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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs


CHAIR: Senator Fifield, I believe you and Senator Bernardi are kicking off.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you, Chair. Good morning. This is, I guess, a question to Mr Pratt. After the last reshuffle, Minister Macklin was given additional responsibility as the Minister for Disability Reform. I just want to check whether the minister has received a charter letter.

Mr Pratt : We discussed this issue of charter letters at the last estimates hearing. I know that I risk irritating or antagonising you on this matter—

Senator FIFIELD: You would never do that, Mr Pratt!

Mr Pratt : I apologise if I ever do, Senator. My position on charter letters is they are correspondence between the Prime Minister and her ministers. While I am generally aware of their existence, and when they are finalised I generally see a charter letter, I do not believe it is appropriate for me as an official to actually talk about those things. They are cabinet-in-confidence. They are considered by cabinet. Really, I think it is appropriate for you to direct your questions on this to the minister or the Prime Minister.

Senator FIFIELD: The forum for senators to direct these questions is Senate estimates, which is why I am doing that here. I appreciate that the contents of a charter letter may be deemed to be cabinet-in-confidence, but the existence of charter letters is not cabinet-in-confidence; nor is their transmission, or otherwise, cabinet-in-confidence. If we extended cabinet-in-confidence to cover the existence of something or the time of something then we would not even be able to ask if a cabinet meeting happened on a particular day because that would be deemed cabinet-in-confidence.

Mr Pratt : I think it is possible to debate that, but I certainly will not.

Senator FIFIELD: That is probably wise. But I think it is entirely within the bounds of a Senate estimates hearing to ask whether a minister has received a charter letter from the Prime Minister. Estimates is about accountability, and one of the basic mechanisms for informing a minister of their priorities and responsibilities is the charter letter. So it would be strange if we could not ask and receive an answer as to whether a charter letter had been received.

Mr Pratt : Certainly, Senator. I do not disagree with your point of view. However, charter letters are not a matter which is the responsibility of my department. They are correspondence between the Prime Minister and her ministers, and therefore it is not appropriate for me to talk about them in any fashion, in my view.

Senator FIFIELD: Charter letters are, as a matter of course, conveyed from a minister to his or her department head to say, ‘This is what I have been tasked to do; please help me do that.'

Mr Pratt : That is the convention, yes, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: While you do not have responsibility for the charter letter, you do have responsibility to help give effect to the Prime Minister’s wishes as expressed to the minister and as conveyed to you via a copy of the charter letter.

Mr Pratt : Correct.

Senator FIFIELD: Given that I am not a member of the House of Representatives, I cannot ask Minister Macklin there. We have Senate estimates to pursue matters such as this.

Mr Pratt : Senator, exactly what is your question?

Senator FIFIELD: Has the minister received a charter letter and has a copy of that charter letter been conveyed to you as department secretary?

Mr Pratt : Okay. I will undertake to seek the minister’s agreement to disclose that information to you.

Senator FIFIELD: I am not sure if the minister’s agreement is required to answer a question as to whether you have actually received a copy of something.

Mr Pratt : It might be if it is something which is confidential to the minister and the Prime Minister.

Senator FIFIELD: On that basis you could decline to answer almost any question we ask here—on the basis of ‘that involved a conversation with the minister and I will seek permission as to whether I can disclose that’.

Mr Pratt : Certainly, I would decline to answer questions around any policy advice that I might give to the minister or my department might give to the minister, or any discussions we might have about policy issues. But beyond that I think we actually try to answer the vast majority of your questions.

Senator FIFIELD: I am not asking about policy; I am not asking about advice to government; I am not asking for cabinet discussions or matters to be relayed. I am just asking the most basic and simple question of fact that it is probably possible to ask at an estimates committee: whether a charter letter has been received and passed on by the minister to the department secretary. There could not be a more simple, factual question to ask.

Mr Pratt : Certainly I am aware of the existence of charter letters.

Senator FIFIELD: And I am aware that the sun—

Mr Pratt : As to when they may have been provided, I do not actually know. I am prepared to take that on notice to ask the minister if she wishes to release that information.

Senator FIFIELD: Chair, the frustration I am having with questions about charter letters—

CHAIR: You are sharing it with the chair.

Senator FIFIELD: I am sharing it with the chair to seek your guidance as to how to proceed.

CHAIR: It would be my advice that this question should go to Senator McLucas, as it is a question to do with ministerial process.

Senator FIFIELD: I will put it to Senator McLucas and I will share my frustration with her. Just by way of reference, in Prime Minister and Cabinet estimates I asked whether Minister Butler had received a charter letter. I thought this would be a straightforward letter because he is in the PM&C portfolio. So it was a letter going from the Prime Minister within the PM&C portfolio to a minister in the PM&C portfolio. I asked the question at the previous estimates, and they said, ‘We do not know. We will take it on notice.’ That is odd, given that they cover both the issuing and the receipt of the letter. Again, at this estimates, I was told, ‘We took it on notice last time.’ And what the answer on notice said was, ‘We cannot add anything to what we said at estimates.’ What was said at estimates was nothing. I had this experience last time perhaps at FaHCSIA estimates. I would really hate to go through this again and be at the next estimates and still not know. It is bordering on the absurd. So I seek your help, Minister.

Senator McLucas: And the question?

Senator FIFIELD: It is the same question: how do I find out whether Minister Macklin has received a charter letter from the Prime Minister and whether that has been passed to Mr Pratt? I have asked this straightforward question time and time again at successive estimates and there is no answer forthcoming. Can you help me?

Senator McLucas: I think Mr Pratt has indicated that he is aware of the letter.

Senator FIFIELD: No, he said he is aware of the existence of charter letters—like I am aware that buses exist. It does not actually progress things terribly much.

Senator McLucas: I will seek advice from Minister Macklin to assist you.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. So will you undertake to get the committee an answer to the question as to whether a charter letter has been sent from the Prime Minister to Minister Macklin and whether it has been provided to Mr Pratt?

Senator McLucas: I will seek the information that is available to Minister Macklin and see if it can be of assistance to you.

Senator FIFIELD: That would be truly grand. Can I ask another question. Has Minister Collins received a charter letter?

Senator McLucas: I think I will treat that in the same way.

Senator FIFIELD: Mr Pratt, are you aware if Minister Collins has received a charter letter?

Mr Pratt : I do not have anything to add to the responses that I gave on Minister Macklin’s having a charter letter.

Senator FIFIELD: Let me approach this another way. This is astounding, I have to say, Parliamentary Secretary. One of the basic mechanics of government is the conveyance of a charter letter, and whether that has actually been written, received and passed to the department cannot be answered. This is extraordinary, I have to say. This is a new level of lack of cooperation with an estimates committee.

Senator McLucas: I do not agree, Senator. Mr Pratt has indicated to you that we will assist you in the best way we can, but that will require discussion between me and those ministers.

Senator FIFIELD: Given that we are on this portfolio all day, I will not be unreasonable. Let us seek to have an answer to this question by lunchtime. It has to be within the combined resources of everyone in this room, everyone at the table. We know the minister is in the building. Can I ask if by lunchtime—

Senator McLucas: I will see what we can do.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. In relation to Minister Collins, let me approach this another way. Part of my reason for questioning in relation to Minister Collins is to define what her exact responsibilities are. A charter letter would be a good place to start, but since we cannot even confirm whether a charter letter has been sent or received I guess that makes it a little difficult. So let me approach it another way. Without confirming the existence or not of a charter letter, Mr Pratt, what are the formal responsibilities of Minister Collins?

Mr Pratt : We would be happy to help you on that. I might ask the deputy secretary who supports Minister Collins to step forward and tell you about the things we underpin her on.

Ms Carroll : Minister Collins has a set of responsibilities which include the Office for Women and the community services within the portfolio.

Senator FIFIELD: How do you define the community services within the portfolio?

Ms Carroll : That would be grants to organisations—for example, the Family Support Program, some of the community investment programs et cetera.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. What is the annual dollar value of those programs for which she has responsibility?

Ms Carroll : I do not have that off the top of my head, but I can get that for you, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: So it is grants for family support?

Ms Carroll : She has broad responsibility for community programs, so that includes things such as the Family Support Program, the Community Investment Program—a range of those kinds of programs. But we could get you a dollar figure for that, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: Can you also get me a comprehensive list of the things for which she is responsible?

Ms Carroll : Yes, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: How does the department know what tasks the government have allocated to Minister Collins, for example? How does the department know that?

Ms Carroll : Minister Collins is a junior minister to Minister Macklin. Minister Macklin has described for us the things that would go directly—

Senator FIFIELD: How did she describe them?

Ms Carroll : Through protocols—ministerial minutes and those sorts of things.

Senator FIFIELD: And how are those protocols promulgated to the department?

Mr Pratt : In briefings with the minister, discussions with the minister.

Senator FIFIELD: Sure. That is how you are advised. How are they then promulgated in the department so that the department knows?

Mr Pratt : We basically tell everyone who they are reporting to in the department and amongst the ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

Senator FIFIELD: How do you tell them?

Mr Pratt : ‘X official, you are reporting to this minister or parliamentary secretary.’

Senator FIFIELD: So you just say, ‘Hey, guys, you, you and you are reporting to this minister.’ I am just trying to get a handle on what her core responsibilities are and how the department is formally advised of what her core responsibilities are. It just sounds a bit vague to me.

Ms Carroll : Within the department we have a ministerial support unit and through that ministerial support unit, which does things like provide the template for ministerial briefs and work out where correspondence would go, we have some documentation of where different minutes and those sorts of things would go.

Senator FIFIELD: Are you able to table the documents that explain where things go?

Ms Carroll : I could take that on notice, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: This might be an easier way to approach it: I assume outcome 6 is the responsibility of Minister Collins, the Office for Women?

Ms Carroll : That is right.

Senator FIFIELD: So she would be responsible for outcome 6. Which other outcomes or programs does she have responsibility for?

Ms Carroll : Within the other outcomes it is probably a mix. Within outcome 1, for example, she does not have responsibility for family payments or paid parental leave but she does have responsibility for the Family Support Program. Within outcome 3 she has responsibility for the Community Investment Program, but she does not have responsibility for other things that sit in there, like problem gambling et cetera. She does have responsibility for the Financial Management Program, which includes emergency relief and financial counsellors and things like that. Her title is Minister for Women and also Minister for Community Services, so it is the broad community services programs. But we can give you a list of the dollar values of the particular subcomponents within outcomes.

Senator FIFIELD: If you could. Would you also do the same for Senator McLucas’s responsibilities?

Mr Pratt : Yes, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: I have a feeling you might be being underpaid, Senator McLucas, for your level of responsibility compared to your ministerial colleagues. I am in here fighting for you.

Senator BERNARDI: Senator McLucas, have you received a charter letter?

Senator McLucas: I will check that for you.

Senator BERNARDI: What do you mean you will check it? You must know whether you got one or not.

Senator McLucas: I get a lot of letters.

Senator BERNARDI: So you do not recall getting one specifically from the Prime Minister appointing you to a position?

Senator McLucas: I would like to absolutely confirm that.

Senator FIFIELD: Mr Pratt, you confirmed you are aware of charter letters. Do charter letters only go to ministers or do they also go to parliamentary secretaries?

Mr Pratt : They can go to whomever the Prime Minister seeks to send them to.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. We will have that taken on notice. Senator McLucas, you will forgive me. It does seem a little fuzzy around the edges, what Minister Collins is responsible for.

Senator McLucas: Can I confirm that there is absolute clarity in the department about which ministers have which responsibilities and what responsibilities I have. It is absolutely clear.

Senator FIFIELD: I am clear which responsibilities you have, Senator McLucas.

Senator McLucas: I am glad you are.

Senator FIFIELD: I am very clear on that. Anyway, it is a bit fuzzy for me because it is not clear whether charter letters have been transmitted. The way in which the government formally defines a minister’s responsibility is not clear and it is not clear how that is communicated through the department.

Senator McLucas: Can I absolutely confirm to you that we are totally clear about our roles and responsibilities, and so is the department.

Senator FIFIELD: We shall see, in relation to Minister Collins. On budget night, who in the department or what area—I do not want to pin this on an individual—is responsible for uploading the portfolio budget statements to the department website?

Ms Hand : We have a Communications Branch in FaHCSIA, and an officer in that branch is responsible for uploading.

Senator FIFIELD: What time was the target for having the portfolio budget statements online?

Ms Hand : That would depend on various factors on the day—issues associated with lockdowns and whatever. We make sure that we are ready to launch as soon as we possibly can when the documents and the budget are known publicly.

Senator FIFIELD: It is known publicly at 7.30 pm, I think. From what I have been told by people who were actively looking for the portfolio budget statements for FaHCSIA, they did not appear online until about 8.30 pm. Would that be right?

Ms Hand : I am not aware of it being late, but I will ask my head of communications.

Ms Burns : Our budget documentation did go up slightly later than we had hoped. We do normally try to get it up as soon as it is allowable to make it public, but we had some trouble with our operating system so it was a little late this year, I am afraid.

Senator FIFIELD: So it was around 8.30 pm?

Ms Burns : I think it was actually a little later. I think it started loading at about 8.50.

Senator FIFIELD: So there were technical issues?

Ms Burns : Indeed.

Senator FIFIELD: I will move to FOIs. How many FOI applications have been received by the department for the year to date?

Ms Hand : We have received, year to date, 58. I am just trying to find the right page here. I know that, in addition to those 58, there were 17 carried over from 2010-11, which makes a total of 75 FOI matters that we have been dealing with this year. Of those, 71 have been completed and four are still being processed.

Senator FIFIELD: How many of the 58 or the 75 were responded to within the required time frame?

Ms Hand : Sixty-nine, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: So 69 of the 75?

Mr Pratt : Of the 71.

Senator FIFIELD: Sorry: 69 of the 71 have been dealt with. Are the ones which have not been dealt with within the required time frame all carried over from the previous financial year?

Ms Hand : No.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. So all of the 17 carried over from the previous financial year were dealt with within the required time frame?

Ms Hand : I believe so, Senator.

Mr Field : Yes, Senator. I understand they were.

Senator FIFIELD: Of the 69 applications where decisions have been taken, how many of those resulted in a decision to not disclose some information?

Ms Hand : With respect to the 69, I do not have those statistics. I can say, with respect to the total 71 that I referred to earlier that have been completed, 32 were decisions, 32 were withdrawn and seven were transferred to another agency.

Senator FIFIELD: Could you take on notice those which you failed to disclose that were sought?

Ms Hand : Sure.

Senator FIFIELD: I will turn to the issue of staff misconduct. In the current financial year, how many cases have there been of staff misconduct?

Ms MacLean : As at 30 April 2012 the department has had three formal code of conduct investigations.

Senator FIFIELD: Without wanting to go into too much detail, can you indicate their nature or type?

Ms MacLean : Yes. The allegations involved a breach of confidentiality, bullying and harassment, and a failure to follow a lawful direction.

Senator FIFIELD: Breach of privacy. Is that sort of accessing—

Ms MacLean : Breach of confidentiality.

Senator FIFIELD: Is breach of confidentiality accessing databases?

Ms MacLean : Potentially. I do not have all of the facts of the case in front of me.

Senator FIFIELD: Failure to follow a lawful direction—that is something where a supervisor was within their rights to ask a staff member to do something and they declined to do so?

Ms MacLean : Potentially, yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. What about the previous financial year, 2010-11?

Ms MacLean : I do not have that with me today, Senator. I can take that on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: If you could. Of the three cases this financial year, have any of those individuals since separated from the organisation?

Ms MacLean : No, those cases are ongoing.

Senator FIFIELD: Is the Clean Energy Future website something that is run by the department?

Ms Burns : No, Senator.

Senator FIFIELD: But it is something that the department would have input into? I am thinking in particular about the carbon tax compensation estimator.

Ms Hand : The Department of Human Services runs that website. They have responsibility for the content. We would only have input inasmuch as they would take the materials around payments, eligibility and criteria and ensure that they were accurately put on the website.

Senator FIFIELD: It has been put to me—and you may wish to refer me to Human Services—that the estimator on the website for carbon tax compensation does not provide for an estimate of compensation for families with three or more children.

Ms Hand : I am not aware of that. One of my colleagues may be.

Ms Bell : The estimator is held on the Clean Energy Future site, which is maintained by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. They have built the information around that estimator, and they would be privy to the caveats that they would have to put on that.

Senator FIFIELD: So input to that website, if I am to ask about that from the compensation point of view, is best put to Human Services? I assume that the department of climate change seek advice from the expert department on that. You are telling me that it is Human Services I should go to?

Mr Pratt : It does depend a bit on the nature of your questions. It may be worth just checking them with us in the first instance.

Senator FIFIELD: I am asking whether FaHCSIA has an awareness that there is not an estimate of compensation for families with three or more children. Is that something that has been raised with the department?

Ms Foster : I am aware of the estimator. I am not aware of whether the numbers for three children are on that. The website is the responsibility of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. My understanding is that the information for it has been provided by the Department of Human Services.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay, I will ask Human Services, although I know I am running the risk of their saying that I will have to talk to the department of climate change about it because they run the website—but I will take it at face value and go to Human Services on that. The clean energy assistance package—I am sure that is not the right phraseology. What is the correct phraseology?

Mr Pratt : Household assistance package.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. That is the branding on the ads, isn’t it, the household assistance package? Is that a FaHCSIA campaign?

Mr Pratt : Correct.

Senator FIFIELD: How much is being spent on the campaign?

Ms Burns : Was that 'has been spent'?

Senator FIFIELD: Has been and is intended to be.

Ms Burns : To date, expenditure as of last week was $1.413 million.

Senator FIFIELD: That expenditure covers what time frame?

Ms Burns : That covers up to 24 May and would have commenced in April.

Ms Bell : As of 31 March no payments had been made. Work had only just commenced on the campaign.

Senator FIFIELD: And what is the total budget for the household assistance package campaign?

Ms Bell : The total budget for phase 1 is $14 million. And the budget for the next financial year is $21 million. But there is no decision to go ahead with that component of the campaign as yet, pending tracking research.

Senator FIFIELD: Are you able to break down the $1.43 million figure and the $14 million figure into the components—research, creative, online, media buy?

Ms Bell : The forecast spend—because obviously the total has not been spent yet—for concept testing and research is $470,000. Benchmarking, tracking and final evaluation is $192,000. Creative development, including CALD and Indigenous components, is $2.1 million. The advertising spend for phase 1 is $11.1 million.

Senator FIFIELD: Of the $1.43 million up to 24 May, how much is advertising spend or media buy, or however it is put?

Ms Burns : To date, none of the advertising spend has been paid.

Senator FIFIELD: You have not received the invoices yet?

Ms Burns : That is right.

Senator FIFIELD: So that $1.43 million spent so far is concept testing, benchmarking, creative—

Ms Burns : Yes. It is creative and market research, which includes testing.

Senator FIFIELD: When was the decision made that FaHCSIA would undertake this campaign?

Ms Hand : The decision was made on 22 March.

Senator FIFIELD: Was that a cabinet decision or was that when the department was advised by government or—

Ms Hand : It was a government decision.

Senator FIFIELD: Government as in cabinet or the department of finance, which has ultimate responsibility for campaign advertising?

Mr Pratt : It was a government decision but it was subject to cabinet deliberation.

Senator FIFIELD: Did any discussions take place—and, if so, when—between the department of climate change and FaHCSIA about the possibility of FaHCSIA taking it over?

Ms Hand : We had no discussions with Climate Change before the government decision.

Senator FIFIELD: Was there any instruction from government—and I might know the answer to this question from another estimates—that the c-word, carbon, not be used in the campaign advertising?

Ms Hand : It was a government decision that the household assistance package campaign focus on payments primarily, because there had been extensive public relations activity previously that had linked the household assistance package to Clean Energy Future and carbon pricing. The government’s whole objective with this campaign was for it to be information based and to get information out there around the different types of payments, eligibility and timing criteria. Obviously a lot of contextual information is provided on supporting media to television, like websites and below-the-line PR activity, that makes those references to carbon pricing and Clean Energy Future.

Senator FIFIELD: You said there was a decision of government to focus on the payments and eligibility. How exactly was that instruction worded? Focusing is one thing; not mentioning something else is another thing. Was it just put in terms of the focus on X or was there a specific instruction that there be no mention of carbon?

Ms Hand : As I said, it was a government decision to focus this campaign—bearing in mind that FaHCSIA is not the policy agency; we are the implementation agency and it would be inappropriate for us to focus on carbon pricing—on the household assistance program.

Senator FIFIELD: How was the instruction conveyed?

Mr Pratt : Senator, I do not think it is correct to say that the campaign as a whole does not cover carbon pricing, because it does. The advertisements have a clear call to action, which is that they refer people to a website or, in radio ads, to call centres and so forth. Once you go from the rather brief advertisement through to the more detailed information, it is very clear that the context is the Clean Energy Future package, carbon pricing and so forth. So it is not correct to say that it does not cover carbon pricing.

Senator FIFIELD: Let us just focus on the TV ads for the moment. Was there any instruction that the TV ads not mention the word 'carbon'?

Mr Pratt : I will have to check the advice that came from the government decision-making process but certainly it is not my recollection that there was anything in that decision-making that said something like that.

Senator FIFIELD: Could you take that on notice—whether there was any written or verbal communication from the government to the department that the word ‘carbon’ not be used in television advertising for the household assistance package.

Mr Pratt : We will take that on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: I think Finance were happy to say that ‘carbon’ was not to be used in the advertisements. But I will let you take that on notice. Concept testing, I assume, happens before the ads are actually shot and written and all the rest of it. Concept testing would have involved focus groups?

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Was there any prompting of the focus groups in relation to the phrases ‘carbon’, ‘carbon tax’ and ‘carbon pricing’ to evoke a response?

Ms Bell : The focus groups were built around determining people’s understanding of their eligibility for the payments. So the focus was very much on what words resonated with people around the payments and whether they understood that they potentially had access to them. That was recipients and nonrecipients, because obviously we did not want nonrecipients inundating the DHS call centre. The focus was very much on eligibility for the household assistance package payments and the various components of that package, and their understanding.

Senator FIFIELD: Were the words or phrases ‘carbon’, ‘carbon tax’ and ‘carbon pricing’ tested at all for their reaction in those groups?

Ms Bell : No. We were testing the draft concepts that we had from the advertising agency. Because they were purely based on an information campaign around payments, we were not testing specific wording around carbon pricing policy.

Senator FIFIELD: The focus groups—are they recorded as a matter of course?

Ms Bell : It depends on the facility. Most are recorded on audio and some are recorded on video as well.

Senator FIFIELD: Are you able to provide the committee with a copy of the focus group reports?

Ms Bell : The audio and video?

Senator FIFIELD: I assume a report is done of the—

Ms Bell : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: Can you also find out whether there were recordings done and whether those are available? Take that on notice, please. When was the last focus group conducted?

Ms Bell : I would have to take that on notice as well.

Senator FIFIELD: Are there still focus groups that are doing work at the moment or being convened as part of the campaign?

Ms Bell : Phase 1 focus groups have ended.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. Could you take on notice when the last focus group met. Just to fill in gaps in my knowledge, can you quickly take me through each phase of approval for the campaign?

Ms Hand : We received advice of the government decision on 22 March. There were various meetings with the Independent Communications Committee as we proceeded through concept testing and the like.

Senator FIFIELD: That is within Finance?

Ms Hand : That is right. The Independent Communications Committee reviewed the final mainstream materials and on 7 May they wrote to the secretary of FaHCSIA, Mr Pratt, indicating that they believed that what we were proposing with the campaign complied with principles 1 to 4 of the guidelines. On 7 May, as is normal practice, the secretary certified the campaign—this is for the non-CALD component; I will come to CALD and Indigenous in a moment. A minute was put up to Minister Macklin and she approved the campaign to go forward on 8 May. The culturally and linguistically diverse part of the campaign and the Indigenous part of the campaign were certified by the secretary on 15 May. A minute went up to the minister and she approved those two components of the campaign on 17 May.

Senator FIFIELD: I have lost track of this. Was there a time when the Auditor-General had to sign off on campaign advertising—or there was but that is no longer the case?

Mr Pratt : That was the previous process.

Senator FIFIELD: The Auditor-General does not have a role at present?

Mr Pratt : No.

Senator FIFIELD: Were there any discussions between the department and the Prime Minister’s office about the campaign and its formulation or were they purely between your staff?

Mr Pratt : We do not brief the Prime Minister’s office; we brief our minister’s office.

Senator FIFIELD: I am asking whether there might have been contact initiated from the office to discuss the advertising.

Mr Pratt : No, we would not deal directly with the Prime Minister’s office. That is not to say that it is not possible for a PMO representative to be at a meeting where we are advising our minister’s office, but we do not have direct relations with the Prime Minister’s office.

Senator FIFIELD: Was a representative of the PMO at any meeting where you were advising your minister in relation to the campaign?

Mr Pratt : Not when I was, but they may have been during other meetings that that the department would have had.

Senator FIFIELD: I will ask the officials.

Ms Hand : Not for me, but they may have been in some of the working group meetings.

Ms Bell : No, the working group meetings were departmental. We have a working group for the campaign which has representatives from six or seven agencies. They are departmental representatives, not Prime Minister’s office representatives.

Senator FIFIELD: Were there any representatives of the Prime Minister’s office at any meetings that the department was involved with in relation to the campaign?

Ms Bell : Not that I am aware of.

Senator FIFIELD: With the $1.43 million up to 24 May—is there a meaningful daily figure that you could provide as to how much is spent on the campaign and its elements per day?

Ms Burns : No, Senator. As Ms Bell pointed out, until the end of March no expenditure had actually been made and so, as is often the case with big contracts, the payments are happening a bit later. So there is no useful daily breakdown.

Senator FIFIELD: I am giving the department the opportunity to come up with a meaningful daily figure but we will work on one ourselves to be of assistance.

Senator McLucas: I think the important word in your question is ‘meaningful’.

Senator FIFIELD: Don’t worry; it will be meaningful. I will move on to paid parental leave advertising. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think $6 million is allocated in the forward estimates for PPL advertising and evaluation.

Ms Bell : That is the dad and partner pay campaign.

Senator FIFIELD: What is that?

Ms Bell : It is an extension of the paid parental leave campaign.

Senator FIFIELD: Dad and partner—okay. But it is part of the broader PPL?

Ms Bell : It is an extension of that.

Senator FIFIELD: That is $6 million. Can you give me a breakdown of that figure?

Ms Bell : The 2011-12 forecast for that campaign is developmental market research, $289,000. The actual spend on that component as of 31 March was $202,000. Concept testing research was forecast to be $212,000—no spend to date. Benchmarking, tracking and evaluation was $80,000—no spend to date. In fact, there is no spend to date on the rest of the components; they are all just forecasts. Creative development is $126,000. Advertising—we have no forecast for the advertising. It is very early days for this campaign.

Senator FIFIELD: Of the $6 million, how much do you think is likely to be the actual media buy—the actual advertising spend?

Ms Bell : We have not developed a media buy strategy, so we do not have that breakdown.

Senator FIFIELD: But it would be the bulk of it, I assume.

Ms Bell : Media buy is usually a large proportion. There is no television in this campaign, though. It is purely radio, digital and press.

Senator FIFIELD: You described it as ‘dad and partner pay’? Can you take me through the purpose of that? It is not a catchy phrase.

Ms Bell : It spells out simply the policy component. It was developed to support the introduction of a new payment on 1 January 2013 as a new entitlement for working fathers and partners pending the passing of the legislation. As I mentioned, the proposed communication mix is magazines, radio and digital—no television—with supporting public relations activity and information materials. The campaign will obviously include communications for ethnically diverse audiences and Indigenous audiences.

Senator FIFIELD: And this comes into effect in 2013?

Ms Bell : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Was that 1 January 2013?

Ms Bell : It was 1 January 2013.

Ms Hand : Can I just clarify that Ms Bell was talking about the 2011-12 total forecast of around $878,000, not the $6 million you were talking about.

Senator FIFIELD: It is $878,000?

Ms Hand : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: Sorry, the $6 million is over the forward estimates. You are not anticipating that any of this will be TV advertising?

Ms Bell : No.

Senator FIFIELD: I will move to the schoolkids bonus campaign. Again, correct me if I am wrong—$12 million has been allocated for that campaign over the forward estimates?

Ms Bell : Yes, that is right.

Senator FIFIELD: Are you able to provide a breakdown of how that will be spent?

Ms Bell : Just across the two years. This campaign has not commenced yet, so we have not done the forecasting of the breakdown. In the budget papers it is $8.5 million in 2012-13 and $3.5 million in 2013-14.

Senator FIFIELD: Where did the decision for this campaign originate? I guess the answer will be that it was a government decision. Obviously it was a government decision, but what was the genesis of it? Did the department have discussions about this campaign before government made a decision?

Mr Pratt : I did not quite get that.

Senator FIFIELD: In the case of the household assistance package advertising, the department had no discussions with the department of climate change, for instance, before the decision of government was taken. Were there any discussions about such a campaign in the department, between departments or between the department and government before government took the decision?

Ms Burns : On the schoolkids bonus?

Senator FIFIELD: Yes.

Ms Burns : No, not to our recollection.

Senator FIFIELD: The schoolkids bonus is something that eligible families automatically get now, isn’t it? You do not have to keep receipts or submit that through the tax office. What does a family have to do to make sure they are on the radar to get it?

Ms Burns : These questions are best addressed by the policy area, not the communications area. The policy area is best placed to answer them. I am not sure that those officers are here.

Senator FIFIELD: I am not asking for a detailed explanation, just in the broad. Mr Pratt, do households have to do anything to receive it?

Mr Pratt : They have to satisfy the eligibility criteria.

Senator FIFIELD: How do they do that?

Mr Pratt : By having school-aged children at the right age.

Senator FIFIELD: And how do they notify the department that they have those school-aged children, or—

Mr Pratt : We would know that information from their receipt of the family tax benefit and their interaction with the Department of Human Services.

Senator FIFIELD: So you know that anyway—they have to do nothing in order to access it?

Mr Pratt : That is right.

Senator FIFIELD: That leads me to ask what the rationale is for the campaign. I might not agree but I can understand the rationale for the household assistance package—explaining how people might access something. What is the need for a $12 million spend in relation to campaign awareness for something that people will be aware of when they get it and that there is nothing for them to do in order to get?

Ms Carroll : Perhaps I can just elaborate a little bit. While the eligibility is attached to family tax benefit part A, there are also other elements that families will need to do. For example, there is a different school starting age in most states and territories. The payment obviously begins when the child starts school, so there will be some trigger for parents to let the human services department know their child is about to start school. In some states the child might start school at five and in another it might be six. Again, the age at which they go on to high school is a factor, because the payment changes when they go to high school. So there is some activity the parents need to be aware of. There is a kind of a primary eligibility, so to speak, around family payment, but then there are actions that parents are required to take.

I think the other thing a communications campaign is associated with is making sure parents understand what the criteria are so that people who perhaps are not eligible do not think that they are eligible. So there is a twofold process. One is about families understanding how they let people know their child has started school or started high school, and the other is to make sure that there is an understanding of who is eligible.

Senator FIFIELD: That is a new one to me, Ms Carroll: advertising to make sure people are aware that they are not eligible for something. ‘Do not even think about it! You are not eligible!’ It is a different approach.

Ms Carroll : It is understanding what the eligibility frame is.

Senator FIFIELD: Governments could spend all day every day telling people what they are not eligible for. Anyway, that is a new one for me. I am just thinking out loud here. Would there be a cheaper way to let families know about the age commencement issue at schools, given that the ages vary? Just take me through that again. Surely people would know when their kid is about to start school. Yes, the eligibility might vary.

Ms Carroll : Yes.

Senator FIFIELD: The age at which kids might start school might vary state by state, but parents themselves would know when their kid is about to start school. So that is a self-evident thing, isn’t it?

Ms Carroll : It is about actually getting the payment to start. The idea is that the schoolkids bonus starts in January 2013. The first payment is for a group of children who are just starting school that year. For human services to be aware about payments starting, there will be some activity required from those parents. Yes, the parent knows that their child is about to start school, but they need to know to tell human services.

Senator FIFIELD: Would there be a cheaper way to let those parents know than $12 million worth of advertising?

Mr Pratt : That question does seek a value judgment. There could be less effective ways of letting people know.

Senator FIFIELD: Like a direct letter?

Mr Pratt : It might not have the same impact.

Senator FIFIELD: As an advertising campaign that they may or may not see?

Mr Pratt : These are value judgments which we are not going to debate with you because we would hate to say that you were wrong.

Mr Lye : I guess the experience—and human services could elaborate on this—is that, without some form of communication campaign and letter process, you then get a consequent increase in traffic on the various channels that the human services department operate and that then impacts on their ability to service other clients. So the experience is that you need this approach to make sure that that is not overloaded by families who might be somehow confused or unsure of their entitlement.

Senator FIFIELD: How much would it cost to send a letter to—

Ms Carroll : You would need to ask human services that, Senator. They are the service delivery agency.

Senator FIFIELD: I will ask. I think there might be less expensive ways to do it. We may agree to disagree that a campaign to advise people what they are not eligible for might not actually be a necessary function of the campaign. Anyway, there may be opportunities for more direct and less expensive communication, I think, with those people who are eligible. Could not the schools also advise?

Ms Carroll : Schools are the responsibility of the state government.

Senator FIFIELD: I appreciate that, but it was just another thought. I will explore that with Human Services.

Senator McLucas: Your little one is not of school age yet, but my experience is that sometimes those notes do get lost behind the five-day-old banana.

Senator FIFIELD: I do not mean using children as the carriers of the letters. Anyway, I will pursue that with human services. But $12 million is a lot of money for something that people get anyway.

Senator McLucas: I think Mr Lye’s comment is relevant. I think it would be a good question to ask of human services, but if people do not know what a payment that they have received in their account is, they tend to get on the phone. There is a huge upswing, as I am advised, of people who will attempt to find out what is going on, and that then puts pressure on the call centres in human services.

Senator FIFIELD: Letters may be the solution, but I will explore that with Human Services. Senator Bernardi had an area that he wanted to address, and then I will come back.

Senator BERNARDI: I shall be brief. Mr Pratt, has the department entered into any commercial agreements with a company called Open Mind Pty Ltd? Sometimes they trade under Hall and Partners Open Mind Pty Ltd.

Mr Pratt : Are they a research company?

Senator BERNARDI: Yes.

Mr Pratt : The name rings a bell. I have come across them.

Ms Bell : We have had some dealings with Open Mind Hall and Partners.

Senator BERNARDI: Are you able to tell me, please, what the engagements with them were? What were your words?

Ms Bell : We have had some contracts with Open Mind over the last few years. I can probably take that on notice and have the information back today.

Senator BERNARDI: That would be great, thank you. I am interested to know what the agreements were that were entered into, what was the total spend on these agreements and whether they were tendered in the usual manner. You specifically said ‘over the last few years’, so I would like details of all the contracts entered into. Have there been any recent ones?

Ms Bell : I would have to check that.

Senator BERNARDI: Are you aware of the types of contracts, or is it just for market research work?

Ms Bell : It would have been for market research.

Senator BERNARDI: Is the department able to provide the committee with the reports that were generated from the market research?

Mr Pratt : We will take that on notice.

Senator BERNARDI: I would also be interested in any videos or other electronic recordings—

Mr Pratt : So products supplied by Open Mind.

Senator BERNARDI: Yes: any videos or recordings of any focus groups and related sessions.

Ms Bell : We do not take videos or audio from focus group sessions, usually for privacy reasons. But we do get top line reports.

Senator BERNARDI: Whatever you are in a position to supply in that respect I would appreciate. I told you I would be brief.

Senator SIEWERT: A couple of my questions are just checking where I should be asking. Obviously the issues around portability and the changes to portability go across a number of areas. Specifically, disabilities is one area. Where should I ask those questions today?

Mr Pratt : The schedule has disabilities on from 3 pm this afternoon.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, but is there a possibility of dealing with it in general? This stretches across several areas, including the age pension. Is there an area where we should ask general issues or do we just cover them in each specific issue? Otherwise we are going to be asking some of the same questions again. They are general rather than specific.

Mr Pratt : I will just check with my colleagues to see whether we might be able to do it.

CHAIR: It would depend on the questions, Senator.

Senator SIEWERT: Some of it is about why the determination was made to bring it down from 13 weeks to six weeks, for example. These are general questions rather than specific ones.

CHAIR: I imagine the answer to that would be that it is a government decision.

Mr Pratt : We will just check if we can do that now.

Senator SIEWERT: Perhaps I can ask about the remuneration case. Where would be the best place to ask that? Would that be here? I want to know how FaHCSIA is dealing with it and the process.

Mr Pratt : Are we talking about the SaCS case?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Pratt : Yes, it should be with us.

Senator SIEWERT: I know it is no longer called the SaCS case. Is that here?

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I ask about that now, then?

Mr Pratt : I will just check to see that we have the right people.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of your share of the $2.1 billion that has been set aside, how much has FaHCSIA been allocated, or has that not been done yet?

Ms Carroll : Our proportion is about $1.2 billion.

Senator SIEWERT: Around how many contracts does that cover?

Ms Carroll : That would cover most of our contracts.

Mr Hardastle : Somewhere in the vicinity of 2½ thousand providers.

Senator SIEWERT: And how many contracts? I realise that some providers will have a number of contracts.

Mr Hardastle : We would be looking to how we pay these. We would supplement through one adjustment for all of them. That would make 2½ thousand adjustments or thereabouts.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go into the letters because I am still a little bit confused about this. I am sure you know that I was asking last week about it as well. Your intention is that each provider will get one offer that will cover all of their contracts? Whether they get a range of letters from different agencies we will get to in a minute.

Mr Hardastle : One offer per agency.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, so all the contractors FaHCSIA has will get one letter. Will that then cover each of these particular contracts that they have with you?

Ms Carroll : That is right. It would be clear to the organisation what it covered.

Senator SIEWERT: I have had two different answers to this, so I am trying to seek clarification. Is it your understanding that each provider will get one letter, just one, that will cover DEEWR, FaHCSIA and whoever else they have contracts with? Is that the basis on which you are operating?

Ms Cattermole : It is our understanding that they will get one letter for the range of contracts in relation to an agency.

Senator SIEWERT: In other words, if I am provider X, I am going to get a letter from you, a letter from DEEWR and a letter from the Department of Health and Ageing, for example?

Ms Cattermole : That is possibly so. That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Possibly so?

CHAIR: On the same day?

Ms Cattermole : That is possible. I am not sure. Certainly, to the greatest extent possible, the intention is to coordinate the information across agencies, but the intention is also that there will be one letter per agency for all of the contracts that that particular organisation would have.

Senator SIEWERT: I must admit I am really confused. I have now had three answers to this question. One was that there will be different letters from each of the agencies. Another was that I will get one letter that will incorporate my whole offer from government across all of the agencies, and now you are saying that there will be one letter from each agency?

Mr Hardastle : We are certain of that, Senator: one letter from each agency.

Senator SIEWERT: So I could get three or four. If I were a big provider I could get three, if not four, letters but each offer from each of the agencies would still be on the same basis?

Ms Cattermole : Yes. That is correct.

Ms Carroll : I will explain why it is more likely to come from each agency. In FaHCSIA we might have a funding agreement that runs for two years or three years, and the Health funding agreement might have a different end date on it. So the amount that the service provider got would be more associated with that particular funding agreement. Within the agency we would look at whether it was Anglicare or someone like that and look at what they needed. Each department would do the same. So they would get that coordinated piece of advice from FaHCSIA and a coordinated piece of advice from Health.

Senator SIEWERT: Let us pick on Anglicare as an example, since you did: 'As a government, we fund them through the Department of Health and Ageing to do this, through DEEWR to do that and through FaHCSIA to do this, so let us send them one letter with the three offers in it.' No-one is doing that?

Ms Carroll : We are each looking at it. We are trying to coordinate that as much as possible, certainly, but we are not trying to centralise that piece of information.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. That is not what we were told through the office of a not-for-profit last week. There was some going backwards and forwards. I will go back and check the Hansard, but it was my clear understanding that, after some discussion, we came down to the idea that there would be one letter. But obviously that is not your understanding.

Mr Hardastle : It is not our understanding. We are looking to streamline communications as much as possible. We are looking to have one website where we will be providing the same consistent messages, but in terms of the letters we understand that there will be one per agency.

Ms Carroll : We will check that within government as well.

Senator SIEWERT: You said there is going to be a website and that will give the providers up-to-date information. When is that likely to be up and running?

Mr Hardastle : Somewhere over the next two weeks, we expect.

Senator SIEWERT: Who is responsible for implementing that?

Mr Hardastle : That is FaHCSIA.

Senator SIEWERT: So you are going to be providing the website for across all agencies?

Mr Hardastle : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: What is going to be on that website?

Mr Hardastle : There will be information on the scope of the decision. There will be information about the government’s response to the order, once the order has actually been made.

Senator SIEWERT: And that is still expected on the 31st, is it?

Mr Hardastle : There is a conference on 31 May. Whether it is actually made then or whether the order is actually made weeks after that I cannot be certain.

Senator SIEWERT: So there is the government’s response and then what else would be on that?

Mr Hardastle : There will be a lot of detail on the scope of the government’s response. That is broadly what we will have on the website.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Will it be developed further later on?

Mr Hardastle : We will have tailored information for different states where there are differences, but, yes, it will continue to be updated as it progresses.

Senator SIEWERT: Perhaps you could clarify something for me. I have asked this before and I think I have misunderstood. What is happening with providers that are already paying above award?

Ms Cattermole : I guess the way in which we have framed the supplementation process is not to spend a lot of time on the detailed staffing arrangements and business models of each of the organisations. The idea is to make it as streamlined and simplified as possible. I think the sector has given us very strong feedback exactly on the same basis. The idea is that we have estimates based on organisations that have employees who fall within the scope, and the payments will be made on that basis. Obviously there might be some ons and offs at the margins of that, but the idea is that, using that estimate, we will pay on that basis so that we do not end up in some very complicated process that then has to have reconciliations.

Senator SIEWERT: If I understand correctly, given the number of contracts you have and given the scope, each organisation, depending on that calculation, will get a payment, depending on the number of contracts they have.

Ms Cattermole : That is right. And there would need to be some kind of clarification at the end—for example, where an organisation says, ‘Yes we had these employees that were in scope,’ and they sign off in some way to indicate that what they got was pretty right. But we are not going to end up in detailed analysis of people’s individual staffing arrangements.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Are you aware that there are some organisations that are under the misapprehension that if they pay above award they are not going to get any money?

Ms Carroll : We are certainly aware that there is not a lot of clarity all of the time in the sector. Minister Collins has been holding some roundtables to help get the sector across the key issues. There was one held in Canberra on 1 May and I think there was one held in Brisbane last Friday. The idea of those roundtables is to talk about the scope of the decision, the government commitment and the kind of methodology that might be used. And so it is trying to get that clarity for service providers.

Senator SIEWERT: When is the one in Perth?

Mr Hardastle : I would have to get back to you on that.

Ms Carroll : We will take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: We rattled through some meetings last week, but I did not get the one that was in Perth.

Mr Hardastle : I do not have it to hand.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could clarify it to me during the day that would be great. I am aware that there are some organisations in Perth that are still under that misapprehension. How are you taking into account the fact that Western Australia has not referred its IR powers? Are there therefore different arrangements for Western Australia?

Mr Hardastle : We are paying people who are subject to the equal pay case, so if they are not subject to the equal pay case the government does not have a share in which to assist organisations.

Senator SIEWERT: What assumption was made about the number of people who were covered by the federal system? In the determination of the $2.1 billion that has been allocated, what assumption did you make for the number of people who would be covered under this case in Western Australia?

Mr Hardastle : The number of employers was provided by DEEWR to the finance department.

Senator SIEWERT: What about yours?

Mr Hardastle : They did it on a sector-wide basis for WA in terms of the people under the SaCS award.

Senator SIEWERT: Is it best if I ask you?

Ms Carroll : You need to ask DEEWR, Senator.

Senator SIEWERT: So you gave information to DEEWR for that?

Mr Hardastle : Not that I am aware of.

Senator SIEWERT: So how could you be sure that DEEWR got it right for you?

Ms Carroll : Because DEEWR had the broad responsibility for the case more generally, they put the broad numbers together. Certainly we are aware of what might need to be covered within the contracts that the department holds, but it was associated with the broad numbers that DEEWR put together.

Senator SIEWERT: I am sorry, Ms Carroll, I do not quite understand you. DEEWR did not ask you, but you have done a calculation anyway?

Ms Carroll : DEEWR were responsible for the case and for the submission that went forward. More generally, you would need to ask DEEWR those specific questions about how they did the calculations around WA. I think for the department, we are applying the money that has been allocated for FaHCSIA across the contracts that the department has where we believe we pick up SaCS award employees. I think we are confident that the money we have allocated to us, pending the final decision, is broadly the kind of right quantum that would cover our contracts.

Senator SIEWERT: How do you know that if DEEWR did not ask you when they made that calculation?

Mr Hardastle : We would not have the specific information that would enable us to make a decision about what award all our different employers pay people under. So we would have a very limited contribution that we could possibly make around that. You make these costing estimates. We are confident that we will be covered.

Senator SIEWERT: I just do not understand how you can be confident that you will be covered. If DEEWR did the calculations without information from you about how many contracts you have and how many people are then employed under the contracts with the agencies, how are you confident, therefore, that you have enough money?

Mr Hardastle : The proportions they used to work out what proportion under different awards is one thing. The costings work did use the grants that we have—the proportions of our programs in WA. It was not in the absence of our information, but it was not about us telling DEEWR what we think the award coverage is.

Senator SIEWERT: So you did tell DEEWR how many contracts you have in WA?

Mr Hardastle : DEEWR provided the break-up for the department of finance. We also worked with the Department of Finance and Deregulation, based on our programs and the splits across the number of states.

Senator SIEWERT: So how much of the $1.2 billion have you allocated to WA?

Ms Carroll : The final numbers will occur once the final Fair Work decision is in. We could take that on notice and provide that, once the final decision is in.

Senator SIEWERT: But you have worked out that, of the $2.1 billion, yours is $1.2 billion?

Ms Carroll : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: So surely you must have a notional allocation to the states against that?

Ms Carroll : We would have a notional allocation. We can take that on notice. Also, obviously we would anticipate that the final decision will come in during that period as well.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Is it intended that further information, as in the allocations, will be provided on the website? Once you have allocated the $2.1 billion, will that then be publicly available on the website?

Ms Carroll : Are you talking about the amount that each department might be utilising of the $2.1 billion? The final detail is still being worked out, but we could take on notice whether that was being provided.

Senator SIEWERT: Once you have made the offer to organisations or to providers and they do not think it is adequate, what is the process then? Are you all using the same process? What if they want to appeal, for want of a better word?

Mr Hardastle : I saw the response from the Department of Finance and Deregulation last week. I would give the same answer. We have not finalised that process yet. We will have a consistent across-government position on how we handle the comeback process.

Senator SIEWERT: When do you intend to finalise that process?

Mr Hardastle : I imagine that we would definitely have that finalised before the order is finalised.

Senator SIEWERT: Has any information been conveyed to the community and to the providers about what that appeal process is going to be? And, if not, when do you intend to tell them?

Ms Carroll : That would be part of the broad communication. Once the final order comes in and we are doing more direct communication with different service providers, we would obviously tell them the whole process, including any issues they might have and how those would get resolved.

Senator SIEWERT: How much is the website costing, and which bucket of money is it coming from?

Mr Hardastle : That is being funded internally by the department.

Senator SIEWERT: It is not coming out of the $2.1 billion?

Mr Hardastle : No. The $2.1 billion is the government’s commitment to the providers.

Senator SIEWERT: Perhaps you could take on notice, if you cannot tell me straight away, how much the website is costing.

Ms Carroll : We will take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I ask very quickly about the national compact? Is this the best place to ask about that?

Ms Carroll : That is probably under outcome 3 tomorrow, if that is okay.

Mr Pratt : Did you wish to discuss those portability issues?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, please.

CHAIR: You have a minute, Senator. Perhaps we should just take the break early. Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 10 : 29 to 10 : 48

Senator SIEWERT: Can we go to portability. I have some general questions and then some specific ones. My understanding is that this covers essentially anybody who goes overseas and who receives a pension and/or allowance—is that right?

Ms Serena Wilson : Would you like me to list the payments, Senator?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, please.

Ms Serena Wilson : The payments are disability support pension, parenting payment, carer payment, carer allowance, widows B pension, wife pension, widow allowance, partner allowance, youth allowance—student, Austudy, mobility allowance, telephone allowance, pension supplement, utilities allowance, senior supplement, the clean energy supplement, the low-income supplement, pharmaceutical allowance, rent assistance, pensioner education supplement, some concession cards, family tax benefit part A and family tax benefit part B, single-income family supplement, double-orphan pension and paid parental leave. Special benefit, Newstart, youth allowance—other, and sickness allowance do not have general portability but they can currently be paid outside Australia in limited or defined circumstances, like an acute family crisis or legal proceedings overseas, for a maximum of 13 weeks. The age pension is not affected by this measure.

Senator SIEWERT: The age pension is not affected—however, isn’t there a new provision the Australian working life residency—

Ms Serena Wilson : That is a separate measure.

Senator SIEWERT: We will deal with that under the seniors section?

Ms Serena Wilson : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: My understanding is that if you are on DSP and you are determined a severely impaired disability support pensioner—

Ms Serena Wilson : That is correct. I will give you the exclusions, if that would help, for DSP recipients. Those people whose payments were grandfathered from changes introduced in 2001 and 2004 will not be affected. People with a severe disability who are terminally ill will not be affected. People with a severe disability who are required to accompany a family member who has been posted overseas by an Australian employer—and, from July this year, those who have a severe permanent disability and no future work capacity—have a new entitlement to portability and will not be affected by this measure.

Senator SIEWERT: Should I ask you about disability specific issues here or when we are in disabilities?

CHAIR: I would prefer it in disabilities.

Senator SIEWERT: I am happy to do it there. I would like to know, though, about the exemptions for anybody else. We will talk about those ones in disabilities, but does anybody else have access to exemptions?

Mr Moufarriage : Yes—students. People who are studying overseas can get an exemption for the purpose of that period of study if it contributes to Australian based course.

Senator SIEWERT: They are the only ones?

Ms Serena Wilson : Other than the ones I mentioned, I believe so.

Senator SIEWERT: Family tax benefit payments—what is the process there? If I am travelling overseas and I have kids and the only payments I get are family tax benefits, would I normally have to tell you that I am travelling overseas with my children?

Mr Moufarriage : Yes. It is a requirement with all social security payments and family assistance payments that you tell Centrelink if you are going overseas. The Department of Human Services can find out through a relationship they have with the department of immigration when people leave Australia.

Senator SIEWERT: I realise that I am now crossing over to where I may need to talk to Centrelink. You are expecting that every time a parent travels overseas with their children for more than six weeks—

Ms Serena Wilson : The current expectation, as I understood it, is that when people go overseas when they are receiving a social security payment—a payment that is made by Centrelink—it is a notifiable event.

Senator SIEWERT: I wonder how many parents do that or are aware of it. I will ask Centrelink. But I bet a lot of them are not. What is the rationale for reducing their payments when they are overseas for more than six weeks? Say I am on long service leave and I have taken my kids overseas for more than six weeks—what is the rationale?

Ms Serena Wilson : The government made the decision to reduce the period of portability because it considered that six weeks is a reasonable time for Australian residents to manage family or personal matters that arise from time to time and require them to be overseas and continue to receive taxpayer funded assistance. The changes are consistent with the focus and purpose of most working-age payments, which are to assist people with the cost of living in Australia; to facilitate, if they are people of working age, their contribution to the community to the extent that they are able; and to ensure that those who are on activity tested payments are able to work or are otherwise able to work are doing everything they can to get work in Australia.

Senator SIEWERT: I am talking about family tax benefit, which is supposed to be helping with the cost of the kids.

Mr Moufarriage : Family tax benefit aid remains portable for up to three years. It just reduces to the base rate at six weeks.

Senator SIEWERT: What would be the average difference between what they would be getting and the base rate?

Ms Serena Wilson : It depends on the circumstances. The number of children—

Senator SIEWERT: Two.

Ms Serena Wilson : We might have to do a calculation. Mr Whitecross might be able to help.

Senator SIEWERT: Surely you have done some calculations on how much you are saving.

Ms Serena Wilson : We have a total savings figure.

Senator SIEWERT: You are obviously looking at a bit of paper. Instead of me waiting for however many months before we get answers to questions on notice back, is there a table that you could table now that would tell us the savings against each of the allowances?

Ms Serena Wilson : I can refer you to Budget Paper No. 2.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that going to tell me the detail that I have just asked for in terms of—

Ms Serena Wilson : There is a table for each department but it does not have the detail for each payment.

Senator SIEWERT: What I am after is against each payment.

Ms Serena Wilson : We do not have that detail with us. We can undertake to get it for you but I am not sure that we will be able to get it in the course of the hearing. If we can, we will.

Senator SIEWERT: That would be appreciated. My understanding is that the family tax benefit then goes back to the base rate for whatever period of time you are overseas—or does it cut off further later?

Mr Moufarriage : At three years.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, you did say that. So if I am overseas for a period of anything up to three years I still get the base rate—is that correct?

Ms Serena Wilson : That is correct.

Mr Whitecross : Provided that the absence is temporary, it is up to three years.

Senator SIEWERT: If I am travelling overseas with my kids for carer reasons, do I still get cut down to the base rate at six weeks? If I have to travel overseas to look after a sick relative and I have to take my kids, do I still get cut back to the base rate after six weeks or is there an exemption?

Mr Moufarriage : No, you would get cut back after the six weeks.

Ms Serena Wilson : For the above-the-base amount.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I will ask the rest of my questions under the specific areas.

Senator FIFIELD: Something I neglected to ask for earlier when we were talking about the household assistance package—and this is something that no doubt you will want to take on notice—is whether the brief to the advertising agency could be provided to the committee.

Mr Pratt : We can take that on notice.

Senator FIFIELD: Also—and you may need the relevant officers for this—is there a market research company called TNS that has been engaged as part of the work for the campaign?

Mr Pratt : Apparently the answer is yes.

Senator FIFIELD: And what is it that TNS does? I think it is a market research firm.

Ms Burns : Yes, they are a research firm.

Senator FIFIELD: And are they the research firm that has been engaged for focus group testing, concept testing?

Ms Burns : We have had two market research firms engaged for the household assistance package campaign. I will have my colleague Ms Bell explain that to you.

Ms Bell : TNS is the research company for the concept testing. As is best practice, we split the work and engaged another company to carry out benchmarking and tracking to check how those concepts—

Senator FIFIELD: Just to fill a gap in my knowledge—how are market research firms chosen? Is there a shortlist the department of finance has which the client department chooses from? Do they pitch? How does it work?

Ms Bell : With campaigns we have to use the communications multi-use list which is held by the Communication Advice Branch at the department of finance. We also have our own market research panels because there is other work that occurs outside of campaign work. The researchers that we have used for the household assistance package sit across both of those.

Senator FIFIELD: So let us just take TNS. How were they selected? Were they on the department of finance list?

Ms Bell : They were on the department of finance list but also on our panel list and they were direct sourced due to time imperatives.

Senator FIFIELD: Direct sourced means someone says, ‘Let’s go with them’?

Ms Burns : The panel process is established through a proper procurement process to allow, then, when you need to move fairly quickly, taking somebody from a preapproved procurement panel.

Senator FIFIELD: Because of time constraints you decided to direct source someone. How is the decision taken to pick one firm rather than another?

Ms Bell : We look at their background in certain types of work, their Commonwealth work, and how much work they currently have on and whether they are able to take on the extra contract work, particularly for campaigns that are fairly quick.

Senator FIFIELD: So it was you who did that, who made the judgment that they were ready, willing and able?

Ms Bell : Yes, and my branch assesses that. We looked at a number of companies from that panel and some were unable to take it on in the time frame.

Senator FIFIELD: But it was purely on the basis of the professional judgment of you and your colleagues? No-one steers you towards a particular provider in these sorts of processes?

Ms Bell : No, we go through our procurement process. We develop a comprehensive procurement plan against each decision, which is then checked by our procurement people.

Senator FIFIELD: There is just one thing before I yield. I wonder whether Senator McLucas or Mr Pratt have had the opportunity to confirm the receipt of charter letters by the portfolio officeholders.

Mr Pratt : I have been checking and it is still under consideration.

Senator FIFIELD: Okay. I will ask a little bit later.

Senator BERNARDI: Mr Pratt, I have questions on the helping households communications campaign.

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: What exactly is the $8.89 million in the current financial year and over the next financial year going to be expended upon for this campaign?

Ms Bell : The household assistance package campaign?

Senator BERNARDI: Yes. The ‘helping households communication campaign’ is how it is in my notes. In the PBS, on page 44, it says ‘Helping households communication campaign’.

CHAIR: And that is a different campaign? I just want to confirm that that is a different campaign to the household assistance.

Ms Bell : No, it is the same campaign. We provided a response to Senator Fifield earlier today.

Senator BERNARDI: When I was out of the room, clearly.

CHAIR: I think there is some confusion with the title. It is the household assistance campaign, not helping households, which is probably where the confusion arose.

Senator BERNARDI: Chair, in the PBS it says ‘Helping households communication campaign’.

CHAIR: I think the common usage now is the alternative name. Is that right? I am just getting someone to double-check, but I think that is true.

Ms Hand : Can I check—did you say $8.5 million?

Senator BERNARDI: It is $4.591 million in 2011-12 and $4.296 million in 2012-13.

CHAIR: Do you have a page number?

Senator BERNARDI: It is on page 44 of the PBS.

CHAIR: Thank you. That might help.

Ms Hand : I will ask our CFO to come up here, but the way the household communication campaign is reflected in the PBS is across numerous outcomes, depending on what the nature of the payment is.

Senator BERNARDI: So this is a subset of the $14 million overall, is it?

Ms Burns : Yes, that is correct. The household assistance package is spread across a number of outcomes. The one that you have identified is just that outcome’s contribution to the overall $14 million.

Senator BERNARDI: So this is directly related to the carbon tax?

Ms Burns : To the household assistance package.

Senator BERNARDI: You do not want to utter those words: ‘Yes, it is related to the carbon tax.’

Mr Pratt : Senator, it is related to our responsibility, which is the communication around the household assistance package.

Senator BERNARDI: I understand that, Mr Pratt.

Mr Pratt : Which of course links to the carbon tax and the carbon price.

Senator BERNARDI: You said it. Thank you. Maybe Senator Fifield has explored this. Are you able to tell me about the forms that the communication campaign is going to take?

CHAIR: We have covered that, Senator.

Senator BERNARDI: All right. What haven’t you covered?

Mr Pratt : He was very comprehensive.

CHAIR: I would not normally pull you up, but we did spend a lot of time on this. Unless there is something distinctly different, it just seems to be—

Senator BERNARDI: That is fair enough. I understand it. But I have a series of questions and I am just trying to go through them. What about the campaign within the disability support pension area? Is there a breakdown of how it is going to be spent? Has that been dealt with?

CHAIR: We covered a number of campaigns and I do not want to speak on behalf of the officers.

Ms Burns : Just for clarification, are you referring to the same campaign within the disability—

Senator BERNARDI: The same campaign, yes—$1.1856 million has been allocated for the disability support pension communication campaign. I am just interested in whether you can provide me with a breakdown of how it is going to be spent within that realm.

Ms Burns : Again, the overall $14 million for the current financial year was broken up across the outcomes where recipients belonged. Disability pension recipients are part of the target group for the household assistance package, so some of the funding is allocated to that outcome, but the campaign is not specifically broken up into those outcome groups.

Senator BERNARDI: So it is a general campaign that is also targeted to, for example, the disability support pension. With this supplementary payment and income support for households there is no specific information that is different?

Mr Pratt : That is correct, Senator, except for the elements which are targeted at Indigenous people and people from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Senator BERNARDI: Which is from a language perspective for Indigenous people as well; is that correct?

Mr Pratt : Primarily, yes.

Senator BERNARDI: I may just jump ahead, then, to more general questions about communications and public relations, if we can. Is the department able to tell me how much is being spent in total on communications, including all of the campaigns more broadly—PR and advertising?

Ms Burns : Are you seeking campaign expenditure?

Senator BERNARDI: Including that. I am asking for the total communications, public relations and advertising campaign expenditure in 2012-13.

Ms Burns : This financial year, in 2011-12, the department has spent approximately $1.9 million on advertising. That comprises, at the moment, $383,598 on campaigns and approximately $1.5 million to $2 million on non-campaign advertising. Our non-campaign advertising, as we previously explained to the committee, is recruitment advertising, advertising the availability of grants et cetera.

Senator BERNARDI: What about next financial year? How much are you expecting to spend?

Ms Burns : To spend on campaigns?

Senator BERNARDI: Not just campaigns but communications in total: PR campaigns and advertising.

Ms Burns : I would have to take on notice the full year anticipated spend on all forms of communication.

Senator BERNARDI: I would appreciate it if you did. You may need to take this notice as well. Can you tell me how many full-time equivalents within the department have their main work focus or their work output directly relevant to communications, public relations and related activities?

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

Senator BERNARDI: Does the department monitor the websites or social media of parliamentarians other than their ministers?

Ms Burns : Not as a matter of course, no, Senator.

Mr Pratt : It does happen.

Senator BERNARDI: It does happen but not in a formal sense?

Mr Pratt : Not in a formal sense, although it might, for example, in the lead-up to an election. If there is an announcement of policies and we are preparing incoming government briefs then we would be clearly looking at that. If there are statements from members of the opposition or others about existing government policies we might look at that. But we do not have a formal program of doing that.

Senator BERNARDI: So something would need to be drawn to the attention of the department or the people within it in order for them to go through—

Mr Pratt : Or there might be something in the media which would suggest that the shadow spokesperson had a point of view on existing government policy which we would want to go and look at.

Senator BERNARDI: But you do not have people there following Twitter feeds and things of that nature?

Mr Pratt : No. I certainly hope not.

Senator BERNARDI: You hope not?

Mr Pratt : Not generally. Certainly on things which relate to government business and the department’s responsibilities, yes they would, but not just generally.

Senator BERNARDI: But any inquiry into it would be limited to things related to the department itself or something that would be drawn to your attention and relating specifically to the shadow ministers?

Mr Pratt : That typically would be the case, yes. I am not ruling out that something else might trigger someone’s interest—for example, something in the media—but it would relate to the department’s business, or it should.

Senator BERNARDI: Mr Pratt, I understand that you cannot give me an unequivocal answer that there is no specific group that is monitoring online media, but would you make some inquiries into that and let me know?

Mr Pratt : Certainly to my knowledge there is no designated website monitoring area, but we will check.

Senator BERNARDI: I mean social media monitoring or things of that nature.

Ms Bell : Obviously, as part of our campaign work, we monitor social media. It is a good way for us to look at blogs et cetera and to gauge how payment recipients understand the messages that we are putting out. So that relates directly back to our communications work. We do not have a dedicated team that does that. We do not have a dedicated social media team, but communications officers, as part of their campaign work, do monitor blogs and websites in order to make sure that we are meeting our communications objectives.

Senator BERNARDI: Would you be able to provide me with a list of the blogs and websites and things that are regularly monitored, including any Twitter feeds, that are monitored by that communications group?

Ms Bell : We can look at the campaigns that we are doing and the sorts of blogs that we are looking at and note those down.

Senator BERNARDI: If you have people who are monitoring the responses to particular campaigns it would be only natural that you would regularly go back to the sources to see whether the campaigns have been effective or whether there is public comment on them and how they have been received. I am sure there must be a regular list of media social media that is revisited. That is what I am interested in.

Ms Bell : We do not have a regular list, but I can check with my senior staff as to how they are doing the monitoring as it relates to their campaign work.

Senator BERNARDI: That would be good. I would appreciate that. I am interested not only in the websites but in whether the department regularly monitors ministers’ and shadow ministers’ contributions and other parliamentarians and perhaps their staff or advisers. If so, who are they? Then who is responsible for directing the activities within the communications group?

Ms Burns : There is nothing systemic about the way in which we might follow social media. If the media quote a member of parliament or a senator or a spokesperson on something then we will often go to the source to find out exactly what they said or the context in which they said it so that we can understand where that point of view is coming from, because, surprisingly, sometimes the media does not quote the whole thing.

Senator BERNARDI: Really?

Ms Burns : Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: I have experienced that on occasion myself. Anyway, you understand that general inquiry, and I would appreciate as in-depth an answer as you can possibly give me, please. Chair, I have one other question in relation to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. I know other people have questions.

CHAIR: We will finish off the general questions first and then go to SSAT.

Senator FIFIELD: Can I go back to the household assistance package again. For benchmark tracking $190,000-odd has been expended so far. What is the company that is doing that?

Ms Burns : It is Roy Morgan.

Senator FIFIELD: Thank you.

Senator WATERS: I have a few questions about the interaction of your department with the environment department, SEWPaC. Under the federal environmental law, the EPBC Act, when making a decision about approving a project the minister has to consider social and economic impacts. Has SEWPaC ever approached FaHCSIA for advice on the social impacts of major projects that have been referred under that legislation?

Mr Pratt : We would have to check. It is quite possible.

Senator WATERS: Could you take that on notice. Are you aware off the top of your head of any occasions where they have requested that?

Mr Pratt : Nothing is coming to mind in relation to that particular act, but of course in things like interdepartmental committees, where we are working on submissions to government and so forth, there is often consideration of the social impacts of policies and so we of course liaise extensively then with other departments.

Senator WATERS: So that is the social impacts of broader government policy, as opposed to the impacts of a particular project that has been referred for the environment minister’s consideration?

Mr Pratt : That is right. However, I am not definitively ruling out that we might not have provided advice on a specific project.

Senator WATERS: Do we have the folk in the room who could answer that or will you need to take that on notice?

Mr Pratt : I am thinking that we will need to take it on notice.

Senator WATERS: I am interested in whether that advice includes the social impacts of enterprise migration agreements as well. Could you also take that on notice as part of that question. While I am on that theme, has FaHCSIA, of its own volition or at the request of anyone else, assessed the social and economic impacts of enterprise migration agreements?

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

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Is there any possibility of having an answer to that one by the end of the week?

Mr Pratt : We will do our best.

Senator WATERS: Great. Thanks for that. Much appreciated. I want to move back to the EPBC Act. The environment minister is to invite comments from other ministers with administrative responsibilities regarding a referral. Does the environment minister or SEWPaC regularly request input from FaHCSIA on major projects that have social, economic and community impacts?

Mr Pratt : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WATERS: Could you check whether the environment minister or SEWPaC have ever requested such advice in writing. If you could take that on notice that would be good.

Mr Pratt : Certainly, Senator.

Senator WATERS: If a minister or a department in any context is required to consider the social impacts of a major project, what would FaHCSIA consider to be an appropriate process for assessing social impacts? What sort of analysis do you think would be needed?

Mr Pratt : That is a rather broad question. Certainly we would look at things like who lives in the area that might be affected, what sort of income support they might be receiving, any demographic information that we have, the extent to which we have funded programs operating in the location or dealing with the people who are potentially affected by the proposed project. It could be quite a few factors that we would look into.

Senator WATERS: Is that a process that FaHCSIA would undertake itself or is it more appropriate that independent expert analysis would assess those issues?

Mr Pratt : Either might be the case. We might buy in assistance or we might do it ourselves.

Senator WATERS: So FaHCSIA has those skills in-house to effectively do those social impact assessments?

Mr Pratt : Yes. We have very expert staff.

Senator WATERS: Can you tell me a little bit more about the expertise that you have, the number of personnel, and whether or not that is work that you regularly undertake? Pardon me if that is an obvious question to the other members of the committee.

Mr Pratt : We have a large number of people—I could not tell you offhand how many—who have strong policy, analytical and research capabilities. There are people who have been working in these areas for many years. FaHCSIA and its predecessors have a rather proud history of skills and expertise in this area.

Senator WATERS: On social impacts particularly?

Mr Pratt : An awful lot of our policy work is around social impact.

Senator WATERS: If you could perhaps take on notice your view on what are the skills a regulator might need to assess the social and community impacts of major project proposals, mostly in the context of those environment department referrals but in the broader context as well, that would be very helpful.

Mr Pratt : Certainly, Senator.

Senator WATERS: Thank you.

Senator McKENZIE: Just on that note I thought that was a very interesting line of questioning from Senator Waters. I would also like similar information around the effects of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and whether the authority has sought FaHCSIA’s advice on the development of their socioeconomic modelling around the release of the plan.

Mr Pratt : Yes, Senator.


CHAIR: If that is the end of general questions we will move to SSAT. Ms Macdonnell, are you here by yourself? You are the only officer here from SSAT?

Ms McDonnell : I am, Chair.

CHAIR: That is fine. I just wanted to check whether we were waiting for more people. I was not questioning whether you were capable of being here by yourself or not.

Senator SIEWERT: With the move to more online processing, through Centrelink et cetera, how are you going to handle that new process? Have you noticed any difference in your workload, the number of appeals or your interaction, now that new process has been introduced?

Ms Macdonnell : No, in fact there has been a fall in applications for review of decisions made by officers employed in Centrelink.

Senator SIEWERT: I was going to go there next. What is the quantum of that fall, over what time frame?

Ms Macdonnell : In the last financial year, 2010-11, the quantum was, as I recall without opening the book, an 11 per cent fall in applications for review of what I might refer to as Centrelink decisions. If my memory serves me correctly, Senator, there was a five per cent fall in applications for a review of decisions of the Child Support Registrar.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, there has been a five per cent fall in the child support?

Ms Macdonnell : Yes, and 11 per cent on Centrelink.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. What time frame is that over?

Ms Macdonnell : I will check. I was answering from memory. I am looking at the annual report of the tribunal. I am looking at page 8 and it says there was a 12 per cent decrease in relation to applications for review of decisions made in Centrelink. When that decrease was combined with the decrease in the previous year, there had been a 40 per cent drop.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

Ms Macdonnell : I am looking for a figure there for child support. I cannot quickly alight on it, but I believe it is around five per cent.

Senator SIEWERT: That is over 2010-11?

Ms Macdonnell : Yes, but could I check that and, if that were to be incorrect, give you the correct figure?

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. That would be appreciated. In terms of 2011-12, I realise we have not reached the end of this year but what are the figures to date? Are they tracking the same?

Ms Macdonnell : They are tracking a further fall, perhaps not as large a fall for applications for a review of decisions made within Centrelink, but a larger fall in terms of applications for review of decisions made by the Child Support Registrar.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, that—

Ms Macdonnell : There is a fall but not of the same magnitude.

Senator SIEWERT: Across both?

Ms Macdonnell : On Centrelink.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Ms Macdonnell : It would appear that there is likely to be a fall of greater magnitude on the child support.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. What I am also interested in is a breakdown in the appeals against the specific allowances and pensions. I am particularly interested in what has been the trend with the disability support pension.

Ms Macdonnell : I would have to take the question on notice to give you those figures. I think they are relatively static.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could take that on notice that would be good. I am particularly keen on the 2011-12 figures, and if you could break it down into quarters that would be appreciated. Thank you. I am particularly interested in that area. I am also interested in the number of appeals from the Northern Territory. Can you break it down into territories and states?

Ms Macdonnell : Yes, I will be able to do that. I would be very surprised if there has been any change. We received a very small number in the Northern Territory and I am not aware of there having been any increase.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. If you could look at it for that period, again broken down into quarters, that would be appreciated.

Senator SMITH: Just briefly, this financial year, 2011-12, how many cases have resulted in the applicant’s case being upheld?

Ms Macdonnell : Pardon me. I have to think about whether I have that readily with me. The number of applications that have been finalised after a hearing is something a little under 10,000. I may have something. No. The figures that I have here do not break it down in that way. Can I take that on notice, please?

Senator SMITH: Certainly. Thank you very much.

Ms Macdonnell : So it is the number that is affirmed?

Senator SMITH: The proportion of cases that had resulted in an applicant’s case being upheld.

Ms Macdonnell : Upheld. Okay.

Senator SIEWERT: Also, could you do that against the specific allowance or pension that they were applying for or that decision was based around? Was it DSP et cetera.

Ms Macdonnell : By payment type?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. Thank you. That is the appropriate word.

Ms Macdonnell : Could I just make the observation that the answer to what percentage are affirmed and aside moves within a narrow range each year. It ranges probably within about five per cent per year and it is a longstanding trend. While I cannot give you the exact figure, I can say that, looking at it during the year, it has not moved out of that range. So I can offer you that today. I can offer you the exact figure on notice.

Senator SMITH: Just with regard to that, does that also include Child Support Agency payments? Do they get captured—

Ms Macdonnell : They are captured separately. Are you asking me to include that?

Senator SMITH: Yes, please.

Senator McKENZIE: With the 40 per cent decrease in applications that you mentioned earlier—can you put your finger on why? That is pretty significant.

Ms Macdonnell : Over those two years? I would only be speculating.

Senator McKENZIE: But with such a significant drop over core business, surely there has been some analysis within the department of why.

Ms Macdonnell : There has not been analysis at the tribunal as to why; I cannot comment on whether there has been in the department. One can only read anecdotally that there is a link between economic conditions, workloads at Centrelink and workloads flowing through the tribunal. But I have no empirical information to offer you. There is one thing that I have been told, and that is that Centrelink has adopted a practice whereby the authorised review officer rings the customer in many cases and explains the decision. Certainly it is my understanding that the Department of Human Services would credit at least some of the drop in number of applications for review to the SSAT to that initiative. But I cannot take that any further for you either.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT: I asked you to give me the Northern Territory figures. In fact could you give me the figures for each of the states and territories over the period of financial year 2011-12 to date?

Ms Macdonnell : By outcome?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, if you could—by payment type and state.

Ms Macdonnell : By state and by outcome?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, thank you.


CHAIR: We will now move on to questions in outcome 4.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am following up on some questions that you provided on notice—Nos 146 to 149. First I will go to 147, which was in relation to staffing levels. Has there been any change since that answer was provided?

Ms Foster : The actual FTE for the branch at the moment is 43.5. So it is the same as the previous answer.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And no changes are perceived over the forward estimates?

Ms Foster : I should flag perhaps that that number of staffing in the branch is the total number of staff. Some of the staff in the branch are engaged in cross-program, cross-portfolio work, including means test policy and household assistance package work. So there have been ebbs and flows in the mix of staff in the branch but the level has remained really quite static, and for the next financial year it is planned to remain around that level as well.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: In relation to question on notice No. 148, which was about briefs, can you tell me—there have been some announcements made in relation to the aged care package. Whilst that is in the purview of the Minister for Ageing and Mental Health, has FaHCSIA assisted or been involved in any way in relation to any of those announcements?

Ms S Wilson : Yes.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Could you just elaborate on that to give me an idea of the areas where you have assisted?

Ms S Wilson : We have assisted in a range of areas. The Department of Health and Ageing had an interdepartmental committee that supported their work in aged care, of which we were a member. We attended meetings of that committee and we commented on papers that were developed. So it was commenting, providing information and looking at interactions between aged care measures and the age pension and pension settings.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And the means testing issues? There were some means testing announcements. Did you provide any advice? I am not asking what the advice was. Was that part of that as well?

Ms S Wilson : Yes.

Ms Foster : I should flag that there is a separate means test that applies to aged care and to the age pension. They are similar but not—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I appreciate that. I was just talking in terms of means testing more broadly. Obviously they are two separate entities, but as part of that work of the interdepartmental commission did you provide advice and assistance in relation to the framework and timing of the changes—the introduction on 1 July 2014?

Ms S Wilson : I do not believe we can go to the detail of the advice. We provided a range of advice about the package—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Perhaps I can rephrase my question. Did that advice include, perhaps, the timing of the introduction?

CHAIR: They cannot go into that detail, Senator.

Mr Pratt : Certainly our advice was quite comprehensive.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And one could assume that it covered a comprehensive range of matters, Mr Pratt—is that right?

Mr Pratt : That is correct.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And within that comprehensive range I can draw my own conclusions?

Mr Pratt : Correct.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you. I will go to DoHA in relation to the membership of that interdepartmental committee. In relation to question on notice No. 149, could you elaborate in particular on one of those conferences? Are there any papers that you gave or obtained as a consequence of that attendance—in particular the conference about emerging researches in ageing? Ms Foster, can you take that one notice?

Ms Foster : I can. Generally those conferences do put papers up on a website. I will check.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: If you could kindly provide me with the link, that would be very helpful. In relation to figures about persons aged 65 and over, in your annual report last year as at June 2011 you set out statistics about the numbers of pensioners on the full rate, on part rates and in total. Is there an update of those figures since June 2011?

Ms Foster : The latest numbers I have are for March 2012. The percentage of max rate pensioners is 60 per cent. The percentage of part rate pensioners is 40 per cent. Splitting that 40 per cent out, 12 per cent of pensioners are on a part rate because of the assets test and 28 per cent are on a part rate because of the income test.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Could you put numbers next to that? The figure I have is 3,103,529 according to ABS statistics. Do you have a figure as at March?

Ms Foster : The latest ABS figure that I have is at June 2011, I am sorry, and it is 3.3 million.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Your figures give a breakdown as at March but you are still going on that 3.1 million figure?

Ms Foster : No, sorry, there is a difference. Of the 3.3 million people, as at March 2012 we had 2.2 million people in receipt of the age pension. Those percentages that I gave earlier apply to the 2.2 million age pensioners.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: All right, but we are still going on that 3.1 million?

Ms Foster : No, 3.3 million.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So it is 3.3 million and that is at March?

Ms Foster : The 3.3 million figure is at June 2011.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am going on a different figure. I am going on an ABS Australian demographic statistic as at June 2011 which was in advice that was provided to me. If you could kindly give me a link or advise me where your 3.3 million came from that would be very helpful.

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

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: How many pension recipients to date have taken advantage of the pension advance payment option since the changes were implemented on 1 July 2010?

Ms Foster : In 2010-11 the number of advances—not the number of people—was 917,163. To date for this financial year the number of recipients receiving advances has been 509,388. Unfortunately that is comparing advances and recipients.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So you do not have the number of recipients for 2010-11? Could you take that on notice?

Ms Foster : I can give you the number of recipients for the 12 months to 31 March if that would help.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, thank you.

Ms Foster : That is 545,640. That is the 12 months to 31 March 2012.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: As I understand it, to obtain a pension advance payment the pension recipient is required to provide an explanation or evidence to substantiate their request for an advance payment.

Ms Foster : They are not asked to provide a reason for which they may be asking for the advance payment, so there is not an explanation that is provided to Centrelink. But Centrelink does ask them about the amount that they can afford to repay. So there may be a difference between what the person asks for and what they may receive, because it is very much based around what the person can afford to repay over 13 fortnights.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So that is where the explanation comes in: it is not the fact that they want the advance payment; it is how they are going to repay it?

Ms Foster : Yes.

Ms S Wilson : It is not how they are going to repay it; it is what they think they can afford each fortnight as a repayment.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes but does that require some sort of paper evidence or some other information to be provided to you, or is it just an assessment that you make with the recipient?

Ms Foster : Centrelink would ask the recipient to consider their usual expenses such as groceries, rent, child care and other loan repayments. But I suspect that the Department of Human Services may be able to help with further details.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Are you able to provide me—on notice if you can—with a month-by-month breakdown of the number of recipients applying to utilise the pension advance option? Is that something that you track? Is there a month-by-month—Ms Wilson, I see you are shaking your head.

Ms S Wilson : I am not sure that we have that data monthly.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Perhaps just take it on notice, if you do not mind.

Ms Foster : My understanding is that it is quarterly but I will take that on notice.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Could you give it to me quarterly then. Do you have circumstances where those applications are denied?

Ms Foster : I do not have any details on that.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Could you take that on notice, please, and in what sorts of circumstances you would deny somebody. Following on from what Ms Wilson said, would that be something you would do if you believed they were not able to repay over the time?

Ms Foster : The source of our information on that would be the Department of Human Services. I am happy to take that on notice but it may be useful—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Would you like me just to ask the department?

Ms Foster : Yes, and we can of course let them know that the question is coming.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I will just address those questions to the Department of Human Services, thank you. I have some questions on the Australian working life residency and the strengthening of those requirements. Will this rule take effect immediately or will it be phased in over a time period and, if so, what will be that time period?

Mr Moufarriage : It is due to start from 1 January 2014. It will take effect from that date. Anybody who is overseas at that date will be grandfathered under the 25-year arrangement that is currently in place.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Have you done any work in relation to the number of applicants for the age pension that these changes will affect?

Mr Moufarriage : Yes, we have. Approximately 5,400 age pensioners go overseas permanently each year. Around one-third of this number are paid under social security agreements with New Zealand and Greece, which will not be affected by the initiative. So there are approximately 3,300 people who will be affected.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Have you got some statistics in relation to how many people will reach age pension eligibility but will not be eligible for the age pension due to the introduction of these new rules? Have you done an estimate of that group of people?

Mr Moufarriage : No, because they will be eligible for the age pension here in Australia. When they go overseas they will still be entitled to the age pension but at a reduced amount because of the—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: But you cannot estimate because you do not know how many people will be going overseas?

Mr Moufarriage : We do know that, as I said, approximately 5,400 age pensioners go overseas every year.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: There is a predicted saving of $50.8 million by introducing this program. Can you outline exactly how these savings will be achieved?

Mr Moufarriage : It is essentially the difference between the current proportionalisation arrangements and the new proportionalisation arrangements for new people going overseas. At the moment if a person has an Australian working life residence of say, 17 years—that is the period between 16 and age pension age—after 26 weeks absence from Australia their age pension is calculated at 17/25 of the age pension. That is what is paid after 26 weeks absence. Under the new arrangement, that will be 17/35 of the age pension.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I have some questions in relation to the tripling of the tax-free threshold and the seniors card. Have you done any work on the eligibility criteria for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card—any proposed changes in relation to that?

Mr Moufarriage : I would have to take that question on notice.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Do you have an estimated number of applicants who may be denied access to the card due to not meeting the eligibility criteria now?

Mr Moufarriage : Again—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: You have to take that on notice?

Mr Moufarriage : Yes.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you. How many recipients of the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card will no longer need to complete required paperwork due to the tripling of the tax-free threshold so as to access the seniors health care card?

Mr Moufarriage : Again, I would have to take that on notice.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT: Can we go back to the working life residency budget initiative and who is grandfathered and who is not. My understanding is that grandfathering provisions will protect existing customers who are currently being paid under international agreements. So those who are already under the 25 rule will stay in the 25 rule—is that correct?

Ms S Wilson : There are two provisions. Those who are already overseas and are subject to the 25-year rule are grandfathered in respect of that rule. So it only applies to people going overseas from January onwards. Second, the social security agreements with Greece and with New Zealand provide an exemption or a difference in respect of people covered by those agreements.

Senator SIEWERT: So they will stay covered regardless into the future?

Mr Pratt : Subject to the operation of the agreement.

Senator SIEWERT: Subject to the operation of the agreement, but they are outside this process?

Ms S Wilson : That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I just clarify that those people who are already overseas are covered, and those people who are already on the pension and now go overseas will be on the new rule. Is that correct?

Mr Moufarriage : If they go after 1 January 2014.

Senator SIEWERT: If I am already on the pension and I am going overseas now, I will be affected by this new rule?

Mr Moufarriage : Not if you go now.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry—if I go now I will be fine. If I go in July—

Ms S Wilson : Next year?

Senator SIEWERT: If I go in July next year I become covered by this rule?

Ms S Wilson : Unless you are covered by a social security agreement with New Zealand or Greece.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. So this applies to that group but also anyone who goes on the age pension as of that date?

Ms S Wilson : Unless the other exemptions apply.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I am just ignoring those because that is separate. So there are two groups of people who will be affected by this: those who are already on the pension but have not been overseas and those who will go on the pension as of the starting date?

Ms S Wilson : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: What is the difference between me, if I am already on a pension and I choose to go overseas next year, and those who are still on the pension but happen to have gone overseas before I did? Isn’t that discrimination against those who are already on the pension?

Ms S Wilson : The grandfathering provision is recognising that people have already made a decision informed by the conditions that were prevailing at the time that they made their decision to overseas.

Senator SIEWERT: But I may be on the pension and may have been planning to go overseas in the not-too-distant future and will be affected by this.

Ms S Wilson : Grandfathering arrangements usually pertain to those who are already the recipient of a beneficial mechanism.

Senator SIEWERT: I am a recipient of a beneficial mechanism—I am on the age pension.

Ms S Wilson : But you are not overseas.

Senator SIEWERT: No, but I may be planning to go overseas. I do not necessarily agree with the rule but I can understand why you are bringing it in for those who go on the age pension from now on. But I am already on the pension and I may have already been planning to go. So you have changed the rules when I am already on the pension.

Ms S Wilson : The government decided to change the rules for a number of reasons. In so doing they made a decision that those who had already operated under previous rules and made a decision to leave Australia should not have the conditions changed having made that decision. But the government decided to make this change for a range of reasons, and one of them was to bring us in line with other OECD countries, which generally require between 35 and 45 years working life residence to receive full pension overseas. So recognising that some people have already made a decision based on the rules that pertained when they made that decision to go overseas, they have had their existing entitlements saved. But people making decisions in the future will have to make decisions on the basis of the rules that pertain then.

Senator McLucas: Senator, it might be of use to recognise that this measure does not start until 1 January 2014. So the circumstance you are describing—I think it allows for informed decision-making by individuals. A very small number of people, if any, would be making decisions that far out and would not be able to accommodate the change.

Senator SIEWERT: How many people are grandfathered?

Ms S Wilson : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take it on notice, and how much it will cost.

Ms S Wilson : I do not believe we would be able to tell that.

Senator SIEWERT: Surely you would know how many are overseas already.

Ms S Wilson : Yes but we probably do not know their working life residence between the current rules and the new rules. You would need to know that to be able to make the calculation that you are asking us for.

Mr McBride : There is also the prospect of those people who are currently overseas coming back to Australia, and if they stay in Australia for long enough then they will move to the new rules. So to work through that costing you would also have to understand their possible future behaviours.

Senator SIEWERT: How long do they have to stay in Australia then to come under the new rules?

Mr McBride : Twenty-six weeks.

Senator SIEWERT: So if they are back here for half a year they are then on the new rules?

Mr McBride : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: In other words, you are not going to see many people coming back for a length of time.

Mr Moufarriage : But that is the same as the proportionalisation arrangement for all people that are proportionalised. Once they come back for more than 26 weeks—

Ms S Wilson : The proportion mechanism is applied here.

Mr Moufarriage : They move to the new proportional rules.

Senator SIEWERT: The 3,300 that are affected by the new rules—on what basis did you calculate that?

Mr Moufarriage : That is the number of age pensioners that depart permanently each year, so we had a look at the previous couple of financial years to see how many people were leaving permanently. We also looked at those people that were leaving temporarily but for periods greater than 26 weeks, because they will also be affected.

Senator SIEWERT: So they are included in the 3,300?

Mr Moufarriage : No. In addition to the 5,400 that go permanently there are around 4,000 who go overseas temporarily—for periods of more than 26 weeks but spending an average of about 39 weeks a year overseas.

Senator SIEWERT: So they will now be caught up under these new rules?

Ms S Wilson : Once they have been away for 26 weeks they may get affected by the proportionalisation.

Senator SIEWERT: But if they come back they go back up to the full?

Ms S Wilson : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: I must be a bit obtuse—what is the difference between the 5,400 and the 3,300?

Ms S Wilson : It is a consequence of the social security agreements.

Senator SIEWERT: I beg your pardon—okay. Going back to the comment you made before, do you know that the 3,300 go permanently overseas?

Mr Moufarriage : Yes. They tell Centrelink that they are departing permanently.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you know how many of those were originally here under the 35 or under the 25-year limit now—the difference between 25 and 35? You just said you did not know for those who are currently overseas. Do you know how many of those are now within the 25-year rule?

Mr Moufarriage : I might have to take that on notice. The average period of Australian working life residency for all age pensioners is about 19½ years.

Senator SIEWERT: If that is the case, how come you cannot work out—

Mr Moufarriage : Sorry, I do have those numbers. About 26 per cent—of that group of 3,300 pensioners who go overseas permanently, 858 have less than 25 years working life residence, 759 have between 25 and 35 years Australian working life residence and 1,683 have more than 35 years Australian working life residence.

Senator SIEWERT: So we are not actually talking about 3,300 that are going to be part of this, because 1,683 in fact have more than 35 years?

Mr Moufarriage : Yes.

Ms S Wilson : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Plus a percentage of the 4,000 that are temporary but we do not know how many will be overseas for more than 26 weeks—is that correct?

Mr Moufarriage : Yes. That is a second—in addition to those numbers I gave you, there is another group of 4,000 that go temporarily.

Senator SIEWERT: If we know the percentage who worked here for less than 25 years, how come we cannot tell what the average working life has been for those that are already overseas?

Mr Moufarriage : We could probably find that out.

Senator SIEWERT: What I am trying to do is work out, getting back to the question of how much the grandfathered group—

Ms S Wilson : How much difference would it have made—is that the question you are asking?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Ms S Wilson : I am not sure whether we can do that. We can take on notice whether we can do that.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I want to ask about the payment of the clean energy advance to self-funded retirees. I understand that that holders of the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card have to advise the Department of Human Services of their bank account details in order to receive the clean energy advance—assuming they qualify, of course. Is that the case?

Ms Foster : Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders will generally get a seniors supplement as a result of holding the CSHC. I understand there may be a group of CSHC holders who do not receive the seniors supplement. In order to receive the clean energy advance they have been asked to advise of their bank details if they so choose.

Senator HUMPHRIES: How have they been asked to do that? What notification have they had of the need to do that?

Ms Foster : DHS may be able to help you better with this, but I understand that there has been a letter sent to CSHC cardholders advising them of the need to supply details.

Senator HUMPHRIES: One letter has been sent. Is there any other public notification that you are aware of?

Ms Foster : I am not aware of any. There may have been a ministerial media release. But I do not have the date of that.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I am aware that there is a small amount of information in the latest News for Seniors.

Ms S Wilson : That is a Centrelink publication.

Senator HUMPHRIES: The information in News for Seniors does not actually tell people how they can supply the information to the Department of Human Services. I assume it is obvious to people from the letter how they do that.

Ms Foster : I am sorry—there was a media release, in fact, from Senator Carr on 30 April telling self-funded retirees about that requirement. In the media release there is a call centre number provided. In the letter—

Senator HUMPHRIES: That is 132300?

Ms Foster : In the media release, yes—132300. And in the letter the contact number is 132300. To speak in languages other than English it is 131202. That is a Department of Human Services letter.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you aware that people can be waiting 45 minutes or longer on those lines in order to be able to get through?

Ms S Wilson : These are questions for the Department of Human Services.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I am just asking if you are aware of that. I assume they can make that information available to the department online as well.

Ms S Wilson : Again, these are really questions for the Department of Human Services.

CHAIR: Ms Wilson, I think it is fair enough to ask a question about whether the department that develops the policy is aware of the issues that clients are having. I understand that you cannot answer the direct question but I think it is okay for Senator Humphries to draw your attention to and ask the question about awareness. I am fine with that, though the detail, as you know, has to go to Centrelink.

Senator HUMPHRIES: On a policy question, are there any arrangements to compensate people whose income is just above the CSHC threshold for the effect of the carbon tax? I am talking about singles on $40,000 a year and couples on $80,000. Forty thousand is not a lot of money. Is there any compensation to people above that threshold?

Ms Foster : People may be able to get the benefit of tax cuts.

Senator HUMPHRIES: If they are paying tax, yes.

Ms Foster : Yes, if they are paying tax. Some of those people may have superannuation that is income-test free. Some people may be able to get the low-income supplement. Some self-funded retirees, of course, are under age pension age, so some people may be able to access the low-income supplement if their adjusted taxable income is up to $30,000 year for singles, $45,000 for couples and $60,000 for singles or couples with a dependent child.

Senator HUMPHRIES: But that would not include anybody who was not eligible for a CSHC, would it? Because you have to have—

Ms Foster : If you are a younger person—

Senator HUMPHRIES: It cuts out at $40,000 for a single.

Ms S Wilson : If you were a younger person with an income below the amounts Ms Foster read out then potentially you would be entitled to the other payments she mentioned.

Senator FURNER: What is the federal government doing in respect to assisting seniors to compensate them for the carbon price commencing on 1 July?

Ms Foster : The household assistance package is assisting income support recipients, allowees and recipients of family payments. There are also tax cuts available to working Australians. The household assistance package began to roll out on 16 May with an initial payment of the clean energy advance to families receiving family tax benefit. The initial payments to pensioners, allowees, seniors supplement recipients and veterans will follow. They will be made by the end of June. The assistance to pensioners in fact starts flowing today and will continue through to 8 June.

Senator FURNER: Can you expand on what that assistance means for pensioners, for seniors?

Ms Foster : A single age pensioner, for instance, will receive $250. A couple combined will receive $380. Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders will receive the same assistance as pensioners. Their assistance will become payable in June with the quarterly payment of the seniors supplement.

Senator FURNER: What about self-funded retirees?

Ms Foster : Self-funded retirees who hold the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card will receive the same assistance as pensioners—$250 for singles and $380 for couples. Otherwise they will receive the benefit of tax cuts because of the increase in the tax-free threshold to $18,200.

Senator McLucas: Senator Furner, can I just interpose at this point. Unfortunately Senator Humphries is not here but he indicated that the threshold for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card was $40,000 a year. It is in fact $50,000 a year. I thought the committee needed to be aware of that.

Senator FURNER: Okay. How will the department be rolling out the assistance? How is it going to be delivered?

Ms Foster : It is paid automatically with their primary payment. They do not have to apply; they just need to check their details are correct and it will be paid with their primary payment.

Senator FURNER: That will be in addition to the regular fortnightly pension. They will receive it in the mail or their—

Ms Foster : Correct—in their bank account. The advances are being paid for a certain period—between nine, 12 and 18 months potentially—until such time as the regular fortnightly assistance through the clean energy supplement commences with the primary payment. For age pensioners that would be March 2013.

Senator FURNER: Are these payments going to fully cover pensioners for the expected carbon price impact?

Ms S Wilson : The anticipated impact of the carbon price on household spending was estimated to be $9.90 a week in 2012-13. The average household assistance is around $10.10 per week.

Senator FURNER: Will that be assessed on an annual basis?

Ms S Wilson : It will be indexed by the CPI each year. If the carbon price drops once we move to a floating carbon price, household assistance will not be reduced.

Senator FURNER: As they stand, how much have pensions increased under the Labor government?

Ms Foster : I only have a number since September 2009, when major pension reforms were rolled out. The maximum base rate of pension has increased by around $154 a fortnight for singles and $156 a fortnight for couples combined.

Senator FURNER: Those are the increases since 2009 to date?

Ms Foster : That is correct.

Senator FURNER: And that is in relation to the payments for the carbon price as well?

Ms Foster : No, that excludes the household assistance payments.

Senator FURNER: So there will be even more payments made on top of that to assist?

Ms S Wilson : That is correct. This is a consequence of the pension reform package and then the household assistance is on top.

Senator FURNER: Conversely, how does that compare with the increase of, say, the last five or 4½ years of the Howard government?

Ms Foster : I do not have that information.

Senator FURNER: Can we put that on notice and get those figures. Is the department getting any feedback from the media or academia in respect to the recent impact of the Labor government’s reforms on pensions at all?

Ms S Wilson : I am not quite sure what you are getting at. Could you rephrase the question?

Senator FURNER: Are the reforms generating any interest from the media or academia in respect to their success?

Ms S Wilson : There has been some work done by academics that has looked at the impact that transfer payments make in addressing costs of living, which is found to be significant. Notably the pension reform package, being such a significant increase for pensioners, is quite a contributor to that.

Senator McLucas: I understand that policy researchers from the University of New South Wales and Flinders University have confirmed that our pension boost has more than halved the number of pensioners living in poverty compared with the number at the end of the Howard government, from 25 per cent down to 12 per cent. From my own perspective—the commentary through my electorate office from pensioners—we know that pensioners still do it tough but they report considerable pleasure at receiving the historic boost that they received. I am sure you have the same through your electorate office.

Senator FURNER: Thank you for that. Is the seniors work bonus achieving its objectives at all?

Ms Foster : The new work bonus allows the first $250 of employment income a fortnight to be not assessed under the pension income test when working out the amount of pension that is payable. Early signs from the work bonus are promising. Of course we have to note that employment can be subject to seasonal trends, but as at 30 December 2011 around 80,000 age pensioners who worked had less income assessed under the income test because of the work bonus. In the period since the introduction of the original work bonus that was introduced as part of the pension reforms to December 2011, average employment income growth for pensioners who work rose by 10 per cent, compared to growth in average weekly earnings for the corresponding period of eight per cent. So that would indicate that people are working a bit more rather than any upward pressure of wage rates itself. Also there has been a steady increase in the proportion of age pensioners who are undertaking paid work. From June 2009 to June 2011 the percentage of all age pensioners undertaking paid work increased from 3.2 to 3.5 per cent. Over the same period the percentage of new commencements to the age pension who were working increased from 8.8 to 10.7 per cent. They are actually quite a key group to look at because we know, for instance, that it is often people who are under 70 who work. Because the stock of age pensioners is so large it is often useful to look at policy change in terms of those new commencements.

Senator FURNER: Do you have any dollar figures on what the outcomes have been for those stats you have just gone through?

Ms Foster : For people who are working, the average annual gross employment income is $16,600. For income tested pensioners aged under 70, the average amount of employment earnings has increased by $500.

Senator FURNER: I will try not to earn the wrath of the chair on this question. No doubt the department is aware that the coalition opposition has indicated a withdrawal of these funds to seniors. Has the department, in your lifetime, ever considered a proposal of turning around benefits paid to seniors or any other person in the community—how you would you arrange such a drawback on funds that are paid out?

Ms S Wilson : I am not sure I understand the question.

Senator FURNER: In the lifetime of the department have you ever been involved in rolling back or returning an entitlement to seniors or anyone else—any recipient out in the community—that has already been put in place?

Ms S Wilson : Over 26 years of working in social policy there have been a number of times when I have been responsible for implementing or advising on measures that would seek savings out of entitlements by reducing entitlements to people. Often governments of all persuasions consider the extent to which they believe it is necessary to protect current recipients from such savings measures compared with anyone who might qualify in the future.

Senator SIEWERT: Going back to the supplement, there may be a simple explanation for this. In the budget statements for the expenditure on allowances, concessions and services for pensioners on page 87, the budgeted allocation for the seniors supplement for 2011-12 and 2012-13 actually goes down and then goes up again quite significantly.

Ms Foster : I believe that that is because of the payment of the clean energy advance. It is being paid in June this year and then next year it is—

Senator SIEWERT: Is it because the new one has started?

Ms Foster : It is the new one starting.

Senator SIEWERT: Because it is being paid in June it is in this year’s rather than next year’s?

Ms S Wilson : That is correct. A number of clean energy advances were paid prior to the current carbon price coming in as a one-off payment for a period. I think Ms Foster identified the period as being from nine months to a bit longer, depending on which payment people were receiving. In respect of those on the seniors supplement, their regular payments start in June, so at the end of the financial year.

Senator SIEWERT: That explains the difference before it then goes up significantly. Thank you.

Senator McKENZIE: My question goes to a comment Ms Wilson made earlier about the average impact of the carbon tax and the average assistance. The average impact was modelled to be under $10 or $9 and the average assistance was a little over that?

Ms S Wilson : The anticipated impact on household spending in 2012-13 was expected to be $9.90 and the average household assistance is around $10.10 per week.

Senator McKENZIE: What processes or mechanisms are in place to measure the actual impact over time to see if we need to adjust it? I know we are increasing it by CPI, as per your comments, but what sorts of processes do we have internally to assess the actual impact?

Ms Foster : The actual impact will be captured by the consumer price index as measured by—

Senator McKENZIE: Completely?

Ms Foster : the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I think you will probably have to ask the Treasury that question.

Senator McKENZIE: Okay. So you are confident that the CPI will give you an accurate measure of the impact of a carbon tax on households?

Ms S Wilson : There are several indices that apply across the payment system. The CPI is the one that captures those general costs of living. Pensioners as well have their own index—the pensioner and beneficiary living cost index, the PBLCI.

Senator McKENZIE: Will that be used around the seniors—

Ms S Wilson : It goes to the primary payment.

Senator McKENZIE: But not to the payments specifically around assistance in implementing the carbon tax?

Ms Foster : The clean energy supplement will be indexed to the consumer price index—

Senator McKENZIE: But not to the specific index we use for pensioners?

Ms S Wilson : No. The pension review recommended a change in respect of the primary payment, which was to bring in the PBLCI. But the supplements have a different purpose than the primary payment and, because they have been designed in a way that reflects the particular costs that households are expected to incur as a consequence of carbon pricing, the CPI is the index that is going to be utilised.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I have a question about the quarantining of rents for public housing tenants with increases in pensions. When we had the historic rise in pensions in 2009, there was a call for state and territory governments to quarantine their part of public housing pensions. I wonder which states still carry out that policy and—

Ms S Wilson : My colleagues in the housing outcome will be able to answer that question for you because they are in contact with the state housing authorities.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Carrying on from Senator Furner’s question about the carbon price payments—because they are supplements they will not be included in any calculations of public housing rents?

Ms S Wilson : My understanding—but again my colleagues in housing are probably best equipped to answer this—is that public housing rents are calculated on the primary payment, which would be the pension rather than supplements.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So the supplements will be outside—

Ms S Wilson : I would like my colleagues in housing to confirm that.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Thank you.

Senator McKENZIE: Has the department done any modelling of the carbon tax’s impact on your own administration and running of your department?

Mr Pratt : That is probably an issue we should have covered under cross-portfolio.

Senator McKENZIE: Apologies.

Mr Pratt : Unfortunately the people who might give you a detailed answer on this are not here, but I will give you a general answer. Yes, we consider the future possible impacts of carbon pricing on our costs. And of course we are energy consumers like anyone else, so we look at this year to year.

CHAIR: That ends questions on outcome 4.

Mr Pratt : We promised Senator Fifield before—

CHAIR: He will be watching passionately, I know.

Mr Pratt : Yes. I have a premonition that I may have to go through this again when Senator Fifield turns up in the hearing room. As Senator Fifield has pointed out, the issues around charter letters were canvassed in the PM&C estimates hearings last week. It was pointed out that this is a matter for the Prime Minister and, as discussed, there are considerations for cabinet around these letters as well. On that basis, the feedback I have from the minister’s office is that they are happy for us to take this on notice at this time.

Senator McLucas: I can confirm that the correspondence between the Prime Minister and Minister Macklin is correspondence that is privy to them. I have nothing further to add to Mr Pratt’s earlier comments but I also want to confirm that there is absolute clarity about each executive member’s area of responsibility—both held by that executive member and held by the department. I understand that Ms Carroll has an answer to Senator Siewert’s question.

Ms Carroll : Senator, you asked about when the SACS roundtable would be held in Perth. The tentative date is 27 July. That is just being finalised at the moment.

Senator SIEWERT: That is a large difference between when the process first started and when it is getting to my home state.

Ms Carroll : That is the tentative date at the moment, Senator.

CHAIR: We will adjourn until 1.30, when we will be talking with officers in outcome 6.

Proceedings suspended from 12 : 30 to 13 : 31

CHAIR: We are going to outcome 6. Does either Senator McLucas or Mr Pratt have any updates, statements or questions?

Mr Pratt : Madam Chair, I do have some material that we would like to table, in relation to income management, ahead of tomorrow's session.

CHAIR: That would be really good, Mr Pratt, if we could get that. With outcome 6, we will have the first period on gender equality for women and then equal opportunity for women in the workplace. We will start with questions from Senator Cash.

Senator CASH: Could I start with a question in relation to the carbon tax and, in particular, the role of the Office for Women in looking at the impact of the carbon tax, if any, especially on vulnerable women. Has the Office for Women done any work on the impact of the carbon tax on women, in particular on lower-paid women? If so, what work has been undertaken? If not, are you aware of whether any work has been undertaken, particularly in relation to women?

Ms Carroll : We have broadly covered these kinds of issues in the past, in that obviously the Office for Women has a broad coordinating role and it comments generally on different particular areas. We are not specifically aware of any analysis that the Treasury or Climate Change has done on the impact on women.

Senator CASH: In your role as the overarching body that takes care of women's issues across all portfolios, has the office itself requested that any particular work be done? For example, I know that two years ago we discussed the impact of the Queensland floods on women and the fact that some work had been undertaken by the Office for Women to look at the impact of the floods on women in Queensland, and in particular on small business owners who were women. Has the office commissioned any research on the impact of the carbon tax on women and in particular on the most vulnerable in society?

Ms McKenzie : No, we have not specifically commissioned any.

Senator CASH: In relation to the household assistance package, you went through a number of figures. Will the Office for Women be monitoring whether or not the payment itself is sufficient, and again particularly for women and lower-paid women?

Ms McKenzie : This goes back to the role of the Office for Women and the importance of gender mainstreaming. This government, along with the previous government, is committed to gender mainstreaming, which is also consistent with the best practice identified in the Beijing platform. It is impossible for a small office for women to monitor the impacts of the programs and policies on 50 per cent of the population. Therefore, we have to focus on the priorities that have been set by government for us and we need to pay attention to the issues as government provides them to us. We also provide a capacity for departments to engage with us around particular issues where there are concerns for women. Other than that, we expect each department, each minister and each secretary to ensure that they have the capacity to be able to provide gendered advice.

Senator CASH: I understand that ensuring the economic security of women is one of your main priorities.

Ms McKenzie : That is right.

Senator CASH: So, in terms of the potential impact of the carbon tax on women across portfolio areas, is there any mechanisms in place whereby the Office for Women will be receiving feedback from other portfolios?

Ms McKenzie : In terms of economic security for women, part of the major work that we are doing at the moment relates to the reform of EOW to ensure that the jobs that women can get are jobs where there is equal pay, flexible working conditions and also a chance of advancement.

Senator CASH: In other words, the answer to my question is no.

Ms McKenzie : The priority for the Office for Women is very much around the EOWA reforms. We also keep a general eye on other things that are happening.

Senator CASH: But, in relation to the impact of the carbon tax and its potential effect on the economic security of women, are you keeping a general eye on that?

Ms McKenzie : As I said, we are not doing any specific work.

Senator CASH: So the answer is no. Thank you very much. The report from Standards Australia on gender in job titles being banned has recently come out; has the Office for Women had an opportunity to review that standard?

Ms McKenzie : That is EOWA.

Senator CASH: Yes. But has the Office for Women—I will be asking these questions of EOWA—had an opportunity to look at that report, or standard, should I say?

Ms Steele : Yes.

Senator CASH: Is this something that will be pursued? I note that it basically talks about personal pronouns—that 'his', 'her', 'he' or 'she' should not be used. Firemen should be called 'firefighters'; secretaries will become 'office managers'. What are your thoughts surrounding that?

Mr Pratt : I am sorry; that is news to me.

Senator CASH: You have not briefed the departmental head yet? I do not know what your role will become, Secretary—Office Manager Pratt! This is the problem. This is exactly the reaction that people have, unfortunately, when you read this new standard, and particularly the fact that personal pronouns—his, her, he and she—should not be used. Have you had an opportunity to review it? What are your thoughts around this? Is this something that will advance women in the workplace?

Ms Steele : I understand that is the purpose of the standard, but I think you would have to ask EOWA—

Senator CASH: So you have not done any work surrounding whether or not this will actually have an impact on gender equality within the workplace—a true impact as opposed to a stated impact?

Ms Steele : I am not sure what you mean by what work we have undertaken.

Senator CASH: If you have reviewed it, do you have any thoughts surrounding whether or not this is a realistic option going forward?

Ms Steele : I do not know whether the Office for Women has formed a view on that.

Senator CASH: I will put the questions to EOWA. Will you be forming a view on something like this, or is that not something that is within your permit?

Ms Carroll : These things would be within our permit. We have had a look at the report. Obviously, we know that EOWA would also be looking at the report. Over time, it may be that we form a particular view or give advice to government about a particular view. But at the moment we have just looked at the report.

Senator CASH: Can I ask who in the office actually looked at the report? It is actually a standard. It is not a report; it is the standard.

Ms Steele : I have actually looked at it.

Senator CASH: When did you look at it, Ms Steele?

Ms Steele : During its development.

Senator CASH: Have you looked at the final standard that has now been released?

Ms Steele : I have not actually seen the final standard. I think that has been released only recently.

Senator CASH: I assume that you anticipate looking at the final standard and providing comment on it. When do you think that will be?

Ms Steele : In the near future.

Senator CASH: 'In the near future', depending on which department we are talking to, can have exceptionally diverse meanings.

Ms Carroll : We would not want to be specific, because obviously we balance the workloads and look at the different priorities. Ms Steele might say 'in the next month', but something else may come up.

Senator CASH: So you will be looking at it eventually?

Ms Carroll : We will be having a look at it.

Mr Pratt : Sooner rather than later.

Senator CASH: Sooner rather than later? This is getting more nebulous by the moment, Mr Pratt—Office Manager Pratt!

I now turn to the portfolio budget statements of 2011-12 and 2012-13. In the 2011-12 PBS, a number of initiatives that the Office for Women worked on for gender equality programs were listed. They included the administration of support for a victims of trafficking program and research into equality issues. In the latest PBS that has been issued, those two initiatives are actually omitted. Can I ask why; and what does that actually mean for those two initiatives?

Ms McKenzie : In the recent PBS, it says that the Office for Women also administers the support for a victims of trafficking program. So I think that was seen as a broad explanation of what we do.

Senator CASH: Okay. When you read the two PBSs and put them together, there are things missing. Are you still doing that administration of support for a victims of trafficking program and it has just been put into a different part of the—

Ms McKenzie : I understand so.

Senator CASH: Research into equality issues was also removed from the general initiatives.

Ms McKenzie : That is an ongoing responsibility of the office.

Senator CASH: Is there any reason that it was removed from the general initiatives?

Ms McKenzie : No.

Senator CASH: Did anyone realise that it had been removed from the general initiatives?

Ms McKenzie : As we look at drafting the strategy, you would see that the whole goal of the strategy is to look at equality. Obviously there is a range of work that we do which relates to research about equality. I think it is just a different way of putting the material.

Senator CASH: If you go to program 6.1, expenses, in the PBS for 2012-13, the final sentence says:

The high relative funding in 2011-12 is due to a movement of funds previously approved from 2010-11.

I believe that is a reference to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. Can you confirm what is exactly meant by that? It is at page 119 of the current PBS, under program 6.1, expenses.

Ms McKenzie : My understanding is that you are correct; it is in relation to the national plan. Ms Smart will be able to provide some advice.

Ms Smart : In 2010-11, $1.9 million was moved from 2010-11 to 2011-12.

Senator CASH: Why was that?

Ms Smart : That was due to the need to rephase some work that was associated with the national plan.

Senator CASH: When it says that it is 'due to a movement of funds previously approved from 2010-11', is that the $1.9 million?

Ms Smart : Yes.

Senator CASH: In relation to program 6.1, under deliverables—again, it is just a change of language—there is the 1800RESPECT number. In 2011-12 the language used was the number of individuals for the 1800RESPECT number, and in 2012-13 we are now talking about the number of contacts. So it was the number of individuals in 2011-12 and it is now the number of contacts. Is that just semantics or is there an actual change in the definition of who is contacting the helpline?

Ms Smart : It is really just semantics.

Senator CASH: Was there a reason behind it?

Ms Smart : It is that 'contacts' is the more accurate term to use.

Senator CASH: So it is still individual contact?

Mr Pratt : In my experience, it is very difficult to actually work out how many contacts an individual might have, so it is easier to measure contacts than individuals.

Senator CASH: Is a contact still a phone call?

Ms Smart : A contact could be a phone call or now it could also be online.

Senator CASH: So it is literally semantics, then.

Ms Smart : Yes.

Senator CASH: I now refer to the women's budget statement that was released by the minister. The Women's statement 2012 refers to:

… a suite of measures to recognise and support key groups of women in Australia, including Indigenous women, women with a disability or mental illness, rural women, and women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

That is in the foreword of the women's budget statement. Can you please explain what this suite of measures is and how the Office for Women contributed to the development of this suite of measures?

Ms McKenzie : If you go to page 16 of the statement itself, you will see that there are the headings 'Indigenous women', 'Women with disability or mental illness', 'Rural women' and 'Culturally and linguistically diverse women'. Each of those lists a range of initiatives.

Senator CASH: So that is the suite of measures there?

Ms McKenzie : We are not suggesting that this is a comprehensive suite and that it has everything that the government has done in relation to these groups of women, but it is illustrative and indicative of the breadth of measures.

Senator CASH: In the minister's foreword it refers to 'a suite of measures'. Is there a more comprehensive document that I can obtain?

Ms McKenzie : What would be available would be information on each of those measures. In terms of whether it has been brought together to focus specifically on the women's issues relative to those key groups, no, I do not think there would be a more comprehensive statement.

Senator CASH: Given that this is the women's budget statement, how did the Office for Women contribute to the development of the suite of measures?

Ms McKenzie : We coordinated the development of it.

Senator CASH: How did you do that?

Ms Carroll : Through the normal processes around the budget. This document was put together and coordinated with input from the relevant departments.

Senator CASH: I now turn to page 10 of the women's budget statement, to the section headed 'Superannuation'. Minister, this will be a question for you. The Women's statement 2012 at page 10 states:

Women are also more vulnerable to poverty in old age, with lower superannuation balances and greater dependence on the single age pension …

There is some work that has been done on superannuation within the women's budget statement. What was the policy rationale, given the government's commitment to superannuation, in particular for women, behind excluding superannuation from the PPL scheme?

Senator McLucas: Unless the officers have something to add, I will have to take that on notice.

Senator CASH: Thank you, Minister. Does the office have any comment on what the policy rationale was behind that, given the statements that are made about superannuation and the impact on women within the women's budget statement?

Ms Carroll : I would not want to go into any of the key deliberations—

Senator CASH: I am not asking you to go into key deliberations; I am asking you for the policy rationale.

Senator McLucas: Excuse me, Chair, could we ask if the senator could wait until the officer has finished her answer before she asks another question.

Senator CASH: I thought you had; sorry about that.

Ms Carroll : Effectively, what the government said when it announced the Paid Parental Leave scheme was that it was introducing the first paid parental leave scheme. It had asked the Productivity Commission to provide a report and it took forward the key components of that report. That was the main focus of the Paid Parental Leave scheme.

Senator CASH: Was there any recommendation in the Productivity Commission report in relation to the inclusion of superannuation in the PPL?

Ms Carroll : Yes.

Senator CASH: What was that recommendation?

Ms Carroll : I understand that it was to include superannuation.

Senator CASH: So the government therefore did not go ahead with all of the recommendations from the Productivity Commission report?

Ms Carroll : That is right.

Senator CASH: Mr Pratt, do you have anything further that you can add in relation to the policy rationale behind why superannuation was not included in the PPL, given the statements about super that are made in the women's budget statement?

Mr Pratt : I have nothing to add, other than the fact that it was a government decision. The government does not always accept every recommendation from the Productivity Commission.

Senator CASH: Thank you. Minister, I would appreciate it if you would take that on notice. Could I now turn to the answer to question on notice No. 231 from the 2011-12 additional estimates. The topic was economic security. I asked a question in relation to superannuation, and the answer given was:

Consistent with the Beijing platform, this Government and the previous Government have supported gender mainstreaming as the best practice approach to ensuring gender is considered in the full range of decisions affecting women. Superannuation policy is a matter for the Treasury Department.

What relationship does the Office for Women have with Treasury in terms of high-level advice on superannuation, and financial literacy more generally, for women?

Ms McKenzie : We have an ongoing discussion with most portfolios about issues of importance. As I said before, one of the things that we do not have at the Office for Women is sufficient resources to monitor on a daily basis what is happening in each department.

Senator CASH: When you say that you do not have sufficient resources, what do you mean by that?

Ms McKenzie : Given that the population is 50 per cent women and all the policies and programs have differential impacts on women, we certainly do not have the capacity to be able to track down each of those things. Rather, this government has, as the previous government had, a policy of gender mainstreaming where each minister and each secretary is responsible for the gender policy and programs in their own portfolio.

Senator CASH: Do you require additional staff in order to undertake this additional work?

Ms Carroll : Essentially, unless the role of the Office for Women was extremely large, there would just not be the capacity to do its own policy work. Really, the key frame of working is to work with and through the other departments. On the question that you have asked about financial literacy and superannuation, as Ms McKenzie has said, we do have ongoing discussions with the Treasury department. Also, on financial literacy within our own department, we run some financial literacy and financial management programs and we obviously work within our department as well.

Senator CASH: Can I ask you to take on notice, Ms Carroll, to get me a list of the programs that you have just referred to that you run within the department on financial literacy.

Ms Carroll : Yes.

Senator CASH: Thank you very much. Could I now turn to the answer to QON No. 214 from the additional estimates hearing in which I asked about the status of the personal safety survey due to be completed this year. Mr Pratt, if you could indulge me for one moment, I have to say that this was the answer that amused me more than anything:

On track.

What does 'on track' actually mean?

Mr Pratt : You can see that we are very efficient in our use of words! Clearly, that means that we anticipate completing the survey this year.

Senator CASH: When is it due to be released?

Ms Smart : The data from the personal safety survey is due to be released in 2013. The survey itself is being undertaken in this calendar year. The ABS, from that, will then analyse the data and publish the data during 2013.

Senator CASH: In relation to the answer that I got to the question, which was 'on track', what does that mean? Were there milestones that were meant to be met et cetera?

Ms Smart : Yes. With the ABS undertaking the survey, there are various points along the way that they have to meet in terms of the development and testing of the survey itself, the training of staff and putting the survey into the field, and they have met all of the time frames that they have set.

Senator CASH: Could you take on notice to provide me with a list of those time frames and when they were actually met—and, in particular, going forward, what the additional time frames are? So it is due to be released in 2013?

Ms Smart : That is correct. The only caveat that I would put on that is that, because of the sensitive nature of this particular survey and because it is dealing with personal safety, the ABS does not tend to publicise or talk about when it is actually in the field. So that would be the one thing that we would not want to—

Senator CASH: No, and I would not want to compromise that. Absolutely. In relation to the responsibilities of the office, does the Minister for the Status of Women have a charter letter, as is normally provided, I understand, to ministers?

Senator McLucas: We have covered this before, Senator.

Senator CASH: Is that a yes or a no?

Senator McLucas: You will be able to read my response and Mr Pratt's response in the Hansard.

Senator CASH: That is fine. Could we deal with it now, though, because I have a different tack that I might be taking in relation to this. Does the minister for women have a charter letter?

Mr Pratt : At the risk of reopening the comprehensive discussion that we had this morning, I am not in a position to answer that question. It is a matter between the Prime Minister and her ministers as to whether or not she writes a charter letter to them. These are issues which were canvassed in the PM&C estimates last week and which were, I understand, considered to be a matter for the Prime Minister. It was pointed out that these were also subject to cabinet deliberations and, therefore, we have not at this stage been able to answer any questions on charter letters.

Senator CASH: Thank you, Mr Pratt. Are you able to tell me what the usual practice is in relation to charter letters, or does that differ from government to government?

Mr Pratt : Conventionally it is similar. Following an election and the divvying up of responsibilities between ministers, the Prime Minister will write to them setting out their priorities and the Prime Minister's expectations of the minister.

Senator CASH: If there is no charter letter as such and I were looking for the document that set out what the responsibilities are for the Minister for the Status of Women, where would I find that?

Mr Pratt : I am not saying that there is not a charter letter.

Senator CASH: No; but is there another document that I would be referring to?

Mr Pratt : Certainly, at the beginning of the portfolio budget statements, it sets out, efficiently, the roles and responsibilities of different ministers. So you will see on page 3 that the Hon. Julie Collins is the Minister for the Status of Women.

Senator CASH: Sorry; page 3?

Mr Pratt : Yes. Then—again, very efficient—if you read that in the context of outcome 6, which we have just been talking with you about, and if you look at the annual report, all of those things together—

Senator CASH: Come together to provide—

Mr Pratt : what we do and how we underpin Minister Collins.

Senator CASH: In relation to the answer to question No. 141 from the supplementary estimates hearing—I asked about spending in certain areas—one answer was the amount spent on consultancies: $1,337,125.59. You may have to take this on notice, but can I get a breakdown of what those consultants fees were?

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

Senator CASH: Thank you. Could you also take on notice, in relation to hospitality and entertainment, the $14,052.29 and in relation to education or staff training to the value of $56,764.12. I would also like to get a breakdown of what that was actually spent on.

I now turn to the program The Line, which I know we have canvassed at previous estimates hearings. Given that it is an online social marketing campaign, how is it actually being monitored?

Ms Smart : The monitoring is done through six-monthly monitoring research that is undertaken through a private company.

Senator CASH: So the Office for Women is not involved in the monitoring of the program?

Ms Smart : There is tracking research—tracking the penetration of the campaign. That is done independently and that provides us with information about its reach. In terms of the feedback, because it is a social marketing campaign, we get feedback from people on an ongoing basis, on a live basis in a sense. Through the Facebook page and through the website, we get feedback from individuals, which my staff and the staff in the communications branch look at.

Senator CASH: In relation to the private company that is looking at the penetration of the campaign etcetera and the reach of it, what feedback have you actually received in relation to how the campaign is penetrating and whom it is actually reaching at the moment?

Ms Smart : In terms of the tracking of the campaign, we know that most recently, through verification of the number of people who are Facebook fans, it is over 70,000 now. We also look at the number of independent media take-ups, articles that appear in other media in terms of the number of people who have attended events. The current information that I have is that it has reached over two million young people aged between about 12 and 20.

Senator CASH: When you say it has reached over two million young people, what evidence do you have that the program is actually doing what it is meant to do, and that is changing attitudes?

Ms Smart : From the most recent tracking research, we know that 84 per cent of people who recognise the campaign claimed that it has improved their understanding of behaviour that could be crossing the line; 81 per cent said they had changed their behaviour as a result of the campaign; 82 per cent said that they intended to change their behaviour in the next six months; and 76 per cent of 12 to 24-year olds specifically intended to change their behaviour in the next six months as a result of the campaign.

Senator CASH: Just in relation to what you are reading from, which I am assuming is the analysis that has been given to you, are you able to table that for the committee so that we can have a look at the data in full? Perhaps you could take it on notice.

Ms Smart : Yes.

Senator CASH: I am interested to see exactly what the program is delivering. In particular I am very interested in those statistics that you have just read out about such a high percentage of people who have said it affected their behaviour and there was a potential change for the better. How much is being spent on the program overall?

Ms Smart : It is $17 million over four years.

Senator CASH: It is the $17 million over four years?

Ms Smart : Yes.

CHAIR: You have one more question.

Senator CASH: Can you provide an update, from the February estimates, for the financial year to date in relation to how much is being spent? You may have to take that on notice in relation to The Line.

Ms Smart : We will just check if we have it at hand. As at 31 March 2012, it was $14,154,679.

Senator CASH: Can I get you to break that down into print advertising, radio advertising, online advertising and online web?

Ms Smart : That would have to be taken on notice.

Senator CASH: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: Critical to your important work is thorough data, and the government is obviously awash with data. To what extent are you advocating for more gender-based matrixes in terms of how data is assembled by different government departments?

Ms McKenzie : We advocate strongly for departments to compile gendered data. We think that being able to have a strong and sound evidence base is a very important tool.

Senator RHIANNON: How successful have you been? Can you give me some examples of how you have been able to change it?

Ms McKenzie : What we would say is that we have talked to a range of departments about the importance of collecting data, and some departments are moving towards that. The Office for Women, along with the Select Council, funded the Australian Bureau of Statistics to provide the national gender equality indicators which are another way of getting at data at the very highest level.

Senator RHIANNON: I was particularly interested in the area of housing. Have you been successful there in terms of gender-based equity in relation to how women are impacted by the shortage of affordable housing, such as gender disaggregated data in relation to the outcomes of the National Affordable Housing Agreement, the National Partnership Agreement, the National Rental Affordability Scheme and the Social Housing Initiative?

Ms Carroll : Some of the specifics around what has been done in that area would be covered under the Housing Outcome later today. More generally, certainly it has been something that has been talked about with officials at the state level. The issue for women in particular around housing, certainly we are quite aware of it and have been talking to the state government officials around that. One of the areas is also considering homelessness, because there has been an increase of older women who have been becoming homeless.

Senator RHIANNON: It has been talked about and you say there is more awareness. Have you actually advocated or even provided suggestions on how they change their current assembling of the data?

Ms Carroll : I do not have the right officers here at the moment but in the Housing Outcome we could come back to that question or I could take that on notice for you.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice because I am not sure that I will be here for Housing.

Ms Carroll : Thank you.

Senator RHIANNON: Maybe this is one for Housing but I will ask it specifically. Staying with the issue of homelessness, I imagine that you are aware that there have been suggestions about redefining primary homelessness to include equally the experiences of men and women to enable accurate data to be obtained and to also look at primary homelessness and secondary homelessness. Is this a level of detail that you are working towards?

Ms Carroll : I could take that on notice for the Housing people.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the Office for Women advocated that the government take into account the reality and needs of ageing women and carers? I am particularly interested in this in the context of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission's report Caring for older Australians.

Ms McKenzie : The Office for Women has a very strong role not only in advocacy but also, to the greatest extent possible, in providing tools and assistance and support to departments to collect relevant information to be able to do the relevant gender analysis. We talk to departments in a range of ways. We talk to them, they engage with us about issues and ideas they have. We also have a gender panel where they can get expert advice to enable them to do the analysis. We also have an IDC where we discuss the issues relating to gender across the Public Service. We very strongly advocate for women's issues to be taken into account in both policy and programs.

Mr Pratt : If I could just clarify something and I may have misheard you, in which case I apologise. While we advocate strenuously with other government agencies, we do not of course advocate to government itself. We provide advice to ministers on these issues.

Senator RHIANNON: That is what I am trying to actually understand. It is crucial that all the policies are analysed from a gendered perspective. I think we agree on that. I am trying to obtain the examples of it. In this case it was with regard to the Productivity Commission's report Caring for older Australians. Has there been any specific advice on that report?

Mr Pratt : Yes, we would have provided advice to government.

Senator RHIANNON: What was that advice, please?

Mr Pratt : That is the issue. I will not talk about the nature and the content of our advice to government.

Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the Henry report, did you analyse the Henry report?

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: I was specifically interested in recommendation 99 of the Henry report. This is one combining the calculation of the childcare benefit entitlement and the childcare rebate into a single benefit without reducing childcare benefits to lower income households. Was that touched on?

Ms Carroll : The broad analysis that would have been done by the Office for Women within the department looked across the whole report and would have been in an advice to government. The very specifics of that policy would sit with DEEWR. As Ms McKenzie indicated, in the idea of gender mainstreaming we would be encouraging that department to look at those recommendations from that perspective.

Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, gender and acknowledgment of the needs of women with disabilities are explicitly mentioned as part of describing how the NDIS will enable access to and collaboration with mainstream services. That has been strongly suggested by a number of women with disability who are working in this area. Could you explain how you are taking this work forward in terms of representing women's interests, please?

Mr Pratt : Once again, we can generally address the issue. The next outcome is in fact looking at disability issues generally and the NDIS in specific, and it may be more appropriate for us to deal with that then

Senator RHIANNON: I may not be here for that. I will try. If I am not I will come back to it then.

Senator McLucas: I can confirm that the specific issues affecting women with disabilities are very much part of the consideration of the government in the design of the NDIS.

Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the budget statement that came out this year, the Women's Statement 2012, I could not find any mention of sole parents. Is that the case or have I just missed it?

Ms McKenzie : I cannot specifically remember the phrase 'sole parent', exactly where it is, but I would have to take that on notice to be sure that there was not any.

Senator RHIANNON: As there are so many people here, because I did want to take that up, I imagine there would be someone who would remember it. I just did not find it. I read it fairly thoroughly. When I got to the end and I realised I had not found it, I was not able to go back. Would somebody be able to check on that, please?

Ms McKenzie : Yes, we could.

Senator RHIANNON: So I can ask you now. I imagine there are people here who have worked on this very thoroughly and must know it inside out and would be able to answer that question.

Ms McKenzie : I am sorry; unfortunately we are unable to recall at this stage whether the words 'sole parents' are used in the document or not.

Senator RHIANNON: Just to ask it in another way, are issues that are relevant to the needs of sole parents, particularly considering the majority of them are women, single women, covered in the document?

Ms McKenzie : We would certainly suggest they are covered in the document because it is looking at supporting working Australians and their families. It is looking at issues about a new Australian economy and it is looking at supporting community strength. So those issues would be relevant to sole parents.

Senator RHIANNON: Specifically in terms of the entitlements that sole parents rely on?

Ms McKenzie : Ms Steele has just pointed to page 7 in the box where it is talking about the jobs, education and training, childcare fee assistance. It does mention 'single parents'.

Senator RHIANNON: That is one mention and that is with regard to childcare assistance. In terms of the level of entitlements and also the issue of considering how they are going to lose their entitlements much earlier, in what context is that being handled? This is a group of women that is increasing in numbers in our communities. I would have thought it would have been given some emphasis in a document that is specifically about women.

Ms McKenzie : This particular document looked much more at the measures and the initiatives that government has agreed over the previous years. If you look at something like early childhood, education and care, obviously that is important to sole parents. Obviously changes to family payments are important. The National Carers' Strategy is important. Mental health is important. The range of issues that have been addressed in the document relate to the situation of sole parents as much as they relate to women in other circumstances.

Senator RHIANNON: On page 4 of the document, in the second last dot point in the first column, it says: 'We are giving priority to gender equality as a critical cost-cutting theme of our foreign aid program.' Could you give us a brief on how that actually plays out—some details on it, please?

Ms McKenzie : That is obviously the responsibility of AusAID but Ms Steele may be able to provide some information.

Ms Steele : Later, on page 21, we also talk about helping women globally. As Ms McKenzie says, the prime responsibility for our overseas aid effort in the area of gender equality is the responsibility of AusAID.

Senator RHIANNON: I appreciate that AusAID is responsible. That was why I was very pleased to see that you were featuring it there. When we do question AusAID specifically about sexual and reproductive health within the foreign aid program they so often revert to speaking about maternal health programs which are incredibly important but are not sexual and reproductive health. Why I was asking the question was not for it to be flicked to AusAID but to understand it, because you are saying here that we are giving priority to gender equality as a critical cost-cutting theme of our foreign aid program, and this does need to be given attention. That is why I am trying to understand. Is it just being left up to AusAID or are AusAID getting support so that they are recognising that these gender equality programs are not just about women and children, they are also about the important area of sexual and reproductive health?

Ms Carroll : As Ms McKenzie said before, we have a range of processes that we do engage with the different departments, like the women's IDC, where we provide them with support, we give them additional resources—we give them not additional resources but some advice and support on analysing things. I do know that AusAID has been attending the women's IDC and we have regular engagement with them.

Senator RHIANNON: Have the issues that I made reference to with regard to sexual and reproductive health been covered?

Ms Steele : These are issues that, yes, are covered particularly in the context of the annual Commission for the Status for Women conference in New York. The overseas aid policy in regard to those two issues does not actually sit with the Office for Women, although we engage with AusAID and obviously DFAT when we are engaging at CSW. The Office for Women basically has responsibility for the domestic policies rather than the aid or foreign policies.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Brown.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I want to quickly go back to The Line project. I know there is some information going on notice. The last time we spoke, in February, Ms Smart, you mentioned that The Line project was up for an international award. I am looking at your face and it is telling me I should move on to my next question. How did you go?

Ms Smart : We were one of four finalists in the award. No, we were not successful in winning. We were a runner-up, we would say.

Senator CAROL BROWN: It is good news to be able to get to that level.

Ms Smart : And that is how we felt about it.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I just wanted to check. The tracking research that you talked about in discussion with Senator Cash, did you indicate—you might have and I might have missed it—what date that data would be drawn from?

Ms Smart : That was from December, the end of last year. The most recent tracking research is being undertaken, as I understand, virtually at the moment, and that data will be available in a month or so time.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Will you be able to provide it on notice? Last time we looked there were 600,000 visitors to your website and so many friends on Facebook. Can you provide that information?

Ms Smart : In terms of the fans on Facebook, as of today it was 70,955. That has increased since the last estimates. We have had over 579,000 unique visitors to the website who have accessed 1.86 million pages on the website. Certainly in regard to the information and the tracking across the number of people who have attended events and the penetration of media articles and take-up by television as well, there has been a number of news items on Channel 7; I think it was in WA as well. One or two-minute things on the news have a certain level of penetration which gives us that read of reaching more than two million young people.

Senator CAROL BROWN: That is very good. From the international recognition you have received, have you received any interest from other countries to come and have a look or get some information about what we are doing here?

Ms Smart : At the International Women's Shelter Conference where the award was given, I was at that conference for a couple of days and I spoke to people from the United States, and Canada in particular, about the campaign and they were interested in not just the website but also a wide range of the resources that have been produced. I had a show and tell and was able to show it to them and how they could access it because all of our resources are able to be downloaded so that anyone can access them. Whether those people have gone on to access it, I do not know. I also had conversations with government officials in New Zealand and provided them with access to actual hard copies of the resources when we were at the Commission for the Status of Women. Certainly we had a lot of good feedback from people who had gone and looked at it before us talking to them.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I did want to ask a question about 1800RESPECT in terms of how many people have actually made contact and the time lines for that as well. What period are we talking about?

Ms Smart : The 1800RESPECT telephone counselling service commenced on 1 October 2010. From then until 30 April 2012 we have had a total of 16,961 telephone contacts. The online service commenced on 1 July 2011. We have had 1,726 online contacts up to 30 April this year.

Senator CAROL BROWN: They are contacts. It is not individuals?

Ms Smart : It is not individuals. Whilst it is possible for people to identify themselves, it is a confidential service. People can contact counselling services anonymously. So it is difficult to ensure that every one of those contacts is from a single individual. The other thing with 1800RESPECT is that it is intended to be able to provide a level of ongoing support to people, particularly where they cannot access it locally. You will have a certain proportion of people who will either call back because they feel they need more support or will have pre-arranged contact. So the counsellors will actually set times to have a conversation or an online session with individuals.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Is there a feedback mechanism as to what people think about the service?

Ms Smart : As with any of our providers, we ensure that they have a complaints mechanism. In terms of feedback as to how people felt about a particular service, it is quite difficult. It is not like you can actually go and ring them back and track them as you can with, say, a parenting-type program or a course. Particularly when people are dealing with issues of violence, you do not want to potentially endanger them by trying to contact them back. You will have people who do not want to give out information about themselves. I have spoken with other telephone counselling services about the difficulties and it is an area that all of those counselling services tend to struggle with about how you do post-contact evaluation.

Senator CAROL BROWN: That is quite understandable. The next question is about the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Can you give me an overview of the last session, the 56th session? What happened? What was the theme of the last one?

Ms Smart : The theme for CSW56 was the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and the current challenges. The Australian delegation took part in a range of discussions and events around the priority theme. There were three side events or parallel events that the delegation participated in or co-sponsored. There was one on the impact of domestic violence on rural women, which was done in partnership with the government of the Solomon Islands. The second one was access to education equals success in employment, in partnership with the government of New Zealand. The third was rural women and girls with disabilities: economic empowerment and political participation, which was done in partnership with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Women Enabled, Women with Disabilities Australia and the Women's UN Report Network. There were also a range of bilateral meetings that members of the delegation undertook, including with Michelle Bachelet, who is the Executive Director of UN Women, the Rt Hon. Lynn Featherstone MP, who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State For Equalities and Criminal Information in the UK, a meeting with the Minister of Gender Equality and Family from the Republic of Korea, meetings with the First Lady of Malaysia, with the Ambassador of Gender Equality from Norway and the Secretary-General of the YWCA. A couple of members of the delegation also spoke at parallel events which were organised by non-government organisations. Of course we participated in the negotiations that go on around CSW.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Was there an agreed position at the end of all that?

Ms Smart : Unfortunately, there weren't agreed outcomes from CSW 56. There were a number of resolutions, but not overarching agreed outcomes; countries were not able to reach agreement on the broad suite for this one.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What was the sticking point?

Ms Smart : Whilst negotiations are meant to be held in confidence, a number of countries took quite a conservative view around a range of issues—it has been publicised by others—particularly around issues of sexual and reproductive health. One group of countries took quite a conservative view and other countries were not prepared to see a winding back in language and focus on those issues, so were not able to agree with the draft agreed conclusions.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Are you able to tell me what our position was?

Ms Smart : We supported, as a basis, retaining existing levels and argued quite strenuously on a number of fronts to strengthen efforts.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What happens now?

Ms McKenzie : We are currently talking with DFAT and with the Global Ambassador for Women and Girls about how Australia may be able to work in the lead-up to the next CSW to ensure that, hopefully, stronger statements can be made and there is a greater degree of agreement. We are having the first of those discussions, I think, next week or the week after.

Ms Smart : We have also spoken with non-government organisations and encouraged them to use their networks internationally so that influence could potentially be brought to bear on particular issues that they have interests in.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What will the theme of the next meeting, the 57th, be?

Ms Smart : The priority theme for CSW 57 is 'violence against women'.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Good luck in terms of the negotiations. I do have some other questions but I will put them on notice. Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, one general question and then we move on to EOWA.

Senator McKENZIE: In regard to the Empowerment of Rural Women and their role in food production, my question goes to your second strategy around improving economic outcomes for women. Specifically, I will be talking about regional women, those involved in the agricultural industry and food processing sector—a sector in our economy which employs a lot of women. If you have been to the Goulburn Valley and seen the SPC food factory you will know what I mean. What work, if any, has been conducted with these sectors by the Office for Women, particularly around the direct impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on these women's jobs going forward in specifically the food production and food processing sectors?

Ms McKenzie : I would need to go back to some of the discussion we have been having today which has been around our role in catalysing departments to be able to take a strong gendered approach towards their policy and programs, rather than the Office for Women trying to do it all.

Senator McKENZIE: In that light, what conversations has the Office for Women had with SEWPaC or with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority about their gendered approach to their work?

Ms McKenzie : I am not sure about the range of conversations. I would need to take that on notice. SEWPaC is one of the departments that attend the IDC where we talk about the importance of gender mainstreaming. They are one of the departments that have access to the Gender Panel, so therefore can get access to that kind of advice. One of our six women's alliances is the rural women's alliance, the National Rural Women's Coalition and Network, which looks at issues of particular concern to rural women, and we certainly engage with them frequently.

Senator McKENZIE: If you could give, on notice, any advice around the rural women's alliance and any engagement they have had around the impact on women within the Murray-Darling Basin system, Queensland to Adelaide, I would appreciate it. Thank you.

Mr Pratt : We have a clarification we would like to make.

Ms Carroll : Senator Cash, when I said that the Productivity Commission report on paid parental leave had recommended superannuation to be a part of it, I was not fully correct. I have the exact words here. It said that essentially they did not recommend that in the first instance. They said that the continuation of superannuation entitlements during paid parental leave absences for certain eligible employees will add to business costs and that, whilst a prima facie case for employer provision of superannuation exists, the compliance burden associated with the scheme's initial phase in current economic circumstances suggests that implementing the superannuation component should be deferred at the beginning of implementation. I wanted to be clear, because I did not have that quite right.

Senator CASH: Thank you.

Senator McLucas: Our legislative review of PPL includes specific reference to 'consideration of superannuation'.

CHAIR: Thank you. Thank you to the officers of the Office for Women. We move to EOWA.