give any advice on that?

Senator Ryan: On the former member for Longman, no.

Senator FARRELL: I have some questions regarding offices in Tasmania. I would like to know the estimated cost of Senator McKim's proposed move in the Hobart CBD.

Ms McGregor : I might take that on notice, Senator, as I do not have that detail.

Senator FARRELL: You do not have the detail. All right. I have some other questions in relation to it, so we will see if you can answer some of those.

Ms McGregor : I will be happy to try.

Senator FARRELL: Has the department been given any reason as to why Senator McKim wants to move offices?

Ms McGregor : We might have to take that on notice, too, Senator.

Senator FARRELL: Do you know who owns the building that Senator McKim wishes to move into?

Ms McGregor : I will have to take that on notice, too.

Senator FARRELL: Can you tell us the distance between Senator McKim's current office and his new office?

Senator Ryan: I suppose they might, but you could probably jump on Google Maps and do it too.

Senator FARRELL: I could. I am asking the department.

Senator Ryan: Okay. They can take it on notice.

Senator FARRELL: They have been very cooperative with their answers tonight, Minister, and I am encouraging them to continue to be so.

Ms McGregor : We try to be cooperative.

Senator FARRELL: You have been very successful, Ms McGregor.

Ms McGregor : I feel worried now!

Senator FARRELL: Do not be worried! Do not be frightened! You think you have the answer to that question with you, do you?

Ms McGregor : I am just having a look. I have everything here under properties. No, sorry. I do not have the distances.

Senator FARRELL: Can you tell us how the cost of the new fit-out will compare with similar fit-outs in Tasmania?

Ms McGregor : I will take that on notice too.

Senator FARRELL: Okay. Can you tell us whether the design plan for the senator's new office includes an atrium for green foliage?

Ms McGregor : I will take that on notice as well.

Senator FARRELL: And whether or not it includes a bicycle storage room? You do not know the answer to that one?

Ms McGregor : I do not know.

Senator FARRELL: Take it on notice.

CHAIR: Is there a wind farm on the room? Solar panels, perhaps?

Senator Ryan: And batteries.

Senator FARRELL: You can take those on notice as well, Ms McGregor.

Senator Ryan: Water recycling? Do not forget water recycling.

Senator FARRELL: Can you tell us whether there is a shower?

Ms McGregor : I will provide you with as much detail as I can.

Senator FARRELL: If these items were to have been included in the new building, can you tell us, firstly, how much they would cost and, secondly, whether it is standard accommodation for Senate electorate offices.

Ms McGregor : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: Perhaps you know the answer to this question: for Senator Bushby, can you tell us how much will be the cost of his new office in Launceston?

Ms McGregor : We will have a look at that, yes.

Senator FARRELL: Would you be able to tell us the distance between Senator Parry's office and Senator Bushby's new office?

Ms McGregor : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: With Senator Duniam setting up in Devonport, it would seem that there is only one Liberal Senate electorate office, that of Senator Abetz, left in southern Tasmania. Would that be correct?

Senator Ryan: I am trying to raid my memory here, but there may be private offices as well.

Ms McGregor : Yes.

Senator Ryan: Many senators and members utilise the provision of a privately funded office. Do we normally disclose those? I will take that on notice, but I do recall some requests for private offices.

CHAIR: Just while we are asking about distance between offices, for my Victorian colleagues Senator Marshall and Senator Carr, what is the distance between their offices, and which federal electorates are they located in?

Ms McGregor : Okay.

Senator Ryan: They are both in Melbourne—a good torpedo punt, or maybe a couple, from North Melbourne to Carlton.

Senator FARRELL: Torpedo punt? That is not a term you hear much anymore.

Senator Ryan: I am showing my age and lack of footballing ability.

Senator FARRELL: With the private offices, if there are some private offices—

Ms McGregor : Privately funded offices, yes.

Senator FARRELL: What role does the department take in respect of that? For instance, does it give advice on security?

Ms McGregor : Probably there may be some advice on security, but that would normally be AGD. But really the whole point of a privately funded office is that it is a private arrangement, so the department does not have a lot of input into it.

Senator FARRELL: I want to ask some questions about the recent ballot for the enterprise agreement. Our electorate staff were involved in a ballot from 21 to 25 November. It was through an online system. Does the department have any record of the complaints received during the ballot process?

Ms McGregor : I might take that one on notice. I am just not sure if we would have received the complaints or if the organisation conducting the ballot had a process to receive those complaints. I do not want to get the detail wrong.

Senator FARRELL: Who conducted the ballot?

Ms McGregor : It was just an independent provider that—

Senator FARRELL: Not the AEC?

Ms McGregor : No. I do not think it was the AEC.

CHAIR: Sorry to interrupt again, Senator Farrell. I am also really interested in exploring further this distance between offices issue. On notice: the distance between Lisa Singh's office and Carol Brown's office in Tasmania would be helpful.

Senator FARRELL: You think there were some complaints but, because you did not conduct the ballot, you are unaware of them?

Ms McGregor : My recollection is that there may have been a very small number of complaints. I am just not sure whether they came straight to the department or whether they went to the company that was conducting the ballot.

Senator FARRELL: And if they went to the company, would you have expected the company to then pass on those complaints to you?

Ms McGregor : Yes. We would have heard about them.

Senator FARRELL: Can you find out whether or not they did do that?

Ms McGregor : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: If so, are you able to tell us the nature of those complaints?

Senator Ryan: Just to clarify: despite the successful ballot and the vote in favour of accepting the agreement, a number of unions, as you probably know, have challenged it. It is now before Fair Work. A lot of this material that the department will take on notice, I should also say, will soon be, if not already, on the public record by virtue of the union challenges to the pay rises for MOP staff.

Senator FARRELL: Do we know when that case is due to be heard?

Ms McGregor : Currently, I think the date is set for 23 and 24 March. That is the latest information I have.

Senator FARRELL: Can you recall if any of the complaints related to the ability to log on to vote?

Ms McGregor : I would have to check on that.

CHAIR: While you are paused there, Senator Farrell, I just note we are approaching the time for the break, so we will go in a moment. I just have a follow-up question from some of my colleagues from the last round of estimates about the help desk and the possible extended hours. Do you have any updates on that?

Ms Huxtable : We can provide you with an update on that.

Ms McGregor : Yes. We have an update, I think. In short, we conducted a trial of extended help desk hours, utilising our Western Australian office—the CPO over there. It was very successful. So we have recently made the decision to implement those arrangements on a permanent basis. So the help desk will have extended hours to assist people with their inquiries.

CHAIR: And you say that the trial was successful. By what measure was it successful? What does the department consider 'successful'?

Ms McGregor : I think we did receive a number of calls to the help desk. They were able to deal with the calls successfully. That is our main measure of success.

CHAIR: Fair enough. Is there going to be any additional cost to this or have resources just been moved to achieve this?

Ms McGregor : Essentially, we have really moved resources around to accommodate. So we are, basically, utilising the staff that were already available in Western Australia. We did some training with them. We had some people go over and assist for a couple of weeks during the trial period. So they are now skilled and able to deal with those help desk calls.

CHAIR: Thank you. My colleagues may want to follow up on that later, but I thought I would get that in while I have a chance.

Ms McGregor : Senator Smith was very interested.

CHAIR: My Western Australian colleague in particular.

Senator FARRELL: Ms McGregor, you might be able to help me with this. I understand that the staff in that ballot were provided with a unique identifier number called a Chris ID. Is that correct?

Ms McGregor : Employees were emailed a unique PIN by the ballot provider. As a verification check they were also required to provide their Chris ID—that is the staff number that you are referring to. That was for reasons of security and verification.

Senator FARRELL: So they were provided with two numbers?

Ms McGregor : They were provided with a PIN, and then they were also required to put in their personal Chris21 ID.

Senator FARRELL: Who in the department had access to the results of the ballot and in particular the unique Chris code?

Ms McGregor : Within the department that Chris21 code is a code that the people managing the Chris21 system would have access to. Anyone who rings the department in relation to employee matters will sometimes ask for that code. They might have forgotten their Chris21 code. We hold that information as part of our normal operations. I do not believe that anyone who was involved with that ballot process at all—it is my understanding that the independent company did not have that access, but I might take that on notice as well to check for you.

Senator FARRELL: Obviously it was a secret ballot.

Ms McGregor : Yes.

Senator FARRELL: You can assure all of those people who participated that nobody had access—

Senator Ryan: I am not sure that the same rules apply to fair work as to courts. This is all about to come before the Fair Work Commission. I am conscious that we do not want to inadvertently get into any grief here. Obviously there will be another opportunity in May.

Senator FARRELL: I take your point.

Senator Ryan: You probably know more about the operations of the Fair Work Commission than I.

Senator FARRELL: And the normal operations of courts, where matters of this nature get raised. I am happy not to pursue that line of questioning.

Proceedings suspended from 21:08 to 21:25